Of the Marriage Part of Open Marriage

In advocating for a sexually open model of marriage, sometimes it is possible to lose site of the fact that an open marriage is still a marriage.  To some in the polyamory community this will sound passé and even conservative, but I truly believe for most people the path to lifelong happiness is via the bonds of marriage and family.   Now, I’ll qualify that to say that marriage is not defined by the gender of the participants, nor on limit of two people; however, marriage is about commitment, lifelong commitment.

Why lifelong commitment? Isn’t that sort of old fashioned?

The traditional marriage vows said “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health to death do us part”. They were written as a commitment that way because in the history of mankind, the good times are the exception; pain and heart ache are the rule.  A relationship built on “what I get out of it at the moment” will not survive when the hard times come that eclipse the excitement and passion that brought lovers together. Yet, we all need someone(s) that will be there when we are in trouble. We all, by fate or by our own poor judgments, will come to a point where we are not as lovely and desirable as we once were. I know it will come to a shock to readers under 35 years old and healthy, but in your life you will spend a significant number of years over 60 years old where health issues impinge greatly on the recreational based lifestyle young people think will go on forever. 

Two years ago I watched as my father-in-law began to slip away after 62 years of marriage. He had someone there for him, several someones. His wife and his two daughters were right beside him to the end.  This is the kind of security marriage and family bring.

A few months ago in a polyamory blog I read one blogger who was right up front that polyamory is about getting his needs met and if a partner does not want to meet his needs, he has no intention to stick with that person.  That may be well and good when you are 29 years old, but that kind of selfishness will, in the end, bring many lonely years.   The whole loose tribal type of polyamory with people coming and going, will not bring the kind of security most people desire.   I am amused at the term “tribal” in these cases because in a real tribe, the bond is for life and the individual will sacrifice all, even life, for the tribe.  I the modern poly usage, tribalism does not convey this sort of deep comment at all.  This is why the commune movement of the late 60’s early 70’s didn’t last for a decade. Tribalism and marriage both require a level of commitment that requires everything you are to make it work and to gain the benefits of group solidarity.  There is no solidarity without commitment.

I am a follower of Emanuel Kant and an older philosopher by the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Both of these men taught that there is a moral imperative, a duty that supersedes our own personal wants; to treat others as having the same value as we hold for ourselves.  This value is sadly missing in much of what is called polyamory.  I find this vexing because the very definition of love is the commitment to treat someone else’s needs on par with your own. Hence, polyamory is just the idea of more than one person with this high level of commitment.

Back to open marriage.  Marriage is about total commitment to the welfare of my spouse. The same kind of total commitment I have for my children. It is within that framework of total commitment that we have the freedom to form other relationships, both sexual and not.  Just as I would never let an outside relationship come between me and my ability to be a good parent, I would never let a relationship come between me and my ability to be a good husband.   It would be morally wrong of me to maintain a relationship that hurt my wife because that would betray my first commitment to her welfare. The same would be true for her.

In an open-marriage, it is always necessary to keep an open line of communication as to your spouse’s current needs.  There are times when we each have different needs and it is imperative that we adjust our external relationships to meet those needs.  In our case, Paula has only recently become comfortable with me dating without her.  On the other hand, I have long been comfortable with her dating without me; however, there have been a few times when I have asked her to back off her dating, or let me join a relationship, or stop seeing a particular person all together.   It is the implicit agreement that we each will respond to the other’s needs that allows our security in marriage to flourish while she (and occasionally I) has a social/sexual life with other men and women.

When she is dating, or even falls in love with others, it is always with the explicit understanding that her family is and always will be, the center of her life. Though she can have a rich and rewarding relationship outside our marriage, she does not mislead her lovers by implying her commitment his (or her) needs will ever of the same magnitude of her commitment to her husband and children.  By this means, we maintain the ethical principles of love while still privileging the family unit.

As I said, there could indeed be room for more than two people in such a committed relationship, but the difficulty of doing so raises exponentially with each additional person.   I could see us at some point having a domestic arrangement with a man or woman someday in the future. But I can’t see a three way marriage-like arrangement happening, at least for us.

So, as I continue to blog about our life in an open marriage, it is predicated on the fact we do have a real and strong marriage. 


Of Voyeurism, Athletics and Sex

It’s Saturday morning.  I’m in my office. On the way in to school I listened to NPR as I do every morning during the 45 minute drive to my university. During the week I hear the news on Morning Edition, but on Saturday, a show called “Only a Game” airs on my local NPR station. It’s about sports. It seems incongruous to me that the NPR listeners, who ostensibly care about real things like foreign policy or social issues, care anything about Tiger Woods or the NCAA basketball tournament.  Yet, even on the venerable “All Things Considered” news show this week there has been serious discussion about the college basketball.  No it was not about, not the fact that only 67% NCAA basketball players who are provided full ride scholarships leave school with a degree or  how black players are far less likely to graduate than white players.; but on who wins a silly game.  

