Sunday, January 31, 2010

More on the G-Spot: Vive La France!

Earlier this month, I posted my thoughts on a British study about the search for the G-spot in women.

Well, turns out that some French scientists are pretty much saying the same thing.

One of the most damning comments:

"The King's College study ... shows a lack of respect for what women say," said Pierre Foldès, a leading French surgeon. "The conclusions were completely erroneous because they were based solely on genetic observations and it is clear that in female sexuality there is a variability ... It cannot be reduced to a 'yes' or 'no', or an 'on' or an 'off'."

Bravo, messieurs et mesdames -- merci beaucoup!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Censorship in Oz

Many times sex-positive Americans feel like the clout of our Religious Right is an aberration. Well, it's time they looked at Australia, where they're frequently referred to as wowsers.

Aussies were hit with a double whammy of sex-negative absurdity seeking to censor erotic media. First, the Australian Classification Board wants to ban any sexual depiction of women with small breasts, for fear it will encourage pedophilia. Now they have banned a video of an erotic performance where a woman ejaculated during orgasm, because in their minds she must have urinated -- which, in their minds is an "offensive fetish."

Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Bad enough to have a government that won't let grown-ups be grown-ups, but it's even worse when they are so ignorant about female sexuality. Those of us who prefer small-breasted women know full well the difference between a child and a grown woman with a petite figure. And anyone who's even seen female ejaculate knows (a) it's real, and (b) it's not pee.

And, to make things worse, Australia's Federal government also wants to force Internet providers to install costly and ineffective filters. Given that they can't even get the facts right about sex, how can they be trusted to "protect" people from what they decide are "offensive" images?

So, if there are folks Down Under who are reading this, it's time to speak up. Tell your government that they should keep their hands off the Internet, and that censoring erotic expression is no better than censoring political or religious groups.

And if Australia's political leaders won't listen? Well, I normally don't endorse political parties, but in this case I think it's worth letting you know about the Australian Sex Party. Maybe when the wowsers start losing votes to sex-positive grown-ups, they'll think twice about imposing their ill-informed will on others.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Getting Our Act Together on Sexual Misconduct by UU Leaders

Originally posted on the blog "Reason and Reconciliation"

At the 2000 General Assembly, UUA Executive Vice-President Kay Montgomery acknowledged shortcomings on how UU leadership has dealt with sexual misconduct, and pledged a number of changes. Certainly there have been improvements, principally in prevention through education, screening prospective leaders and other proactive measures. Yet when looking at the whole picture, there are still questions which need to be addressed, the most central being how to file and pursue a complaint of sexual misconduct.

The reader will also notice that I am not limiting this discussion to ordained ministers, or even to professional leadership. Volunteer lay leaders are also entrusted with authority and access, and must be held just as accountable for their actions. And when a member or attendee of a UU congregation feels exploited or abused, to whom should they go for support, healing and justice? What can they expect in terms of process and responsive actions?

In my own research, I’ve not seen any clear answer to these questions. There is much talk about “restorative justice,” but little clarity about how that is to be achieved. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee, which oversees ordained UU ministers, does have a process for handling complaints, but even this has been criticized for falling short in terms of openness and clarity. In my opinion, the UUA needs to develop and present a clear protocol for handling sexual misconduct within congregations, and this article is my attempt at developing and presenting a model for such a protocol.

First, we need to define what we mean by sexual misconduct. This definition should be rooted in our core values of individual dignity and right relationship; it should focus on the emotional and relational context in which sexual activity takes place. Our sexuality can and should be a source of joy, pleasure and nurturing, a way of expressing intimacy and love. In contrast, sexual abuse and exploitation occur in a context of fear and intimidation. To avoid the latter, and foster the former, our sexual and relational ethics need to be based on two central principles:

  1. Consent – Each person should be able to give and receive sexually with full knowledge, power and agreement. We are deprived of that power whenever there is deceit, intimidation and/or coercion.

