It's Thanksgiving, so let's give thanks for sex.
Not just the huffing and puffing, the in-ing and out-ing, the sloshing around and drying off. Let's give thanks for all the sexual rights we enjoy here in the U.S.—which billions of people in Russia, the Arab world, and many parts of Asia and Africa will never enjoy in their lifetimes.
Most of these rights have to do with privacy and autonomy. These always look dangerous to repressive or religiously-driven regimes. Science and technology look pretty frightening to such regimes when they can be applied for sexual purposes—which they inevitably are, throughout history.
So let's give thanks for the many ways we are allowed to use privacy and autonomy to express our sexuality, and to use science and technology to make sex safer and more life-affirming.
Still, we should remember that these rights are stained by the many limitations that our local, state, and federal governments place on our sexual expression. In an era when tens of millions of Americans are calling for "smaller government," it's especially bitter that many of these same people are calling for more government intrusion into private sexual expression.
So let's give thanks that here in America…
* You can buy birth control in almost every community.
…Although an increasing number of pharmacists claim they are exempt from state laws requiring licensed pharmacists to fill all legal prescriptions. Christ or Napolean: does it matter what reason they give?
* The Supreme Court ruled, in Lawrence v Texas, that morality alone cannot be the basis of American laws criminalizing sexual acts, such as sodomy.
…Although powerful and well-financed Christian groups continue to demand—and get—laws to curb "indecency," "smut," "secularism," and "the homosexual agenda."
* Sex toys have become so acceptable that you can even buy them via Amazon.com.
…Although most marriage counselors, clergy, and physicians are licensed without ever learning a single thing about them.
* You can get tested for many common STDs without a lot of explanation. You can get tested for AIDS anonymously and confidentially.
…Although anti-pornography groups continue to lie that the adult film industry is a hotbed of STDs, and have targeted the industry for scrutiny by government safety inspectors.
* Emergency Contraception is now available over-the-counter across the U.S..
…Although many desperate anti-choice activists lie and call it an abortion pill.
* In most big cities, you can still go to swingers clubs, strip clubs, and dungeons.
…Although more and more cities are using emergency ordinances and discriminatory "sexually-oriented business" statutes to close these adult businesses—without having to prove they're dangerous.
* Many states have developed "Romeo & Juliet" laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for consensual teen-teen sex if the kids are close in age.
…Although most states still treat teen sexting as the felony of child porn distribution.
* You can check into a hotel with any adult you like without having to explain why.
…Although Citizens for Community Values continues to pressure hotels to stop renting X-rated films—and has succeeded with the Omni chain and a dozen Ohio hotels.
* Women can dress any way they like without fear of religious or state-supported violence.
…Although men and women still get arrested every year for being topless or nude in parks and beaches—unlike our cousins in Europe, where toplessness and nudity are normal at public beaches and parks.
* Grandparents like Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, and the Rolling Stones are still performing, showing exactly what sexuality in old age can look like.
…If, of course, you're rich, famous, and very, very fortunate.
I also give thanks for my many readers, and your encouraging messages of support throughout the year. You can always reach me at Klein AT SexEd DOT org.
Choose your sexual story carefully—because you're going to live it.
Humans find meaning and patterns in everything we do. So everyone develops stories about themselves—why they're always (or never) late; how they're terrible (or great) with numbers; how a stove is something they've never (or always) felt comfortable around.
Then there are our sexual stories: how birth control has always (or rarely) interfered with sex: how most guys seem turned off (or turned on) by cunnilingus; how absolute, total privacy and quiet is (or isn't) necessary to enjoy sex.
Most of us, of course, don't see our narratives as manufactured, but rather as accurate documentaries of our lives. But most events are ambiguous, with many possible meanings. Was some recent disappointment an inspiration or the straw that broke the camel's back? We only really know in retrospect—when we decide on the story.
Our stories become who we are, and our sexual stories become who we are sexually—so be slow to pick stories that show you're not OK, or that all men or all women eventually break your heart. Here are some common stories I hear every day that my patients really need to stop telling:
* "I'm impotent" or "I have ED"
A lot of men's first sexual experiences feature alcohol, anxiety, time pressure, and a casual acquaintance or sex worker. Penises that shrink from such situations aren't impotent—they're smart, and working as they should. If you couldn't get erect a few times 5 or 10 years ago, and have been nervous about erections ever since, change the story: "My first few times were a recipe for disappointment. But that was before I understood that my erections require relaxation, emotional connection, and limiting myself to one or two drinks."
