Tag Archives: Sex

Venice Beach declares war on our infantile obsession with nudity

Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:

Nekkid Ladies

Not many people are aware of it, and few exercise the right, but it is legal for women to walk around topless in New York City and other cities. (A bare-chested New Yorker even got $40,000 from the city to settle her lawsuit alleging harassment by the NYPD for her nudity.)

Now, if the Venice Neighborhood Council gets its way, toplessness will become legal somewhere more pleasant than the gritty, often slush-filled streets of the Northeast: Venice Beach.

“I think this is a serious equality issue, and I’m not going to shy away from it,” Melissa Diner, the Venice council community officer who sponsored the resolution told the Los Angeles Times’ Martha Groves. Diner said she hoped to “start a conversation about not only wanting to show our nipples on Venice Beach, but about what else people want to see.”

“Venice Beach was founded and designed around the European culture of Venice, Italy,” the neighborhood council said, “and … topless [sun]bathing is commonplace throughout Europe, much of the rest of the world and many places within the U.S.”

In many states and municipalities, the legal basis for prohibiting the exposure of female breasts falls apart because public lewdness laws are specifically targeted against genitals, which obviously breasts are not. Aside from the inherent gender discrimination of anti-toplessness statutes, the widespread social acceptance of breastfeeding in public beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, and the fact that many American travelers see that topless sunbathing in other countries don’t spark riots of sex-crazed males, exposes — pun intended — the utter absurdity of such laws.

So, yes, it is an important political, social and cultural issue. It’s a question of equal rights, body image, addressing the problem of oversexualization driven by, among other things, advertising. But it’s also a matter of maturity.

I’ll admit, when I first read the headline about Venice considering this change, I giggled. Sorry, that’s the 14-year-old boy I used to be. But then after thinking about it for two or three minutes, I shook it off and got serious.

Which is not unlike what happened the summer that the dorms at my college, Columbia University, converted from single-sex, all-male to coeducational. The showers were old, no curtains, one big room. The first female students moved in before they got around to putting in individual shower stalls.

One morning I stumbled in bleary-eyed to the shower, and found several of my new female classmates taking showers. Yes, I was surprised. I was 19. Then I found a spot on the other side of the room, lathered up and got over it. Within a day or two, it wasn’t a big deal.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne so brilliantly documented, America’s original sin, alongside slavery, is Puritanism. Four hundred years after the first colonists arrived in America — people who were so uptight that they couldn’t get along with the British — it’s time that we declared war against our infantile societal obsessions with nudity, especially female nudity.

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Sheryl Sandberg’s Choreplay: Not Too Sexy

Originally published by Breaking Modern:

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, famous for her “Lean In” book and its advice to women to be aggressive in the workplace, is now advising women to institute “choreplay” at home — basically, wives exchanging marital favors in exchange for husbands’ completion of household tasks. Whatever its merits, Choreplay certainly doesn’t sound sexy.
Choreplay

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ANewDomain.net Essay: How Not To Be a Monogamist

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

America is experiencing another sexual revolution. Under the radar and certainly ignored by the vast majority of mainstream media and popular culture, tens of millions of men and women have opted out of traditional monogamy – boy meets girl, girl has baby, boy and girl get divorced or grow old together, not always happily – in favor of alternative sexual relationships.

Most marriages end in divorce or dysfunction. Eric Anderson, author of The Monogamy Gap, makes a convincing argument that these relationships crash and burn due to the intrinsic contradictions of monogamism:

“Young men entering into romantic/sexual relationships are misled into thinking that monogamy is capable of providing them with a lifetime of sexual fulfillment and that if they truly loved their partners they would not desire others. This, we are told, is because monogamy is healthy, proper, moral, and natural. Anyone deviating from or challenging this script is stigmatized.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation about these different lifestyles. (I don’t say “new” lifestyles because, if anything, marriage and monogamy are still in their early experimental stages by anthropological standards.

Marriage only goes back a few thousand years in the Western world; marriage for love is barely 100 years old in the West and anything but the global standard even at this writing.)

Here are some of the most common nonmonogamous relationship formats in the United States today:

Open Relationship

An open relationship is just what it sounds like: you are free to have sex with people other than your partner. And so is she.

