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May 16, 2016 · 5:56 pm

Why Superman Is An Icon And Why He Still Matters After 80 Years

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Take a moment and think about how many artifacts of popular culture have endured for 80 years. Even if you’ve got an extensive knowledge of culture or just spend a lot of time browsing Wikipedia, it shouldn’t take long to realize how short that list is. That makes the icons on that list all the more endearing.

Near the top of that list is Superman. Even if you’re not a comic book nerd and can’t stand to watch more than five minutes of a superhero movie, it’s impossible to deny the special place Superman has in our culture. He’s not just a comic book character. He’s not just a superhero either. He’s in a league of his own that transcends any one genre.

That became abundantly clear this past week when Superman celebrated his historic 80th anniversary with the release of Action Comics #1000. As an admitted comic book fan who goes out of his way to explore the deeper messages and implications of comics, this was a pretty big deal for me.

Now, I don’t consider myself as big a Superman fan as I am an X-men fan. I like to think I’ve made my love of X-men quite apparent on this site. However, I still enjoy my share of Superman content. Beyond the comics, I grew to love Superman through his animated series and the Justice League cartoon that was produced by Bruce Timm. To date, those and the Richard Donner “Superman” movie are the definitive Superman for me.

As much as I love those incarnations, though, I understand that Superman’s history is much broader than that. A character doesn’t endure for 80 years without having a rich history and Superman certainly has plenty of that. In that history, he’s evolved a lot in terms of style and portrayal. From battling Nazis in the early 1940s to ditching his iconic red trunks for a while, Superman has had his share of reinvention over the years.

Through all these changes, though, Superman has always embodied a specific set of ideals that helps cement his status as an icon. From his earliest days to his most recent movie version, Superman at his core is an inspiration. He’s epitomizes just how good a hero can be and how profoundly he can influence others.

Some call him the ultimate Boy Scout. Some call him the perfect goody-two-shoes. Some even go so far as to claim that his nauseatingly good nature that Christopher Reeves captured so perfectly in the movies makes him a boring character. Given the sheer breadth of his power, which include some truly insane feats, I can understand that to some degree.

At the same time, though, I would also argue that same annoyingly wholesome nature is part of what makes Superman something much greater than an overpowered superhero. I would even go so far as to say that’s part of what has helped him endure for 80 years and made him an icon that transcends comic books, movies, and heroics in general.

There’s a long, if not bloated, list of superheroes of varying degrees of power. Some are even more powerful than Superman. However, just having power isn’t enough, as any Batman fan will tell you. It’s how a hero uses that power and why they do what they do that helps define them.

By that standard, Superman is the gold standard. His heroism is very much the standard by which all others are measured. He has the power to do things that aren’t just incredible. They’re outright impossible. He still does them, though, because he’s Superman. However, it’s why he does them that’s more important.

Compared to why other heroes do what they do, Superman’s reasons for using all that power for good is as simple as it is profound. It’s the right thing to do. He doesn’t need someone to kill his parents. He doesn’t need to be bound by duty or driven by guilt. He just does the right thing because it’s the right thing. That’s all there is to it.

It’s so simple that it’s almost inane, but it’s profound in its implications. I even explored some of those implications when I explored the nihilistic implications of Superman’s morality, drawing comparisons to Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty” of all characters. Regardless of how strong those comparisons are, it doesn’t undercut the impact of that idea.

It’s a big part of what helps Superman inspire others. It’s very much a part of why he still matters today, especially in an era where every heroic character needs some sort of catalyst to become a hero, whether it’s a princess getting kidnapped or someone shooting their dog. Superman doesn’t need any of that. He just does the right thing with his powers because it’s the right thing. That’s all there is to it.

That might not seem like a big deal, especially compared to the more elaborate journeys that other characters go on the path of heroism. Why would someone even want to follow a journey of someone who just does the right thing from the start and doesn’t need to team up with any talking raccoons along the way?

The answer to such a cynical question comes back to inspiration. It’s something that has only become more valuable as we get bombarded by countless bleak headlines. Superman is capable of so much, both in terms of his immense power and altruistic persona. He has such an immense impact when he saves the world, whether by outsmarting Lex Luthor or snapping General Zod’s neck.

However, it’s how those actions inspire others that elevates Superman’s heroics. He doesn’t wear a mask. He doesn’t hide in the shadows. He lets people see his face. He smiles and talks towards civilians, fellow heroes, and even other villains, as Action Comics #1000 so fittingly explored. It’s not just enough to do heroic things. Superman seeks to inspire the heroism in others.

That sentiment is beautifully echoed through the iconic voice of Marlon Brando in Richard Donner “Superman” movie. Even today, after 80 years, they still help define the spirit of Superman.

Live as one of them, KalEl. Discover where you strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, KalEl, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.