That got me thinking about sports fans. Sports fans simply voyeurs.  They get personal enjoyment out of watching others, with more gifts than their own, do things they would like to be able to do.  They vicariously feel the joy of victory and the misery of defeat.  

Then I began to think about how our entire society is wrapped up in voyeurism of one sort or another; and, the performers are our greatest heroes.  The piece on Tiger Wood pointed out that when Tiger wins tournaments, more people watch golf on TV and buy golf equipment.   But is not the entire entertainment industry about voyeurism. I don’t just mean reality TV and People Magazine.  But even serious drama is about imaging ourselves in the shoes of the people on the screen or stage.   When I watched Les Misérables, I identified with Valjean; but I also identified with him when I read the book in 1987 while in the Army. And did I not act as a voyeur when as a junior high student I first read Lord of the Rings?

  So, it’s not just sports and trashy reality TV, but all of literate that feeds our need to experiences life though the experiences of others.   From the days when a group of young men gathered around the fire to hear the old Viking tell tales of his exploits to the latest crazy story of Lindsey Lohan; from Hamlet to NASCAR, humans routinely gain part of their identity and their joy of life from voyeurism, vicariously getting joy from others actions.  

So, I ask, why is watching people get brain injury inducing hits playing football, or beating the snot out of a person in boxing or MMA more reputable than watching attractive people make love.    We heard basketball commentators expound over the beauty of watching Michel Jordan bounce a ball and stuff it in a hoop. No one even pretends that part of that beauty was that Jordan was the embodiment of the attractive virile male.  Yet, what would happen if I brought up in “polite” company the fact that the people at xart.com consistently produce the most beautiful images of beautiful people making love?  Well here at my university, I’d be labeled a misogynist and oppressor of women at the least. In my circle of ”Christian” friends I’d be labeled a sinful pervert.

The argument from both groups of critics would be that the models were paid to have sex which is exploitive. Yet, compare that to the fact that we pay kids with tuition to public colleges to engage in sporting activities that leave many of them with lifelong scars and permanent debilitating injuries. Just the other day I was in an eatery next to campus and three of the universities’ start football players were chatting after their meal (One was the 2011 NCAA football freshman player of the year).  The discussion was on their off season surgeries to repair damage to their joints. So, the fact these kids have paid with serious bodily injury to entertain others is OK, but for a couple to have sex to entertain is not?  What makes football more wholesome than sex? And what makes the connoisseur of golf more sophisticated than the connoisseur of erotica?

In my case, not only am I the connoisseur or erotica, I am also the artist. I am (among other things) a professional glamour/erotica photographer.  My portfolio includes stylish nudes of both professional models and everyday women, as well as beautiful artistic photos of couples making love. Showing off my portfolio at my  public university I would surely be brought up on some sort of harassment charge; however, I brought in photos  of  our college football team in the mists of violent competition, I would only get praise.

In the end we humans are all voyeurs, the only question is what to we imagine doing.  And make no mistake the things we vicariously enjoy many people try to enjoy in real life.  Remember, Tiger Woods winning drives grown men to go out and golf.

We in the US are asking why young men are going on violent rampages, perhaps it’s because we encourage them to engage in voyeuristic violence in sports, movies and other entertainments. We teach these young men vicarious joy of physically controlling and hurting other people.  While it is very infrequent that a young man guns down a group of people; it is all routine that young men to put try out modeling controlling and violent behavior on those around them.  Why do so many young men want to use physical aggression on their girlfriends? Perhaps, we have taught them to idolize the guy who is the most physically aggressive on the basketball court? 

A recent study of teenage girls found that those who watch the most reality TV come to believe that the hurtful bullying behaviors are the normal way girls interact.  What we live though our voyeurism we come to believe is normal and desirable. How did the old Viking’s tales of adventure and plunder affect the young Norse boys? Why, they sought to replicate the predations of their forefathers of course. 

The sex-negative crusaders, from the right and the left, claim that sexual imagery leads to sexual abuse.   Well, let me ask how often do you see positive loving sex between two people portrayed in movies and TV?  Compared that with how often sex shown to as a form of exploitation (i.e. using sex as a tool or weapon), or being paired with self-destructive behavior (being drunk or stoned), or illicit like (covert affairs).  See my point?

Voyeuristic enjoyment of sex is so looked down upon that portrayal of sex ends up being “justified” in almost all entertainments by being coupled to negative behaviors most of the time. Then the fact that young people link sex with negative behaviors is blamed on ….you got it the fact that sex is being shown in entertainment.

Recently two movies were sent to the MPAA for ratings. One had a woman’s breasts being violently cut off and the other had two women kissing and suckling one other’s breasts.  Guess which one got the “R” rating (which allowed for wide distribution) and which one got the “NC-17 rating” that effectively killed theatrical release.  You got it, the MPAA banned loving use of breasts and allowed the violent one.


I propose that we as a society would be better if we at least allowed (or even encouraged) the portrayal of positive, life affirming sexual behavior in our culture.  People will live voyeuristically through the actions of others. That is just a fact. People will emulate what they enjoy seeing others doing.  

