Category Archives: sex in society

Abortion Restrictions, Personhood, And The Difficult (And Absurd) Implications

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Imagine, for a moment, that an armed government officer shows up at your door and points a gun at your head. The officer informs you that for the next nine months, you will be injected with a generally non-fatal strain of flu that’ll make you feel tired, sore, and occasionally nauseous. Then, after that nine-month period is up, you’ll be given an infant child that you are henceforth responsible for.

Failure to comply with any part of that request will result in you or anyone who assists you going to prison for an extended period. You can protest it all you want. There’s no getting out of it. The government agent keeps the gun pointed at your head the entire time and if you want to avoid breaking the law, you just have to endure.

What I just described isn’t a perfect parallel to the strict abortion law recently passed by Alabama, but it helps illustrate what women are facing in light of such laws. While other parts of the world are liberalizing their abortion laws, certain parts of the United States are going in the other direction. However, the Alabama law represents a new extreme.

Now, even though I’ve discussed abortion before, I want to reiterate that I don’t like talking about this issue. It’s not because I’m a man or because I’m inherently skeptical of movements tied to organized religion. This issue affects everyone, regardless of gender. The principle alone of forcing someone to endure nine months of bodily rigor makes it relevant.

It’s for that reason that I tend to favor the pro-choice side of the debate. There are too many real-world examples of the dire consequences of a society where abortion is outright banned. I singled a former communist country one whose policy is quite similar to that of Alabama’s. However, my feelings on this issue go beyond just the consequences of these restrictive laws.

Even if I agreed with the idea that life beings at conception, I would still be in favor of keeping abortion legal in most cases. I just can’t support an effort that involves the government holding a gun to the head of women and their doctors, prohibiting them from making choices about their health and their bodies.

Now, I already know how the pro-life crowd will respond to that sentiment. They’ll point out that if life truly does begin at conception, then abortion is murder, by default. I’ll even concede that their reasoning isn’t entirely flawed. A fertilized embryo has many of the defining traits of biological life. It even has many traits we associate with personhood.

This idea that a fertilized embryo is a person makes up the bedrock of pro-life arguments. It’ll likely be the argument that’ll likely be used, should abortion access become an issue for the Supreme Court, which many pro-life groups are banking on. Considering how religious and logistical arguments rarely count much in a courtroom, this is their best bet.

There are a many flaws in the pro-life arguments, some of which I’ve touched on before, but this is the one I want to focus on because it’ll likely be cited more frequently as the debate intensifies. I believe that if abortion is ever banned in the United States, it’s because the law will recognize a fertilized embryo as a person.

However, with that distinction comes many implications, some of which lead to unavoidable inconsistencies. As the late George Carlin once so brilliantly illustrated, inconsistencies tend to reveal absurdities. To highlight just a few, here are just some of the questions that we’ll have to answer if we determine a fertilized embryo is a person.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then at what point do identical twins become two individual persons?

This question has implications of its own. Part of the principle behind saying life begins at conception is the idea that when the sperm and egg meet, it combines to create a unique strand of human DNA, which constitutes human life. That sounds good on paper, but when identical twins enter the picture, it breaks down.

Identical twins, by definition, have the same DNA. At some point during gestation, they split into two individuals. At what point does that occur? By what basis are they distinct? If the answer to that is arbitrary, then how is saying life begins at conception any less arbitrary? Once personhood status is granted to a fetus, this will be something the law and doctors will have to answer.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then does one that fails to implant on a woman’s uterus count as an accidental death under the law?

This happens to every sexually active woman, regardless of whether they’re in a monogamous marriage or working in a brothel. Even if an egg gets fertilized, it doesn’t always implant. The reasons for this are many, but if a fertilized egg is a person, then that still constitutes a death. As such, it would have to be treated as such under the law.

Most women don’t even know that a fertilized embryo has failed to implant. Most just end up getting flushed down a toilet, as part of their menstrual cycle. Under this legal definition of personhood, though, there’s no difference between that and flushing a live infant down a toilet. Given how Susan Smith was convicted of murder when she drowned her children, will other women face a similar sentence?


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then how does the state go about monitoring sexually active women to determine how many deaths occur because implantation did not occur?

This ties directly to the previous question. As soon as the law determines that an embryo is a person, it suddenly has a daunting challenge. It must now monitor and document every sexually active woman very closely to see how many fertilized embryos pass through her system, if only to determine how many deaths occurred inside her.

Even with advances in medical technology, it requires a level of invasiveness that even the most totalitarian state in the world can’t administer. There are over 150 million women in the United States. Is the government really equipped to monitor the activity inside every one of their wombs without breaking some very significant laws?


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then wouldn’t any woman who had a miscarriage be subject to manslaughter laws if her actions indirectly caused it?

This has already come up in a few states with restrictive abortion laws. Women who have suffered miscarriages are already being investigated as criminals. Ignoring, for a moment, the difficulty of determining whether a woman intentionally caused her miscarriage, look at it from a personal perspective.

A woman just suffers a miscarriage. She is likely distraught, distressed, and physically weakened. Now, government agents are going to treat her like a criminal and possibly prosecute her for a crime. While manslaughter is not on the same level as murder, it’s still treated as a crime and people do go to jail for it.

That means, for embryos to be considered persons, it must also be necessary to put women who suffered a miscarriage in prison. I don’t think even the most ardent pro-life adherent can comfortably stomach that.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then would that person be legally culpable if a woman suffers complications during the pregnancy and dies?

This is somewhat a reversal of the previous question. There are occasions where pregnancy actually leads to a woman’s death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 700 women die every year in the United States due to complications during pregnancy. In the cases where the infant survives, are they somehow culpable?

If an embryo is a person, then their actions can’t be entirely distinct from that of any child. There are cases in which children get convicted of murder and are punished for it. Even if an infant cannot have intent or malice, their presence inside the woman is still the cause of the complication. That means manslaughter or wrongful death could be applicable.

