2006

The Frankenstein Bride, Revisited

I was reading through a copy of Psychology Today when I found a few paragraphs about the connection between attractiveness and health.

Attractive men, apparently, are just as healthy as their less attractive counterparts, but for women it’s different and not in the way one would expect. Beauty and health, in women, are related but the correlation is inverse. Attractive women are less likely to be healthy than unattractive women.

The explanation give by researchers at Brandeis, where this connection was discovered, is that beautiful women are more social and thus more likely to pick up whatever is going around, but I don’t buy it. Attractive men are also more likely to be social, so why shouldn’t they suffer the same effect? No, I think something else is going on, and it has to do with our association between attractiveness and weight.

There’s a belief that thin is fit, but that isn’t always the case.

Weight loss is a symptom of a variety of chronic illnesses, including lupus, and a side effect of several drugs, both prescription and recreational. There’s a reason why the ultra-thin aesthetic of the runway is called “heroin chic.” Weight loss is also a symptom of a handful of psychological conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and body dysmorphic disorders. Especially in women, who need more body fat in order to maintain normal physical function, thinness can be an indicator of illness and even a diagnostic criterion. So why on earth would people find this attractive? What is the appeal of a sickly mate?

When I was at the Museum of Sex in New York, they had an exhibit on foot binding. There were X-rays on display, and tiny, pointed shoes, as well as photographs of women trying to care for their deliberately deformed feet. There were descriptions of what can only be described as torture as grandmothers broke their grandchildren’s bones in an effort to force the foot to conform to aesthetic ideal completely unlike its natural shape. In spite of this, the lotus foot was considered a sign of fertility and self-discipline. Problems that arose from foot binding, including infection, disability and even death, were overlooked, dismissed as atypical, or even eroticized. Men wrote poems about the “sweet” scent of rotting flesh that seeped through the bandages, and would choose a partner primarily on the size of her feet.

I saw this when I saw the pin-up exhibit I mentioned in The Frankenstein Bride, and the parallels struck me even then. I just couldn’t nail it down, but now I think I understand. The centerfold is about as realistic an ideal as the lotus foot.

It seems on the surface like an extreme comparison, but is it? I don’t think so. Being fashionably thin, for most women, requires efforts that results in a lot of discomfort at best, and can even maim or kill. Most women, on some level, know this, but when they protest the unrealistic ideals, the usual rebuttal is that men are attracted to healthy women who would make good incubators. We’re also told, rarely subtly, that we ourselves are probably fat and need to get off our whale butts and do something about it. The problem is that we now know that beautiful women aren’t necessarily good reproductive bets.

As with bound feet, beauty and health are completely disconnected.

The irony is that the bludgeon used to drive women to thinness is health. Thin, we say, is fit and fat is bad, but is it? Well, not really. Women need a minimum of 12% body fat, but that’s a minimum. Fitness is 21% – 24%, and body fat doesn’t become a potential problem until 32%. To put this into terms that people are more likely to be able to visualize, I’m going to switch from body fat percentage to body mass index, or BMI. Assuming an average frame and something short of complete couch-potato-hood, a 5’6″ woman can weigh up to 154 lbs without risk to her health. Even if she’s heavier, only a complete physical can determine whether or not she actually needs to lose weight.

Wouldn’t she be better off if she did, just on general principle? Not necessarily. Alex DeVinny, a state track champion from Racine, Wisconsin, died of cardiac arrest related to self-inflicted starvation and in its coverage of her death, the New York Times reported that 75% of varsity athletes at an all-girls’ high school had at least one component of what’s known as the female athlete triad.

The female athlete triad is a combination of disordered eating, amenorrhea and osteoporosis. They are signs that a woman’s body weight had dropped too low, probably as a result of deliberate effort, and they can result in long-term health consequences. The true extent of the problem is still unknown, but that’s the worst part. The Times also reported that 24% of college coaches thought that disrupted menstruation was a “natural consequence of vigorous exercise.” Even when coaches are aware that their athletes aren’t menstruating, they may not recognize it as a danger sign.

Here again we run into the fact that thin isn’t necessarily healthy, and if it wasn’t enough to find out that women athletes are at risks, Spain made a move that publicly called the fashion industry into question. This year, Madrid banned all models with BMIs below 18 from the catwalks during Fashion Week. Even though 18 is the lower limit of the healthy range, this caused a minor uproar because according to ABC News, the average model is 5’9″ tall and weighs 110 lbs. This puts her BMI at 16. Never mind the part about unrealistic standards, this represents a threat to the woman herself.

Am I suggesting that all women should be obese? No, and that’s one of the frustrating things about this. Any attempt to suggest that the pursuit of thinness might not be in anyone’s best interest is met by statistics about the obesity epidemic. Never mind that most people aren’t obese, and obesity is rarely a simple question of calories in/calories out. What to do about true obesity is a decision best made only when all factors are taken into consideration, something that can only be after a thorough physical. Knee-jerk sneers are in no one’s best interests.

For those who are simply overweight, the data on life expectancy and health are mixed. Being overweight is a risk factor for some problems, but appears to protect against others. There’s also the fact that people who are technically overweight can still be fit. Eating right and exercising are beneficial even when they don’t result in significant weight loss, and they don’t always.

Sadly, this discourages people from maintaining positive change. After all, why bother with daily runs and improving nutrition if they don’t make you a size 6? When it comes to healthy lifestyle, the serious issues, like diabetes and cardiovascular fitness, too often take second place to dress size, and when healthy options don’t result in the desired dress size, too many people either quit or go with new, equally unhealthy options. Bulemia isn’t a cure for those stubborn five pounds.

Even when weight loss is medically desirable, the amounts involved are usually moderate, around 10% of one’s body weight in most cases. This is nowhere near enough to bring one down to fashionable thinness, and fashionable thinness can be just as bad as obesity. Remember that average model? Her weight is low enough to put her heart and bones at risk.

This kind of thing happens from time to time. In China, it was feet, but Victorian corsets were worn so tight that they did internal damage and flagrant symptoms of illness, such as fainting and pallor, were highly prized. In some cultures, morbid obesity has been considered the pinnacle of loveliness, and women were force-fed to achieve it. In other places and other times, it has been other things. This appears to be a human phenomenon, not a strictly modern, Western one. I can’t even attribute it to mass media, because it predates them by several thousand years. Somehow, aesthetics get completely disconnected from what makes a woman capable of any kind of physical effort, and in some cases, it directly interferes with the reproductive capacity that is supposedly so desirable. A woman who is too thin to menstruate is also too thin to bear children, no matter how hot she might be.

Like foot binding, extreme thinness in women is a manufactured beauty that has nothing whatsoever to do with health. The efforts by which the average Jane tries to get and stay thin can destroy her bones, not to mention wreck any hopes she might have of motherhood. Also like foot binding, its attractiveness is taught. Most women on television and in magazines are very thin, especially when you consider the camera’s infamous ten pounds. Runway models are pared down to their bone structure. This should be grotesque, but since it’s presented in a context that displays it as attractive, we learn to see it as attractive. The worst part is that even the models themselves don’t actually look like that. Diet, exercise and surgery aren’t enough, the editors still digitally alter the images to lengthen the legs, narrow the waist, and get rid of that nasty cellulite. Even the most beautiful women in the world aren’t really beautiful.

I think we have to consider the possibility that, as a species, we do not always value women sexually for their reproductive potential.

Beauty isn’t about men lusting after women who would make good mothers, because the quest for beauty can cancel out any possibility of motherhood. It’s also not a form of male-on-female repression. Men may drool over Kiera Knightly, but it’s mothers who put their prepubescent daughters on diets or take them to plastic surgeons. It’s a lot more complicated, or perhaps more visceral, than that.

Mothers of Chinese sons used to be wary of “clown feet”, and now any sign of body fat on women is considered dangerous. At the very least, it’s considered an indication that she has no self-control, and therein, I believe, lies the answer. Under certain circumstances, we as a species value in women the ability to endure extended, unnecessary pain more than we value character, health or even reproductive capacity. As with foot binding, the thinner she is, the more self-control she has, the more punishment she can take, and the more desirable she becomes.

The parallels between bound feet and our ultrathin aesthetic are numerous and unpleasant, and unfortunately, I’m not sure what can stop it. Foot binding was customary for about a thousand years, and it took considerable pressure from the outside world to force the Chinese government to put a stop to it. Now the bound foot is considered grotesque, with pictures and stories displayed for shock value, but there are still women alive today who remember being told that no man would ever love them without broken toes. It wasn’t really all that long ago.