Therefore positive physical portrayals of lovemaking should be readily available and to both adults and teens AND be treated as a positive experience.     I would rather teens play a virtual sex game like this www.redlightcenter.com than the violent games that dominate the market. Yet, this game is not available to teens while games like Grand Theft Auto where rape is rewarded is.

I would content that it is the very illicit nature of sexual entertainment that gives rise to the trashy nature of commercial porn and the serious exploitation that still goes on in the sex entertainment industry.

I will go one final step.  I propose there is nothing bad for children to grow up in a world where people express love and affection with their genitals.  Simple nudity and positive portrayal of sexuality should not generate a rating more than PG; however, when sexuality is linked with negative behavior, especially violence, more restrictive ratings should be imposed.  

Of Teen Sexting

The social conservatives are raising the warning to parents, teens and everyone else of the newest grave peril to the world: sexting.

I really think there is an instinctive reaction of the “leaders of society” to be afraid of new fun things, especially if they are popular with teens. However, with over 20 years professional experience dealing with the related issues, I would propose that not only is sexting by teens (and adults) not an evil; it is, on the whole, a very positive development. 

To be sure we are on the same page: let me define sexting in the broad sense. It is a person using electronic media to send nude or sexual photos or text to someone else.  In effect is it little different than when in 1976, I stretched the telephone cord out to reach a storage room so I could talk to my girlfriend on the phone.  I was 14 or 15 as was my girlfriend.  For hours we would talk about sexual things and occasionally masturbate as we talked.   I was too young and afraid to actually do any of the things we talked about. Further my imagination was limited to what I found in the Playboy, Penthouse and OUI magazines my dad had stashed in a closet.  We never had physical sex in the whole half year we were a couple, but we talked about it a lot.

I tell that story because early sexual experiences are nearly universal.  My wife at a slightly younger age had a best friend with whom she “practiced” what they would do when they were older and had boyfriends.  

Beginning at the outset of puberty, sexual thoughts, talk and early ‘trials’ begin to grow in the lives of young people.   Not the end, but the beginning of puberty.  So for girls this begins between about 11 and 13 years old and for boys about 13 to 15 years old.   This period is typified by self stimulation that comes short of what would be called masturbation, looking at their own bodies and observing the changes and looking at other people’s bodies and imagining what they look like naked. And early sexualized talk has always been nearly universal.  What is new, is the easy access to graphic sexual photos and video.  Porn is ubiquitous and is often the primary teacher of “normal” behavior to this young group looking for guidance.

By the time their bodies have matured to the point that adult type sexual behavior is an option,  young people have been developing an internal vision of sexuality for several years.   The problem is there is not a good outlet for that experimenting with sexuality during that formative time .   There are eight to ten years between the budding  of sexuality and the achievement  of the maturity needed to be actively  sexual in a responsible fashion.  This lag time holds many pitfalls for adolescents; disease, pregnancy and exploitation leads are just a few of the potential problems.   Those adults in charge have a tendency to just pretend that young people are asexual until the transform overnight into full fledged adults. When they do so, they also tend to label the search of adolescent’s for sexual identity problematic.  Whether they use the word sinful or inappropriate or perverted, they all have the same underlying meaning:  people are not supposed to even notice their sexuality until they become ‘adults’.  Of course this is nonsense.

Into the gap between the onset of sexual development and the age at which maturity allows for good decision making, falls sexting.  Sexting allows for young people to explore their developing sexual bodies,  desires  and identities from a safe distance.   The only difference between my time in the mid 1970’s and now, is that instead of writing erotic poems or talking sex on a telephone, is they can now take and send photos of their new “bits”.

Herein is what really upsets the old people.  The photos.  God forbid someone see their 15 year old daughter naked.  How it could be misused! And what about the lurking pedophiles? 

Both of these are red herrings to hide the discomfort of the older generation.   Let me take them one at a time.

Can naked photos be misused?   Certainly cyber bulling is an issue and it needs to be addressed.  However, the cyber bully will find a way to harm people sexting or not.   On the larger problem of having naked photos show up one day, it is function of uniqueness.  In the 80’s even married couples were warned never to make sex tape because if anyone found out they had it they would be disgraced.  Now home sex movies are the norm.  Unless they are of celebs, no one cares.   And as this generation moves into adulthood,  naked photos of them as teens will become a non issue as well. Surveys say over 70% of all teens do it. Thus, for this generation, it is and will be the norm not the exception and so the photos loose their “blackmail” power.

When our daughter was 14, another parent became enraged when they found out she was video chatting topless with their son.   Was my daughter a perv? Did she need to be jailed? No.  Our response was that in itself, there was nothing inherently evil about showing her new breasts to a boy; but, the parents of the boy did have rights and we needed to respect them.  Further it gave us a first time to talk explicitly about the age of consent. We pointed out that as she would not be at the age of consent until she was 16, she should not do that again until that time. 