  2. Safety – Each person should be able to give and receive sexually without fear of bodily or emotional harm. While no one can assure this with absolute certainty, each person should take responsibility for minimizing the risk of harm to all concerned.

With clergy and other religious community leaders, another factor must be taken into account. Whenever someone is entrusted with leadership, they are given access to power and knowledge; and when there is an imbalance of power and knowledge, consent can be compromised. For this reason, our leaders must take great care to avoid what Reverend Marie Marshall Fortune refers to as dual relationships – maintaining two conflicting relationships with the same person at the same time, in particular a personal/sexual one (which should be equal and mutual) and a pastoral/leadership one (with its inherent power imbalance). This is not to say that a minister or leader can never have an intimate relationship with someone in their community, but that providing pastoral care or direct supervision with an intimate partner is a conflict of interest which must be avoided.

Education and pastoral guidance are essential in both preventing and recognizing sexual misconduct. But how do we respond when such breaches occur? To whom should a complaint or concern be taken, and how should they respond?

My suggestion is for the District office to appoint an impartial ombuds whenever a complaint is filed, to look into the facts and recommend the appropriate course of action. This would take pressure off the congregation’s leadership, while assuring that the process is handled by someone with direct access to all involved. The ombuds can also look beyond simply determining the respondent’s culpability, by considering what role the congregation’s policies, practices and awareness of issues played, and how these might be corrected.

There may also be cases where a formal adjudication would be necessary, in the form of a hearing before an impartial board. Once again, I would suggest that the District office appoint impartial members to the board, in consultation with all concerned. Additionally, the ombuds role would now shift to one of advocate for the complainant. The hearing itself should follow specific guidelines, and the board be required to make its decision by consensus, to assure confidence in the process. This confidence is essential, given that congregational polity makes the board’s decision advisory rather than binding. Likewise, the board would not have the power to suspend or revoke ministerial or DRE credentials, but their findings should be forwarded to the appropriate bodies for action.

Finally, while we all hope that sexual misconduct will not occur, we also have to admit the fact that it will. Even with the best preventive measures, our leaders are human and capable of error – or worse. To that end, we not only need to continue proactive education such as the Safe Congregations program, we also need to train select individuals to serve as ombuds and hearing board members. Such training can be seen in the same light as first aid and self-defense preparations – we hope never to use them, but realize their ultimate necessity and benefit.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

For All the Kinky Christians Out There...

I originally posted this on Myspace and Fetlife; many on those sites have responded positively, so I thought I would share these thoughts with a wider audience...

Being kinky is hard enough. Being a kinky Christian can really be a burden, when even the most liberal of theologians still cling to the idea that sexuality needs to follow some prescribed set of rules. It's amazing how people will roundly condemn the legalism of others, yet ignore when they themselves cling to their own.

My own observation is that many liberals take a "case-by-case" approach to questioning traditional rules about sexuality. They question whether you have to be married to be sexual with someone, or whether gays and lesbians can be good Christians, but fail to question the whole basis for the various rules we've inherited. Or, they simply discard the whole set of rules, not so much out of a sense of genuine liberation, but as if saying: "I give up! It's all a mystery, so I might as well do what I want and leave the rest to God!"

Well, let me offer some thoughts on that...

In my reading of the New Testament, the most transformative and liberating passage on ethics comes from Paul, in First Corinthians: "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything." (1 Cor 6:12)

Now often this verse is used to caution people against an "anything goes" approach (frequently called antinomianism). Yet this ignores the full context of the message. Paul is not saying: "Go back to the rules, but for a different reason"; he's saying to rethink what we've learned in the light of our experience and needs.

"All things are lawful" -- More specifically, all things are allowable. We have the liberty to choose whatever we do, rather than follow the prescriptions of old.

