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America's Insane Attitude Towards Sexual Pleasure

America is still a puritanical, consumer nation bent on policing sexual expression, while selling smut and sanctimony steeped in shame.

MTV Video Music Awards delivered the biggest sex story of 2013 as 20-year-old Miley Cyrus—Disney’s Lolita princess graduate in flesh-tone latex underwear—pointed her giant masturbating foam finger toward another cultural watershed, a la Janet Jackson at Super Bowl halftime. Like the overnight infiltration of “wardrobe malfunction” into the mainstream vernacular, “twerking” wound its way through morning talk shows and the evening news, even rubbing against “selfie” for Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. A decade apart, America united in shock and fury when yet another female pop star busted out of acceptable commercial bounds of sexualization.

Like Janet’s vilified overexposure, Miley sparked legitimate protest about gendered double standards and commodified racism, where black women are reduced to sexualized props. But the avalanche of outrage glided over both of their male cohorts and fell on her doing what she’s groomed to do in an industry where the female half of all shades are props for the adolescent male gaze. And “sexy” remains the only currency that matters: what a skank, how disgusting, disturbing, did you see how saggy her tits or flat her ass…what shall I tell my kids! A Cyrus-hosted "Saturday Night Live" skit parodied the outsized public flogging in a post-apocalyptic world triggered by her VMA performance: "the day America ended.”

But the good thing to come from Cyrus’ arguably bad stage is awareness of sexuality vs. sexualization. Her in-your-face sex romp, minus business-as-usual sexy, yanked down the curtain from what America has been selling us from all corners of the cultural divide: sex without pleasure.

The real story here is how we’re such a hypersexualized, yet pleasure-starved culture. America is a Christian consumer nation bent on policing sexual expression, while selling smut and sanctimony steeped in shame. Profitable sexual transgressions are the norm, yet apparently the only threat to childhood innocence. So conversation about healthy sexuality to combat today’s paradoxical messages must be squashed to “protect the kids.” Conservative culture warriors—aided and abetted by an infotainment media that feeds off of extremes—conflate the progressive push toward sexual freedom and justice with the toxic byproduct of anything-goes commercialism.

Producer MTV—master purveyor of sexploitation—released a statement after both national moral panics saying its gal went astray, the act more brazen than was practiced or promised. But business, politics and religion all bed together telling the same “sexual tightrope” story—purity vs. perversion, performance vs. pathology—that drums into girls and boys of all ages how we’re supposed to act, love and desire: who we’re supposed to be. Anyone who deviates—the young, the aging, gender and sexuality queers, disabled and poor—destabilizes the family and Western civilization. Shame on you for not living up to the schizophrenic sexual ideal propagated by capitalism’s synergistic special interests.

Cyrus, now the liberal mascot of modern perversion, was dragged into the latest culture war firestorm. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate, pitted her against instant traditional values icon Phil Robertson—the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch A&E suspended for home-spun homophobic and racist witticisms—as an example of Christian persecution. In “Liberalism Twerks Normal Americans,” Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter rallied the troops against liberals who want to control your mind “by destroying our values and our norms, leaving us empty vessels without the support of morality or tradition or religion.”

As if Cyrus’ cultural appropriation of twerking had to do with liberal values of equality and social justice rather than capitalism-gone-wild. Those of us challenging traditional bigotry are “if it feels good do it” advocates of mandatory pre-school orgies, rather than realities-based, principle-driven citizens working to shift America’s commodified and politicized sexual script to a more honest, inclusive and pleasurable one.

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