In the last few  years some local D.A.’s have prosecuted teens who are of the age of consent for taking their own photos and sending them to others.  This is a huge issue.  These people seek to say that while teens may legally consent to fuck their brains out at 16 (almost everywhere in the US),  but photographic virtual sex (with no risk of disease or pregnancy) at the same age is tantamount to child pornography. This is absurd.  In the end, I’m sure reason will prevail in the courts; however, for now  the best advice for now to teens is to not show your face in nude photos until they are 18 until this problem is resolved.

This issue of pedophiles is not a light one.  I worked full time with sex offender treatment for several years and have a good handle on the issue.   What most people don’t understand is that pedophiles can just as easily use photos of children from the Sears Catalog as fodder for masturbation.  Moreover, the serious pedophile doesn’t look for photos of adolescent girls, but rather pre-pubescent girls and that is another matter all together.   There is no question that it is unwise for young girls or boys to post photos of a sexual nature (clothed or nude) on social media that has potential access to their personal information. But that it true for adults as well. 

Sexting does do something else very important to society and the developing teens.  It provides a avenue for that pubescent and adolescent population to see what real girls and boys look like at their age.   Only three-quarters of a century ago among that same 11-15 year old group, single sex and co-ed skinny dipping was not uncommon in rural America.  I would suggest adolescents prior to WWII had significantly more first-hand experience regarding what others of their age looked like naked than they do today.  What this age group doe see today are movie stars and porn stars. Neither of which make a good baseline on which to compare one’s own body. 

Adolescence is the age at which all of us develop an internal vision of what is sexually arousing and what is not,  as well as what we ‘should’ look like.  The most common images seen by today’s adolescents are of chiseled men with huge penises and skinny women with huge breasts. These images are so far outside the norm as to leave 95% of the population in the “unattractive” group.   Once this generation moves through this period of life, those images of sexual normalcy become forever fused with their adult sexual personhood to their detriment.  They will forever judge themselves and others by that vision of normal.  


I make the case for sexting as a positive activity in the lives of teens (and yes for adults too).

1)      Sexting is a safe and appropriate way for teens to explore their developing sexuality.

2)      Sexting  is a “real” counterbalance to the media fantasy about human bodies.  

Of a New Definition of Casual Sex

captions (347)My wife and I have both come to the conclusion that we are not real fans of having casual sex by the conventional definition, i.e., sex with persons with whom we have no ongoing relationship.  Now, that’s not saying we haven’t done that once or twice in the past year, because we have. But, those times were “just one of those things”.  The point is, we don’t go looking for that kind of sexual encounter.  I’m sure part of that is that we are both over 50 and neither of us have that burning imperative, when we go to a swing club or party, that we must have sex with someone new. And it’s not that we think such casual sex is wrong or as some put it empty. It’s just not for us.

On the other hand we certainly don’t believe that sex should be reserved for relationships that are deeply committed either.  I am quite sure the myth of the specialness of sex is an outgrowth of property based monogamy (with women being the property). It became codified into nearly every religion that has a professional clergy as a way to maintain social stability and thus the clergy’s social position.  Even though this myth is still perpetuated via self-identified secularists in psychology, it does not derive from real science but from the desire to justify what they already believe by using unjustified cause-effect statements.

The position that my wife and I are comfortable taking is the proposition (that I’ve made before) that sex is a normal and positive part of adult social relationships. In other words, sex is for friends. In our post tribal world, most of us have precious few people to whom we can go to when we have a joy to share or need comforting in our sorrow. I don’t mean the new “Facebook” meaning of friendship, but a real relationship of trust and caring.  A friend is the person that you don’t need to put on for and don’t expect them to put on for you.  Perhaps the best definition of friendship for me is that person for whom I don’t have to clean the house if they come over.

Friendship is all about shared experiences and mutual support.  As humans one of the best ways to do both is through physical touch, skin touching skin.  Sexual touch is the most complete version of touch, which makes it a natural activity for friends. Sexual sharing is all about skin on skin touching, full body skin on skin touching.

One may counter that sex is mostly about erotic passion and release. I would disagree. Perhaps my age is showing again, but the most important thing about sex is not the erotic passion and release of orgasm. The most important thing about sex, it is skin on skin touching. If orgasm is all someone wants, masturbation is a more sure way to gain orgasm than any other, but no one can get the deep pleasure and sense of serenity that full body skin on skin contact provides via masturbation.  When I’ve taught about sexuality, I use the analogy that a full sexual experience is like a symphony. It has multiple parts including an opening (often with surprises), and a slow building section that can be either sensuous or relaxed, a rhythmic center, a climax then a quiet reflective post climatic refrain.  Sure it is possible to listen to the climactic three minutes of the Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture over and over, but by doing that you rob the music of its real power. Or perhaps more accessible to some readers, if you  just watch saw the last scene of the Les Misérables, it would have nice music but it wouldn’t bring forth tears because there was not the preceding build up.

