Alexandra Katehakis and the Center for Healthy Sex (CHS) have released their Annual Best/Worst Sex List for 2013.
"We need to allow ourselves the freedom to figure out what we internally want from sex instead of mimicking whatever popular culture holds up to us as sexy. That would be sexual liberation." ~ Ariel Levy
It’s that exciting time of the year as we’re each privileged to consider our desires and goals for the upcoming year, in contrast with our evaluation of the past year finally seen with some perspective. This is very similar to therapy where inner dreams and purpose are bound to the lessons and examples of one’s personal past. So when writing our year-end review of the best and worst news related to sex and sexuality, it’s a natural step for my clinical team and I to try and provide a therapeutic perspective to these top cultural, political, and individual stories.
With that in mind, here are the supreme stories of 2013, and why they matter. We hope you find these picks thought-provoking and erotically entertaining. Here are the 10 best sex stories, the 10 worst sex stories, and 5 more hard-to-rank stories for good measure!
It was a fantastic year for marriage equality, as the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, and sent California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage back to a lower court, invalidating the effort to institutionalize anti-gay legislation at the Federal level. The June DOMA ruling was a close 5-4 decision with Justice Antonin Scalia singled out for issuing a scathing dissent, but Americans went wild celebrating the ruling with social media sites lit up with color for days as Facebook users changed their profile pictures to hilarious red- and pink-hued versions of the logo belonging to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. Seven states—Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, and Utah—legalized gay marriage in 2013. And lawmakers worldwide approved same-sex marriage in France, Britain, and New Zealand where spectators in that country’s capital spontaneously serenaded one lesbian lawmaker with the love song "Pokarekare Ana" moments after the triumphant vote in a video that went viral. As a whole, the gay rights movement grows in popularity nationwide, leading many to speculate that it’s the fastest-moving civil rights movement in U.S. history.
Why this matters: The Supreme Court ruling was a highly anticipated—and for gays and lesbians whose lives are directly impacted, a nerve-wracking—defining moment for gay rights in America. The ruling could have gone further, affirming the right of same-sex marriage across the nation where twenty-eight states still have constitutional amendments banning it. Relationships are hard enough without fighting for basic rights heterosexual couples take for granted such as hospital visitation, health insurance, estate taxes, retirement savings, Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits, immigration law, and roughly 1,138 other rights and protections. There is no doubt this issue will return to the highest court in the land, perhaps as early as this coming year. We find younger generations are more fluid in sexual orientation and gender identity, so it will be interesting to see how society progresses.
Way back in 1999, the Federal Drug Administration approved Plan B, otherwise known as the Morning-After Pill, for prescription use. Ever since then, lawsuits and petitions have been repeatedly filed to make it available over-the-counter for all ages. In 2011, the FDA approved OTC sales of the emergency contraceptives with no limits when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, purportedly worried about the untested effects on minors, overruled her own scientists. Critics levied that the Obama administration was playing politics to avoid being embroiled in an abortion controversy with an election year approaching. But this April, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman blasted that decision as “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent,” ordering the FDA to allow unrestricted sales of emergency contraceptives. After a failed appeal, the FDA and the court reached a decision to allow unlimited access to one version of the pill, Plan B One-Step, which became available on the 1st of August of this year in pharmacies, drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, as well as for online purchase at sites like Amazon where it retails for $25.
Why this matters: Plan B offers a safe and reasonably inexpensive solution to prevent unwanted pregnancy, for whatever the very personal reason. In the average 72-hour window between insemination and conception, the pill floods the body with higher doses of the hormone in regular birth control and can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. In fact, many doctors had been secretly prescribing high doses of regular birth control for years as a similar emergency contraceptive measure. While Plan B One-Step has no effect on a pregnancy after a woman becomes pregnant, if she does take the pill too late after fertilization there is no evidence that it harms the fetus. With abortion rights being denied in many states and regions, and a more conservative Supreme Court revisitation of Roe vs Wade ominously looming on the horizon, Plan B is a welcome option. Even in the worst nightmare scenario should abortion ever become illegal, once again enslaving women who become pregnant against their wishes to motherhood or criminality, the morning-after pill functions in that ambiguous area before an egg becomes a fetus, and so legal experts contend any conservative judgment should have zero effect on its availability. We all need such healthy options in life.
After much delay and obstruction in Congress, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act finally passed and was signed into law by President Obama in March. VAWA, as it’s known, is a United States federal law that provides crucial funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women and men, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and additionally imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted. The law was originally enacted by President Bill Clinton in 1994 but lapsed with objections to new protections for gays and lesbians, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants.
Why this matters: American politics across the country reflect a diverse array of deeply-held personal beliefs, ethics and morality but in the arena of the Legislative branch of our government, one political party consistently evidences prejudice towards most sexual health legislation with sometimes grave consequences. Comprehensive sexual education reform based on psychology and sexology—and not religious morality or dogma—is desperately needed, and the results of that lack manifest themselves in all the social issues we list here in the worst news of the year! As citizens, it's important that we constantly remind our elected officials to not let partisan battles allow sexual violence or discrimination go unpunished.
