Sexy Sex, Newsy News: Week of 1/18-25, 2014

White House Targets Rape Culture, At Least Part of It

For feminists, anti-rape activists, and all-around decent folks, this was a big week; it’s not every day that the President decides to go after a phenomenon as close to home (and hard to target) as rape. The Obama White House has already made it known that it expects the military to deal with its sexual assault problem, and now it’s tackling rape on the college campus.

Obama is not, of course, commander-in-chief of the universities. But he has plenty of fans on campuses, so this might be a surprisingly good use of his moral authority. In any case, the newest generation of anti-rape activists seem to have made an impression, and it’s very likely, too, that Obama’s status as First Dad is relevant to this White House action. Past generations of First Daughters might have had dads with their heads in the sand; future White House occupants might even live in a world where the issue of nonconsensual sex and sexual assault has been handled. (Hey, just dream with me for a minute here.) But this family lives in the present, a present in which discourse about rape and rape culture has gotten more mainstream attention than it arguably ever has; and in the near future, this First Family will have a couple of young women in college. The personal, as we have been telling you since about 1969, is political.

So the campus rape wars have raged not only because of rape itself, but also–not unlike the way the fight against sexual assault has played out in the military–because many university administrations have been slow, or downright negligent, about taking the issue seriously. Media coverage about Obama’s statement have mostly addressed this directly (the Pittsburg Post-Gazette went into substantial detail, and also looked at reported rape rates at Pennsylvania schools). Colleges frequently use secret tribunals to handle student malfeasance; many schools are wroth to announce that crime, including rape, is a problem on their campuses (I suppose that news would be a PR problem, huh?); and some rape cases, tangled up as they are in campus party culture, make it hard to pin down the details that would allow prosecution or conviction.

The Daily Kos‘ Laura Clawson grabbed this bull by the horns: “Any discussion of how campus drinking or drug culture—or anything else—are factors in sexual assault has to focus squarely on rapists, not victims. A woman doesn’t get raped because she had a drink, a woman gets raped because a man—perhaps under the influence of alcohol or drugs, perhaps not—decided to be a rapist. As in the military, where Obama is also calling for greater focus on sexual assault prevention, the response to sexual assault at colleges is often more about what leaders think will be best for the institution, not about justice. That has to change—but by definition institutional cultures of self-protection are hard to change.”

New York Daily News, ABC News, and Glamour also covered this story; a particularly notable article appeared in the Washington Post, which looped in the activists who have been fighting campus rape culture and administrative intransigence. And libertarian columnist Cathy Young is this week’s not-so-loyal opposition, writing in Minding the Campus that the Obama challenge is an overreach and that rape statistics (one in five women on campus are subject to sexual assault) are inflated. (Young is concerned with false allegations, which are, let me be clear, Not Okay–but she seems to feel an awful lot of reported campus rapes are false; given the gauntlet a rape survivor has to run, this seems an odd tack to take.)

Let this maximize the impact on those who haven’t experienced the awful aftermath of sexual assault–like the harrowing recent experience of Downton Abbey‘s Anna. I know some commentators have called her travails sadistic on the part of Downton‘s scriptwriters, and maybe that’s so–but I read it as a reminder of how horrific an experience rape can be. That it’s a priority for this administration is a damned good thing.

Good Night, Not So Sweet Président
François Hollande didn’t quite dump his unwedded First Lady via a text message, but apparently his official announcement that they had (probably nonconsensually) parted was about 18 words long. Practically a tweet! From a Sexy Newsy point of view, the most interesting thing about this breakup (the other Louboutin dropping, which took a while–the scandal has been cooking since before New Year’s) was that First Partner Valérie Trierweiler and Hollande were not in fact hitched–a fact that seemed oh la la so French and free… until this weekend. Now a poll suggests that slightly over half of the French don’t want state resources to be devoted to the office of the presidential spouse or mistress or whomever. But if I had to guess, they’re really acting out of disappointment and embarrassment that their head of state turned out to be so very gauche. They’ll be feeling Gallic again in no time… well, after the next election, anyhow.

And the National Post repeats a Telegraph news story explaining why the Hollande/Trierweiler affaire is not so scandalous after all: over half of French men and a third of French women cheat on their partners. Of course, we’re talking newspaper reportage which riffs on a study done by Ifop (that is, the Institut français d’opinion publique, an international marketing firm); we don’t know if this really reports cheating, or possibly also ethically non-monogamous behavior.

I gather I was not watching TV at the magic hour when Beyoncé did the horizontal bop with Jay-Z at the Grammys. Though she called it “surfboard”? Even if you can’t swim, those two make surfing seem like a really fabulous idea. And even though someone over at MTV called this performance “scandalous,” how could it be? They’re married! <just visualize me winking evilly as I say this>

Esther Perel, author of the terrific book Mating in Captivity, about (among other things), keeping the flame alight during a couple’s journey into monogamy (and who’s the subject of a recent article in the New York Times) would doubtless approve. I know I do, because I wrote Exhibitionism for the Shy, and girl, look at the costume Beyoncé wore! She’s a great singer and dancer–and she can model lingerie for us any old time.

Postscript: My computer is very sick this week, and a host of interesting URLs remain trapped on it while I wait for Geniuses to magically fix it. If your favorite Sex in the News item wasn’t touched on this time, apologies! I’ll try to give a shout-out soon to significant issues we may have passed over because technology giveth AND taketh away.

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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