I’ll offer two recent examples in our life.  My wife has a very good friend who has been in a relationship for years. They have talked about having sex on and off and have yet to actually have penetrative sex, though they have done many other things.  Last night she met him for drinks and they again discuss having sex, this time she’s concerned about his very large penis…and a little excited. My guess is she and he will do it soon. That won’t change their relationship; they are good friends now and will be afterword.   A second example is a friend of both me and my wife. She’s had several dates with him a few years back but it didn’t go anywhere.  He is in mid-life like me and is experimenting with new things like cross dressing. He wanted to find out what is like to play the female role with a man. Last week we got together and has exual play about an hour.  He found out that having oral sex with another man is fun, but no life changing experience.  We left friends, and neither of us climaxed. It was just casual sexual pleasure.

With that background, I contend that sexual interaction is, or should be, a normal and positive part of adult friendships.

With this in mind I offer the following definition of “Casual Sex”

Casual Sex: informal sexual interaction of a caring, but casual, nature between persons who have an ongoing mutually supportive relationship (philia), but are not romantically involved (amore); mutually pleasurable sex between friends where their relationship is not defined by that the fact they have sex.

Of Enjoying Your Sexuality; or “Go out and fuck your brains out”


Years ago I recall a Playboy Magazine cartoon by Erich Sokol I think.  On it an elderly lady was sitting on a park bench talking to a young girl in a miniskirt (this was in like 1972 or so), and the old women says “Don’t make the mistake I did, Go out there and fuck your brains out.”

Of course in the day, it was a particularly jarring idea that old women had ever thought of recreational sex.  That toon stuck in my head, and here 40 years later I still remember it.

Life is a one way street.  One may project what ones future will be like or one might reminisce about what ones past was like; however, one my never go back and actually relive the past.   I, like so many people, have tried to do the next best thing by recording in words and paper some of the most pleasant events.  Why are weddings and birthdays and vacations so well documented in photos and videos? Because we like to relive in our minds those happy moments.

My home computer has a pair of large monitors hooked up to it. I use one for navigation and such and the other for word processing.  I’ve been working in the evenings at edits on my great “socio-political novel” and so the second monitor has just been showing photos.  Yesterday I changed my Windows wall paper collection to a directory called “beach fun”, it is a collection of about 400 of our family beach photos.  Now, our family beach photos are more interesting than most, in about half of them mom appears either topless or nude on the beach. These photos were primarily taken from 1999-2005 when the kids were in elementary school and mom was absolutely stunning looking (not to say she’s not a beautiful 52 year-old).   Many of the photos that came up on the right screen I had not seen in years. Several times I just stopped and looked at how beautiful she looked.  One in particular,  was a waist up photo on a bright sunny pubic beach.  She was covered in coconut oil causing her bare breasts so shine.   If I didn’t have the photo I’m not sure I would believe boring old me ever could have a wife that looked that amazing.  

Perhaps the most striking thing is that in those photos she was in her early to mid- 40’s, not her teens or 20’s.  We, like many people, did not break free of the puritanical codes until we were in our late 30’s.

I got married at 24 as a virgin, and she at 25 had only one sexual partner.  We were told that sex before marriage was a sin and so we both spent our most sexually potent years fighting our bodies. Sexuality was a curse and cause of pain and frustration in our teens all the way up to our wedding day.   Even that didn’t end the frustration, for it was not too long after that the mismatch between her sex needs and mine frustrated both of us for the next ten years until she took her first lover.  

So for 20 years we bought into the sex negative approach that sex outside monogamous marriage was inherently wrong.  For 20 years our sexually was a source of pain and frustration when it could have been a source of pleasure and fulfillment.   We know what works for us.  She has a date tonight and a possible hotel rendezvous with another man later this week.  She is ever so happy with her new lovers and I am equally happy with her happiness and occasionally joining her and her lovers in bed.

The only sad thing is that we listened to the wrong people and now 16 years into this lifestyle we are in our 50’s (with all the baggage age brings) rather than our 30’s.  

We can’t go back and reclaim those years. We can’t , as much as we might like to be that young couple on the nude beach at Hedo who can sun all day and fuck new friends all night, then do it again the next day fresh and ready to go.  We just can’t do it now.

I don’t bemoan that fact (very much).  Truth is we have had a great life; however, we did not raise our kids to think sexuality is to be put in a box.  After all,  they are also in those family photos with mom on the beach nude or topless.  

All people should be free to enjoy their sexuality from the later teen years forward in all its variations and glory.  We can’t be teenagers or twenty-something’s again, but we have for years encouraged those who are to wring out every pleasure their young lives have to offer.

So ….. if you are younger than my wife and I, we endorse the advice in that cartoon,  “Don’t make the mistake I did, go out and fuck your brains out.”  …… and may we add, take pictures.

Of the Central Role of Sexuality in US Social Inequality

 As my regular readers know, have completed my course work for my Ph.D. and am in the process of completing my dissertation in the next couples of months.  My focus of research has been the role of educational poverty in intergenerational poverty.  My dissertation proposes a radical idea, return our educational system to the enlightenment ideals of primacy of individuals reaching their full human potential. This is opposed to the current debate that pits those who believe the schools should be used to promote economic growth on one hand and those who believe the schools should be used to rearrange society based on group membership (race, language, income, gender, sexual identification…ad infinitum) to achieve uniformity. I propose both current approaches are destructive to both children and society. 