Best Sex #4:
In July, the FBI rescued 105 teenagers forced into prostitution in the largest child sex trafficking sting in U.S. history, covering 76 cities and resulting in 359 arrests. The raids, nicknamed “Operation Cross Country VII”, involved 47 FBI divisions along with more than 3,900 local, state, and federal law enforcement officers and agents representing 230 separate agencies. The largest numbers of children rescued were in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans. According to Ron Hosko (pictured), assistant director of the FBI’s criminal division, victim specialists accompanied the operations and attended to the children in order to “get them out of this life of abuse.” In similar news, a three-year secret investigation into a Canadian film company that secretly provided child pornography to purchasers culminated in November with nearly 350 arrests and more than 380 children rescued from sexual abuse.
Why this matters: The Justice Department estimates that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year, one-third of whom will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. The sexual mistreatment and abuse of children is nothing new, it’s a tale that’s been told since ancient times when children were little more than chattel. It’s hard to imagine a durable solution to improve the fate of children who find themselves at a loss for adult protection. As the most vulnerable members of society, we owe it to them—and to ourselves—to secure their lives by freeing up resources to fight child sex trafficking and fund agencies that provide community services to victims.
California passed the Transgender Student Rights statute AB1266 in August, protecting the rights of Kindergarten-12th grade transgender students “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their self-identification, regardless of their birth gender. While some opponents claim the law could be applied for students wishing to gain an unfair advantage in sports or invading other students’ privacy, threatening to file lawsuits this week as the law is enacted, supporters dismiss such hysteria. In fact, the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has had a similar policy in place for the last decade with no reports of falsified gender identity attempts. Two other states currently have similar non-discrimination laws in place specifically protecting the rights of transgender students to self-identify, but this is the first law to mandate such a policy for every school district in a state.
Why this matters: In a year that witnessed increased transgender visibility, from compelling real-life figures like Chelsea Manning to strong fictional characters like Sophia played by transgender actress Laverne Cox on “Orange is the New Black,” California continues to lead the nation with implementing compassionate and intelligent protections and policies that provide a scaffolding for gender variant youth to attain a healthy and fully-realized sexuality. When we secure and protect the rights of others, it allows greater expression and exploration of our own sexual rights. Gender is such an arbitrary tool for segregation when you consider all the diverse abilities, orientations, and other affinities that may be disrupted by the artificial splitting of children into stark groups of male and female. Ironically, acknowledging and attending to the unique needs of others allows for a more truly differentiated and thus individuated society.
October witnessed passage of the first bill, again in California, specifically created to address revenge porn (New Jersey has an existing 2003 law on the records that lends itself to the prosecution of this recent phenomenon.) This new bill, SB 255, criminalizes the distribution of non-consensual images in any state of undress where the person “has a reasonable expectation of privacy” and where “distribution of the image would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress with the intent to cause serious emotional distress.” As you may be aware, revenge porn websites are a gathering place for disturbed exes “with the intent to cause serious emotional distress,” posting nude photos of their former partners for all the world to see in a sick, and largely sanctioned, act of public vengeance. The mostly female victims often have their lives disrupted, sometimes being fired from jobs or humiliated before family, friends and community. There are websites that offer to remove such images for about $300, although the owners are usually the same webmasters that oversee the revenge porn websites. Christopher Kevin Bollaert (pictured) ran such a scam, until he was arrested in December in San Diego and charged with 31 felonies, including extortion and conspiracy. He faces up to 22 years in prison.
Why this matters: Although this new law doesn’t nearly go far enough, only protecting those whose partners take photos without their consent, it’s an honest attempt to address a serious problem. 80% of photos posted to revenge porn websites are “selfies” taken by the victims themselves who forward them to their partners—and currently they’ll find no recourse in this law. It’s more than extremely private photos that are shared, posters include the victim’s personal information like phone number and links to their social media pages. We need new ways of educating the public to ensure stable mental health when it comes to relationships, because too many go off the deep end and let uncontrollable thoughts and feelings direct them to commit shameful deeds further isolating them from any chance of personal integrity.
The Boy Scouts of America voted in May by 61-38 percent to overturn a 22 year-old ban on openly gay members. This was a sharp reversal of the prejudicial policy that had been publicly reaffirmed during the previous year. Unfortunately, the prohibition against gay leaders still remains in place… for now. When Scouts turn 18, they may graduate to Scout leaders but gay Scouts will not have that option. When the successful vote to allow gay youths was announced, there was concern about a backlash from various religious groups who sponsor 70% of troops. The Southern Baptist Convention leaders did pass a resolution expressing their opposition and disappointment in the decision shortly after the ban was lifted. But there are anti-LGBT religions that still permit gay members as long as they don’t engage in sexual activities, which may be the reason the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly supported the proposal, as well as Catholic Scouting leaders. The welcome new policy went into effect on New Year’s Day in 2014 as gay youths are now openly accepted.