I know there’s plenty of inherent absurdity in the notion of prosecuting an infant for the wrongful death of his or her mother, but if they’re going to be defined as a person, then that includes the same rights and responsibilities. To do otherwise would just be inconsistent and require the same arbitrary distinctions of which pro-life individuals are so critical.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then would that person be culpable in the event that an identical or fraternal twin dies in utero, as can be the case in Vanishing Twin Syndrome?

A lot of things can happen inside the womb during gestation. Twins are just one of them, but there are instances where the presence of another fetus causes one to die or become unviable. Regardless of whether it involves an identical twin or a fraternal twin, the legal implications are the same. One person has died while the other has not. Like any other person, it would have to be investigated.

It could be the case that one infant hogged nutrient, causing the other to starve to death. There are also cases in which one twin will absorb the other. Technically, that would make the other baby both a cannibal and a killer. It would have to be investigated and prosecuted as such.


I concede that some of the scenarios I’ve described are absurd. That’s my underlying point. If the pro-life movement gets its way and fertilized embryos are treated as legal persons, then that has consequences that are logistically, legally, and morally untenable.

The bigger picture surrounding these questions tends to get lost among those who simply call abortion murder. However, if those same people got their way, then they would be unable to avoid these questions and their consequences.

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The (Surprising) Sources And Implications Of Slut Shaming

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As a fan of romance and people exploring their sexy side, I’m generally opposed to slut shaming. I understand why it exists, to some extent. Nearly every society in history has had certain hang-ups about sex. Considering its role in propagating the species, it’s understandable that people give it extra scrutiny.

That said, I consider slut shaming a misguided form of scrutiny. The definition, itself, has some ugly implications that go far beyond the inherent risks associated with being reckless, promiscuous, and irresponsible.

For one, it’s almost entirely heaped upon women. James Bond never gets called a slut for his promiscuous behavior. Instead, he gets to be a masculine icon. A woman who has just as much sex gets called a slut and is often painted as deviant. Look no further than legendary Bond girls like Xania Onatopp and Pussy Galore for proof of that.

While it can be pretty overt in popular media, it’s even more pernicious in real life. From women who choose wear revealing clothing to those who actively attempt to confront sexual stigma, there’s no shortage of shaming from multiple directions. It’s frustrating in that it amounts to incessant whining about how other people choose to live their lives, but recent research has cast slut shaming in a new light.

A study published in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior attempted to analyze how behaviors associated with slut shaming differed among genders. The popular narrative is that men do most of the slut shaming. The logic is that men see beautiful women having a lot of sex. That bothers them because those women aren’t having sex with them.

Granted, that’s a gross generalization that I’m sure many men and even a few women find offensive. Despite the details, that is the common narrative and it tends to play out in one too many teen comedies. However, science has a way of disrupting those narratives in unexpected ways.

The study revealed that while men and women were equally likely to not trust promiscuous women, women who were more likely to favor punishing those women. In a comprehensive summary conducted by PsyPost, the differences were pretty striking.

“In the study, participants played one of three kinds of economic decision-making games. The participants were led to believe they were playing against a female opponent in real-time, but were actually only interacting with computerized responses.

The opponents varied in whether they appeared to be sexually accessible or sexually restricted. For some participants, the opponent was depicted as a woman wearing a tight, red outfit and an abundance of makeup. For others, the opponent was depicted as a woman wearing loose-fitting clothing with less makeup.

The researchers found that both male and female participants were less willing to share money with a woman wearing the tight outfit. The participants also trusted sexually-accessible opponents with a financial investment less than sexually-restrictive opponents.

Women, but not men, were also willing to inflict punishments on a sexually-accessible female opponent who made an unfair offer, even though it left them empty-handed as well.

Given the choice between receiving a small sum of money while their opponent took a large sum or having neither player receive any money at all, women tended to pick the latter option.”

Take a moment to comprehend what this does to the slut shaming narrative. For those who idealize that 1950s sitcom family life that never truly existed, it’s an aberration. While those women make for good one-night-stands, they hardly make for quality long-term relationships.

Why, then, would men be reluctant to punish those women? I’ve noted before how society tends to micromanage women’s bodies. Slut shaming is only a half-measure because it offers no tangible punishment. While certain societies don’t mind punishing promiscuous women, it doesn’t appear to be entirely predicated on male attitudes.

This study shows that women are just as mistrustful of promiscuous women and are willing to go further in terms of punishing their behavior. The reasons for this are difficult to surmise. The researchers hypothesized that men were primarily concerned with avoiding investment in a child that wasn’t theirs. From an evolutionary standpoint, that’s something to avoid, but not punish.

Conversely, women may be more concerned with the bigger picture. The researchers surmised that women had an evolutionary imperative to keep the cost of sex high to improve their value as potential partners. Actively punishing potential rivals further served that purpose.

From a logistical standpoint, it makes sense. They see beautiful, promiscuous women as people who use cheat codes in video games. They have an unfair advantage when it comes to attracting potential partners and that has significant consequences, especially to those who aren’t beautiful or sexually flexible.

Beyond distracting partners who might otherwise be interested in them, it lowers the value of the sex they have to offer. Why would men be as interested in having sex with them when there are promiscuous women who were willing to give it to them for a lower cost with fewer strings?

While I believe this may be a factor for some women, it’s also another broad generalization that would offend more than a few women. It assumes too much about how they think and feel. Believing women slut shame because it hinders their own sexual value is as absurd as blaming all misogyny on some vast patriarchal conspiracy.

Like all research, the study is limited and can only reveal so much about the complexities of human behavior. The researchers themselves freely admitted this, but that’s exactly why it warrants further study. Like it or not, slut shaming is still prominent in most modern societies. I would argue that the internet and social media are making it worse.

At the same time, I also believe that slut shaming is something we should confront. It causes real harm to real people. It damages our love lives, our sex lives, and everything in between. There are instances in which someone’s irresponsible sexual behavior genuinely warrants scrutiny, but shaming can only serve to make things worse, even for people who aren’t sluts.