These are the words of Superman’s biological father, Jor-El. They don’t just lay the foundation for a hero. They reflect the spirit that eventually becomes Superman. They don’t just encourage Superman to use his immense power to help people. They encourage him to inspire.

That inspiration, the idea that a being of such immense power can do the right thing just because it’s the right thing, is why Superman endures. It’s also why he matters now more than ever. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing other iconic heroes and people in the real world get corrupted by power. Superman sets himself apart, showing that it is possible to have great power and still do the right thing.

In a world full of cynical people who may be getting more nihilistic with each frustrating headline, that’s an important concept to preserve. Having power doesn’t have to corrupt someone in the same way that doing the right thing doesn’t require some elaborate motivation, be they dead parents or some failed prophecy. It’s possible to just do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

It’s not enough to just save the day. Superman gives others the hope, strength, and drive to make a better tomorrow. Say what you will about the ending of “Dawn of Justice,” but the breadth of the impact that Superman had on the world through his sacrifice was powerful. It shows why his greatest power is, and always has been, doing the right thing.

That spirit of incorruptible goodness was critical in 1938 and it’s just as critical now in 2018. I would argue it’ll still be critical in 2118, even if we’ve all evolved into cyborgs at that point. Doing the right thing for others in the spirit of pure, untainted altruism is a powerful message and one that Superman embodies to the utmost. That’s what makes him an icon now. That’s why he’ll be an icon for years to come.

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Why The First Male Birth Control Pill Won’t Be Successful (And Why That’s Still Progress)

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When it comes to our health, certain treatments or trends occur faster than others. Fad diets and health crazes can gain favor, fall out of favor, and be forgotten all within the same year. For more serious aspects of our health, the wide acceptance of certain treatments and trends can take longer, even if they work as advertised. When it comes to our sex lives, though, it can be even more challenging.

It’s one thing to be worried about your waistline and your ability to fit into an old pair of pants. It’s quite another to worry about whether certain intimate parts of your body are functioning properly. Naturally, we tend to worry a lot more about the sexy parts. Why else would boob jobs be so popular?

This gets even more touchy when issues surrounding contraception come up. Even when there’s a major breakthrough that has the potential to revolutionize our sex lives and our fertility, it takes time for it to permeate throughout society. It’s also a lot more prone to taboo and political protests than boob jobs.

Just look at the documented history of the female birth control pill. The actual pill itself was invented in 1951. Human testing didn’t begin until 1954 and the FDA didn’t approve it until 1957, but it was only approved to use for severe menstrual disorders. It’s only in 1960 when it’s approved for use as a contraceptive, but it still takes years before it becomes both widely used and socially accepted.

Overall, it took at least a decade before the female birth control pill really established itself as part of modern medicine and as part of our sexual culture. I cite that history because men are close to forging a similar history with contraception. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that men are on the brink of the biggest upheaval in their sex lives since the invention of condoms.

I’ve written about the promise and potential social impact of male contraceptives, referencing developments in products like Vasalgel. However, that method is still in the testing phases and probably won’t get regulatory approval within the next few years. Given that it is also requires a targeted injection, that testing will be subject to a lot more scrutiny, as would be expected of things that involve needles near genitals.

It’s far more likely that a pill will get approval before something like Vasalgel, if only because people are more comfortable taking pills than getting a shot. In fact, as I write this, the University of Washington is conducting a large-scale human test on an oral contraceptive for men called dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU for those who would rather not learn that level of science jargon.

While DMAU doesn’t offer quite as much promise as Vasalgel, it does offer a similar product to the one women have been using for half-a-century now. It’s a one-a-day pill that men can take with their morning coffee. Also like its female counterpart, it uses hormones that effectively block the production of sperm. For men already used to taking pills every day for other issues, it wouldn’t be that hard of an adjustment.

That said, though, this first step towards equalizing male contraceptive methods will face a lot more obstacles than the female birth control pill did when it first came out. In fact, I’d go so far as to predict that if DMAU were approved by the FDA tomorrow, it probably wouldn’t be that successful.

I say that as someone who freely admits he’s not good with predictions, as my Super Bowl picks last year prove. However, being a man who follows these kinds of sex-related issues, I feel like I have more insight than most when it comes to gauging the potential of a major advancement for our collective sex lives.

Like it or not, and I’m sure those versed in identity politics will cringe at this, men are wired differently than women, especially when it comes to their sexual health. There was a very different set of motivating factors behind the female birth control pill, so much so that getting women to adopt it wasn’t too challenging, even if it took years. With men, though, it’s a different story.

Men are already far less likely to go to the doctor than women. They’re also far less likely to ingest something that might impact their hormones and, by default, their sex lives. Since DMAU utilizes hormones in inhibiting sperm production, it’s going to have the potential for side-effects. Even the doctors in the study admit that.