* "I take too long to climax"
Too long for what? And who cares? When sex (or anything else) is enjoyable, most people like it to last awhile. But if sex (or anything else) is boring or painful, or your partner isn't emotionally present, time can drag on. So change the story: "When I'm not getting what I want, climaxing may not happen; if it does, of course it takes a while."
* "Because I was raped or molested, I can't expect to enjoy sex."
Being sexually exploited is awful. But the human spirit is incredibly resilient. Some people are afraid that if they get excited about sex they're somehow trivializing their own pain, or the pain of others who have been victimized. No, claiming your sexuality if you've been sexually violated is an act of great power. So change the story: "I was sexually exploited, even damaged. But my sexuality still belongs to me, and I plan to heal it, express it, savor it—and most importantly, to own it."
* "Now that I'm a grandparent, I guess I have to forget about sex."
Nobody has to have sex, and our desire may decline as we get older (and develop other interests competing for our free time). But no one become ineligible for sex just because they age, or develop wrinkles, or their breasts relax (not sag, relax). So change the story: "I don't get crazy horny like I used to, but warm, loving sex is still a treat." Or "Sex was never a central part of my life, and it's even less important now—but I still like the closeness sometimes, and occasionally George makes me feel quite attractive."
* "I can't figure out how to please women (or men)"
It's easy to see the other gender as, well, Other: foreign, exotic, totally different from us. But they aren't. The thing on Earth most like women is men, and the thing on Earth most like men is women. If you can talk and touch, you can learn to please and enjoy your partner. Don't worry about all men or all women—become better acquainted with the person (or people) you're being sexual with. So change your story: "Sometimes it takes me a while to understand my partner's body, but if I ask and then practice a bit, I can get pretty OK at sex."
* * *
Many of the facts of our lives can't be changed—your penis is what it is, and if you're divorced, you're divorced. But it's never too late to change your sexual story. Take charge of it, using the facts to create something you like—instead of a story that leaves you incompetent or incomplete. After all, it's your story.
The New York Times recently ran a piece called The Sex Toys in the Attic.
It's a fairly mundane story about disposing of things in advance that might embarrass those who clean up after one's death. Mundane except for the fact that the author specifically mentions "sex paraphernalia."
Aside from the stilted language—are we talking about debris left behind after an orgy?—the author makes a (single) decent point: when you go through mom's or grandad's stuff, you may encounter things that make you blush, cheer, or both.
Fair enough. Do we need a whole article on this? Not really. But pan back just a bit, and there are a bunch of related issues that could have made the article richer: taking sex toys through airport security. Explaining your sex toys to your curious 10-year-old. Hosting a Tupperware-style sex toy party at your house. Asking a doc if you might be allergic to your favorite sex toy. Dealing with neighbors who want your support in banishing the sex toy store that just moved into the mall.
So there's enough to think about for at least half an article.
The really interesting part of the Times article, though, was the reader comments. The dismay, the vitriol, the offense taken! Dozens of comments angrily assert that the article heralds the end of serious journalism as we know it (an opinion exposing someone as behind the times twice—once about sex, the other about journalism). Furthermore, since it's about sex, it's of course TMI for some readers sipping their morning coffee. And the sexuality of dad or grandma—WAAAY TMI.
So why the fuss over the 21st century version of the eggbeater, toaster-oven, or record-player?
We already know that talking about mom's and dad's sexuality is taboo. Better to talk about their false teeth, hearing aid, or bowel habits. These don't require any stretching of the mind the way an image of mom's orgasm does.
Sex toys take the taboo one step further, because they're typically about masturbation. Or about deliberately reaching outside the bounds of "normal" or "natural" sex. And that's where Americans come to a screeching halt—acknowledging that we masturbate. Or that we pursue pleasure with neither leering nor apology.
So sex toys + parents = gross.
Rounding out the picture, here are some other sexual activities on the honor roll of thou shalt not admit nor discuss:
"I'd like a finger in my butt"
"Go ahead, pinch my nipples harder"
"Right when I come, maybe you could slap me"
"Let's imagine me going down on your ex-husband"
"You could pretend to force me to do this"
"I hate when you tease me—please do it more"
Plenty of Americans say such things. But many, many Americans want to, and don't. They can't, it's too…too…honestly sexual. My patients hope that their partner will stumble onto these things, or come up with the idea on their own. That would make it a win-win—they'd get what they want sexually without having to acknowledge their desire.
That's the real problem here: that while most of us can admit that we crave money, chocolate, fame, a bigger house, a smaller waistline, or less back pain, too few of us can admit what we crave sexually. Especially if it's our own hand, or a Hitachi Magic Wand, or both.
I encourage people to consider changing that. Their partners will almost certainly be pleased. And then the REAL pillow talk can start.