Category Archives: sex in society

Dangerous Double Standards And The Distressing Stories They Tell


When it comes to conveying complex ideas in an understandable way, I don’t consider myself exceptionally skilled. When it comes to telling a story, though, that’s a skill I know I have and not just because I aced every essay question in college.

Sometimes, a story is the best way to convey an idea and the emotional weight it carries. Anyone can list the details of complex issues like gun control, abortion rights, or net neutrality. Some, like John Oliver, can even make it funny or entertaining. However, explaining what an issue is doesn’t necessarily convey why it matters.

Whenever I talk about gender double standards, be it uncomfortable thought experiments or imbalances in our sexual attitudes, I try to do so in a way that highlights the larger implications. Those implications, I believe, are part of the reason why there’s so much hostility on issues like the anti-harassment movement, representation in popular culture, and fair treatment under the law.

I don’t want to belabor the points I’ve made on that topic in the past. Instead, I want to tell a quick story that I thought about turning into a short novel. Then, something happened in the process that struck me on a personal level. Read the following story and see if you can tell where the process broke down.

An average man, single and living alone, is walking down the street on a Saturday evening. It’s cold and rainy. Not many people are out in these conditions.

Then, as he passes by the dumpster near his home, he sees a girl who can’t be older than 10-years-old huddling under some dirty boxes. She’s wearing dirty clothes, she’s shivering, and is clearly in a bad situation.

The man feels sorrow and concern for the girl. He asks her where her parents are. He learns that the girl has run away. Her mother was abusive, even showing him some scars she had from when her mother cut her with a fork. Horrified, the man offers to help the girl. She eagerly accepts.

The man takes the girl home, gives her some badly-needed food, lets her take a hot bath, and lets her sleep in his bed while he sleeps on the couch. The next morning, he calls social services and finds out the girl’s mother is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed and under-staffed, they are unable to find any relatives to take care of her.

Having grown fond of her company, he offers to look after her. The girl eagerly accepts. The man spends the next several weeks caring for her, getting her new clothes and introducing her to his family. At first, his parents and siblings are uncertain about him taking care of a kid. When they meet her and see how much she loves him, their worries quickly fade.

As time goes on, the girl comes to love the man as a father. She starts calling him daddy. At first, he keeps reminding her that he’s not her real father. Soon, he stops and just smiles. The girl enriches his life in ways he never imagined. He wants to be a father to this girl who isn’t his. He wants to love her in the way she deserves.

Then, one day, a woman arrives at his door. She’s angry, disheveled, and badly dressed. She claims to be the girl’s mother. When the girl sees her, she’s terrified and hides behind the man in fear. The man demands that she leave, but she refuses to leave without her daughter. He threatens to call the police, but she threatens to do the same.

She then takes a step closer, revealing bad teeth, foul breath, and loveless eyes, and presents him with an ultimatum. If he doesn’t hand over the girl, she’ll call social services, the police, and the local news crew and tell him that he’s a sick pervert who took a girl off the streets just so he could groom her to be his personal slave.

It doesn’t stop there. She points out that he’s single, unmarried, and living by himself. Conversely, she’s just a poor woman who got taken advantage of by the girl’s biological father, fled out of fear for their safety, and got tragically separated in the process. All she wants to do is get her daughter back and away from a sadistic pervert. She even says she’ll claim he gave her all the girl’s scars.

In that story, he won’t be the man who took a poor little girl under his care and loved her like a father. He’ll become a disgusting pervert, his reputation destroyed and his life ruined. The fact the girls loves him will just be proof of how much he’s groomed her to be his slave.

The man is horrified. The girl says her mother is a liar and a monster. The woman just laughs before asking one more time for the man to hand over the girl. The man, seeing the terrified look in the girl’s eyes, doesn’t want to see her suffer. He then gets up in her face and tells her this.

“You stay the hell away from her! She belongs with me! Lie all you want. I know the truth and so does she.”

The woman just shakes her head and laughs again.

“It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Everyone will believe me at my worst before they believe you at your best.”

This is as far as I could take the story. At this point, the creative process broke down for me. For someone like me who loves telling stories, sexy or otherwise, that’s akin to tripping over my own feet in the middle of a race. It usually takes a lot for me to throw my hands up and give up on a story. This was one of them.

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That’s because when I imagined that final confrontation, I could not come up with a way to see it through. I can easily see the man fighting the woman’s accusations and winning out in the end. I can also see the woman winning out and the man having his life ruined, all because he showed compassion for a little girl.

The fact that I can see both outcomes as equally possible really bothers me and not just because I found myself unable to finish the story. In telling that story, I touched on a disturbing implication of double standards and the assumptions we have about men, women, and how they treat one another.

The story was partially inspired by an incident in the UK where a man, who happens to be a widower, took his teenage daughter on a vacation. When they checked into a motel, though, the staff got suspicious that an older man was traveling with a teenage girl. They called the police on him, suspecting that he might be a pedophile.

 The dad and daughter were staying over for trip to Thorpe Park together

By most measures, it’s a simple, albeit egregious misunderstanding. It deeply disturbed the girl and put the father in a terrible position. He was able to show the staff pictures and IDs to prove that he was the girl’s father and not some pervert. The damage was done, though.

When I read that story, I found myself wondering what would’ve happened if the man hadn’t had those family pictures. Then, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man wasn’t a blood relative of the girl. Then, and this is where the impact got especially heavy, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man had just tried to help a girl who had run away and had nowhere to go.