Of the test subjects who completed the study and were taking 400 milligrams (mg) of DMAU – the highest dose tested – few reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency.

The subjects who were given the pill did have weight gains of between 1 and 3 pounds on average, according to Page.

“The weight gain and a small decrease in good cholesterol levels, HDL, are things we’re going to look at more closely in future studies,” Page says.

This is where I have to denigrate my own gender, but when it comes to tolerating side-effects, I think women have men beat in that arena. The many side-effects women endure with contraception is proof enough of that. Men, as tough as we can be, are somewhat dense when it comes to accepting certain side-effects.

It’s for that reason why I think DMAU is going to have limited success at most and will likely fall out of favor quickly once more promising alternatives like Vasalgel enter the market. Even without those alternatives, though, I suspect DMAU will not gain widespread acceptance among men, even for those who have been clamoring for more contraceptive options.

Now, and this is where I’m going to make another prediction, I think that limited success or outright failure will actually mark a huge turning point in the history of male contraception and a positive one at that. To some extent, failure is part of the process when it comes to making progress in our health. Again, anyone who knows anything about fad diets can attest to that, some being worse failures than others.

To some extent, the first male contraceptive pill will be like the first cell phone. It’ll be clunky, crude, and not nearly as efficient as consumers wish it were. It’ll also likely be pretty pricy as well, as only the Gordon Gekko’s of the world could afford those early cell phones. However, that doesn’t mean the product itself was a waste or a loss.

Keep in mind, the first cell phone was probably considered strange and unnecessary in a market that was used to making calls from LAN lines. Why would anyone even want a cell phone that was bulky, expensive, and offered only spotty coverage when you could accomplish the same thing with a phone booth and a quarter?

Over time, though, and as the technology improved, cell phones made their way into the market. I suspect that the first male birth control pill will do the same. At first, it’s going to be seen as strange. It may even seem unnecessary to men who can get the same effect from a box of condoms at a gas station for less than five bucks.

The value, however, isn’t in how men initially react to the first male birth control pill. The true value is just putting the idea out there that men now have this option. Even if only a handful of men take advantage of it, that’s still enough to establish a consumer base.

That small consumer base will eventually grow as the idea of a male birth control pill stops being a novelty like the first cell phone and becomes a legitimate consumer product. There will be plenty of room for improvement. There may even be some unpleasant stories about men struggling with the side-effects.

In the long run, that’s a good thing because once a consumer base is in place, they’re going to demand improvements to the product. More improvements will create a better product. It has helped create a wealth of options for women. Eventually, like the cell phone, male birth control will undergo a similar process until it ends up with the contraceptive equivalent of the iPhone.

That process will take time and there will be missteps along the way, just as there were with female contraceptives. The most important part of that process is just establishing the idea this is an option for men who want more choice and control of their fertility. It’s a level of choice and control they haven’t had before, one that women have enjoyed for decades.

Beyond just giving men more options and choices with respect to their fertility, products like DMAU could start the process of narrowing a lingering gender disparity that has been fodder for plenty of gender-driven conflict. The more we can do to alleviate that disparity, the better.

It’s going to take a while for that idea to sink in. In many ways, the first male birth control pill is going to start behind the curve, but that’s okay. The day will eventually come when both men and women can finally say they have equal control over their fertility. It’s still a first step and given how far the technology has to go to catch up to women, it’s a step that needs to happen in the name of true gender equality.

 

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Filed under gender issues, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sexuality

Hard Lessons About Abortion And Society (From A Failed Communist Regime)

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There are a lot of sensitive topics that nobody likes talking about. They make people uncomfortable, anxious, and downright angry at times. Sometimes, that’s a sign that we should talk about them. Then, there are times when discussions on those topics have gone horribly wrong, resulting in important lessons that we would be wise to heed.

Chief among those sensitive topics is abortion. In the pantheon of uncomfortable discussions, abortion is in a league of it’s own. I try not to talk about it too often, but I don’t shy away from it when it reveals so much about society, sexuality, and gender issues.

At the moment, the abortion debate is ongoing, but somewhat stagnant. Sure, there are a few extreme pro-lifers who favor the death penalty for women seeking an abortion, which is an irony in and of itself. As it stands though, abortion remains legal in the United States, but efforts to limit abortion access are steadily growing.

It’s hard to know what the future holds for the abortion debate, especially as advances in contraception continue to emerge. Until we perfect artificial wombs and completely decouple sex from reproduction, the debate will continue. Arguments about the ethics of abortion and when life begins will still generate heated and passionate discussions.

While I’ve tried to contribute to these discussions in a reasonable way, there are aspects of the abortion debate that tend to get overlooked. However, they have less to do with the ethics and more to do with the logistics of abortion, fertility, and managing society. It’s in that part of the issue, though, where there are lessons to learn from history.

