It Was the Best of Years, It Was the Worst of Years (2013 Edition)…

Every year brings advances and problems in the world of sexuality–after all, sex is such a vast topic, with myriad cultural, legal, and personal ramifications. I’ve pulled out some of the hot topics from this busy (and some might say game-changing) year.


Obama’s Moon Shot: Brain Research
We’ll never fully understand human sexuality without a sophisticated understanding of the brain. From sexual orientation to ability to feel pleasure, it either happens in the brain or is facilitated by brain chemistry and our ability to learn and process information. And true understanding of the brain, sexually speaking, isn’t in Science’s toolkit yet. Barack Obama’s legacy, scientifically speaking, may well be his “moon program” for brain science–he didn’t launch it so we’d learn a lot more about sex, but that could easily be one of its outcomes.

The Pope
We might have predicted that the new Pope, hailing as he does from South America, would bring a whiff of liberation theology to the Vatican. (He’s certainly freaked out the US right wing.) Who knew he would seismically shift the tone of the papacy around sexuality-related issues, particularly the Catholic take on sexual orientation? When Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge?”, he took one significant step toward healing a lot of gay Catholic broken hearts.

Marriage Equality
We knew 2013 would be a significant year for same-sex marriage in the US: It’s a hot issue in many states and, of course, arguably the front-and-center activist issue in the LGBT community. Beyond that, public sentiment–driven by a substantial generation gap–is clearly trending in an accepting direction. But 2013 saw the number of states allowing same-sex marriage doubling, from nine to 18–including Utah! There are over 30 states to go, of course, but perhaps we’ll look back at this year and see it as the time the Marriage Equality movement crested the hill.

UnSlut Project
As we’ll see below, the news is not all good, and an uncivil culture, poor sex education, and Internet anonymity combine to make an unsafe and unsavory environment especially for and among youth. Stepping up to fight slut-shaming, much as the It Gets Better Project tackled homophobic and transphobic bullying, is Emily Lindin’s UnSlut Project []. Like Subjectified, The Line Project, and many others, it uses the Internet for good, not evil, and shines a light on female sexuality, sexual violence, and the tangled web that is the target of sex-positive feminist activism in the 21st century.

Kate Bornstein
The Internet did do us a great turn in 2013, though–it helped save Kate Bornstein! Diagnosed with cancer and without sufficient insurance and resources to tackle her health crisis, Kate became a cause celebre in the LGBT and sex-positive communities, who raised more than $100K to get her the help she needed. Since a day without Kate Bornstein is like a day without sunshine, this fundraising save–just one of many relevant crowd-funding projects that helped move sex-positive culture along–crowns our Best Of 2013 list.


Slut-Shaming and Bullying Continues
Rehtaeh Parsons, the young Canadian woman driven to suicide after a gang-rape followed by a campaign of bullying, was only one face of the ugly tendency of people, especially youth, to single out someone vulnerable over sexuality-related issues, whether the harassment is focused on slut-shaming, homophobia, transphobia, or other “reasons.” Sex education is already poor in most parts of the US by 20th century standards, and this epidemic of heartless behavior has to be tackled by 21st century education.

International Homophobia: Russia, India, Uganda…
At the 2012 Sex & Justice conference I heard speakers from the Caribbean discuss varying issues with state-level and street-level homophobia in Jamaica and other countries which are former British colonies. (See last week’s Sexy Sex, Newsy News for a few more words about how 19th-century Brit laws against homosexuality are the gift that keeps on giving.) Uganda has been in the news for some time over its proposed death penalty for gays (just changed to life in prison, with an added law against immodesty–so all in one week gays and miniskirts were outlawed); India just reversed a ruling that had decriminalized homosexual sex; and Russia, while not part of Britain’s old empire, has shown world leadership for (not against) homophobia. More US gays can marry, but watch out where you go on your honeymoon.

Rape Culture, from the Military to Montana
Reported rapes leapt in the US military last year; most commentators think the rape rate itself is not up so much as the crime is more often reported, but this sidesteps one thing: The military should not have a problem with rape at all. Rape culture outside the military is hardly quiescent; its nadir this year was probably the Montana judge who gave a micro-sentence to a rapist high school teacher, saying the raped student (who had since committed suicide) was probably an equal participant.

Deaths: Good People Gone
And you can’t really call the loss of a significant person a good thing; we lost many in 2013, including Anal Pleasure and Health and The Erotic Mind author Jack Morin; pioneering sexologist Virginia Johnson; photographer/filmmaker and April Flores partner Carlos Batts; disabled performance artist Frank Moore; gay rights icon Jose Sarria, “the Widow Norton”; Velvet Underground impresario Lou Reed; Reagan-era Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; Dear Abby (Pauline Phillips), without whom many a young person’s sex question might have gone unanswered; ditto Dr. Joyce Brothers; the DiVinyls’ divine frontwoman Chrissy Amphlett; Jeanne Manford, founder Of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays); and many others. Cory Silverberg’s end-of-year column at lists even more of this year’s significant losses. And I’ll just close out this sad list with a shout-out to my alma mater, the Lusty Lady Theatre: Rest in Peace, all.

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

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