As part of my research, I have spent a great deal of time pouring over the research and statistical data dealing with intergenerational poverty. The vast majority of people who are in poverty today will not be so six months from now. However, there is a core group who are in poverty all their life, as were their mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers.  I say grandmothers, because one of the key factors in intergenerational poverty is the lack of dads who stick around to provide financial and emotional support.  This core group of intergenerational poor is far larger in the US than it is in other industrialized nations. The question is why.

It is often discussed how bad the US educational system is so far behind the other industrialized nations, even though the US spends far more on education they most other countries. When we pull apart the data, what we find is if we statically reduce the core group of poverty were the same percentage it is in, let’s day Norway, we would find that the US has the finest educational system in the world.  The same is true in measures of infant mortality and violence and overall health. If we do not consider the disproportionate number of people who are in permanent poverty, the US stands to lead the world in most of these domains.

But of course the US lags in all those areas.  The US doesn’t have an education problem or a health crisis or gun violence problem. The US has an intergenerational poverty problem. And why is it so much worse in the US than other industrialized countries? One factor stands out in my research above all others. Sex.  OK, not really sex, but rather the rate of teen pregnancy. The rate of teen pregnancy exceeds all other advanced countries, some by as much as 700%. Compared to our Canadian neighbors to the north the US has a teen pregnancy rate 300% higher!

Why is this the cause of intergenerational poverty?  Simple.  I saw this as a social worker. I’ll anser via an illustration. An impoverished 15 year old girl has a baby. Her education is severely impacted, if not stopped. Her chances of gaining the necessary education or skills to advance out of poverty are massively reduced; the chances the father will provide long-term financial or emotional support are about zero. Her chances of having a second and third child are very high as she looks for stability in a domestic relationship and reliable birth control is difficult to come by for the poor. Each new child divides her limited financial and emotional resources into smaller parts for each child. She by her early twenties she  is stuck in a trap, overwhelmed by the demands of several growing children, yet she is just now mature enough to make long term plans, yet what plans can she make that will lift her from poverty?

I had case after case just like this. These young women enter their 20’s so far in a hole that they will struggle for a lifetime to dig out.  But, that is not the real tragedy. The real tragedy is that while this young woman was foundering, those few years, perhaps as few as five, her children were profoundly impacted by the chaos around their “child mom” trying to put her own life together. My experience, and research, says poverty in those few short years of early childhood and the attending other problems, has a lasting impact.  Among other things, her children are likely to suffer with are the same difficulty in forming stable relationships that their mother has, and like their mother, her daughters are very likely to become teen moms and to repeat the cycle.

Some of the kids will make it out of poverty; however, since the “educated class” of women are not having children until the age that the impoverished class of women are becoming grandmothers. And because the “educated class” of women are having half as many kids, we have a situation that even if half the girls born by teen mom’s do not become a teen mom themselves, the number and percent of that the population will continue to grow.  Thus the gap between the haves and have-not will continue to grow.

We will never resolve the other big social issues until we dramatically reduce our teen pregnancy rate!

Yet none of the politicians or pundits want to touch the real answers to this ever so sensitive question that crosses into issues of race, sex and religion.

Do American teens screw more often than other kids? Not really, however, the poorest children start sex very early, with age 13 becoming common. One study of urban elementary school students found 18% of 13 year old boys had already had sexual intercourse. Further, over half the boys said they expected to do so in the next year as did a quarter of the girls.  To make this all more complicated both boys and girls are reaching sexual maturity earlier and earlier.

So what should we do? Do we launch a massive “sex is bad” campaign? No. We’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. Beyond that it’s a lie, sex is not bad.  Kids see through the lie and it discredits the other things adults say about sex, like birth control and sexual safety.

Well we ask then why are girls getting pregnant in the US so often? Again the poverty issue comes up. Family warmth and school success are inversely related to very early sexual activity and high risk sexual activity and the same factors are driven up by having a mom who was a teen and poverty.  See the cycle?  Kids who can’t do anything else, can fuck, and girls who get very little positive attention know having a baby will get them lots of attention. I had a client tell me once “The only thing I know how to do good is make babies”. She was under 30 and had 5 kids to 5 different men. This points out the only issue here is not just access to birth control.

First and foremost we must undermine the sex in the closet culture. As long as teen sexuality is seen as inherently bad it will be impossible to have a meaningful impact on teen (and pre-teen) attitudes about sex.  The US is hyper sexualized on one hand, but highly puritanical on the other.  As long as depictions on TV and movies of murder are listed as OK for children under 13 with just a suggestion of parental guidance, yet a single fleeting image of an erect penis demands no child under 17 can ever see the movie, kids will continue to see sex as both dirty and desirable because it is so forbidden. Murder is not ever a part of a positive “grown-up” life, but sex is. Thus, I call for universal civic/social education in our schools, beginning at the early grades.

