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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gender Equality, The Market For Sex, And How Prostitution Affects Both

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How do you put a real, tangible value on sex? I’m just not talking about the hourly rate charged by a prostitute. I’m talking about the kind of value that allows us to quantify an experience in terms of resources, market, and exchange. Sex already has an inherent value in that we need it to propagate our species. Just how far does that value go and how much does it affect our society?

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that sex is the second oldest universal currency in the history of the human species after food. People have been using sex as a currency for millennia and not always in the sense of formal prostitution.

Parents marry their daughters off for dowries. Spies have used sex to extract valuable information. Then, there are teenagers who have sex in hopes of gaining popularity. This sexual exchange goes on all the time in the real world and in any number of movies. Call it prostitution if you want. Hate it all you want. It still happens.

The mere fact that it keeps happening, despite the best efforts of repressive governments, shows that the value of sex does a lot to drive our society. For better or for worse, the pursuit and exchange of sex is one of the most powerful driving forces in the overall human experience.

Given the extent of this driving force, it’s bound to affect how the genders interact with one another. Whether it’s ancient patriarchal societies or western democracies, the exchange of sex has an impact on how people relate to one another. It’s for that very reason that it’s worth pondering what happens when the value of sex is skewed.

This is where it really helps to look at the market value for sex in a libertarian context. Technically speaking, the free market approach is consistent with how sex was exchanged in the hunter/gatherer days of humanity. In that sense, it serves as a baseline of sorts for the market value of sex.

With that context in mind, sex exchanged for certain reasons by a particular gender will have a certain value. A man paying a woman for sex has one value. A woman paying a man for sex has another. A man paying multiple women for multiple sex acts over the course of several nights also has value, albeit a more elaborate one.

That payment doesn’t always involve money, either. Sometimes, the payment is in the form of loving intimacy, not unlike the kind I describe in my books. Sometimes, the payment comes in the form of a particular experience or fantasy, like groupies having sex with rock stars. The key to this exchange is that it is done freely and everyone involves gets the value they seek from it.

Ideally, that’s how the market for sex is determined in perfect libertarian world. Unfortunately, that is not the situation the sexual marketplace faces. Multiple social forces that include the law, social stigma, taboos, and media influences all coordinate to skew the market value for sex. As a result, it skews gender relations as well.

In fact, I would argue that the market value for sex has become more skewed over the past few years than it has in the past several decades. The emergence of the anti-harassment movement and the increasing stigma on certain aspects of male sexuality is inflating the sexual market in some places while crashing it in others.

At the moment, most people would agree that female sexuality is more valued than that of males. Beautiful women are used to sell pretty much everything from shampoo to fast food. It’s no secret that men seek the company of beautiful women. Their company is highly valued, both in terms of money and social standing. The late Hugh Hefner understood that better than anyone.

That’s not to say attractive men don’t also hold value. There’s a reason why men like George Clooney, Chris Hemsworth, and even the Old Spice Guy are celebrated and pursued. However, their sexual market value has less to do with how they look and more to do with what they can do. None of them can bear children, but they have unique skills that make them desirable.

Where the market gets skewed is when that libertarian free exchange gets taxed, so to speak, by a potent mix of laws and social norms. If you’re a beautiful woman, you rarely have to pay for sex. Even if you’re marginally attractive, chances are you don’t have to hire a male gigolo. So long as you’re not actively pursuing someone like George Clooney, you can probably put yourself out there and let the sex come to you.

The taxes, in this case, tend to hit the men seeking sex. Under the current law, they have only a handful of options with respect to seeking sex. They need to convince a woman to freely have sex with them without overtly paying her, which would get them arrested. That often involves indirect payments in the forms of dates, adulation, flirting, and attention.

You could claim that those indirect payments are still akin to prostitution, as some have argued, but that’s where the market gets even more skewed. In that situation, where there’s no option for a simpler exchange involving money and sex, the value of female sexuality doesn’t just go up. The cost for men goes up as well.

For most other goods and services, this creates the kind of premium that makes certain things harder for more people to purchase. There’s a reason why only rich, successful people have Rolex watches, stretch limousines, private jets, and gold-encrusted smart-phones. That makes sense for the luxury crowd. With sex, though, that premium has some unique caveats.

For most people, the desire for a gold-encrusted smartphone isn’t there. Most people can see these expensive yachts and fancy cars from afar. They might even admire them. However, admiring something isn’t the same as desiring it. Most people don’t desire a 100-foot yacht and all the responsibilities that come with it. Nearly everyone desires sex.

Regardless of your gender, you can’t turn off your sex drive. Every effort at doing so has resulted in some pretty damaging effects. People are still going to want sex. For those who lack the beauty, social skills, or charisma to get it, there are only so many ways of going about it. When some of those ways are restricted or hindered, there’s a disparity of unfulfilled desires and that disparity can breed problems.

At the moment, that disparity primarily affects the vast majority of men who aren’t rich or as attractive as Ryan Gosling. They have the same sexual desire that men have always had, but their outlets for that desire are fairly limited, more so now than ever before.

