Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is It Addiction, Is It Self-Help, or Is It Just Schadenfreude?

In searching my usual spots for new sexual health news, I came across this article from women's health . Yet again, another angle, another spin, another reason to write about Tiger Woods. I am sick to death of hearing about Tiger Woods. I couldn't care less about Tiger Woods. For his family and friends, what's going on in his life is vitally important, but why should the rest of us, who have never met the man, even know about any of this?

And yet the media seem to be mesmerized and will use any excuse they possibly can to write about it. I hesitate to write even one word about Tiger Woods but this article really caught my eye as being particularly ridiculous. The article quotes Mary Canning, a marriage and family therapist as saying “Woods has created a dialogue among couples, giving them a definition for a serious problem that’s plagued relationships...Women are finally realizing, ‘I’m not the only one.’” Come on now? Are we really saying that it never occurred to women that other husbands cheat until this story broke? Couples never dealt with infidelity and never talked about it until Tiger Woods cheated on his wife? This is the saddest excuse I've seen for continuing to report on this story and continuing to invade Tiger's and his family's private lives. It's helping people? No one ever talked about this before and now they recognize that it's a problem? No, cheating has been going on for centuries, millenia, really, and people have been talking about it that whole time. We do not need to hear about Tiger Woods to know that we are not alone with our problems around trust and fidelity.

The funniest part of it is that, after trotting out this quote, the author of the article lists 4 other examples of wayward husbands who attracted huge media attention when their affairs became public. Wait a minute, I thought no one had a definition for this until Tiger ended up in the news.

The article purports to be about the concept of sex addiction and whether it is simply an excuse for cheating. What I would contend is that this article is simply an excuse to write about Tiger Woods, yet again. The fact of the matter is that the media loves a feeding frenzy and they want it to continue for as long as it possibly can. It sells magazines and TV ad spots and they like that. But they want to tell us that all of this perverse voyeurism is actually good for us. They try to make us believe that it's okay for us to pry into people's private lives because we are learning from it and people are being helped.

The sad and plain fact is that all of this is nothing other than making entertainment out of the mistakes and miseries of others. Is Tiger Woods the only person to ever cheat on his wife? Of course not. Have a million men done exactly what he did? Of course. So why are we supposed to be shocked and appalled by it? I'm not excusing his behavior. It's abhorrent, for sure. But it's not news. Not by a long shot.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Idealizing the Innocence of Girls

Before Telus decided to kill our SEX TV Channel, I caught an episode of 'Sex TV' entitled 'Girl Power'. I'm not a fan of Sex Tv at the best of times. It oversimplifies and over-sensationalizes. This episode was no different.

It started out with a backstage look at a Spice Girls tribute group (shows how old the episode was) as they got ready for a show, interspersed with scenes of the teenage girls in the audience waiting for the show to start. The voice over at the beginning explained how the image of female sexuality has been changing, with more and more representations of women who are both strong AND sexual, rather than there having to be a choice. It talked about the stronger presence of images of powerful sexual women. This got my attention and I kept watching. Perhaps, I thought, we'll see some discussion about a newer feminist paradigm around female sexuality.

Not so much.

It turns out this opening narrative had nothing to do with the show as those statements ended with a 'BUT......are young girls becoming too sexual too soon?' And so here we go again. The rest of the show talked about how girls are maturing much faster than they used to, and are bombarded with images of sexuality everywhere to go. Is this forcing them to grow up to fast and to have sex too early? According to this show, yes it is.

What really boils my potatoes about this old saw of an idea is that we are trying to pretend that girls are not sexual beings - at least until they become adults. It's just not true. Just before this show was a little montage of women confessing when their first sexual thought was. They all shared memories from their early or late teens. Come on already! My first sexual thought would have been somewhere around age 4 or 5. It's not that I wanted to have sex but I certainly thought about and was curious about things related to bodies and sex. We all are. Sexuality is not a separate little compartment in our lives that suddenly pops open at puberty. Girls are sexual from the time they are born. So if that's the case, why are we so terrified about them expressing that part of themselves?

It is only in much more recent times, around the turn of the century, that we have held these kinds of ideals around innocence and purity, and yet shows like this and people who share these views distort the historical facts by claiming that girls are entering puberty earlier and earlier and that they are being 'thrust' into the world of sexuality when they are so very young. In fact, this same show, after reporting 'alarming' statistics how the age of menarche has become progressively younger, suddenly switched gears and reported that in ancient Rome, girls were normally married between 12 and 14 years of age. How does this make any sense at all? Since the main reason for marriage at that time was creating families, those girls would most certainly have not been married had they not reached menarche and been capable of having children. So what is really going on here? Clearly, throughout history, it has been understand that women mature physically at a young age and that they are ready to take on adult responsibilities of sex and child-bearing. So why now, do we treat girls so gingerly and make such an effort to protect their innocence? Why is female sexuality so precious and yet at once so threatening.

Don't get me wrong here, I really don't think that girls should be getting married and having babies at 14. But the reason that I believe that is because we our society is not set up to prepare and then adequately support girls to do that at that age. Come to think of it, I don't think our society is set up to support women to make good sexual decisions and to bear children at any age. But that's another story.

The fact of the matter is that both girls and boys are sexual. They are not innocent. The innocence we work so hard to protect is an ideal created by adults who find it easier to pretend their children are ignorant than to deal with the realities of their lives. This idealization and refusal to deal with reality has some dire consequences. Why are the vast majority of teens afraid to talk to their parents about sex and contraception? I think a big part of it is that they are afraid they will destroy their parents image of them. Most parents think their children are perfect and in our society, a perfect child does not have sex, and doesn't even think about it. How can a child talk openly and get good information from a parent who idealizes their innocence? The result is children who hide their real lives from their parents and parents who have no clue what their children are really doing.

There was a very strident young woman on the show who had written a book that I've since forgotten the title of. She believes that sex is sacred and that girls in our society are tramps who have lost all respect for themselves. She shared a story that she heard (she could give no real information to support whether this story was even true or how often something like this might happen)about an 18-year old girl who had planned to go to a motel to have sex with her boyfriend. This plan came about because both of them lived with their parents and had no privacy. The girl needed a ride to the motel so she asked her Dad take her. On the way there, she discovered she had forgotten her birth control pills. The father drove her home to get them and then back to the motel. We were clearly meant to be horrified by this story. I thought it was an example of a nice father. This is an 18-year-old girl who can make a decision about whether she wants to have sex or not. She'd thought it out and planned for it because she was already on the pill. She told her parents what she was doing instead of sneaking around. And her father helped her out with her good choices. I think this is how we all ought to behave where our sexual choices are concerned. But in this looney woman's mind, the idea that parents would be that open and accepting with their children was abhorrent. It's ass backwards - rewarding ignorance and decrying honesty.

So for the end of the show, we cut back to the Spice Girls concert and watch 12 to 14 year old girls mouth the words to 'Stop Right There' as they dance around in their boas and satin shorts. Exactly what we are meant to feel about this, I don't really know.