If he had been a woman helping a 14-year-old girl in her time of need, I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. However, because this involves a man and expectations about parenting is different for men, the situation takes on a much darker undertone.

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That undertone highlights why these gender double standards can be so damaging. It’s one thing for those standards to inspire overplayed tropes about men in sitcoms. When they create a real incentive for people to not do the compassionate thing, that’s not just a problem. That creates real, tangible harm in the world.

Men are capable of kindness and compassion. Most decent people believe this. However, when there’s a situation in which assuming the best for one gender requires that you assume the worst for another, that reflects the kind of double standard that needs to be confronted.

We’re already seeing men show more reluctance in being alone with women. Any level of reluctance requires a certain level of fear. When it gets to a point that just being alone with another human being scares us, then that’s a sign that something is very wrong with our attitudes.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Why Sex Addiction (Probably) Doesn’t Exist


When it comes to human psychology, addiction is like quantum physics in that few understand it and Hollywood constantly gets it wrong. I know I say it a lot on this blog, but it’s worth belaboring. People are complicated. One person may watch “Star Wars” and think it’s the greatest piece of cinema of all time. Another may watch it and say it has no redeeming values.

That’s an important context to consider when discussing topics of addiction, which affects a significant portion of the human population. According to Addiction Center, there are approximately 20.6 million people over the age of 12 struggling with an addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 200,000 people have died since 1999 from prescription drug abuse alone.

Addiction is a serious issue. I know people who have struggled with addiction. I think everybody knows someone in their lives, be they a friend or relative, who has struggled with an addiction of some sorts. Addiction is real and there’s actual biology behind it. As such, it stands to reason that the rising instance of sexual addiction is real.

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Before I scrutinize this sexy, yet unsexy phenomenon, I need to preface this by acknowledging that our collective understanding of these issues is still developing. What we consider a psychological dysfunction today may end up just being a healthy variation within the diversity of human thought. That’s why homosexuality is no longer considered a disease.

That context is important to establish because the term “sex addict” has been thrown around a lot lately. It’s not quite on the level of “fake news” or “soy boy,” but it has been cropping up, especially in wake of the recent scandals in Hollywood. Both Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey claimed to be sex addicts after their scandals.

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Needless to say, not everybody buys that excuse. Given my propensity to bemoan excuses, I count myself among them. These men claiming that sex addiction caused their deplorable behavior comes off as a pitiful attempt to gain sympathy, trying to paint themselves as sick. It also assumes a lot about the complex nature of addiction.

It’s true that we can become addicted to damn near anything, but it’s not just a matter of one particular activity flooding the pleasure centers of our brain more than others. Alcoholics don’t get the same orgasmic release from a cold beer that a sex addict gets from a quickie in the shower. There are other psychological forces behind it.

Since we can’t yet read the minds of an individual person, we have only a cursory understanding of those forces. However, there is an established criteria for addiction within a medical context. The American Psychiatric Association, describes addiction as follows:

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will causes problems.

At the same time, it establishes a clear difference between just being addicted to a certain activity, like sex, eating, or playing World of Warcraft for 29 hours straight, and the addiction caused by drugs. They don’t even call it addiction. They have a more official label called Substance Use Disorder. Their description of this condition is a lot scarier than just someone who has more orgasms than most.

People with a substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.

These substances can cause harmful changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug — the intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, calm, increased senses or a high caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.

I bring up this distinction because more than one person has described sex like a drug. In doing so, it’s easier to accept that those claiming to suffer from sex addiction have a real ailment. Sex is a powerful drive that evokes pleasure that some brain scans have compared to heroin. Does it not stand to reason that sex addicts are in the same boat as heroin addicts?

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The short answer is no. Sex addicts and heroin addicts are as different from one another as an arm-wrestling contest and an underground fight club. Addiction to heroin has a strict criteria for diagnosis. Sex addiction doesn’t meet that criteria in that alleged addicts don’t respond the same way that those suffering from Substance Use Disorder respond.

According to research done by UCLA, the reactions of those claiming porn addiction did not mirror those addicted to other activities like drinking, smoking, etc. Within that same research, it was also uncovered that sex addiction lacks one of the most important features of an addiction, namely that of diminished response from the pleasure centers of the brain.

That’s key because one of the most damaging factors of an addiction is that over time, the addictive behavior doesn’t light up the pleasure centers of the brain like it used to. That’s why alcoholics need more alcohol and crack addicts need more crack to get the same high. Brain scans show that in drug abuse. They don’t show it in sex addiction.

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In fact, the conclusions of the researchers on sex addiction were somewhat mundane. According to the data gathered from the brains and experiences of real people, the idea of sex addiction is nothing more than having a high sex drive and poor impulse control. That’s not an addiction. That’s a personality quirk. If anything, the very term “sex addiction” undermines the suffering of real addicts.

I know those conclusions is not going to convince those who genuinely believe that they’re struggling with sex addiction. I don’t doubt that these people are struggling and it’s negatively impacting their lives, their families, and their relationships. However, I believe putting it in the same category as drug abuse only skews our understanding of addiction and sexuality.

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Some people are really just a lot hornier than others. In the same way some people have a bigger appetite for food, some have a bigger appetite for sex. Unlike food, though, those suffering from eating disorders don’t blame the entire concept of food. There are often other psychological factors behind it.

