Lara Riscol

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Bring on the Culture War

The night the good reverend called me a prostitute on a live radio show after one of my columns had touted the benfits of masturbation, I didn't know that he had lost his 300-member flock over an affair with a married parishioner. He said my column was the most licentious thing he had ever read.

This same reverend, who blamed his infidelity on "a lifelong addiction to porn," now crusades against community indecency with a repenter's conviction. As head of yet another "family values" group, he leads boycotts against such smut peddlers as the local independent weekly.

I doubt my manual contribution to a masturbate-a-thon tops the reverend's bulging and doubly checked licentious list.

On the other hand, the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling for the fundamental right to privacy has emerged as the retro right's biggest bogeyman. Another religious leader, Pat Robertson, launched on his Christian Broadcast Network a 21-day "prayer offensive," having viewers nationwide pray to remove three of the judges that voted for Lawrence v. Texas, enabling President Bush to stack the court with conservatives.

Robertson's letter, posted on the CBN website, targeted three judges with health problems, but spared Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the radical gay-lovin' opinion, "The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

The battle for America the Beautiful has just begun. The right is rallying its "pro-family" troops for 2004, reacting as if sanctioned sexual privacy poses a bigger threat to national security than the still at large Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Forget terrorism, bring on the culture war. The morality police, yearning for the days when men were men, women were pure, and anyone light in the loafers stayed in the closet, fear that the sky will fall without sodomy laws to prop it up. Like the fallen reverend, the chicken traditionalists must battle bigger personal demons than the average guy just trying to live and love. Decriminalizing homosexual coupling, conservative pundits warn, has opened a Pandora's box of the unspeakable upon our kids and pets.

Senatorial top dog Bill Frist nodded to his rabid Republican base by "absolutely" endorsing a Constitutional amendment to outlaw not only same-sex marriage, but also vital protections embedded in civil unions. Bush-cozy Family Research Council issued a fundraising letter titled "No Gay GOP!" and issue daily email alerts like, "Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of the Gay Lifestyle." Just because the black robes lifted gays from America's taboo ghetto doesn't mean the right can't further demonize them for cash and votes.

Ideologues take Ozzie-and-Harriett wannabes down a slippery slope of sex scares. Loosen government's grip on the homosexual bedroom, they say, and then anything goes. Same-sex marriage is next, obliterating procreating marriages. Now states can't regulate morality, rendering impotent "laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity," according to Justice Antonin Scalia. Next thing you know even heterosexuals will enjoy sodomy.

Oh yeah, Americans of all persuasions, even Republican, already engage in such dalliances, yet kids and money, not masturbation, fornication or fellatio, still top the list of reasons for marital disputes. As far as bigamy, incest and bestiality, our criminal justice system is free to better distinguish between sexual pleasure and such abuses. Grown-ups know adultery doesn't need an outside prosecutor to render retribution. And prohibiting prostitution and obscenity will always be less black and white here than in faraway lands ruled by theocrats and tribal traditions.

Lumping same-sex intimacy by tax paying, community-enriching friends and family with sexual abuse and exploitation, commerce or betrayal is offensive, if not obscene. Moreover, dumping the weight of society's morality on the backs of a minority class of citizens is un-American. That's like fundamentalist regimes in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia dumping family honor and social order on female modesty. It's much easier to control a woman's ankle exposure than it is rampant unemployment, illiteracy and infant mortality. Unlike Muslim nations with state-appointed vice and virtue squads, America's moral strength does not lie in snuffing out the passions of the other guy. The freedom Americans cherish and champion globally is not only political and economic, but also fiercely personal.

Still, most of us are of the boy-girl variety and might squirm a bit to see two men or two women all snuggly together. So sexual scapegoating makes savvy politics. The Atlantic Monthly reported on two bipartisan pollsters who could determine someone's party by how he or she answered three sex questions. Republicans tend to find moral clarity in candidates who, like the reverend, preach sexual purity no matter how sullied their own sock drawers.

Recently a mother emailed me with thanks for not making her two gay sons out to be monsters in one of my columns. Her letter granted me a glimpse of just how much politicizing sexual morality blights real lives as it boosts packaged political ones.

Respect for individual rights and responsibility, even for the marginalized, is part of what makes America civilized. I pray our confirmed constitutional right to privacy will continue to override the stone-throwers no matter who Robertson's prayer offensive and Republican hardballers replace on our nation's highest court.

Crowned Virgins of the Right

The virgin scores. Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, won a brief but public spat with organizers to let her reign promote abstinence until marriage. Despite switching to a youth violence platform to win the national crown on Sept. 21, Harold has since come out with chastity as the cause closest to her bosom. Bright, beautiful and polished, Harold most certainly earned the $50,000 scholarship to attend Harvard Law School and someday run for political office.

But her crowned rise clipped the fall of Miss North Carolina after clandestine private photos pushed Rebecca Revels from the pageant's ultimate runway. Who knows if Revels, the high school English teacher who has competed in beauty contests since age 2, would be the more worthy to don America's crown jewels? Her spurned fiancé, a cop, yanked the national red carpet from under her by threatening to sell topless snapshots of the 24-year-old beauty queen.

Perhaps fearing another sex scandal, or simply fearing sex, pageant officials brandished the morality clause Revels had signed, allegedly forcing her to resign. Even after Revels' lawsuit determines who shall wear the tobacco state's tiara, the jury's still out on sex in America. What is sex, and is having it virtue or vice? When's a girl not so "nice"?

