Yesterday, Callahan Walsh of NCMEC—The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children—appeared on Good Morning America to urge parents to stop using the phrase "stranger danger"—the phrase that NCMEC itself popularized for decades. They rightly noted—finally—that most child sexual exploitation is from someone known to the child, not a stranger.
For decades, NCMEC has told parents to fear "stranger danger," and instructed them to transmit this fear to their kids. They even got the phrase institutionalized in elementary schools.
NCMEC has been one of the single biggest drivers of parents' fear in our lifetime. By conflating "missing" and "exploited," they have panicked Americans into thinking the average child is "at risk" of being kidnapped. By talking about "children" they conflate the experiences of five-year-olds and 17-year-olds. According to their own website, over 90% of "missing" teens are not "missing," they have run away. Some are no doubt living on the street and risking their health and lives, but they have not been kidnapped. In fact, over 3/4 of runaways are running away from institutions like foster homes and other social services.
NCMEC is driving the issue of sex trafficking as hard as it can. By expanding the definition of "sex trafficking" to include every sex worker, porn actress, and minor person having sex with an adult, they have successfully convinced Americans that huge numbers of Americans are sex trafficked. It's a lie.
NCMEC can't document even a half-dozen cases of women forced to act in porn, but they've planted the idea that porn actresses are trafficked. Outside porn studios in L.A., women are lined up, begging for the chance to act in their films. Trafficked? The industry doesn't need to traffic anyone. They never, ever knowingly employ minors, and they haven't been fooled in decades.
NCMEC's position on cybersex and cybercrime is a disaster. As the internet grew, NCMEC's warnings about internet predators grew. NCMEC champions government stings in adult chatrooms where adults roleplay age games, pursuing adults for thought crimes that harm no one. Obviously, actual child molesters don't look for kids in adult chatrooms. And there's no science that shows that adults who play age games with other adults molest children. But frightening parents about internet predators is where the money is—and that's always where you'll find NCMEC.
NCMEC also champions Amber Alert, an enormous waste of money and criminal justice resources that could be used far more effectively. Its main accomplishment is to terrifying parents. Similarly, NCMEC favors punitive, counter-productive sex offender laws and registries—which includes putting children on these registries when they mistreat ("molest") their peers.
Created by a few agonized people who had been devastated by violence against their children, NCMEC's initial shocking message was (and still is) "you could be us," creating an atmosphere of fear, rage, and moral panic completely disproportionate to the actual danger. Yesterday on TV, they encouraged parents to ignore what they used to say, and to use different, more sophisticated words. But their fundamental message—that parents should be scared, that predators lurk everywhere—remains the same.
In revoking their position on "stranger danger," NCMEC still doesn't tell the key truth—that the rate of kids being molested is NOT increasing (so says the FBI).
And while even a single missing child is too many, it isn't even a fraction as many as NCMEC invites you to believe.
How many kids are kidnapped each year—150,000? 50,000? The fine print on NCMEC's own website says the number is less than 1,400—of which over 1,000 are abductions by the child's own family member. There are less than 200 stranger kidnappings in the U.S. every year. Your kid is more likely to get killed by lightning.
And yet by manipulating and reinforcing our deepest fears, NCMEC has entrenched itself as a political player getting significant government funding.
So good riddance to the fear of "stranger danger." But don't hold your breath waiting for NCMEC to apologize. Perhaps they could atone by encouraging parents to pay attention to the biggest danger that kids actually face—texting while riding their bikes.
Many people complain about what porn shows viewers. While some of these complaints are accurate (guys instantly erect; women enjoying cum on their faces), they're often inaccurate (most porn does NOT portray violence; porn DOES offer a wide range of men's and women's bodies).
What rarely gets discussed is what porn leaves out.
Today's internet porn is primarily a visual medium (as compared with, say, the ancient Greek poems of Sappho or the 18th-century novels of the Marquis de Sade). That means it leaves out anything that isn't visually compelling. And as it happens, a lot of what makes sex satisfying in real life is boring to watch on film.
This isn't a criticism. Internet porn doesn't pretend to show real life, only a fictionalized version of it—like the worlds of Sherlock Holmes or Seinfeld's gang.
And one way porn portrays its fictionalized world is by omitting exactly what makes real sex what it is. So what does porn NOT include?
* Kissing and hugging
The penis and vulva may be the center of attention during sex, but it's kissing and hugging that get us to sex, that keep us connected during sex, and that transition us from sex back down to earth. Passionate kissing can be very exciting and intimate, while skin-to-skin contact is one of the most common reasons people have sex in the first place.
* Talking and laughing
Assuming that people can agree on a common vocabulary (Penis? Dick? Conan the Barbarian?), talking during sex provides information, reassurance, self-expression, and a sense of the others' presence. People who can't ask questions during sex limit the pleasure, variety, and meaningfulness of their experience.
