She Blogs Carnival #1

SheblogslogoThere’s a new blog carnival in town: She Blogs, Issue #1. Unlike most carnivals, it’s not devoted to one particular topic; instead, it’s devoted to blogging by women on all topics, making it more like a general-interest magazine a la the New Yorker, rather than a special interest magazine like The Nation or The Skeptical Inquirer. They were kind enough to include my piece The Catholic Church: Pedophilia as a First Amendment Right, so many thanks for that.

If you’re a female blogger and want to participate in the She Blogs Carnival, here’s their submission form. Happy blogging!

Good Thing They’re Not Atheists

Oral_roberts_handsAnd the hits just keep on coming. Via Pharyngula and about sixty billion other atheist blogs comes the story of Richard and Lindsay Roberts, son and daughter-in-law of Oral Roberts, who are being sued for treating the budget of Oral Roberts University as their personal bank account: spending it on fancy cars, on tens of thousands of dollars worth of clothes, on remodeling their home multiple times, and more. They allegedly used the university jet to send their daughter to the Bahamas; Richard is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign (a big, big no-no for religious non-profits); and according to the suit, university and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts’ home to do the daughters’ homework. (The original story is well worth looking at, if only for the photo of the giant Oral Roberts U praying hands with the police car parked in front of them.)

Sistine_godAnd that’s just the beginning of their wacky shenanigans. The punch line: Richard is now saying that God is speaking to him and giving him advice on how to handle this lawsuit. According to Roberts — excuse me, according to God — “We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit… is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion.”

I just want to say this:

It’s a good thing they’re not atheists.

Because if they were atheists, they’d have no morality or decency, no reason to follow a code of ethics, and would act as if they could just do whatever they wanted.

Sacrificing Your Legal Rights, or, Why Robin Tyler is an Asshole

A little backstory first.

Enda_site1_02There’s a big kerfuffle in the world of gay politics about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, now in front of Congress, that would ban job discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transpeople. Kerfuffle in a nutshell: Some politicos and gay-rights lobbyists are advocating for, or else not speaking very strongly against, stripping the bill of its protections for transpeople, and limiting it to the LGBs in the LGBT community. (To be more accurate, there are now two versions of ENDA, one with the language protecting transpeople and one without: the question is whether we should support both bills or just the stronger trans-inclusive one. To be even more accurate would require me to write a whole goddamn novel. Google “Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” or visit the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, if you want to know more.)

Which brings me to what Robin Tyler, longtime lesbian activist, had to say about it:

I agree with Barney Frank. I support full transgender rights. However, when I have been invited to the legal weddings of some of my transgender friends, not one of them has said “we will not get married until Diane and you and other same gender couples can get married”. They did not sacrifice their legal rights on the alter of political correctness, to give up the benefits of marriage. And yet the lesbian and gay community is expected to do so, leaving millions and millions of us in the majority of states, once again, unprotected.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin. So I’m going to limit myself to three.

One: How exactly would this help?

WikiwedIn the absence of a well-publicized nationwide boycott on marriage, how would individual transgendered heterosexuals refusing to marry until same-sex couples can get married in any way help the cause of same-sex marriage?

Wedding_ringI’ve had hetero friends nobly say that they won’t get married until same-sex couples can get married. I think the sentiment is sweet, but I also think it’s completely pointless. Their refusal to get married does me — and the cause of same-sex marriage — no good at all. It’s a touching personal gesture, and if they feel that strongly about not wanting to participate in an injustice I won’t argue with them… but as an effective political act, it’s totally useless.

Im_just_a_billOn the other hand, pushing for trans inclusion in ENDA — and refusing to accept or endorse ENDA if it’s not trans inclusive — does help. As many people in this debate have pointed out, ENDA isn’t going to become law while Bush is President anyway. It may not even pass the Senate, even in the watered-down version. It’s going to take several practice runs until it gets passed by both houses and signed by the Pres. And if we insist that gender identity be included in this practice run along with sexual orientation, it familiarizes Congress with the issues and the language of trans rights, and makes it that much easier to get the gender identity language included when we actually do get the thing passed.