That history sometimes comes from unexpected places in parts of the world that rarely make the news. For the abortion debate, one place and time period that warrants extra scrutiny is Romania under its old communist regime. For those outside of Europe who never lived behind the Iron Curtain, this part of the world is an afterthought. However, its history with respect to the abortion debate is one worth learning from.

That history is not a good one, as if often the case with repressive communist regimes. Up until the late 1960s, Romania had fairly liberal abortion policies. Most women who wanted one could get one and since access to contraception was so limited, it was the most common form of family planning. To pro-life supporters, it’s basically the nightmare scenario they dread.

That all changed in 1967 when the communist leader of the country, Nicholae Ceaușescu, issued Decree 770. This didn’t just outlaw abortion in almost every instance. It effectively turned every woman’s reproductive system into the property of the state. Women were required, by law, to carry every pregnancy to term and by required, I don’t mean through impassioned protests.

This is a communist country. The Romanian government enforced this decree with the utmost force. It had the secret police spy on women and hospitals to make sure nobody tried to evade the law. It even adopted a birth-focused brand of sex education that are extreme, even by Texas standards. Basically, Romania went from a pro-life nightmare to the a pro-life paradise.

However, Decree 770 had nothing to do with the ethics of abortion, the sanctity of life, or any major concerns about sexual promiscuity. For Nicholae Ceaușescu, this decree was done purely out of concerns for demographics, an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant for some societies.

Ceaușescu had seen that the population of his country had stagnated in the 1950s. He couldn’t have a strong, robust communist country without a growing population of workers. Decree 770 was intended to change that. It may have even made sense at the time, at least from the perspective of a ruthless dictator.

People were still having a lot of sex, as the high abortion rate indicated. By making abortion illegal, the Romanian government would benefit from a fresh influx of young, native-born Romanians who would help build the country’s glorious communist future. Given the country’s current standing in the global stage, it should be obvious how wrong that turned out to be.

To say Decree 770 was disaster would be like saying Ebola is a mild stomach bug. Sure, it might have reduced the amount of legal abortions being conducted in Romania, but the terrible impacts it had on women, society, and entire generations are far beyond my writing abilities.

Women today who passionately protest their right to not be harassed or denigrated would be wise to note the experiences of Romanian women under this regime. In their world, they didn’t just have sleazy Hollywood producers harassing them. Under the Romanian government, they were basically state-sponsored breeders. Any role beyond that was considered criminal.

The punishments for subverting Decree 770 were as harsh as you would expect for a communist society. Women and doctors were thrown in prison. Since contraception was also banned, it forced women to resort to dangerous extremes that added even more suffering. Take this little anecdote from the Irish Times.

“Out of desperation, women would resort to insane methods,” Dr Elena Borza told the Inter Press news agency in Romania recently. “They would use salt, detergent, or any other substance which they thought could help them get rid of the baby.”

This policy was horrible for women, to say the least. However, it’s the many children they gave birth to who may have suffered the worst. Beyond the issues of having larger families in a country that later got hit with a severe economic crisis, this surge in birth rates led to a surge of abandoned children that flooded streets and orphanages alike.

The stories of these children are not the kind that would make it into a light-hearted Disney movie. The conditions that these abandoned children endured were nothing short of traumatic. There was abuse, exploitation, and violence of all types. When there are so few resources to go around, but more and more mouths to feed, it leads to conflict.

I don’t want to belabor just how awful things got for the generation that Decree 770 created, but if you want to learn more or are just a glutton for dark parts of our history, check out a documentary called “Children Underground.” It’ll describe and depict the horrors these children endured in a way that’s graphic, but real.

Even if abandoned children isn’t proof enough of Decree 770’s failure, consider how Nicholae Ceaușescu’s regime ended. He was not hailed as the ultimate anti-abortion leader. He was brutally executed by his own soldiers, some of which were likely children born as a result of that policy. Some might call that irony. Other’s might call that fitting.

Whatever you call it, the legacy of Decree 770 is worth scrutinizing because it provides a case study in what happens when you take anti-abortion policies to the utmost extreme. I’m not just talking about the potential links between abortion and crime, which is still very controversial. I believe a much bigger part of that legacy is how it reduced an entire society to state-sanctioned drones whose only purpose was to work and breed.

It removed agency from couples who didn’t want children. It removed agency from pregnant women. It removed agency from families. It led to terrible situations that resulted in parents abandoning their children. Say what you want about a policy, but when it leads to child abandonment, then that’s a clear sign.

In many ways, Romania still hasn’t recovered from Decree 770. The effects this policy had on an entire generation and their parents left some pretty significant scars, to say the least. Those scars, however, can be critical lessons when discussing issues involving abortion, sexuality, and child rearing

That’s not to say that the experience in Romania completely discredits all anti-abortion arguments. Remember, and it’s worth emphasizing, Romania was a communist country where individual rights, freedom of choice, and personal liberty aren’t established traditions. Its situation is unique and subject to some pretty brutal circumstances.