"But..." -- How, then, are we to determine what to do? Can we really do whatever we want, without fear of punishment? Of course not. George Bernard Shaw said that liberty means responsibility, which is why so many people dread it. So while liberty frees us from the burden of someone else's rules, it gives us in its place the burden to choose wisely.

"Not all things are beneficial" -- Imagine a rule which said that everyone had to eat three peanut butter sandwiches a week. Well, what if you're allergic to peanuts? Or you like peanut butter sandwiches so much, you'd like to eat more? And does the rule allow for additional spreads, like jelly or Fluff? Is half a sandwich six times a week okay? Or spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread and rolling it up? Now discard the rule and go by what is beneficial. If you like peanut butter sandwiches, go ahead. If you don't like them, or you're allergic, then you don't have to. And don't worry about who eats them or who doesn't, or how many, or what other stuff they put on them. If it works for them, let them be; and if someone else tries to impose their standards on you, ignore them.

"I will not be dominated by anything" -- Let's switch back to the "three peanut butter sandwiches a week" rule. Remember all those questions we were asking? That's what happens when you hold up a rule as an end in itself. It takes over a good chunk of your life, if not your entire life; you've let it dominate you. Now imagine someone who was forbidden by their parents or church to eat peanut butter sandwiches who then discards that and goes hog wild. They are still letting it take over their lives, just in a different way. Mindless obedience and mindless rebellion are fraternal twins, born of arbitrary authority. And authentic liberation comes from being mindful and loving in all that we do.

So how does this apply to sex, especially the unconventional? Often religious groups teach us to simply follow a set of rules; some have a long list of very strict rules, others have a shorter list of general guidelines. More often than not, BDSM and polyamory are on the "no-no" list, albeit with different reasons given (if reasons are given at all). But, if "all things are lawful" then we have to rethink these. Can they be beneficial? For some, certainly. Should we therefore do them? Well, only if they are beneficial to us. And how do we know whether they will be? By being mindful of ourselves and our partners, of what we truly need and desire.

Kinky Christians deserve to be relieved of the burden of legalistic dictates against unconventional sexual expression. More important, they need to be able to show how such expression is consistent with the love ethic of their faith. Perhaps then they can join others in their faith towards a genuine transformation, a true metanoia, of the approach towards sexual ethics.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bra Colors and Breast Cancer Awareness: Hmmm...

Breast cancer is a scourge on women's health. About one in eight American women will be diagnosed in their lifetime; and while advances allow more and more to survive, the financial and emotional costs are enormous.

I'm all for raising both awareness and donations to help find better treatments, and ideally a cure. But I wonder about what's going on over at Facebook.

Women are being encouraged to post their bra color as a way of raising awareness. News of this has swept the Internet, and it's poking more folks to talk about it.

All for the good. But, still...

How is telling me the color of your underwear going to get me to help cure breast cancer? Should I tell my Facebook friends whether I wear boxers or briefs, to raise awareness about testicular cancer? Or how about the color of my condom to raise HIV awareness?

It may be cute, but unless you explain it, people don't get it. And at the risk of sounding insensitive, it sounds too cute by half, and I wonder how long that can last. We need more than cute. We need to make people aware of the full impact this has on the lives of women and their loved ones.

One of the best awareness campaigns in recent history has been the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Every panel vividly portrayed a life - a vital human being - lost to the disease. That in itself not only informs the mind, but touches the heart. Then you see the growing number of panels and the lives they represent...

So, how about this. What if everyone on Facebook who knew someone with this disease posted it on their page? You don't have to give their names (and shouldn't unless you have their consent) or even a lengthy bio. Just tell the world: "I thought you should know, my wife/partner/friend/sister/mother/aunt/niece/coworker/boss/next-door-neighbor has/had/died from breast cancer."

Imagine receiving that on Facebook. Imagine receiving several over the course of a few days. Imagine posting it yourself, and seeing the effect multiply.