Sexuality is a part, but nowhere near the majority of positive social interactions; however sexual constructs, taught from the earliest years, impact all our social interactions. When I used to do lectures to parents on children and sexuality, I always said “sex education begins at birth.”  Children, not just teens, have a steady diet of TV depicting casual and very enjoyable sex, but the adults in their life never talk to them about how that fits into a healthy lifestyle.  I wish I had great sex as often as people on some of the shows targeted at teens!  So, we must present to children a whole social life landscape, including sex, of interrelated parts. By the time children are moving into sexual maturity physically (now around 13), the discussion about sex must be very direct. We should be teaching 13 year-olds that their ongoing sexual maturity is positive, but teach safe and sex positive outlets geared to self-exploration and pre-sexual behavior.  Teach how they can express sexuality in ways that do not involve other people’s genitals; focus on teaching and reinforcing what to do, not what they should not do. And, let them know the day will come that their mind as well as their body (and the law) will know it is time for full sexual relationships.

At the same time, just as getting “your shots” is a universal and normal part of growing up, we should make the implantation of an IUD (or something similar)  just a normal part of a girls first post-menarche doctor’s visit.   This does not mean they should have sex, any more than people should spend time around people with chicken pox after their vaccination.   By making it universal, it would end the idea that “oh she’s on birth control so she’s available for sex” mindset of teens.  Middle-class parents put their teen daughter’s on birth control all the time. They put their daughters on birth control so as to “regulate their period”, when in-fact that is very often a secondary consideration, or an outright cover story. Middle class, educated parents are far more likely to be proactive with their daughter’s birth control for several reasons, not the least being they don’t see their daughter being on birth control as a stigma. This disproportionate use of highly effective teen birth control by middle class teens further exacerbates the gap between the rich and poor.  It is absolutely true that poor children have more sex and earlier than do middle class kids, but their pregnancy rate is far higher than can be attributed to those factors alone. Access to convenient and effective birth control makes a huge difference in teen pregnancy rates; however, the impoverished teens that need it most, are the least likely to have ready access.   

Finally, the legal framework must be changed to remove the hodgepodge of state laws that send some people to prison for decades for doing things that are legal in the next state over.  Many of the US states already have a comprehensive 16 year old age of consent, I propose that be declared a human right and adopted nationwide. I would however, go further and clearly set into law that 16 years old is the age of sexual emancipation (adulthood). This would make it clear that their body is their own at a reasonable age. Sixteen year olds should have full guaranteed rights to make their own choices about birth control, sexual health issues and their own sexual behavior.  Further we need to de-criminalize consensual sexual behavior between kids of all ages who are age mates. Current laws simply make those 13, 14 & 15 year olds do so with no access to birth control. We know empowering teens to make their own choices leads to better choices and lower pregnancy rates (and the inverse is true as well).

Sexual emancipation of 16 year olds would also free high schools to treat upperclassmen as the full sexual adults they clearly are. As a capstone to the public school sex-positive social curriculum, for these students sexual education could and should deal with sex in more than just biological terms. It should be very explicit & visually graphic to drive the home the physical and mental health components of sex as part of their adult lives. There are “best practices” in relationships that have a sexual component, as well as factual knowledge about what to give and how to give it, they also need to know what to expect form their sexual partner. You might not know it, but real topics like this are being taught in high school today. It is a part of the AP Psychology course. I taught that course for several years, and as we used a college level introduction to psychology text, it discussed things like the sexual arousal pattern in explicit terms (and pictures). My students, as part of that chapter got several weeks of things like sexual erogenous zones of men and women and how the women have orgasm as compared to men. Once again, the poor do not usually get this class, it is rarely offered in poor schools and only the highest performing high schoolers get to take it (read that richest), but there is a president to teach this.

This blog is committed to the proposition that an open and sex-positive society is inherently a better place for eveyone.  I think this is the first time I’ve spelled out clearly how high the societal payoff is. 

Of Successfully Changings Social Norms for Sexual Freedom

sexual%20rightsI was walking between the building in which my office is housed and the Student Union and noticed a young guy smoking between the buildings.

Smoking on a college campus when I began college in 1981 was nothing of note, and a generation before that it was the rule.  But even here in the deep-south, smoking is so rare as to get my attention.  After thinking about it I could not remember ever seeing a student smoking since I began this program nearly 2 years ago.

In terms of social norms, 25 years is not a long time, even 50 years is barely consequential, yet, tobacco use has gone from being ubiquitous to so rare it garners attention. A steady progression of social norms has remade how Tabaco use is perceived.

At the university at which I both work and attend, students of African heritage were not allowed to attend until 1963. A short 50 years ago. Yet today one would be hard pressed to find anyone on this campus who would suggest that segregation was anything less than unmitigated evil;  again a complete transition from one norm of right and normal to another.