Why this matters: Only one year ago the Boy Scouts of America were adamant about their anti-gay position in the face of a growing controversy. When the BSA announced after a confidential two-year review in July 2012 that the controversial ban would stay in place, public responses ran the gamut from disappointed to angry to sanctimonious. In fact, both presidential candidates came out during the general election in favor of allowing gay youths to participate in Scouting, but BSA leadership remained unmoved. So the fact that such a policy shift can even occur, and within the course of a year, is a remarkable sign of progress. As one BSA voting member remarked, “Every organization has to be a living entity and change with the times, including churches and including the Boy Scouts.”
In May, Angelina Jolie penned a frank op-ed in the New York Times revealing her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. According to her doctors, her chances of developing breast cancer have now decreased from 87 percent to 5 percent. Although it was a private decision, she decided to make it public in the spirit of sexual health education. At her first red carpet experience post-surgery, Jolie told reporters "I've been very happy just to see the discussion about women's health expanded, and that means the world to me.” Her procedure, which she explained in detail, involved a three-step process. In February, she underwent a “nipple delay,” which increased the chances of the nipple surviving surgery. Two weeks later she had the major surgery removing breast tissue and replacing with temporary fillers. And nine weeks later, Jolie elected to get reconstructive surgery with an implant. Within the first five weeks following her announcement, an estimated 3,000 more women sought testing than would have been expected.
Why this matters: Angelina Jolie is one of the most celebrated actresses—and sex symbols—around the world. Dr. Kristi Funk, who performed part of the procedure, remarked in an interview, “When someone who is arguably the most beautiful woman in the world removes the part of her body that is symbolic of femininity and sexuality, you have to say, 'Why would she do that?'" By disclosing her experience in detail, Jolie sets an outstanding example that we don’t have to sacrifice sexiness for sexual health, even when difficult decisions and, for many, devastating sacrifices are involved. Jolie has emphasized in follow-up interviews that she doesn’t feel like "any less of a woman" without her natural breasts. "I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
The Showtime TV series “Masters of Sex” premiered in September, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the famous sex researching team from the 1950s on. The show is perhaps the first sexy cable series that’s actually about real sex. The real-life story of Masters and Johnson provides much fantastic subject material. The series has been well-received, already nominated for Best Drama and Best Actor by the Golden Globes. Meanwhile two films exploring different facets of sex addiction debuted in cinemas one week apart in September. “Thanks for Sharing” focused on the romantic and recovery foibles of several members of a 12-step program for sex addiction. The high-profile cast included Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad and P!nk who added dramatic weight to the sensitive writing. And “Don Jon” was the screenwriting and directing debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt who also starred as the title character alongside Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza about a Jersey player whose porn addiction causes problems when he embarks on a primary love relationship. Along the way, Julianne Moore’s character teaches him a thing or two about relational sex.
Why this matters: While sex has always been one of the major subjects of art, finally the actual mechanics of sex are getting equal due. Who are we as sexual beings, what makes us sexual, how do we navigate sexuality and what happens when we veer off course? There’s a welcome maturity in modern story-telling that reflects a cultural paradigm shift as audiences want deeper, more intimate and intelligent experiences in both their cinematic offerings and their own sex lives. Other films also brought much-remarked sexuality to the silver screen, such as “Blue is the Warmest Color” whose lesbian romance culminated in a graphic 10-minute sex scene that was the talk of the town. “Blue” won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, as well as an unprecedented special prize for the two actresses who later engaged in a war of words with the director, attacking the experience as “horrible” while other crew members complained about his on-set behavior of harassment, leaving a bad taste to the summer stunner.
The most suave coming out declaration we’ve seen so far goes to 25-year-old pro-wrestler Darren Young of World Wrestling Entertainment fame. When a video journalist approached him at an airport baggage terminal in August questioning--on camera in a video later posted to the TMZ website--whether a gay wrestler could ever succeed, Young casually laughed, saying "Absolutely. Look at me. I'm a WWE superstar and to be honest with you, I'll tell you right now, I'm gay. And I'm happy. I'm very happy." In subsequent interview, Young revealed he was petrified about people’s reactions, but the overwhelming support from the public and particularly his fellow wrestlers was heartwarming allowing him to live openly with greater intimacy and integrity. Darren Young is the first openly gay wrestler at WWE. In another standout coming out story, Wentworth Miller, American screenwriter and TV star, came out in a letter posted to GLAAD’s website declining an invitation to attend a film festival in Russia objecting to that country’s newly adopted anti-gay law, saying "I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.” His courageous act of coming out as a political protest received many admiring commends.
