Sexy Sex Newsy News — Week of January 11-17, 2014

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The Wide, Wide World of Porn
It’s not the first time someone has done a bit of hard science to track pornography consumption patterns: In 2009, Harvard economics professor Ben Edelman looked at Internet porn traffic and announced the amusing news (well, it amused me) that Utah was in the first place among all fifty states when it came to sexy vid consumption. Economics: it’s not the dismal science any more! And the revelation made me feel that Utah had put its Porn Czar to good use. But that’s just the USA! What do we learn when we turn our attention to the whole world?

As Salon, by way of GlobalPost, reports, there are still things to learn about the US; apparently Kentucky favors hentai–Japanese animated porn. Well, how ’bout that? But when we go ’round the world in waaaay more than 80 ways–thanks to ‘Net porn giant PornHub’s in-house research blog, which sounds worth a visit–we find details about traffic, search terms, and even what happens to porn searches in the wake of major world events. (An international soccer tournament in Brazil will deflate porn traffic the way a spiked shoe will a ball.) The Guardian takes its data seriously and delved into what PornHub’s research said about the UK; it ran an infographic that, if it weren’t in blue, would look quite a bit like an ejaculation, so. There’s also a handy way to search for your own town (how do Brits measure up? Ware in Hertfordshire is #1, a fact explored in another Guardian piece by Ware resident Lisa Bachelor: “PornHub’s findings will undoubtedly be the only association some people make with the town from now on. There are already jokes circulating about how the Great Bed of Ware will now be viewed in a whole different light”); plus a cute infographic showing the top search terms by country. Why do people in the US search so often for the term “creampie”?

By the way, “the Great Bed of Ware” is, indeed, a great bed, from Ware: enormous, fabulous, ancient (ca. 1590 CE), and a star holding of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If anyone made a porno on this bed, I, for one, being an Antiques Roadshow fetishist, would totally watch it. Anyway, the V&A’s own website says of it: “The four-poster bed is famously over three metres wide, the only known example of a bed of this size, and reputedly able to accommodate at least four couples.” Ben Jonson gave it its moniker, and one would imagine that he ought to know.

All this, while possibly worth some lucky student’s senior thesis, doesn’t go to the heart of international political drama like a different piece of porn research, that done by Mother Jones last year and linked in articles published in the Guardian and Huffington Post. Analyzing Google searches, it finds that the top country searching for gay, or man-fucking-man, porn is none other than that hellhole of homophobia, Uganda. Do Robert and I need to pen an update on our theory of absexuality? Why yes, I guess we do. You will remember that homosexuality has recently become a life-in-prison offense in that country (they walked back the death penalty talk after international outcry), and it’s even against the law to fail to nark on a homosexual if you know or suspect one. And these guys are Googling more gay porn than anybody else? Stunning.

When you visit the HuffPo article, don’t miss the video interview with filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, whose recent God Loves Uganda documentary “explores the role of the American Evangelical movement in fueling Uganda’s terrifying turn towards biblical law and the proposed death penalty for homosexuality in this enlightening but shocking exposé” (thanks, Google, for that concise précis). Williams points out that a comparable crackdown has begun in Nigeria, and that other African countries and communities are at risk from this cross-cultural meddling.

Doing the Vatican Rag
Speaking of religion, the Catholic upper echelon is in the hot seat this week in Geneva; the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child invited the Vatican to provide some detailed information about its knowledge of child abuse cases last month, it declined to do so, and this week, because the Vatican is a signatory to an international treaty addressing the rights of the child, the UN mandated the visit and testimony. That’s right–the UN basically busted the Vatican and sent them a subpoena.