The abstinence movement glommed onto Harold's win as a virgin-slut morality tale. One aspiring princess gives speeches about keeping her lengthy legs crossed and becomes an American icon. The other little girl grows up to see her dreams dashed when her romantic past comes back to bite her sculpted ass. But is Harold more virtuous for not yet having had an intimate relationship at 22? And can Revels "be characterized as dishonest, immoral or indecent" or "inconsistent with the standards and dignity of the Miss America Program" just because she had bad taste in men?

And what's with the purity pile-on when Miss America was founded on sex for sale: a bathing revue of nubile teens to keep dollars on the Atlantic Boardwalk post-Labor Day. Despite such program updates as current events and social causes, the starved, dolled-up misses still must parade in bikinis and stilettos to represent our nation. Not so long ago, Miss America measurements made morning news. Now pageant producers hoped out loud that the rumored booby pics and fleshier swimsuit stage would spike TV ratings. Maybe female sexuality is only immoral if no one's making money off of it.

The judge who ruled against Revels competing in the national pageant got it right: "Miss America represents America," or at least its sexual schizophrenia. Both prosper on young women's sexual promise while espousing irrelevant virginal standards. (Think Britney Spears.) The savvy abstinence group Project Reality milks this illusion by training and mobilizing former beauty queens to spread word of salvation through sexual denial. Not denial for the young and stupid but for all unwed.

Before Harold, the chastity crusaders' most famous, self-described "abstinence apostle" was 27-year-old Mary-Louise Kurey, Miss Wisconsin 1999 and author of "Standing With Courage: Confronting Tough Decisions about Sex." Through speaking and media engagements, she gives both teens and adults just two choices: non-marital virginity or secondary virginity. Tough all right, especially for the millions of responsible, healthy singles ready to rub.

Last spring Kurey, Harold and 10 other crowned virgins stormed Capitol Hill trumpeting more abstinence-only tax dollars, as part of the Welfare Reform Reauthorization act still sitting in Congress. Apparently the Miss Virgins didn't wear bikinis during testimony and none applied for internships. Yet congressmen, who may not have saved themselves for marriage, swallowed the pageant winners' chastity line over the cry for comprehensive sex education by most health experts worldwide, including the past three U.S. surgeons general.

"These maidens that are sitting here, all of them are virgins. I think the whole nation should be proud of that." No, not another Bushism. Shortly before the Miss America pageant, elsewhere a Zulu king praised thousands of parading bare-breasted girls during their traditional dance. He called for young people to abstain from sex until marriage to combat the AIDS epidemic now ravaging South Africa. Unlike President Bush, however, the king also made a modern appeal for contraception use.

Miss America 2003 is working with the federal government on her now anti-violence/pro-abstinence campaign, and has met with such key players as Surgeon General Richard Carmona and Education Secretary Rod Paige. As Erika Harold pushes her personal success story as crowned virgin into public policy, more abstinence-only-until-marriage millions put countless diverse lives at risk by supplanting education and health services. But at least she, for now, escapes the moral hypocrisy of most chastity-for-singles zealots who have loved more than one before -- including head cheerleader President Bush.

Lara Riscol, a member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America." Email her at sexaware@evokes.com.

Have Sex and Then You Die

NEWS FLASH: There is no such thing as safe sex!

So conclude America's chastity crusaders, on the tail of the National Institute of Health's inconclusive report on condoms. In the July 20 report, the NIH found ample evidence that happy raincoats protect against HIV and male gonorrhea, but wasn't so sure about other sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes, chlamydia and human papillomavirus.

Although shielding us from HIV, thus deadly AIDS, could be considered a fairly monumental accomplishment for a simple latex balloon, to the abstinence-until-marriage crowd, it's not enough. For them, the NIH study provided a political opening. The day of its release, the 2000-member Physicians Consortium sent President Bush a letter calling for the resignation of Mr. Big at the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan. Koplan's crime? "The CDC has failed in its primary duty to protect the public health," said Massachusetts Dr. John Diggs, by promoting condom use as a "safe sex" strategy.

Such righteous bravado, despite the report's conclusion that condoms do save lives! And despite findings that don't discount condom effectiveness against other STDs, but merely call for further research.

But according to the Physicians Consortium, promoting abstinence-only-until-marriage can be the only proper public health strategy for the CDC and others. Nevermind that virtually no research backs the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs in preventing unwanted pregnancy and disease in America or, well, anywhere.

Having requested the NIH study last year while a member of Congress, Oklahoma's Republican MD Tom Coburn was quick to stick out his tongue and stomp, "I told you so" upon its official release. A true believer of abstinence-only "education" and condom labels stating their, uh, shortcomings, Dr. Coburn said the report is "proof that the term 'safe sex' is a myth."

Given the 15 million new cases of STDs each year, what do these socially conservative doctors prescribe to sexual Americans for protection?

"I would want abstinence until marriage -- anything less than that and some patients are going to get hurt," said Texas doc J. Thomas Fitch, one of the report's panelists who lobbied President Bush for yet more abstinence-only funding. Medical Institute for Sexual Health President and marriage champion Dr. Joe McIlhaney said, "As the NIH report makes clear, there is no such thing as safe sex outside of marriage."

