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Open Center Panel: Sex In America - Changing the Conversation

The Open Center has joined with the Huffington Post to host a panel on sex and public discourse in the United States. Since changing that discourse is what we're all about here I wanted to post the announcement and encourage any readers in the NYC area to attend. I'll be there. If you'll be there too, let me know via Twitter (elizabethSITPS) and maybe we can say hello!

Below is the announcement from the Open Center web site:

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The Other Side of The Other Side of Desire

 the other side of desire

The Other Side of Desire, by Daniel Bergner

Ecco/HarperCollins $24.99


The best part of Daniel Bergner's new book, The Other Side of Desire, is that it very thoughtfully takes an open-minded and open-hearted look at the lives of four people whose sexual desires fall outside of mainstream norms. Through in-depth interviews and time spent hanging out with those he profiles, Bergner gives us a sense of really getting to know these four individuals, and helps us see them in terms of more than just their sexualities. This potentially goes a long way toward destigmatizing unconventional sexual expression.

The Other Side of Desire is broken into four sections, each focused on an individual whose story, Bergner hopes, will help answer questions like "What do we do with the desires we cannot bear, the desires we or the society around us strain to restrict or strangle...?" (Introduction, x). We first meet Jacob Miller, a severely learning-disabled yet successful salesman with a foot fetish that causes him such shame he is sexually alienated from his wife and driven to seek anti-androgen therapy to diminish his desire. Regardless the source of Jacob's foot fetish, his story is one about the destructive power of shame.

The next story, that of the Baroness, a designer of latex clothing and a consummate sexual sadist, demonstrates the satisfaction a person with very kinky desires can have when they are free of shame. The Baroness is all self-confidence and self-acceptance. She has found community with others who share her orientation to sexuality and in doing so has maintained a happy marriage to a man whose sexuality is much more "vanilla." As she walks around her New York City neighborhood she creates an air of acceptance for other "misfits." Bergner writes "The effect might have been due to her flaunting her difference, to their recognizing a champion misfit. But she claimed another power. She said it was because she was willing to look at them" (61-62). The social good that comes from truly looking at each other, and at ourselves, and accepting what we see, "deviant" or not, is the lesson of the Baroness.

Click here to read more.

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Sex Is Not A Public Nuisance

The New York Times this morning reports on a meeting last Wednesday involving city and state elected officials including Christine Quinn (City Council Speaker) and Thomas Duane (State Senator representing parts of Manhattan), Brian Conroy (the NYPD's Vice Squad commanding officer), and LGBT rights activists. The meeting focused on whether or not the city is targeting gay men for arrest on prostitution crimes because of their sexual orientation.

That is the wrong question.

The more relevant questions are: Why is sexual activity - the buying and selling of pornography, the accepting of money for sex - being defined as a public nuisance in the first place? And, what does it mean that simply liking pornography and being in a porn shop is enough to make one the target of a prostitution sting?

Click here for more.

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Georgia Conservatives Use Budget Crisis to Attack Sex Researchers at Universities

"In this present economy, the taxpayers’ dollars are being used by the Board of Regents to inform students about such social topics. … I believe the timing is perfect to eliminate positions of professors and staff who are paid to provide such services.”

Those are the words of Charlice Byrd, a Republican representing Woodstock in Georgia's House of Representatives. She is quoted in a an article in Sunday's Atlanta Journal Constitution and she is not alone. Her colleague Calvin Hill (R-Canton) is "deeply disturbed" by the fact that the University system has experts on male prostitution and on oral sex.

You would think that these representatives and their Christian Coalition supporters (Jim Beck, president of the GA Christian Coalition reportedly wants legislative hearings on the issue) believe that researchers are offering courses in how to become a prostitute or how to perform oral sex.

We are talking about researchers whose research on sex-related topics provides the evidence needed to make smart policy on public health issues. These are exactly the kinds of people states need more of. And the state gets access to highly skilled researchers generally through their work in colleges and universities.

Click here to read more

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Cross Posting: Call for Applications: Speak Up! Media Training for the Empowered Sex Worker


I just read this announcement at Waking Vixen and it fit so well here. Since it ended with the words "Please circulate this widely," I'm doing exactly that. (You will also recall that I posed in a calendar that is being sold as a fundraiser for Sex Work Awareness, the group that is sponsoring the workshop described below. You can donate here and for $10 you can have your very own 2009 NYC Sex Blogger Calendar. I'm December.)