Never-the-less, the experiences and legacy of Decree 770 provide a critical insight into the complexities of the abortion debate. It shows what can happen when one side is taken to extremes with brute, uncompromising force without first convincing the population of its merits. It’s not just tyrannical. It’s damaging.

At the moment, attitudes towards abortion are fairly mixed, but stable. The majority of people believe that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. The nature and extent of those circumstances vary, but they’re rarely conducive to extremes.

That’s why whenever a particular side gets too extreme in this heated debate, it helps to remember the lessons learned from Decree 770. Regardless of whether it occurs in a communist country or rural Alabama, those lessons are important to recall. They’re also the kinds of lessons we don’t want to re-learn.

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for Domino #1.

Luck Be A Lady (And Then Some): Domino #1

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April 18, 2018 · 5:32 pm

On Gender Double Standards And Male Strippers

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When I was 21-years-old, I took my first trip to Las Vegas. It was truly a magical experience. Even though I was young and socially awkward at the time, I had a lot of fun there. It was the first time I had been somewhere that really treated sex like a spectacle. That spectacle can bring out a very different side of people.

One incident, in particular, really exemplified this during that first fateful trip. It occurred when I was walking down Fremont Street, also known as the old part of Las Vegas. This is the area that gets glorified in gangster movies like “Casino.” Today, it’s largely full of street performers, tacky vendors, and Elvis impersonators.

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However, the one spectacle that stood out most occurred when I passed by an unusual crowd near the Golden Nugget. The crowd was unusual because it consistent mostly of women and they were making noises that I had never heard women make to that point in my life.

When I moved in closer, I saw that the source of the spectacle were a few male strippers, specifically the big, muscular types that worked at places like Chippendales. Despite being straight and shy at the time, even I found these guys to be attractive. However, it was the behavior of the women that really stood out.

They were all over these guys. They were cheering and laughing as though they had just won the lottery. They were taking turns hugging them, kissing them, and feeling around their perfectly chiseled muscles. Some women had this look on their face that resembled a kid looking at a giant chocolate cake. It was quite a sight.

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Keep in mind, these weren’t Las Vegas showgirls. Most of these women looked like soccer moms who could’ve easily been friends with my parents. At that moment, though, they were utterly uninhibited. The things they said to those strippers, and on a public street no less, would’ve made an experienced porn star blush.

At the time, it was just an amazing sight that I hadn’t seen before in my youth. As the years have gone by, though, that experience has taken on a very different context. That context has gained even greater meaning as trends in feminism, popular culture, and social justice have really changed the conversations we have about gender.

The particulars of that conversation really stand out when you focus on strippers. Specifically, the double standards within those conversations become a lot more apparent. I know I talk about double standards a lot, but some are more egregious than others. I would even go so far as to say that those involving strippers are most revealing, if that’s not too loaded a term.

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For any man who has gone to a strip club featuring female strippers, most quickly learn that there’s a lengthy set of guidelines to follow. I freely admit to going to multiple strip clubs so I’m pretty familiar with all of them. They usually involve these kinds of  rules.

  • Do NOT touch or grope the strippers while on stage or during a lap dance
  • Do NOT try to solicit sex or sexual services from the strippers
  • Do NOT yell at or disrupt the stripper while they’re on stage
  • Do NOT invite a stripper back to your hotel room or to a private residence
  • Do NOT address the strippers in a vulgar manner

There are usually other rules, but these are the most basic. Every strip club is different and some are better about enforcing those rules than others. For the most part though, these are the expectations and failure to meet them often means getting thrown out or arrested.

The rules and expectations for male strip clubs, however, are very different. It’s not just that it tends to be louder and more intimate, so to speak. There are things women do at male strip clubs that would get most men thrown out of female strip clubs, if not arrested.

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A couple years ago, Vice compiled testimony from male strippers about some of the behavior they encountered during their work. Their experiences included, but weren’t limited to being puked on by drunk women, women getting up on the stage to dance with them, and being flat out groped.

It’s also both common and expected that women will hook up with male strippers. Sometimes they’ll offer money. Sometimes they won’t. In either case, it’s exceedingly rare for them to face scrutiny or arrest for that sort of behavior. In fact, some even see it as empowering.

Never mind the fact that such empowerment requires such an apparent double standard. Women being sexually uninhibited and free to pursue whatever decadence they want is seen as liberating. However, men doing the same is seen as oppressive. The principles and mechanics are the same. The social stigma is not.