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Why The Republic Of Gilead Would Fail (Spectacularly) In The Real World

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In recent years, there has been a great deal of dread among feminists, libertarians, and supporters of secular values in the United States. The country seems to be going down an authoritarian path. Traditions of liberty and personal freedom are under threat by a government that seems more inclined to micromanage peoples’ lives for their own benefit.

One path in particular is becoming a lot more prominent. That is the one that could lead the United States to a government like that of the Republic of Gilead, the repressive theocratic regime from Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In that system, gender politics are pushed to the utmost extreme. The freedom, equality, sex, and love that contemporary society enjoys doesn’t exist.

The reasons for these fears are many. The current state of gender politics has become heated with the rise of the anti-harassment movement and ongoing legal battles surrounding abortion access. During the protests surrounding upheavals on the Supreme Court, it was common to see female protesters dressed in the distinct garb from the “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Such protest has even spread to other countries.

The message is clear. People are worried that our society is inching closer to a world similar to the repressive gender politics of Gilead. I can certainly understand those concerns. While I’ve often criticized certain aspects of gender politics, I don’t deny the worry that many women feel about the current state of affairs.

That said, I believe the idea that the United States, or any western country for that matter, could descend into a state of gender apartheid like Gilead is absurd. While we should be concerned about the influence of religious extremism, even in the west, the chances of it ever gaining power on the level depicted in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is precisely zero.

Even if a regime like it came to power, it wouldn’t just fail quickly. It would collapse so spectacularly that it would be a joke on par with the Emu War. Gilead is not this all-encompassing, overwhelming power on par with Big Brother in George Orwell’s “1984.” Atwood even implied at the end of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that the regime was set to fall.

We’ve yet to hear that part of the story, but Atwood did announce that she’s working on a sequel. One way or another, Gilead’s days are numbered, even in the fanciful world that she created. Before then, I’d like to break down why the Republic of Gilead would be doomed if it ever attempted to set up shop in the real world.

If nothing else, I’d like to offer some perspective to those who fear that the state of gender politics is regressing. To those people, I share your concerns. However, I’m an optimist. I believe both feminists and men’s rights activists can and will find plenty of common ground on these issues in due time.

Even if they don’t, they can take comfort in knowing that Gilead, as both a philosophy and a system, is so flawed that dreading it is an exercise in hyperbole. There are still plenty of lessons to be learned from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but in terms of setting up a competent theocratic regime, it’s a perfect check-list on what not to do.


Reason #1: Establishing Gilead Would Collapse The Economy

One of the first things the Sons of Jacob did when they established Gilead was fire every woman from their job and effectively eliminate their legal rights. On top of it being an exercise in brutal oppression, it removed half the labor force from the economy. In 2010, there were approximately 123 million women in the workforce. Firing every one of them wouldn’t just cause a huge recession. It would destroy the economy at every level.

Even the most ardent anti-feminist would be badly hurt by a world where half the GDP just disappeared. Suddenly, the industries that everybody relies on just cease functioning. Baking, health care, technology, and basic services essentially collapse as both the labor pool and the consumer base disappears.

That means from the very beginning, Gilead would have to navigate the worst economic collapse in history. More often than not, governments that cause collapses or fail to recover from them don’t last very long. Even if the Sons of Jacob found a way to blame it on minorities, feminists, or other religions, they would still be on the hook for fixing things and doing so with half the labor force will be difficult, to say the least.

Beyond the logistics, destroying an entire economy as part of a religious crusade is going to piss off some very powerful people who were thriving in the current system. America, alone, has over 500 billionaires whose massive wealth would be threatened by such a collapse. People with those kinds of resources aren’t going to let Gilead succeed, even if they manage to seize power.


Reason #2: Micromanaging Peoples’ Lives Is Impossible (In The Long Run)

I’ve noted before that fascist systems have many fundamental flaws. There’s a reason why some of the most brutal, authoritarian regimes in history still ended up collapsing. In the long run, they find out the hard way that it’s just impossible to effectively manage the lives their citizens.

The Republic of Gilead is a lot like Big Brother in that it takes micromanaging to a ridiculous extreme. It doesn’t just have its own secret police to enforce a rigid caste system. Much of its governing philosophy relies on ensuring people stick to their roles and never deviate. Women do what the state requires them to do without question. Men do the same, right down to how they structure their families.

That system only works if human beings are like machines who never get bored doing the same thing over and over again for their entire lives. Since human beings are not like that, there’s no way that kind of society can remain functional in the long run. The fact that the boredom of solitary confinement drives people crazy is proof enough of that.

It still gets worse than that. In every revolution, there’s often a period of heavy solidarity when the people rally behind the new regime as the beginning of a new Utopian vision. This happened in the Russian Revolution and during the Cultural Revolution in Communist China. Unfortunately for Gilead, it came to power by brute, terrorizing force.

That means this government coming to power isn’t the will of the people. It’s just plain bullying and people tend to resent that sort of thing. Even the Iran Revolution had the good sense to rally the people. The Republic of Gilead didn’t bother with that. It’s hard to imagine that collapsing the economy and subjugating half the population at gunpoint will make them many friends.


Reason #3: Theocracies Are The Least Stable Forms Of Autocracies

Remember when a purely theocratic state managed to prosper without being located atop an ocean of valuable oil? I don’t either and there’s a good reason for that. When it comes to repressive authoritarian states, theocracies are the worst possible choice. That’s because by entwining government with religion, it’s also entwining itself with the various flaws of religion.

Big Brother didn’t bother with religion in “1984.” It didn’t have to because religion, for all intents and purposes, was obsolete. The authority of the state and the authority of a deity was the same thing. The Republic of Gilead doesn’t have that luxury. Their politics and theology is based on an extremely conservative form of Christianity.