Why this matters: Understandably, the years and moments before anyone admits they’re gay can be nerve-wracking, especially for teenagers who often wonder if they will be rejected by family and friends. Most coming out announcements from celebrities are formal attempts, so it’s wonderful for anyone still in the closet to see a strong example of how to casually come out in conversation, taking Darren Young’s example. But all those who choose to come out on the public stage are worthy role models. We were also touched by Jason Collins who became the first National Basketball Association star to admit he’s gay, gracing the May cover of Sports Illustrated. And English diver and 2012 Olympic bronze medal winner Tom Daley who announced his romantic relationship with a man in a You-Tube video in early December. As well as Good Morning America news anchor Robin Roberts who affectionately acknowledged her long time girlfriend in a Facebook post at the end of 2013, grateful—as are we all—“to celebrate a glorious new year together.”
2013 was the year of school rape, starting with the Steubenville controversial cover-up that broke in January 2013 providing the catalyst for all the news stories that followed. A 16-year-old girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was raped by two Steubenville football players at a party captured on video that was briefly posted by boastful participants to various social media accounts in August 2012. The two rapists were prosecuted and later convicted in March 2013, but during the trial the hacker collective Anonymous threatened to release further evidence unless school officials issued a formal apology for allegedly covering up the incident in order to protect other athletes. On January 1, 2013, a hacker posted a sickening 12-minute video of the unconscious girl surrounded by a self-proclaimed “rape crew” making jokes of the event. The hacker was himself arrested and, in an interview wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, revealed he faces 10 years in federal prison--far more than the one- and two-year sentences doled out to the rapists. However due to his efforts, a special grand jury was empaneled to decide the fates of school officials and in the fall of 2013, four individuals were indicted on charges including obstruction of justice and falsifying reports.
Why this matters: There have always been rapes on college campuses, especially date rapes, and most likely cover-ups, but for some reason this subject reached critical mass this year making headlines over and over. School officials were publicly busted, and some indicted, for covering or mishandling rapes in: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in March, Occidental College, California in April, University of Montana in May, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania in July, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee and Yale University, Connecticut in August, and in December 2013 stories broke in Kutztown Area High School, Pennsylvania, East St. Louis High School, Missouri, and University of Southern California, Los Angeles where officials face a federal investigation for alleged failures to prosecute rape. At an age when young adults first emerge from the protective wing of their parents, we rely on schools to protect—not harm—our children. But too many young men fail to learn healthy sexual boundaries or ethics and, freed of parental oversight, act in terrible ways that permanently wreak damage on others--and ultimately themselves. The rape culture propped up by casual sexist chatter can turn violent in the flick of circumstance. Insensitive, self-seeking officials all too often blame the victim in a betrayal of public trust, committing a retraumatization of the rape encountered when, instead, they should be the first responders students can turn to for genuine help and healing.
It was a controversial year for the military centering on questionable cover-ups by way of clemency starting at the top of 2013 when two officers convicted of sexual assault by court martial had their convictions set aside by three separate three-star generals, as in so many other cases. But when Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski (pictured,) the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force, was himself arrested for sexual battery in May, followed up in the subsequent week by revelations of two additional cases requiring disciplinary action for inappropriate sexual behavior in judgments against military personnel with sexual assault prevention responsibilities, the ongoing crisis of mishandled military sexual assault reached a new level of public—and political—scrutiny. “The Military Justice Improvement Act” was announced in Congress to delegate certain decisions regarding military sexual assault cases to military prosecutors rather than commanding officers, but President Obama deferred that legislation in December giving the Military one year to fix its sexual assault problem. The December defense bill did contain other major sexual assault reforms though that now eliminate the statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases, block the ability of military commanders to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case, criminalize retaliation against victims who report sexual assault, and assign victims independent legal counsel to protect their rights.
Why this matters: When those entrusted to prevent sexual assault are the very same people who perpetrate it, it signals deep-rooted organizational dysfunction in our armed forces rife with futile execution and conflicts of interest. The Department of Defense estimates there are 19,000 sexual assaults in the military per year. According to a 2011 Newsweek report, women are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat. In December 2013, a report released by The Department of Veteran Affairs found that 85,000 US veterans received medical treatment for sex abuse trauma in 2012, while 3,374 incidents were actually reported. The Pentagon also saw a dramatic 50% increase in reported sexual assault this year, likely stemming from a greater willingness to speak out. While change never seems to occur quickly enough, there is momentum on this issue and 2014 will likely bring new progress—and healing—to those who unjustly experience military sexual assault in the course of their service to our country.
In a story that grabbed national headlines, three women and a child were rescued from having spent a decade in captivity after being abducted by Ariel Castro and held hostage in his Ohio home in the suburbs of Cleveland. The women were kidnapped at ages 14-21 after accepting a ride to Castro’s home where he trapped them in the basement, and the years of sexual and psychological torture began. During their ten-year ordeal, one woman gave birth to his daughter in an inflatable swimming pool. The women had no contact with the outside world until May 6 when Castro forgot to lock the interior door behind a bolted exterior storm door. Neighbors heard their screams, kicked open a hole in the door through which one woman escaped with her daughter, now six-years-old, and the remaining two women were freed in a police rescue soon afterward. Castro was charged with 977 criminal counts: 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 of rape, seven of gross sexual imposition, six of felonious assault, three of child endangerment, two of aggravated murder (for induced miscarriages,) and one of possession of criminal tools. He entered a plea bargain and received a life sentence plus 1000 years. During court proceedings, one of his victims addressed him directly. “I will live on, you will die a little every day,” she said. He died sooner than expected: one month into his sentence, Castro committed suicide by hanging.