I know I can’t turn something like this on its head with a couple of essays. The connection between thin and sexy is far too ingrained and far too stridently defended, even if the defense is spurious. No, this is for the “But I like them that way!” crowd, those of both sexes who have come to suspect that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark where this issue is concerned.

You’re right. There is.

Ann Regentin
November 2006


© 2006 Ann Regentin. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

All Worked Up about High-Quality Porn

Writers and readers of erotica operate under a strange, quirky stigma. No matter how good the quality of the work may be, the fact that we’re reading and writing erotica means that to the general public, we’re reading and writing crap. Sexually oriented writing, fiction or non-fiction, is considered to be of such low quality that the very words “smut” and “pornography” are considered synonyms for “garbage.” And the word “erotica?” That’s just a dressed-up word for porn, isn’t it? At least, among most people. (As for myself, I tend to use the words, porn,” “smut,” and “erotica” interchangeably. The genre is believed to attract only the writers of the poorest quality, and readers with the lowest moral sense. If literature were gourmet food, erotica would be considered the convenience-store microwave burrito.

Some erotica writers and readers try to overcome this image, emphasizing the literary quality of works by Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Anais Nin, and the like. Others wallow in the trashy nature of their work, practically bragging that they’re tapping into the baser instincts and, like Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Susann, that they’re making money at it. Still others (such as myself) see writing smut as a challenge. Take a genre known (fairly or unfairly) for poor quality work and strive to tell not only arousing stories, but entertaining stories as well.

My point is, Dear Reader, that by visiting this website and reading and writing these and other erotic stories, you’re considered by polite society to be gleefully wallowing in the gutter, and I welcome you and congratulate you. Not only for admitting that you enjoy smutty stories and pictures, but for striking a blow for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yes, this is a “sex-and-politics” column. After my last few rants I swore I’d steer away from politics for a while, but I just can’t stop myself. It’s like stopping at one potato chip or at one porn website.

In a way, I can’t stop myself from linking sex with politics because they’re already intertwined with each other so much they can’t be separated. In fact, I think the reason the Powers That Be in government have such an abiding interest in battering down the bedroom door is that they recognize that erotica, smut, porn, call it what you will, is among the most politically subversive genres in literature.

In the first place, whether they intend to or not, and whether they even realize it or not, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who reads or writes erotic media of any kind, stories, photos, film, anything, is speaking out in favor of freedom of expression. That’s a political position. Everyone who produces or consumes porn is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, pro-expression, and anti-censorship.

The history of freedom of expression in the U.S. and Great Britain is a history of the governments’ wars on erotica/porn. A study of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment is rife with examples of how the government tried to shut down publication of works such as Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. And the battle continues today, as appeals courts are routinely asked to address whether strippers can be forced to dance wearing pasties, or whether nudity has any inherent value as a form of expression. To this day, courts routinely weigh whether erotic or pornographic media can be disseminated or banned because it violates obscenity statutes.

The test is called the “LAPS” test, meaning that for a work to not be considered obscene, it must have some sort of “Literary,” “Artistic,” “Political” or Social” merit. It’s true that virtually all erotic works published in the U.S. pass this test, but it’s also true that no other genre is even put to such a test. Care to take a guess as to whether “WWE RAW” [Monday night professional wrestling television program for World Wrestling Entertainment] would pass any test requiring that it have literary, artistic, political or social merit?

Some people would rather not think about the fact that they’re entering the political fray. They don’t create or consume smut to advance freedom of expression. They’re just trying to get turned on. Well, guess what? THAT’s a political position, too. Deep in the bowels of every government building in every state and nation on the planet, bureaucrats of every ideology are plotting ways to smother, stifle, or otherwise deprive consenting adults of their rights to get their rocks off any way they choose.

Why? Wilhelm Reich, one of the pioneers of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, believed that one of the most effective ways repressive regimes can control their populations is through repression of sexual freedoms. Shame, said Dr. Reich, is a powerful tool to compel submission to the authority of church and government, and through submission comes control. Dr. Reich, a Jew, saw firsthand the effects of the repressive regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, so he had a basis for the conclusions that he’d drawn. While Dr. Reich believed that authoritarian societies needed sexual repression, truly free and advanced societies conversely promoted affirmative and liberated policies toward sexuality.

Salman Rushdie expressed similar sentiments in his essay, “The East Is Blue.” Mr. Rushdie recounts how the sexually repressive governments in India, Iran, and Pakistan are losing the war to stop access to porn, and how the governments’ policies are in fact virtually turning porn into an instrument of liberty. Pornography exists everywhere, of course, but when it comes into societies in which it’s difficult for young men and women to get together and do what young men and women often like doing, it satisfies a more general need; and, while doing so, it sometimes becomes a kind of standard-bearer for freedom, even for civilization. If the restrictions on ordinary social, romantic, and sexual relations that these societies impose were to wither away, the need for pornography would very likely diminish, too.”

So, purveyors of smut aren’t just trying to get people turned on, they’re striking a blow for liberty and freedom, and Larry Flynt is correspondingly a Great American Patriot. However, with great power comes great responsibility. I submit that it is the duty of every person who produces or consumes porn to take that responsibility to heart, and to dedicate him or herself to making and critiquing work of the highest quality. Because it is through that high quality and it is through clarity of the message that we drive the Powers That Be absolutely mad with frustration.

In his essay, “Politics And The English Language,” published in 1946, George Orwell recounted how politicians and governments are intentionally and categorically trying to destroy language, and how clear and effective writing can be considered an Enemy Of The State.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face’thus, political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

The present occupant of the White House offers a perfect example of Mr. Orwell’s point. While President Bush is famed for his inability to put together two coherent sentences in a row, it goes much more deeply than simply tripping over his words. The Bush Administration has done such a great job of defending the indefensible that “shock and awe,” “collateral damage,” “extraordinary rendition” and even all-American concepts such as “democracy” and “freedom” are practically devoid of any true meaning.

Clarity is the enemy of political rhetoric. I don’t subscribe to the notion that all writers of sexually oriented materials must be subtle, or that all readers of those materials have particularly delicate sensibilities. If those are your preferences, fine. However, (and I can only speak for myself), in the stuff I read and write, I’d rather see that a cock is called a cock and a pussy is called a pussy.

I believe that we purveyors of smut/porn/erotica have a duty not only to indulge our urges to read, write and consume sexually oriented materials, but to expect our filth to be of the highest quality. By doing so, not only will we piss off the Powers That Be, but we’ll be effectively expressing the most fundamental freedoms to which we’re entitled. And I also believe that if you’re looking for the highest quality smut/porn/erotica, you’re going to find it right here, at the Erotica Readers & Writers Association. I beg you to enjoy your time at this website, contribute to its discussions, patronize its sponsors and affiliates, and make every effort to ensure that it remains the highest possible standards of quality.

I know I will. I’m getting ready to start my fourth year being All Worked Up at ERWA, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far. I’m looking forward to more of the same, and I hope you are as well.

Onward!

J.T. Benjamin
November 2006


“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

Instruments of Joy

Ever wondered what smut writers read on their off-time? Well, wonder no longer. Your curiosity is about to be satisfied at last: I read…

Yoga Journal.

No, really, I do, and if you haven’t seen the August issue, you should take a look. One of the feature articles is on sex and Yoga, and about how spiritual practice and an active sex life need not be mutually exclusive.

That notion grates at first because most of us have had mutual exclusivity shoved down our throats since religious school, where we got the idea that sex was something dirty and disgusting that we were supposed to save for the one we loved. Or perhaps we grew up in a more secular or intellectual environment, where people were up for sex but down on religion, the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx put it.

Either way, most of us hit puberty with a sense that sex and spiritual practice don’t mix.

The August issue of Yoga Journal does a pretty good job of refuting this by pointing out that Yoga at least has an off-shoot that specifically incorporates sexual concepts and even sex itself, but poking around in other spiritual traditions brings up some interesting merges. There are, of course, the temple prostitutes of the ancient world, but even the Bible has references to sex as something more than a way to disinherit oneself by impregnating one’s dead brother’s wife. The story of Onan is balanced by the Song of Solomon, one of the longest and most eloquent descriptions of sexual longing I’ve ever read. If that’s the relationship between Christ and his church, I’ll take it.

The article also points out that being in a sexual relationship may be one of the most spiritually challenging things we can do. Relating sexually to others brings out the best and worst in everyone involved, pushing buttons harder and faster than anything else I can think of.