BIGGER NEWS FLASH: There is no such thing as safe life.

So what? You don't stop living because you can walk across the street on any given day and get nailed by a car or slip and crack your head open in the bathtub. You don't stop breathing because stinky pollutants can give you lung cancer. You don't stop eating because you might clog your arteries. You don't stop drinking because you might suck down some microbe bent on attacking your intestine. You don't stop sleeping because you might not wake up in the morning.

Okay, some of us are more "come what may" than others. And some suffer more extreme consequences for those choices than others. But life is about conscious give and take in the risk department. I don't mean to diminish the agony and loss of those with AIDS, or wannabe mommies infertile because of HPV or untreated chlamydia. No more than I dismiss the tragedy of any life reduced for any reason. But singling sex out of all life forces for "risk-free" public policy is grossly misguided.

"Pregnancy is only nine months," says Floridian abstinence-only purist and Eagle Forum spokeswoman Patricia Ann Morris. "The same act that gets you pregnant can give you any and all of the STDs that have no cure -- and if they don't kill you, they may make you wish you were dead."

Yeah, and that same act -- maybe even when that same act is forbidden -- can bring you to the brink of death and back again within the span of one sweaty night. Sex can, also, bring you to the center of the universe, married or not. It can make you cry Jesus and believe in God no matter how agnostic, how atheist. It can make you feel loved, wanted, accepted, like a king. Those and a zillion other reasons -- some noble, some sad -- are why humans will always continue to have sex, whatever the risk.

If these anti-condom docs truly care for the health of their patients, of the nation, then they would promote masturbation, not abstinence until marriage, as the one and only "safe" game in town. At least admit we're sexual beings with, or without, a life mate. Even if you save yourself for marriage, you must still depend on your partner to truthfully say if he or she has ever penetrated another before you. Then over the years you must trust that same person to sex with only you, through sickness and through health until death, or ennui, do you part. Since no way can you control another's behavior, you remain always at risk.

There is no safe sex. Even if you practice abstinence until marriage, and even if you stay monogamous while married. There is no safe anything. That's life.

Madonna and the Contradictions of Sex for Sale

"There's a difference between a Go-Go Club and a Gentleman's Club," explains Cashmere, one of HBO's celebrated G-String Divas. "I'm not a Go-Go dancer. I'm an entertainer. They don't touch me. I'm topless, but am not at all ashamed of my body."

I'm watching today's episode of the Sally Jesse Raphael show, Secret Lives of Teen Strippers. Sally, her mostly female crowd and her resident shrink, Pat Ferrari, all clap their approval for Cashmere and her dancing colleague, Joey, after booing or otherwise dissing the half-dozen teenage strippers who appeared on stage ahead of them. A shrill Ferrari calls the two poised, twenty-something Divas "ladies" after chastising the row of hapless girls for their occupational exposures. She draws weak distinctions of propriety, and then haughtily compares her own life path to the teenage strippers. "I too was a single mom, and I didn't strip. I waitressed!"

As I sit in a London hotel, watching the talk show import, I can't help but ponder the contractions of what makes some sex for sale appropriate. Of course, Americans don't seem to handle contradictions well, especially not sexual ones. But life will always be messy, as demonstrated by another U.S. import generating media hype in London -- Madonna, who launched her London tour on American Independence Day.

From her Like a Virgin breakthrough nearly two decades ago to today's "Mother and Fucker" iconography, Madonna has made a career of expressing sexual contradictions. In the early days, the self-made Madonna did what a lot of girls do with big dreams and little resources -- use their sex to open doors. Early magazine profiles show the budding material girl crossing sexual boundaries by selling nude pics for cash, and trading sex for food, a place to stay or star-making chances. Sure, Madonna's choices then might have wrinkled Sally's morality nose, but given the chance to hang with her now, Sally would surely stick the same nose up Madonna's proverbial butt.

On Sally's show, a plain and pudgy guest, Destiny, says she started stripping at 19 to make more money to raise her daughter. It was a theme echoed by nearly every shameless stripper on stage. Destiny describes the one time she took cash for sex, when she was three months pregnant. The father was nowhere around. She had a baby on the way. She did what she had to do. Easy.

One of the two Divas also has a child, but both dancers are in college, both invest their money and one, Joey, dances to fund her "art." Although more accepting of these two from the upscale strip scene, Sally rambles on about how work should involve "selling your intelligence, worth, heart and soul, not your bodies." Okay, maybe I agree that work should ideally be about applying things other than your body. But we should all be so lucky. Ferrari certainly wasn't using her worth, heart and soul when waitressing. She did what she had to do to get to the next place. For some, there is never a next place, whether working as a maid or construction laborer or tollbooth taker. We do what we know.

And given the ubiquitous commercialization of sex, little girls know early on the power of sex for sale. Though Madonna controls and shapes her sexual messages, she still demonstrates its power to sell. Though Britney clings to a public virginity, her sex more than her music sells. Though Lara Croft kicks ass, her game videos penetrate the testosterone crowd only because of her sexual dimensions. Even Sally cashes in with her teen strippers theme. Every day executives, managers, handlers, marketers from record labels, TV, Hollywood, Madison Avenue all package and sell sex in spades.