Why this matters: Out of the 900,000 missing persons reports estimated for 2013, one hundred fit the profile of a stereotypical abduction by a stranger. Two-thirds of those victims are ages 12 to 17, and half are sexually assaulted. The Castro case re-ignited public fears with unprecedented media access to the unfolding of the case, showing how such a sexual predator could own a home in a populated neighborhood with relatives and acquaintances involved in his life, yet keep his crimes completely hidden through a complex system of locks, barriers and enforced terror. During Castro’s final statement before sentencing, he addressed the court claiming he was addicted to sex and pornography: "I'm not a monster. I'm just sick. I have an addiction, just like an alcoholic has an addiction." Clearly, that’s never an excuse for criminal behavior, and the pathological behavior of sex offenders like Castro goes well beyond sex addiction.
Abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973, in a landmark decision that specifically sought to disallow state restrictions by affirming a woman’s right to an abortion until viability—the ability of a fetus “to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid"—typically a period of 24 to 28 weeks after conception. But many politicians at the state level continue to circumvent the law of the land essentially denying abortion rights through back-alley strategies. In 2013, states like North Dakota, North Carolina, and New Mexico introduced, and in some cases approved, unprecedented restrictions that fly in the face of Federal law. A classic case happened in Texas this year, where Governor Rick Perry called special legislative sessions to enact multiple subversive measures from banning abortion at 20 weeks to imposing unreasonable regulations for doctors and clinics to follow (or not) that resulted in shuttering one third of all abortion clinics, some of which provided the only sexual health care for women in their region. Subversive tactics were employed as well: measures were attached to bipartisan legislation, votes were scheduled for holiday weekends, a protest filibuster by Wendy Davis to block one measure in the Texas senate received national attention after being cut short literally in the 11th hour under controversial circumstances. Her valiant efforts failed to prevent the legislation from becoming law, but succeeded in giving her a public stage on which to make her case. In October, Wendy Davis announced her intention to run for Governor of Texas in the 2014 election.
Why this matters: Politicians are human, and humans don't manipulate, deceive, attack, scam, isolate, or force repressive agendas on others unless such abuse was perpetuated on them in childhood. How as a society do we heal the trauma of those who seek covertly and oppressively to snatch our rightful sexual freedoms out from under us? It’s said for every cockroach that one sees, there are ten more hidden in the walls. In this respect, politicians are like cockroaches, and every one of their political viewpoints represents the hidden viewpoint of enough constituents to have elected them to prominence. Emotionally-traumatized individuals identify with divisive and deceitful leaders reflecting their own endured intellectual abuse from childhood. In turn, their elected leaders then compulsively enact dishonest laws through dishonest means creating the next generation of endured abuse in a self-perpetuating cycle similar to that of the insular cycle of addiction, delusively maintained for fear that removing the tourniquet of destructive behaviors will usher in unbearable pain. How, as a society, can we heal this collective pain so we can—at the very least—show up in an open-handed service to our greater good?
In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into effect a nationwide law that had been unanimously approved by the national parliament to ban “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors, otherwise known as the Anti-Gay Law. While the wording purports to protect minors from inappropriate influence, the reality is that all public speech and displays in support or even acknowledgment of gay rights and relationships are now illegal. In the law’s aftermath, several Russian citizens—including minors—who were perceived to be homosexuals were murdered and attacked in hate crimes, or held hostage by neo-Nazi groups who documented their harassment on video for the world to watch while many Russian police have allegedly refused to intervene in providing gays with any protection. With the Sochi Olympics scheduled for Russia in 2014, people around the world have demanded a boycott. Meanwhile Russian authorities have vacillated as to whether the law will be applied to visiting athletes, and Olympic officials have attempted to soothe all controversy while starkly underlining their own rules prohibiting “political demonstrations.” President Obama denounced Russia’s law as a human rights violation, and later appointed two openly homosexual American athletes to the U.S. Olympics delegation, which grew to three as another delegate came out of the closet in December. Now whether a gay or lesbian athlete celebrating in Sochi with a same-sex kiss will be considered a normal relational demonstration or a “political” one remains to be seen as the Winter Olympics commence in under six weeks.