It’s not easy learning to live and work that closely with another human being (or two or three), and sex acts as a reminder that we’re not really so separate after all. It even reminds us that very different individuals can work together toward an end result not achievable by each on their own. After all, we don’t spend our entire lives enamored of our hands. The path of the ascetic has its own challenges, one of them being celibacy, but the path of the householder takes on the challenge of living intimately, and if our divorce rate tells us nothing else, it’s that this is no small accomplishment.

The third point the article makes is that sex is probably the quickest route to in-the-moment mindfulness available, even if it only lasts a few seconds. At the point of orgasm, parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety shut down and others light up, including those linked to religious experience. It appears that the disconnection between sex and spirituality is not made in the parts of the brain that actually experience them.

There’s a corollary to all of these that is an ongoing issue in both sex and Yoga, and that’s that both bring us face to face with the limits of the human body. A lot of people are put off Yoga by pictures of pretzel people, men and women twisted into shapes that most bodies will never achieve, and given this kind of thing as a perceived goal, a lot of folks simply give up before they begin.

Sex is the same way. People who see their bodies as faulty or inadequate will often give up before they start, if not giving up sex entirely, at least giving up trying to see how far they can go with it until after they’ve fixed whatever it is they see as a deficit. Sex, they believe, won’t get good until they’re good enough.

One of the things we forget about both porn and Yoga magazines is that the people in those photographs doing those outrageous poses are showing off what they’re best at. Even big-name instructors have weaknesses, which Yoga Journal covered a few years back, and speaking for myself, fifteen years of Yoga has not enabled me to do perfect forward bends. Yoga does, however, simultaneously bolster my weaknesses while challenging my strengths, pushing me toward a kind of acceptance of my imperfect body that mixes celebration and forgiveness.

Done consistently over time, Yoga puts physical pleasure into a new perspective by incorporating the body into spiritual practice. Yoga feels good, and I mean really good, full-body massage and even sex-level good. So can meditation and prayer. The focused, unconditioned mind free from desire and fear really does bear a startling resemblance to orgasm.

The problem is that we’re taught not to trust sex itself, much less where it can take us. We’re taught that it’s something base, or as something that has only one appropriate outlet and can only be done in a particular way by particular people under particular circumstances in order to have value. The possibility of sex as an avenue for spiritual growth sounds alien and exotic, but at the same time, it’s something many of us are looking for. A lot of people want more from sex than physical release, but in order to do that, we have to challenge assumptions so taken for granted that they’re taken as truth.

If we can, though, sex can begin to operate independently of the state of our bodies, making things like youth and age irrelevant, celebrating our humanity and making us into instruments of joy. Sex at its worst makes idols of physical perfection, but at its best, it puts the body into a new perspective. As long as this exchange of mutual transcendence is possible, whatever it is we think is wrong with us isn’t.

Even the spiritual practices that appear on the surface to be striving for perfection are generally asking us to accept our imperfect world as perfect. Life, according to Buddha, is suffering and we don’t transcend it by making all sources of pain and difficulty go away.

It’s our own response that we are charged to perfect by confronting life with compassion instead of resistance. It’s only after we accept what is that transformation becomes possible.

Sex asks the same thing of us, that we be compassionate toward our own imperfect selves and take on the additional challenge of compassionate acceptance of someone else, and if there’s anything that makes sex really bad, it’s resistance. It doesn’t matter what the resistance is to, whether it’s a physical problem or an emotional barrier, as long as the decision to be sexual is based on an attempt at rejecting something, odds of any real mindfulness are slim. Sex doesn’t get transcendent when a problem gets fixed. It gets transcendent when it no longer matters.

People blame our sexually conservative culture for a lot of problems, and rightly to my mind. From where I sit, it seems to have resulted in an unacceptable teen pregnancy and STD rate, as well as an environment where consenting adults are treated like criminals, but even more than this is a sense of collective pain that stems, I believe, from removing the sexual from the spiritual and vice versa. The Religious Right, in attempting to limit our options, is limiting in the process one of the most accessible forms of spiritual expression we have. Not everyone has it in them to be religious in the usual sense, but it’s an extremely rare person who lacks the capacity for sexual feeling. When sexual range is artificially curtailed, it cuts people off from a critical avenue for spiritual growth.

What the Religious Right argues is that it’s trying to create an environment in which all sex is spiritual sex, but in the process they’re arguing that it happens only in a certain context, between straight, married people who are open to the possibility conception.

This stance is patently absurd. Marriage does not hallow an act of rape or indifference, nor does it render a couple immune to sexual abuse.

Ultimately, attempting to force sex into a specific context results in denial and resistance in those for whom that context is inappropriate.

Even when people would normally gravitate toward more spiritual forms of sexual expression within that context, the mandate impairs their ability get there by making it more difficult to ask the critical questions. Mindful sex doesn’t become impossible under these or any circumstances, it only becomes more challenging, often to the point where it appears to be a matter of chance. You get lucky, or you don’t. The idea that any volition is involved gets lost in the noise.

It’s perfectly normal for people to prefer various approaches to sex at different times in their lives or even different times of the month, but to attempt to legislate which approach we can take is a spiritual crime. The attitude we have toward sex is a choice that must be made on an individual basis, not collectively and not for us, and how we express that choice must be decided in the same way.

An artificial, dogmatic separation of sex and spirit results in an unbalanced culture in which sex must fight to rise above the level of a commodity. The farther removed from the spiritual it gets, the more it becomes a currency to be bartered for the appearance of purity or cool, and structure becomes far more important than substance. Trapped between virgin and whore in a culture that will acknowledge no other options, it takes a tremendous effort, or tremendous accumulated irritation, to set them both aside and start looking for other options.

There are several ways to go about it, and keeping my own prejudices and practices in mind, I think Yoga is a pretty good one. Even if you don’t do Tantra, simply bringing awareness to the body and welcoming it into spiritual practice can help. It also has the delightful side effect, as Yoga Journal pointed out, of increasing flexibility and pelvic floor strength. Not hard to imaging how both might enhance one’s sex life.

Fond as I am of Yoga, though, I’m well aware that there are a variety of approaches to mindful sex, including meditation, prayer, the study of philosophy and simple, honest conversation. Some people seem to come to it naturally. I really don’t think it matters. I do think we should seriously question any definition of “good” sex that values form over content, and whether “good” is couched in physical or moral terms doesn’t matter. If we are offered a choice between two paths, one that must be taken and one that must be resisted, odds are very good that we are being offered a false choice.

In the meantime, if you’re in search of inspiration or even just a change of pace, the August issue of Yoga Journal is well worth looking at.

Ann Regentin
September 2006


© 2006 Ann Regentin. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

All Worked Up about the Porn Menace

Not even they knew how bad it truly is.

Pornography is one of the favorite bug-a-boos of the Holy Terrors. Porn, they argue, is a “cancerous infection” which corrodes family relationships, leads to sexual addictions, and desensitizes and corrupts sexuality itself.

One of the most insidious things about porn is how it’s so pervasive. Nobody is safe from exposure and corruption.

ChristiaNet.com, which calls itself the world’s most visited Christian portal, last month announced the results of a survey the website conducted in partnership with Second Glance Ministries. According to ChristiaNet’s news release, no one is immunized against the vice-grip clutches of sexual addictive behaviors. The people who struggle with the repeated pursuit of sexual gratification include church members, deacons, staff, and yes, even clergy. And, to the surprise of many, a large number of women in the church have become victim to this widespread problem.”

The poll results indicate that 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography, said Clay Jones, founder and President of Second Glance Ministries — 60% of the women who answered the survey admitted to having significant struggles with lust, 40% admitted to being involved in sexual sin in the past year, and 20% of the church-going female participants struggle with looking at pornography on an ongoing basis.”

No wonder the Holy Terrors are up in arms. If this many true believers are in the sway of porn’s insidious clutches, we must be in the grip of a porn pandemic.

But wait a minute. Don’t saddle up the Four Horsemen just yet.

A closer look at the press release reveals the study and its conclusions may not be all they’re cracked up to be. In the first place, it appears no attempt was made to ensure that the survey’s participants were a random sampling, either of evangelicals or even of visitors to the website. Visitors to the website were invited to participate, and if they had five minutes to kill, they did it. That makes the survey about as scientific as a Ouija board.

Secondly, the survey consisted only of eleven questions. The conclusions that ChristiaNet and Second Glance Ministries drew from the answers are — creative.

Question #7: Is looking at pornography a sin in God’s eyes? Of 970 surveyed, 901 said yes. No surprise. Question #8: Have you ever struggled with pornography? 100 women said “yes” of 507 questioned, and 229 men of 463 questioned also said “yes.” By answering “yes,” the survey-takers were concluded to be addicted to pornography, according to ChristiaNet and Second Glance Ministries. No questions about how much money was spent annually on porn, no questions about how many times a week a participant looked at porn, nothing.