That’s not just because prostitution is illegal and simply being caught with a prostitute is subject to significant stigma. Female sexuality is so valued in wake of the anti-harassment movement that simply attempting to get sex carries a higher risk of being labeled a creep, a harasser, or worse. Women have the power to ruin a man’s life, even if the sex is consensual.

That power is directly linked to the inflated value of sex. By keeping prostitution illegal, the access is controlled and the cost goes up. That’s because, by having to operate in a black or gray market, the cost of doing business is subject to the black market premium. Anything on the black market is going to come with greater risk. With greater risks come greater costs and not always in terms of money.

In a sense, prostitution laws and limiting access to sex by a particular gender puts greater power in the hands of those who are wealthy and can subvert the base market. There’s a reason why rich, powerful people can hire prostitutes with relative impunity while the vast majority of those arrested for prostitution are poor or disadvantaged.

Again, if you’re attractive and have easy access to various resources, those laws don’t affect you. If you’re not, whether you’re a prostitute or someone seeking their services, you can be singled out and arrested. In that market, the value primarily benefits those at the top and I’m not just talking about rich people.

There are plenty of others who have a vested interest in inflating the price of female sexuality and limiting sexual outlets for men. It’s the high value of female sexuality that puts many women, from Hollywood to feminist circles, in greater positions of influence. That’s not to say it’s a full-fledged conspiracy. Like any form of market manipulation, though, it’s a way for certain people to maximize their value.

That manipulation may very well be escalating with the expansion of the anti-harassment movement and increasing efforts to regulate the porn industry. These efforts promise to further skew the sexual marketplace, making it so that those of limited resources will have to pay an even higher price to get sex.

The effects of that disparity are hard to predict, but the signs are there. The existing double standards that assume female victimization and male aggression are only compounding the cost of pursuing sex. At some point, the market can only stay inflated so long before it crashes.

Once again, I want to make clear that I’m not claiming there’s some feminist conspiracy looking to control all forms of male sexuality. In my experience, humans are exceedingly limited at carrying out conspiracies and history has given plenty of examples. That said, I do think those who benefit from female sexuality being more valued have a strong incentive to cling to that value.

In any market, those who have an advantage will work hard to maintain that advantage. That’s why I believe efforts to curb prostitution and the porn industry will escalate in the coming years. However, history also shows that sometimes, those efforts can backfire horribly.

Prostitution isn’t going away anytime soon, but efforts to control it will continue to skew the sexual marketplace and gender disparities, alike. If there’s one consolation, though, it’s that inflated markets have a tendency to correct themselves over time. It may take a while for the sexual marketplace to balance out, but so long as the human desire for sex remains strong, our collective libido will find a way.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, sex in society, sexuality

In Defense Of Hook-Up Culture (To A Point)

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There are certain cultural phenomena that are difficult to defend. Things like big businesses, the NFL, or the current president come to mind. However, some of those things are attacked, denigrated, or hated for misguided reasons. It’s not always the case that they should be defended, but there are times when a little balance is needed.

When it comes to a topic that’s easy to criticize, hook-up culture has a bigger target than most and that target has only grown in recent years. It’s one of those issues that has fronts for both the unceasing war on horny women and the escalating war on horny men. To defend it means fighting a two-front war, which has historically been a bad idea.

I’m still going to try, though, and not because I think hook-up culture in its current state deserves to be defended. There are certain aspects about that state that I find flawed, some of which I’ve discussed before. Even so, I do believe some aspects of hook-up culture should be defended. I still intend to pick my battles very carefully, though.

At the moment, hook-up culture has been getting attacked on multiple fronts. It used to be that only cantankerous old people whined about young people having more sex than what priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks deem appropriate. These people saw hook-up culture as antithetical to the idealized nuclear family model that was glorified in every 50s sitcom.

Most people, these days, don’t take that kind of whining seriously. However, a new attack on hook-up culture is actually coming from other young people and otherwise educated people that are smart enough to recognize why those idealized 50s sitcoms were pure fantasy. Instead, they’re attacking hook-up culture as some inherently toxic manifestation that’s destroying men and women alike.

Make no mistake. This attack isn’t restricted to extreme conservatives who see hook-up culture as an affront to traditional values or liberals who see it as a tool of oppression that’s inherently objectifying. It’s not even restricted to man-hating feminists who think cat-calling constitutes assault or women-hating men who see every woman is a gold-digger who wants to ruin his life.

The attack runs deeper than that. Taken all together, these attacks reflects a sentiment that isn’t always hostile to sex, but treats it the same way most people treat a phobia. Regardless of political or agenda affiliation, sex from the attackers is almost always in a context of anxiety, fear, and hyper-vigilance. That phobia manifests in different ways.

If you’re a conservative traditionalist, hook-up culture evokes a fear that anything other than the nuclear family will destroy society and hurt those who participate.

