Masturbation Month and the Press — On-line and Off

For a couple of weeks early in May, my life was a blur. I was trying to keep track of dozens of details for the Annie Sprinkle show at the Castro Theatre which Good Vibes sponsored and simultaneously getting ready for the live worldwide webcast of the “One-Handed Reading” Reading. And perhaps most importantly, I was chatting up National Masturbation Month and the Masturbate-A-Thon everywhere I could. I’d set the alarm for anywhere from 4:30 to 6:00 am to talk to East Coast and Midwest drive time radio hosts about the ‘Thon — “It’s just like a Walkathon, except at the end your feet don’t hurt unless you’ve been doing something really unusual,” I said to each and every one of them, parrying their questions about what I was wearing and whether I was masturbating right that moment. “Gosh, no, these interviews are much too important — I really can’t do two things at once,” I’d reply, or, “I’ve been doing so many of these early-morning interviews that I’m just too tired to masturbate! I’m really, really looking forward to June!”

Well, such is life in the USA, which has a hard time taking anything like this pro- masturbation campaign seriously. Not so in Canada, according to the staff at our sister store Come As You are in Toronto, one of National Masturbation Month’s co-sponsors. They were interviewed by every major Canadian media outlet along with many minor ones. My two Canadian radio interviews, both with Come As You Are staff guesting along with me, were revelations of serious discourse. But I didn’t expect anything less from the Canadian media, which consistently produces more insightful and intelligent sex programming than the sorry American stuff — or from the Canadian people, either. I have consistently had bigger crowds in Toronto and Vancouver than anywhere else I’ve read, and in Vancouver I was knocked for a loop in a dyke bar with two hundred people listening as they raucously requested, “More theory!”

One problem with mainstream US media is the constant rush for the quick sound bite, the fast hit of infotainment. I frequently give hour-long interviews about Good Vibes to print media journalists, only to see the finished article contain one or two sentences based on what I said; it’s just the nature of the beast these days. Similarly it was rare, in my early morning interviews, to stay on for more than twenty minutes — that’s a pretty long time, by drive-time radio standards — and often it was no more than five. Five minutes is not a long time to squeeze in info about Good Vibes, Masturbation Month, the Masturbate-A-Thon, and contact information — much less to artfully evade questions about what I was wearing and hear all about how the radio host in question masturbates, or doesn’t.

Hey, I thought as I blearily hung up, at least we’re talking about this stuff in the first place.

But every frustration involved in the drive-time shows — shock jocks, no time to get substantive, early morning hours — are obviated by the new trend in broadcast media: webcasting. We’ve seen an upsurge in web-based “print” media, too — text-and-picture-based web sites that are the computer equivalent of magazines and newspapers — but the real news is that on-line radio and TV is here. Since you’re reading this on our web site, you probably already know this. It’s an exciting trend, though, especially because the old media are sliding down the infotainment slope. Not that web-based broadcasting is less concerned with entertainment per se; the biggest difference I’ve seen has to do with time. I’ve spent an hour, sometimes even two, on web radio shows, talking about all manner of things sexual, taking calls or e-mailed questions, or just delving really deeply into one topic. Time is the luxury the on-line broadcasters can still boast, especially compared to traditional broadcast media.

How do the numbers compare? I’m not sure, but even if I have fewer listeners on-line, the likelihood that I can make a difference to someone, either through information or by articulating a sex-positive philosophy they haven’t heard before, is so much greater — simply because there’s more time to discuss any given issue — that it more than makes up for the differences in listener demographics. This is especially true of web radio, but I have a special spot in my heart for the web TV show that’s given us the most recent airtime: www.playtv.com.

That’s because their afternoon host, Alex Bennett, is a longtime Bay area radio personality (and before that, host of Midnight Blue in New York City) who finally proved too controversial for corporate radio. I’ve spent many a morning in the last decade down at the station, trying to get a word in edgewise as the comics he loaded the show with cracked jokes, bantered with Alex, and hoped by doing so they’d get wider exposure. Of course, that’s what I was doing there too, whether I was there to plug Good Vibes or my own books. If I’m at all suave with the radio shock jocks today it’s because I learned my chops sitting next to the Bay Area’s biggest maniacs. What I like the most about Alex’s new gig is that now I get to sit around talking with him — I never felt we got enough quality time with those crazed comics in the room, though it was certainly a laugh a minute — and now his own priceless brand of irony comes through, as funny as his stable of comedians ever was.

The web also lets me have more quality time with Bob Berkowitz, whose national TV show, Love Bytes, was canceled several years ago and has been reincarnated on www.eyada.com as a three-hour-long evening show. Bob is that rare media bird, a thoughtful and informed sex show host, and an hour talking with him flies right by. Five years ago I had a few minutes on his TV show; these days, we can dig deep in any given issue and take listener e-mail questions, too. His show is true infotainment in the very best sense: he’s dedicated to getting facts and interesting perspectives about sex to his listeners, but in the lively conversational format that makes talk radio noteworthy and popular.

And speaking of talk — I can certainly do an interview about sex while avoiding the Seven Deadly Words that can’t be used on mainstream broadcasts, but it’s awfully nice that the web allows true freedom of communication — one reason some of these folks gravitated that way in the first place.

Then there are the specialty web radio networks: queer shows, like GayVC out of Seattle; on-line comedy; women’s programming — this is the start of much more diversified broadcasting, at least for now. Maybe the future holds more restriction, more conformity in programming — but hopefully not. Hopefully the web will continue to be a locus for true information-sharing and free- flowing talk. Like shame-free sex, we all need more of that.

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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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