Vatican spokesmen acknowledged problems that, on the one hand, they are working to fix; apparently Pope Benedict, himself once under fire for laxness and possible child abuse cover-ups, defrocked a record number of abuser priests in his last couple of years as Pope. And the BBC reports that “[i]n a homily on Thursday, Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, called abuse scandals ‘the shame of the Church’. He announced in December that a Vatican committee would be set up to fight sexual abuse of children in the Church.” John Cornwell, in a Guardian op-ed, noted: “The power and scope of Catholicism’s moral voice in the world – on issues as diverse as the environment, war, terrorism, world hunger and the homeless – has plummeted as a consequence of the clerical child abuse scandal. While priests abused their young sexually, bishops and even the Vatican often failed to act. At the same time, non-stop papal denunciations of the sexual sins of consenting adults gave an impression of hypocrisy right up to the papacy.” Mmm-hmmm. As we’ve noted before in this column, the current Pope is singing a new tune; Cornwell: “He adds, as if to avoid accusations of rank heresy: ‘The teaching of the church… is clear and I am a son of the church.’ Then he hammers home his point: ‘But it is not necessary to talk about these issues [that is, homosexuality and contraception] all the time.’ This is good news for those Catholics who believe that there should be more to being Catholic than an obsession with what happens between the sheets.”

On the other hand, the Vatican also claimed in the hearing that the legal status of abusive priests are not theirs to handle: They are citizens of countries whose law enforcement bodies should be the ones to handle malfeasance. Not surprisingly, this excuse didn’t go over well with abuse survivors, who were out in force to observe the proceedings. Furthermore, this is a recent switch, as the Guardian reminds us: “For centuries, the church has had its own in-house procedures to deal with priests who sexually abuse children. One of the chief accusations from victims is that bishops put the church’s own procedures ahead of civil law enforcement by often suggesting victims keep accusations quiet while they are dealt with internally… The maximum penalty for a priest convicted by a church tribunal is essentially losing his job: being defrocked, or removed from the clerical state. There are no jail terms and nothing to prevent an offender from raping again.”

Coverage of the hearings and their run-up comes from the Guardian, ABC News, and the BBC, which ran a Q&A about the entire clergy abuse scandal this week (in case aliens have just landed and need to catch up on the broad facts of the crisis).

Surveying Teen Sexuality: Did a Bunch of Boys TP a Major Research Study?
Were people just not paying attention last month when we observed that US survey research methods had uncovered a surprisingly high number of virgin births? Now we have a new survey scandal. In a study on youth thought to have been really significant (N=14,000), there is new doubt raised because the number of teenagers who reported they were gay or bisexual was unexpectedly high: too high, commentators now fret. In a reevaluation of the 1994-2008 research, The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a.k.a. Add Health, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers address their concern that the 5-7% of teen males who answered Add Health questions affirmatively when asked about “romantic attraction” for other males should have been a red flag all along. It’s a higher number than other studies have found (they expected to see more like 1%), but more importantly, a follow-up study with the same subjects reported lower numbers again.

Why on earth don’t people just touch base with me when these things happen? The researchers stated that people don’t go back in the closet once they’ve come out, but that’s a significant assumption; in a climate of mounting conservatism, homophobia and high-profile cases of bullying and suicide, some certainly might. (Exhibit one: Uganda.) LGBTQ peoples’ personal narratives frequently reflect struggle with sexual orientation issues; nothing I know about this particular research suggests to me that they were looking specifically at that issue, but rather extrapolating from other information that may not have reflected this question adequately. Worse, there is an implication that perhaps the original study’s conclusions about the relationship of homosexuality/ homophobia to teen suicide might have been overstated, but this relationship is not new at all; in 1983 the late scholar, gay activist and youth/educator advocate Eric Rofes published his book “I Thought People Like That Killed Themselves” about the harmful link between suicide and internalized as well as external homophobia. If researchers purported to discover such a link in the 21st century, it only means that they didn’t do much of a lit search on this topic before they started to create their research instrument. And may I just remind everyone: Homophobia in the US may be retreating, statistically (at least as far as attitudes toward marriage equality are concerned, and there is evidence that homophobia is generally lower among the young–if both these things are in fact correct, we are seeing a shift over generations that might well lead us to believe that we would see fewer sequelae of homophobic beliefs and actions). Nevertheless, high-profile evidence of homophobia remains very visible. This insults and pisses off grown-up queers (or worse); but it can and does profoundly undermine young ones who have no support networks.

