Sexy Sex, Newsy News: Year-End Roundup for 2014

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It’s been a truly action-packed year for sex, sexuality, and gender in the news. Not all the news has been good—but some has been downright game-changing. Here are my Top Ten-Plus-One stories and issues for 2014. If I don’t mention a topic you feel to be extra-Sexy & Newsy, please call it out in the Comments. Here’s to a 2015 full of sex, news, and progress!

Oh, and by the way: I know my Sexy Sex, Newsy News columns have been sporadic and often-AWOL this year, for which I apologize… There’s a good reason, which I can’t announce quiiiiite yet, but expect an announcement from Good Vibrations in 2015 that will let you know what I’ve been up to. Once that project is completed, I’ll be back to offering weekly commentary on sex and the news!–Carol Queen PhD, Staff Sexologist

Reproductive rights had a pretty tough year. The most ink was probably spilled on the Hobby Lobby’s corporate challenge to the affordable Care Act; the hot glue gun chain founded by conservative Christians argued against the mandate to offer insurance to female employees that would allow them to access certain kinds of birth control, and the Supreme Court came down on their side, though not without a passionate dissent from SCOTUS’s three women justices and their gentleman friend Stephen Breyer. This decision’s repercussions go significantly beyond access to contraceptives; it comes down to supporting business owners’ religiously-based objections to a law or mandated administrative procedure, so it may well crop up again in an LGBT rights (or other) context. Abortion rights across the country continued to be under attack, too, with restrictions on clinic operations an increasingly-used strategy.

Another fraught issue with social and medical implications, HIV and the AIDS epidemic, saw a year of gains, at least from one perspective. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PreP, was endorsed as an HIV prevention strategy for men who have sex with men by none other than the World Health Organization. PreP vs. condoms remains a controversial discussion, but many are glad to have PreP as part of their arsenal to fight the virus. Linked to the availability of this (relatively new) medical intervention was this year’s World AIDS Day’s theme, seeking to make possible the goal of an AIDS-free generation. Also this year the ban on blood donation by gay/bi/MsM men was lifted––sort of; now these guys can donate blood if they’ve been celibate for a year.

The death of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, may be the most significant obituary of the year for people interested in sexuality-related issues. Under his virulently homophobic leadership, he led his small flock by example––and pushed much of the nation the other way, including many churches who did not want their own faith to be tainted by his hate-filled rhetoric. Ironically, this ideologue may have pushed so hard against homosexuality that the whole society pushed back.

A religious leader/horse of another color is Pope Francis. The Guardian called him one of the “heroes of 2014” for his leadership on social justice issues, including those associated with his church’s historically hidebound stances on sexuality-related topics like contraception, LGBT issues, and clergy sexual abuse.

An early-year news story about a man who’d taken “upskirting” photos on public transit in Massachusetts was the bellwether of another huge 2014 story: consent is finally beginning to get its due in even the most mainstream media discussions of sexuality. That guy got off scot-free because it turned out that the great state of Massachusetts didn’t have a law against photographing people’s panties without their knowledge, but it does now; the legislature plugged that hole within a week of the news stories about the nonconsensual shutterbug. But that was just the beginning of the legal changes 2014 had in store for one of our favorite words. By the time schools reconvened in the fall, many US universities and colleges had been working hard to develop consent policies, and in September state law was changed in California to mandate a “Yes Means Yes” standard for determining sexual consent on college campuses.

The entire year seemed to play out Consent Culture vs. Rape Culture news stories. The federal Department of Education was directed to investigate dozens of colleges and universities who may be violating federal law in their handling of sexual assault cases. Many individual schools and cases had light shined on them, including Columbia, where senior Emma Sulkowicz has been carrying around a mattress, the site of her own sexual assault, in an activist performance project called “Carry that Weight” that has spread to other schools as well. The University of Virginia has been in the spotlight since a problematically-researched Rolling Stone article in November set off a firestorm, first about campus rape and administrative responses, then about the way the story was (or wasn’t) vetted by RS editors.

But the worlds of work and celebrity were far from exempt from the Rape Culture discourse. High-profile celebrity cases of alleged serial rape and sexual abuse by first Canada Public Radio star Jian Ghomeshi and then Bill Cosby have filled the news since late summer. To date more than two dozen women have stepped forward to accuse Cosby of inappropriate conduct, sexual battery, or worse, sometimes involving being dosed with drugs without their knowledge. Some of the women are celebrities themselves. 2014, in fact, was a year in which ever more high-profile rape survivors have felt safe to speak out: after Madonna acknowledged in 2013 that she had been raped, Lena Dunham and Lady Gaga, among others, told their own stories this year.

Bad and sexually threatening behavior has not always been conducted “in meat space” this year: Online harassment is up, or at least media discussion of it is, with clever monikers like “Gamergate” and “The Fappening” covering large-scale nonconsensual leaks of women’s private information and celebrity nude photos, rape and death threats, and other trollish forms of gendered cyber-attack.

In a break from the awful news, the scales tipped on Marriage Equality and trans visibility, making 2014 a truly historic year for the LGBT communities. The year began with the nuptials of Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, who had been a couple for over 40 years; not long after, the Grammy Awards show featured a special Marriage Equality segment with on-air weddings performed by Queen Latifah. The Chapel of Love is now open for same-sex business in 35 states, though in seven of those cases the courthouse door may be temporarily barred as states file appeals. Only 15 states––fewer than one-third––now out-and-out ban same-sex marriage, and that ratio will likely continue to change in 2015.

Trans visibility has had a truly significant year as well, with celebrities Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Laura Jane Grace, among others, talking with the media and the public about trans issues. Jill Soloway’s TV series Transparent stormed the small screen later in the year and has produced an extraordinary amount of buzz; it’s based loosely on Soloway’s own experience with a male-to-female parent.

Gay celebrities continued to come out this year, including perhaps most notably football player Michael Sam, whose drama of waiting to be drafted into the Major League played out in the media; and Apple executive Tim Cook, who became the first openly gay CEO in the Fortune 500.

Gay rights globally had a less stellar year by far; virulent homophobia around the world saw tragedies and challenges in many countries, including Russia, Jamaica, India, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Uganda. None of these places are newly homophobic, though homophobic rhetoric appears to be trending upward in many Eastern European countries. International activism, as well as local, will surely continue––and continue to make the news––in 2015.

 

 

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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1 Response

  1. luv2sex.info says:

    Thanks for the regular updates and have a Happy New Year!