Sex also has another complication that food and eating don’t. Our culture has an established set of sexual norms that idealize some forms of sexuality and shame others. Even though we’ve accepted more diversity in recent decades, we still idealize monogamous romances where those involved only have sex to make babies or explore the kind of passion reserved for a scene in “Titanic.”

As a result, anything that deviates from that narrative, be they an open relationship or just wanting to hump for the sake of humping, is subject to scorn or shaming. I’ve noted the flaws in this sort of narrative before, but on a much larger scale, it creates a situation where certain manifestations of sex become less a variation and more a disease.

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Like homosexuality, though, treating those variations as flawed or damaged doesn’t make them go away. It’s possible for a drug addict to get treatment to repair the damage those drugs have done to their bodies and minds. It’s not possible to complete reshape and remold someone’s baseline sexual desires without causing serious damage.

To really get an idea of how this can motivate self-professed sex addicts to engage in such erratic behaviors, imagine for a moment that you’re a heterosexual person in a world where only homosexuality is accepted. As such, you’re expected to enter a homosexual relationship with someone and remain in that relationship indefinitely.

That means you have to ignore or temper your basic sexual desires in order to operate in that society without shame or scrutiny. You have to pretend that the relationship you’re in is sufficient when you know it’s not. Since you can’t turn off your brain or your basic desires, it’s going to mess with your mind and inspire erratic behavior.

It’s for that reason that sex addiction, as it’s currently understood, probably doesn’t exist. I say probably because, as I pointed out earlier, our understanding of sexuality, psychology, and the human experience is still limited. For now, though, our conclusions are fairly simple. You’re not an addict. You’re just really horny and you live in a society that doesn’t afford you the opportunities to explore those feelings.

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

The Law Of Proportional Backlash And The Anti-Harassment Movement


There comes a point in every social movement where the momentum seems unstoppable. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, racial equality, or finally having a female Dr. Who, there’s a sentiment that certain trends are just going to play out and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

That’s a false impression, by the way. Human beings are complex, erratic, and fickle creatures. I’ve touched on this before and will likely bring it up again because human beings are just that interesting. That said, they can also be quite frustrating.

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When it comes to highlighting those qualities in the midst of an ongoing controversy, though, I have to be careful because I don’t want my points to get lost in the anger. I know as well as anyone else with an internet connection that digital outrage has a nasty habit of undermining meaningful dialog. I want to avoid that as much as possible cause this is one point I feel is worth making.

As I write this, the latest major social movement to combat sexism and sexual misconduct is close to that point I mentioned earlier. It’s still a very hot-button issue and I’ve tried to be fair in discussing it on this blog. However, the current momentum of this movement, which has the wholly noble goal of preventing harassment, is coming up against a force that reflects the eccentricities of human nature.

That force doesn’t have an official or scientific name, but it has many familiar components. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll label it as follows:

The Law Of Proportional Backlash

I’m not claiming this law is definitive or on the same level as the laws of relativity. To make sense of what’s going on, and what often happens with these social movements, it’s just helpful to have a unifying idea to tie it all together.

The essence of this law that I just randomly coined is pretty simple. It’s the human equivalent of Newton’s Third Law, which says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When it comes to social movements, though, the reaction is more than that. It’s can also be an outright backlash.

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To illustrate, you need only look at the frequency with which political parties gain and lose power. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, as society has become more connected, open, and diverse, these tendencies have played out with stunning regularity. It often plays out like this:

“Hey! The current social order isn’t the perfect, utopian society I want. Let’s kick the people in power out of office and put in these people making impossible promises to achieve impossible things.”

A few years later.

“Hey! These people we put in power haven’t created the perfect, utopian society I waned either. Let’s kick them out and put in other people in power who are also making impossible promises to achieve impossible things. Moreover, let’s hate, shame, and spit on the other side for failing to do all those impossible things!”

I fully concede that’s a very basic illustration of how political power fluctuates in the modern world. I also concede there are many variations, but in terms of the big picture, this is how the Law of Proportional Backlash works.

A movement begins, be it political or social. It gains momentum. Usually, there’s some sort of event that acts as a catalyst. With racial segregation, events like the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education helped get things going. With same-sex marriage, Massachusetts being the first state to legalize it did the same.

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For the current movement against sexism and sexual misconduct, I think most would point to either the 2016 presidential election or the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst. I would argue it’s a combination of both, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the movement gained a lot of momentum. If it could take down someone as powerful as Harvey Weinstein, then it’s safe to say that movement is pretty strong.

As often happens, though, the momentum provokes backlash. That happens whenever a movement fails to achieve every goal and, spoiler alert, no movement ever achieves every goal. The world is too complex and impossible problems tend to frustrate human limitations. As a result, a movement has to overreach and that will spurn a backlash.

With the movement against sexual misconduct, there are plenty of signs of overreach. There are people scorning others for making reasonable arguments about there being a spectrum of harassment. Careers are being ruined on the basis of anonymous accusations and mixed messages that are impossible to discern.

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There was even a distressing article on BigThink that argued that crimes involving sexual violence should not be subject to the traditional standards of proof. The underlying reason for that is too many guilty people get away with their crimes so it’s worth the risk of punishing the innocent to remedy that issue.

It’s that kind of sentiment, one in which the proportion becomes increasingly extreme, that tends to hasten the backlash. Whenever a movement gets to a point it’s deemed appropriate to sacrifice innocent people for the sake of a cause, then that’s usually a sign that it’s reaching beyond its ideals and emboldening opponents.