“There are a wide variety of open-relationship models out there, and they can vary drastically from one couple to another,” psychology professior David Barash and co-author of “The Myth of Monogamy” told Men’s Fitness. “Having an open relationship can work really well for some people. However, as people, we’re also inclined to be sexually jealous of a partner being with someone else, and from a biological standpoint, we’re resistant to that partner having another relationship.”

The actors Mo’Nique and Will Smith have been reported to be in open relationships. The hip-hop artist Pitbull, 26, has been in an open relationship with his girlfriend for the last nine years. He says it works for them: “I’m not going to be worried about what she does when I’m not around. I think men are more bitches than women. They let their ego and insecurities come into play.”

Estimates of the frequency of open relationships in the United States vary between 1% and 9% of sexually active adults in committed relationships.

Generally speaking, open relationships work as complements to – as opposed to replacements for – powerful core relationships where trust and sexual attraction are strong. Communication is absolutely key. People don’t have open relationships in order to lie – they do it so they don’t have to.

Successful open relationships rest on adherence to a set of rules negotiated between the two of you: how often are you each allowed to have sex with other people? Can you stay out all night or do you have to come home by midnight? Do you want to meet the other man or the other woman? Consider your needs, don’t hesitate to ask for them, and always meet your partner’s needs if you can. And if you can’t, talk about it.

Polyamory

People in polyamorous relationships – which are a subset of open relationships – usually belong to a network, or “pod,” of people who either know each other very well or at least get together from time to time. Polyamorous people often arrange their relationships hierarchically. You might have a “primary” partner – this might be someone you live with, or your husband or wife – plus a “secondary” with whom you spend less time and to whom you are expected to be less devoted than your primary.

As any poly person will tell you, this can be a lot of work.

There are, of course, as many variations on polyamory as there are in mathematics. People belong to triad relationships (three people), quads and so on.

The main aspects that distinguish polyamory from ordinary open relationships are that polyamorous people usually know their partners’ partners, and that they typically have more elaborate rules concerning romantic hierarchy. “It’s like having a regular, monogamous relationship but having more than one of them,” a poly man named Mark told CNN. Mark and his wife “live alone and have no children, but they’ve been involved with two other couples with children for the past six years. Mark and his wife spend time with the adults and their children doing family-friendly activities but the adults also go out on dates, cuddle and more.”

Polyamory has become increasingly visible in recent years, thanks to shows like Showtime’s reality series “Polyamory: Married and Dating.” Researchers believe that as many as 5% of Americans are actively involved in polyamorous relationships. Anecdotally, the poly lifestyle seems to be especially attractive to Americans under the age of 30.

Swinging

Swinging is no strings attached sex with the consent and/or participation of your partner. Couples, single men and single women set up dates with each other to meet for sex. As with polyamory and open relationships in general, transparency and honesty are key. The main difference between swinging and polyamory is that emotional attachments are minimal to none in swinging. It’s all just about the fun and the sex.

That said, swinging can become a long-term relationship when, for example, to couples get to know each other and start spending more time together.

Swingers are also more likely to go on adventures together, as opposed to separately. Not only is jealousy not supposed to be an issue, many swingers say they are turned on by watching their partners have sex with someone else. “Our best sex is with each other,” Sara told ABC News, while attending a sex orgy in Manhattan with her boyfriend Michael. “We have pretty amazing sex at home when we’re alone. When we come here it’s a physical attraction, not an emotional attraction.”

There is sizable swinging infrastructure of sex clubs, parties and even cruises that generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in business in the United States.

There is no way to know exactly how many married couples are actively swinging in the United States, but it is generally agreed that about 15% will try it at least once.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

 Otherwise known as the relationship that everyone assumes Bill and Hillary Clinton have, this is where you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as you are discreet. Since DADT is not part of any kind of established infrastructure or ideology, it’s more of a do-it-yourself form of open relationship, and as such has been around for many years.

Among the generally accepted principles are: don’t bring home any drama and don’t bring home any STDs. In other words, don’t be having the boyfriend or girlfriend call up at 2 a.m. demanding that you move in with them.