But wait. It gets better.

Question #3. Is masturbation a sin in God’s eyes? 744 of 970 participants (male and female) said yes. Question #4: Is masturbation a part of your life? 127 women of 507 surveyed said “yes,” and 190 men of 463 surveyed said, “yes.” (One of the things this response told me is that 273 of the men surveyed were lying on this question).

Then we get to Question #6. “Have you ever taken part in a sexual activity that is sin?” 263 women, more than half, and 304 men, about two thirds, answered yes” to that question. Sounds like most of those polled have serious problems, right? Hide your daughters and your barnyard animals, America.

But wait a minute. The overwhelming majority of those polled consider masturbation and pornography to be a sin, so it’s possible that simply jacking (or jilling) off to a dirty magazine is all it takes to condemn all these people to Hell, right?

Right?

The ultimate point of ChristiaNet’s dingy little rest stop on the information superhighway is to drive home one all-pervading, familiar theme.

Pornography is bad.

Never mind all the evidence to the contrary.

From the time the first Cro-magnon man painted something on the walls of the cave and the first Cro-magnon self-appointed moral arbiter looked over his shoulder and said, “Hey! Those look like boobs,” the Powers That Be have been trying to abolish porn as the cause of all evil in the world.

And yet, despite their efforts, the evidence that porn is actually harmful is surprisingly slim.

In 1970, the “Nixon” Commission, first appointed by Lyndon Johnson and then carried on by the Nixon Administration, announced the results of a two-year study of the possible harmful effects of pornography. The commission’s conclusion? “In sum, empirical research designed to clarify the question has found no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youth or adults. The Commission cannot conclude that exposure to erotic materials is a factor in the causation of sex crime or sex delinquency (pp. 27).”

As soon as the report came out, President Nixon denounced its findings and launched plans to crack down on the immoral scourge.

Sixteen years later, President Ronald Reagan put together another commission on pornography, dubbed the Meese Commission,” after then-Attorney General Edwin Meese, who chaired it. Six of the commission’s eleven members had been known as anti-porn advocates. The best thing that can be said about the commission is that they knew which side their bread was buttered on. According to the Meese Commission, exposure to pornographic images had a clear causal relationship to sexual violence. What made the Meese Commission’s scientific conclusions so profound is that the Commission drew those conclusions without eliciting scientific testimony or examining scientific evidence. They might as well have surveyed people on an internet website.

So, despite all the political spinning of wheels, what adverse effects might porn generate? In 1995, Berl Kuchinsky of the University of Copenhagen published the results of his study of the effects of pornography on the crime rates of four industrialized nations. Three of those nations had liberal laws regarding access to porn, and the fourth was the United States.

Dr. Kuchinsky’s findings are startling. In the three nations with liberal porn laws, the Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, after ruling out all other potential factors, over time there were dramatic DECREASES in the rates of sex crimes over the course of more than two decades. In the U.S., with relatively strict anti-porn laws, the rate of sex crimes was substantially higher.

Similar conclusions were drawn by comparing the porn-and-sex-crime rates between the U.S. and Japan, a nation known for easy access to extremely graphic and sometimes cruelly misogynistic porn: The effects of Pornography: An International Perspective

Just for kicks, I “googled” the terms “pornography” and “harmful effects” and got more than two and a half million hits. I reviewed some of the available online literature, being as carefully scientific as ChristiaNet’s survey had been.

My conclusion? The evidence of porn’s harmful effects appears to be virtually entirely anecdotal. People tell stories about how porn ruined their lives, and the stories are accepted as valid evidence.

Okay, I can play that game. My own conclusions? After having spent most of my adult life watching, reviewing, critiquing and studying porn, not to mention sharing it with my Lovely Wife, it’s turned us both into adventurous, enthusiastic, passionate, slightly kinky sex-crazed maniacs.

But I consider that a good thing.

Yay, porn!

J.T. Benjamin
September 2006


“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

All Worked Up about Sluts

True story.

A few years ago, my Lovely Wife and I decided to punch up our sex life by trying something — different. I’ll probably get into trouble for mentioning this, so I won’t say exactly what we did, but I will say it was the sort of thing that gets written up in those “True Confessions” type magazines that you find in dirty bookstores.

And we had a blast. Much more fun than we’d anticipated. When we were done, we felt like Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series. My Lovely Wife asked me what I thought of the experience, and what I thought of her for enjoying it so much.

I said, with a big smile on my face, “I had no idea you were such a slut.”

My Lovely Wife stared at me like I’d slapped her. Whoever said “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” never saw the look on her face. I spent the next several hours groveling and apologizing for my terrible insult of her character and my use of such a disgusting, slanderous term to describe the mother of my children and the love of my life. Talk about a buzzkill.

In the years since then, however, with regard to my Lovely Wife’s and my sex life, our boundaries of acceptable behavior, language, positions, and implements have broadened. Sometimes we still make love with soft music and caresses and gentle, passionate moments. And sometimes (and I KNOW I’ll get into trouble for mentioning this) we have hot horny grunt sex. We fuck like animals; fingernails, bite marks, rope burns, variable speeds, the thump-thump-thump of body parts on the headboard and, of course, the dirty talk.

And when We’re really going at it, when We’re scaring the cat and the neighbors are dialing 9-1-1 and We’re both on the verge of something significant, my Lovely Wife calls me a filthy fucking bastard—

and I call my Lovely Wife a dirty little slut.

And she likes it.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

We tend to think of words as things that are standard and unchangeable. Once a word is assigned to an object or thought, we believe they’re stuck with each other like a tattoo on skin. However, one of the primary aspects of my own fascination with words is the way that their meanings and implications can and do often change over time, sometimes over a very short time.

At some point in the past twenty years, for example, pimp” became not just a noun, (“one who procures customers for a prostitute, usually in exchange for a percentage of her earnings”), but a verb, as in “to decorate or customize, especially in an outrageous fashion.”

When I was a kid, I was warned by my parents not to use the words “gay” or “queer” in conversation because they were considered derogatory to homosexuals. Now, those “gay” guys on “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” embrace the terms. But I have to wonder; is giving a room the “Queer Eye” treatment the same as “pimping it?” Can I make up a new term, such as, Queer-pimping,” to mean “doubly decorating or customizing” something?

Then there are the conscious attempts to change a word’s meaning, especially to reduce the insulting or derogatory connotation. For example, a few years ago pop musician Meredith Brooks put out a song called, Bitch” expressly to give the term a more positive meaning, one of complexity and diversity and power and self-confidence, instead of its more common connotation, one of an ill-tempered or mean woman.

I’ve been told that people like Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson and rap artists are expressly using the “N-word” all over the place to rob the word of its negative power. Good luck to them on that; I can understand their motivation but you’ll notice I can’t bring myself to actually write the word down to prove a point, let alone say it. For that specific word, I think the best thing to do is just to never, ever use it, in any context whatsoever, in the hopes it completely disappears. I’ll let you know how that one works out.

Then there’s the word, “slut.” According to my New Webster’s Dictionary Of The English Language, a “slut” is “a dirty, slovenly woman; a slattern; a woman of loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a female dog.” For a more modern translation, dictionary.com defines “slut” as “a woman considered sexually promiscuous.”

These days, the word “slut” is getting a makeover. (Could we say the word is being “pimped?”) Reporter Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote a story for the New York Times last month called, “The Taming Of The Slur,” documenting how the word doesn’t just mean “sexually promiscuous,” anymore. The term can mean voraciousness of any kind, such as being a “coffee slut” or a “TV slut,” how it can refer to provocative fashions, and how among teenagers, it’s even become a term of endearment.

Ms. Rosenbloom’s colleague at the Times, columnist Maureen Dowd, went a step further last month by pointing out in a column how “slut” creates a sort of verbal quandary; the term is most often used to describe behavior in women that, when displayed by men, is considered in a positive way. “After eons of being a summary judgment that a woman is damaged goods,” Ms. Dowd writes, “the word slut has shifted into more ambiguous territory. It can still be an insult, especially since there is no pejorative equivalent to suggest that a man has sullied himself with too many partners. Men are players, women are sluts, just the way men are tough and women are bitchy.”

What makes the word even more problematic is the fact that the “good/bad” connotation of the word also depends upon whether a man or a woman hears it. let’s be honest. When a woman is referred to as a slut, most guys’ first reaction is, “what’s her phone number?” The term may be considered derogatory, but it still conveys potentially useful information.