While that may seem fine to the Pat Robertson’s of the world, it adds a whole host of complications to the mix. The Sons of Jacob justify their repressive actions by appealing to Christianity and the bible. That’s okay if every single person in the entire republic agrees on one single interpretation of a religion and its holy text. Unfortunately, that has never occurred in the history of humanity.

There are dozens upon dozens of denominations in Christianity. There are also fringe cults, radical sects, and even schisms within those groups. At most, Gilead could have a unified theology at the beginning, but as new generations come along, that unity will collapse.

People will inevitably disagree. Every side will claim God is with them and everyone else are heretics. This sort of thing has been happening with religion for centuries. It won’t stop in Gilead. At some point, someone is going to think they heard God tell them something else and no one will be able to convince them otherwise. When that happens, conflict will ensue.

That sort of conflict can be managed in a more secular dictatorship. When government and religion are entwined, though, it’s much harder to work around. Even if Gilead could survive an economic collapse and the logistics of micromanaging peoples’ lives, it’s very unlikely it’ll survive the never-ending onslaught of religious debates.


Reason #4: Gilead Would Be An Easy Target For Invasion

Whether you’ve read the book or only watched the TV show, it’s hard to tell what sort of geopolitics the Republic of Gilead deals with. There are a few hints that there are other countries who did not descend into theocratic repression. There are even some cases of refugees in neighboring areas where women still have their rights.

The existence of those neighbors is yet another complication that ensures Gilead won’t last long, no matter how much its leaders pray. It already created a huge refugee crisis when it took over a sovereign government by force. At the same time, it handicapped itself by collapsing its economy and relegating half its population to serve as baby factories. It’s not just a source of chaos. It’s an easy target.

Neither the book nor the show reveals much about Gilead’s military capabilities. Even if we assume they get their hands on nuclear weapons, they’re still vulnerable because other countries have them too. More importantly, they know how to operate and maintain them. Religious zealots are good at a lot of things, but science isn’t one of them.

In the same way creationists aren’t likely to understand quantum mechanics, an entire government run by religious extremists aren’t likely to manage advanced weaponry. As time goes on, their emphasis of religion over reality will undermine their ability to develop such weapons. Their secular neighbors will have no such qualms.

Letting Gilead endure with its religious extremism and gender oppression means establishing a precedent that most other countries don’t want. Seeing one country fall to such a violent overthrow would be jarring enough. The first reaction to every nearby country would be to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen to them. One of those steps could be overthrowing Gilead before one woman has to wear those goofy outfits.


Regardless of how you feel about “The Handmaid’s Tale” or where you stand in terms of gender politics, the book offers a powerful message. Like “1984,” it shows how bad things can get when extremism takes hold. Whether you’re a man, woman, or transgender, we have a lot more incentive to get along rather than fight one another. At the end of the day, that will ensure that Gilead remains nothing more than a flawed, fictional country.

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Legalizing Vs. Decriminalizing Prostitution: Knowing The Difference And Why It Matters

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Anyone who has dealt with lawyers for more than five minutes will likely tell you that the words you use in legal issues really matter. In fact, even punctuation matters. There has been more than one case in which the placement of a comma has made a difference measured in millions of dollars. When it comes to issues like prostitution, the stakes are even higher with respect to word choice.

For better or for worse, but mostly for worse, the debate surrounding prostitution has been derailed by poor word choice. That’s because when most people discuss prostitution these days, it gets caught up in rhetoric surrounding human trafficking, sexual slavery, and exploitation. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there’s no way to get around such ugly verbiage.

That’s a big problem too because, as I’ve noted before, sex work and human trafficking aren’t the same thing. That’s not just me saying that. This is what actual data says. According to research conducted by the International Labour Organization, only 22 percent of human trafficking victims are forced into sex work. The vast majority of victims end up in other forms of forced labor.

Despite this, it hasn’t stopped anti-prostitution advocates from citing human trafficking as a reason for keeping prostitution illegal. However, as a few notable cases have revealed, broad scale prohibition of prostitution doesn’t work. That’s why a number of western countries have attempted other legal models to deal with the issue, the most popular being the Nordic Model.

Under this model, sex work isn’t entirely legalized. It’s legal to sell sexual services, but it isn’t legal to buy it. It’s basically akin to legalizing hot dog stands, but not the consumption of hot dogs. It may sound absurd, but the intention is to attack the demand surrounding prostitution, punishing the people who patronize an exploitative industry.

While that sounds noble on paper, the results don’t line up with the goals. There’s no evidence that this model makes people less inclined to want sex from a prostitute. There’s also no evidence that it has improved the lives of sex workers. Even so, whenever prostitution comes up, any discussion of legalization is bound to draw ire from anyone who isn’t an ardent libertarian.

Liberals see prostitution as exploitation of women, minorities, and the poor.

Conservatives see prostitution as immoral, dirty, and sinful.

Feminists see prostitution as a product of oppressive, patriarchal traditions.

With such powerful opposition in mind, it might help to take a step back and understand the actual substance surrounding legal sex work. When most people think about legalized prostitution, they probably imagine scenes like the legal brothels that operate in Nevada or the Red Light Districts that operate in parts of Europe. However, that’s only a small part of a much larger story.

That’s because legalized prostitution is not the same as decriminalized prostitution. Make no mistake. The difference is subtle, but has huge implications and you don’t have to be a sex worker, a police officer, or a lawyer to appreciate them.

By and large, the presence of red light districts are a byproduct of legalization. That’s because under a legalization model, the government and local authorities regulate the practice. This is how it works in countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Like the Nordic Model, the intentions are good and it even sounds good on paper.

The government license sex workers, thus providing them with a legal paper-trail. They can also include things like mandatory health screenings, adherence to specific labor laws, and access to public services and benefits. Again, that sounds good and it has plenty of benefits, especially when compared to the inherent dangers of street prostitution.

The drawback is that government regulation of prostitution has the same issues associated with government regulation, in general. It effectively requires that the lives of sex workers be micromanaged to a degree that those who work in fast food or coal mines don’t experience. Those who don’t abide by those regulations are as worse off as they were under illegal prostitution.