If you’re a liberal progressive, hook-up culture evokes the fear that men will exploit women, using them for their own selfish reasons and subsequently contributing to their continued oppression.

To some extent, I can understand those fears. However, like most phobias that don’t involve spiders, those fear are not justified. They also reflect some very unhealthy attitudes about sex, intimacy, and romance in general.

Some of those attitudes play out in the sensationalized headlines surrounding hook-up culture. In these stories, it’s often portrayed as callous, bland, and overtly hedonistic. People aren’t getting together to fall in love, get married, and make babies. They’re just having sex the same way they would scratch an itch.

For some people, that’s unnerving, especially if they have children above the age of consent. There may even be a twinge of jealousy in that these young people are enjoying the kind of fun that older people didn’t get to experience when they were that age. While I suspect that’s a factor, I don’t think it’s the root cause.

Beyond the cause, though, the attitudes feed the sex-phobic sentiments whenever there’s news that hook-up culture may be harmful. There has been research on the topic and while the American Psychological Association does not draw any sweeping conclusions, it does take the position that hook-up culture is often prone to complications.

Chief among those complications, which also provokes the sentiments of the liberal progressive crowd, are the instances in which people regret hooking up. This is especially sensitive for women. In one study, over 75 percent of the women who’d hooked up with someone regretted it.

For some, it was just an unsatisfying experience. For others, it was somewhat traumatizing. This has become especially taboo since the recent scandal with Aziz Ansari in which the line between regret and misconduct is difficult to see. If you have an agenda, though, confirmation bias will allow you to see these situations as either misogynistic assault or man-hating extortion.

That’s what I find particularly dangerous/revealing about these attacks on hook-up culture. It’s so easy to find instances where people have a bad experience with it or are negatively affected by it. By singling these instances out, whether it’s mental health issues or part of a major celebrity scandal, every side can point to hook-up culture to justify their various sexual anxieties.

It probably doesn’t help that these anxieties may very well contribute to the ongoing orgasm gap between men and women. It also doesn’t help that trends in social media have made hook-up culture even easier to pursue than ever before. By nearly every measure, hook-up culture has little way of defending itself.

This is where I come in and I’m already bracing myself for the criticism.

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When I take a step back and look at the intent of hook-up culture instead of the anecdotes surrounding it, I do see something that’s worth defending. I’m not going to discount the negative impact it might have on some people, but I think the sentiment behind hook-up culture deserves more merit.

To highlight that merit, I need only ask a few questions. I doubt I’ll get honest answers from everyone, but at least consider them when contemplating hook-up culture.

Is it possible that hook-up culture reflects some of the inherent flaws with our traditional approaches towards seeking love and sex?

Is it possible that those engaged in hook-up culture are actually looking for some casual intimacy and NOT just hedonistic indulgence?

Is it possible that men prefer hook-up culture because they don’t want to jump through all the hoops of a relationship to get the intimacy and sexual release they desire?

Is it possible that women prefer hook-up culture because they just want to enjoy the toe-curling pleasure that comes with basic sexual intimacy?

Is it possible that some people just want to explore their sexuality without committing too much of their time, energy, and life to a relationship?

None of the questions above are rhetorical or factious in any way. They’re serious, honest questions that I think need to be asked when assessing the issues surrounding hook-up culture.

Regardless of whether or not hook-up culture exists, people are going to get horny. People are going to want to express their sexual desires. There’s no way to stop that. Religion, government, and culture has tried desperately over the years, some going to more extremes than others. All have failed.

This is what I think it hook-up culture’s best defense. It reflects and acknowledges the inherent need of people to express and explore their sexual desires without navigating the myriad of legal, social, and cultural rituals associated with it. In some respects, that reveals the inherent shortcomings in those rituals themselves.

I don’t doubt there are risks associated with hook-up culture. Disease and unwanted pregnancy are at the top of that list, along with instances of exploitation and assault. Focusing on those outcomes is like calling Eddie Murphy’s entire career a failure just because he stared in “Pluto Nash.”

There is a larger context to consider. Remember that study about people regretting their hook-ups? Well, science is rarely that definitive when it comes to matters of human psychology and sexuality. Later studies reveal that the extent of that regret isn’t very strong. It turns out that, like paying to see “Pluto Nash,” we tend to get over it. Most functioning human beings do.

Those same studies also make clear that the quality of the hook-up matters. If someone hooks up with someone for sex, but the sex isn’t satisfying, then of course there’s going to be some regret and anxiety later on. That’s what happens whenever our expectations aren’t met. Just ask anyone who got excited about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ failed Super Bowl guarantee.

This is where the extent of my defense of hook-up culture ends. While I think the various criticisms and anxieties about it are unwarranted, it does carry some baggage that makes all those unpleasant anecdotes so common.

Hook-up culture, in its current form, has all sorts of heavy expectations surrounding it. Whether it’s people actively engaged in it or those observing it from the outside, there’s this sense that hook-up culture is this non-stop party where everyone is enjoying the Caligula-style orgy and nobody leaves unsatisfied. That’s just not how human sexuality works.

