Carol Queen: I Can’t Help Myself: Must Write About Elections

Robert and I just got back this afternoon from Salt Lake City \’ yes, the one in Utah, filled with the very people whose zillions of dollars in contributions have made California’s Proposition 8, the anti-gay-marriage initiative, poll neck-and-neck. Yes, that would be the Mormons, but I am here to tell you that some, perhaps many (who knows?) Mormons are renegades, and when we go to SLC, we visit a group I fondly call the “jack Mormon perverts: a happy family of BDSM aficionados who invite us there from time to time to lecture about nerve endings and the kinky things that can be done with them.

This was a very interesting time for me to go to a bright-red state, but the funny thing was how many Obama lawn signs we saw (OK, not *that* many, but at least plural, and in the neighborhoods we visited, none for McCain) and how many folks, and not just the kinky people we were there to visit, saw my political button and brightened up, whispered, “I hope he wins \’ I’m praying over it, or variations on the theme. It’s not safe, at least this time, to predict or assume, and this of course reminds me more of sex than the presidential race does overall: you really can’t tell by looking, you know, what people’s private feelings are, either about eroticism or political choices (though this year there is a weird overlap of the two issues in the person of Sarah Palin, whom I’ll always adore for saying “Caribou Barbie on Saturday Night Live and who seemed to *really* inspire the people at the Center for Sex & Culture’s Political Smut Night last week \’ almost half the readers read stories about her, not that erotic inspiration always wins votes).

There’s not a lot of overt sex in this election, but it’s there if you look \’ not only in the charisma quotient of at least some of the candidates (and I think we see in retrospect that John Edwards got out just in time), but in at least one breakout issue, sex education. I wish it were being dealt with more overtly, but given how controversial it remains in this country, I’m glad to see it mentioned at all \’ even as the subject of an attack ad, as when Obama’s support of a comprehensive sex ed program was twisted to make it look like he wanted to give sex information to tots. I only wish someone could take these folks to the woodshed and explain on the way back that age-appropriate sex education might have been a wise plan for, say, Alaska \’ since pretty much every study about sex ed and unwanted pregnancy can be interpreted to show that Bristol Palin’s current condition was far from inevitable.

Speaking of which \’ and here we interrupt our election-eve programming for just a second \’ did you hear today that a study has found more unwanted pregnancies among teens who watch sex-themed or -inclusive television? I have just one thing to say about that, which is: *that’s precisely why sex-themed TV is no substitute for comprehensive sex education*! Because if the teens who were thinking sexy thoughts after watching, say, my current favorite cable-TV vampire porn, True Blood (or even just, like me, fantasizing about being in a three-way with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow), if those teens had a government that cared about them, they’d know about pregnancy prevention and safer sex. And if tomorrow’s teens are really lucky, their president will support that idea and have the political wherewithal to make cultural changes in that direction that, so far, most politicians are too wussy to make.

Thank you, and back to our election coverage. Now let’s move to the state level \’ California, specifically, because that’s where I live and because the two sex-related items on the ballot are far from local issues \’ both have been, and will continue to be, contentious culture-war issues throughout the United States. One is Prop 4, which would mandate parental notification when teenagers are going to terminate a pregnancy. Here’s another teachable moment about sex ed, wouldn’t you think? There would be, I mean, so many fewer pregnancies that might need to be terminated if good sex (and contraceptive) information were available to the youth who aren’t getting them now. And I wonder if the folks behind Prop 4 are campaigning hard for sex ed? Um, not so much¦ just against abortion. Plus they’re using misleading tactics, with a tear-jerker story about a girl who died after an abortion¦ without mentioning the young woman was in fact legally married, not your garden-variety pregnant teen. Oh, and did you want to balance that with tear-jerker stories about young women who’ve died after *illegal* abortions? Because there are plenty of *those* out there, folks. Until we can mandate that teens will be able to communicate with parents and not be, say, thrown out of the house or beaten to a fare-thee-well, maybe parental notification isn’t the panacea the pro-4 people would like to convince voters it is. And if they have money and time for a political campaign, it’s sex ed they should be trying to mandate, not this.

And how about that Prop 8? Its sly supporters sent out a ton of glossy flyers to Californian households saying that Barack Obama and Joe Biden were against gay marriage \’ another dirty trick, since the Obama camp is allied with the No on 8 message, and I don’t see most of the conservative Christian backers of Prop 8 working hard to elect those guys. The anti-8, anti-discrimination, pro-freedom to marry crowd responded with an ad that didn’t just name-check Obama, it included that wild-eyed radical Dianne Feinstein telling people how wrong discrimination is. And apparently the pro-8 demonstration in San Francisco today had a high level of hate speech that could be heard over the platitudes about marriage. People, can anyone explain to me how any heterosexual marriage is altered by the existence of homosexual ones? Is it that the expectation of blowjobs rises, or exactly what? Because look, I’m no big fan of marriage to begin with \’ I’ve written that a vote for gay marriage is a vote for gay divorce, and I’m proud that Robert and I are listed on the Alternatives to Marriage website as a notable unmarried couple, right there with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. But if *anybody* is going to get married, *everybody* should have the right to do it \’ or decide against it \’ too.

Besides \’ and I have to thank Jon Stewart for, as usual, serving as the sharp cutting edge of political analysis in this country \’ how ’bout them Mormon Prop 8 donors? Remember, I was just there, right in the state of the union featuring multiple small towns full of polygamous marriages. You can get a dang t-shirt in the airport for a lovely beer company called Polygamy Porter (Bring some home to the wives)! The very state of Utah *exists* because Mormons were run out of so many other towns and states because their marriage customs were too new-fangled and controversial! Touchy, touchy, touchy, LDS! (And you know, another irony is that gay marriage *isn’t* fundamentally about sex, but about relationship choice: which is connected but also different. And you know what else it’s about? Homophobia, up one side and down the other.)

And that brings us almost to the end of our political coverage \’ except there’s one more electoral sex story to cover, that of San Francisco’s Proposition K. My little town might be the first in the nation to decriminalize prostitution using the New Zealand model (yes, there’s more afoot in old Wellington than sheep and unemployed extras from that Hobbit movie: you can learn all about it. And of course the mud is being slung here as well \’ in spite of the fact that Prop K’s language specifically states that it will not get in the way of enforcing laws against human trafficking, the anti-K folks have done nothing but try to connect decriminalization with trafficking: SF would become a haven for international pimps! Not so \’ in fact, sex workers, as much as police and city officials, have every reason to oppose trafficking. I have a dog in this race, as some of you know \’ sex work put me through school, and I’ve written and lectured about it quite a bit. If folks concerned that prostitution is (or, more correctly, *can be*) dangerous or unhealthy want to mitigate these ills, they’ll look to the ways decriminalization \’ not just in theory, but also in real-world practice \’ gives prostitutes more choices, control over their working conditions, and ability to get police help and legal redress if someone harms them. Look, sex work is not for everybody, but there is no reason to make every kind of adult sexual activity legal except the kind that can help a poor person pay her rent or buy milk for her kid or put himself through school. Decriminalizing this consensual behavior is a social justice issue. The people who are against it don’t believe citizens should have the right to make the choice to pay for sex or provide it for pay \’ pure and simple.

Are you itching to vote *right now* and maybe the polls aren’t even open yet? You can weigh in on Prop K right here \’ and it’s not even too late to donate some money to the campaigns you favor, if you have any.

But whatever you do, make sure you vote on November 4th as if your future \’ including your sexual freedom \’ depends on it


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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