That little fact is what got me into the doghouse with my own Lovely Wife. When I’d called her a slut, I meant it as a compliment. Still do. She’s sexually adventurous, enthusiastic, passionate, and even promiscuous in a monogamous sort of way. Once sHe’d realized that I was saying I found those to be positive qualities, she forgave me.

And it’s not just my own Lovely Wife. Women who are confident about their sexuality, who enjoy sex, either with multiple partners or just one, exude an aura that’s fascinating, sexy, and irresistible.

In their book, The Ethical Slut, Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt say as much: “(W)e are proud to reclaim the word “slut” as a term of approval, even endearment. To us, a slut is a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you. A slut may choose to have sex with herself only, or with the Fifth Fleet. He may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, a radical activist or a peaceful suburbanite.”

Still, when giving someone a label, whether it’s slut, pimp, gay, queer, or even the “N-word,” it’s probably smartest to just ask, first. Sure, it’s awkward, but it’s less awkward than saying, “Yes, I called you a kinky, sex-crazed promiscuous slut, but I meant it in a GOOD way.”

J.T. Benjamin
August 2006


“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

The Frankenstein Bride

About a year ago, I went to an exhibit of pin-up girls at the Museum of Sex in New York. The exhibit chronicled the history of the pin-up from the inception of photography in the 19th century to 1960, when the art form is considered to have died out.

There were several interesting changes along the way. Among other things, sets got increasingly artificial and the coy smiles lost their air of giggliness and became more knowing, then slutty. There was less sense that the women had been caught doing something normal in their skivvies and more that they were there for the sole purpose of sexual entertainment, but what I noticed most was the changes in the women’s bodies. In the 19th century photos, the women had smallish breasts, dimpled thighs and round tummies. As time went on, those women’s bodies were pared down to raw muscle and bone.

The male was somewhat less represented in the exhibit, but his devolution can be tracked fairly easily if you know where to look, and I do. Vintage porn shows men with somewhat less than six-pack abs and twelve-inch dicks fondling and fucking round, dimply girls in positions that, for the most part, resemble those a lazy couple might try on a Saturday morning. Seventies porn is famous for it’s hairy chests and thick bushes, but round about the eighties, the hair started to come off and the muscles started to pop. This isn’t just a woman problem. Men’s ideal bodies, too, no longer bear much resemblance to actual men.

It isn’t just the visual stuff, either. Every time I read a description of a woman coming easily from penetration alone, I wince a little. Yes, I often wish it worked that way, but it isn’t really that difficult as it is. Most women don’t have problems having orgasms, they just don’t have them through piston-like action by monster cocks, and while it’s fun to imagine that they might, there’s a very real danger of setting up an expectation that can’t be met. The end result is some poor guy who has anesthetized either his dick or his brain pounding away at some poor women who’s starting to get dry and sore, while both parties wonder what the heck is wrong with them. The answer, of course, is nothing.

We can’t even blame this on the opposite sex, because we’re doing it to ourselves. The decision-makers at magazines like Playboy and Penthouse aren’t usually women, and the ones writing and selling the romance novels aren’t usually men. This is entirely self-inflicted and for the most common, even innocent, motive out there: profit. People are creating what sells. It’s that simple.

The end result was best summed up by Chris Bridges in an article published by Clean Sheets back in May entitled “Help! I’m Turning Into an Anti-Porn Activist.” Now when this man starts complaining about porn, we know there’s a problem, and thankfully, he articulates that problem very nicely. On his list of things he’d like to see in a porn flick, the first is this: “Normal looking people who at least look like they’re having fun.”

Normal-looking people having fun. That was my impression of the 19th and early 20th century pin-ups, that these were normal women having fun. Whether they were coy, giggly, mischievous or even shocked, the feelings that showed on their faces were human. The angry, “come fuck my filthy cunt, you nasty bastard” look came later, but proliferated with astonishing speed, as did the cold, “suck it, whore” eyes on the men. The face of sex had changed, and what was playful and intimate was getting lost

The process is easy to chronicle, but the consequences are a bit harder to measure. What I can say for sure is that we have collectively lost track of what, exactly, is normal. As Cindy Crawford once put it in an interview, even she doesn’t look like Cindy Crawford without the collective work of make-up artists, fashion designers and graphics wizards, not to mention the personal trainer and dietician. The problem comes in when we try to imitate this look in real life. The part of our brain that knows what Photoshop can do isn’t always on speaking terms with the part that responds to the images themselves.

It doesn’t help that sexually speaking, humans are insatiable. If we like something, we want more and more and more. Men like big boobs? Well, let’s make ’em bigger. Women like muscles? Well, let’s get all of that pesky hair out of the way so they can see ’em. People want to see penetration? Trim those bushes, right down to the bare skin! In the process of creating the pornographic sure sell, we’ve broken the human body down to the sexual essentials, creating in the process an ideal of beauty that’s a patchwork of things considered to be attractive, bits taken from one body and electronically grafted onto another, or simply pushed and pulled out of their original shapes. It’s the same technique used by Dr. Frankenstein, to pretty much the same effect.

We have also pulled the rug out from under anything that might have provided a reality check. Sex ed? Just plumbing. Teaching anything else, like joy or pleasure, is almost illegal. Sure every once in a while a study comes out that shows that sex improves with time, but it’s dismissed as people being willing to settle, not accepted as an indication that our collective libido is off-kilter. Very little of either porn or mainstream media reflects anything resembling normal human bodies or sexuality, and the thought of normal people having sex seems disgusting, even perverse. After all, who would want to fuck that? Where porn is concerned — heck, where mainstream media are concerned! — we’ve long passed the point where the tail is wagging the dog. and as a result, we don’t seem to realize that we’re no longer turned on by actual human beings. We have created our own monsters, sexual ideals that are no longer truly human.

Even worse, we’re deforming and mutilating ourselves to look like them. Waxing takes off hair, but it can also take off skin, and laser treatments for hairiness can leave permanent burns. Dieting can cause far more serious problems than the weight itself, especially if it tips into an eating disorder. Cosmetic surgery is still surgery, and as such it carries some unpleasant risks. Modifications to the genitalia involve risks of losing their use entirely, and given that the whole point of this exercise is increased sexual attractiveness, that in particular is seriously counterproductive.

I think most people eventually figure it out, at least to some extent. Either we find ourselves loved or wanted by a real person or in love or lust with one, or we get jaded enough to get off the merry-go-round, or maybe we just get fed up with trying to shave our backs. But our ability to manipulate and disseminate images has evolved to the point where the prettiest girl in the village is Hillary Duff, and by the time we see her, she bears almost no resemblance to what Hillary Duff sees in the mirror when she gets out of the shower. Our porn is no longer our own species. The death of the pin-up girl marked the birth of the centerfold, a new aesthetic ideal made up of composites of exaggerations of our knee-jerk reactions.

Loving a person of even normal weight, size, proportions and hairiness, much less something on the farther reaches of the Bell Curve, is considered settling or being forgiving, maybe being open-minded. In any case, it’s definitely not considered something to aspire to unless you have no choice, but what we don’t seem to realize is that even the partners of porn stars and superstars have no choice, that they have to deal with their significant other on no make-up days or in between wax jobs, never mind sick with the flu or two weeks post-partum. There’s a world of difference between Brad Pitt dressed up and made up like Achilles, and Brad Pitt three days unshaven (including his chest) with a hangover. Knowing what I know about very short body hair on men, I’m betting there are nights when Angelina Jolie is cuddling up to a porcupine.

I like the pin-up girl far better than the centerfold. I like her playfulness, the sparkle in her eye that met adventure and embarrassment halfway. I also miss her soft arms, round tummy and dimpled thighs. These are essential characteristics of the female body, part of what distinguishes it from the male, but they were completely stripped from the centerfold. They are no longer considered desirable traits, and if the model can’t remove them, the computer does.

Men have fared no better. I’ve encountered many over the years who have agonized over their perfectly normal bodies, but after all, if body hair, receding hairlines and average penises aren’t in porn, then they can’t possibly be hot, right?

Underneath the siren call of the centerfold, though, I hear a collective murmur of “But I like them that way!” Sometimes it’s men who want some cushion for pushin’. Sometimes it’s women who like running their fingers through partner’s chest hair. Sometimes it’s just the person who closes the browser window and sighs when a search for new porn turns up nothing worth whacking to.

That mischievous, giggly pin-up girl, though, is still around. Just type “vintage” before you type “porn”, and maybe you’ll see her smiling over her shoulder, her plump cheeks coloring with suppressed laughter. [Editor’s Note: We recommend RetroRaunch: the oldest, largest and very best Vintage Porn website.]