Human beings are a passionate, social species. When hook-up culture becomes too dispassionate, which can happen, then it ceases to be a healthy expression of human sexuality. In that context, it’s basically glorified masturbation. As a romance fan and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can’t get behind that sort of callousness.

However, I think the attacks on hook-up culture are more misguided than hook-up culture itself. Men are seeing it as an agenda that beautiful women are exploiting. Women are seeing it as an agenda that misogynistic men are exploiting. Liberals and conservatives are seeing it as an affront to everything they deem good and moral. In attacking it, though, they all reveal their own sexual anxieties.

If our collective sexual attitudes are to improve, along with our overall satisfaction, we need to confront these anxieties. Hook-up culture isn’t going away because people wanting to enjoy sex with fewer strings is not going away. We can either learn from it or fight it, with the understanding that fighting it rarely ends well for either side.

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Teaching About Sex, Consent, And Relationships (Through Video Games)

Let’s face it. Most kids aren’t that eager to learn about the stuff that their teachers, parents, and school administrators want them to learn about. They’re not interested in knowing the skills that will make them healthy, productive, tax-paying consumers who will keep society running. They’re interested in the skills that will make them popular and/or get them laid.

The deficiencies of our education system are many and I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the experiences I had within that system. However, I don’t want to dwell too much on that this time. Talking about how much I hated high school is rarely that sexy.

Instead, I want to focus on something that most kids are eager to enjoy and how some people are using that to improve their understanding of sex, sexuality, and relationship. What could kids possibly excite kids that much to learn about something that they would rather not learn from the same gym teacher that makes them run laps in winter?

The answer is more obvious than you think. It’s video games. Admit it, that almost makes too much sense.

There’s no question that kids love playing video games more than learning about quadratic functions. According to a survey done by the MacArthur Foundation, approximately 97 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 play video games. When it comes to statistics and surveys, you can’t get much more definitive without asking kids whether chocolate fudge tastes good.

Kids might not be able to agree whether Superman could beat the Hulk, which he totally could, but they agree that video games are awesome. So if kids love video games so much, why not use that love to teach them valuable lessons about sex, relationships, and consent?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m not being facetious either. It’s not about the medium or whatever asinine controversies it may have. It’s about working with what kids already love and using that to help them in valuable ways. It’s not that radical a concept. Hit movies have been made about it.

When it comes to teaching kids about sex, though, I wouldn’t expect Edward James Olmos to star in a movie about that. That doesn’t mean the concept is entirely flawed. Teaching kids about sex is hard enough. Teaching them in a way they’ll remember and take seriously might be beyond the power of Hollywood.

That still doesn’t stop some from trying. In a story by Kimberly Lawson at Vice, an associate professor of medicine at Yale University has helped create a game called PlayForward: Elm City Stories. It’s a fairly straightforward, two-dimensional role playing game that is less about killing aliens or Nazis and more about guiding players through a narrative, showing how their decisions affect them along the way.

That’s not quite as radical as it sounds. Role-playing games represent a large chunk of the video game industry. Major game franchises like “Mass Effect” and “Final Fantasy” are built around the idea of having players make choices and face repercussions of those choices. Take away the aliens and the monsters, though, and you’ve got a solid basis for understanding real life choices.

PlayForward: Elm City Stories plays less like Dungeons & Dragons and more like the classic board game, Life. In it, you play as avatar in a fictional, but fairly realistic city where you have to navigate a variety of activities and make choices along the way.

Some of those activities involve who you your friends are. Some involve going to certain events and parties. Some even involve whether or not to make out with a cute girl. It may sound mundane, but like most RPGs, the appeal is diving into the world of the character and leading them through it. Here’s how Vice describes the experience.

Players have to make important, life-changing decisions, including whether or not they should go upstairs to make out with someone, if they should use a condom or not during sex, and whether they should accept pills found in someone’s grandmother’s medicine cabinet. At any point, they can fast-forward to the epilogue to see what their character’s life looks like at 30, based on the decisions they’ve made.

Through that experience, players learn about more than just saying no to the guy on the street corner offering a free hit of crack. They experience both the short-term and long-term impacts of their decisions. Given the notoriously short attention spans and limited foresight of kids, that kind of insight in indispensable when teaching them about sex and relationships.

It’s no “Super Mario Brothers,” but the lessons it conveys are more valuable than any princess. It puts the players in a position to choose the right and wrong path. It shows them just how right and wrong those paths can be in the long run for their character and themselves, by default.

Beyond just consequences, the game gives players a chance to explore situations involving intimacy, consent, and relationships. Their choices help forge the relationships they have throughout the game. To get a better outcome, they actually need a better understanding of intimacy and consent. The fact that gives them tools to apply those lessons in the real world just a pleasant side-effect.

In a sense, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is coming along at the perfect time. We live in a world where sexual harassment and sexual assault are heated issues. We, as a society, are not as willing to turn a blind eye to these sorts of indiscretions anymore.