This relationship is for the couple that wants to get a little on the side, but doesn’t want to deal with the jealousy, or the hard work of communicating that makes the jealousy go away.

And then there’s old-fashioned promiscuity

People forget this, but you don’t have to be pair bonded in order to have a good sex life. Quite the opposite. Thanks to the Internet, which allows you to pick up fellow sluts from the comfort of your home or smart phone, this is a golden age to sew your wild oats! Have as much fun as you want, but there’s one big rule: try not to hurt anyone.

What’s Best for Me?

The most important question to ask yourself when considering how you would like to structure your life sexually is: who am I? What do I like? What do I love? What do I see? It sounds incredibly obvious, and in some ways it is, but most people never take the time to be truly honest with themselves. They allow societal judgment, family, friends, colleagues to define them, and as a result they often end up in boxes. No one has to live with you more than you. Whatever it is that you want to do, as long as it is legal and doesn’t hurt anyone, go out there and do it.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Does Your Brain Have a Right to Privacy?

Cannibals, Thoughtcrime and a Rising Police State

“I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me because I was young,” the wife of 28-year-old NYPD “cannibal cop” Gilberto Valle testified at his trial.

After she installed keyboard-tracking software on his laptop, Kathleen Mangan-Valle went on, she found that her husband planned to stuff one of her friends in a suitcase and murder her. Two other women were “going to be raped in front of each other to heighten their fears,” while another would be roasted alive over an open fire.

Planned? Or fantasized?

There’s no evidence that Officer Valle, on trial for conspiracy to kidnap, torture, kill and eat women, ever acted on his voreaphilia, a cannibalism fetish. If convicted, however, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

George Orwell called it “thoughtcrime”: punishing people for their thoughts rather than their actions. The case of the cannibal cop – or, more accurately, the wannabe cannibal cop – is a perfect illustration of why a society can be tempted to try to monitor what goes on in people’s brains, and to sanction citizens whose opinions and fantasies fail to conform to “normalcy.” Suppose the federal jury lets Officer Valle off the hook. The idea of this guy roaming the streets of Manhattan picturing the women he sees roasting on a spit – one of the staged (ßlink not safe for work) and Photoshopped images he perused online – is, well, the word creepy hardly does it justice.

Voreaphiliacs are rare, but one of the great things about the Internet is that it allows pervs and other weirdoes to find one another. “If you were someone mildly interested in cannibalism 30 years ago, it was really hard to find someone in real space to find common cause with,” Joseph V. DeMarco, ex-chief of the cybercrime unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, told The New York Times. “Whereas online, it’s much easier to find those people, and I think when you have these communities forming, validating each other, encouraging each other, it’s not far-fetched to think that some people in that community who otherwise might not be pushed beyond certain lines might be.”

That’s what happened in Germany in 2001, when a man who responded to an online post seeking a victim willing to be killed, slaughtered and eaten got his wish. No one disputes that the 43-year-old Berlin engineer died voluntarily; the cannibal videotaped his chatty – and perfectly happy – prey before finishing him off.

As bizarre and – yes, I’ll say it – disgusting and terrifying as the so-called cannibal cop’s online chats were, I am disturbed by convicting people for actions that they not only never committed, but might never have committed. And yeah, things – bad things, as in Germany, do really happen sometimes. But as Sartre said, we are all responsible for our actions. Should we go to prison for our fantasy lives? Should we give up our right to cranial privacy to protect ourselves from the exceedingly rare chance that some nut will eat someone?

Take another look at the quote above by Joseph DeMarco. It’s so full of conjecture and speculation: “not far-fetched”…”might”…”might.” Well, anyone might do anything, right?

What if Saddam had WMDs? What if they had them and what if they gave them to terrorists? And then, what if those terrorists used them against us? If if if.

We know what happens when we act based on ifs.

Thoughtcrime prosecutions often revolve around sex. A 50-year-old man in South Florida currently faces more than 3000 years in prison for possession of child pornography. (Prosecutors filed separate 15-year counts for each of 200 videos found on his hard drive.) Even if you buy the demand-side argument that no one would make kiddie porn if no one bought it – a dubious claim, given the zillions of people who happily “sext” nude photographs of themselves for free – aren’t we forgetting something? Looking at child pornography isn’t the same as producing and disseminating it. In America, convicted rapists serve an average of about eight years. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send the actual rapists away for three millennia?

