opinion

Is the US at War With Sex?

Alex Henderson
Dr. Marty Klein is not only a certified sex therapist and a licensed marriage and family counselor who brings 26 years of experience to the table; he is also an ally of the adult entertainment industry who First Amendment attorney Lawrence G. Walters and others have used as an expert witness in court.

The Northern California-based Klein, who has written six books and publishes the monthly online newsletter Sexual Intelligence, has been consistently outspoken against sexual repression in the United States; in fact, erotophobia during the George W. Bush era is the focus of his most recent book, "America's War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty."

The book's premise is that sexual freedom in the U.S. is seriously under attack from an abundance of modern-day puritans, whose targets range from birth control and sex education to the adult entertainment industry.

Interviewed by XBIZ in late January, Klein discussed some of the issues that "America's war on sex" raises and offered his recommendations on things he says would be beneficial for adult businesses. Klein firmly believes that all areas of the adult industry (from adult filmmakers and adult webmasters to strip clubs to BDSM dungeons to sex toy providers) will continue to be a major target of the sex police unless the industry launches a full-scale public relations campaign, and scientific research, he stressed, must be a major component of that campaign.

XBIZ: During your 26 years as a sex therapist, how much progress has the United States made in terms of sexual awareness? Sexually, how far has the U.S. come since 1981?

DR. MARTY KLEIN: It's a mixed picture. In a lot of ways, people are more aware of the wide range of sexual behavior that people typically engage in. There is much more consciousness about same-gender sex; there is much more consciousness about S&M and role-playing. On the other hand, there is still a great deal of guilt, shame and anxiety about sexuality, and in fact, we've gone backward in some ways. There are a lot of people now who are trying to discredit the efficacy of condoms, which is definitely a step backward.

XBIZ: In what respects have your insights been helpful to Larry Walters and others who have represented the adult entertainment industry?

KLEIN: I think you'd be better off asking them, but basically, my role — when I work with attorneys and others in the adult industry — is to be a resource as far as what the typical consumers of adult materials think and feel about sexuality. I have a lot of background in the cross-cultural aspects of sexuality; not everyone feels about sex the way that we do today in the United States in the 21st century. I also provide the adult industry and attorneys like Larry Walters with social and cultural information; my doctoral work is in sociology. I talk with attorneys behind the scenes about how sexuality and relationships fit into the larger picture in the United States.

XBIZ: Opponents of adult entertainment, including the Christian Right and anti-erotica feminists on the far left such as Catharine MacKinnon, claim that sexually explicit material has an abundance of negative social effects. Is the adult industry doing an adequate job of countering their claims with scientific data?

KLEIN: No, of course not. The adult entertainment industry does virtually nothing to discuss the science behind the issues. The adult industry is being penny wise and pound foolish. By ignoring science — by ignoring sex therapists, social workers and marriage counselors — the adult industry is missing an extraordinary opportunity to educate people who are shaping the opinions of people around the United States about adult materials.

XBIZ: So what the adult industry needs to do is get the message out as far as scientific data goes?

KLEIN: Absolutely. Get the message out, and encourage further scientific investigation. The adult industry, I think, tries to fly beneath the radar in a lot of public policy issues-and if it were ever possible for the adult industry to fly below the radar, that day is over. Because of technology, that day is over. What the adult industry needs to understand better is that people are talking about the impact of adult materials 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the cable networks and in the mass media as well as in the blogosphere and in training programs of marriage counselors and social workers. Public policy makers need better information about the actual impact of adult materials rather than relying on the opinions of people who don't know what they're talking about. When the government regulates the auto industry and decides safety standards for seat belts, they don't rely on opinions; they rely on science, or at least they're supposed to. When the government regulates the meat-packing industry, they rely on science — or at least alleged science — rather than relying on people's opinions. And the adult industry should be pushing that whenever there is regulation of adult materials, it should be based on science — not on the opinions of a bunch of frightened or angry people.

XBIZ: What are some of the things the scientific data tells us about the impact that adult entertainment has on marriages and romantic relationships?

KLEIN: The most important thing that the data does not tell us is that adult materials in general have negative effects on people's lives. That's the most important thing to know about the science. We don't have enough science showing positive effects or even benign effects, but what we mostly have is a lack of data showing negative effects. The reason that's important is because lots of people in the mass media and public policy go around talking about how dreadful this stuff is and how it leads to anti-social behavior. We have people in the sex addiction field and the porn addiction field whose careers depend on mythologies about the destructive effects of consuming adult materials. There is a built-in lobby of people who are spreading lies, half-truths and innuendos as if there were lots of data showing that adult materials are dangerous. The good news is that there is no reliable, high-quality scientific data showing that consuming adult materials is dangerous.