Laughing? Sex is way too important to be treated grimly. If you've ever watched a dog watch you having sex, you know just how ridiculous we look. And when things don't go as planned, laughing together is sometimes the only reasonable response—and the thing that gives us permission to resume sex.
* Handling the unexpected; going slowly; afterwards
Sex is too complex for everything to go smoothly every time. Products and toys may be hard to open or use. Leg cramps or sore backs may intrude without warning. Bodies may provide unwanted and poorly-timed smells or fluids. Porn shows none of these—because none of these are sexy on film. In real life? People cooperating to get beyond these minor obstacles can be sexy indeed.
Sex in real life ebbs and flows, whereas in porn if scenes languish, they lose viewers. Going slowly can bond lovers, can increase arousal, and can equalize desire. On film, that's boring. And after sex? That's usually the slowest time of all. It may involve satisfied looks and hand-holding—hardly what a masturbating audience craves.
* Birth control
Intercourse without using birth control? Without discussing birth control? It happens way too often in the real world. It happens almost 100% of the time in porn. Most heterosexual porn consumers think condoms are un-sexy, and discussing pills, diaphragms, IUDs, and implants—well, if talking sexy isn't sexy enough to include in a porn film, talking about birth control surely isn't.
* Off-screen preparation
This is the biggest category of all. Before the cameras roll, professionals prepare. If a scene will involve anal sex, preparation may include an enema. Vaginas and rectums are often packed with lubricant. The guys may use an erection drug. Actors and actresses will discuss what they're about to portray, especially if the sex is fast-paced or complicated. How far back can you bend your legs without discomfort? Do you prefer your nipples pulled, squeezed, or twisted? Do you want your scrotum involved or left alone? And by the way, are you left-handed or right-handed?
Unlike consumers who want novelty in their sex, professionals want predictability. And remember, any depictions of rough sex are totally consensual. No actress is ambushed on set and suddenly spanked, whipped, or forced to gag on a penis—it's all worked out ahead of time. It may look uncomfortable, even shocking, but it's…acting!
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To increase Porn Literacy in both adults and young people, we have to talk about the constructed, edited nature of what they watch. Porn isn't a peek inside someone's bedroom—it's a visual representation of someone's imagination. A cross between culture, psychology, and art, that imagination produces products for consumers—appealing to what it believes we want, and leaving out the rest. To understand it, it helps to know what's missing.
I'm in Los Angeles this week, speaking to 500 therapists at the Couples Conference. One of my talks is called 10 Crucial Things About Sex That Therapists Don't Learn in School. It could be 100 Crucial Things, but we only have so much time.
I love therapists, and I'm proud to be one. But it's scandalous how little our students are taught about sex—especially the sexuality of the general population they will definitely see in their practices, using the words everyday people use.
Every therapist-in-training learns that children get molested, and that it damages them (although the actual fact is that it damages MOST of them). Every therapist-in-training learns that women get pressured, manipulated, and forced into sex, and that this damages them (although only a fraction of therapists learn how many men are brutally raped in prison every week).
But learning about damaged sexuality is NOT the same thing as learning about healthy sexuality, or about common sexual practices.
Here are a few of the dozens and dozens of things about sex that most therapists DON'T learn during their training:
* What's a vibrator? Why do people use them? Do people get addicted to them?
* What does healthy sexuality look like in a four-year-old? An eight-year-old? A twelve-year-old?
* If a man likes anal stimulation during sex, can he really be heterosexual?
* If someone occasionally fantasizes about sex with a 12-year-old, is he or she dangerous?
* How do the success rates of monogamous and non-monogamous relationships compare?
* If a married man goes to a massage parlor every three or four months for a "happy ending," is that infidelity?
* Which men with erection problems should NOT use erection drugs like Viagra?
* Is there a place for masturbation within marriage? If so, how much is a "reasonable" amount? What should someone do if they feel rejected by their partner's masturbation?
* How many sexual predators are out there? How dangerous are strangers to the average child?
* What actually drives sexual desire in adults? (hint: sometimes it's NOT romantic love.)
* How much of adult pornography is violent?
Some therapists-in-training even learn things about sex that UNDERMINE effective treatment. For example, it's popular for training programs to focus on the differences between male and female sexuality rather than the similarities. It's also popular for training programs to assert that monogamy is the highest form of sexual intimacy, and to pathologize people who find it difficult or undesirable.
Unfortunately, most therapists don't learn about sex as it actually is for the majority of the adult patients that they will see in their practice. And most therapists don't learn how to relate to sexuality in a relaxed, curious, joyful way—so if they're relaxed about it in their personal lives, they might be able to do that professionally, but if not, than they probably won't be able to.
Does that mean that people shopping for a therapist need to ask "So, are you comfortable with sexuality in your personal life?" That's a pretty depressing thought. And the public should be outraged by it. After all, they're the ones putting their lives into the hands of insufficiently trained professionals.
Ultimately, here are the most important questions most therapists don't study in school: why do real people have sex? What do they want from it? And why do they stop doing things that make sex enjoyable when they don't want the results?
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