Why this matters: Favorability toward homosexuality is steadily rising around the world, but the opposite’s true in Russia where a 2013 survey found that 74% of Russians (up from 60% a decade earlier) believe society should adopt a zero tolerance policy toward homosexuality, even after it was decriminalized in 1993 and officially removed from the Russian list of mental illnesses in 1999. While it’s shocking for a world power like Russia to indoctrinate homophobia at this time in history, they are not the only country to impose new anti-gay laws: at the end of this year India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexual activity and Uganda’s parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, aka “Kill the Gays bill,” in late December enforcing mandatory life imprisonment for homosexual activity—a lesser sentence from the originally proposed death penalty. Some sociology experts posit that anti-gay beliefs are an extension of anti-women beliefs so deeply entrenched that the slightest variation threatens socio-political imbalance, meaning the traditional role of dominant males as masters of home, culture and country. If anyone reading this doesn’t know why this matters, why these travesties demand our attention and outrage, they haven’t got a pulse.
A Texas jury found a man’s actions were justified in June after he shot an escort who took his money but refused to have sex. The woman died months later due to her injuries. But, as the jury claimed, Texas law authorizes an individual “to use deadly force to recover property during a nighttime theft,” and so, unbelievably, they acquitted him of all wrongdoing. In July, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with a dentist who fired his female assistant of ten years because her attractiveness threatened his marriage after he disclosed his secret amorous feelings to his wife. According to the all-male justices, you can be fired in Iowa “simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.” And in January, a California appeals court unanimously overturned a man’s rape conviction because of an arcane 1872 state law that doesn’t protect “unmarried women” from rape by impersonation—in this case, while the woman was sleeping. Fortunately, this loophole was closed in August and a retrial has been granted.
Why this matters: We’re living in the 21st century, but certain small and usually insulated groups of people who climb their way to positions of power often act as if we’re still operating in the dark ages. When decisions by judicial bodies proclaim socially destructive verdicts because of narrow legal interpretations or unexamined moralistic bias, their actions are as senseless as those whose crimes lead us to seek justness as a community. Until public outrage over such misogynistic rulings results in improved public policies, we will continue to be held hostage by patriarchal attitudes that recurrently slant the scales of justice.
When a 24-year-old Norwegian woman was drugged and raped in Dubai, authorities there in July sentenced her to 16 months in a United Arab Emirates prison for having sex outside of marriage among other charges. When she first reported the traumatizing rape to police in March, she was detained in jail for four days without explanation before formal charges were issued. The verdict caused an international storm, ultimately resulting in a rare royal pardon from local ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, enabling her release. Her initial arrest prompted an Australian woman to come forward this year with her own tale of being drugged and gang-raped in Dubai in 2008 and subsequently jailed for 8 months after reporting the incident to police, again for the crime of sex outside of marriage. According to her attorney, rape can only be affirmed under the country’s strict Islamic laws if there are “four adult, male Muslim witnesses that can provide evidence that the sex was non-consensual.”
Why this matters: These abusive laws are all too common for citizens of many repressive countries, but it’s rare for Westerners to endure such unthinkably punitive atrocities. We’re brought up to view authorities as a reliable source of assistance, especially involving crimes of rape, drugging, and abduction. Women the world over, child brides included, are caned, stoned, executed for enduring sexual assault, and those who survive are forced to marry their rapists or face exile from their communities, or honor killings by their own families. The irrational level of animosity enacted toward women induces tremendous pain, guilt and grief on our collective psyche and there are no easy—or even foreseeable—solutions. But without the courage to bear witness to such crimes against feminine nature, we haven’t a chance; the extreme violence against women will ever impinge on Western civilization until we rally.
Notre Dame Football linebacker Manti Te’o emerged as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy after an impressive year in 2012 despite the death of his grandmother and girlfriend. But in January of 2013, a sports blog revealed that the girlfriend never existed catapulting Te’o into a national controversy that took weeks to unravel. Ultimately it came to light an acquaintance had initiated the hoax, luring Te’o into an online relationship with a nonexistent woman, a phenomena called catfishing. The male acquaintance fully confessed in an appearance on Dr. Phil to having fallen in love with Te’o, compelling him to manufacture an online identity for the purpose of emotional intrigue. But the damage was already done; Te’o’s reputation became a laughing stock until the next news cycle as media outlets and the public questioned his involvement, honesty, and sexuality.
Why this matters: Those who engage in catfishing are psychological predators. The term springs from a 2010 documentary film about a similar case, and inspired a reality TV series that allegedly exposes real-life people who are “catfishes,” emotionally ensnaring others into their web of deceit. If you’ve ever created a fake identity online or pretended to be someone else, ask yourself what drove you to that behavior. The Internet provides many unhappy, disturbed persons a perfect hiding place to play games with others’ minds without a concrete sense that real people are really being affected. As in the case of Manti Te’o, when the truth inevitably shatters all illusions, the reverberating confusion can trigger shame and trauma resulting in a temporary dissociation of personal identity, mirroring the initial perpetration and transferring the cycle of abuse.
In 2013, two formerly disgraced politicians announced separate intentions to run for public office in New York City. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner returned first to the limelight as a mayoral candidate, quickly emerging the frontrunner until new sexting photos were released in late July allegedly sent by the married Weiner under the absurd alias of “Carlos Danger” to a 22-year-old woman in late 2012—one year after he resigned from Congress for a similar sexting scandal called “Weinergate.” The day after the latest photos were released, his favorability rating dropped 20 points. He confessed to the sexts, excusing them only as abandoned relics of his past, but finished the race in a distant fifth place—infamously ending his campaign by flicking off the press with middle finger. Likewise, former Governor Eliot Spitzer entered the 2013 NYC Comptroller race after resigning his governorship in 2005 due to a prostitution scandal. He also lost his election and, come late December, he lost his wife who elected to dissolve their marriage after his affair with a campaign spokesperson was discovered by the press.
Why this matters: How ridiculous does it get? The media had a field day with Weiner’s alias “Carlos Danger,” prompting many satirical skits and late-night jokes. Unfortunately for serious sex addicts, it gets serious. Public scandals, prostitutes, affairs, sexting, more sexting. These men seem to be operating in a bubble without any true comprehension of the impact of their actions or their loss of credibility and reputation. Whether these two men qualify as sex addicts or not, they clearly don’t express any of the signs of sexual recovery, which would include genuine contrition, upfront communication, self-awareness and self-control for starters.
In November, Michael Robertson’s attorney appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to argue in defense of upskirting—taking a video or photo up a woman’s skirt. Their key defense rested on the legality of his actions as established by the state’s peeping Tom laws that only ban “nude or partially nude” photo or video voyeurism, rather than his stealthy photos of women fully clothed by underwear with no actual nudity. Robertson aka “Peeping Mike” had been caught earlier in a subway sting operation that led to his arrest. Now his legal team touches on a First Amendment right issue that were he to be sentenced under the specific Massachusetts law as written, it would have to injudiciously apply to other circumstances like art and journalism. So far, the justices’ line of questioning appears to agree with the parsed logic of this defense while the case remains pending.
Why this matters: Voyeurism is considered “level two” sexually addictive behavior, as it involves non-consensual illegal acts that are commonly only considered public nuisances but can result in arrest, imprisonment and registering as a sex offender for life. While most people find the concept of filming up a woman’s skirt creepy, many perpetrators and their followers do not realize the destructive nature of this behavior as the Internet abounds with millions of such underhanded photos. Time, and legal loopholes, will tell if Robertson walks free or pays the price for violating the privacy of his female victims—and they are victims, voyeurism is never a victimless crime except in consensual role-play. The women who discover they’ve been violated, sometimes finding their photos displayed across multiple online public forums, report being left feeling powerless and paranoid in the face of such unwanted objectification.
In February, Benedict XVI became the first Pope to resign in almost 600 years. While he claimed a “mystical experience” during a conversation with God prompted this surprising decision, news of the resignation—as well as his papacy—were tainted by accusations of a “gay mafia” pulling strings from inside the Vatican, as well as recurring allegations of his involvement in the Catholic Church child sex abuse cover-ups. On March 13, a new pope was elected: Pope Francis—the first pope from South America. At the inaugural Holy Thursday following his election, he broke with canonical law to include women in the feet-washing ritual. While he has yet to formally weigh in on key controversial issues, Pope Francis stated this year—while affirming the present Church teachings—the view that Catholics have concentrated excessively on condemning abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts, while neglecting the greater need for tenderness, mercy and compassion.
Why this matters: Regardless of anyone’s personal spiritual beliefs, the papacy has remained the historical seat of moral authority for the Western world since the Middle Ages. At this time in the first year of Pope Benedict's reign, he'd already aggressively lobbied against gay rights and, in an address on HIV/Aids-ravaged Africa, disparaged “contraception mentality.” So far, Pope Francis takes a vastly more enlightened approach toward the disenfranchised than his predecessor, but time will tell whether he continues this empathic new path or turns back to tow the party line. While the right of all people to freely practice their chosen religion is unassailable, clearly the prevailing Catholic dogma against contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and gender equality within the church exerts a disastrous influence on public policy, presently providing the most consequential political assault against the autonomy of individuals to enact personal sexual health practices that are right for them. Let’s pray Pope Francis lets this little progress go a long way.
This year, the word twerk was added to the Oxford Dictionary Online. This word has been around for 20 years, as well as the hip-hop dance for which its named: hips rapidly thrusting in a hovering squatting stance while popping butt muscles in what’s sometimes compared to a simulation of anal intercourse. The move went viral this year with You-Tube videos galore. In August, rapper Juicy J announced via Twitter that he would give out a $50,000 scholarship for the girl who can twerk the best. And in September, 358 New Yorkers earned a Guinness World Records title for simultaneous twerking in what was described as “Record Breaking Booty Shaking.” But it was Miley Cyrus’ raunchy twerking performance with Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards that pushed the trend over the edge, saturating the media for months while garnering equal parts repugnance and praise.