JusticeTwo: For lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to ask transpeople to make “sacrifices” for us is laughable. T’s have been getting the short end of the LGBT stick for years. The fact that heterosexual T’s have one goddamn right that G’s and L’s and same-sex-oriented B’s and T’s don’t have… this hardly balances the scales. It’s hardly the injustice of the century. To present transpeople as a privileged class who should be willing to sacrifice some rights to be in solidarity with their oppressed gay/ lesbian/ bi siblings… it’d be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.

CorkscrewIs Ms. Tyler prepared to give up the rights she has in cities and states where GLB’s have legal protections but T’s don’t? Is she willing to not sue for discrimination, not file hate crime charges, etc., in cities and states that give these protections to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, but not to transpeople? If not, then she absolutely does not have a point. Or rather, she has a point, but it’s shaped like a corkscrew.

AltarThree: She spelled “altar” wrong.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

Which Side Are You On? Pro-Porn and Anti-Porn Arguments

Jlp_front_coverI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog, a meditation on the pro-porn/ anti-porn debates suggesting that both sides might be being a tad simplistic. It’s called Which Side Are You On? Pro-Porn and Anti-Porn Arguments, and here’s the teaser:

You’d think this would be a no-brainer. I’ve performed in porn. I’ve produced porn. I’ve sold porn. I’ve written porn. I’ve reviewed porn. And I’ve read and looked at porn, many many times, purely for my own libidinous pleasure. And whenever I read someone reflexively attacking porn, railing about how horrible it is and how it’s degrading and ruinous to all that is good and wonderful about sex, I get very cranky and argumentative.

But here’s the kicker. When I read people reflexively defending porn, raving about how wonderful and uplifting it is and how all criticisms of it are absurd and unfair, I get cranky and argumentative as well.

You might conclude from this behavior that I am a cranky, argumentative person.

You might be right.

But there’s more to it than that.

To find out what more there is to it than that, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The First Good One

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Please note: This piece talks a lot, in some detail, about my personal sex life and sexual history. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

Say_anythingWe talk a lot about The First Time. As a society we’re a little bit fixated on it. Losing your virginity, and the person you lost it with — it’s a rite of passage that we’ve made important to the point of making it a fetish.

But as rites of passage go, the loss of virginity can be dicey. It was for me, anyway. Sure it was important; but it was also awkward, depressing, and anticlimactic. Emphasis on the “anticlimactic.”

And I think that experience is not uncommon.

So I want to talk about something else. I don’t want to talk about the first person I had sex with

I want to talk about the first person I had good sex with.

And on the wild off-chance that he’s reading this, I want to say Thank you.

His name was Adrian. I honestly don’t remember his last name, although I do remember that he was Number Four (at least according to how I was defining “sex” at the time). He wasn’t a boyfriend, or even a friend; he was just someone I smiled at on the street who stopped to talk, someone I had ice cream with that afternoon and went home with that evening.

It could have been disastrous. I look back on it sometimes and think, “What the hell was I thinking, having sex with a guy I picked up off the street?” He could have been an axe murderer.

But he wasn’t. He was amazing.

He was the first person I had sex with who liked to experiment and try lots of different things, just for the fun of trying them.

He was the first person I had sex with who was playful about it; who didn’t think being passionate meant being deadly serious at all times, and who was willing and even eager to find humor and laughter in what we were doing.

He was the first person I had sex with who was sexually knowledgeable without being arrogant, pushy, or assuming that his greater knowledge meant that we should do things his way. He knew a lot about sex and sexual variations, but if I didn’t want to try something or if something wasn’t working, he accepted it with good grace and moved on. And he was the first person I had sex with who was just as happy about trying the things I wanted to try as he was about the things he wanted to try.

He was the first person I had sex with who made sure that I was having a good time. Not just that I was coming — I’d had at least one sex partner before who tried to make sure that I came — but that I was feeling happy and relaxed, excited and curious, safe and taken care of.

He was the first person I had sex with who didn’t make me feel like the fact that I was having sex with him meant either (a) that I was a skank, or (b) that we were in love. He was the first casual sex partner I had who made me feel respected, and who acted like my horniness and eagerness were appreciated.

He was the first person I had sex with who wanted to keep having sex — and having it and having it and having it — even after he’d come.