Just punishing the Harvey Weinsteins of the world isn’t enough, though. We need to teach the emerging generation that there’s a time and a place to show a beautiful woman your genitals. Knowing those circumstances will be the difference between having a great sex life and being sued into oblivion.

Kids aren’t going to learn those skills through lectures, after school specials, and cute puppets. Some of the most effective learning methods involve active engagement with real activities that offer real rewards. In that sense, video games are the perfect medium for that kind of teaching.

While I doubt that PlayForward: Elm City Stories will win any game of the year awards, it sets an important precedent that is worth building upon. Saving princesses and shooting killer aliens is still fun, but learning about relationships, consent, and sex will take a player much further in life.

Kids, and people in general, learn best when they don’t know they’re learning something. Video games may still have a nasty reputation in some circles, but it offers opportunities to teach valuable skills that aren’t easy to teach, especially to hormonal teenagers. We should take advantage of those opportunities and hopefully, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is just the beginning.

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Sex Education Vs. Love Education: Why We Need More Of The Latter

Talk to most teenagers about the awkward moments of their lives and they’ll usually agree on a couple themes. Puberty did all sorts of weird things to their bodies, talking about sex with parents is very uncomfortable, and there’s no easy way to explain certain stains in your underwear.

Even adults who survived their teenage years would agree. That jarring transition from kid to adult is fraught with all sorts of challenges, obstacles, and exceedingly embarrassing moments. I’m not just talking about awkward boners either. It’s overwhelming, so much so that we often need guidance, even though most never admit to seeking it.

This is a big reason why sex education is so difficult, which I’ve discussed before. At least parents, teachers, priests, and poorly-produced after school specials tried to teach kids about these topics. Sure, some of it was misguided and misleading, but at least it wasn’t ignored.

There was one particular topic, which happened to be closely related to sex, that rarely got mentioned. In fact, it was only ever hinted at indirectly, if not overlooked purposefully. It might very well be the greatest oversight that school, parents, and society have committed, short of informing teenagers that pictures of their genitals are never secure.

It has to do with love. No, I’m not talking about the kind we make in a bedroom or within my sexy novels. I’m talking about the real, sincere love that most of us only know from old Beatles songs. Yes, I realize that sounds cheesy as hell, but that’s exactly my point.

Growing up, talking about sex was awkward and uncomfortable. It evoked all sorts of giggles, jokes, and crude remarks, often with respect to certain aspects of human anatomy. At least we talked about it. At least we acknowledged that it’s there and it’s something adults at least try, albeit haphazardly, to teach us about.

The same can’t be said for love. In some respects, talking about love is even more taboo than talking about sex. There was never a class about love. There was never an open discussion about what it meant, how it felt, and how to approach it. We, as hormonal teenagers, were left to figure it out on our own. That already leads to all sorts of problems with sex. Why wouldn’t the same apply to love?

Unlike sex, though, the silence on love has nothing to do with the agenda of religious zealots, government bureaucrats, or parents too horrified to think about their children getting naked. It had more to do with our attitudes, as teenagers.

I don’t know how it is now, but when I was a teenager, I hid the fact that I enjoyed romance. In many ways, my love of comics provided a shield since comics have all sorts of great romance stories. If someone found out I read comics, that wasn’t too big a deal. Liking comics wasn’t too taboo, but liking romance was different.

To enjoy romance, especially for a man, was to be a sissy. It was like there was something wrong with you to actually be into that sort of thing. Just talking about love made you less manly. Never mind the fact that men have done some insanely manly things in the name of love. Just being a fan of love and wanting to explore it was akin to dressing up in bunny pajamas and going to a Metallica concert.

For women, it was somewhat easier, but not by much. Girls were more expected to be into love and melodrama, but that came at a cost too. I knew girls in high school and college who got a lot of crap for being too sentimental, so to speak. Whenever they would talk about love, I could actually see others rolling their eyes and secretly wishing they could mute their friend.

In any case, talking about love was just something that seemed uncool, lame, or insipid. Never mind the fact that everyone seeks love, on some level, and that it goes onto become a major driving force in our lives, just like sex. We just didn’t talk about it and were expected to know it when we felt it.

That, unfortunately, was the most anyone ever dared teach me about love. It was the advice I got from parents and relatives. It was the advice I got from teachers. They would tell me the same things.

“Love is just one of those things you’ll know when you feel. Trust me!”

Now, I trust my parents and teachers with a lot of things. For the most part, the advice my parents give me is pretty damn good. When it comes to love, though, their advice felt empty and unsatisfying.

To some extent, I suspect they said that because even they didn’t know. I doubt they got an education on love, even if they got an education on sex. It’s also worth remembering that our concept of love and actually marrying for it is fairly recent. However, that doesn’t make the lack of insight any less jarring.