As America continues to degenerate into unapologetic authoritarianism, prosecutions for thoughtcrime are increasingly common. In 2008 a Pennsylvania woman, Karen Fletcher, was sentenced under a plea bargain for writing fictional erotic stories about sex with children. The victimized children didn’t exist; her criminal record does. In 2001 an Ohio man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “textual child porn” – writing stories in his private journal that depicted kids being raped and tortured. Again, no actual kids were hurt. The diary was for personal consumption and never shown to anyone else.

In 2010 an Iowa man was forced to plead guilty and went to prison for six months for possession of porn manga – Japanese-style comics – that depicted children having sex. The same thing happened in October 2012 to another consumer of kiddie porn manga, this one in Missouri.

In the Missouri case a press release by Project Safe Childhood asserted that “the depictions clearly lack any literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Of that, I have little doubt. The same could be said of the contents of most TV shows.

Hysteria leads to irrationality. Dwight Whorley of Richmond, Virginia is serving 20 years in federal prison for looking at Japanese anime images of cartoon children being raped. Upholding the decision, Judge Paul Niemeyer of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that “it is not a required element of any offense under this section [of the law] that the minor depicted actually exists.”

WTF?

Has it ever occurred to anyone that cartoon porn might be beneficial to society, a way for people whose fetishes are illegal to get themselves off without hurting anyone?

The main reason that so many of these cases, including that of the so-called cannibal cop, are prosecuted in federal court is that most state and local jurisdictions set a higher bar for conspiracy convictions, requiring that at least one member of the conspiracy be proven to have taken at least one decisive action toward carrying it out. The young Somali-American charged with plotting to blow up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland in 2010, for example, was handed a fake detonator by an undercover agent and told it would set off a bomb. He pushed it. I agree with the jurors. He meant to do it.

The cannibal cop, kiddie porn and other thoughtcrime cases, on the other hand, involving sending people to prison for things that they thought, not that they did. I don’t see how any society that does that can call itself free.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Last Civil Rights Struggle

Sluts of America, Arise!

“A sitting United States president took sides in what many people consider the last civil rights movement,” Adam Nagourney of The New York Times wrote in reaction to Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage.

The last civil rights movement?

No.

Sadly, even as he belatedly championed equality for some, the president’s statement expressed a pernicious, widely accepted form of prejudice.

Look for the caveat as you read: “I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together…at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

In Obama’s worldview, in other words, it’s okay to be gay. But only if you behave like straight people—straight as in hetero, and straight as in conventional.

Obama is exposed as a monogamist: one who discriminates against people who have sex with multiple partners. Monogamism is commonplace. And it is bigotry. Monogamism is no more justifiable than racism or sexism or homophobia and, one day, it will be as reviled.

Mia McKenzie of the blog Black Girl Dangerous responds to Obama: “So, basically, what the President is saying is that same-sex couples who are in relationships that look a certain way (monogamous, for example) should be able to have all the rights of straight people. Hmm. What about those of us, queer and straight, who aren’t into monogamy but are into committed relationships? (And, for the record, you can be poly and be committed to multiple people).”

To which I’ll add: What about people, straight and gay, who sleep with multiple partners? What about those who don’t want committed relationships? Shouldn’t they get tax breaks and insurance benefits too?

And what about the open, tricky, ever-so-dirty secret—that many people in “incredibly committed monogamous relationships” cheat, that they’re de facto polygamists or just garden-variety sluts? (“A full 99 percent of Americans say they expect their spouse to be faithful,” according to U.S. News & World Report in 2008 but, The New York Times reported the same year, “University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006.” Hmm. Not to mention, obviously, that not all cheaters confess their sluttery to pollsters.)

Like all oppressed people, sluts have their work cut out for them.