There are already major news outlets reporting on that phenomenon. Publications like the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and even the liberal Huffington Post have discussed it in various forms. The reactions to those speaking out against sexual misconduct is no longer one of unity and support. Now, there’s criticism and animosity, the first signs of a real backlash.

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Those behind the movement need only look at the LGBT movement to see what that backlash can entail. Even though same-sex marriage is legal, the resulting backlash triggered a surge in “religious freedom” bills that promoted a new kind of discrimination. That backlash is still ongoing. The one surrounding sexual misconduct may just be getting started.

I still don’t doubt the sincerity and ideals behind the movement against sexual misconduct. People want justice for those who have been victimized. Justice is an inherent aspect of the human condition. We’re literally wired to seek it when we feel there’s an injustice in the world.

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of that justice, anger and resentment end up clouding those ideals. We’ve seen that anger directed towards the political process that played out in 2016. We’ve seen it used to demonize and denigrate entire groups of people, including an entire gender in some cases.

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When people are attacked, their first instinct isn’t to admit defeat. It’s to fight back. That’s just basic survival instinct and there’s no way any movement, be it political or social, can circumvent that. By fighting back, the backlash itself gains momentum. Sometimes that backlash gains enough momentum to become a movement in it’s own right. Then, it too may be subject to a backlash.

It seems like an never-ending cycle, one in which little is gained in the long run. While I don’t deny it can be disheartening, I believe there are gains that make many movements worthwhile in the long run. Just ask any same-sex couple who can get married now if they’re willing to risk such a backlash. They would probably do so in a heartbeat.

I don’t know how the movement against sexual misconduct is going to play out, even if the backlash it inspires ends up being minor. I hope, in the long run, it has a net-positive effect on society. It still won’t be a perfect society, but whether it’s from the movement or the backlash, even a little gain in justice and human progress can still mean a lot in the long run.


Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Why Prostitution Is Illegal And Why It Shouldn’t Remain Illegal


When it comes to matters of sex, there are usually two components. One involves passion, emotion, and intimate connection. That’s the romantic side of the equation, the one often glorified in my novels and in centuries worth of romantic media. That side is rarely controversial. In a perfect world, the primary purpose of sex would be to celebrate that connection and propagate the human species. That’s it.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, we don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why the second component exists. That’s the economic side of sex, the one that involves utilizing sex as a means of exchanging value. That value doesn’t always involve money, resources, or vengeance for a bitter ex-lover. However, the nature of that value is what gives this form of sex greater taboo.

It’s because we glorify the romantic aspects of sex that the idea of treating it like any other exchange makes some people feel uncomfortable. The idea that the intimate act we do with the love of our life in a candle-lit bedroom in Paris is no different from a couple of strangers having a quickie in a gas station bathroom on the Jersey Turnpike just doesn’t sit well.

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It’s that sentiment that has kept prostitution and sex work of all kinds illegal in most of the developed world. It’s also why efforts to change the legal status of sex work often encounters strong opposition. It’s not just from the uptight Puritanical crowd who are against anything that feels to good. Even those within secular organizations oppose it.

Prostitution, sex work, or whatever you want to call it has a long, colorful history. It has always had a place in every society in some form or another. It’s in the bible, it’s in the ancient world, and it has found a way to thrive even in the most repressive of eras. Wherever there are resources to be exchanged or just a large collection of horny individuals, prostitution finds a way. It’s kind of like life itself.

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It’s for that reason that making prostitution illegal and keeping it illegal seems both asinine and futile. It’s one of those issues that has too many forces from both sides of the political spectrum working against it to ever change. Considering the growing concerns over our current approach to sex, it’s an issue that deserves greater scrutiny.

While efforts to regulate or prohibit prostitution are nothing new, the reasons for doing have changed. For most of human history, the reasons were entirely pragmatic. In the days before modern medicine, unregulated prostitution could lead to outbreaks of deadly diseases. Some of those diseases were so debilitating that it’s entirely understandable that many would adopt a very prohibition-centered approach.

As with other prohibitions though, the effects only went so far. Despite all the health risks and moral considerations, there seemed to be this unspoken understanding that prostitution is inevitable. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man who had a very narrow view of sin, is said to have said this about prostitution.

“Prostitution is like a sewer in a palace. Take away the sewer and you will fill the palace with pollution.”

Older societies might not have had access nearly as much knowledge as we do today, but they did notice one thing. A society full of horny people with no outlet for all that sexual energy is not a stable one. We even see evidence of that today. Even with the risk of disease in an era before modern medicine, those societies understood that.

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It wasn’t really until the early 20th century that the western world really made a push for prohibition. It coincided with other social purity movements that fought for the prohibition of alcohol, gambling, and anything else you can do in Las Vegas on a weekend. It had less to do with pragmatics and more to do with a moral resurgence fueled by religion and political zeal.

While that movement eventually conceded that prohibition of alcohol was fruitless, the anti-prostitution laws they inspired still lingers. As it stands, prostitution is illegal in most of the United States, except for a few places in Nevada. In Europe, there’s a messy patchwork of legality that ranges from fully legal, to quasi-legal, to outright illegal.

Regardless of what the laws say, prostitution exists and will continue to exist. The only thing that changes are the reasons for combating it. Most people these days won’t get into a moral debate about whether two consenting adults having sex is immoral, even if they’re not married. They will, however, show great concern about exploration and subjugation.