And when I look back on it now, I think he had a much greater impact on my sexuality than the guy I lost my virginity to.

Because after Adrian, I knew. I knew what was possible. I had my sexual ups and downs after this, of course; but after Adrian, I knew what the ups could be like… and I knew that the downs didn’t have to be that way. I’m sure that door would have opened for me eventually — I’m a very sexually motivated person, I wasn’t going to put up with bad sex for long — but it opened early for me, and that made a difference.

And I’ve always wanted to say “thank you.”

University_of_chicago_sealAdrian, if you’re reading this: You were a grad student at the University of Chicago, and in the summer of 1979 you met a girl on the street, a girl who had just graduated high school and was about to start college. She smiled at you and you stopped to chat; you bought her ice cream and invited her home; and you fucked her brains out in sixteen different ways over the course of about three days.

You asked if I’d pose like a Penthouse photo that you liked, next to the photo so you could see us both, and I said yes. You asked if I wanted to try being spanked, and I said no (a decision I’ve always regretted, by the way). We played out a rape fantasy that I’d asked to try, and I got freaked out, and you immediately picked up on that and backed off. And we just did it, with me on top and you on top and from behind, in the bed and on your desk and in the bathroom, with our mouths and our hands and your cock and my cunt, until the skin of your dick was rubbed raw and I could barely walk.

You were great. It was almost thirty years ago, and I still remember you, better than I remember most of the people I’ve had sex with.


How Gay Marriage Is Destroying Normal Marriage — No, Really

AisleThere’s a trope that I hear a lot among people who support same-sex marriage. It goes like this:

“What are these people so afraid of? How does same-sex marriage destroy marriage? How on earth could my marriage in any way affect anybody else’s?”

Or, when spoken by heterosexual supporters of same-sex marriage: “How on earth could somebody else’s marriage in any way affect mine?”

Of course I see what they’re getting at. And I certainly appreciate the sentiment and support behind the statement. But I actually think it’s somewhat simplistic, maybe even a bit naive. I think same-sex marriage does, and will, have an effect on opposite-sex marriage.

RaygunsvgNot in an immediate cause-and-effect way, of course. When Adam and Stephen get married in Massachusetts, it doesn’t send out magical death-rays across the country to destroy the marriage of Alan and Evelyn in Kansas.

But I think it has an effect. Not a trivial one, either. And I think the movement to legalize same-sex marriage does itself a disservice by acting like it doesn’t.

Here’s why.

Family67In order for our society to accept or even tolerate same-sex marriage, a lot of fairly basic, deep-rooted ideas have to change. The way we define family. The way we think of what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman. The importance of sex and sexual fulfillment. What we consider natural and normal. Etc., etc., etc.

Wedding_ringAll of these things shape our practice of marriage, our understanding of what it is and what it’s for. And in order for us to accept or even tolerate same-sex marriage, all of them will need to change.

Thus changing the shape of marriage.

All marriage.

Including the opposite-sex ones.

Old_weddingIf for no other reason, the standard default answers to these questions will quit being standard and default. If these changes happen, people will still be free to define family, maleness, femaleness, etc., in the old traditional ways. But they’ll be forced to think about it, to see the traditional way as just one choice among many, to live that way because it works for them… instead of unthinkingly falling into it as the one right choice that works for everybody. What’s more, they’ll be forced to see all these different questions and choices as, well, different questions and choices, instead of a package deal.

And that’s a big-ass change.

Sex_and_the_single_girlOf course, while the fight for same-sex marriage is a catalyst for some of these changes, it’s hardly the only one. Lots of these changes were already happening, even before same-sex marriage got put on the table. In fact, same-sex marriage couldn’t have gotten on the table in the first place if these changes hadn’t already been happening. But it is a catalyst for change, and I don’t want to ignore that or pretend it isn’t true.

What I don’t understand is why that’s a bad thing.

Queen_victoria_and_prince_albert_wiOpponents of same-sex marriage talk about marriage as if it’s been an unchanging institution for thousands of years, one that can’t be altered even a little without risking its destruction. But this is clearly absurd. Marriage has been many different things in human history — radically different things. A property transfer from father to husband. A political and military alliance between nations. A means of producing and caring for children. A means of preserving a religion or race (think of the intense resistance throughout history to both interracial and interfaith marriage). A practical arrangement for keeping a family farm or business. A romantic love match that’s meant to last until death. A spiritual bond that’s meant to last for eternity. And more. And any combination of any of these.

