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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When Assuming Makes an Ass Out of You and Me

Proposition 8 protests. She was thinking about going to the “Join the Impact” protest in San Francisco; I couldn’t go because I have an interview. As she sat with a sad look in her eyes, Why don’t you ever want to go to these things?, she began thinking about whether protesting in San Francisco really made sense.

“I mean, it’s San Francisco,” she said, clicking away at her Mac. “I should be protesting in Hayward or something....Walnut Creek….”

“Yeah,” I said. “Totally. I mean, the mayor has already denounced the decision and everything. People will come around.”

I went back to watching Square Pegs on Hulu.com; thought nothing more of it. Until today, when I got of BART and saw a front page article in the Chronicle about same-sex marriage. Low and behold, it didn’t confirm my beliefs or my roommate’s. In fact, it proved us wrong, and I hate when that happens.

As it turns out, voters in 54 of the city’s 508 precincts voted in favor of the ban; that’s one in four San Franciscans. Though this seems like a relatively low number, the pro-8 supporters were clustered in districts with large populations- Chinatown, the Marina, Excelsior- with a high of 65 percent in the South of Market neighborhood (Surprised? I was) and Chinatown. It’s shockers like these that make me re-think some of the things I’ve said. I, like many others, sometimes forget about the conservative people that live in our flamboyantly liberal city. I forget that they are often times pocketed in the same areas I love (the Marina is one of my all-time favorite places to hang out and read in the city) and are often times are quite large in number.

Perhaps it’s attitudes like mine that helped Prop 8 pass. Many opponents interviewed in articles and stories for television and radio claim that people didn’t try hard enough. Many opponents interviewed by the press claim that people didn’t try hard enough. Many, like Steve Gibson, a gay activist in the Castro, don’t think of San Francisco as a place that necessarily needs protesting. After all, aren’t we all a part of the California liberal mindset? Apparently not. Even while growing up in the Bay Area, I assumed that certain areas were immune from more conservative thought. When family from out of town would automatically associate San Francisco with gay culture, I would often smile and laugh, “Yeah, it is kind of like that.”

What this really boils down to is making assumptions about the general composition of any city or town. It’s sad that it takes things like a ban on gay marriage to open my eyes to the different ideologies that actually exist within the supposed bubble that is the San Francisco Bay Area. But sometimes, you just need a kick in the pants to realize that you still need to fight for things, even in a liberal locale.

I wonder how effective protests actually are in changing minds, attitudes, and policies. If Prop 8 were put to a re-vote, would people in San Francisco change their tune? In all honesty, I think not. Still, that doesn’t make it any less important to show support for a cause and prove that the City is actually a dynamic political ground, and that we don’t all think as one. Maybe then more of my relatives would come to visit.

Neither my roommate nor I ended up going to the protests. We figured our thoughts would be better served by a booze-fueled discussion in our living room while “Wet Hot American Summer” chuckled along in the background. I guess that’s protest enough.


Exposing Politician's Sex Lives

I have a tendency to lose myself in the drama-filled lives of celebrities like Madonna, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan. In fact, I would consider it an all consuming urge…at least while at the grocery store. In my head, I want these people to be adulterous and caught in the throes of passion or a sexual identity crisis. God forbid one of my blessed rags were to skimp on the love lives of my favorite star, I might be forced to go to the supermarket for food. And yet, when I see articles on Barak Obama’s family and Sarah Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe, my cravings for baby daddy drama get muddled and I feel, well, wrong. Since the Kennedy era, it has been more commonplace to report on the sexual appetites and goings-on of our country’s public figures. As a journalist, and curiously nosy one at that, I find myself in a quandary of sorts when it comes to the ethical soundness of a public outing. In a time where the line between entertainment and news is constantly being blurred, I wonder how the general public and news media will discern politicians from other celebrities.

Ask any other journalist whether it is appropriate to cover a sex “scandal” before it fully develops and they too would have a serious doubts about the story’s ethical content. How, they might ask, can a journalist truly seek the truth and report it while abiding by the Journalist’s Code of Ethics? More to the point, is it ethical to expose the private lives of politicians because they have thrust themselves upon the public rostrum and thus relinquished their rights? Or are they still entitled to privacy, no matter how morally ambiguous their actions may be? When racy headlines combine with the public’s desire for gossip and thrills, how does a journalist hold true to ethical standards while doing their duty of informing the public? Simply put, how does a journalist avoid sensationalizing; where does responsible reporting meet the public’s right to know?

Public outings can be traced back to the Nixon days, and while his scandal was not sexually motivated, it opened the floodgates for publishing private presidential matters. Perhaps, before Watergate, Presidents were revered in an idealistic fashion in that they could do no wrong. And if they did, we didn’t want to know about it. John F. Kennedy, for example, was considered to be one of America’s saviors in the early sixties. Impossibly good looking and improbably young, he was shrouded in rumors of affairs with numerous women. Still, his activities didn’t make headlines.

Today, regardless of a mostly sex-positive attitude, the media and the public still tend to abhor public figures whose sexual exploits are of moral question. Whether they bear any resemblance to their own sex lives is another story. Why then, is it ok for to brush Kennedy’s voracious sexual appetite and womanizing ways under the rug while we publically demonize Bill Clinton for “not having sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky? True, Clinton purgered. True, we know that JFK was involved with several women, including the less-than-inconspicuous Marilyn Monroe. The only difference is the energy with which the media devoted to the subject. Without a doubt, the general attitude toward sex in America has become more relaxed and generally open to discussion; but does this doesn’t justify prying into private matters. What if President Elect Barak Obama was the one having an extramarital affair?

And therein lies the dilemma: when is it appropriate to expose the sexual habits of a public figure? When it affects the public or proves hypocrisy within the system- e.g. former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s involvement with a prostitution ring- or when societal mores deem the action immoral ala the infamous Lewinsky blowjob? I wonder what would happen if a journalist received a tip that President Elect Barack Obama had had an extramarital affair. Would the journalist hide it in order to uphold the image of the New Kennedy (a questionably ethical action) or would they publish it and possibly ruin the image of a politician who demonstrates a strong relationship with his partner (also questionably ethical)?

I vote the latter. I’m not advocating special treatment for our new president, nor am I suggesting that we remove sex from the public dialogue. It is nearly impossible to avoid sensationalizing a sex scandal concerning someone in power- I’ll admit, it makes for great drama in US Weekly. But, for God’s sake, you wouldn’t want the entire U.S. population to know that you had anonymous sex in an airport bathroom, would you?


Tit for Tat

Something I never understood: nipples. And not just nipples in general- I have them, you have them, I learned early on what they do and why they do it- but nipples in movies and television. You can see them in movies, more often than not it’s the only “private part” you will see in an R-rated film, they’re blurred on television, and when I went on IMDB last night to look up a movie, nipples was the first topic on the board.

So this all leads me to wonder why female nipple is the obscenity and indecency standard for television and movies. I’ve always thought this was silly and incredibly sexist. Is it because showing the nipple and nothing more brings the viewer to the titillating (pun intended) edge without allowing them to fall over? This assumes, of course, that the viewer in question is one who is attracted to women. Still, if the nipple is the most one can show on a woman in a non-pornographic film and must be hidden in television, what is the male equivalent? More importantly, why isn’t there one?

I guess we are to assume that women (or gay men), in general, don’t want to see naked men the way men (or gay women) want to see naked females. This is bullshit; absolutely bogus. If I want to watch a porno, I’ll watch a porno, but I get so sick of seeing so many nipples (and nothing more; I wouldn’t complain as much if I weren’t stuck on second base) in movies that I need another “private part” to dull the pain. As is such, I wonder what exactly makes the nipple a sacred place? And, in the same vein, what makes it less holy than the scrotum or penis? And why can’t I see it?

This nipplehemia can be traced back to Janet Jackson’s infamous Superbowl performance in 2004 where a pierced nipple escaped from its hiding place to exclaim to the world “I exist!” (Four years later, “Wardrobe Malfunction” is the second Google suggestion when you type her name in a search.) I remember an almost immediate crackdown in swear words, nudity, and other sexual content on television and radio, as well as the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005. And I wonder: was the public so completely enchanted with this one left nipple that it became so obsessed and made it an industry-wide standard?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want boobies plastered all over Nickelodeon and Saturday morning cartoons- although it seems to work in England- I’m all for having a boob barrier until a respectable age. But if this barrier exists, there needs to be a standard for showing the male half. Yes. Penises galore. For every pair of nipples, there should be a pair of balls. For every flash of female public hair, there should be a man’s bush. Everything in the name of equality, and a feast of flesh I can enjoy too.

Still, some confusion exists. I have seen Nips on television. I have seen a flash of male genetalia in a movie, though it’s never as focused as that of females. Adam Sandler’s 2000 movie, Little Nicky, features a dream-like sequence where Sandler and his love interest, Patricia Arquette, fly over a field of animated boobs; nipples and everything. And when on television, the nipples are still there in all their glory. The Sex and the City movie shows a few seconds of a penis, a first for the creators, which was hyped and inevitably disappointing. But I need to give credit to them for breaking the rules, even a little bit (and it was little) in some form of backwards female empowerment.

And now the question remains: if Adam Sandler and Kim Cattrall can see these things, why can’t everyone see them? I mean, why aren’t they getting in trouble by the Powers That Be for showing everything you’re not supposed to show. And the answer is, at least I think it is, because they can’t get in trouble. As saddening as it sounds, movie makers, television folk, producers and writers all subscribe to these notions of decency. Whether because of their personal beliefs or because they are being put upon, we are all suffering.

The solution? Take out the tits and pull out the penis! Well, maybe not quite. Until more movies like Zach and Miri Make a Porno come out, we’re just going to have to keep writing letters to Comedy Central asking them to air Little Nicky. After all, how often are you going to see that many boobs at once?

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Australia Dominating Sex News

An in-depth review of weird sexuality news has uncovered a trend - Australia is dominating sex news. Below are just three most recent examples:

A nude-only party that lasts a month, to combat economic downturn (!?). The tourism industry hopes that the party will re-ignite tourists' interest in Australia. Apparently, kangaroos are just not enough.

Mayor of this picturesque Australian town, Mount Isa, has attempted to be the most misogynistic, judgmental, insensitive, and sexist public official. He succeeded. His basic premise: in a town where men vastly outnumber women, ugly women ("beauty-disadvantaged") have a great chance to live "normal" lives. Apparently, the mayor quite often sees an unattrative female walking down the street either remembering the previous night's sexual adventures or anticipating next night's success.

Millions of people are customers of the sex industry, yet this industry is highly underrepresented in politics. The Australian Sex industry decided to correct that. Meet the Australian Sex Party. Their slogan - help us fight for your adult business and bedroom rights (plus get a copy of the EROS magazine and twice weekly eNews!). The party predicts that the economic crisis will stimulate the demand for the industry's services, as "we're a cheap luxury that can make you feel good." And that demand needs to be represented on the national level! The party is "serious about sex and serious about the Sex Party." Please do not confuse the Australian Sex party with the month-long nude party listed above.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

What happened in Puerto Rico gets blogged about.

Blogging is an interesting idea to me. I have read a few. I have followed fewer. At the end of the day, I am impressed with those who have managed to make a name for themselves in various e-communities posting their ideas and thoughts, be they actually interesting or amazingly pedestrian. Presently, I find myself in a professional situation where blogging will be an integral part of my life. Here goes. My first blog will be about my experiences in San Juan Purto Rico where I was fortunate to attend the conference for The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality or Quad S. It was, simply put, an amazing experience. First of all, the intensity of being in the presence of so many scholars dedicated to thinking critically about sexuality, sexual health and sexual literacy was exhilarating. There were more presentation that interested me at this conference than many others I've attended before. Since so many fabulous presentation were occurring simultaneously and since I felt a bit stressed out that I needed to make a blog entry while in PR I could hardly sort my thoughts out for the sensory overload. However, I managed to not feel guilty and here is my entry. I attended many different presentations and had the chance to table with members of SFSU where a banner for CCSL was featured (: I will talk closely about one of the presentations that stood out most to me and briefly about a couple of others that were also very informative. The first was a presentation that centered the lived experiences of people with disabilities. Of the presenters, Bethany, an alum of the SFSU sexualities studies program, gave a cogent talk on how people with disabilities get trapped in tropes created by the able-bodied to ease their discomfort. What was most interesting in this talk was that Bethany admitted that she does not seek to be the "voice" for those with disabilities, rather she is focused on keeping all of us focused on the fact that the spectrum of disability that may define ones life does not automatically render them "sex-less" or undeserving of a satisfying sexual life. There were other talks such as the one featuring trans-men and their experiences with fluid sexual identities after beginning T and another where young, trans women of color joined researchers on discovering ways to make their lives safer and more livable. The closing plenary featured Gil Herdt. It was my first time hearing him speak and I found his ideas and thoughts on sexual literacy to be highly inspiring. As a young sexualities scholar and working with such amazing established scholars of sexuality, I look forward to each and every opportunity to know more, do more and contribute more to our social justice struggle organized around sexual literacy.


Kimberly Bonner

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Friday, November 14, 2008

57 Bug bites, 1 bottle of rum, and the I word

Heading to the airport before sunrise on a chilly San Francisco morning only to endure 12 hours of travel was surprisingly exhilarating with the knowledge that Obama creamed McCain in the 2009 presidential election. It was a great start to a trip to San Juan Puerto Rico to attend the conference for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. At the conference I heard bits and pieces of pro-Obama sentiments among the sexuality researchers – most seemed to be from the United States. It was stimulating to be around people who felt that change was underway, particularly toward a direction of funding more sex-positive research and comprehensive sex education initiatives.
In addition to some great panels (and a couple of not so great panels) there were some pretty cool social networking opportunities at the conference. For example, on Saturday The NSRC staff, Sexuality Studies grad students, and Campus Coalition for Sexual Literacy leaders and sexuality research hot shots from other organizations and universities sat together for the beach front awards luncheon. The food, the weather, and the company were warm and unforgettable. I enjoyed the background tap tap taping of rain on the patio cover during lunch. The pounding rain complemented the echo of voices from the various discussions. It was an intersection of the personal and professional with sexuality at the center of each conversation. I could hear pieces of conversations about research interests, arguments about qualitative versus quantitative methods, Obama, and sexy vacation spots to name a few. Cards were exchanged and connections were made. Politics and divergent research methodologies aside there is something indescribable about being in a room full of sexuality scholars, it's electrifying.

While it was great to see sex-positive research many of the projects were not inclusive of all people. My favorite part of the conference was a symposium about sexuality and disabilities. Unfortunately, there were only a handful of people present for the discussion. The low number of attendees reflects the reality that disabled people are often ignored and are therefore invisible in sexuality research. Many of the presentations made it clear that people with different bodies and cognitive abilities are still thought of as asexual and powerless beings as seen in reported social attitudes hat reflect both prejudice and pity from the public and even from people who work with individuals who have different abilities. The actual feelings and experiences of disabled people are scarcely represented in the literature. The truth is that many people with physical and cognitive disabilities are just as sexual as everyone else and are perfectly capable of having healthy sexual lives when given the opportunities. After seeing this symposium I am excited about the potential to work with organizations and educational institutions such as the National Sexuality Resource Center and the Morehouse School of Medicine that are working toward a more inclusive sexuality research agenda. With a shift in the political atmosphere there is no where to go but up right? Or in this case IN. I left for Puerto Rico feeling optimism about the future of sexuality education and research in the United States and I headed back feeling empowered with a ridiculous amount of bug bites, a bottle of rum, and a new understanding of inclusive comprehensive sex education.
--Amanda Hoffman

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la isla bonita

I returned to San Francisco from Puerto Rico on Wednesday filled with a sense of accomplishment from the SSSS meeting and relaxed and slightly sunburned from the last few days of lying on the beach in Vieques. Oh yeah, I'm also now a married man - a title that I never really thought that I would hold - having gotten married to my partner of seven years on November 4, Election Day, and the last day that same sex couples had the legal right to marry in the State of California. For the record, I am proud to be married to my husband and to be redefining marriage, and I hope that my marriage is a threat to "traditional" marriage and causes many people to rethink what it means to be in a legal partnership that is much more than about being in love with another person. And I do think that school children across the country should be taught about same sex couples in much the same way they learn about any other family - in fact, I demand it. We exist and will continue to exists despite all of the horrible, hateful efforts to stop us from existing. But I digress...

Puerto Rico is a contradiction. The islands are gorgeous. The extravagant hotels and resorts of San Juan are filled with obnoxious mainland American and European tourists dressed in their best "resort and cruise" wear and Crocs. The beaches of Vieques are pristine with powdery white sand and deep blue and turquoise waters. Old San Juan is charming and quaint with that "old world feel" you only find in European city centers and New Orleans (if you can look past the Forever 21's and Burger King's occupying the retail spaces in the historic buildings). It was a setting that made my impromptu honeymoon feel romantic and straight out of a paperback novel (you know the ones with the hunky guy on the cover in ripped clothing - that would be me). However, traveling just beyond the Condado or Old Town, you encounter a very different San Juan. Here you find poverty and instances of social inequity that make you astutely aware of the imperialistic nature of the relationship between the U.S. and the explicit exoti-cizing of a land and people. I won't spend much time on the topic; instead, I'll refer you to the recent post of Tamara Williams who very eloquently described the way that many of us were feeling during our time spent at the conference and as tourists. I describe this contradiction as way of explaining how I felt throughout my entire stay on this beautiful island.

I arrived on Wednesday feeling bittersweet about the outcome of the elections. I was overjoyed at having married the love of my life the day before, yet guilty and sad for all those who would now be denied the right to marry. I was excited about the conference and happy to be in Puerto Rico, but I was anxious about the work that I had to do over the coming days - facilitating a workshop, working the exhibits, attending meetings, and moderating sessions. This was the first SSSS that I have attended post-PhD as a professional in the field and being in a role other than an attendee at this conference. Unfortunately, I had little time to attend many sessions or plenaries because I was busy working most of the time I was there. I was excited that the NSRC had been able to bring such a large contingent, mostly students, to the conference this year. It honestly felt as though our mission of building a movement around sexual literacy was getting a foothold at SSSS - we bookended the conference by starting with a three-hour workshop on sexual literacy and ending with the closing plenary delivered by Gil Herdt, our Executive Director, on sexual literacy; next year's conference theme is sexual literacy. All of our work aimed at beginning to redefine sexuality has become a reality.

On the other hand, the program was filled with presentations and posters that focused on negative risk-taking, framing sexuality in a medical and pathological model. (What is sexual risk-taking, btw? Don't most sexual behaviors involve some type of risk-taking, whether it's with a new partner or trying something new with an existing partner? Shouldn't this be a good thing?) There was little talk of pleasure, desire, and happiness, and even less mention of sexual health and well-being across the lifespan. In addition, the sessions seemed to be poorly attended (is it possible that the lure of the beach and the rum drinks was too great?). It was crystal clear to me that there was a great deal of work to be done towards changing the ways in which we research and teach sexuality.

Over the past year, I have come to realize that I have a great deal of interest in mentoring and providing training opportunities for students who desire to work in the field of sexuality. I feel that this field attracts a unique brand of individual who is committed and passionate about their work and truly believes that it is possible to change the world. I made it a goal to allow for as many students as possible from our program and from the Campus Coalitions for Sexual Literacy to attend in hopes that they would find a home for their research and discover others with whom they shared a vision. I was dismayed and heartbroken at hearing about some of the experiences and listening to the reflections from some of the students.

At first, I felt angry at hearing so many negative comments about the presentations and the conference in general; after all, this is a place that I consider my home where I've watched many of my peers transition from graduate students to researchers, academics, and future leaders in the field. I felt that some comments were disrespectful to those who had taken a chance and were putting their work out in public to be critiqued by their peers and mentors; I felt it was unfair to be so harshly critical when they weren't there presenting their own work. Then I began to realize that this is exactly what they should be doing and that this is a direct result of what they are learning in their classes, in the Summer Institute, and at our recent regional training. We should be challenging the work of others and asking why they have chosen the frameworks they have chosen. We should be engaging in dialogue about the future of sexuality research and education and promoting a framework that utilizes sexual literacy as its model.

With this realization, I would like to encourage our students, ourselves, and the leadership at SSSS to continue to challenge the current paradigm and work towards redefining sexuality through our work, our presentations, and our conversations. I look forward to next year when not only do we have a large presence at SSSS, and we have a large number of students, staff, and faculty presenting their work and facilitating workshops that present a new paradigm - one that promotes sexual health and well being, including desire, pleasure, and happiness, across the lifespan for ALL individuals, relationships, and communities. We can break the contradictions and be true to ourselves and our nation with respect to sex and sexuality.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reflections on the Plane after SSSS

On the plane, reading about feminist methodology and reflexivity, I am pushed to reframe the past five days. The SSSS conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico needs contextualized; pulling out one photograph of an entire experience, without any indication of the life history of a person critiquing it for a larger audience rather unfamiliar with said person, is limiting in its relevance and unfair to the object of the critique.
I had joked, before leaving, that the conference would be indelibly marked by the results of the Presidential election. It was indeed marked, not only by the results for President, but also several state issues that would, at a glance, appear to be of high interest to a sexuality researcher. In particular, Proposition 8’s passage in CA, AZ, and one other state, as well as the defeat of controversial personhood amendments in South Dakota and CO. As an African American feminist researcher learning the rules of sociological inquiry, the election was a mixed bag of elation and crushing disappointment. And on reflection, for me, that was the lens with which I entered the airspace of San Juan, a land which I consider in the United States, but not of it.

First, in not speaking Spanish, I was uncomfortable with just being there. I remarked in a phone call to my mother soon after arriving that I felt like an “Ugly American,” expecting people who look a lot like me, and who share a similar history, to cater to me even at the level of language. I was also aware of my positionality as a mainlander, and painfully aware that part of the appeal of having a sexuality conference in the Caribbean was in the discourse of tourism, the Latin world, warm weather, and sexual promise. As sex researchers, we are often assumed to be as active in our activities as we are in our inquiry. Put a bunch of over-sexed academics in the tropics, away from the prying eyes of the institutions that may attempt to marginalize and judge us, add a little rum, some “spicy” and provocative music, and brown bodies that stand as markers for sexual promise, and you get, theoretically, a playground where anything is game, everything is available, and no one around you will judge. I am sure there has been work done on tourism and sexuality, moral holidays, and the like, so I won’t attempt to speak authoritatively on these issues at the moment.
Between the feeling of mainlander guilt I possessed, and my (hyper-?) awareness of how our presence as conference-goers could be read, and after hearing, ad nauseam, the new discourse of “America’s progress” in electing a “Black president” (especially when citizens in PR cannot even vote in the general election), I probably took a stance that policed the behavior of the conference goers. My “data” of unscientific participant-observation was combined with a seeming focus on brown and black (male) bodies as vectors for disease, with race as just another variable. Many of the presentations I chose not to attend were about investigating and intervening with black and Latino MSM for HIV prevention, from a public health discourse. In particular, many presentations called for a widening of the research past a disease model, and yet, very few of them attempted to interrogate that space within their work, so the calls rang slightly false. A notable exception was Dr. Lisa Bowleg’s Winer plenary, which I found to be brilliant, nuanced, and challenging to hegemonic discourse in interesting ways.
Additionally, I found the roles people of color played in the conference to be troublesome. I highly doubt that on the mainland, presenters with doctorates who all happened to be brown, would be serving fellow participants (who happened to be overwhelmingly white) appetizers. Maybe I am wrong- it was my first SSSS. In that the presenters who were engaged in this type of service all seemed to be local, it highlighted an appearance of consumption on the part of the mainlanders, a drive-by experience of “authentic” Puerto Rican food, dance, and culture. Again, I admit to being hyper aware of my difference and my tourism, but seeing a Dean plate up plantanos for the rest of us, made me want to cry.
On the positive, it was amazing to be in a setting where you could discuss methodological and epistemological differences in approaches to sexuality research. I especially appreciated the sessions that focused on what anthropology could say to and about sexuality and sexuality research. It was bit quantitatively biased, but what “scientific” conference is not? And yes, there was an overwhelming cry for research that takes sexuality out of the shame place, out of the “risky bodies” and “risky behavior” discourses. Of course, none of us knows how to get money for that kind of research, so we will probably show up next year, in Mexico, with variations on the same theme, but…there was a call, an at least tacit acknowledgement that this work is necessary to getting a full picture of our society’s sexual lives. And even with all my misgivings about consumption and tourism, San Juan in November was a balm to my Colorado-situated soul, and not being able to speak or read Spanish provided a much-needed transition from election to post-election. I also came away with a personal call to action, to encourage submission of papers to SSSS that reflect my particular discipline, and that look at how multi-disciplinary work can be configured, and funded.
In reflection, I know that no event can ever be perfect, and that many people worked very hard to put together an enjoyable and useful experience. And I appreciate any organization that makes a reach, and fails, rather than remains insular and close-minded. My first SSSS, while slightly jarring in some parts, gives me many personal and disciplinary observations, which will help me to conduct and envision better research in the year ahead. Sometimes, it is by learning what we are averse to, that lead us towards where we would like to go. My heartfelt thanks to the National Sexuality Resource Center for allowing me, not only to attend SSSS, but also for letting me be me even when I ride my horse of righteous indignation. I look forward to working with them in future, and can’t wait to see what the students of San Francisco State University and the College Consortium on Sexual Literacy, produce for next year’s SSSS.
--Tamara Williams

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Zack, Miri, and their Porno

While most of you were out and about enjoying your holiday weekend, I was waiting in line, alone, to attend Kevin Smith’s latest film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Yes, that’s the movie that had its billboards pulled in Philadelphia and Salt Lake City for the reference to “porno”. It seems as though the older I get (I’m in my mid-twenties now) the more surprised I am at this idea that somehow children will see words like porno and all of the sudden implode or ask a question like, “Mom, what’s a porno?”

Before I get into discussing the film and its level of offensiveness, I’d like to take a second just to point out that the movie is rated R. This is important to note because if theatres and parents are able to handle their respective jobs, then that means that small children and young teens shouldn’t be able to watch this film without some kind of chaperon. I do realize that some people out there may feel that some form of porno osmosis might occur through the theatre walls, but I assure you this has never been scientifically proven.

Now, back to the level of this films offensiveness and should it have been given an NC-17 rating? Is this movie about more than just making a porno?

First off, because this movie is Rated R, I’m going to write this assuming that if you watch this movie you’re over the age of 17. Given that, is this offensive? The answer is maybe. I know that’s not as simple as some out there would like it to be, but that’s the truth. Was I offended? No, but then again I am much more liberal when it comes to art and entertainment. Could I picture someone coming from a different background being offended and being able to point to different areas of the film as evidence to support their claim of such offenses? Yes. The fact of the matter is when you’re depicting on screen sex, dropping the seven words you can’t say on television (many times) and doing it in a freewheeling manner, many people will find something offensive. I think the real key about making a movie with this kind of content is being able to tell a story in a way that makes the moviegoer take away something more than just memories of shots of nude breasts, or discussions about things called ***SPOILER ALERT*** the “Dutch Rudder”, which by the way is defined by the Urban Dictionary as, “Having someone complete the act of masturbation by pulling up and down on the forearm, while the male holds his own penis.” Anyway, the point is, if you’re going to make a movie that depicts making amateur porn you’re going to leave yourself open to possibly having people who haven’t seen your movie react in a negative way, perhaps in a very negative way.

Having said all of that, while the movie may show the main characters making a porno, that’s not what the movie is about. At the end of the day Zack and Miri is a romantic comedy. I use the word romantic loosely, but that’s what it is. The porno being made is simply a device to get the two main characters played by Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks to realize that they are more than just friends. Just like your parents told you, sex isn’t just about intercourse. Sometimes, it can lead to much more. In this case it led to two best friends realizing that they have always had more intense feelings for one another.

You know, whatever expectations you might have of this film, good or bad, you should just see it for yourself and then make your decision whether or not to let your kids see it, post its advertisements up on your bus terminal wall, or simply call it offensive.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Mixing methods, gender, and sex

I try to be a positive person, and with that, I want to talk about the session, or rather, presentation, I was particularly excited to see.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a student presentation on almost the exact same topic I’m hoping to look at within my masters thesis: transmasculine sexual identity and fluidity. As his PowerPoint began I was greeted with a familiar literature review on transgender and FTM research, including similar points and criticisms that I was beginning to formulate. As his talk progressed to the findings, I had that familiar ‘oh!’ moment that those of us working in sexuality, gender and ethnic studies to name a few fields, often have after a piece of the consciousness puzzle falls into place. By looking at survey data, and subsequently quantitative analysis, his research focused on sexual identity and behaviors pre- and post-transition among an incredibly large (hundreds) group of transmen, painting a larger picture than I had not previously seen. I was thrilled to see this work being done, even more so to see the work being done in a way I hadn’t thought about. After the session was over, I went over to introduce myself, and to talk with him more about what he was doing, and how the qualitative work I hope to do, will be helped immensely by what he’s doing and potentially vice versa. To me, this is what I hoped SSSS would be about, sharing great research and networking with people from all over the world. I left the presentations with a revitalization of ideas, and a more profound sense of what it meant to share, and goals for working together.

As a graduate student, time goes by where I eat, sleep, and breathe research methods. What this conference has done is placed those methods in the larger context of work in sexuality, and not just articles and books. Mixed methods to me is so much more than just bringing together the qualitative and quantitative. Rather, people, topics, conflicts, and conversations come together to try and do the best that they can. Since this is a blog from San Juan, I’d like to end by imagining that there’s enough room in this sexy sandbox called research that we can all play in.

-richard garcia

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rum and Racism

It is raining now in San Juan, and yet…it is still San Juan. It will stop eventually, I’m sure, and I will be able to go lay out in the Caribbean breeze…but I digress.

Yesterday, I attempted to blog, but lost my post in Puerto Rican cyberspace. I took it as a sign to go on the rum factory tour and relax. I should stop paying attention to my signs. From a sociological perspective, this was a very bad tour.

We had heard that this tour delivered non-stop alcohol, so we wanted food to coat our stomachs. After trying very hard to find a place that served faster than molasses, we got to gobble down half a plate of cheese fries and rushed to board a bus that…broke down. After a delay to get another bus delivered, we got on the road and…stuck in traffic. When we arrived at the rum factory, they were above capacity, so we had to wait to deboard and enter the facility. This is when things got bad.

Our tour guide may have had translation troubles, or may have intended to explicitly say that Columbus discovered America, and brought sugar cane to the New World. Although several brown people in the crowd gasped or looked askance, our tour guide continued with a narrative of how Puerto Ricans, as a fusion of Indians, enslaved Africans and Spaniards, were like a cuba libre, the famous drink made with rum, coke, and a little lime. One big, happy family. Interesting. I would like to note that I am willing to hold the space for people to not be affected by the legacy of slavery in the same way I am…and yet.

I must add now that our fellow tourists were well into performing their role as Ugly Americans. Perhaps it was the unique combination of so many academic elites with very warm weather and brown bodies in service, but I found myself irritated by the blatant displays of entitlement and white privilege. So they swallowed the narrative that completely glossed over painful historical moments, whole.

The tour was very crowded and unwieldy; after watching a video that advertised splashing rum around like water as a vector for instant rhythm and heterosexual sex with thin, beautiful women, we shuffled from room to room of reconstructed areas central to the company’s development. We looked at the Founder’s office, the original distillery, etc. There were video screens that would show the production process, but by the time we got to that part, I was over this tour. After a demonstration of mixing some classic rum cocktails, we watched the “drink rum, have sex” video again, and were released into the night, to drink the actual rum.

The gift shop was an easy miss. Since I had not seen any of the production process, I figured the gift shop rum was the same as that which I could buy across the street from my house. Each tourist received four drink tickets, and there was to be food, vendors, and cultural demonstrations.

Complaining is not my intention- I discuss the conditions to give you a context for what happened. The lines were long. Very long. The food was mostly gone, and what food there was, was being served by conference presenters (brown bodies). When we got drinks, the glasses were definitely sample-sized. And the atmosphere invited voyeurism and consumption. The amphitheater was ringed with vendors, some of whom I saw smiling at the antics of the crowd, and not in a good way. Folks pushed and cut lines, loaded plates with food they tasted, then abandoned, and watched the dancers with alcohol-fueled disinterest. Our time was short, as well; because the busses were paid for by the hour, people had to cram a lot of drinking and eating into a truncated time period to feel they got their “money’s worth.”

Many of my colleagues stopped to remark on the blatant exploitation of “authentic” Puerto Rican culture. It did not feel like an exchange; it felt like an invasion. The emcees presented the band and dancers as being from “a little town up in the mountains,” as if their rural origin somehow made them pure, or more real. I was embarrassed and just wanted to go away.

The entire evening made me think of Lisa Bowleg’s presentation earlier that afternoon. Dr. Bowleg, talking about research on people of color, emphasized that while many people research “these people,” very few take time to actually talk to their respondents, and to let their voices be heard. Instead, researchers map onto them interpretations of behavior that have no context.

By the time we reloaded onto the bus to return to Condado, I was furious at sexuality researchers, and I wanted to question every bit of knowledge this group had produced. How can you be a good researcher about something as racialized as sexuality, if you, yourself, have no idea how to interact interculturally? Not even the rum helped with that question.

--Tamara Williams

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Perspectives from Puerto Rico - toward a more methodologically integrated SSSS

Pulling my attention from the ocean, the sky, the beautiful people out here on the lawn of the Condado Plaza is a difficult task indeed. Nevertheless, I persevere to commit myself to at least one morning with head buried in laptop to share with you a few thoughts from my very first SSSS meeting. One thing that has struck me about this conference is it’s ability to pull together academics and activists from disciplines as disparate as psychology, health promotion, neuroscience, pharmacy, women’s studies, anthropology, and sociology, to name but a few. The common thread amongst us – a commitment to sex research and promoting sexual health and happiness – trumps disciplinary boundaries to an extent that I’ve rarely experienced. I come from sociology, an academic tradition that has had to fiercely defend its epistemological contributions and methodological rigor against criticism from multiple directions. An unfortunate byproduct of this boundary guarding is that this makes transdiscipline collaborations especially difficult. Further, this disciplinary obsession with respectability has put sexuality research on the furthest margins of sociology. So in this regard, I have found SSSS an especially refreshing experience.

At the same time, however, I have found myself somewhat frustrated with the dearth of qualitative contributions represented here. I am an avowed and diehard qualitative researcher, so take this criticism in that context (see, my qualitative commitment to positionality and reflexivity shines through even in blog format!). I do believe that quantitative studies have the ability to make a significant contribution to sexuality research and policy. Without quantitative data, we would be woefully lacking in our understanding of sexual health and behavior. Nonetheless, there are some crucial questions pertaining to sexuality that simply cannot be adequately addressed through quantitative measures alone. Questions of identity, of meaning, of culture – these questions demand attention to the lived experience that a survey or a questionnaire cannot attend to. While this is a claim I would make about the study of virtually any social problem or phenomenon, I argue this is especially true of sexuality. I believe that SSSS and the researchers involved in this organization are really committed to revealing the variety and malleability of gender and sexual experience. Resisting the reification of sex into a system of rights and wrongs, normal and abnormal, healthy and unhealthy seems to me a shared commitment among everyone I’ve heard from here. And yet – understanding gender and sexuality as phenomena that can be reduced to sets of dichotomous variables and then harnessed into easily disciplined scales and models, something I’ve seen a lot of this weekend, seems absolutely antithetical to this goal in many respects.

For this reason, I would love to use this forum to encourage qualitative researchers of sex to become more actively involved in SSSS. Just as we can learn so much from each other across disciplines, we can also learn so much across methodological perspectives. We will not have a holistic understanding of sexuality without bringing in more qualitative investigations of the meanings associated with sex and sexuality, the everyday emotional and interpretive valences of sexual behaviors and identities. Through my work with the NSRC and the many great friendships I’ve made within SFSU’s sexuality studies program, I know that this challenging and critical work is being done. At last week’s first CCSL regional training in San Francisco, I heard a number of fascinating and nuanced analyses of sexuality from qualitative researchers across disciplines. I urge those doing this kind of research to bring their perspectives to SSSS. It’s not just a matter of methodological prejudice, but rather, a real academic imperative.

And with that, I’m off to the beach.

--Cati Connell

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sunshine, sex, and San Juan

Hello from San Juan, Puerto Rico! Why, you may ask, would I be in beautiful, sunny San Juan in the middle of the school year? Oh, just to hear and talk about sex – sex, sex, and more sex! I’m currently attending the 51st annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Attending last year, where it was held in Indianapolis, IN, fails to compare to this year’s meeting in Puerto Rico. Let me be clear – the people are always great, and the work is always great – but things are so much better when you’re right on the beach.

When I’m not sleeping in, recovering from the previous night’s festivities, I try to attend as many sessions that relate to my interests as possible. Kicking off the conference experience, I attended the Student Award Finalists session on Thursday afternoon. Needless to say, all of these students deserve the award – there is such great work that researchers at all levels of the pipeline are doing. Of course, erotic plasticity, sex work, internalized homophobia, and cybersex are always a great start to a great weekend. Thursday night ended with the pool party and welcome reception, sponsored by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at my home university, Indiana University. The lines for the open bar were too long, but by the fourth rum and Coke, I didn’t mind much.

Yesterday, I was able to drag myself out of the comfortable hotel bed to attend a session on LGBT Identity Issues – discussions of bisexuality, suicidality, and a repeat of the erotic plasticity and internalized homophobia presentations. The former presentations highlighted the necessity of recognizing and exploring variation within the group that tends to be lumped together – LGB or LGBT or non-heterosexuals, or whatever term researchers may use. But, it was the Winer Plenary – Lisa Bowleg’s presentation on the use of an ecological model of sexual risk for black heterosexuals – that left me in awe. Dr. Bowleg’s talk noted many things, but a few of these points really struck me: the necessity of transdisciplinary work, the necessity of using multiple methodologies, particularly qualitative methods, the necessity of exploring various factors and influences that shape individual-level behavior, and the necessity of looking at particular groups’ unique histories to better understand the groups and their behavior. I must say, none of these points are new to me – these are things I and others continue to call for. But, it’s striking that so few researchers, even at this conference, have taken Dr. Bowleg and others up on their challenge. So, many of the presentations have relied on predominately-white samples and looked no further to explore race, or on predominantly-US-born samples and looked no further at citizenship, nationality, and migration, and so forth.

And so, the conference continues. I hope to catch another session or two today before things begin to wrap up and I head back to Indiana. If only I could take back the sunshine, beach, and sex-positive environment I’m enjoying so much this weekend.

--Eric Grollman

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Black Sexualities

Black Sexualities

I just returned from the SSSS (Society for the Scientific Study) plenary session titled Risky Sex and Beyond: The Ecological Context of sexual risk for heterosexual active black men and women. I found the session presented by Lisa Bowleg Ph.d from Drexel University both enlightening and inspiring. She discussed black sexualities from a multi-level approach that involved the historical context of black sexuality to current injustices and inequalities pervasive throughout black communities.
Dr. Bowleg gave us many "take homes," and one that still resonates with me was the discussion on relationship power between heterosexual men and women. Bowleg's research depicted the uneven levels of power between men and women in regards to condom-use moments leading up to intercourse. She talked about the different ways in which women negotiate talking to their partners about using protection through individual narratives. For women, a lot is involved in the negotiation, "convincing the partner to put one on," negotiating her pleasure, desires, and rationality in what the condom use means overall. These ideas were highlighted throughout the presentation and it gave the audience a lot to think about in terms of analyzing and understanding the "full scope" of Black sexualities.

--Michael Diaz

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rum and Sex: it's SSSS 2009 in Puerto Rico

This blog post has been moved to our new website. You can read this blog post here:


Visit our blog at: http://nsrc.sfsu.edu/dialogues/communicate


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

TV makes teens pregnant...Again

Forget about the election, there’s real news to be made: For the umpteenth time, researchers have concluded that watching too much (popular) TV leads to unwanted teen pregnancies. The study conducted by RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization, and published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics suggests that sexually active teens who watch popular programs laced with sexual innuendo are about twice as likely as those who don't to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant. Finally, a real reason to hate Friends, aside from the fact that it was never as good as Seinfeld.

Now, as someone who has herself conducted longitudinal studies on the associations between TV viewing habits and the sexual conduct of youth (FYI: for those not in the academic know, “teen” is out; “youth” is in,) I am neither surprised nor entirely convinced by the study’s findings. On the one hand, yes, a finding is a finding is a finding. But only up to a certain point.

RAND’s data was based on phone interviews with 12-17 year olds, both girls and boys, over the course of a three year period. The youth were questioned on their sexual and television viewing habits, including how often they watched 20+ popular TV shows that were found to contain lots of sexual or suggestive content. Which leads me to problem #1: RAND’s qualifications for “sexual content” are solely based on visible sexual behaviors like kissing, touching, sexual intercourse, etc…, that were then quantified. This leaves out other heteronormative behaviors specific to dating, coupling and sexual behaviors like flirting and pressure tactics, which may also indirectly influence viewers’ real life behaviors. Which brings me to problem #2: RAND’s findings were drawn from those youth that were already sexually active. The RAND study focused only on unwanted teen pregnancy and was not intent on proving any correlation between sexual activity and TV viewing habits. In other words, the youth mentioned in the study were already engaging in risky sexual behaviors with or without the influence of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and the other one. The problem, then, would have to be one of information. Or dare I say, the lack there of.

The US’s high rates of teen pregnancy are more in line with a sexually illiterate populous than a TV crazed one. Take for example teen pregnancy rates in other Western countries, like Canada (this Green Card holder’s native land) that have access to the same crappy television programming offered in the US. You’ll find that per capita, Canada’s teen pregnancy rates are staggeringly lower than their once-cool-again, or Obamafied, neighbors. And, at least where the Prairies are concerned, there’s not much else to do but watch Buffy re-runs (did I mention this Green Card holder is also a snobby ex-Montrealer? Sorry Saskatoon.) Maybe if studies focused more on what youth know or don’t know about sexuality, rather than how many hours a day they sat in front of the TV, we’d see some real change.

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