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Today, anti-prostitution attitudes are shaped largely by concerns over human trafficking, a crime that is horrible on too many levels to list. Whether by coincidence or agenda, prostitution is so closely tied to human trafficking that the two are sometimes used interchangeably. Considering how human trafficking often involves more than just sex, that’s not a fair comparison.

Fair or not, it’s that underlying concern that ensures attitudes about prostitution remain predominantly negative. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the victims of human trafficking are mostly disadvantaged women, whose suffering has become a much larger issue in recent years.

While nobody doubts the awful nature of human trafficking and the exploitation of innocent women, it still undercuts the very understanding that many societies in the past either accepted or learned the hard way. A society without a sexual outlet is not a stable one.

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Whether you’re concerned about the effects of “toxic masculinity” or people developing unhealthy attitudes about sex in general, the attitudes the fuel the prohibition are the same sentiments that keep people from exploring their sexuality. If their desire to just have sex for the sake of sex is seen as a flaw, then that’s going to cause problems. As I’ve noted before, treating sexual desires as a disease rarely works out.

There’s no doubt that there are those who become prostitutes out of desperation, just as there are people who work in fast food restaurants out of desperation. There are also those who freely choose to become prostitutes and even enjoy their work. Ironically, laws prohibiting prostitution hurts both by relegating it to the criminal underworld.

Treating prostitution as a crime seriously undermines the impact of real crimes. It’s not like murder, theft, or violence. These are activities that actively harm other individuals and involve someone going out of their way to subvert someone else’s will or property. Prostitution, namely the kind that involves two consenting adults, involves no such subversion.

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However, by making it illegal, it ensures that there will be criminal elements involves. Criminal elements, by default, involve the kind of violence, theft, and deviance that supporters of prohibition cite. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst kind. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot to protest gun violence.

That’s not to say there’s no hope for reforming our attitudes surrounding prostitution. There are branches of sex-positive feminism out there that support recognizing sex work as actual work. Back in 2016, Amnesty International even adopted an official position stating that the decriminalization of prostitution is critical to the pursuit of human rights.

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While society is probably a long way from full legalization, at least until sex robots are perfected, the attitudes that keep it illegal may end up being more harmful in the long run. The late, great George Carlin said it best with a simple, succinct, and naturally hilarious question.

“I don’t understand why prostitution is illegal. Selling is legal, fucking is legal. So why isn’t it legal to sell fucking?”

The fact that such insightful logic is so funny also makes it kind of frustrating. It’s almost tragic, to some extent, that we insist on complicating what should be a very simple concept. Not every sex act can be an act of passion, just as not every act of passion need be a sex act.

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If society is going to develop healthier attitudes towards sex, then we’re need to give people the ability and opportunities to explore. Prostitution, whatever our attitudes may be, will likely be part of that effort. Any effort to eliminate it completely is doomed to fail. That’s why it’s called the world’s oldest profession.

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Why Wolverine Of The X-men Is The Perfect Counter To Toxic Masculinity

During a debate, the biggest challenge is making a point that strikes the right chords, evokes the right emotions, and has some semblance of logic. Anyone who has ever engaged in a meaningful debate, be it a formal contest or an argument on a message board, understands the extent of that challenge.

Sometimes, you have to get creative to make those points. Thankfully, getting creative for an aspiring erotica/romance writer and die-hard comic book fan is easier than it is for most people. Every now and then, your mind makes unexpected connections that perfectly encompasses the message you’ve been trying to convey.

This brings me back to “toxic masculinity,” a term I still believe should be retired from the English language, and every other language for that matter. I’ve dedicated multiple posts to deconstructing this concept. Now, I want to take it a step further.

I want to re-frame my stance on this concept by offering a different kind of argument. I’ve already argued that context and social situations are the primary driving force of the traits often ascribed to toxic masculinity.

I still think the point I made about context and social situation is difficult to grasp, even with the references to the rat park experiments. Most people outside of psychology buffs aren’t familiar with those experiments. Instead, I want to make my point by referencing a character that the vast majority of people have heard of to some extent.

Some know him as Logan, James Howlett, Weapon X, or that snarling guy with the claws who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. Most simply know him as Wolverine.

Yes, I’m going to bring Wolverine, one of the most famous male superheroes of all time, into a discussion about toxic masculinity, but not in the way you think. Being an ardent X-men fan who has used superheroes to make points in the past, I feel uniquely qualified to link this iconic character to this concept that so many resent.

On the surface, that sounds like a losing battle. Bear with me, though. When you take a step back and look at Wolverine in the context of masculinity, as a whole, you’ll find that he’s the perfect embodiment of a man who guts the idea of toxic masculinity with his claws and spits on its corpse.

That may seem counter-initiative because anyone who is even somewhat familiar with Wolverine might see him as a man who embodies all the negative traits associated with masculinity. He’s brutish, crude, ill-mannered, ill-tempered, impulsive, violent, and irresponsible. He has all those traits on top of a tendency to go after married women.

However, before anyone starts attributing those traits to toxic masculinity, it’s important to understand the complexities of Wolverine’s story. There’s a reason why he’s often ranked as one of the most compelling characters in the history of comics. His life, persona, and story are full of all sorts of twists and turns. More than anything else, though, Wolverine’s story is one built on dehumanization.

