Decisions Are Made By Those Who Show Up: Why Calling Congress Isn’t A Waste Of Time

Okay. That title is a bit off. A more accurate title would be, “Why Calling Or Emailing Congress, The President, And Your Other Elected Officials Not Only Isn’t A Waste Of Time, But Is One Of The Most Important Things We Can Do To Take Back Our Supposedly Democratically Elected Government.” But the Writer’s Union would have my head if I went with a title like that…

PhoneI’m writing today to ask you to write and/or email your Senator, your Congressperson, your President. Your governor. Your mayor. Your city council. Your school board. If you don’t live in the U.S.: Your Prime Minister, your Premiere, your MP, your Assemblymember, your Deputy, whatever.

Not on any particular issue. Just in general. On whatever issue you care about.

And I want to argue that this is not a waste of time. I want to argue that this is one of the single most effective political actions we can take: not just to change this policy or that policy, but to change the entire way our government works, and the amount of power we have in it.

When I wrote my recent piece exhorting readers to call/ email Congress and the President about the public option for health care, many of you followed through, with a heartening degree of enthusiasm. But a surprising number of politically aware, politically astute people were strongly resistant: not to the public option for health care, but to the very idea of contacting their elected officials at all. They thought their voices wouldn’t be heard or cared about. They thought it was a waste of time.

I want to persuade you that it is not a waste of time.

And I want to persuade myself as well. I don’t call or email my representatives nearly as much as I think I should, and I’m writing this partly to remind myself to do it more.

Here is my thesis.

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Empty voting boothsThe fact that Americans feel so alienated from our government? The fact that so many people don’t vote? The fact that most people don’t call or email the President or their Congresspeople to tell them how they feel about important issues? The fact that so many people think politicians don’t care about them anyway, so there’s no reason they should bother getting involved?

This plays directly into the hands of the very people we don’t want running the show.

This is one of the main reasons government is so much more responsive to hard-line extremists and big-money corporate interests than it is to the majority of people it’s representing.

This is one of the main reasons government is so screwed up.

When very few people get involved in politics — when very few people even bother to vote, and even fewer bother to call or email their elected representatives — then the few people who do bother are the ones who get listened to. The hard-line crazies get to set the terms of the debate. Them, and the people with money.

Baptizing of americaWhy do you think the extreme religious right was so successful, for so long, in setting this country’s political agenda? They were successful, in large part, because they had an extraordinarily well-oiled machine of millions of inspired people who would make phone calls and write letters at the drop of a hat. When the folks on the mailing lists of the religious right got a call for action telling them to call or write their Congressperson, they didn’t lapse into cynicism about how no politician really cares about them
 and they didn’t lapse into soul-searching about whether they were sufficiently educated on this issue to express their opinion. They bloody well picked up the phone and called.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

And if we want to be making the decisions, we have to show up.

There’s a larger, more systemic way that this plays out, too. The fact that people feel jaded and alienated by politics and government? It’s a textbook example of a vicious circle. The less that people get involved in their government, the less politicians have to worry about the voters
 and the more they can suck up to big money contributors. And the more that politicians suck up to big money contributors, the more alienated and jaded people get about government… and the less likely they are to get involved.

Figures mouseThis circle isn’t going to get broken by elected officials. And it sure as hell isn’t going to get broken by corporate interests. The only way it’s going to get broken is by citizens picking up their phones or getting on their computers and telling their elected officials, “If you want my vote ever again, you freaking well better vote for X.” And then Y. And then Z. Over, and over, and over again. The only people who can break this circle are you and me.

Not getting involved doesn’t make government better. It makes government worse. It plays right into the hands of the corporate intererests, who find it easier to get laws written their way when there aren’t all those pesky citizens to worry about.

And it plays right into the right-wing “keep government small and taxes low” rhetoric — otherwise translated as, “Keep taxes on rich people and big corporations low; keep regulations on business to a bare minimum if that; and keep government services for poor and middle- class people stripped to the bone.” People’s cynicism about government, their belief that it never helps them and doesn’t have anything to do with them unless it’s screwing them over, and it’s always better to have it small and weak since it sucks so badly? That’s one of the strongest cards in the right wing’s hand.

