Monday, December 21, 2009

O, Canada: Sex Toys Can (and Should) be Healthy

When it comes to sexuality issues, our neighbors to the north are often much more pragmatic and far-sighted than many here in the States. Not uniformly or across the board, mind you, but there's a lot to be said for a country where same-sex marriage became legal not only much sooner but with much less brouhaha.

Let's hope the same can be said about healthy sex toys.

That's right. According to this article, two Toronto sisters who co-own an eco-friendly erotic boutique (talk about a niche market) decided to contact a member of the Canadian Parliament about the presence of high-risk chemicals in certain vibrators, dildoes and other sexy insertables. And Dr. Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal MP and a medical doctor, not only listened but composed her own letter to Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Minister of Health, about "the urgent need for responsible regulation in the adult toy industry."

And keep in mind, we're not talking about making it illegal to sell a dildo or vibrator, or own more than a certain number. We're talking about making sure the materials they're made from don't have adverse effects on your health.

Many "jelly" toys, for example, have incredibly high levels of phthalates -- chemical compounds used to soften plastics, and which have been linked to both cancers and hormonal disruption. While governments consider six parts per billion as "safe" levels for phthalates in the majority of consumer items, a German chemist in 2000 found jelly sex toys with levels as high as 243,000 parts per million. Do the math.

If you're Canadian, please write to Ms. Aglukkaq and urge her to act on Dr. Bennett's recommendation. Her address:

The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, P.C., M.P.
Health Canada
Brooke Claxton Building, Tunney's Pasture
Postal Locator: 0906C
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9

For us down here in the US, it's a lot more tricky. But there are some things you can do:

* Become an educated sex toy consumer, and share your knowledge with others.
* Shop at retailers that stress healthy and eco-friendly products.
* Write to public officials about the need for health and safety regulations for sex toys.
* Raise the issue with women's health and environmental organizations.

We consider it sensible to make sure all sorts of commercial goods are safe to use. It's time erotic goods fit the same expectations.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tiger Woods: A Lesson in Idolatry

The media loves a good scandal, so we shouldn’t be surprised that so much attention has been focused on Tiger Woods’ sexual shenanigans. Add to it the ability to interact online, and the fire continues to be fed, from preaching to off-color jokes to those jaded critics of media overload screaming: “Enough already!”

And questions – lots of them. What will happen to Tiger? Will his wife rewrite their prenup, or just plain leave? What does this say about sports, celebrity, media? More importantly: What does this say about us?

Like all celebrities, Tiger Woods was put up on a pedestal. We didn’t just respect his skill as a golfer, we practically revered him. We made him an idol. When that idol let us down, we tore him down. And, as with all forms of idolatry, we brought ourselves down in the process.

Idolatry to me is not merely the worship of a false god, or putting Creation ahead of the Creator. It is more deeply and profoundly the transposition of means and ends; it is becoming so focused and fixated on the means by which we seek to achieve our highest goals, that we forget those ideal ends themselves.

Tiger Woods is an incredible athlete, both for his talent and his discipline. When we lifted him up as a role model, it was with the hope that our young people would also strive to do the same – to find what they love to do, and develop the discipline to aspire to excellence. Too often, however, we simply admired him rather than aspired for ourselves. One has to wonder if this was the case with the women who became entangled in this mess, not to mention those who enabled Tiger’s destructive course of behavior. Was the idea of being close to Tiger, of being able to satisfy his whims, so powerfully addictive that it became more important than the very principles and values which he seemed to embody?

And what of Tiger himself? Did the adulation of fans, the culture of instant gratification which surrounds so many celebrities, cause him to steer off track? I’m not trying to excuse his behavior, but to understand it. How does a man who learned from his father the discipline necessary to become the youngest Masters winner in history, make such a mess of his personal life?

Idolatry is all too easy, not only for the celebrities who can get whatever (or whomever) they want on a whim, but for all of us caught up in the illusions of our consumer culture. It is, to borrow from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a form of cheap grace – an illusion that all we aspire for and desire is easily accessible, “sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares” without considering their true cost.

Tiger Woods had plenty of people around him to encourage, enable and (until now) cover up his indiscretions. Let’s hope he will now surround himself with people who can help him get back on track and heal the damage done to his family. More importantly, let us all strive to find the courage and develop the discipline to deal with the myriad ways in which idolatry has infected our culture and our souls.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New York Senate Says "No" to Equality

Today, thirty-eight New York state Senators blocked passage to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

It's infuriating, and for me ironic. You see, were it not for New York's otherwise progressive political culture, I probably wouldn't be here.

My parents married in New York in 1959. At that time, a dozen states still had laws on the books preventing people with epilepsy - including my dad - from marrying anyone. Even though those laws are now consigned to the proverbial dust-bin, the prejudicial attitudes behind them still carry on. The only difference is that they have been directed to another group of people.

Five states and seven nations have emnbraced marriage equality. None have falled into a pit of fire and brimstone. There has been no increase in crime, unemployment or other "bad things" as a result. Life goes on, and the only difference is that the couples who can now marry have less bureaucracy and more stability - traits exalted by conservatives everywhere.

Let's hope that Governor David Paterson has the courage to put forward the bill again, and to keep pushing along with LGBT activists and their allies for its passage.

New York's motto is "Ever Upward". What better way to live up to that motto by making sure all of their citizens and families are extended the same rights and recognition.