Whether it’s the comics, movies, are cartoons, this is the primary driving force of Wolverine’s story. From his earliest origins to his most defining moments, Wolverine is a man who has been subjected to extreme forms of dehumanization. Some of them, especially those involved in the Weapon X program that made him, have no real-world parallel outside the mind of a North Korean mad scientist.

He’s had his memories erased, his mind warped, his body tortured, and even his soul stolen by a demon. Even by comic book standards, Wolverine has been roughed up more than most. Many people of exceedingly villainous tendencies have tried to strip him of his humanity and turn him into a living, breathing weapon. Needless to say, most of those people died horribly.

As a result, Wolverine is one of the most violent and unpredictable characters in all of comics. He’s also one of the most dangerous, having killed every major hero in the Marvel universe at one point and survived death itself on more than one occasion.

The most remarkable feat though, which also happens to strike directly at the very foundation of toxic masculinity, is his continued desire to cling to his humanity and be the iconic hero that so many X-men fans love.

It’s that drive, and the endearing persona that emerges from it, that makes Wolverine the perfect counter-punch to toxic masculinity. Despite all these dehumanizing forces, he still clings to his humanity. That effort, which has played out in many comics, movies, and cartoons over the years, reflects one important concept.

In essence, Wolverine reflects the idea that it’s really hard to make a man behave in such a toxic way. In order for him to be the kind of man that most people attribute to toxic masculinity, it’s necessary to torture him endlessly, strip him of all identity, and undercut his humanity in the worst way possible. If that kind of force is required, then how can anyone claim that masculinity is inherently toxic?

If those sorts of traits were inherent in men, then someone like Wolverine wouldn’t need that kind of conditioning. He wouldn’t need to be tortured or coerced into being the brutish, blood-thirsty monster that Weapon X wants him to be. If toxic masculinity were valid, someone would just have to give him some metal claws, send him out into the world, and let the magic of testosterone do the rest.

That’s not how men work, though, even in the fictional world. In X-men comics, as well as real life, ideas of masculinity guide men in different ways. For Wolverine, those ways led him to becoming an X-men, an Avenger, and an iconic hero who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. It shows in more than just his heroism.

Throughout his history in the X-men comics, Wolverine has shown that when he’s not being coerced or tortured, he makes an effort to live an honorable life. He seeks love, having even married a couple of a times. He seeks friendships and relationships, some of which have helped make characters like Kitty Pryde and Jubilee famous in their own right. He basically tries to be his own man.

Even though he’s still an asshole at times, he’s an asshole in a way that’s gender neutral. The things Wolverine does that make him an ass are the same things that apply to women. Whether it’s going after someone else’s spouse, undercutting someone’s authority, or randomly running off to do his own thing, there’s nothing Wolverine does that a woman couldn’t also do.

That leads directly to what might be an even more compelling argument for Wolverine being the antithesis of toxic masculinity. That’s because there is a female character who shares many of Wolverine’s experiences and exemplifies the same traits. Those who saw the “Logan” movie last year already know where I’m going with this.

It’s his clone/daughter, Laura “X-23” Kinney. In a sense, she doubles down on the idea that these “toxic” traits are not inherently masculine because she endured dehumanization to a similar extent. In fact, her dehumanization was even worse because she wasn’t given a name, only a number.

Like Wolverine, being subjected to such dehumanization rendered Laura violent, impulsive, and callous. If she were male, then it would be easy for advocates of toxic masculinity to slap her with that label, just like Wolverine. However, her being female undercuts that argument from its very foundation.

Together, the character and story surrounding Wolverine and X-23 undercuts toxic masculinity by establishing that the toxic effects of dehumanization don’t apply to just one gender. Strip away someone’s identity, social support, and humanity and they’ll demonstrate more than a few toxic traits.

What this means in terms of the bigger picture is that those traits attributed to toxic masculinity have a larger context that goes beyond gender. These traits that are tied to certain male behaviors are correlated to one thing, but not necessarily tied to the actual cause. Being a man doesn’t make Wolverine who he is. Being a man who was subject to dehumanizing treatment did that.

Now, apply that to a world where the very idea of masculinity is being subject to all sorts of scrutiny. Joss Whedon went so far as to call certain masculine tendencies a disease when making excuses for his infidelity. By linking everything bad in the world to masculinity, it dehumanizes men by making them seem inherently flawed.

That’s the most insidious implication of toxic masculinity. It’s very much akin to the forces behind Weapon X in that it attempts to deconstruct a core part of someone’s identity, reducing them to a hunk of flesh to be molded for someone else.

Most men don’t want that. Most people, in general, don’t want that. It’s yet another reason why the idea of toxic masculinity needs to be gutted with adamantium claws, locked in an adamantium case, and thrown into the deepest, darkest pits of the real and fictional world.


Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

On “Demolition Man” And The Path To A Dispassionate Dystopia


When it comes to foreseeing the future, be it a “Star Trek” utopia or a “Mad Max” wasteland, Hollywood can be downright prophetic at times. While movies are wrong way more often than they’re right, there are the times when certain movies are more prophetic than they probably intended. Every vision of the future varies wildly, but a few of those visions end up being more relevant, albeit for distressing reasons.

One movie that I find myself contemplating a lot more lately is “Demolition Man.” To date, it’s still one of my favorite Sylvester Stallone movies that doesn’t involve Rocky Balboa. When I was a kid who was just beginning to appreciate R-rated movies, “Demolition Man” ranked right up there with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

It wasn’t just because it was a great action movie, complete with over-the-top violence and a charismatic villain that Wesley Snipes played to perfection. Like “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” it had depth to it, something that’s rare in action movies, even today. However, after seeing it again recently on cable, I think it’s vision of the future is more relevant now than it was in 1993.