FirefightersI’ve written about this before, and I’ll write it again: Government is — in theory, and at least some of the time in practice — the way a society pools some of its resources, to provide itself with structures and services that make that society function smoothly and that promote the common good. And it’s the way a society decides how those pooled resources should be used. It’s one of the main ways that a society shares, cooperates, works together, takes care of each other — all those great ideals we learned in kindergarten. Government is roads, parks, fire departments, street sweepers, public health educators, emergency services, sewers, schools. Government is not Them. Government — democratic government, anyway — is Us.

But for government to do all this and be all this, not just in theory but in practice, we need to start seeing government as Us.

ControlAnd calling/ emailing your President, your Senators, your Congressperson, your governor and your mayor and your dogcatcher, is one of the most powerful things we can do to turn government from Them into Us. It reminds our elected officials that they work for Us, that they’re there to represent Us. And maybe just as importantly, it reminds us of that, too.

If you want to look at it idealistically: Many elected officials get into politics because they want to make a difference, and want to represent the will of their voters. And those officials are desperately wishing for citizens to kick up a stink on important issues: it makes it easier for them to fight special interests, and it lets them know that we’ve got their back. (It’s a whole lot easier to tell your big campaign contributors, “No,” when you can say, “I’m really sorry, but my phone is ringing off the hook about this one, and if I don’t support/ oppose it my voters will have my head.”)

But you can also see this in a completely venal, Machiavellian view… and still come to the same conclusion. Squeaky wheels. Grease. Many elected officials don’t much care about making a difference… but they bloody well care about getting re-elected. Politicians assume that if people care enough about an issue to call or write about it, they’ll care enough to vote the bums out on election day. If enough people call or write, it can override the voice of big- money special interests
 even for the most self-serving politician in the world.

So that’s the general principle. Participatory democracy. You know, the principle that this country fought a revolution for.

NapAnd yet a lot of people who agree with the principle still don’t follow through in practice. A lot of people who passionately support the idea of participatory democracy still don’t pick up the phone or get on the computer to, you know, participate in it. (Including me a lot of the time.)

Why is that?

I posted this question on Facebook the other day. I asked, “If someone asks you to email your Congressperson, and you don’t, even if you care about the issue — what stops you?”

I wasn’t asking to judge or criticize. Hell, I do this, too. I decide that I’m too tired, too busy, that if I responded to every “Call your Congressperson” email I got I’d never get anything else done. But it does bug me. It’s such a simple thing to do, and it can make such a huge difference, and I’m trying to figure out what, specifically, keeps us from doing it.

So now — again, for my own benefit as much as anybody else’s — I want to respond to some of the answers I got to this question. I want to remind myself, and anyone else reading this, that the reasons for not calling or emailing your elected officials, as understandable as they may be, simply aren’t anywhere near as compelling as the reasons for calling and emailing.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

New Fishnet Story: “Christian Domestic Discipline”

Fishnet logoPlease note: This piece, and the piece that it links to, discusses my personal sexual fantasies in some detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please don’t read this one.

There’s a new story up on Fishnet — and this one is by me! Fishnet is the online erotic fiction magazine that I edit… and this week’s story is by yours truly, the editor. It’s called Christian Domestic Discipline, and here’s the teaser:

The literature says that marital relations will often follow a punishment. It assures her that this doesn’t mean anything sick, that it simply shows the husband’s natural eagerness to be intimate with his wife once his rightful authority has been restored and their relationship has been returned to God’s vision for marriage. But she’s starting to wonder.

To read more of my dirty Christian porn, read the rest of the story. (Not for readers under 18.) Enjoy!

My Vision for a Sexual World

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Like a lot of sex-positive sex writers, I spend a lot of time ranting and venting about things in our sexual culture that I don’t like.

Today, I want to do something different. Instead of bitching about the sexual culture we have, I’d like to present my vision for the sexual culture I’d like to see.

And the best way I can say it is to put it in a metaphor.

I would like us to treat sexuality — and differences in sexualities — much the same way we treat music.

WagnerWe have a basic acceptance of the idea that different people like different kinds of music. We may strongly dislike the music other people like. We may even make some unfair personal judgments about the kind of person who likes, say, opera, or country, or rap music, or Barry Manilow. But as long as people aren’t forcing their music on us, we accept — even if grudgingly — their basic right to listen to whatever music they like.