Since Eastern Europe's economic security net crumbled with Communism, prostitution has exploded, as women learn to capitalize on their only valued assets. Russian Mail Order Brides have become a multi-million dollar industry, as daring, poverty-stricken women seek the American dream.

Which leads to the hidden player in sex-for-sale finger wagging -- the customer. As women scold women for their chosen sex work, men remain invisible in their chosen consumption. When Joey, who sold Bibles before dancing, refers to her mother arguing against her work, she says, "The thing is that this business was created by men for men. Yeah, we capitalize on that. But instead of parents telling their daughters not to strip, they should go home and tell their sons not to go to clubs."

And maybe we would better serve those caught up in the sex-for-sale industry by recognizing that there's not much difference between a Go-Go Club or Gentlemen's Club or Record Label or Corporate Marketing Campaign or TV Show or any work-for-hire, except for subtlety and fortune.

Lara Riscol is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America," a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver. Write to her at sexaware@home.com.

The Radical Notion of Sex for Pleasure

He walks up behind me as I stand on a wall overlooking the orange-shimmering sea. He places one hand flat above my pelvis, the other gently on the small of my back, slips a finger up my belly button and moves my energy until I silently scream. Later, we wine and dine, talk and laugh. On a balcony, we explore each other's bodies, lit by a thunderstorm. Touching and tasting. Slowly, starting and finishing with the face. Lips brushing, sucking the mouth, sides of the nose, hard between the eyes, tracing the eyelids. Entering the other with an urgency to consume, to be consumed, throughout the night, morning, and still wanting more.

When my mind pushes the replay button, I see that all my best sex has been for pleasure. Not sex for power or longing or need or hope. Not to be loved or wanted or desired. Not in exchange for commitment, security or promises. Not to meet expectations. But sex for pleasure. Raw, sweet, sad. Fun, powerful, intimate. Transcendent. Tender. Mind-blowing. Exquisite, loving pleasure.

This week the U.S. Surgeon General came out with a "Call to Action" for sexual health and responsible sexual behavior. Dr. David Satcher did what no other U.S. political appointee has had the courage, will or capacity to do before -- lay out scientific steps to address the sociosexual ills ravaging America. The very topics of the unprecedented report -- HIV and AIDS, teenage pregnancy, abortion, adolescent promiscuity, incest, violence against sexual minorities -- might make some uncomfortable. But perhaps most controversial is Dr. Satcher's acknowledgement that "beyond procreation, sex is for pleasure."

Radical? Sure, considering America's restrictive political fury surrounding sex and morality. Past Surgeons General have faced backlash when addressing sex. Reagan's Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, endured conservatives' wrath when calling for AIDS education in public schools. Clinton's Dr. Joycelyn Elders was instantly slammed for suggesting that maybe kids should be taught that masturbation is natural and normal.

As I sit writing in a Paris sidewalk café (yeah, pretty original), I watch young lovers walk by arm in arm, lost in each other's gaze, and wonder when teen sex became so taboo in America. And when did Republicans became the party to dictate what consenting adults do in private? How did my country become so enamored with the cult of virginity, electing a president who didn't save himself for marriage, but advances millions of taxpayer dollars to tell other people -- younger, poorer -- to do just that?

Moreover, how in such an "evolved" country does federal legislation officially sanction sex in marriage as the standard for human sexuality? What authority!

My last sexuality conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, intimate and intense, mostly explored the pain, chaos and politics of sexuality. Not unlike the public discourse in the States. But now I'm attending the 15th World Congress on Sexology, the first to be sponsored by the World Health Organization, involving more than 2000 participants and 80 countries. Here the overriding theme is pleasure.

"At this conference, we will focus on the future of sexology in the third millennium," says Dr. Eli Coleman, president of the co-sponsoring World Association of Sexology and special advisor to the Surgeon General's report. "Sexology is growing and vibrant. Sexual health is now recognized as essential for basic health of an individual, couple and society. Sexual rights are recognized as basic and universal human rights." He concludes with, "Sex has many multi-faceted purposes. However, one of the most important purposes is pleasure."

Fine for France, but I don't see the "sex for pleasure" theme selling so hot in the USA -- not unless tied to a product, of course. Definitely not for young people, those of the same sex, the elderly, or non-procreating unmarried lovers, period. Several sexual healthcare and education colleagues tell me about retirement home administrators all in a fuss about keeping little old men out of little old ladies' rooms, especially in Florida. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is fighting felony cases of pleasure in Massachusetts, one involving a woman and an "object of self-abuse," another over consenting adults and S & M. The Medical Institute for Sexual Health, based in Texas, spends all its research and PR efforts to detail the death and danger of unmarried sex.

I've written about various sexual controversies, but no column has warranted such ugly feedback as the one about a purely pleasurable topic -- masturbation. In another column about gay and lesbian rights and the inequity of sodomy laws, I remarked that my husband and I practice sodomy regularly (defined as anything other than non-procreative sex). That inspired a self-proclaimed Christian to email his condolences, questioning my womanhood and vaginal elasticity.

I have, and will continue to talk about the political and media contradictions surrounding teen sex, homosexuals, the transgendered, polyamorists, porn consumers or you-name-the-sexual-deviant. Because although for now I happen to enjoy simplicity and connection with hubby over gadgets, right-wing advocacy for married sex as the only sanctioned sex ultimately zaps the pleasure from such entitlement of expression. Could it be Dr. Satcher's report will begin to challenge that?