In terms of predicting certain trends, “Demolition Man” already had a pretty good track record. The movie foresaw things like video chat, self-driving cars, mass surveillance, and Arnold Schwarzenegger getting into politics.

There is, however, one vision that even “The Simpsons” didn’t predict and it’s downright distressing at how accurate it was. Beyond the technological advances, the shiny world of “Demolition Man” has a very dystopian undertone.

While it looks peaceful and prosperous on the surface, the movie quickly reveals that this is a world dominated by an extremely authoritarian system run by the well-mannered, yet devious Dr. Raymond Cocteau. It’s a system that willfully and proudly employs draconian laws that ban anything and everything that might be bad for you, from cigarettes to loud music to spicy food.

It’s a system that doesn’t just punish people for cussing. Anyone who doesn’t go along with Cocteau’s rules is basically doomed to live in the sewers as part of a permanent underclass, as Dennis Leary’s character, Edgar Friendly, so eloquently put it. His world regulates intimate human contact to a level that even the Catholic Church would find egregious.

This is a world where people don’t touch each other. They don’t hug each other. Even when they try to high-five each other, they stop just short so that their skin never touches. Needless to say, the people in this world don’t have much of a sex life. In fact, it makes for a very awkward scene at one point.

This is pretty revealing in the sense that when John Spartan, Stallone’s main character, asks about “the old fashioned way” to Sandra Bullock’s character, Lenina Huxley, she’s repulsed by the idea. She then goes on this long rant about how sex is so dangerous. She even notes that in this future, sex requires a goddamn license from the government.

It seemed so laughably ridiculous back in 1993. Unfortunately, it makes a distressing amount of sense in 2018. We may not need a license to have sex, but we’re already developing apps and legal framework surrounding sex and consent. Is the idea that we may one day need a license to have sex really that outrageous?

The situation we have now is not the same in “Demolition Man,” but the themes are eerily similar. As I’ve noted before, the war against horny men and horny women has been escalating. While we’ve done a lot to reduce the stigma of people having sex for reasons other than procreation, society is giving people others reasons to be as repulsed as Huxley was by the idea of “old fashioned” sex.

We’re now in an era where the mere act of depicting a beautiful woman in a video game is considered oppressive to women. Given the recent surge of sex scandals and public displays by celebrities, there’s a growing undercurrent in our culture that would’ve made Dr. Cocteau’s job that much easier.

There’s now a full-fledged movement against sexual misconduct in all forms, be it harassment in the workplace or flirting in public. Reactions to that movement are still ongoing and changing by the day. Some are adopting the so-called Mike Pence rules when dealing with the opposite sex. Some are taking a more radical approach and attempting to just distance themselves from the entire gender setup.

Both approaches play right into Dr. Cocteau’s hands. Both seem to manifest in the dystopian order that we see in “Demolition Man.” It’s a world that came from a society that only ever saw the bad in people. Dr. Cocteau himself said that before he took charge, people trembled in fear at what society had become. That fear made it easy for someone like him to step in and impose his order.

In “Demolition Man,” the violence and crime of the past was used as the source of that fear. Today, violent crime is at record lows, but fear of crime is prevalent as ever thanks largely to media depictions. At the same time, fear of sexual harassment or being accused of it is growing, even as rates of sexual assault declined by more than half.

Given that potent combination of fear, which perfectly entwines sex with violence, is it any wonder that people in 2018 are avoiding being alone with the opposite sex and are less inclined to resist the growth of mass surveillance? Dr. Cocteau may be a fictional character, but we’re following a similar path without him.

Demolition Man” takes place in the year 2032. Is it really that impossible to think our collective fear surrounding violence and sex in 2018 won’t lead to a similarly dispassionate world? As much an optimist as I am about the future, a part of me does worry that we’ll walk the path that Cocteau laid out in the movie.

In that world, fear about crime and sex is so great that basic touch is seen as a pre-cursor to deviance. We already saw Matt Damon get in trouble for suggesting there was a spectrum for harassment. As a result, our future interactions will have to be micromanaged. Even if the crime rates continue to drop, the slightest chance that someone could harass or assault another has to be taken as a certainty.

That may not mean we dress in the strange robes that the people wear in “Demolition Man,” but it’s very likely that world won’t allow for much provocative attire. We already know how cultures like that manifest today and they’re not sexy or friendly, to say the least.

What makes these manifestations worse than those in “Demolition Man” is that these conditions may not need to be imposed by someone like Dr. Cocteau. We may just become so crippled by our fears of violence, harassment, or being accused of harassment that we’ll just create the repressive world of Cocteau without him. That, in my mind, would be an even worse dystopia.

Now, I concede we’re still a long way from that kind of society. If someone like Dr. Cocteau came along today and tried to impose the kind of society that required a license for any kind of sexual activity, he would probably fail. I take some comfort in that.

However, the more our fears surrounding sex, gender, harassment, and violence escalate, the more inclined we’ll be to craft a more repressive, disconnected world. History and basic human biology has shown that sort of effort never works in the long run and can be very damaging.

There are a lot of lessons to be had from a movie like “Demolition Man” while still enjoying Sylvester Stallone delivering his memorable one-liners. Beyond the over-the-top action that makes the movie such a spectacle, there’s a message that is more important in 2018 than it ever was in 1993.