I’d like to see us do the same with different sexual tastes. If people are personally grossed out by homosexuality, or SM, or furries, or whatever, I certainly would recognize their right to their gross-out. I just want people to see their gross-outs as an aesthetic judgment and not a moral one.

OakPoBoy072ndLinePinstripeAWe understand that some people don’t care about music very much… and that some people care about it a great deal. We understand that some people care about music so much that they make it a central aspect of their lives: collecting music, reading about music, writing about music, playing music, watching musical performances, seeing music as a central source of inspiration and consolation in their lives, forming friendships and relationships with other people that are focused on music… even, perhaps, making a living at it. And we understand that for some people, music is just not that big a deal: they enjoy it, but they don’t go out of their way to make a big place for it in their lives.

I’d like to see us have the same understanding about sex. I’d like to see us treat people who like sex a lot and are very interested in it as… well, as people who like sex a lot and are very interested in it. Not as moral degenerates, not as selfish indulgers of our own petty whims, not as dangerous or pathetic addicts unable to control our base impulses… but as people whose interest in this basic human activity happens to be greater than average. (And for all of us sex fiends: I’d like to see us have a similar understanding about people who aren’t as interested in sex as we are.)

LowWe understand that people’s tastes in music change over time. We don’t expect people to like the same music they did when they were in high school or college; and while many people do stay mostly interested in the music of their youth, we understand that many other people continue to explore different kinds of music throughout their lives, and may even find their preferences changing entirely over time. And we understand that some people like a wide variety of musical styles… while other people’s tastes tend to stay within one genre.

I’d like to see us have the same understanding about sex. I’d like to see us recognize and accept that people’s desires, even our basic orientations, can change over time, and understand that not everyone stays slotted in the same sexual category for their entire lives. When gay or lesbian people decide they’re bi; when bi people decide they’re really more straight or gay; when vanilla folks decide they’d like to try spanking; when committed polyamorists decide they want to be monogamous for a while… I’d like us to recognize it as the natural changes people go through in life. (If it affects us personally — if it’s our lover or spouse who suddenly announces that they’re into men or spanking or monogamy — of course our reactions are going to be different. But if it doesn’t, I’d like us to see it as interesting, but also as basically none of our business.)

SinatraSwingingLoversIn relationships, we often see music as one of the main bonds between us. When we get involved with someone new, we get excited about sharing the music we know about with our new loved one, and about discovering the music they like that we don’t know about. We sometimes have conflicts with our honeys over differences in musical tastes, especially early in a relationship; but we talk about it, joke about it, rib each other about it, find ways to enjoy our differences as well as our common ground. And as our relationships grow, we often explore new music together.

I’d like us to see sex the same way. I’d like for sex to be something couples can comfortably talk about, and laugh about. I’d like for couples to be as curious about their sexual differences as they are comfortable with their sexual similarities… not just early on in relationships, but as things grow and change. I’d like for couples to see sex as something that matters, something that’s worth working on. And if a couple has differences in what kinds of sex they like, or how much they even care about sex, I’d like for their friends and support systems and society in general to see both partners’ tastes and desires as equally valid and important.

And finally:

MusicophiliaWe understand — or at least, we’re beginning to understand — that music is a basic human activity, maybe even a basic human need. We understand that music exists in all human societies, and has existed in human society for tens of thousands of years. We understand — or we’re beginning to understand — that music is a fundamental part of how our brains and our minds operate. We see music as an activity that is both necessary and joyful, a vital social bond, something that connects us to our history and projects us into our future.

I’d like us to see sex the same way. I’d like us to see sex as something that we couldn’t possibly get rid of, and wouldn’t want to get rid of even if we could. I’d like us to recognize that sex is one of the most fundamental ways that our minds are wired, one of the chief lenses through which we view the world… and not only recognize this fact, but accept it, and even celebrate it. I’d like us to see sex as one of the great joys, inspirations, consolations, forms of communication, forms of connection, and just pure forms of entertainment that the human race has. I’d like us to remember that sex is a link that connects us to the chain of human history: the way we got into this world, and — for many of us, anyway — one of the chief ways that part of us of will live on after we die.