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That stigma also effects women in more indirect ways. There are more than a few stories about women being fired from their jobs after someone found out they worked as a stripper or porn star. Men who work as strippers, though, don’t usually have this issue. Former stripper Amber Rose pointed that out, noting how men like Channing Tatum get praised for his portrayal of a stripper while she still faces stigma for her past.

In both instances, the stigma is damaging. The double standards are asinine. Sure, you could argue that patriarchal traditions have helped forge these standards, making overly sexualized women taboo while overly sexualized men are prized. However, as with most double standards, they still require one too many assumptions and just as many taboos.

In both cases, the double standard is built around the idea that women should be sexually limited in most aspects of her life. There are even those who claim that women being sexually uninhibited undermines civilization. Nobody should take those claims seriously. Chances are those same people have unhealthy, regressive views about sexuality in general.

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That same standard also asserts that men are unthinking, unfeeling beasts. They want to be objectified by women. They’re expected to be dispassionate brutes who exist only to lure women into their bed the same way a rancher would herd cattle. Never mind the fact that some male strippers do indeed feel objectified. Their feelings don’t matter as much as their female peers.

However, while female objectification is decried, male objectification is celebrated at male strip clubs and movies about them. At the same time, women who dare to be sexual, either as strippers or just in general, are subject to stigma and scorn. Both are a byproduct of sexual repression and both are equally wrong.

Therein lies the most revealing implications about this double standard. It essentially exposes the script that men and women are expected to follow with sexuality. In that sense, I honestly can’t blame the women I saw that day in Las Vegas for going so nuts around those male strippers. They’re scorned for doing that in every other aspect of their lives. When they finally get a chance to break free, they go all out.

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Conversely, men still have to follow the script. They still have to jump through all the hoops and layers that tell them their desire for sex is inherently damaging. Their desire to just indulge in one of the most basic acts of intimacy in nature is an oppressive force, one that must be mitigated by the strict rules and guidelines prescribed by strip clubs.

In the end, strip clubs are a microcosm of the different sexual expectations for men and women. One form of sexuality is damaging, oppressive, and needs to be managed. The other is liberating, empowering, and forcibly contained by taboos and stigma. The fact that strip clubs even exist in the first place are a hint that those expectations are not entirely healthy for either gender.

 

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in society, sexuality

Contemplating The Perfect Drug (And Whether We Could Handle It)

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Imagine, for a moment, you took the perfect drug. By that, I don’t mean the kind of drug that alleviates a headache, settles an upset stomach, or just makes it so you can function normally. I’m not talking about the kinds of drugs that gives us Captain America level superpowers either. I’m talking about the kind of drug that alters, enhances, or somehow changes the way you experience the world, physically and mentally.

It is a very subjective thought experiment, especially compared to some of the others I’ve explored. It might even be somewhat inappropriate to contemplate as parts of this world are dealing with a serious prescription drug problem and violence generated by the illegal drug trade. However, with the War on Drugs that Richard Nixon first declared being almost 50 years old, I think a little nuance on the issue is warranted.

In the same way we’ll never have a society of perfect monogamy, despite the best efforts of religion and government, we’ll never have a completely drug-free society. Human beings have been experimenting with drugs since ancient times in some form or another. Some major historical figures are known to have done drugs that would’ve gotten them thrown in jail today.

The choice of drug may vary, but so too does their reason for taking it. Some seek to alleviate pain. Some seek to enhance pleasure. Some are just bored and want to experience something new and profound. Whatever the reasons, the fact that so many different people from so many different eras, cultures, and situations seek drugs is revealing in and of itself.

In some respects, it reflects our inherent dissatisfaction with our current limits. We are, at the end of the day, at the mercy of our bodies, our brains, and the evolutionary mechanisms behind them. We get tired too easily. We can’t run as hard or as fast as we want. We can’t remember things that well or learn new things that efficiently. That doesn’t even begin to the limitations that effect our sex lives.

If anything, our own evolution gives us a powerful imperative to seek out powerful drugs. Our bodies and brains are programmed with two imperatives, survival and reproduction. If we can find a drug that enhances both, then we’re just improving our evolutionary standing in the world.

While I wouldn’t make that argument to a DEA agent, I think it’s worth contemplating the kind of drug that would do more to help us transcend our limitations than what we have now. Modern drugs, legal and illegal alike, do some amazing things. However, as anyone who has dealt with the side-effects of pain killers knows, there’s room for improvement.

Ignoring side-effects for a moment, think of the effects and benefits of the familiar drugs in existence right now. Look at what they do, how they do it, and why people pursue those effects in the first place. Then, imagine which of those effects you would want to include with the perfect drug.

Would it make you really astute and focused like Adderall or Ritalin?

Would it make you really relaxed and mellow like Xanex or Marijuana?

Would it make you really energized like cocaine or amphetamines?

Would it give you better stamina and endurance like anabolic steroids?

Would it give you mind-altering perceptions like LSD and DMT?