Lara Riscol is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America," a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver. Write to her at sexaware@home.com.

A Strange Sexual Alliance

Nothing like traveling overseas to view America through a cleansed lens. I began in Sarajevo, then Montenegro, which along with Serbia is the last of Yugoslavia and the next expected to erupt into civil war, and am now in Dubrovnik, Croatia, having finished a "Sexuality in Transitions" conference exploring sociosexual issues in post-Communist countries. One Croatian friend, who works with refugees and has survived such war and conflict horrors this past decade that I will only ever read about, calls my country "a freak show." Typically, through his travels and news consumption, he knows more about politics, history and cultural trends in the United States than do most Americans.

Conference presenters ranged in age from early 20s to late 70s and, as Bush was making his first presidential visit to a skeptical Europe, they taught me that the United States indeed has more in common sexually with their emerging democracies than with our Western allies. As in the States, many Eastern European countries are experiencing increased adolescent promiscuity and sexual violence, exploding rates of AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, and a takeover by Church and conservatives of sexual discourse and policy.

Many here are surprised to learn the U.S. has dramatically higher rates of STDs, teenage pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, abortion and sexual violence than any industrialized country and many "developing" countries. They are even more wowed to learn of our growing Chastity movement and government-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. That to receive the funds, teachers must proclaim abstinence is the only sure way to prevent disease and pregnancy, and can mention contraception and condoms only to present (or inflate) their failure rate. That the sex education we do have addresses the risks of unwanted preganany, STDS and AIDS, or what one Croatian sociology professor calls the "discourse of catastrophe."

Beholden to the U.S.'s official line of marital sex as the only valid sex, schools, churches and most parents shun discussing pleasure, lovemaking, partner negotiation, masturbation or sexual standards. We dismiss as promiscuous Europe's integrated approach to sex as natural and human. We espouse a fear-based "just say no" ultimatum over Europe's parental, education and media push to teach responsible sexuality in elementary schools, on television, radio, billboards and clubs and to make accessible free or low-cost contraception. We hold up repression of information and services as superior morality, yet experience first intercourse a year or two earlier than do our European counterparts. A recent comparative study of sexuality in France and the U.S. found young French lovers have fewer partners than do young Americans.

Whereas Bush was greeted by protests on his European tour, he would likely receive wild applause further east if he were to present the same abstinence-only-until-marriage dogma he trumpets in the States. A recent Croatian public awareness campaign on AIDS featured hearts, but not condoms. Sex education in Eastern Europe, where youth face ever more risk, is mostly non-existent except as a political scapegoat to discredit liberals and feminists as immoral and ungodly. According to Igor S. Kon, from the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian media often asserts sex education programs are designed by pedophiles and gay men.

Recent research found that Russian youth are at the heart of a looming AIDS crisis, and the study's lead author concluded the "urgent need for sexual education" based on rampant misconceptions about AIDS and STDs. Kon too agrees that sex education is the "only reasonable answer to this challenge ... but since 1997 all efforts in this direction have been blocked by a powerful anti-sexual crusade, organized by the Russian Communist Party and the Russian Orthodox Church and supported by 'Pro-Life.'"

In 1997, just as U.S. schools were supplanting sex education with the nation's first systemic and often religious-run abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the Russian Academy of Education concluded Russia doesn't need sex education since it was successfully being done by the Church. The Academy president said that instead of children's "right to know," educators should defend children's "right not to know."

In the 1999 parliamentary elections, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation presented their "anti-sex education" campaign as its most important political victory. Russian Planned Parenthood Association -- which Kon says is the only organization since 1991 to take action "to reduce the rate of abortion and promote sexual contraceptive knowledge" -- is one of the CP's and Christian fundamentalists' main targets, denounced as a "satanic institution" propagating abortion and depopulation.

"The anti-sexual crusade is openly nationalistic, xenophobic, sexist, misogynistic and homophobic," Kon says. "Everything Russian is presented as pure, spiritual and moral, and everything Western as dirty and vile. Sex education is treated as the most serious attempt possible to undermine Russia's national security, more dangerous than HIV."

Although another recent American report again concluded that sex education does not lead to increased sexual activity, sane sexual policy in the United States is also held hostage by right-wing extremists. After threat of political hijacking, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said he'll release his much awaited, two-year report on sexual health by the end of this month. He captures the shameful reality of morality politics, "I can think of no other area where the gap between what we know and what we do is so lethal as in human sexuality."

Lara Riscol is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America," a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver. Write to her at sexaware@home.com.

The FCC Between These Thighs

WARNING: This column is for thinking adults and is meant to offend.
The only thing that was on my mind
Was just shoving my dick up this bitch's behind
I looked at the girl and said
Babe, your ass ain't nothing but a base hit
I'm going to have to get rid of your ass, yeah
'Cause you're on my dick, dick, ding-a-ling
You might not be surprised that the Federal Communications Commission used these lyrics from Hi-C's "I'm Not Your Puppet" as an example in its recently released enforcement policy of broadcast indecency. The FCC issued the radio and TV guidelines of indecent/not indecent seven years after announcing it would and 27 years after the Supreme Court confirmed its authority to do so.