And I’d like us to give it some gol-darned respect.

I understand that this analogy isn’t perfect. (No analogy is. That’s sort of the nature of analogies: they compare things that are different.) Most notably, sex has more potential than music to cause harm: from sexually transmitted infections to unwanted pregnancies, from jealous rages to broken hearts. Except for deafness, irritated neighbors, advertising jingles, and neo-Nazi death metal or the like, music just doesn’t have the same power to fuck people up. And sex is a more primal desire than music: way more prominently positioned in our brains by evolution, and a whole lot older to boot. It’s probably always going to be more charged, more emotionally loaded, than music will ever be.

So it’s not a perfect analogy.

But it’s a start.

Trying Anything Twice

Please note: This piece, and the piece it links to, discusses my personal sex life in a fair amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please don’t.

Number 2I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about sexual experimenting and trying new things… and why it’s so important to try new things more than once before we give up on them. It’s called Trying Anything Twice, and here’s the teaser:

When it comes to sex, first times are, to put it mildly, often not the best indicator of how things are going to turn out. For one thing, first times are often done when we’re young, when most of us don’t have much information about sex, and aren’t that comfortable talking about it, and are kind of just fumbling around in the dark.

Maybe more to the point: We have this idea that sex should be natural and easy… but it isn’t. Not good sex, anyway. Good sex takes practice. (Especially the more, shall we say, complicated forms of sex.) The first time doing something sexual is often more about figuring out how to do it than it is about the actual doing. It can take at least one more try — one time when you’re not spending the whole afternoon figuring out what goes where and how hard — before you can even begin to gauge whether this is something you like, or simply isn’t as much fun for you in reality as it is in fantasy.

To find out more about sticking with sexual experiments, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

“Depraved fantasies with sympathetic characters”: Best Erotic Comics Reviewed on Carnal Nation

Best-Erotic-Comics-2009“Christina’s series is fostering and canonizing a genre of erotica that associates explicit images with well-developed stories, depraved fantasies with sympathetic characters, and high lit/art with complex queer identities and kinky sexualities.”

That’s the money quote from the recent Carnal Nation review of Best Erotic Comics 2009. It’s a smart and thoughtful review: critic Dusty Horn has paid my book the very high compliment of taking it seriously and thinking about it carefully, both as comics literature and as smut. Of course, she’s also paid me the compliment of, you know, really liking the book: but even her criticisms are thoughtful and valid. (I don’t agree with them, of course… but it’s not like they’re out of left field.) If you want an unbiased second opinion about “Best Erotic Comics 2009,” this is a good one. I’ll leave you with one more quote:

“I am heartened by this published record of the current state of the collective erotic imagination, in all its perverted, anxious, conscious, joyful horny glory.”

Enjoy the review!

Same Sex Marriage, And Why You Passionately Care About Maine

Maine postcard.JPGYou care about Maine.

You fervently, powerfully, passionately care about Maine.

Trust me on this one. You may not know it yet. You may be going, “Maine? Huh? I mean, sure, Maine’s cool, I’ve got nothing against Maine — but care about it passionately?” You do. Maine is very, very important to you.

Let me explain why.

No on 1As you may or may not know, the Maine legislature recently legalized same-sex marriage. But Maine law allows for a “people’s veto,” letting voters overturn any law the legislature passes. There is, predictably, a proposition on the Maine ballot this November — Proposition 1 — to overturn this new law, and ban same-sex marriage in the state. People who support marriage equality are gearing up — have been gearing up for some time — to defeat Prop. 1.

So why is this so important? I mean, there are battles over same-sex marriage in lots of states: battles happening right now, and ones looming on the horizon. And they’re happening in states that are a lot bigger than Maine, and a whole lot more visible. Why do you care about this one so much? Why is this fight different from all other fights?

There are two big reasons why you care about Maine. Momentum, and precedent.