In essence, legal prostitution improves things for sex workers who are able to comply with the various regulations. Given how many sex workers come from poor or marginalized backgrounds, this ensures that not everyone enjoys the benefits of legal protections. It essentially creates two tiers of prostitution in which one is still very vulnerable to exploitation and the government gets to decide who is in that tier.

Regardless of how much you trust the government to decide who in the sex trade to protect, the legal shortcomings are inherent. This is where decriminalized prostitution sets itself apart. In this model, the government doesn’t exactly legalize prostitution as much as it removes the criminal penalties associated with its activities.

It’s a small, but critical distinction in that the government and the authorities don’t play favorites with who they prosecute and who they ignore. They still have to enforce laws surrounding violence and coercion. That means human trafficking is still illegal. You can’t force someone to become a sex worker any more than you can force them to work in a copper mine. Essentially, it treats sex work as actual work.

While I’m sure that offends the sensibilities of many people on various parts of the political spectrum, it does frame sex work in an important context. In almost every form of labor, there’s room for exploitation. Workers can be underpaid and subject to deplorable conditions. Shady business practices can ensure that only a select few see the benefits. Decriminalization makes no special exceptions for sex work.

The same laws that attempt to combat those practices in other businesses are simply applied to sex work. Even in the United States, if prostitution were decriminalized tomorrow, human trafficking and forced labor would still be illegal. It would just be treated the same as those who employ trafficked labor to work in agriculture or factories.

To some extent, this makes sex work less taboo from a legal standpoint. When you make special classifications for specific behaviors, it sends the message that there’s something that sets it apart from other similar activities. In societies where sexual activity is subject to all sorts of taboos outside prostitution, it can effectively reinforce many of those taboos.

It’s for that reason, among many others, that more human rights organizations now favor decriminalizing prostitution over legalization or the Nordic Model. Among those organizations include the likes of Amnesty International, who issued their official position back in 2016 wherein they stated the following:

It recommends the decriminalization of consensual sex work, including those laws that prohibit associated activities – such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organization of sex work. This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police. Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.

At the moment, the only country that has embraced decriminalization is New Zealand. While it’s not perfect, the research on the effectiveness of policies show promise. It’s also the policy that many sex workers themselves advocate.

It’s still not a perfect policy, but that makes it all the more important to understand the differences between what’s being done now and what could be done in the future. Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession for a reason. Human beings are sexual creatures. They are wired to seek sex. There will always be those who seek it and those willing to provide it for a price.

Laws can change, but no amount of legal distinctions and enforcement are going to change human nature. The emergence of sex robots and sex doll brothels promise to further complicate the issue. There’s no one perfect way to handle an issue as sensitive as prostitution, but there are plenty of ways to make it worse.

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Beth And Jerry: The Ultimate Anti-Romance Love Story

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When it comes to telling a good love story, there are many ways to go about it. I’ve certainly learned that from the novels and short stories I’ve written. The nature of romance is constantly evolving. What constitutes quality romance today might seem strange or downright flawed by the standards of the past.

There are many examples of quality, well-developed romances in popular culture today, as well as a few that are downright toxic. However, there’s one particular love story that seems to break all the rules, yet still functions in its own eccentric way. Fittingly enough, that utterly unromantic love story plays out in “Rick and Morty,” a show often defined by its various eccentricities.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve talked about “Rick and Morty.” Like so many others, I’ve been anxiously awaiting news about the fourth season. Ever since the show was renewed for 70 episodes, details have been scares. There have been some occasional teases, but nothing of substance as of yet.

While waiting for those details, I think it’s worth revisiting an issue that has been evolving and devolving since the very first episode. That issue is the less-than-ideal relationship between Beth and Jerry Smith, the parents of Morty and his sister, Summer. Like everything else in the world of “Rick and Morty,” the relationship of Morty’s parents is subject to many issues, flaws, and mishaps.

In essence, the relationship between Jerry and Beth is the antithesis of romantic love. This isn’t a case of two people falling in love and facing challenges when kids enter the picture. It’s not even a case of two people not being in love initially, but falling in love over time as they raise a family. In fact, the most defining aspect of Beth and Jerry’s love story is the complete absence of traditional romance.

That lack of romance doesn’t just stem from the show’s over-arching themes surrounding nihilism and meaning. By nearly every measure, Beth and Jerry aren’t the least bit compatible. Beth, like her eccentric father, is a very smart and capable, as shown in more than one episode. She’s a skilled horse surgeon and can hold her own when wielding advanced sci-fi weapons.

In contrast, Jerry is a case study in mediocrity. He’s not a complete idiot, but he certainly walks a fine line between laughably inept and downright pathetic. He’s unemployed for a good chunk of the first three seasons and is so oblivious that he doesn’t even realize when he’s in a poorly-rendered simulation. At times, he can be a lovable loser, but most of the times, he’s just a loser.

How he and Beth ended up together is neither romantic, nor glamorous. It’s established in Season 1 that Jerry got Beth pregnant on their prom night in high school. The reason they stayed together was for the sake of their child, which isn’t saying much because they almost got an abortion. The only reason they didn’t was because they blew a tire on the way to the clinic.

That may sound dark, but it’s perfectly in line with how “Rick and Morty” handles serious issues like teen pregnancy and abortion. It doesn’t attempt to romanticize the situation, nor does it send the message that having the child and getting married was in any way rewarded. Their always at odds and arguing about everything. There’s rarely a sense that their marriage is loving, stable, or anything romantic.

At one point in Season 3, Rick calls Jerry out on how he ended up with Beth. Despite what he claims, it wasn’t an act of romance that brought him and Beth together. It was little more than pity.

Jerry, being so inept at everything, has little more going for him than pity. It’s the only real skill he has, but it was enough to get him an ill-fated prom date with Beth. Rick sums it up nicely in one of his many memorable speeches.

You act like prey but you’re a predator. You use pity to lure in your victims. It’s how you survive. I survive because I know everything, that snake survives because children wander off, and you survive because people think, “Oh, this poor piece of shit, he never gets a break. I can’t stand the deafening silent wails of his wilting soul. I guess I’ll hire him or marry him.”

This moment is revealing in that it reinforces how little romance was involved in the development of Beth and Jerry’s relationship. Their entire lives together are built around Beth feeling sorry for Jerry. Then, once she got pregnant and failed to get an abortion, circumstances did the rest.

It’s not romantic. It’s not tragic, either. They just ended up in a lousy situation and made the most of it. That’s not a love story. That’s basic survival for anyone who isn’t a super-genius with access to a portal gun.

That’s not to say there aren’t some moments of sincerity. Jerry, being the least capable member of the family, tends to remember fondly the early days of their relationship. He’s the only one who sees the relationship in a romantic context. The only time anyone else sees it, Beth included, is when they’re facing a crisis, be it an identity crisis or the end of the world.

When it comes to the day-to-day logistics of the relationship, it’s never that functional. Jerry can’t hold down a job or handle himself whenever he gets caught up in Rick and Morty’s adventures. Beth drowns herself in bottles of wine and episodes of “The Bachelor.” Even when they try to do something romantic, like a Titanic-themed get-away, it often fails spectacularly.

This dysfunction eventually culminates in the first episode of Season 3, “The Rickshank Redemption.” Jerry, in a rare moment of assertiveness, tells Beth that she has to choose between him or her father. In his unintelligent mind, he believes the romance they have will win out. He ends up being wrong. Beth chooses her father and Jerry gets kicked out of the house.

In most shows, that would be the end of a relationship that’s so inherently flawed. However, “Rick and Morty” isn’t most shows and not just because it has characters like Mr. Poopybutthole. In this world of infinite realities and bird people, even love stories devoid of romance find a way to gain meaning in a show steeped in nihilistic undertones.

That meaning emerges at the end of Season 3 in “The Rickchurian Mortydate” in which Beth has a chance to make another choice. This time, she’s at odds with her father, who had revealed some harsh truths about who she was as a kid and what it means to be smart. Unlike before, she chooses Jerry over Rick and he gets to move back in.

This, through the twisted logic of “Rick and Morty,” affirms Beth and Jerry as a genuine love story, but one that is still devoid of romance. Beth didn’t choose Jerry out of love. She chose him because she that’s what she wanted. That’s all there is to it. In a show where Rick once described love as “a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed,” that might be the greatest act of love anyone can offer.

It also mirrors the inherent value of having a choice. Episodes like “Pickle Rick” and “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” all emphasize the importance of choice, especially for those of near infinite capabilities. Both Rick and Beth are endowed and burdened with intelligence, abilities, and options. Their choices are, ultimately, the only actions that truly matter in a meaningless universe.

In the case of Beth and Jerry, the choice doesn’t have to involve romance. In fact, romance would only complicate things. Just choosing to be together, despite all the flaws in their relationship, is the only thing they need to make their love work. They’re together because they want to be together. That’s all there is to it and that’s all they need.

In that sense, Beth and Jerry’s story still qualifies as a love story, despite the utter lack of romance. It’s hard to say where their relationship will go in the coming seasons of “Rick and Morty.” Maybe it will develop some amount of romance. Maybe it’ll only become more flawed and less romantic, as the series progresses.

Whatever ends up happening, it still doesn’t matter, as is often the case in “Rick and Morty.” As long as Beth chooses Jerry and Jerry chooses Beth, their story will still be a love story in its own unique way. Regardless of whether love is real or just a chemical reaction in their brains, it’s still their choice and that’s as meaningful as love can get in a meaningless universe.

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How To Make A Man Feel Loved

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People seek out love. Whether you’re a man, woman, transgender, or just anyone with human emotions, we have an inherent drive to connect with one another. Whether it’s emotional or physical, we are wired to desire such intimate connections. It’s an integral part of being human.

I suspect most reasonable people would agree with that sentiment. Humans are social creatures. Both science and general experience make that abundantly clear. The disagreements tend to occur on the nature, process, and exercise of those intimate bonds. What some think of as love may come off as obsession to someone else. I’ve tried to be mindful of that difference, both within real and fictional romance.

Things only get trickier when you apply gender differences to the concept of seeking love. In a perfect world, there would be no differences, but we don’t live in that world. In today’s complicated web of social norms, traditions, gender politics, stereotypes, and taboos, how you go about pursuing love and feeling loved varies considerably by gender.

Now, I can’t speak to how women or those who identify as transgender approach that process. I am a heterosexual man. I can only speak to my own experiences, some of which I’ve shared in the past. I certainly can’t claim to speak for all men, either. Everyone is different, complete with their own romantic quirks and kinks.

However, in contemplating various gender issues and social taboos, I feel like there’s a growing disconnect surrounding the idea of masculinity, being in love, and what it means to feel loved. Some of that has to do with the current state of identity politics and loaded terms like “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve done plenty to criticize before. Other issues, I believe, run much deeper.

For me, being the self-admitted romantic I am, it comes back to what it means to feel loved. People can argue what love is until the end of time. I’ll leave those discussions to smarter, more capable individuals with a better understanding of philosophy. Instead, I want to focus on what it means for men, in general, to feel loved.

As a man with a modest amount of romantic experience, I think men are held to a very different standard. Some of it isn’t fair, but women and transgender individuals can probably make that same claim. With men, I believe those standards are rarely scrutinized and easily misconstrued.

To understand how, you need only refer to Chris Rock’s

2018 Netflix special, “Tamborine.” In it, he made this memorable observation about men and how they are loved.

“Only women, children, and dogs are loved unconditionally. Men are loved under the condition that they provide something.”

In addition to being both hilarious and insightful, this sentiment reflects the unique challenges that men face when it comes to love. It’s not always overt and oftentimes, it’s inadvertent. Some of these issues are just woven into social norms that go back to certain pre-modern traditions about family structure.

Whatever their source, society never stops evolving. How people interact and relate to one another will keep adapting to changing circumstances and make no mistake, those circumstances will change rapidly in the coming years. That’s going to impact how men, women, and everyone in between relates to one another and not always for the better.

With that in mind, I’d like to start a discussion on what men seek in pursuing love and how to go about making men feel loved. I know the media, popular culture, and even a recent movie centered around men’s thoughts have given us many impressions. In the interest of streamlining the discussion, I’d like to offer a brief list of insights and approaches for making a man feel loved.

Again, this list is hardly definitive. I’m just one heterosexual man. I’m sure there are plenty of other men out there with different experiences who can offer far greater insights. If you’d like to share those insights, please post them in the comments. For now, here are just a few small ways to help a man feel loved and inspire him to love others.


Make His Efforts And Contributions Feel Valued (And Not Just Expected)

This one is subtle, but powerful. Watch any sitcom, from “Married With Children” to “Leave It To Beaver,” and the man of the family is usually the sole provider. Regardless of how you feel about this family structure, be it a hallmark of tradition or a byproduct of a patriarchal conspiracy, the sentiment comes off as more of an assumption rather than a contribution.

Even if a man works his ass off every day, whether it’s digging ditches or selling women’s shoes like Al Bundy, that work isn’t always valued. It’s just expected. It’s just what a man is supposed to do. Him wanting any other kind of affirmation is just seen as excessive or a byproduct of a fragile male ego. However, such assumptions only breed resentment.

In almost any other situation, we seek and hope for acknowledgement of our sacrifices. We want our labor, be it physical or emotional, to feel valued. It’s part of being a social species and is not contingent on gender. A man isn’t going to feel loved if what he contributes is always taken for granted.

It doesn’t have to be glowing praise. It just has to be an acknowledgement of his efforts. That makes him feel good about the contributions he makes and will only make him work harder at returning the favor, which is good for any healthy love.


Treat Him As A Partner And Not An Asset

This idea manifests in many ways, the most obvious being instances of women seeking men for the sole purpose of gaining access to their money and resources. This sort of thing isn’t new. That kind of power dynamic goes back to ancient times when wealthy kings saw women as assets just as much as they saw his wealth as an asset.

We don’t live in ancient times anymore. While we still have rich men using their wealth to hook up with beautiful women, this issue often arises among those who are not rich. Relationships may start out as loving and intimate, but can descend into a bland business partnership where the man is nothing more than a buffer against poverty.

It’s true that a man can bring things like money, resources, and the siring children to a relationship. However, that can’t be the only things of value. If men are reduced to just the things they do, then they’re not going to feel loved. They’re going to feel like a tool, one who can be easily replaced by anyone of greater means.

That’s often why men get concerned, jealous, or even paranoid when their lover treats them more like a tradeable asset rather than an equal partner. Even those who champion equality often fall into a trap that focuses only on the tangible components of that relationship. Since love is inherently intangible, it can leave things feeling unbalanced.


Don’t Treat His Interests And Hobbies As Stupid Or Juvenile

When it comes to men’s interests, there’s often a sense that they’re always immature or crude. Sports, video games, and comic books are seen as something for children. Mature men are expected to outgrow them and embrace other interests more befitting of adults. However, it’s often the case that those interests align with those favored by women.

People have all sorts of hobbies, be it watching football, building birdhouses, or trash talking one another while playing video games. While some are healthier than others, denigrating them just sends the message that you want men to build their interests around you. It’s akin to wanting them to want to do the dishes rather than just doing the dishes. One requires courtesy. The other requires the thought police.

All good relationships require some level of sacrifice, but when one side is expected to sacrifice something they love and cherish, it gives the impression that they’re not loved for who they are. They’re only loved for what someone else wants them to be. It also implies that the only way for men to love someone is for them to make their significant other the center of their world.

That may count as romance in a fairy tale, but in the real world, that’s dangerously close to obsession. Most men seeking love aren’t looking for that kind of relationship. They’re seeking someone who will love them for who they are, which includes their hobbies.

That doesn’t mean you have to share in those hobbies. If you do, that’s a nice bonus. That shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, though. A man who can keep loving the things he loves and share some of that love with someone else is going to make him that much more appreciative.


Don’t Assume He Can/Should Fix Everything

When your car breaks down, you take it to a mechanic. When your toilet backs up, you call a plumber. Most people don’t give that a second thought. The fact that many mechanics and plumbers are men is beside the point, although I’m sure that colors our perceptions about what people who fix things look like.

In any relationship, things are going to break. That’s just life. However, when the burden of fixing everything falls on the man, it creates another imbalance that can compound a bad situation.

Regardless of whether you think men are more inclined to fix things, just assuming that they can further reduces a relationship to roles. If you’re the man, you fix things. It’s not always appliances, either. If someone is upset, the man is supposed to fix it. If something goes wrong, the man is supposed to resolve it.

If a good relationship is supposed to be a partnership, then this dynamic is hardly equal. One side can’t be solely responsible for resolving every problem, be it a faulty garbage disposal or serious intimacy issues. Being in love and making your partner feel loved goes both ways. Expecting only one side to get their hands dirty and make the sacrifices isn’t going to leave someone feeling appreciated, let alone loved.


Make Your Love Feel Like A Choice Rather Than A Favor

I’ve heard more than one women, and even a few men, tell their partners they’re lucky to have them. It’s not always in a condescending sort of way, but by definition, it kind of is. It sends the message that the love they’re sharing isn’t really a matter of choice. It’s just a favor they’re giving to someone, one that can be revoked at any time.

That kind of a relationship is many things, but it is not very loving. Men jump through a lot of hoops to be with someone. I know women have challenges as well, but in the current gender climate, men are still the ones who do most of the pursuing and women are the ones making the choices. Just look at the gender disparity on dating sites for proof of that.