But I was astounded to learn that the FCC has fined community radio KBOO-FM in Portland, Oregon, for playing Sarah Jones' "Your Revolution" during its rap and hip hop program. On advice of its lawyers, KBOO suspended Urban Music Director and unpaid volunteer Deena Barnwell, who spun the profanity-free, critically lauded social commentary.

What was in the song that caused such uproar? Soft and slow, poet/actor/singer Jones repeats, "Your revolution will not happen between these thighs" in a contemporary turn on the classic civil rights poem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

Jones sings what screams silent from MTV videos; that "The real revolution ain't about bootie size, the Versaces you buys, or the Lexus you drives." She skims the abstinence-only theme with, "Your revolution ain't gonna knock me up without no ring" and "Your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip drip V.D. shot."

And then she gets sexy with feminist sass:
You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of
French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe
Or having Akinyele's dream, um hum
A six foot blow job machine, um hum
You wanna subjugate your Queen, uh-huh
Think I'm gonna put it in my mouth just because you
Made a few bucks?
Please brother please
The 26-year-old artist recalls the song's genesis. At a Puffy-promoted party, "I was standing there like some video ho, singing along to 'bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks.' And I thought, Something has gone awry. This is not me, you know, I disagree!"

But when she stepped up to counter the erosive commercial norm with "Your Revolution," the FCC declared her work to offend the community norm. In its order forcing KBOO to fork over $7000, the FCC maintained that "The rap song 'Your Revolution' contains unmistakable patently offensive sexual references ... the sexual references appear to be designed to pander and shock."

To determine what's offensive, the FCC concentrates on the depiction of "sexual or excretory organs or activities" and its "risk to children." But why the focus on sex and shit? And must offensive, as in unpleasant and insulting, necessarily be a bad thing for kids and the community when it rattles through the numbing blather elsewhere in broadcast land? And who are these people who decide?

Personally, I find old men with young women offensive, but I don't wish to ban Michael Douglas and Sean Connery films. I'm offended by Howard Stern's sophomoric fixation on boobs and farts. By Rush Limbaugh's bloated sense of righteousness. By Dr. Laura's moral hypocrisy. But that comes with the democracy territory, as does Eminem winning Grammys for his violent spew, and Kid Rock winning commercial success and girlfriend Pamela Anderson with such ditties as "Fuck U Blind":
I like that long hair swingin in them Calvin Klines
I pull them young, start fuckin with their virgin minds
I give a fuck about your poppa or your mother
I'll walk up on your ass and bitch slap your brother say
I'll fuck u blind bitch.
As the FCC shields children from feminist Sarah Jones, MTV serves up Kid Rock and Limp Biskit music videos starring America's fave porn babes. Our kids sing along to the heavily played Nine Inch Nails' "I wanna f-bleep-k you like an animal" and the heavier played Limp Biskit's "Nookie":
I did it all for the nookie, c'mon
The nookie, c'mon
So you can take that cookie
And stick it up your...yeah!
Stick it up your...
(Here my 15-year-old nieces turn up the car radio and chime in with "Aaa!" letting me know, without cussing, what nether regions Fred wants to stick it. And like they don't know what nookie means?)

Anyone who listens to morning shock jocks will hear things much cruder and ruder, and less edifying than "Your Revolution." What if KBOO plays another political rap song by Fuck The Creationists, "Why Won't Jesse Helms Just Hurry Up And Die?"
Big fat fuck from North Carolina state
He's a worthless piece of shit, he's a paragon of hate
He's a redneck, fuck-face, brain-dead waste of space
Two-bit, two-timing, motherfucking pool of slime
Against gay rights, and funding for the arts
Tried to cancel PBS and tear Big Bird apart
Cut AIDS funding, corporate welfare for the rich
He's a shameless money grubber, he's a two dollar bitch
Not sure what kind of airtime this song gets, but I wonder if the FCC would deem it obscene should the DJ bleep the cuss words. Or would the white-bread bureaucrats -- who find sexy lyrics protesting mainstream objectification of women indecent and patently offensive -- rather stay between these thighs?

Lara Riscol is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America," a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver. Write to her at sexaware@home.com.

The Politics of Overnight Birth Control

Neighbors said she played often with her 13-month-old son in the front yard of her parent's home where she lived. Two baby swings, yellow and red, hang on ropes from limbs of a small tree. She was 16 when she got pregnant. Married the father. That Saturday morning when he was away serving in the Marines, she changed their boy's diaper, strapped him into the back car seat and drove to work at McDonalds. Eight hours and 130 degrees later, Diana Rodriguez returned to her car and dead baby. Screaming, she refused to give the body to paramedics. "It was a busy day. I didn't mean it. I forgot." She now faces up to 16 years in prison.

The headlines read "13-Month-Old Died in Car While Woman at Job." But usually someone her age -- a teenager -- is called a child, an innocent who must be shielded from temptation by education and sexual health services.

"Were talking about young people who can't remember to bring their homework to school or set their alarm clock -- and yet we want them to remember to use a condoms every time they engage in sexual intercourse?" says the head of the Florence, Kentucky health board's human sexuality committee, which decided abstinence-only is in, sex education's out.

Too young and irresponsible to handle sexual knowledge, but better be ready for baby should pregnancy follow the dirty deed. Who knows if Rodriguez had planned to become a mom before graduating from high school? But odds are she was taught to save herself for marriage. Dismiss her story as an isolated tragedy, one that has nothing to do with anything except one young woman's horrendous move. Or roll it into the many daily stories that dot headlines nationwide, such as abandoned infants at fire stations and dumpsters, shaking deaths by fathers trying to stop the crying, or parents otherwise ill prepared to bring a new life into this world.