Even as a kid, I wanted to learn more about love, but had no idea how to go about it or who to talk to. I suspect others felt the same, but didn’t want to bring it up because it was just too uncool. I ended up learning most from comic books, TV shows, and movies like “Crazy/Beautiful.”

While those offered some insights, you generally don’t want to learn too much from mass media. That’s why we have an ongoing issue about kids learning about sex through porn. It’s also why we, as a society, don’t trust movies to teach teenagers how to drive. We understand mass media is going to horribly skew reality. However, we seem okay with letting it teach us about love.

Naturally, that’s going to cause problems. There are any number of doomed or toxic romances that the media loves to convey as romantic ideals. At least with sex, given the physical elements involved, it’s a bit easier to figure out you’re doing something wrong. Usually, your partner will tell you. With love, though, its a bit harder.

How do you know your understanding of love is healthy or even feasible? How do you know that your concept of love isn’t misguided or flawed? How do you even go about pursuing love, forging intimate bonds, and working with someone to strengthen that bond?

Those are not rhetorical questions. Those are actual questions that never get asked, let alone answered. Humans are a very emotional species. Love is among the most powerful emotions any human can feel. To not talk about it is akin to ignoring that at least half your body is on fire. At some point, the burning becomes too intense.

I don’t deny that our current standards for sex education have room for improvement. However, we haven’t even contemplated standards for education about love. Like our desire for sex, love is one of those innate human feelings that we cannot and should not turn off. It shouldn’t be one of those issues that’s uncool to talk about. It sure as hell shouldn’t be one of those issues that we ignore, especially for young people.

In a sense, though, maybe this is one of those rare issue where adults and teenagers are on the same page. Neither can claim to have a firm understanding of love. That may mean we have to learn and teach it together, but as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can think of few things more worthy of learning.

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Filed under gender issues, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships

Scare Tactics, Sex Education, And The (Post-AIDS) Future

Let’s face it. We all have embarrassing memories about how we learned about sex. It might as well be a law of physics among youth. At some point, you’re going to learn about sex. Shortly after that, you’ll probably learn something you didn’t want to learn from a parent, teacher, or priest.

For me, one particular memory stands out and it’s one I suspect most people my age share, as well. It happened in health class during middle school, just as puberty kicked in. It had nothing to do with male or female anatomy. I already knew about that, thanks to my parents. This particular lesson was more basic in that it had a simple message.

“If you get AIDS, you will die.”

It wasn’t as much a lesson as it was a warning. Everyone in that class had been learning about sex, at least as much as any public school was allowed to teach us. We were all at that age when we started thinking, wanting, and obsessing over it. Then, this distressing caveat gets thrown into the mix and suddenly, these overwhelming desires we can’t turn off take on a whole new context.

I’m not going to lie. That was pretty terrifying. The idea that doing something you were hardwired to do, and needed to do for the propagation of the species, could kill you was akin to being forced into a cage match with a chainsaw-wielding John Cena.

It’s one thing to avoid angry predators, sharp cliffs, and confined spaces with O.J. Simpson. It’s quite another to avoid the natural horniness that comes with being human. It gives the impression that sex is so dangerous and so risky that we might as wear hazmat suits while doing it.

Thankfully, I was mistrustful enough of my health teachers to learn more on my own. Even with lousy, dial-up internet, I was able to find out that a some of the dangerous claims my teachers had given me about sex, disease, and all those other lurid topics was not entirely accurate.

Granted, I understood why they used those kinds of tactics on young, hormonal pre-teens like me. Back then, AIDS was a death sentence. A diagnosis with AIDS was like a diagnosis of terminal cancer. When it started claiming the lives of celebrities like Rock Hudson and Eazy-E, even hormonal kids took note of the danger.

It was still a dick move, though, using those kinds of scare tactics on hormonal teenagers. I remember entire classes dedicated to teaching kids the horrors of AIDS and other nasty diseases that we could get if we didn’t have sex in the way the Catholic Church or the Saudi Arabian government approved. In case you’re wondering, yes, some schools still use these tactics.

Ignoring, for a moment, the outright cruelty of scaring kids like that, it’s worth noting that the situation with AIDS and other diseases is very different. Medical science has advanced. Innovations in antibioticsanti-viral drugs and vaccines have improved treatment or even cured some of those terrible diseases that my teachers used to scare me with.

While AIDS still has no cure, it’s not a death sentence anymore. Just ask Magic Johnson. There’s even a pill called Truvada that, when taken daily, can prevent the spread if the HIV virus. While it’s still a huge problem in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, we’re at the point in modern medicine where it can be managed.

However, it’s not going to stop there. At some point, medical science will cure diseases like AIDS. We’re already closer than you think and I’m not just referring to recent advances in technology like CRISPR.

Just this past month, a research team at the Scripps Research Institute developed a method that effectively blocks the HIV virus from infecting new cells. They’re calling it a “functional cure” in that, while it doesn’t remove the virus from the body, it effectively stops it from spreading.