As a result, a relationship will feel more like a privilege than a genuine, emotional connection. It creates this dynamic where a man feels like he has to navigate a constantly-shifting set of expectations, just to keep the relationship going. The woman is the one who sets those expectations and can determine at any moment that he has failed and the relationship is over.

Again, I’m not claiming that this is how most women approach a relationship. By and large, the love they feel is real. However, a good chunk of that love is contingent on the men treating that love as a favor that is granted rather than something that’s genuine and sincere. As Chris Rock said, it’s a conditional kind of love and that love will limit any relationship in the long run.


I hope this list helps further the discussion surrounding men, love, and relationships. If you feel like I missed something or need to expand on a particular concept, please let me know in the comments. For everyone out there lucky enough to be in relationships, I hope this gives you something to think about and provides tools with which you can use to make one another feel truly loved.

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DNA Testing, Family Secrets, And Revealing Truths About Infidelity

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What if you woke up one day and found out your father wasn’t actually your biological father?

What if you woke up one day and found out your kids weren’t actually your biological kids?

For a growing number of people, this isn’t just a distressing hypothetical. It’s a painfully real scenario. Secrets that were once easy to keep are now coming to light, thanks to a mix of curiosity, advancing technology, and simple economics. It’s causing a lot of distress for a lot of people, but the fact that it’s happening is somewhat telling.

To understand it, it’s necessary to understand just how unprecedented this situation is. Until very recently, getting a DNA test was exceedingly expensive. Go back 25 years when the Human Genome Project was just getting underway and just sequencing one person’s DNA cost millions. Then, thanks to advances in sequencing techniques and computing technology, the cost fell rapidly.

Today, sequencing your DNA costs less than $1,000. If you just want to test your ancestry, that’s even cheaper with kits costing around $100. You don’t need a court order or contacts at the FBI. You just need a spare $100 and a willingness to spit in a tube. It may not seem like much, but make no mistake. This is uncharted territory for our species and our society.

Ever since we structured our civilization around agriculture, passing down property through generations, and building more diverse societies, there has been a strong incentive to know that your children are biologically yours. This is where taboos surrounding virginity and female chastity come from. For centuries, the best way to assure your kids were yours was for your bride to be a virgin on her wedding night.

However, even in those limited circumstances, it was entirely possible to get around them. The traditional practices of testing young women for virginity are both invasive and prone to major error. If a woman is cunning enough, she can beat those tests and get away with lying about her sexual history. Men could be just as effective about hiding affairs that may have resulted in children with other women.

Now, hiding the truth isn’t just harder in the era of the internet and social media. Certain lies can no longer remain hidden. You can claim videos are deep fakes and that pictures had been Photoshopped. You can’t make those kinds of excuses when the truth is literally written in someone’s DNA.

Sometimes, the truth is just shocking. Take the story of Dani Shapiro, who found out that the man she’d loved and cherished as her father was not related to her. It wasn’t because of her mother’s infidelity, though. It was because her parents utilized an old infertility treatment that resulted in her being conceived with doner sperm instead of that of her surrogate father.

In other cases, the truth can be devastating, such as the case of Sarah Zhang, who found out that rumors of her mother having an affair with a restaurant owner were all too true. This revelation was heartbreaking. In an instant, her entire identity and sense of self had been uprooted. This is how she described the difficulty processing this information.

When I first found out the news, I considered taking a leave of absence from work, because I had difficulty focusing on anything else besides the revelation from 23andMe. On a hard day, I feel heartbroken about my mom’s secret. Her illness created an intimacy between us in the final months of her life and I felt that we were able to tell each other all the things in our heart. This news taints that memory and created a fresh bout of grieving about her death.

These stories are harrowing and they’re becoming increasingly common. There’s even a support group on Facebook for people who learn from these testing kits that their heritage isn’t what they’d previously thought. It’s hard to understand what these people are going through, living their whole lives thinking they know who their parents are, only to find out it wasn’t true.

As DNA testing kits continue to get cheaper and more prevalent, there’s a good chance there are plenty more cases like this just waiting to be uncovered. The fact that it seems to be happening so much says more about our species and our society than it does about the technology behind it.

Think, for a moment, about all the families who lived in the era before this technology became available. How many of those families had secrets like the ones Dani Shapiro and Sarah Zhang later uncovered? How many fathers unknowingly raised children that weren’t biologically theirs? How many mothers birthed children who were sired by someone other than their spouse?

It’s impossible to know for sure and the fact that it was impossible for most of human history might be just as telling as any family secret. I’ve mentioned before at how our notions of traditional romance and family have significant flaws. We value and idealize monogamy and fidelity, but the fact that we go to such extremes to favor it seems to imply that there’s something untenable about it.

Promiscuity and infidelity have existed in every human society. There’s a reason why even ancient civilizations had laws and traditions regulating marriage, adultery, and divorce. Even when there are serious consequences, people still did it. The fact that some of the punishments were so severe imply that a lot of people were getting away with it.

Even so, this didn’t stop men from raising children as their own. It didn’t stop women from loving their children and their spouses all the same. The fact that it was so hard to determine someone’s heritage might have even helped our species from an evolutionary standpoint.

A big part of what makes humans such a successful species is our ability to form tribes, cooperate, and coordinate towards a common goal. In old hunter/gatherer societies, close-knit tribes weren’t quite as concerned about the paternity of their kids. They took a more communal approach to family. Logistically, they had to. They needed that level of cooperation to survive in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Given that humanity spent most of its history in this hunter/gatherer structure, the forces of evolution are already working against those seeking parental certainty. The rise of civilization complicated things, but not to an extent that people couldn’t get away with fooling around. The fact that the average number of sexual partners for people these days is more than one only reveals that the inclinations is definitely there.

That’s an important factor to remember because as DNA testing becomes easier and cheaper, it won’t be possible to avoid the implications. People cheat. People keep secrets. People lie to their kids, sometimes without knowing it. For the most part, it hasn’t affected our ability to function as families and a society. Whether the emerging truth written within our DNA changes that remains to be seen.

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