A world built around elaborate, authoritarian rules that try to regulate human expression may seem utopian on the surface, but it becomes distinctly dystopian when you look at the implications. Some of forces behind that dystopia in “Demolition Man” are already starting to manifest. If it ever gets to a point where a high-five has to be rethought, then we should worry.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

What Men Lose From Circumcision

I know it’s been a while since I talked about circumcision. Believe me, that’s not a mistake. Most men would rather have root canal while recovering from a hangover than talk about circumcision. There just aren’t many ways to make it an easy conversation.

I’ve talked about my own circumcision and why many attitudes about circumcision, at least in North America, comes from a man who believed that it would stop boys from masturbating. I’d hoped that was the most I would ever need to discuss it on this blog. Unfortunately, those hopes collapsed after a recent conversation I had.

The context of the conversation isn’t that important, but involved a woman I knew online and the recent efforts to end female genital mutilation. By and large, most people in the industrialized world oppose female genital mutilation. It’s seen as a barbaric, brutal practice meant to control women by limiting their ability to experience sexual pleasure. I count myself among those who share in that sentiment.

When it comes to male circumcision, though, those same people just shrug it off. This led to an awkward part of the conversation where I asked why male circumcision gets overlooked while female genital mutilation is considered a major social issue. It led to a somewhat lengthy exchange that I won’t repeat word-for-word, but it came down to this argument.

Men don’t lose as much from circumcision compared to female genital mutilation.

According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation is prone to many negative health impacts beyond simply losing the ability to enjoy sex. While male circumcision is prone to its share of complications, the general perception is that it’s a minor issue that does not impair sexual functioning. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics state that the benefits outweigh the risks.

I wasn’t really able to continue the conversation much beyond that. However, I wish I’d had a chance to present more information because, at the end of the day, male circumcision still involves hacking off a part of a man’s anatomy. This isn’t a vestigial tail or a wisdom tooth. This is a man’s penis, a pretty critical part of the body, to say the least.

Even if there are potential health benefits, as the Mayo Clinic states, there is a cost and it’s not just restricted to what a man feels during sex. The most obvious cost is an overall decrease in sensitivity, which leads decreased sexual pleasure and lower orgasm intensity for the man. As with female genital mutilation, the first casualty of this procedure is the basic feelings of sex.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Think about the implications of decreased sensitivity, for a moment. Specifically, if you’re a woman or a gay man, think about how that effects someone’s ability to actually pursue the satisfaction they seek from intimacy. If the sensitivity isn’t there, then that means circumcised men have to work harder to get that same feeling.

This can make for some less-than-intimate experiences. Ever hear of someone complain about how some men resort to “jack-hammering” during sex? Well, those men may not actually be trying to recreate something they’ve seen in porn. That may just be a side-effect of having decreased sensitivity.

Naturally, that can make things uncomfortable for a circumcised man’s partner, be they male or female. Beyond the sensitivity issue, there’s something else that’s lost when a man’s foreskin is absent. However, it’s felt primarily by the man’s partner.

According to a study from Denmark, female partners of uncircumcised men report far less discomfort and far greater lubrication when getting intimate with their partners. Here’s a direct quote from that study that might interest some women if they’ve never been with an uncircumcised man.

“The uncircumcised penis is much glossier, a more velvety feel,” says Dr. Paduch. “So for women who aren’t lubricating well, they have much less discomfort having sex with a guy who is uncircumcised.”

Despite these benefits, there’s still this popular perception that an uncircumcised penis is unattractive and unsightly. Given how prevalent circumcision has been for the past century or so, that’s understandable. However, if that’s the only reason for continuing the routine mutilation of male genitals, it’s not a good one by any stretch.

Now, I don’t doubt that there are some instances in which circumcision is necessary. There are even some drawbacks to having an uncircumcised penis, but it’s debatable just how significant those drawbacks actually are.

The most common issues usually relate to hygiene and risks of infection. That might have been a more pressing issue in the era before anti-bacterial soap and sanitation, but it’s not quite as serious in the modern era. We have soap, showers, indoor plumbing, and condoms. All can work together to mitigate those risks, significantly. Honestly, does it really take that much to convince a man to wash his penis?

For the moment, the primary obstacle to reducing circumcision involves cultural attitudes. For now, uncircumcised penises are still taboo. I’ve written about how taboos come and go. Given that the overall circumcision rate is in decline, there may already be signs that the taboo is waning.

Evolution may be clunky and erratic, but it when it comes to emphasizing survival and reproduction, it’s pretty damn effective. The fact that human beings are among the most successful, dominant species on this planet is a testament to that. That same process created genitals that give us many reasons to enjoy sex. Genital mutilation, for men and women, overtly undermines that to the utmost.

At the moment, society deems any effort to undermine a woman’s ability to enjoy sex to the utmost as immoral, misogynistic, and downright oppressive. As someone who writes erotica/romance novels, I wholly support efforts to preserve a woman’s sexual autonomy. However, when something like circumcision goes on so routinely and without scrutiny, that feels like an egregious double standard.

As it stands, it’s criminal to mutilate a woman’s genitals so that she can’t feel as much pleasure, but it’s accepted to do the same to a man. That’s a fundamental disconnect that cannot sustain itself logically or ethically. If one gender’s pleasure becomes more critical than another’s, then that undermines everyone’s satisfaction in the long run.


Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality