By Marty Klein, Ph.D.
Post Road West
Westport, CT 06881
212 pp; $29.50
Click on book cover to order from Amazon.com
Review by Mark Kernes, Senior Editor, AVN from the November 2006 issue. Reprinted by permission. Copyright by AVN.
Similar articles appear regularly on AVN.COM
Almost since its founding 23 years ago, Adult Video News has reported on the government's attempts to suppress sexually explicit video, and in recent years has expanded its coverage to include many more aspects of the interaction between American culture and a wide variety of sex-related topics – and if we do say so ourselves, we've done a damned good job of covering that subject.
It is against that background that we can state that Dr. Marty Klein's recently published volume, America's War On Sex, is quite simply the best book yet written dealing with the collision between the adult industry, sex-positive activism and the religious right. Every single page contains valuable information and analysis for anyone involved in the adult industry, and should be considered required reading for anyone who wants to understand why so many people in the United States, particularly the so-called "cultural leaders," are so screwed up when it comes to all subjects sexual.
"[T]hose who are trying to 'clean up' America say they're fighting for a number of critical reasons: the family, marriage, morals, education, community safety," Klein perceptively notes at the outset. "But this isn't really true. It's a war against sex: sexual expression, sexual exploration, sexual arrangements, sexual privacy, sexual choice, sexual entertainment, sexual health, sexual imagination, sexual pleasure."
The war, he says, is between "those who fear and hate sexuality ('erotophobes')" and "those who appreciate or tolerate sexuality ('erotophiles')" – and as things stand now, the erotophobes are winning.
"Today's domestic conservative/fundamentalist political and social movements present a clear (though horrifically distorted) picture of sexuality" in almost every form, Klein assesses. "The goal of this war is to control sexual expression, colonize sexual imagination, and restrict sexual choices."
Sound familiar? Sound like something you yourself have thought?
Klein's thesis is broken into several chapters dealing with such subjects as sex education, reproductive rights and the media, both broadcast and Internet, but as becomes quickly evident, those are really just different aspects of the same war, fought with the same weapons, using the same (mis)information and targeting the same objective: To control and restrict everyone's sexuality, even their own.
And what better place to start than with the kids?
"The battle over sex ed is the battle over childhood and adolescent sexuality," Klein notes. "The Right and government at all levels ... [are] asking kids to join them in an unholy alliance to deny sexuality: teaching kids to fear sexual feelings, while adults fear sexual information."
The "anti-sex educators" received $200 million in 2006 alone to teach "abstinence education," but as Klein explains at length, it's a doomed enterprise.
"Kids using abstinence this weekend will have sex," Klein states. "They've promised they won't, but they will. How do we want to prepare them for this? We tell kids to wear seatbelts, even though we don't want them to crash. We tell kids to call if they'll be late, even though we want them home on time. What do we offer kids who don't refuse sex the way we want them to? Nothing – no backup plan, no mnemonic devices, no support, no information to protect themselves. Ask an abstinence proponent what a kid should do if he or she has sex, and they reply, 'Don't have sex.'"
And this year's $200 million is hardly the entire price tag of this program, Klein notes. Among the other, perhaps more important costs are "unfamiliarity with, and mistrust of, contraception"; "reinforcement of belief that sex is bad and dangerous"; "ignorance of appropriate personal sexual decision-making"; and "shame, guilt and isolation when chastity vows are broken." In fact, it all makes a pretty good case for the concept that kids are, as Klein puts it, "a minority targeted for discrimination."
Another discriminated-against class is women in general, whose rights to abortion, birth control and "morning-after" pills are routinely subverted if not outright denied – and as Klein correctly states, the religious right is working ever harder to restrict those rights even further.
"It starts with a belief that the only legitimate purposes of sex are reproduction and marital intimacy," he explains. "Contraception symbolizes sex for other purposes – that is, pleasure. Thus, an attack on contraception is an attack on sex-for-pleasure... For [the religious right], sex is either authorized or unauthorized. And sex is authorized only between legally married heterosexual couples, generally limited to penis-vagina intercourse... This means that most Americans are having unauthorized sex."
And how do the religious conservatives combat unauthorized sex? One of the main methods is by increasing the unwanted consequences of such acts.
"Those who war on sex," Klein warns, "depend on a simplistic hypothesis proven wrong repeatedly throughout history: That if you increase the possible dangers of sexual expression, people will stop having sex."
This strategy has already been employed in nearly every conceivable way: By teaching people, especially youngsters, to fear sex; by withholding contraception from them, both before and after the fact; and by claiming bogus health consequences of the use of contraception, of the new HPV vaccine, and of "porn addiction," among many others. Moreover, religiously-motivated government actions have contributed to the problem by ignoring scientific evidence in making decisions about sex-related subjects, by subtly encouraging the takeover of hospitals that have performed abortions by religious institutions that oppose access to the procedure, and by enacting laws that give "rights" to fetuses and "rights" to physicians and pharmacists to withhold treatment and drugs.