Liaisons_dangereusesAnd marriage has taken many forms in its checkered history. From the hundreds of wives of Solomon and others, to the passing down of a wife from brother to brother (also described in the Bible), to a permanent inescapable contract with mistresses and lovers on the side, to the serial monogamy-in-theory that seems to be the contemporary model… the literal, practical shape of marriage has taken wildly different forms over the centuries, and will no doubt continue to take more.

Cake_topperSo the fact that the institution of marriage is changing
 that’s hardly devastating news. People resisted the legalization of interracial marriage with every bit as much fervor as they resist same-sex marriage now, and for many of the same reasons… and yet the institution of marriage has absorbed that change quite handily, and has soldiered on. The institution is changing, it has always been changing, and it will almost certainly continue to change.

And again I ask: Why is this a bad thing?

And why are these particular changes, the ones that same-sex marriage is both the cause and result of… why are they so much to be feared?

Kosmicdebris07miguelayalatrumpetsfrOur definition of family should be broadened. The way we think of maleness and femaleness should be more flexible. Sex should be acknowledged as a central part of human life, and as a basic human right. What we consider to be natural should be more in keeping with the actual reality of nature. And we should be questioning, not only what is and isn’t normal, but whether normality is even a quality we should be prizing.

VowsNot just so we can get to a place where we can accept same-sex marriage… but so we can help make opposite-sex marriage, and all relationships, and life in general for everybody, happier and more fulfilling.

Willing: The Blowfish Blog

Note: This piece and the piece it links to don’t talk a lot about my personal sex life per se, but they do a little, and it may be a bit too much information for family members and others who don’t want to know about my sex life.

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog, riffing and expanding on one of the best pieces of sex advice I ever read. The piece is called Willing, and here’s the teaser:

The idea is this: To have a sexual encounter that’s pleasurable for both (or all) partners, you don’t need to start out being aroused or excited or in the mood.

You just need to start out being willing

You need to start out willing to be aroused and excited and turned on. You need to start out willing to have sex, and to have a good time doing it. You need to be willing to be seduced… and to seduce. You don’t have to start out in the mood; you just have to be in the mood to be in the mood. If that makes sense.

To read more about how and why this works, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

A Losing Battle: Is Weight Loss Counter-Productive?

UPDATE: My thoughts on this have changed significantly since writing this piece. To find out my current thinking about weight loss, read my more recent pieces: The Fat-Positive Diet, The Fat-Positive Skeptic, and An Open Letter to the Fat-Positive Movement.

I’ll say this up front: Some of this theory is based on anecdotal evidence. So I could have it wrong. If any of you know of any actual research either supporting or contradicting it, please let me know.

Scale_1My theory is this: The intense, almost hysterical focus in our culture on weight and weight loss as a cause/measure of good health is not only misguided — it’s actually counterproductive.

Let’s start with some actual facts: Weight loss very rarely works. Studies vary somewhat in their numbers, but somewhere in the range of 80 to 95 percent of all people who lose significant amounts of weight eventually gain it back. Most of the numbers I’ve seen are around 90 percent. Pretty much regardless of which weight loss program people are on.

TesttubesThose aren’t very good numbers. To put them in perspective: If you were testing a new drug or treatment for an illness, and it only worked 10% of the time, you’d give up on it unless you were desperate and had no other alternatives. To put the numbers in a different perspective: You stand about as good a chance of permanently kicking a heroin habit as you do of losing weight and keeping it off. There is clearly something going on here other than just lack of discipline or will power. There seems to be some physical process at work that makes permanent weight loss in adults very difficult and very uncommon.

So let’s just get that out of the way now: It doesn’t work. Or rather, it rarely works. It would be nice if it worked — there are health problems associated with being fat, I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t — but it almost never does.

BicepscurlNow, here’s another fact: While there are significant health differences between fat and not-fat people, those differences come close to disappearing when people eat well and get regular vigorous exercise. Sedentary thin people have much better health than sedentary fat people, to be sure… but active thin people aren’t that much healthier than active fat people, and active fat people are a whole lot healthier than sedentary thin ones.