This news comes shortly after the National Institutes of Health announced that they had produced an anti-body that blocks 99 percent of all HIV strains. If the results are replicated, that means a functional vaccine is not that far off. Add tools like CRISPR to the mix and it’s entirely possible that there are children alive today that will never have to worry about diseases like AIDS.

Given the amount of suffering this disease has caused, that’s an undeniable good. However, it removes a major tactic from the arsenals of sex educators who don’t want teenagers experimenting with their genitals. Now, I can understand that worry to some extent. Teenagers do have a history of doing stupid things and not just with their genitals.

Even without that stupidity, how are teachers going to convince horny teenagers to keep their pants on when they can’t scare them with diseases like AIDS? How many parents are going to gasp in horror at the notion that their precious little angels might be able to have sex with minimal consequences?

I ask these questions only half-jokingly. I also ask them with the full understanding that I may have kids of my own at some point and I too might vomit uncontrollably at the thought of them having sex. Given our collective capacity for excuse banking, I don’t doubt that anxious parents and teachers will come up with some sort of scare tactic to discourage teenagers from having sex.

It’s just going to get a lot more challenging in a world where diseases like AIDS are no longer a factor. History is certainly not on the side of those clinging to such puritanical attitudes. As I’ve mentioned before, the advent of modern antibiotics played a major part in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. A cure for AIDS might incur the same.

If that weren’t challenging enough, advances in contraception are sure to compound that effort. Advances like Vasalgel for men and IUDs for women will make it so that even the fear of pregnancy won’t be much of a scare tactic. Unlike every other generation of teenager, those in the near future may never have to worry about the kinds of consequences that have plagued horny teenagers for centuries.

That naturally doesn’t sit well with the uptight regressive crowd that belabors personal responsibility and bemoans any level of sexual freedom that goes beyond what the Catholic Church sanctions. In years past, they could refer to diseases and unwanted pregnancy to justify those attitudes. Once those factors are removed, what will they have left?

Never mind the fact that teenagers are already having less sex now than previous generations. In the minds of parents, priests, and health teachers, it’s still too much. I could bemoan how much of that reflects our poor, unhealthy attitudes towards sex, but that’s not going to change minds or sell sexy novels.

A part of me genuinely worries that there will be some people who actively oppose treating diseases like AIDS. There’s already a precedent. There are people out there who oppose the widespread use of Gardasil, a vaccine meant to treat HPV, a common virus that is often transmitted during sex and known to cause cancer.

Think about that for a moment. There are people in this world who are willing to risk young people, including their own children, getting cancer rather than risk them having care-free sex. That shows the lengths certain people will go to in order to ensure sex still has serious consequences. It says something about these attitudes when they feel they need those consequences to get their message across.

In time, some of these regressive attitudes may fade. These days, most people aren’t going to be publicly scorned for not being a virgin on their wedding night. Some parts of the world still cling to those attitudes, but most people in the developed world don’t have to worry about the Spanish Inquisition bursting into their bedroom and arresting them for having sex just for fun.

Better education will help improve attitudes and addressing the orgasm gap will go a long way, as well. It’s hard to know for sure what a future health class will look like in a world without AIDS or major disease. That world isn’t here yet, but it’s fast approaching. Parents, priests, and puritans of all stripes need to prepare. However, we should worry about how far they’ll take those preparations.

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Sex Robots, The Risks, And The Impact On Our Sex Lives

Talking about fascism and repressive governments is rarely sexy. I’ve yet to meet anyone whose panties ever got wet while talking about regressive free speech policies. You know what is fun, sexy topic to talk about, though? That’s right, I’m talking about sex robots again. Can you think of a better way to lighten the mood after all this political talk?

Traditionally, I don’t need a lot of reasons to talk about sex robots on this blog. I’ve even been known to make any excuse to talk about how sex robots will effect us, whether it’s how they’ll affect the prostitution industry or how they’ll make us better people. Granted, I do want to talk about something sexier than George Orwell, but there actually is a relevant reason for bringing up this sexy topic again.

It’s relevant because it tends to happen with all new technology to some extent. When there’s a clear trend emerging, it tends to generate this wave of irrational fear regarding its impact on society. We saw that with television when people though Elvis’ hips were part of a communist conspiracy to corrupt America. It’s only a matter of time before we see that with sex robots.

As such, it should surprise precisely no one that some people are already stoking the same fears about sex robots as their parents did with Elvis’ hips. This past week, the Salvation Army actually brought up the issue of sex robots and not in a very sexy way. These were their exact words.

It believes the technology could result in more people brought into the UK illegally for sexual exploitation instead of lessening demand for sex workers, the Birmingham Mail reports.

That’s not entirely surprising. Remember, the Salvation Army is a Christian organization. They do wonderful work, but religion have a long and stories history when it comes to sexual fear-mongering. The fact the Catholic Church still considers masturbation a sin in the age of internet porn shows how regressive religion can be on sexual matters.