The irrefutable fact is we are not giving young people the internal or external resources needed to make smart reproductive choices. Or adults. As the world zips ahead at technological warp speed, expanding and complicating possibilities found before only in science fiction -- cyberspace, cloning, fertility treatment, robotics, globalization -- government cranks back the clock to limit and simplify by legislating against sexual health services and education. Have sex, suffer the consequences is resurrected as public policy. Should an "oops" pregnancy happen -- and half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended -- conservatives are hard at work to ensure the pregnant one won't know of or can't exercise the latest medical options.

Called the biggest kept secret in medicine, emergency contraception (EC) can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse to either block ovulation or, if too late, prevent the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. Research shows the two-dose hormone pills could cut the nation's three million unintended pregnancies a year in half, as well as 800,000 abortions. The true impact of EC is extricating individual lives, existing and potential, from, say, the drunken heat of the moment, forced sex, a night's desperation for promised love or a just broken condom.

But since the FDA approved two "morning after" pills three years ago, Preven and Plan B, political debate has raged over this technology that permits consequence-free non-procreative sex. Health advocates are pushing to make EC more accessible, as in Europe. W. Benson Harer Jr, the new president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recently asked doctors to give women advance prescriptions of Preven, Plan B or Micronor during routine visits. California has a bill to make emergency contraception available over the counter, so that women, in an emergency, can obtain it without a prior doctor's visit. Only Washington state now provides that option. Last month eight California counties launched a pilot program that allows EC distribution without prescription.

San Bernardino County, however, made an unprecedented pill-ban request to bar emergency contraception in county-run health clinics. Denied by the California Family Health Council, the request should wind its way to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this year. "[Our] motivation is based upon a desire to protect children in our County and to uphold community standards, preserve local control and to defend parental rights," wrote the chairman of the County Board of Supervisors. Never mind that county health records show the vast majority of the pills recipients were not teens, but poor women without insurance or access to family planning.

What the proposed ban does fall in line with is the right's mission to deny medication to those most vulnerable to an unwanted pregnancy. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) has sponsored an education amendment to deny federal funds to school-based health centers that provide emergency contraception without parental consent. A second Helms amendment withdraws funds from "any state or local education agency," should EC be distributed on the premises period.

Of course when it comes to government withholding medical options, the vulnerable are always the most afflicted. Each year, some 32,000 women become pregnant from sexual assault; half abort. In several states, lawmakers spar with the Catholic Church to mandate hospitals, including the multiplying Catholic-affiliated ones, to dispense emergency contraception to rape victims. The Catholic health system, the nation's largest nonprofit health care delivery, can refuse reproductive services under legislated "conscience clauses." Illinois, the first state to reach an EC compromise, will require hospitals to merely inform rape victims of the pills' availability. Some Catholic hospitals offer the pills only after testing the victim to ensure she's not ovulating, thus giving the rapist's sperm a fighting chance.

Emergency contraception falls into the abortion debate's great divide -- when does life begin? The extreme right believes every sperm and egg is potential life, and stands against all medical contraception. Wal-Mart, the nation's fifth-largest pharmacy chain, circumvented controversy early on by refusing to ever fill EC prescriptions. Since the pills work best within 12 hours of intercourse, Wal-Mart's ban affects millions of women in their childbearing years, especially those in rural areas who have nowhere else nearby to go.

Meanwhile, Pharmacists for Life International is offering legal support to pharmacists who refuse to fill EC prescriptions. Pharmacist Karen Bauer lost her job of seven years with a Cincinnati Kmart for her "it stops human life" refusal, and her case has gone to court. Several states are considering legislation to protect such "conscientious objectors." The media has treated Bauer's case as a moral stand. But is it moral to accept a health care position delivering medication to those in need, and then unilaterally decide which legal prescriptions not to provide based on your personal beliefs? Could a Christian Scientist become a pharmacist and not fill prescriptions because God will heal?

Only hardliners equate emergency contraception -- which can spare a woman and her loved ones the agonizing decision to abort or give birth to an unwanted child -- with abortion. No fetus forming in the uterus. No fingers. No toes. No heartbeat. But pandering to hardliners, President Bush overruled Secretary of State Colin Powell's selection and nominated U.N. Vatican representative John Klink to head the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. The anti-family planning, anti-condom Klink could soon have power to stop emergency contraception from further being included in some health kits to refugees forced out of their homes during war and conflict.

Set to fly his anti-abortion colors, President Bush told Catholic leaders that his faith-based initiative would help the "life" movement, "because when you're talking about welcoming people of faith to help people who are disadvantaged and are unable to defend themselves, the logical step is also those babies."

But the administration continues to whittle away fundamental steps to prevent the need for abortion. Internationally, President Bush reinstated UN restrictions for family planning funding. Nationally, he increased funding for abstinence-only programs, which supplant sex education and mention birth control only to discuss their inflated failure rate. More baffling, he moved to eliminate birth control coverage for federal employees, affecting 1.2 million women and their ability to manage the size of their family.

The Bush-loving hardliners, who call themselves pro-life, pro-family, flex swelling political muscle to regress our nation to when sex means life or death, always.