Let’s talk momentum first. The far right and the religious right see Maine’s Proposition 1 as ground zero in the fight to stop same-sex marriage. They are already pouring huge gobs of money and resources into this one; they even got the same guy who ran the Yes on Prop 8 campaign to run it. They’re not idiots: they see that the momentum for same-sex marriage has been building like a freight train. We lost a lot of steam over Prop 8; but we picked it up again with Iowa and Vermont and New Hampshire, and indeed with Maine. And public opinion is slowly but steadily shifting in favor of same-sex marriage.

The far right desperately wants to stop this one in its tracks.

We can’t let them.

Maine lesbian coupleWe have to keep the momentum going. Momentum is huge in changing public opinion: with every state that legalizes same-sex marriage, it becomes increasingly obvious that same-sex marriage won’t destroy your family and poison your dog and bring civilization to its knees. It becomes increasingly obvious that when same-sex marriage is legalized, life goes on pretty much exactly like it did before — except that same-sex couples will be visiting their partners in the hospital and so on.

And momentum is huge in politics. A win makes the next campaign on the issue seem less radical and less scary; not just for voters, but for politicians and public figures, who are way more likely to fight for a cause if it looks like it already has some traction. A win energizes and inspires the winners; a loss tends to demoralize the losers, and forces them to retrench. Plus, for better or worse, a lot of people don’t like to feel like they’re on the losing side. They’re more likely to support a candidate or a cause when it looks like it can win, and is winning. With every state that legalizes same-sex marriage, the next one is way more likely to do it too. Same-sex marriage is going to look more normal, more like no big deal… and it’s going to look inevitable.

The right isn’t wrong about this one. This is ground zero. We need to get every bit as involved in No on 1 as we did in No on 8. If we lose this one, we will, in fact, have lost a tremendous amount of momentum. But if we win, we will have loaded a huge heap of coal into that freight train’s engine. It will make the fight for same-sex marriage in every other state — in New York, in New Jersey, in California in 2010 or 2012, and eventually in Oregon and Minnesota and Alabama — much, much easier, and much more winnable.

Ballot boxThe other reason Maine is so important is precedent. Same-sex marriage can now be legally performed in five U.S. states, six if you count Maine — but in every one of those states, it was legalized by either the legislature or the courts. In the U.S., same-sex marriage has never, ever won at the ballot box. Ever. The right has always been able to use smears and scare tactics and even flat-out lies to keep voters from supporting same-sex marriage
 tactics that are (marginally) less effective on judges and legislators than they are on voters.

If we win this one, it will be a huge precedent. The far right won’t be able to say that the courts and legislatures are shoving same-sex marriage down the throats of the people. The people will have spoken. And they will have spoken for fairness and equality.

There’s one more thing I want to point out before I finish up: This is a very winnable fight. The polls are very close on Prop 1… and as of this writing, we’re slightly ahead. And the No on 1 organization is very, very good: they’ve been working on this issue for years, and they’re already well-prepared to launch their opposition to the ugly attacks they know they’ll be getting. They’ve already started doing education and what they call “inoculation” against the fear-mongering they know they’re going to be facing. And Maine is, as the No on 1 organizers are fond of saying, a cheap date. It’s a small state, and media buys and whatnot are a lot less expensive than they were in, say, California. We can win this one.

Okay. So now you passionately care about Maine. You get why supporting No on 1 is the biggest, most important thing you can do right now to support same-sex marriage — not just for Maine, but for the rest of the country.

What can you do to help?

Talk1: Talk about it. We have to get this on the national radar now. If you’re a blogger, blog about it. If you’re a journalist, cover it. If you’re a progressive activist, get it on the radar of progressive organizations and allies — even ones that aren’t specifically focused on LGBT issues. And if you’re a regular citizen, talk about it. Tweet it, Facebook it, shoot it to your email list, gas on about it at parties, bring it up with your family and friends. Explain about the momentum, and the precedent, and the winnability. Let other people know, not just that the fight is happening, but why it’s such a big freakin’ deal.

And do it now. Don’t wait until right before the election. We don’t want to make the mistake we made with Prop 8 (well, one of the mistakes): we don’t want to spend the entire campaign playing defense. We need to help lay the groundwork now for a pro-active campaign. And in Maine, early voting starts in early October. If we wait until November to pitch in on this fight, we’ll have waited too long. We have to get this on the national radar, now.