P.S. To see a slide show of the changes in the ideal female body, go to: AnnRegentin.blogspot.com.

Ann Regentin
July 2006


© 2006 Ann Regentin. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

All Worked Up about Dirty Laundry

Sheesh! Take one month off and the excrement really slams into the rotary cooling device! So many topics!

For the past two months, I’ve been scanning the net, printing articles, taking notes, and muttering to myself about the current state of affairs. “Oooh, that’s a good one! That’ll make a great column! No, wait! This is better! I’ll do this one first! Hold on! This one’s even better! No, I’ll do this one first! No, this one! Aaarrrgggh!”

In some good news, the FDA has approved that vaccine for cervical cancer I ranted about a few months ago, the one that the Family Research Council actually disapproved of because it might encourage unmarried woman to go ahead and have sex. To their credit, the FRC kept their big mouths shut as the FDA’s news was announced, which just goes to show they’re not stupid assholes. Just assholes.

The Federal Communications Commission has multiplied obscenity fines by a factor of ten, making sure broadcast America is made even more safe from Janet Jackson’s nipples.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, most young people who take “virginity” pledges to stay celibate until marriage actually break those pledges and even deny having taken them in the first place. In other news, more studies have been released showing that abstinence-only sex ed seems to actually encourage more teen sex, more unprotected teen sex, and more teen pregnancies than conventional sex ed programs.

A woman, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, was chosen to head the U.S. Episcopalian Church and she promptly did a very un-religious-leader type thing by stating on the record that homosexuality isn’t a sin. Supposedly, Pat Robertson is scrambling to get Bishop Jefferts Schori baptized in his church just so he can excommunicate her.

Thirty-three years after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental disorder, it turns out the Pentagon didn’t get the memo, still equating being gay with mental retardation.

The U.S. Senate decided that the crappy economy, the huge budget and trade deficits, global warming, the Iraq debacle and Congressional corruption scandals aren’t the most pressing issues facing America today. No, the Senate’s top priority these past two months was yet another attempt to ban gay marriages by amending the Constitution. The measure got one fewer vote than it did last time, and Senate Republicans all but admitted they were trying to whore themselves out to their Holy Terror base of voters. They’re still claiming homosexuality is anti-Bible, but hypocrisy has been given the green light.

And speaking of hypocrites, Mary Cheney, the admittedly lesbian daughter of our erstwhile Vice-President, published a book called, “Now it’s My Turn.” In the book, she lambastes John Kerry and John Edwards for making her sexual orientation an issue during the 2004 Presidential campaign. How dare they credit the Cheney family for being tolerant and understanding instead of scrambling to shove her back into the closet?

Not to mention all the other times the Powers That Be and their pimps, the Holy Terrors, have made war against all things fun about sex in the past couple of months; the homophobic statements, the legislative measures to ban contraceptives, sex ed, and anything remotely explicit or even risqué when it comes to sexually oriented writings, music or images.

And oh, yeah! Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had their baby, hanging out in Namibia for the last month of Angelina’s pregnancy, relatively free from the prying eyes of the papparazi. I really don’t give a whit about this one, except I’m amazed that 1) “Brangelina” had to flee to another CONTINENT to escape the media’s attention and 2) the story was STILL the biggest news of the past two months.

Whew! Where to begin? So much to rant about, so little time.

I suppose the place to start is actually bringing things around full circle; back to President Bill and New York Senator Hillary Clinton. In May, Patrick Healy wrote a front-page article for the New York Times that speculated on the state of the Clintons marriage. Healy’s article reads like it belongs more in the New York Post or the National Enquirer than the Times, counting how many days these two busy people spend together in a month, and quoting several anonymous sources. This isn’t just a puff piece trying to take space away from the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie baby watch. The article was a warning shot across the bow of Senator Hillary Clinton’s hopes for re-election this fall, and for her possible Presidential aspirations in 2008. The mainstream media is serving notice that once again, Bill and Hillary’s private life will be fair game for the punditocracy to pounce upon like a pack of hyenas on a wounded zebra.

I’d normally respond to all this hyper-intense examination of the Clintons’ sex life with my usual mantra; Mind Your Own Business. However, the Mainstream Media’s response to my response is the same as the one they gave to Brad and Angelina’s request for privacy as they awaited the birth of their daughter.

Yeah, right! Respect your privacy? Suuuuuure we will!”

(Damn! that’s the third reference I’ve made to Brangelina in four paragraphs. I guess it was a big story).

I’ve therefore decided to take a different tack. Simply put, why should the Clintons have all the fun? If our elected officials feel it necessary to legislate their way into Americans’ bedrooms, they should be prepared to be subject to the same examination of their own sex lives. After all, politicians have to be ready to make financial and ethical disclosures, why not make sexual disclosures as well?

I propose that we ask our elected officials and candidates for public office a simple ten point questionnaire. After all, we need to ensure that our leaders are fine, morally upright individuals if they’re going to run the country. Dear (Fill in the name of your favorite candidate here)

1. Have you ever engaged in pre-marital sex? Or do you subscribe to the old saw, “it’s not pre-marital sex if you don’t plan to get married?”

2. Have you ever used birth control?

3. Have you ever committed sodomy? (either heterosexual or homosexual anal or oral sex)

4. How many times have you masturbated in, oh-the last ten years? The last ten minutes?

5. Have you ever committed adultery? (sex with someone other than your spouse OR simply looked at a woman to lust after her, according to Matthew 5:27-32)

6. Have you ever been divorced or married a divorced person? (That’s adultery too, according to Matthew).

7. Have you ever read or viewed pornographic materials? Got a Playboy magazine stashed in your desk? Ever read Henry Miller or D.H. Lawrence? Do you get Cinemax and/or pay-per-view softcore porn? Got your cable bill handy? Can we take a look at the bookmarks on your computers?

8. Have you ever used sex toys? Vibrators? Lubricants? Velvet-lined handcuffs? Scented candles?

9. Have you ever indulged in other “deviant” sexual behavior including but not limited to BDSM, spanking, master/slave games, role-playing, watersports, threesomes, swinging and/or voyeurism?

10. Please provide a complete history of your sexual partners, including frequency of sex acts, number of orgasms, length of foreplay, and positions used.

I’m REALLY looking forward to the Republicans’ answers to Numbers 5 and 6. Washington Monthly writer Steven Benen has pointed out that no fewer than three possible GOP candidates for President (John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich) have actually ADMITTED breaking the Seventh Commandment. Hell, Newt got busted back while he was actually in the middle of impeaching President Clinton.

Ideally, the politicians will make these disclosures honestly and forthrightly and show themselves not to be the homophobic, pandering, hypocrictical whores of the Religious Right they seem to be. More likely, they’ll do the same thing they did when the FBI raided Congressman William Jefferson’s office and simply have a shitfit.

How about it, Congressman/Senator/Governor? Shall we fight dirty laundry with dirty laundry, or is this more a case of MYOB?

I thought so.

J.T. Benjamin
July 2006


“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

All Worked Up about Orwell

Back in 1984, appropriately enough, I read George Orwell’s anti-utopian science fiction novel “1984” for a political science class. In class, we discussed whether the novel, (published in 1948), described a possible future society under Communist rule, under Nazi or possibly British socialism, and even whether Orwell was describing then-contemporary post World War II Great Britain.

Who knew the novel would be describing the Bush Administration’s plans for governing the United States?

In case you haven’t read the novel, or if you have and have successfully blotted out the memory, “1984” paints a bleak, depressing picture of the future. England is ruled by a worldwide totalitarian regime. Many of Orwell’s descriptions of English life under the single ruling party, dubbed “Big Brother, have eerie parallels to contemporary U.S. life.

Orwell foretold the 24-7 electronic surveillance of citizens, modern torture and brainwashing techniques, perpetual war against ethereal enemies, governmental control of mass media, massive uber-patriotic propaganda campaigns, and attempts to stifle dissent by altering the very language through the concepts of doublespeak” and “newspeak.”

Orwell also coined the term, ‘sexcrime.” I’m not referring to bona fide and properly prosecuted sex crimes such as rape and child molestation. In the appendix to his book, Orwell provides his own definition of the term.

(The party member’s) sexual life, for example, was entirely regulated by the two Newspeak words: sexcrime (sexual immorality) and goodsex (chastity). Sexcrime covered all sexual misdeeds whatever. It covered fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and other perversions, and, in addition, normal intercourse practised for its own sake. “He knew what was meant by goodsex “that is to say, normal intercourse between man and wife, for the sole purpose of begetting children, and without physical pleasure on the part of the woman: all else was “sexcrime.”