From Audacia Ray at Waking Vixen 

Along with some former $pread Magazine staff members, I’m the co-founder of Sex Work Awareness, an organization that works toward the destigmatization of sex workers. Our work is partly focused on creating better information and resources about sex workers for the public and for journalists. Our online project Sex Work 101 is the tip of that iceberg. Sex Work 101 has been dormant for a while, but I’ve got some content for it now and will be updating it once a week. Last week I posted an answer to the question Does the average sex worker practice safe sex?

Click here to read more

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Long Island Gay And Lesbian Youth Center Vandalized

Two nights ago someone (or some group) vandalized the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Center (LIGALY). The front door was shattered as were the windows on the van that LIGALY uses to help teenagers get to the Center for meetings and social events. Nothing was stolen. It was clearly an act intended to send a message rather than for any kind of personal gain.

LIGALY (pronounced "legally") is one of my favorite Long Island organizations. It was started by David Kilmnick, who I'm proud to say is a friend of mine. He began with nothing but an idea for a project as he worked toward his Masters in Social Work and built one of the most powerful and wide-reaching LGBT organizations on the Island. (He also got his Doctorate in Social Work along the way.) LIGALY now serves not only young people but also LGBT seniors, offering social, educational, and support services. Its Safe Schools Initiative helps counter homophobia in schools, and offers organizing assistance to students wanting to start or maintain Gay Straight Alliances in their schools.  

The good news is that there has been an enormous show of support for LIGALY. David reports thatthere have been phone calls, blog entries, news stories, and even a letter from Governor Paterson. Most importantly just since yesterday there have been enough donations to help get the Center's door fixed and its van back in service.

And then there's the bad news.

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Race, class, and gender in the public square

With permission of Jill Filipovic of Feministe! I am reposting her piece, A Story In Pictures. I stared at it for a long time trying to imagine how I could post about it and ultimately decided that it says everything it needs to say all on its own and I just wanted to share it with readers here. 

A Story In Pictures (Feministe! January 29, 2009)

Two of the most important women’s-rights-related bill-signings in the past few years.

The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003:
Bush signs abortion ban

And the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009:
Obama signs Fair Pay Act


I think the pictures say more than I can. Thanks Jill!

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NYT says "Don't Panic"

Teens are not having more sex, nor are they having it earlier

The moral panic around teens and sex is uncalled for according to a story in today's New York Times. It is almost as newsworthy that the story, titled "The Myth Of Rampant Teen Promiscuity," by Tara Parker-Pope made it to the Times. Of course it wasn't front page news, but still. Here's what the article has to say:

"Today, fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.
A less recent report suggests that teenagers are also waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent.
The rates also went down among younger teenagers. In 1995, about 20 percent said they had had sex before age 15, but by 2002 those numbers had dropped to 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys."

(This doesn't mean there's nothing to worry about. There was an increase in teen pregnancy for the first time in more than a decade, which may mean that while teens are having less sex overall, some teens are having more and are not using contraception as often. ) Click here to read more

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What Do Women Want?

We won't find out by trying to separate biology from culture.
NYT Mag Cover Female Desire
The cover asks "What is Female Desire?" and the story title, "What do Women Want?" seems to promise that scientists are getting closer to figuring out one of life's great mysteries. Daniel Bergner, in fact, does not attempt to answer those two questions (and the small subtitles make it clear that he isn't going to try) but rather he profiles the work of several scientists who are researching women's sexual response, their subjective sense of arousal, and the ways those do or don't line up.

It is a well-written article and a very interesting read. It takes on complex questions and, within its scope, attempts to address them without oversimplifying or sensationalizing (except for the first sentence of the article, in extra large and colorful print that reads "Meredith Chivers is a creator of bonobo pornography."). I would encourage anybody to take a look. But prepare to be frustrated as well as intrigued. Some readers will be frustrated, as was Meredith Chivers (a psychology professor at Queens University, and one of the scientists whose work is the focus of the article) because the answers are not clear and meticulous research takes so long and is so difficult to do, and because, as she is quoted as saying early in the piece, "The horrible reality of psychological research is that you can't pull apart the cultural from the biological."

Click here for my frustration.

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Global Gag Rule Gone ...

... for now. While I'm thrilled and celebrating I recognize that this is like a ping-pong match we play with women's lives every presidential election cycle. The rule was first initiated under Reagan in the mid 1980s, maintained by the first Bush, then reversed by Clinton then reinstated by the second Bush, and now reversed again. What will happen at the next changing of the guard?

Meanwhile, back on a celebratory note, it was very exciting for me to see how the twitterverse went wild when the revoking of the gag rule was announced. Check this out:

Twitter search for Obama global gag rule


Click here for the NARAL page announcing the repeal and for a link to thank President Obama for his quick action.

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