Oh, and by the way ... I know two women from my church who had breast cancer and remain in remission, and one from school who died from it. Just thought you should know.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Great G-Spot Debate: Not That Simple

In the minds of many, it is one of the great mysteries of science. Some say it doesn’t exist, others insist it does, and those who do still debate where it may be.

No, it’s not Atlantis. It’s the G-spot.

According to this British article’s headline, the famed Grafenberg spot is not really there. Well, until you read the article itself:

“While 56% of women overall claimed to have a G-spot, they tended to be younger and more sexually active. Identical twins were no more likely to share the characteristic than non-identical twins.”

Wait a minute. If women don’t have G-spots, how is it that over half of them say that they do?

According to the scientists who did this study, it’s all in their heads. They just think they’re getting stimulated in that part of the vagina, but it’s really just a subjective feeling.

And I’m sure “pro-G-spot” folks are saying that the other 44 percent simply never learned how to locate and/or properly stimulate themselves.

The problem with both of these perspectives is that neither takes into account how diverse is the reality of human perception and sensation. Each person’s sense of smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing can fall along a wide spectrum, from highly acute to none at all. Younger people usually have more acute senses than older; and those who use a particular sense more intensively tend to develop a greater ability to discern more subtle differences.

So why can’t the same reasoning be applied to this part of the anatomy? If so, then it should be no surprise that younger women with more sexual experience would be able to find and stimulate their G-spots better than their older and less experienced counterparts. Not to mention that our sensations and responses to stimuli can change over time and according to various circumstances.

The whole problem with this study is that it reduces this wonderfully complex reality to a simplistic yes-or-no question. As a result, the only way to accept either answer is to deny the reality of nearly half of the women in the survey. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can see all of those experiences along a continuum, and in so doing cultivate a deeper understanding of – and appreciation for – the rich diversity of human sexual experience.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hopes for 2010

Happy New Year – or, as my Scots ancestors would say: Guid Hogmanay!

Usually people have looked back on the highs and lows of the past year. Personally, I prefer to look forward, and with hope. So, here’s my list of what I hope to see in the new year…

A new job - My current position is not very inspiring and downright soul-sucking. Would love to find a position where I can use my ability to write and/or teach. I’m still hunting, but as you might imagine, this economy has left slim pickings indeed. Any ideas? Drop me a note!

Equality and justice - Let’s hope that more US states and more countries recognize same-sex marriage. And for President Obama to keep his promises to end “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and sign a Federal LGBT rights bill into law. Not to mention an end to harassing kinky folks, like the Atlanta police did when they raided the Eagle leather bar. And while I know that it’s a lot to ask for decriminalization, especially with Rhode Island rolling back the clock, at least we could start treating sex workers like human beings.

Health for everyone - We still have a ways to go yet before we get some semblance of health care reform in the US, and it’s more likely than not that the final version will fall far short of what we really need. Millions will still not have coverage, and restrictions on legal abortion will remain in place. But it will still be a step forward, and one can only hope that activists will work to build upon it.

A wider welcome - More and more religious communities have taken steps to welcome and speak up for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks. Let’s hope this trend continues, and the circle grows ever larger. But let’s also expand what such welcome and advocacy means. Faith communities can and should consider opening their doors and addressing the spiritual needs of intersex people, polyamorous families, the BDSM and fetish communities, sex workers fighting for their rights, and more

Breaking silence - Almost two years ago, I began Sacred Eros at Arlington Street Church, to provide a safe space for people to talk about sexuality issues from a spiritual perspective. It still amazes me the number of people contacting me from other UU congregations in our area because they don’t feel comfortable going to their minister or pastoral care team. It’s time that changed. Clergy and other spiritual caregivers need to let those whom they pastor know that they can come to them with questions and concerns about the erotic. And if you don’t feel equipped to do so, then please contact the Religious Institute for Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing for information.

Of course, none of this will come about like magic. Such things only happen because we make them happen. And that is my greatest hope of all – that more people join in the work of making the world a better place, sexually and spiritually.