XBIZ: In light of November's Democratic congressional victories, do you see the U.S. turning the corner socially?

KLEIN: Oh, no, definitely not. In fact, I see the opposite. Sen. Sam Brownback is running for president, and he is going to base his campaign on spreading lies about the ubiquity of adult materials and the danger of adult materials. And the family planning thing is another perfect example; the country votes for a Democratic Congress, and at the very same time, the president puts somebody who's against family planning in charge of America's family planning program. That says everything you need to know about where we are right now with regard to social policy and sexuality.

XBIZ: Do you see the Bush administration catering to the Christian Right even more in the next two years?

KLEIN: I see the Bush Administration continuing to pass laws attempting to regulate the alleged effects of adult material. We have seen a number of 2257 raids since the November election; they haven't stopped raiding production companies for alleged 2257 violations now that the country has voted in a Democratic Congress. And if Hillary Clinton were elected president, do you really think she would say, "OK, we don't have to have any more 2257 raids?" I don't think she would say that.

XBIZ: We've talked a lot about the Christian Right, but how problematic is the anti-sex left for the adult industry in 2007? Catharine MacKinnon, for example?

KLEIN:Very problematic. It really saddens me to see people who call themselves feminists trashing adult entertainment because they believe it is anti-woman or disrespectful of women. I think that is really, really sad. But, you know, the left has done a lot of things that are really sad. The left is promoting hate speech codes on college campuses.

XBIZ: One of Sen. Brownback's arguments in favor of having a sequel to the Meese Commission is that because technology is making erotica so omnipresent, the government needs to study its societal impact.

KLEIN: Well, I'm totally in favor of more scientific studies on the societal impact of adult entertainment, although I honestly don't think that a scientific study is what Sen. Brownback wants. I think what Sen. Brownback wants is more studies showing that adult entertainment has deleterious effects, which is not the same thing as wanting to honestly know what the science says. And when he says that he wants another Meese Commission, I think that is a really good way to describe what he wants because the mandate of the Meese Commission was to discover the negative impact of adult entertainment. That's not what they were able to do, but that was their mandate.

XBIZ: One trend that you have discussed in your Sexual Intelligence newsletter is the Christian Right promoting sex toy bans in parts of the Bible Belt. In Alabama, for example, selling dildos or vibrators is illegal and punishable by a year in jail. Do you see sex toy bans increasing or decreasing in the next five or 10 years?

KLEIN: It's hard to think clearly about something that is so bizarre. It is so bizarre that you can walk into a store and buy a gun but you can't walk into a store in some places and buy a vibrator. I certainly think that more states are going to try banning sex toys, but I honestly don't know where the law is going to go on this or if, at some point, some state court is going to say, "No, you can't do that."

XBIZ: How long do you think it will be before the United States becomes more like Western Europe in terms of sexual attitudes?

KLEIN: I have no idea. It could be 12,000 years. Who would have predicted that in 2007, there would be more states criminalizing sex toys than in 1967? People in Europe think we're nuts about this.

If the government wanted to outlaw Toyotas, all the Toyota owners would stand up and say, "You can't do that." But when the government tries to over-regulate some kind of sexual expression or sexual technology, people are much less likely to stand up and say, "You can't do that." Sexuality is so demonized in this country.

XBIZ: What anti-sex activists on the Christian Right does the adult entertainment industry need to be the most concerned about in 2007?

KLEIN: I think that James Dobson, in some respects, is the most dangerous because he has the most credibility, whereas Pat Robertson has blown a lot of his credibility. Samuel Alito sent James Dobson a letter after he was confirmed as Supreme Court justice thanking him for helping him out. Dobson has many devoted followers and an enormous amount of institutional money, and he is extremely conservative socially and sexually. If I had to pick one guy, I would pick James Dobson as the most dangerous guy.

XBIZ: What are some of the things that adult companies in the U.S. must do to survive what you describe as America's war on sex?

KLEIN: The adult industry needs to understand that at the end of the day, every businessperson is in the same business: They're in the people business. United Airlines is in the people business, Safeway is in the people business, and the adult entertainment industry is in the people business.

Turning out a high-quality product is not enough; the adult industry needs to be thinking about the cultural and the human context in which its products are used. The adult entertainment industry needs to be very much involved in the people aspects of their business.

That means being involved in the regulatory end of the industry as well as helping organizations that promote positive sexuality. The adult industry, I think, would be served by recognizing that they really need to be part of the cultural dialogue about the use of their products.

It's not good enough to just wait around to get sued and then defend yourself in court. I guess the last thing I would say is that the adult industry's natural allies are organizations like Planned Parenthood and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The adult industry would be wise to at least keep those groups informed about what they are doing, if not actually trying to get on the boards of organizations like that.

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