Would it make you extremely happy and empathetic like MDMA?

Chances are, you might want a little of everything. What you want might also depend on your situation. If you want a drug that’ll help you lose weight, you’ll probably want the effects of steroids and amphetamines. If you want to sleep better, you’ll want the effects of Xanex or weed. If you just want to be happy, sometimes all you need is a cigarette or a beer.

The perfect drug, by definition, would be able to grant you all or at least part of these experiences. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to a new prescription or a new dealer. The same drug would be capable of evoking those effects. It may require some tweaking of the dosage, mechanisms, or chemical processes, but it’s still capable of delivering.

It may sound like an impossible substance and to some extent, it is. However, it’s still only as impossible as our limitations and there are plenty of ongoing efforts to transcend those limitations through biotechnology, nanotechnology, and human/machine interface. I’ve mentioned a few of those efforts, including smart blood and neural implants. With future refinements, they’ll provide the catalyst for the perfect drug.

It may take the form of a special pill full of programmable biomatter. Maybe you want it to help you sleep. Maybe you want it to help you focus. Maybe you want it to help you make love to your spouse for five hours straight. With the right programming and the right application of biology, it can do that.

For some effects, maybe a pill isn’t enough. To have the kinds of effects that would give someone the kind of physical or mental enhancement they seek, it may be necessary to inject this programmable matter directly into the body via an IV drip. That might be cumbersome, but it allows for more direct delivery than a pill.

Even if it’s more effective, it still might not be ideal. Some of the most addictive drugs, like tobacco and alcohol, have a social element to them. People bond when they do them together and since humans are such a social species, that might be a necessary component of the perfect drug.

Perhaps instead of an injection or a pill, it can be ingested as a drink like tea and coffee. That will allow people to congregate and make it a social event at a bar or club. It can be part of a greater bonding experience, a group of people all sharing in the benefits of the perfect drug. It effectively complements every component of the human condition.

On the issue of side-effects, this is where the perfect drug would have to clash with flawed biology. On paper, a perfect drug would have no adverse side-effects. It wouldn’t have withdrawal symptoms, damage organs, or turn your urine blue, which does happen.

In the real, less-than-perfect world, every drug will have side-effects. Even if biotechnology and neural implants gives people superhuman durability on par with Wolverine from the X-men, it’s likely that such powerful experiences will result in equally powerful impacts, both mental and physical.

One of the most likely effects, which might still be the most damaging, involves what happens to people when they’re not on the perfect drug. Even if the drug causes no withdrawal symptoms and generally leaves the body intact, it still creates a discrepancy in experience.

There’s the state the person was in without the perfect drug. There’s the state the person was in when they took it. If the gap between the two is big enough, as would likely be the case for the perfect drug, then even an enhanced mind within an enhanced body would struggle to some extent.

It would be like going from taking a private jet across the ocean to riding a mule. One is just going to be so much richer and more intense than the other that it doesn’t matter how enhanced you or your brain are. You’re going to want that drug and you’re going to do whatever it takes to get it.

In a future where people can enhance their bodies, augment their brains, and rid themselves of disease, what else will drive them other than the inherent human desire to transcend more limitations? Those experiences and the methods to get them, either by a drug or some other means, might end up being the most valuable currency in the future.

For now, we’re stuck with a diverse array of drugs with a wide variety of effects. They all come with their own unique risks and their own blend of side-effects. With more and more drugs being developed, as well as refinements to existing drugs, people will continue using drugs and seeking them, even if it means clashing with the law.

We’re still a long way from a perfect drug like the one I just described, but it’s an idea with contemplating. It reveals why we seek drugs in the first place and what we’re looking for in using them, despite all the risks and side-effects.

We don’t just seek health, strength, or new experiences. We seek to improve and enhance our own condition. How we go about it and how well we handle it depends on a lot of factors. We might never create a truly perfect drug, but as medical science and human enhancement continue to evolve, we may still achieve its effects.

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Prostitutes, Dirty Jobs, And The (Flawed) Concept Of Degradation

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Certain concepts are inherently subjective. Art, beauty, and the extent to which body hair is attractive come to mind. One concept, which isn’t subject to nearly as much scrutiny, is that of degradation. By that, I don’t mean the kind of degradation you see in a car that stays parked in the desert for too long. I’m talking about the kind of degradation we ascribe to certain people, jobs, and lifestyles. Sometimes, they’re all the same thing.

The concept of degradation gets thrown around a lot whenever sex and the sex industry comes up. It also gets thrown around whenever someone talks about a lousy job they’ve had. I’ve shared one such horror story about my first job, complete with depictions of baby vomit. For the sake keeping the discussion concise, I’m going to try and focus on the sexier side of this issue, but only to a point.