Piggy_bank_-_dollar2: Give money. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount — again, Maine is a cheap date, and small amounts can make a big difference — but give what you can. (If everyone who reads this blog donated $25, that would be a decent-sized chunk of their budget.)

And do it now. Don’t wait until right before the election. Early money is one of the most powerful tools that a political campaign can have. Political campaigns need to know early what their budget will be so they can plan accordingly; more to the point, media buys and other costly campaigning efforts have to be done early in order to be really effective. (See above, re: not screwing up and playing defense like we did with Prop 8.) And again, early voting in Maine starts in early October: if we wait until November, we’ll have waited too long.

Helping_hands_43: Pitch in. The No on 1 campaign is doing something they’re calling a Volunteer Vacation: if you fly yourself out to Maine, they’ll put you up in community housing, and they’ll train you on canvassing and phone banking and political campaigning generally — training you’ll be able to use, not just in this campaign, but in any campaign you decide to get involved with in the future. Plus you’ll get to visit Maine in the fall, which is unbelievably gorgeous. (There are four one- week shifts available, from October 4 through November 1.)

And if you already live in Maine, there’s plenty you can do to help: you can canvass, phone bank, do data entry or other office help, host house parties, and more.

Maine isn’t just where the battle is now. Maine will help immeasurably in winning every other battle we have ahead of us. This fight is different from all other fights. Please help win it.

Tantric Orgasms and Sacred Sex: New Age Spirituality in the Sex Community

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Urban tantraWhy is New Age spirituality so prevalent in the sex- positive community?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about my skeptical, materialist, atheist, entire non- spiritual view of sexual transcendence, and why you don’t need to see sex as metaphysical to see it as magnificent and meaningful.

I deliberately didn’t make the piece critical of spirituality and religion. Partly, that simply wasn’t the point of the piece: the point wasn’t to tear down the spiritual view of sex, but to offer an alternative to it. And partly, I’ll admit, it was because many of my friends and allies in the sex community have spiritual beliefs about sex, in some cases deeply held spiritual beliefs, and I was gun-shy about alienating them.

But I recently gave an interview to Greg Fish of the Weird Things blog, who read the piece and wanted to talk with me about it. And what Greg mostly wanted to know was the very question I’d been deliberately avoiding. He wanted to know why, in my opinion, so many people in the sex- positive community are so heavily invested in associating sex with spirituality and religion.

This is an attempt to answer that question.

*

I want to say something at the outset: This is pretty much speculation. Since I’m writing this piece from a skeptical point of view, I feel honor-bound to make that clear. It’s reasonably well-informed speculation; but it’s not based on double-blind, peer-reviewed research or anything. It’s just my opinion, based on my own observation and reading and thinking on the subject.

That being said:

Why is there so much New Age spirituality in the sex-positive community? I think there are three basic things going on.

Virtue of faithThe first is the extremely prevalent, deeply- rooted idea in our culture that being spiritual means being good and virtuous, and that the spiritual world is the important world, the most real world.

One of the central tropes of religion is that being a religious person makes you a good person, pretty much by definition. God is good, supposedly, so the closer you are to God, the better a person you are. And related to this is the notion that being a spiritual person means being connected with the most real, and most important, part of life and existence. The material world is hollow, according to this trope; a mere shell for the creamy metaphysical goodness that lies within. Focusing on the material world makes you shallow at best; focusing on the spiritual makes you deep.

Now, even when people reject conventional religion, these ideas can still be very pervasive. And if people have been brought up with any sort of religious teachings (which most people have), the ideas are learned from a very early age: they’re not necessarily conscious, but they’re deeply rooted nevertheless. And even people who aren’t brought up in religion usually still have this idea drilled into them by their surrounding culture.

Sex_is_not_a_sin_tantra_for_healthy_sexualitySo when people embrace sex as good and important, it seems natural to frame it as a spiritual experience. If you’ve absorbed the idea that the spiritual world is both the most good and the most real world there is, then once you reject the conventional view of sex as trivial and wicked — once you start reframing sex as valuable and beautiful and a central part of human life — it seems natural to see sex in spiritual terms. If the spiritual world is the most virtuous and precious part of the world, then seeing sex as a spiritual experience is a way of distancing it from the smear of being pointless, selfish, guttural, and evil, and repositioning it as honorable and worthwhile.