Having said all that–I hope my sociologists were taking notes, since that academic field sometimes really needs a sexologist to review their survey instruments–let me just say that if teenaged boys were having a good time filling out the intrusive piece of paper, it would be no huge surprise; I myself used to write margin notes on my census paperwork because I found its questions insulting. I mean, come on–romantic attraction? It’s of course possible that this survey is compromised; not sure whether it goes into the virgin birth problem, but it seems that a number of young amputees had re-grown limbs by the time the follow-up was done. “We should have known something was amiss,” [researcher Ritch] Savin-Williams said, according to LiveScience. “One clue was that most of the kids who first claimed to have artificial limbs (in the physical-health assessment) miraculously regrew arms and legs when researchers came back to interview them.” Re-heterosexualizing oneself would maybe be just a titch easier than that… and it’s fore sure easier to fake.

More about the problem of getting rowdy teenage goofballs to take survey research seriously: Science Daily and the Huffington Post also ran stories.

Speaking of Teenagers… Park Yours in Front of the TV
…when MTV‘s show 16 and Pregnant comes on. CNN reports that new research seems to confirm lower teen pregnancy rates among youth who watch this show, which depicts how difficult actually dealing with a pregnancy and baby can be. Is it better than carrying a raw egg around in your backpack? Maybe. CNN says:

“Teens may turn to TV shows about sex because they’re lacking other options, Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, says. A recent study published in the medical journal JAMA showed that doctors certainly aren’t spending a lot of time talking about the important topic: The average conversation about sex between doctors and teens in the study lasted less than two minutes… ‘I think the takeaway here is that media can be, and often is, a force for good,’ Albert said. “We have always viewed these particular shows as sex education for the 21st century.'”

Catching Up with Previous Stories
Body Image, Fashion Mags, and the Lena Dunham Photoshop Scandal
Put a bird on it!*  Lena Dunham’s back in the news again this week, this time because the Girls creator and star, darling of real-body** fans everywhere, popped up on the cover of Vogue and starred in a photo-spread by Annie Leibovitz. Sweet! Or is it? Jezebel, which made its name some years back by ripping back the curtain between fashion-mag pics (all Photoshopped to Jesus–c’mon, don’t act so surprised) and showing the pre-‘Shopped reality. Singer Faith Hill was its first catch, and Jez returned to its glory days this week by offering $10,000 for the unretouched versions of the Dunham shoot. Within hours, of course, they had them. (Doesn’t Vogue pay their Art Department staff enough? Or maybe Leibovitz still has crushing bills since Susan Sontag died. Hmmm, it’s a mystery.)

The kerfuffle that ensued has enough salience to indicate that Jez knew what it was doing. Some commentators got it right away: Of course Vogue altered the images even of the 21st century’s natural-body It Girl–altering images of women is what fashion mags do! (The detrimental effects of this were also well-aired, which added to Jezebel‘s point.) In “What Can We Learn from Unretouched Dunham Pics?” NY Magazine notes, “…[T]he answer here was obvious all along: Vogue is 100 percent ‘resistant’ [Jezebel‘s term] to [the idea that a Dunham likes herself fine the way she is.]. As in, they retouch all women, regardless of their weight, beauty, self-esteem, or net worth. Their images are creative nonfiction, not journalism.” (Interesting comparison, coming from the “1000 Words Are Worth One Picture” crowd.) Others thought the fuss was beside the point; if you’ve already seen Lena Dunham naked, so what?