It’s not just religion, though. Other more pragmatic organizations that don’t rely on people breeding uncontrollably expressed some concerns as well. A paper by Responsible Robotics, a non-profit that contemplates the sexy and non-sexy impact of robots on society, issued a paper called “Our Sexual Future With Robots” that expressed concerns similar to those of the Salvation Army. Here are some highlights.

“When we look at the question of whether or not sex robots could help to prevent sex crimes, there is major disagreement. On one side there are those who believe that expressing disordered or criminal sexual desires with a sex robot would satiate them to the point where they would not have the desire to harm fellow humans.”

“Many others believe that this would be an indulgence that could encourage and reinforce illicit sexual practices. This may work for a few but it is a very dangerous path to tread. It may be that allowing people to live out their darkest fantasies with sex robots could have a pernicious effect on society and societal norms and create more danger for the vulnerable.”

It sounds pretty dire. Then again, those fears about Elvis’ hips were pretty dire as well. Fears about cartoon violence, video games, and comic books were pretty dire as well. That’s not to say the concerns from Responsible Robotics and the Salvation Army are on the same level, but this kind of sentiment is nothing new.

I can see the logic behind these fears on some levels. The idea that people who fulfill their sexual needs with robots will somehow become socially isolated makes intuitive sense. It’s easy to imagine some creepy guy spending his every waking out in a windowless basement, acting out the most nauseating fantasies ever conceived with a sex robot that is programmed to be completely obedient.

It’s easy, but as is often the case with most fear-mongering, it focuses on an incomplete picture, of sorts. It simplifies and generalizes the impact that such a profound advancement would have on society. Given the sheer breadth of human society, that’s a crude, shallow understanding of the subject at best.

New technology always negatively affects some people. The simple advance of texting generated approximately 330,000 traffic-related injuries accidents in 2010 alone. It’s hard to know how many injuries sex robots will cause, but chances are it’ll be more than zero and heavily inflated if done while driving.

Despite the clear and documented harms of texting while driving, there’s no effort to un-invent the technology. It’s already here and it’s exceedingly profitable. Since the sex industry is already worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the incentives for sex robots are just too great to ignore, no matter how much religious organizations condemn it.

That’s not to say there won’t be issues. There are always issues with new technology. As advanced as smartphones had become, we still had faulty tech as recently as last year that caused some phones to explode. It’s terrifying enough to think about your phone exploding in your pocket. It’s hard to imagine how terrifying it would be if a sex robot malfunctioned in such a away.

Being an erotica/romance writer, I like to think I can imagine more than most. I also like to think that after hearing so many of the same arguments about video games, violent TV shows, and what not, I can sift the legitimate concerns from the agenda-driven fear-mongering.

Make no mistake. Sex robots will undermine certain peoples’ agendas. There are a lot of industries that cater to lonely, sexually frustrated men and women. It’s easier to convince a lonely, sexually frustrated person that a particular product will alleviate those feelings. Every marketing department in the world knows things get tougher when customers are happy, content, and satisfied.

There will also be cases of people who are already unhinged to begin with becoming even more unhinged due to sex robots. The rock band, Judas Priest, found that out the hard way in 1985 when two depressed teenagers listened to their music and committed suicide. While the band was found not liable for the deaths, it was still one case too many for the fear-mongers.

As soon as sex robots become more mainstream and more affordable, there will likely be a similar incident. Some poor loner will seek an outlet with a sex robot and somehow that will exacerbate, if that’s not too loaded a word, issues that are already festering inside his brain.

It could lead to people who become so isolated, they never leave their home again and end up dead.

It could lead to people who are so socially awkward that just being in public triggers a panic attack.

It could lead to people who can only have a functioning sexual relationship with a robot they can control and not a human being.

These are all possibilities and if I had to bet money on it, I’d say there will be at least one such case. Like the Judas Priest controversy, though, it’ll only take one to justify ramping up the fear-mongering. We may very well see governments and advocacy groups seeking to ban sex robots altogether or at least regulate them.

Seeing as how there’s too much money to be made in sex robots, it’s unlikely they’ll be banned. Chances are there will be some form of regulation or standards. Since the government is so uptight when it comes to regulating sexual matters, it’s more likely that the industry itself will try to regulate its own affairs. The last thing the industry needs is prudish bureaucrats telling sex doll manufacturers how big a pair of breasts can be.

It’s hard to say just how the sex robot industry will manifest. Unlike smartphones and TV, there’s far less precedent. While we do have sex dolls that are extremely realistic, we’ve yet to produce a sex robot that’s truly indistinguishable from the real thing and has a comparable measure of intelligence.

It will happen, though. The financial incentives are too strong and people are too horny. There will be issues. There will be reservations. However, we humans have proven incredibly adaptable over the centuries when it comes to bold new technology.

We adapted to cars and planes. We adapted to vaccines and contraception. We adapted to sexting and internet porn. We’ll find a way to adapt to sex robots. When people are that horny, they’ll find a way. It’s a beautiful, sexy thing that brings tears of joy to an erotica/romance writer’s eye.

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