The problem with degradation, be it in the adult entertainment industry or the fast food industry, isn’t just with the subjective nature of the idea. It’s the inconsistency with which it’s applied. In some cases, the inconsistency reflects a mix of double standards, generalizations, and assumptions that require mind-reading abilities on a massive scale.

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While degradation has a dictionary definition, there’s no universally-accepted criteria to determine what act, job, or life is truly degrading. It is possible for someone to be happy working as a prostitute, just as it’s possible for someone to be happy working in fast food. Not everyone is going to share that sentiment, but that doesn’t make their happiness any less valid.

When it comes to the adult industry, though, degradation takes on a greater importance. Beyond the misguided crusade to label porn a public health crisis, the frequent criticisms of the industry are often built around how it degrades the people in it and the lives of those who consume it.

Words like objectification and abuse will often get thrown around. They’ll often highlight people who have had bad experiences, as though a single experience is enough to generalize an entire industry. By that logic, every fast food worker was as miserable as I was at my first job and still has nightmares about baby vomit.

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That logic is flawed, but it still gets taken seriously when the adult industry is involved. The stories of those who don’t feel degraded or objectified don’t get told while horror stories of former porn stars and sex workers get pushed to the center of the discussion so that the degradation is on full display to evoke the necessary emotions.

It’s such a common tactic when talking about the sex industry that it’s kind of expected. Nobody is really that surprised when news comes out about a former porn star who suffered horribly. Nobody is surprised when a former prostitute details how terrible and degrading the experience was for them. Never mind the fact that human memory has a nasty tendency to exaggerate. That’s when degradation matters.

However, it’s the situations where degradation isn’t applied that can be just as revealing. While it’s somewhat understandable that the adult industry would be scrutinized more since it involves sex and sex makes people uncomfortable, it also negates the degradation that others experience.

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Most of us who have worked menial service jobs at some point in our lives know those experiences well. Fast food workers tend to have more than a few, but those are the most obvious. Think about the people working these jobs and don’t look for reasons why it may be degrading. Think about why we, as a society, don’t consider it as degrading as a sex worker.

A trash collector literally has to touch our trash, no matter how much it smells or leaks. Why is that not considered degrading?

A janitor has to clean up our messes for minimal pay and no gratitude. Why is that not considered degrading?

A factory worker has to stand on an assembly line around dangerous machinery, functioning as an easily-replaceable cog in much larger enterprise. Why is that not considered degrading?

A bartender has to serve drinks to obnoxious customers, listen to them whine, and deal with occasional bar fights. Why is that not considered degrading?

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There’s a long list of jobs out there with varying degrees of degradation. From interns to cashiers, they all have plenty of potential for degrading experiences. Whether it’s from the work itself or the managers who make the work miserable, there’s plenty of degradation to go around. However, it only seems to matter when sex and women are involved.

To put the inanity of that concept into perspective, consider this. Earlier this year, five porn stars died and that was major news. Granted, that is quite an anomaly given that deaths within the porn industry are extremely rare. However, when compared to other industries that are more dangerous and degrading, it’s not news at all.

In 2016, over 100 people died working in the roofing industry and nearly 1,000 died working in the trucking industry. These aren’t injuries, social stigma, or bad press. This is death, by far the most serious kind of degradation. These are also industries where the majority of the workforce doesn’t consist of beautiful women and doesn’t give some the potential to strike it rich.

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Again, and I know this question is already getting old for some people, why is that not considered degrading? The entire concept seems to break down when you see it being reserved for a specific class of people within a specific kind of industry. The fact that the class consists primarily of beautiful women is not a coincidence.

When it involves men putting their lives at risk to make a living, it’s not degrading. It’s just work. When it involves women having sex for money, though, it’s degrading. It’s as though no woman could possibly want to get paid to have sex without being degraded. It’s as though every woman’s mind is so fragile that they cannot possibly understand the risks and must be protected from it.

That last part was sarcasm, by the way. I’ll give every woman a moment to stop fuming, but it’s something that should concern them, if only because it treats them like children who can’t make decisions for themselves. Whether it’s radical, anti-porn feminists or uptight religious zealots, the idea that women are so easily degraded should be insulting to any woman who values their sense of autonomy.

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It should be just as insulting to the men who work jobs that don’t involve sex, but are far more dangerous, both in terms of risk and degradation. If one entire industry is going to be condemned on the basis of degradation, but not apply to others, then that’s not just illogical. It’s downright asinine.

It just becomes another excuse to whine about an industry where people have sex in ways that might make priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks uncomfortable. It also becomes an excuse to overlook the danger and toil that people endure in other industries, just to make a living.

In the end, it’s insulting to men, women, and everything in between. There are serious issues in any industry, regardless of whether or not naked people are involved. However, if degradation is only going to apply to one special class of sex work, then that should reveal just how empty it truly is.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in society, sexuality