And so instead of saying, “Religion is wrong about sex being bad, therefore I’m going to reject religion,” many people say, “Religion is wrong about sex being bad, therefore I’m going to find — or make up — a new religion.”

Fiber_optics_testingSecond: The sex-positive community tends overwhelmingly to be a progressive community: one that rejects, or at least questions, the mainstream. And unfortunately, a lot of progressive people see science as “the man” — part of the mainstream establishment.

So they throw the baby out with the bathwater. In rejecting the things that are genuinely troubling about mainstream institutions, they also reject science. Including the scientific principles that human judgment is fallible and needs to be rigorously tested and counter- checked, and that claims about the world should be backed up with solid evidence, and that your own personal intuition isn’t by itself enough reason to believe something about the world.

Principles that tend to put the kibosh on spiritual beliefs.

I’m not saying that science and spiritual belief are inherently incompatible. But it does seem to be the case that a greater degree of familiarity with science — not just with scientific knowledge, but with how the scientific method works, and what its history is, and the degree to which it’s radically changed our understanding of the world — tends to make people more skeptical about religion and spirituality. So when people in the sex positive community reject science as just another oppressive mainstream institution designed to deaden the human spirit, they become more likely to embrace spirituality, almost by default.

Finally:

I think a big part of this phenomenon has to do with the nature of sex itself.

HeavenWhen it’s good, the experience of sex can feel very much like what people describe as a spiritual experience. It can take you out of your body; change your experience of time; give you an almost telepathic connection with another person; make you feel ecstatically transported out of ordinary physical experience; etc., etc. etc.

And again, even if you reject conventional religion, the deeply- rooted reflex in our culture is to see these kinds of experiences as metaphysical. Our culture doesn’t have a widely held framework for understanding and processing these experiences, other than a spiritual or religious one. The idea that the brain and the body, by themselves, can produce these altered states of consciousness — that’s not very prevalent, or very well- understood.

Tantra 2So when people start to have really good sex — the time- bending, body- transcending, ecstatically transporting kind of sex that seems like a religious experience — and when they start to take those experiences seriously and see them as both valuable and important… again, the reflex is to put those experiences into a spiritual framework. That’s the main framework we have in our culture for this kind of experience… and it’s not surprising that even people who whole- heartedly reject conventional religion as hateful and fearful of sexuality would still put transcendently ecstatic sexual experiences into a larger spiritual outlook.

Which is exactly why I wrote A Skeptic’s View of Sexual Transcendence: to offer an alternative framework, a way of experiencing and understanding sex and sexual transcendence that doesn’t rely on spiritual belief, one that is entirely rooted in the physical world.

What do you care what other people thinkNow, I can already hear some critics gearing up to ask, “Why do you care?” Why do I care what other people believe? Why do I feel compelled to poke holes in those beliefs, try to persuade people that they’re mistaken and unnecessary? Aren’t I being just as intolerant and evangelical as the sex-hating hard-core religious fanatics I oppose so strongly?

I don’t really have the space here to get into that discussion, in any detail that would do it justice. If you are interested in why I think spiritual belief is mistaken, you can see my arguments (among other places) here, and here, and here and here and here. If you’re interested in why I think it’s harmful, you can look here, and here, and here and here and here (again, among many other places). And if you want to know why I care what other people believe, you can see my explanations here, and here, and here. Again, among many other places.

ConversationBut if you want to know those arguments in a nutshell: I think spiritual belief is mistaken. I think that, on the whole, it does more harm than good. And I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t discuss it and debate it and criticize it, just like we do with any other hypothesis about how the world works and why it is the way it is. The fact that I see spirituality as both mistaken and harmful is exactly the reason that I care.

And all of that is every bit as true in the sex-positive community as it is anywhere else.

So I plan to keep looking at where these spiritual beliefs about sex come from. I plan to keep critiquing them. And I plan to keep offering alternatives to them, whenever I can.

(Some of the ideas for this piece originated in my interview with Weird Things.)