“The Ethical Slut” (1997) by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt unleashed a landmark broadside against monogamy with a simple argument: anything that two consenting adults do is okay as long as they approach one another, and their other partners, with honesty and openness. Casual hook-ups, open relationships, swinging, group sex, and other alternative forms of sexual expression, wrote Mmes. Easton and Liszt, are not immoral so don’t feel guilty about them. “We believe it’s okay to have sex with anybody you love, and we believe in loving everybody,” they wrote.

Fifteen years later, however, tens of millions of sluts live underground, compelled to sneak around. Unlike straights and Obama-approved monogamous gays, America’s secret sluts have to hide their sex lives from their friends, families and coworkers. (Ethical sluts tell their partners the truth.) “My FWB and I had an awesome foursome with this couple we met online” isn’t the smartest Monday-morning conversation starter for the wannabe upwardly mobile.

Monogamy may be a myth, to paraphrase the title of the 1989 book that found that roughly half of all married Americans cheat, but as Obama’s statement suggests, it’s harder to kill than herpes.

Now here comes “The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating” by Eric Anderson (Oxford University Press, 256 pages, $49.99), a devastating critique of monogamy that has been ignored by book reviewers and buried by the mainstream media.

“The Ethical Slut” says it’s OKAY to be slutty. “The Monogamy Gap” goes further. It states loudly, brashly—and mostly convincingly—that while monogamy is right for some people, it’s wrong for most. Which makes monogamism a form of bigotry not only based on a lie, but like other forms of discrimination, downright bad for society.

Not so deep down, we know he’s right. When there’s a public sex scandal—John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, etc.—you don’t hear a lot of expressions of anger or disgust, just harrumphs and how-about-thats from people, most of whom can easily imagine themselves “guilty” of the same “crime”: hard-wired horniness.

“I suggest that we need multiple forms of culturally acceptable sexual relationship types—including sexually open relationships—that exist without hierarchy or hegemony,” Anderson writes.

Men, Anderson asserts, are trapped in a state of “dyadic dissonance” in which they are painfully torn between monogamist social programming and their sexual desires to sleep with multiple partners. “If [men] entertain with their partners the possibility that sex and love are separate and that they could maintain the love with their partner while seeking thrilling sex with outsiders (an open sexual relationship), they risk losing their partners. Even mentioning this is thought to be an affront to love. Love, they falsely believe, is enhanced through sex, and sex with outsiders is falsely believed to detract from the love of a couple. We all too often believe that if our partner ceases to desire us sexually, he or she ceases to love us.”

What is a [stymied] manslut to do?

“In desiring but not wanting to cheat,” Anderson continues, “men set out to rectify their dissonance through pornography, visualizing themselves having sex with someone else while having sex with their partner, and/or flirting with others online. Eventually, however, these imagined/cyber forms of extradyadic sex are not enough. Men strongly desire to have sex with someone else, and they often begin to feel anger or aggression at their partner because (at one level) it is their partner that is preventing them from having the type of sex that every cell in their body demands.”

So they screw around.

But cheaters aren’t bad people. They’re just sluts. They’re wired that way. Many—most of us—are sluts. Don’t be shocked. After all, contemporary marriage—based on love rather than property, monogamous rather than polygamous—is still in its experimental stage, less than a century old. And the rate of divorce suggests that the experiment isn’t going well.

Anderson says monogamism forces us to choose between guilt and frustration: “Although cheating remains almost universally taboo in modern societies, my research suggests that cheating might actually save relationships [because] cheating permits men to have the sex with others they somatically desire…with cheating they do not have to deal with the threat of losing their partners by mentioning their sexual desires for others.”

I have some issues with “The Monogamy Gap.” Anderson concludes that “it is only in open relationships where long-term sexual and romantic satisfaction can be found for people who somatically desire sex with others,” yet he hardly considers the needs and desires of heterosexual women. Do they want open relationships? Maybe. Maybe not. Also, Anderson’s preferred model—one or several core committed, longer-term relationships plus à la carte “hit it and quit it” assignations—leaves out other formats, such as swinging (which is barely discussed).

Overall, however, I strongly recommend “The Monogamy Gap” for anyone who wonders why a society that elevates monogamy can’t seem to follow its rules. America needs to begin this discussion.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 29. His website is tedrall.com.)

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