Maybe teenage Rodriguez would have baked her baby boy in a parked car while working all day even if she had access to sex education and the latest reproductive services. Even if she had been taught early on that her sex is part of her beautiful, valued self, not something she does. Even if she had been given ample information and support to make sound choices before or after getting pregnant.

But today's political reality forbids all that. I share responsibility for her loss, as must other Americans who influence the myriad of policies denying education and sexual health options in the name of morality and life.

Lara Riscol is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America," a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver. Write to her at sexaware@home.com.

The Reverend and the Prostitute

It's Masturbation Day as I write this, and my husband is rock climbing under a sunny, clear Colorado sky. I'd rather be out playing with my sweetie and friends, but instead I must stay home and play with myself as to not disappoint my trusting sponsors. Between my sex and culture column and the Toys in Babeland Masturbate-A-Thon, today's a workday.

I know, not bad as far as work goes, but a job definitely not appreciated by all. Earlier, a producer for the Alan Colmes Show asked if I would appear on the talk radio program with someone opposed to what I'm doing. "Masturbation or the Masturbate-A-Thon?" I asked. "You mean there's someone against it?" I know after a three-year Church investigation into a pro-masturbation priest's arguments, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger just decreed that masturbation is still bad and Catholics shouldn't do it. But I was pretty certain no one had the Vatican Cardinal in mind to debate me.

Still, I was so nervous about my radio debut that I vomited the lobster and garlic dinner hubby made as I awaited the phone call from Colmes. After being introduced and asked to explain "Why I'll Masturbate On May 20," the title of my last column, I learned firsthand the definition of broadside. Reverend Tom Pedigo, founder of the National Alliance Against Christian Discrimination, launched with, "Just when I thought I've heard and seen it all ... this is the most licentious and sensationalistic ... " and he concluded, "You are nothing more than a prostitute."

Okay, we've already established that at least for today I'm a working woman. But dismissing me right out of the gate as a harlot is misogynistic and uncreative. But then that slam is tame compared to the pedophile smear slapped on sexologist Vern Bullough, who has authored dozens of books, including Sexual Attitudes: Myths and Realities. I should be so lucky to attain such notoriety. With sex as ground zero, America's culture war has drawn the line between god's creatures on one side and pervs on the other. During the radio show, Reverend Tom claimed the moral high ground, saying his work "upholds traditional values," while mine challenges them.

But I can think of a zillion things more licentious and sensationalistic than the Masturbate-A-Thon, including the Starr Report, and it seems so can the Reverend. I later learned he's also the founder of Winning Edge Ministries for fallen religious leaders, a program "dedicated to take back what sin and Satan has stolen from the church!" Turns out Pedigo had a lifelong "affair with pornography" as well as with a woman from his 700-member church in Michigan, which once exposed, cost him his ministry and almost his marriage.

Now I understand why he assailed sex unchecked. He talked in circles: masturbation is a gray area according to the Bible, but men need pornography to masturbate to and then they fantasize about Pamela Anderson when they have sex with their wives, and porn blah-blah homosexuals, blah-blah masturbate to children! I will never know the demons Rev. Pedigo and his family must wrestle. But his self-proclaimed "burden" to galvanize believers against "this dark and decaying world" seems more an internal affair than one to unload on the rest of us.

Still, as the Colorado state director for the American Family Association, the Rev. Pedigo makes pornography and obscenity his public nemesis. Apparently, one evil threat is the Colorado Springs Independent. For a year and a half, the alternative weekly has battled a Pedigo-led boycott against the paper's "ever-increasingly immoral and offensive" content.

Publisher John Weiss says, "People write letters anonymously, and it's always anonymous, saying that ‘If you advertise in or distribute the Independent, you're going to be boycotted by Christians.' But it's not all Christians, it's just a small group." One could easily shelve Pedigo and gang as what Weiss calls "a perpetual pain in the butt." Except, the "moral policeman" is an insidious role that the religious right assumes nationwide.

Coincidentally, May is Masturbation Month, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and, thanks in part to the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, Victims of Pornography Month. One FRC online article explains that porn is like "a gigantic sticky web that entangles many innocent people. Women who are treated like sex objects, children who are abused, wives who are abandoned: these are some of the victims of pornography."

Funny, conservatives trust corporate executives to voluntarily not pollute the environment or exploit workers. They trust taxpayers to voluntarily contribute to community needs. But they don't trust a man to indulge in self-pleasure without acting out his fantasies in addictive mania. Too much of any behavior at the expense of intimate relationships can be a problem. But most of us just like to feel good, and take the opportunity to do so without hurting anyone else or ourselves, no matter what warped images may play out in our heads.

As George Carlin said, "If God hadn't meant us to masturbate, he'd have made our arms shorter." Or as progressive Radio Volta's Reverend Bookburn says of the Masturbate-A-Thon, "Humor and sexuality are things freedom and justice can have that the theocrats and misogynists cannot."

What the "reverends" have today that we "prostitutes" do not, however, is political clout. Despite Family Research Council's gross generalizations regarding sexual issues, President Bush supplanted the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association with the anti-abortion FRC in last week's U.S. Delegation to World Health Assembly in Geneva. Politics over health. Now that's immoral.

Lara Riscol is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America," a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver. Write to her at sexaware@home.com.

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