Why this matters: The VMAs simulation of sexual acts and subsequent outrage epitomizes the sex education politics at present as today’s teens—especially child stars—are so often coerced to cover authentic sexual feelings that they over-compensate once freed from those oppressive obligations. Miley Cyrus's embrace of her body and its rhythm mirrors a natural impetus in those her age, but the executive decision to pair a 20-year-old woman with a middle-aged man singing about the "Blurred Lines" of misogynistic rape culture, as the story goes, only reflects the entrenched sexism and objectification in the entertainment industry that ravages, then eats, its young. As for the twerking dance craze, well, it almost exactly mimics Kundalini yoga techniques to release and raise vital energy stored in the lower spine, and apparently it's time for that faultless corporeal movement to become more embodied in our cultural consciousness.
The British chocolatier “Edible Anus” made waves when news of their line of chocolate a-holes reached the states this year. According to their website, each confection is "crafted from the delectable posterior of our stunning butt model.” Their stated aim is to “dissolve cultural boundaries of race, gender, class and sexual orientation"—which is pretty ambitious for a box of chocolates. Forest Gump had no idea when he remarked, “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Oh Forest, we don’t think this trend was the promised adventure your mama was anticipating. 2013 was also the year a couple of cookbooks came out brimming with recipes featuring bodily fluids as the main ingredients, but they were too gross for our intellectual tastes to cogitate.
Why this matters: Sex and nudity have long been the subject of juvenile novelty items. Such things are mostly harmless and likely appeal to pubescent teenagers, twittering bachelorettes, and sociopathic frat boys. But we have to draw the line at promoting bodily fluids as food, which seems to glorify actions that can be prosecuted as sexually offending behavior in certain circumstances. If you, or someone you know, feel the need to enact practical jokes about sex through the use of novelty items, take a look at the intentions involved and ensuing reactions. Some will find such humor harmless enough, but not everyone who laughs truly gets—or wants—the joke, much less to be its butt.
In Netherlands they call it afwerkplek, “a place to finish the work”; in Germany it’s called verrichtungsbox, “performance box”. And in Switzerland, voters in Zurich approved spending $2.6 million U.S. this year to set up sex boxen, “sex boxes”—publicly funded roadside stalls where drivers can park for free to have legal sex with prostitutes. The stated intention was to get sex workers off the streets where legal prostitution had become a public nuisance and safety concern. The sex boxes are designed to make it difficult for the driver to get out of the car, while the sex worker can easily make an exit if the situation turns violent. Each box has a panic button to alert onsite security guards and social workers. The teak-colored facilities come equipped with bathrooms, lockers, laundry, showers, and café tables. Sex workers pay $43 a year to register with the facilities as well as $5.40 a night to use the facility, which marginally contributes to the $760,000 annual cost of running the project. So far these sex boxes attract an average of only 14 sex workers per night, but authorities report that prostitution in unauthorized public areas by the thousands of registered city sex workers has significantly dropped off.
Why this matters: Compared to our standards, two and a half million dollars seems a mind-boggling amount of money for voters to dedicate toward solving their prostitution problem. While prostitution is legal in many parts of the world, the regulation of how and where sex workers, and clients—and yes, pimps are still in the picture—conduct their business creates nightmarish scenarios for police and local residents who contend with drugs, violence and unsanitary waste in their neighborhoods. For some Americans, a policy of legalizing prostitution nationwide is a sought-after ideal that could address ongoing social problems by conceivably curtailing exploitation, abuse, rape, and the spread of disease. But there are slumlords and scammers in every trade, as well as people suffering from much trauma with little psychological support. In America, funding is scarce—and too political—for our similar socio-sexual issues, so it’s impressive to witness other countries that are sexually liberated enough to think outside the box, even if the end result is convolutedly wooden.
The “Intimacy 2.0” dress, designed by Daan Roosegaarde, is trimmed with leather and fashioned out of “e-foils” that turn transparent when the wearer becomes aroused, giving onlookers a glimpse into personal feelings as much as body parts. The technology involved detects increased heart rate sending electrical signals to the wired ready-to-wear hardware. In other technology, the Durex brand condom company started testing a vibrating underwear line called “Fundawear,” controlled by a smartphone app. Designer Ti Chang created a luxury line of jewelry that doubles as sex toys called Foreplay jewelry. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation held a Condom Contest and from the 812 entries awarded $100,000 to 11 condom research groups to develop their ideas seeking to improve fit, function, ease-of-use, cost, material, lubrication, internal/external friction, and heat transfer. An additional $1 million will be awarded to the ideas that show the most promise after further development.
Why this matters: These innovators push the bounds of our imagination, and through openly sharing the fruits of their labor inspire even greater ideas. The idea of engaging fashion to literally demonstrate personal feelings is a romantic notion born of constructive abstract thought clearly applied to real-life situations in a rousing attempt to unlock one aspect of the mystery of human relatedness. Sexuality and technology have always enjoyed a close and clandestine relationship: think of the many inventions spurred by personal sexual or romantic ambition. Or all the people who learned how to operate smartphones and computers solely to search out pornography! Hopefully next year, we’ll have a radically improved condom to talk about. Imagine a condom that enhances natural sensations to the extent it feels even better than no condom at all. Such new advances could have far-reaching ramifications around the world.