StrawberriesIn other words: Exercising regularly and improving your diet are excellent things to do that will greatly improve your health… regardless of whether you lose weight doing them.

Which brings me to the anecdotal part:

It seems to me that our fixation on weight loss is tremendously counter-productive — because it’s so damn discouraging.

See above, re: weight loss almost never working.

Scale_3My experience and observation has been that when people change their exercise and eating habits with the sole purpose of losing weight, they’re a lot more likely to just give up on those changes when they either don’t lose the weight or gain it back again. And when they’ve lost and gained the weight back several times, they get even more discouraged, and are more likely to give up.

Even if they’re getting other benefits from their diet and exercise programs.

CigaretteI’m not even talking about the stupid unhealthy diets people go on to lose weight. (We’re back in fact-land now, btw.) I’m not talking about the people who won’t quit smoking because they know it means they’ll gain weight. And I’m not talking about yo-yo dieting (repeated weight loss and gain) actually being a likely cause of long-term weight gain. There are a zillion ways that our obsession with weight loss injures our health, but I’m not talking about them now. I’m just talking about this one thing: the discouraging effect that repeated failed weight-loss efforts have on people who are trying to make serious lifestyle changes.

Which sucks.

SleepBecause there are much, much better reasons to eat right and exercise than losing weight. It improves your overall mood and stamina. It helps you sleep better. It’s a natural anti-depressant. It improves your digestion. It improves your libido. It reduces your risk of heart disease and other causes of early morbidity… I could go on and on. There is pretty much no system in your body that won’t be improved by a healthy diet and regular vigorous exercise.

Regardless of whether you lose weight.

Which doesn’t work anyway. And which doesn’t do that much to keep you healthy if you’re eating right and exercising.

Scale_2I’m not saying we should ignore weight entirely as a public heath concern. As Ingrid points out, the fact that permanently quitting drug addictions is difficult and rare doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage people to try. And Ingrid also reminds me of recent research showing that even a small amount of weight loss, like ten pounds, can contribute significantly to your health. So losing a small amount of weight may still be a useful goal, even if you don’t lose as much as you might like to or think you ought to. (Although if memory serves, that research was done on an average population of sedentary Americans; other studies, like the ones I mentioned above, show that if you’re already eating well and getting regular vigorous exercise, health differences between thin and fat people are pretty small.)

Children_playingAnd we should definitely be paying serious attention to obesity in kids. Because the one exception to the “weight loss almost never works” rule is with kids. And fat kids who actually stand a good chance of losing weight will very likely — if the obesity isn’t addressed early — grow up to be fat adults who are very likely going to be fat for life.

I’m just saying this:

BicycleWe need a serious public health campaign — doctors, nurses, billboards, public service announcements, dancing polar bears, the whole thing — encouraging people to exercise regularly and eat better… regardless of whether they lose weight. We need a serious public health campaign emphazising and spelling out the specific non-weight-loss advantages — better mood, better stamina, better sex life, better longevity, etc. — of eating well and getting regular vigorous exercise.

Because the weight loss thing just isn’t cutting it.


Tv_dinnerAppendix 1: We also need a society that makes it easier to walk instead of driving; a society where food production isn’t run almost entirely by agribusiness and processed-food conglomerates; a society where people aren’t so exhausted from working two jobs that they don’t have time or energy for physical activity or even cooking; a society that doesn’t cut physical education in the public schools to balance the budget; etc., etc., etc. But that’s a rant for another day.

GymAppendix 2: The anecdotal part of this piece wouldn’t actually be hard to test. You take two groups. You put one group on a healthy eating and exercise plan with the stated goal of losing weight, including regular weigh-ins and counseling/ cheerleading about weight loss. You put the other group or groups on a healthy eating and exercise plan, with some different stated goal or goals — improving stamina, sleep, mood and mental health, etc. — and give counseling/ cheerleading/ regular check-ins about that. (You stick a control group or two in there as well.)

And after a year or two, you see which group has better maintained their improved eating and exercise habits.

If somebody does this, or knows someone who has, please let me know.