New Fishnet Story: “Tasting the Apple”

Fishnet logoFishnet has a new story up! The online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing, Fishnet, has a new story up for you to enjoy. It’s titled Tasting the Apple, by Bella Trix, and here’s the teaser:

This was a medical procedure, she had said. But I had seen the faces of the women leaving the room. Now I knew what had made them look so.

This was not medicine. Medicine could never feel as this felt.

This was sin.

It was sin, and I knew it.

To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

25 Things I Want (In Bed)

BedI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s… well, the title and the teaser pretty much spell it out. Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: You really don’t want to follow the link on this one. It discusses my sex life — or my sexual desires, at any rate — in quite a bit of serious detail, and at some length. It’s called 25 Things I Want (In Bed), and here’s the teaser:

I am stealing this idea shamelessly from Adam Savage of “Mythbusters.” Savage did a reading at a recent Writers With Drinks event, a piece titled (if memory serves) “100 Things I Want.” You might think a piece like that would be self-involved, even whiny, interesting to nobody on Earth but the reader himself. But it was fascinating. It was inspiring. It was a loving and hilarious anthem to optimism, to possibility, to the goofy marvel of the human imagination. And giving it that extra techno- magic- realism touch, it was a whirlwind blend of things that are physically impossible, things that could only happen if Savage devoted his entire life to them, and things that would be entirely within his reach with just a little effort.

But in a freakishly glaring omission, not one of the 100 things on Adam Savage’s list was about sex. (Yeah, I know. Not everyone likes to parade their sexual desires in public. Weirdos.)

So I got inspired. And I decided to share my own list — and keep it entirely sexual. Like adding “in bed” to a fortune cookie fortune.

To find out 25 things I want to do in bed — both possible and completely not — read the rest of the piece. I hope you find it funny and inspiring, and not self-involved and pointlessly confessional. (BTW, if you’re inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog. They like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Greta, With a Health Care Favor

I have a favor to ask you all. No, my health is fine. But a friend of mine just posted on her Facebook page that she got her earring ball stuck in her ear canal… and she wanted advice on how to get it out, since she couldn’t afford the emergency room fee.

PhoneI’m writing to ask you, right now, to call and/or email the White House, your Senators, and your Congressperson, and tell them that you strongly support the public option for health care. (Just four phone calls. Numbers are at the end of this email.)

The public option is far, far better than the co-op option that’s currently being floated. (Here’s a good article about why.) But almost as importantly:

Town.hallWe can’t let a handful of misinformed extremists screaming at town hall meetings set the terms of this debate. If we let that happen, they will do the same thing over every important policy debate, for the rest of this administration. We have to let corporate special interests — in this case, the insurance industry — know that they can’t derail the will of the voters by whipping up fear in the far right. They have a powerful stake in preserving the status quo. If they succeed this time, they are never going to stop.

We have to kick up just as big a stink as the far right. (Less obnoxiously, of course.) And we have to do it now. It wasn’t enough to win the 2008 election. The fight for a progressive agenda in this country isn’t over — it’s just beginning. We have to let our government know that this matters to us every bit as much as it does to the crazy teabaggers. They won’t know if we don’t tell them. Call and/or email the White House, your Senators, and your Congressperson. Do it today. It’s just four phone calls. (And if you haven’t already, put those phone numbers in your speed dial/ contacts list/ address book, and bookmark these webpages, so it’s easier to do this the next time around.)

Contact info for the White House:
202/456-1111 (line may be busy, try emailing)
Email the White House

If you’re in California:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi
202/225-4965
Email Speaker Pelosi

Senator Barbara Boxer
202/224-3553
Email Senator Boxer

Senator Dianne Feinstein
202/224-3841
Email Senator Feinstein

If you’re not in California:

Here’s the main Congressional switchboard number:

(202) 224-3121

And here’s the Congressional directory.

Phone 2It is completely insane that my friend has to rely on her Facebook friends for health care. It is completely insane that her first and best instinct when she has a health care crisis — to go to the emergency room, for heaven’s sake — has to be carefully considered, since she may not be able to afford it. The public option is not an extremist policy: it is already a compromise from single payer, making the co-op option a compromise on top of a compromise. Please do not let the far right shove the moderate, centrist position even further to the right. Do not let them set the terms of this debate. Make your voice heard now. Thanks.