When my mother went to college in the 1950’s “moral” character (a euphemism for sexual abstinence) was expected as a prerequisite for both attendance at the college and for gaining employment after graduation.  As late as the mid 1980’s courts were upholding moral (sexual) rules on female teacher’s in their private life.  Pregnancy out of marriage was the end of a teaching career as was “a public reputation of moral turpitude”

Today, public school’s moral codes are exclusively tied to issues of criminal activity, academic ethics and sexual contact with students.   Even in the rural southern school district where I worked prior to this year I had a friend who was an unmarried female kindergarten teacher have a baby and then return after her maternity leave.  This would not have happened a generation ago.

And certainly one can look to the normalization of same-sex relationships as a sea change in cultural norms. US society has come thought the phase of tolerating these relationships to treating them as normal in most of society (under age 50 or so). National legalization of same sex marriage is only a matter of time, currently within the next decade or so.

What’s the point?

I began blogging for three reasons. One was to help me organize my thoughts in a coherent form, and writing makes me do so, a public journal of sorts. The second was to provide myself with a soap box for the oft neglected moderate position in the public sphere.  It has been said that traditional liberalism is all but dead in the US and has been since the mid 1970’s.   I contend most Americans believe in the enlightenment vision of political liberalism espoused by Locke, Rousseau and Jefferson, and so I try to voice those views. And finally I sought to preach the gospel of what I call “The Final Freedom”.

I believe that freedom to express ones sexuality is basic to ones humanity that all other freedoms that it deserves a place right next to freedom of conscience and religion.  The final freedom refers to the right to express ones sexual nature openly in the community. The GLBT community pushes this for their members; however, even if they are successful, that still leaves around 95% of the population in the closet, forced to hide their sexuality in private.  Would it be freedom of speech if you could say whatever you wanted, but only in the privacy of a closed room? No it would not. Would it be freedom of religion if I could not ever talk about it or express my religious life in public? No it would not.  Similarly, we do not have freedom of sexual expression while it is shuttered behind closed doors.

Nudity and consensual sexual activities are more prevent in the media than ever; however, it is still ghettoized and kept safely behind the screen. In a truly free society our bodies and our sexuality is only limited by our infringement on others; and just being in someone’s sight is not infringing on their liberty.

No one claims the right to demand a freedom from seeing others joyful, silly, or even rude in public by banning such behavior to one’s home.  Just because someone’s behavior makes me uncomfortable about myself or violates my personal moral code, does not inherently give me the right to stop their behavior. I don’t automatically have the right to demand they “get a room” to do what annoys me in some other place.

If they are naked or engaged in sexual behavior in a closed environment where the passage of pathogens is likely, then the society has a just reason to act to ensure public health. However; that is not the case with current societal restrictions on nudity and sexual expression.

There are powerful forces on both the right and left who collude to prevent sexual freedoms, but I believe that if the vast center had the courage to stand up and challenge the extremists this freedom is possible.

This is an interesting video, by a George Mason Law School expressing the horror that sexuality and sexual expression is considered a human right. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wlXUSfkwcY She is openly espousing the Catholic position that sex should not be about self-actualization, but solely about procreation and that birth control is evil because it separates sex and babies.   Sexualityism is the word now given to this concept and a search on the word clearly shows this concept has strong support in the Catholic press.

I however, do not believe such a position is where most Americans live.  Most Americans, even religious Americans, even Catholic Americans, see sexuality as a intrinsic part of their everyday life and have sex to make children is the very rare exception. That is the true mainstream, or center,  of American culture. However, I think that many people who live their lives in this manner are easily bullied by powerful figures into publicly espousing something different than what they actually do.

Thus we find many, many people who would like to live their sexuality openly and honestly, live a life of secrecy and hypocrisy.  They do not do this willingly, but do so out of fear of being attacked, and being attached will find no allies because their friends and allies are also afraid of being “outed”.

Thus the minority of true believers in the sex-negative position, act as a kind of mafia, using fear to keep the majority silent. Why were the moral white people of the south not coming to the aid of the civil rights movement? They saw the blood on the faces of the white kids who marched. They knew they would be outcasts if they acted on their convictions. Just like we see on the news how people’s lives are destroyed by a leaked nude photo or do you recall how a young Barach Obama ran virtually unopposed for the US Senate after someone leaked that his opponent had once suggested to his ex-wife they go to a sex club in Holland?  The mere suggestion of attending a sex club ended that man’s political career.  So, yes, the sex-negative forces are powerful, but their power only comes from the majority who live sex-positive, but publicly espouse sex-negative.

Thus we, the majority, must provide one another the mutual support and defense so that we might all own our true beliefs in the face of the threats.

I also believe that we in the majority must make ourselves as accepting of other’s sexuality as we are of our own.  It is too easy to define “normal” sexual behavior by what I do (or what the media presents as normal), but human sexual expression is a broad canvas and as with freedom of religion or speech, my freedom to do what I think is normal and right is contingent on my willingness to defend my neighbor’s freedom to practice what he/she believes is normal or right.

I write this to suggest that over the next 50 years, societal change of the magnitude we have seen in smoking or race relations is entirely possible in the arena of sexual freedom. It is just a question of when will we begin the journey and who will lead?

My hope would be someone who reads this little blog of mine will take up the cause of the Final Freedom.