"Legal recognition of fetuses' rights is not the same thing as criminalizing abortion – it's worse," Klein charges. "Nor is it the same as declaring when life begins. It's more pervasive, with a cascade of awful effects. This is not an incremental change; it is an earth-shaking event counter to every founding document and principle in American history... Law has taken moral and metaphysical beliefs and made them facts."
Many of these assaults on sexual culture are perpetrated by what Klein calls the "Sexual Disaster Industry" (SDI), which he says "involves federal and local government, conservative religion, 'morality' organizations, right-wing think tanks, victim parade daytime talk shows like Montell and Maury, and news programs looking for a bump ('Isn't it awful the way people go to strip clubs? Film at 11!')"
"The Industry is continually inventing and warning us about new sex-related disasters-in-the-making," Klein continues. "And although government, religion and civic groups are working overtime creating more and more solutions, everyone agrees that our safety and peace of mind is further away than ever. It would seem that our sex-related problems are just too big, that American sexuality (actually, human sexuality) is just too degenerate. That's why programs need more money, citizens need to be more vigilant, people need to give up more rights, and government has to pass ever-stricter laws."
If that sounds as if it means that suppression of sex will go a long way to creating a theocratic dictatorship in America, the evidence for that future is incontrovertible.
Consider also the provably false sexual mythology that, according to Klein, the SDI promotes:
"1) Kids are damaged by exposure to sexual words, pictures and concepts;
"2) America is full of sexual predators – and the situation is getting worse;
"3) Ultimately, people can't explore sexuality safely;
"4) People interested in sexual stimulation, exploration or unusual stuff are 'them,' not 'us';
"5) Eliminating venues for sexual experiences will eliminate sexual behavior;
"6) Feeling scared about sexuality is responsible citizenship and common sense."
"Together, these six assumptions create a landscape of danger and powerlessness, in which suspicion of one's own and others' sexuality is sensible," Klein concludes. "Surrounded by this much danger and potentially explosive eroticism, fear (and resentment) isn't just plausible, it seems responsible."
Objects of that fear/resentment include everything from porn to strippers to swingers to gays (and same-sex marriage) to prostitution, and true believers would even throw in such innocuous fare as "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and Janet Jackson's millisecond breast exposure ... but as Klein notes, "The Sexual Disaster Industry's goal isn't to address the real problems of real people. It's to 1) inspire us to fear sex; and 2) to provide society with excuses to restrict sexual expression."
Ding! Ding! Ding! Anybody out there worried about his/her store getting busted? Website getting shut down? Production company indicted for failing to index records properly even though no kids are involved? Thank the Sexual Disaster Industry! And as Klein properly assesses, "sexual conservatives are devoted to finally, completely winning this conflict by any means necessary short of nuclear weapons."
"So it's not the busted neighborhoods, ruined virginal strippers, kids playing Nintendo with hookers, or bored, philandering husbands that are the real issue," he continues. "It's sex as entertainment. It's people arranging for sex to serve them, rather than people being enslaved by sexual repression. It's the acknowledgement that erotic novelty is not only desirable, it's possible. And it's the assertion that men and women who choose to use sex in this way can make responsible choices in the rest of their lives. For those who fear sex, tolerating adult entertainment means collapsing the crucial distinction between good people who repress their sexuality and bad people who don't (and who suffer as a result)."
For AVN, those "bad people" would certainly include its readers as well as adult entertainment customers, producers, performers and anyone else employed in any manner by any adult business... but as Klein understands, it's far more than that.
"Somehow, they [religious conservatives] neglect to mention that it's the consumer choices and other preferences of their own constituents that are 'the problem.' It is average, working-class and middle-class Republican voters in Charleston, Abilene and Spokane that are watching porn, having affairs, buying vibrators, going to strip clubs, and keeping 'Sex & The City' on the air. People may tell pollsters and even politicians that they want more 'decent' programs and products. But that's not what people are discussing, buying and watching. Religious people, conservative people, 'decent' people demand – and get – the 'Gilmore Girls', a Hitachi magic wand, Jenna Jameson, a lap dance."
But the hypocrisy of XXX's critics, as important as that is to understand, is hardly the point of this book. It's about human rights, and for U.S. citizens, constitutional rights as well.
"Americans have had so many rights of expression, economic choice and privacy for so long that most have trouble envisioning their world without them," Klein rightly notes. "For people who enjoy a little porn once a week, it's hard to imagine our constitutional structure turning on such a seemingly trivial thing. The righteous anger of the Right, enthroned in federal and state government, clearly sees what the average porn consumer still doesn't: The profound connection between the personal and the political."
As the adult industry trade publication, AVN has long tried to make this exact point – but never has it done so as eloquently as has Dr. Marty Klein in this vitally important book.
— Mark Kernes
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