Sexy Sex Newsy News Week of November 15-21, 2013

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Sex History in the News
Today we’re not only thinking about past events because it’s 50 years on from JFK’s assassination — never have I had a clearer understanding of exactly how long a half a century is — but we also receive reminders of two very notorious 20th century criminal cases, each with a sex angle. Porn mogul and Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt was also the target of an assassination, in 1978 — the shooter, Joseph Paul Franklin, a mentally ill racist and Mein Kampf fan who targeted Flynt because Hustler had published an interracial photo spread, was responsible for many other killings and attempted murders around the country. He was sentenced to die in Missouri for targeting a St. Louis synagogue in 1977, but had also shot civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, a teenage girl who told him she’d had sex with Black men, and more than one interracial couple. Interestingly, Flynt was one of the loudest voices speaking out against the death penalty for this man, and early this week Franklin’s date with death was postponed because Missouri’s death row drug procedure was at issue. Yesterday, however, he was executed.

Much longer ago, in 1931, the US was riveted by the case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African-American youths riding the rails to seek work during the Great Depression who were falsely accused of rape by two white women riding the freight car with them; some commentators believe the accusations were made to protect the women of being suspected as prostitutes. “At the first of numerous trials, eight of the nine received death sentences and some of them spent long periods on Death Row. That ultimately no one was executed was in part the doing of the Communist Party USA,” notes the BBC — in fact, Ruby Bates, the younger of the two accusers, later joined with the CP’s efforts to get the men exonerated. That finally happened this week, when the Alabama parole board formally pardoned the men posthumously; state law had to be changed to make this possible. The notorious and protracted case was one significant kickstarter of the US civil rights movement.

I’ll just note that although these are very different times, the elements of sex and race that both these cases share continue to be fraught and triggering cultural issues: Each of these news items remind us both of the passing of time and also ask us to reflect on how much still needs to be done to prevent violence in the name of such things. The BBC, Deseret News, and CNN caught us up on the Franklin case; news of the Scottsboro Boys pardon is via ABC News, the BBC, and IOL.co.za — South Africa’s premiere online news source.

Bill Gates Wants Your Condoms to Feel Nice
…Bless his heart! And this week we may be closer to achieving that goal — a truly sensitive, pleasure-conducive condom for people with penises, and an end to hearing “It’s like taking a bath with your socks on” comments from the people who want to have sex with them. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has issued a Condom Challenge and researchers at Manchester University in the UK have  stepped up to make jimmyhats using graphene, a very strong molecule that will allow the thinnest condoms ever, or so they say. The miracle rubbers (what will we call them now? “Put on that graphene or it’s no nookie for you, mister”?) are reported to be one atom thick — they may usher in a new age of prophylaxis, which of course is why the Condom Challenge was made in the first place. The Guardian and the BBC are keeping us apprised.

More Sexual Health, Sort Of
The Guardian LV reports on a study that links birth control pill use, especially over time, with a notably higher risk of developing glaucoma — double the risk, in fact. Is this information making that graphene condom look any better to you? Yes, I thought so.

Even More Fun with Science
Promiscuous mother mice give birth to sons who are more attractive to the ladies, we are told by Livescience. Fascinating! I know a few human families like that, as a matter of fact. And National Geographic is always good for a science-y spin on sex, and this week they point out that the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is heavy on feathers this year — well, that’s probably the wrong way to put it — and that humans use feathers to attract mates, just like birds! How about that! But feathers’ “ethereal sex appeal” is utilized by the bird fellas, whereas we humans most dress our ladies (or drag queens) up in them, leading one commentator in the NatGeo article to rather tortuously opine, “…it’s the male plumage about which we are speaking, so perhaps there is something deep down about caressing male plumage on the female body.” Ummm… perhaps we might wish to leave the gender analysis to the gender analysts. It seems to me that this is also a cross-species scenario he’s setting up, and when you really get to the bottom of it, the only person who perhaps should comment is Björk.

And the New York Times ran a report titled “A Cold War Fought by Women” which covers a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on female aggression. Intro’ed by Dr. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist who’s been laboring in the fields of woman-focused science for lo these many years (she wrote The Woman that Never Evolved and other significant Women’s Studies/anthropological/primatological texts), it explores a new science of female behavior quite different from early feminist scholarship that focused on collaboration and cooperation. “Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that… ‘intrasexual competition’ is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance,” notes the NYT. Implicit in these new analyses may be useful insights on bullying and slut-shaming; we’re staying tuned.

Catching Up with Previous Stories

We’ve been looking at body image issues of late, and this week I found a fantastic rant about labiaplasty in the Guardian; author Daisy Buchanan calls out more than just the porn world for this execrable trend (she also has tough words for the plastic surgeons who are advertising this procedure, thank you very much). She says, “An all-out ban on porn isn’t going to clean up music videos, and it isn’t going to stop young women having invasive procedures in order to match a phony sexual ideal. Perhaps if sex education was a little more explicit, and young men and women had some sense of the almost infinite range of ways in which a pubic area can be arranged, they would embrace variation downstairs. The most important thing to teach teenagers is that no one should ever have to dramatically alter their body just to be sexually acceptable.” WOOT, Daisy! Sing it!

By the way, the Guardian is full of fierce and funny women columnists, and when you go poke around there, you MUST check out the piece about “Qatar’s accidental vagina stadium.” Yes, there’s a picture. I’ll wait right here while you go look.

And…She’s baaa-aack! Our gal Sinéad was not quite finished speaking, thank you, and she has added to last month’s Miley Cyrus kerfuffle a salient final point: It’s not just young women pop music uses for their sexuality — look at Justin Bieber, for heavens’ sake! To which we reply: Touché, Sinéad! (EntertainmentWise brought us this O’Connor update.)

Finally…

I’ve already told you how much I dig Tracy Clark-Flory’s sex columns for Salon, but this week’s was special: She interviews my pal Howie Gordon, whose memoir of his years in the porn world (as Richard Pacheco) is newly out. Howie’s been working on this project for years, and he has tons to say about gender, sex, porn with a bad attitude, and of course plenty of war stories about specific films in which he appeared (one of the Golden Age’s best actors, he was one of the stars of classic Of Mice and Men porn riff Talk Dirty to Me). And he was also Tracy’s drama teacher way back in the day! What a small, small world it is, some weeks. The book is Hindsight: True Love & Mischief in the Golden Age of Porn.

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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