The novel’s hero, Winston Smith, is a minor functionary in the ruling party. Not surprisingly, following his dick leads Winston to his downfall. He meets and falls in love with Julia, another minor party member. Julia is an unashamedly promiscuous woman who commits ‘sexcrimes’ (that is, she sleeps around), as a form of protest against the establishment. After the first time Winston and Julia hook up, Orwell writes, “Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the party. It was a political act.”

Over the course of their affair, Winston and Julia begin acting rebellious in other ways, including reading prohibited materials. Eventually, the two are caught, tortured, brainwashed, and ultimately betrayed by each other.

Why do I bring this up?

Because it’s not hard to see eerie parallels between Orwell’s definition of ‘sexcrimes’ and the Bush Administration’s modern-day “War On Whoopie.”

If you’re a regular reader of this column, (and if you aren’t, why the hell not?), you’re aware that the Christian Right, through their designated puppet, the Bush Administration, have been trying to shut down pornography, profanity, sex toys, sex education, a woman’s right to choose, birth control, gay marriage, homosexuality in general, and to otherwise in every way, shape or form take the “WOO-HOO, That was FUN!” out of sex. If the sex isn’t specifically between married people, and for the specific purpose of bearing children, the Christian Right, (whom I’ve dubbed the Holy Terrors), want to shut it down.

So picture a future in which the Holy Terrors win.

John, shall we engage in marital intercourse after dinner?”

Afraid not, Marsha. The permits haven’t come back from the Department of Homeland Fertility yet.”

But I’m ovulating, John. And don’t tell anybody, but I’m really, really horny.”

Then we’d definitely better not do anything, Marsha. The last time you exceeded your orgasm quota, we had to pay a fine.”

If this sounds far-fetched, while you’re in the bookstore, picking up a copy of “1984, buy “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne for a picture of religious views toward sexuality in the U.S. not so long ago. And while you’re at it, you’d better grab some books by Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Stendahl, Henry James, Anais Nin, Susie Bright, Maxim Jakobowski, and as many other erotic writers, old and new, as you can find, because if the Holy Terrors have their way, you won’t be able to find them anymore.

Imagine living in a society with no photos, literature, movies, or music that could in any way be considered erotic or appealing to the prurient interests. No colorful language. No provocative outfits. No v-necked blouses showing off cleavage, or tight blue jeans accentuating a firm ass. Drab clothes, drab art, drab words, drab literature. Homosexuals are “out of sight, out of mind.” they’re imprisoned, brainwashed, or worse. Sex is a chore. A burden. If the act doesn’t result in conception, it’s a failure. People don’t hook up because of love or even sexual attraction, but for their mutual ability to produce offspring. If you’re infertile, maybe you’re just treated as second-class citizens. Maybe you’re in the same place as the homosexuals. And yes, all intercourse must be within the bonds of matrimony. And all of this is rigidly enforced and overseen by a pseudo-benevolent loving government. The Powers That Be dictate with whom we have sex, when we have sex, and how we have sex.

In other words, it’s a society a lot like that of Orwell’s “1984.”

Will the Holy Terrors succeed in their War on Whoopie?

Of course not.

In the first place, sex is everywhere. Of course, it’s always been everywhere, but these days it’s positively moved into the mainstream. Porn is chic. Jenna Jameson has a best-selling autobiography. Porn stars make reality shows and documentaries. Writers of erotica are cult figures in the literary world. Thanks to the internet, anyone can get any access to any sexually oriented material he or she wants anywhere, anytime. Porn isn’t just in the mainstream; it’s on the cutting edge. Barely ten minutes after Apple introduced its new video iPod, porn video distributors announced they would make clips available for the new device.

As far as sexual preferences are concerned, gays can marry in Massachusetts, Canada, and an ever-growing number of European countries. For every anti-fun statute that is passed in a “red” state, a pro-fun measure passes in a “blue” state.

Trying to curb peoples’ urges to make whoopee is like trying to stop a breach in a flooded levee with sponges and “Brawny” paper towels. (Bad, tasteless, insensitive joke there. I humbly apologize to the citizens of Hurricane Katrina-devastated New Orleans, Louisiana, and to the heroic efforts of those trying to repair the damage to that great city’s levees with government-issue sponges and “Brawny” paper towels).

For all their bluster and busy activity, the Holy Terrors don’t realize their War on Whoopie is already lost. Which leads me to the second reason why their failure is a foregone conclusion.

they’re just not smart enough to pull it off.

that’s not to say the Holy Terrors don’t have power. That’s not to say they can’t make life miserable for the rest of us. That’s not to say they won’t make every effort to drag us, kicking and screaming, back to the Middle Ages or, more likely, forward into George Orwell’s dark vision of the future.

Which is why, fellow fun-loving freaks, we must resist the tyranny of our would-be oppressors! We must stand up (or lie down, as the case may be) for our right to spread our legs, drop our drawers, break out the whips, nipple clamps and candlewax and have dirty, kinky, twisted, sweaty carnal knowledge with our fellow consenting adults in any way and every way, shape or form. We must not just watch porn for its own sake, we must do so as an expression of freedom of speech. When We’re punishing a very bad, bad person, We’re not just spanking a bare bottom, We’re also striking a blow for personal liberty. With a leather paddle, to boot.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. I’ll show you some strange bedfellows.

Come on, Baby. let’s go on up to my place and we’ll stick it to The Man.

J.T. Benjamin
May/June 2006


“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

All Worked Up about Redefining Marriage

As has been well-documented by my own humble self, the Holy Terrors are engaged in a War On Whoopie, an all-out campaign to banish all things not related to marital intercourse for the specific purpose of procreation. That is, everything fun about sex. These include pornography, sex education, sex toys, birth control, obscenity, homosexuality in general, and specifically gay marriage. To name a few.

However, in documenting the Holy Terrors’ war, I realize I have not spent much time exploring their motives. WHY do the Holy Terrors feel the need to remove the “FUCKIN-AY! THAT WAS GREAT!” out of sex?

I could simply presume that the War on Whoopie is being waged because the Holy Terrors are just a collection of self-righteous homophobic bigoted assholes who have nothing better to do than to stick their holier-than-thou noses into other peoples business because God Forbid people should be out there having more fun than they, that is, any fun at all.

But I won’t do that. I’ll instead take it for granted that the Holy Terrors have only the most noble motives in mind, and I’ll take them at their own words to discern their motives. Why, for example, do they so vehemently oppose gay marriage?

Taking the Holy Terrors at their word, they oppose gay marriage because it threatens the very institution of marriage itself.

Don’t believe me? Pay heed to the words of Fearless Leader. “(S)ome activist judges and local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage [by legalizing homosexual unions] “.If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. “Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife.” (George W. Bush, Feb. 14, 2004).

I’m sure it was an oversight, but Fearless Leader’s call to arms was devoid of specifics. I still have a few questions. How does legalizing gay unions redefine marriage? What is the meaning of marriage such that it’s at risk of change, and what is so special about “man and woman as husband and wife” that therefore needs the protection of a Constitutional amendment?

In other words, why do people get married?

Because they love each other, of course. Why else?

Okay. But in all the media coverage of gay people wanting to marry, they say they want to do so because they love their partners and want to be with each other until death do they part. So why not let them marry? How does letting more people do it for love redefine it? Are there other possible reasons for people to marry?

As a matter of fact, over the course of history, people have gotten married for an enormous diversity of reasons: to seal political alliances, for business and property ownership purposes, to produce children, (heirs and laborers, mostly), and generally to maintain an orderly society. And what about love and sexual gratification? Well, that’s what mistresses, concubines, prostitutes, and fuckbuddies were for. According to Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage: A History, (The Penguin Group, 2005), “(f)or thousands of years, marriage served so many economic, political, and social functions that the individual needs and wishes of its members (especially women and children) took second place. Marriage was not about bringing two individuals together for love and intimacy, although that was sometimes a welcome side effect. Rather, the aim of marriage was to acquire useful in-laws and gain political or economic advantage.

Only in the last two hundred years, as other economic and political institutions began to take over many of the roles once played by marriage, did Europeans and Americans begin to see marriage as a personal and private relationship that should fulfill their emotional and sexual desires. Once that happened, free choice became the societal norm for mate selection, love became the main reason for marriage, and a successful marriage came to be defined as one that met the needs of its members.” (pp. 306-307, Coontz).

With hindsight, the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana is a perfect example of Ms. Coontz theory. The pairing was a mis-match made someplace other than heaven. Once the couple had produced Princes William and Harry, (“an heir and a spare”) ensuring the royal line would continue for another generation, Charles and Diana each found someone more well-suited to their wants and needs. The marriage ended, like so many others, in divorce.