The Guardian‘s Angela Clarke makes solid points but doesn’t seem to know the Jezebel/Faith Hill backstory: “Jezebel claims it has acted out of anger at US Vogue for retouching Dunham’s image, saying that the editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, ‘fixed’ Dunham to make her ‘Vogue-worthy’. By publishing the original pictures, Jezebel wants to declare Dunham as its own: a feminist, positive body image role model. Which is great, but it has actually acted at odds with its own beliefs. Offering money to expose images of Dunham as retouched, as opposed to any of the other myriad stars that have graced Vogue‘s pages, is yet just another form of obsession with the star’s figure.”

*One pic shows Lena wearing a pigeon. Even that became fodder for the scandal, since it was accused of being a Photoshop add; Vogue huffily posted a pigeon pic to prove it was real.
** As the Guardian‘s Angela Clarke pointed out quite correctly, “I won’t say Dunham has a normal body, because what does normal even mean? Five minutes in a communal swimming pool changing room will soon present you with a smorgasbord of flesh…”

Many pubs piled on besides Jezebel and Vogue themselves: I consulted Slate, New York Magazine, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Seattle PI, and the Guardian.

Trans and Trans* Language
Last week we mentioned the trouble Katie Couric got into when she tried to ask Laverne Cox (trans performer from the Orange is the New Black ensemble cast) about what was in her pants and how it got that way. Faux pas in a big way, Katie! You’re curious about gender, go read some books. Dignified and clear, Cox and model Carmen Carrera, who was there too, explained to Katie and the world why this line of questioning was a problem. But if you missed that, want more, or are glad that this event prompted more stories on trans issues, check out T Cooper’s Slate essay on gender pronouns: CNN also weighed in, and I followed links to find a great Slate piece by Hugh Ryan from last week that explains a newer way to speak about gender variation: Trans*. “The label in question is trans*, and the asterisk stems from common computing usage wherein it represents a wildcard—any number of other characters attached to the original prefix. Thus, a computer search for trans* might pull up transmission, transitory, or transsexual. But in this neologism, the * is used metaphorically to capture all the identities—from drag queen to genderqueer —that fall outside traditional gender norms. (The asterisk usually goes unpronounced in spoken English, though some users do say ‘trans star’ or ‘trans asterisk’ for clarity’s sake.)”

Since up til now I have thought “RuPaul” when I hear the term “trans star,” I highly recommend. Also — awesome infographic by Sam Killermann!

Finally… 
“‘American Apparel is a company that celebrates natural beauty, and the Lower East Side Valentine’s Day window continues that celebration,’ a spokesperson told ABC News in a statement. ‘We created it to invite passersby to explore the idea of what is “sexy” and consider their comfort with the natural female form.'” ABC and Mediaite both show us why AA sent that press release; their NYC store sports mannequins in see-through underwear, and great care has been taken to depict them in full pubic fur: because mannequins don’t really get manufactured with puss hair, they sport bushy merkins. Personally, they had me at the glasses the fake ladies are also wearing.

The Times of Israel reports that “4000-Year-Old Erotica Depicts Strikingly Racy Sexuality“–if you, like I do, love archaeology stories but don’t generally find them sexy enough, get on over there! Just about as frisky as a painted amphora but more like the Indian bas-relief at Khajuraho (though in palm-sized chunks suitable for carrying around in the pocket of your robes), they’re pictured in the article and on display at the Israel Museum, pre-date the Kama Sutra, and “display graphically that Old Babylonian culture held an ‘exalted’ view of sex.”

And Nerve announces that gynecologists have stepped into the ring of new-fangled vibrator design with a G-spot vibe that looks a little like a pink stylized huggy bear. “It supposedly gets you to a third-level orgasm,” notes Nerve, and I have to confess that either I have paid too little attention to orgasm to know what that is (wait, what?) — or the gynecologists just made it up. It’s perfectly possible that it’s a swell vibrator, but in a country where many women still haven’t had any kind of orgasm at all, I hope the gynos are also giving informational lectures to their fellow professionals, who (mostly) get next to none of that in med school.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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