In fact, you might say that the true fairy-tale wedding with the “happily-ever-after” ending is that of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. Marry for love? To hell with the political consequences? Oh, you crazy kids!

Wait a minute, you might say. We’re living in the twenty-first century. Don’t tell me the Holy Terrors are still saying people should marry for reasons other than for love!

Okay, I won’t tell you that. I’ll let them tell you that.

Quoting the Catechism for the Catholic Church, Article 7, Section 1601: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, (emphasis added).

Until 1965, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), states could legally prohibit the sale of contraceptives to married couples or to individuals. Why? Because birth control was anti-family. In upholding a similar law in 1917, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts held the law’s purpose was to “protect purity, to preserve chastity, to encourage continence and self-restraint, to defend the sanctity of the home, and thus to engender in the State and nation a virile and virtuous race of men and women.”

The Family Research Council website offers a lengthy article by Dr. Allan C. Carlson, PhD, entitled, Marriage And Procreation: On Children As The First Purpose Of Marriage.” Dr. Carlson himself acknowledges, “When Massachusetts officials facing the court case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health set out to defend that state’s marriage law from a challenge by seven homosexual couples, their major line of defense was procreation. Making babies, the state argued, was the first purpose of marriage.”

Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, is a special piece of work. He’s got his eye on the Presidency and in his recent book, It Takes A Family, he complains among other things that too many women are working outside the home, (p. 94), public schools are weird, (p. 386), and “The notion that college education is a cost-effective way to help poor, low-skill, unmarried mothers with high school diplomas or GEDs move up the economic ladder is just wrong.” (Pg. 138) However, the junior Senator from PA saved a special message for the “Brian Lehrer” radio show on August 4, 2005. There, the Senator said, “(T)he point of marriage from a societal point of view is not to affirm the love of two people, and to make people feel good about who they are in their relationship, but in fact the point of marriage is for having children — if we change that, we devalue the institution and we change it, and re-orient it more toward parents, and away from children.”

Being the father of four myself, I can get behind the idea that we need to raise our children in the best home environment possible. However, I’ve known of too many negative “one man-one woman” family arrangements and too many positive “single parent” or “one parent-one significant other” or “two moms” or “two dads” or “one or more of the above” arrangements to trust the Catholic Church, a monolithic governmental bureaucracy, or a crackpot Pennsylvania politician to know what’s best for everyone.

So, I hate to admit it, but the President is right. We liberals are out to re-define marriage. I say a marriage ought to be about unconditional love and affection between consenting adults. Call me nut, call me crazy dreamer.

No, it’s okay. Go ahead. All together now. “J.T, you nut! You crazy dreamer!”

J.T. Benjamin
April 2006


“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

All Worked Up about Big Brother

It should come as no surprise that the U.S. government is illegally spying on its citizens. As Former President Jimmy Carter so eloquently pointed out last month during Coretta Scott King’s funeral, “the civil liberties of both husband and wife (were) violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance, and, as you know, harassment from the FBI.”

It’s important to note that the government’s eavesdropping on the lives of Dr. and Mrs. King extended not only to their public associations, but into their private lives, as well. This includes allegations of adultery on Dr. King’s part. According to Curt Gentry, author of J. Edgar Hoover, The Man And The Secrets, FBI director Hoover had the Bureau send Dr. King a tape recording his infidelity and threatening to expose him unless Dr. King takes the “one way out” available to him and commits suicide.

Electronic governmental surveillance is as old as is electronic communication. In fact, according to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, it predates it. On February 6, 2006, in testimony before Congress, Attorney General Gonzalez justified the Bush Administration’s illegal eavesdropping by saying, President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.”

Presumably, President Washington had a little help from Mr. Peabody and Sherman and, of course, their WayBack Machine.

These days, however, the government’s power to eavesdrop is far more sophisticated, far-reaching, and dangerous than when Dr. King was alive. I have four grave concerns about the government playing Big Brother.

First, it’s not just the FBI; it’s the CIA, it’s the National Security Agency, it’s the Pentagon, it’s Homeland Security, it’s the Justice Department as a whole, it’s the Defense Department, it’s the entire friggin’ government.

In fact, remember the Total Information Agency, that governmental spying program that was shut down over privacy concerns? Turns out it wasn’t really shut down. (TIA Lives On: NationalJournal.com; Feb. 23, 2006)

It’s like the government’s a drunk on a bender. They couldn’t stop even if they wanted to. And they don’t want to.

Secondly, they’re not just trying to track down terrorists. In a September 28, 2003 New York Times article, it was revealed that the government is using the USA PATRIOT Act (remember, that “essential tool” in the war on terror), to “investigate suspected drug traffickers, white-collar criminals, blackmailers, child pornographers, money launderers, spies and even corrupt foreign leaders, federal officials said.”

Reports have come out that the NSA and Homeland Security have been spying not only on suspected terrorist organizations, but on news reporters, anti-war organizations, a Gay and Lesbian club at a south Florida law school, and the Quakers, among others.

Thirdly, they’re not just spying on suspected criminals and opponents of the war. On February 9th, 2006, two members of the Department of Homeland Security stormed into the Little Falls Library in Bethesda, Maryland. Their targets? Patrons using library computers. For what purpose? Not for sending emails to Al Qaida, not for looking up how to make atomic bombs, not for signing up for terrorist summer camps.

The Homeland Security officers were cracking down on viewing porn on the internet.

Like most library systems, the DC-Fairfax Virginia district has policies regarding the use of computers in their facilities. While viewing porn on the net isn’t encouraged, it’s not forbidden, either. At least, not by the library district.

However, the Department of Homeland Security apparently had other ideas. Granted, according to the Washington Post, the two officers were allegedly reprimanded for their conduct, but not before detaining and questioning one patron and scaring the piss out of several others.

And it’s not just a pair of Barney Fife-type Homeland Security cops, either. As part of a wide-ranging investigation into online child pornography, the Department of Justice has requested the search engine Google to turn over records regarding tens of millions of internet search terms and web addresses in an enormous online fishing expedition. While the war on child porn is important, how many of these tens of millions of search terms and web addresses that have nothing to do with child porn will be nevertheless closely examined by the Feds if Google loses its fight to keep that information private?

Did you look something up on Google last summer? While I’m sure you didn’t do anything illegal, do you necessarily want the government to know what you did?

My fourth big concern about Big Brother is the American People. To quote Walt Kelly’s Pogo Possum, We have met the enemy and they is us.

let’s face it. We’re a society of self-promotional addicts. We’ve got websites, webcams, voyeurcams, digital cameras in our cellphones, weblogs, (I myself have succumbed to the temptation of blogs. Check mine out at jtbenjamin.blogspot.com. This is in the interests of full disclosure. Plus a little shameless self-promotion). All this is coupled with an insatiably gossip-mad press, celebrities who are famous for no other reason than they want to be famous, (e.g. Paris Hilton), and, of course reality television. Real live people exposing their every action, thought, and whim for millions to see. Andy Warhol had it right, but he was thinking small. We’re not seeking fifteen minutes of fame; We’re after at least a half-hour primetime block for no fewer than thirteen weekly episodes.

what’s wrong with all this? The more attention we seek, the less we treasure our privacy. And the more we get used to airing our dirty laundry in front of thousands or millions of people, the smaller are our expectations of what should be and is nobody’s business but our own.

So when the government starts snooping in our bedrooms, rather than scream bloody murder, our tendency these days is simply to shrug our shoulders and say, “so what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that to this point, the decisions about what we choose to expose to the public are still ostensibly up to us. We pick and choose what to reveal. We weigh the consequences of exposure versus preserving our privacy.

that’s not the case when the government gets hold of our sexual secrets. Does anybody out there not worry about what the Powers that Be might think of what websites we visit, videos we watch, and magazines we read? Remember, the current bunch of yahoos in charge used eight thousand tax dollars to cover up a bare-breasted statue in the main lobby of the Department of Justice a few years ago.

So, how do we stop them? By not giving in. By not allowing someone else to define for us what is acceptable to expose and what is not. And by saying, as loud and as often as possible, “Mind Your Own Business!” And by respecting other peoples wishes when they say that to us. It’s like what actor David Hyde Pierce (“Frasier, ” spamalot, among others), says: “My life is an open book. It’s just nobody else’s business who reads that book.”

And if we don’t draw the boundaries, the Powers That Be will draw them for us. Which they’re already attempting to do.

More on that next month.

J.T. Benjamin
March 2006


“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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