February 27th, 2010

To the Sex Educators

On Tuesday, one of the first things I saw when I got online was an article about controversy surrounding an anti-smoking ad in France. I read the article’s description of the advertisement before I saw the visual of the ad itself. This description included the following:

. . . [P]hotographs of an older man, his torso seen from the side, pushing down on the head of a teenage girl with a cigarette in her mouth. Her eyes are at belt level, glancing upward fearfully.

The first thing I felt uneasy about reading said description was that it seemed to indicate that being on one’s knees giving someone a blow job, especially if the recipient’s hand is on the giver’s head, was being shown as something obviously ominous and undesirable. Possibly the model on her (or his, as there are also ads with boys in the kneeling position) knees is supposed to be under the age of 18, but to me this frankly doesn’t seem obvious.

Then I saw the visual of the ad. The slogan accompanying it translates into, “To smoke is to be a slave to tobacco.” First, no one appears to me to be “pushing down” on anyone’s head. And “fearfully”? To me, the expression on the kneeler’s face in both the male and female versions looks frankly rather neutral.

I thus returned even more pointedly to the unease I felt at what message was being postulated by the ad. It seems to me the ad is supposed to be indicating that being on one’s knees giving a blowjob is not an appropriate place to be, even an indicator somehow of “slavery”—and I find this abhorrent.

The controversy I read about it did not seem to be sharing the concern I had. Rather, the impression I had was that certain organizations were objecting to the ad because it “trivialized” sexual abuse. Okay. Again, perhaps the ad is supposed to be depicting someone underage, in which case the argument for abuse occurring could be made in our no-one-under-18-thinks-of-or-should-in-any-way-be-participating-in-sex culture. However, the age of the kneeler again does not seem obvious to me, so to see controversy that seems to be perceiving that being on one’s knees giving someone a blow job is equivalent to sexual abuse seems frankly alarming to me.


But really, that’s not what this blog post is about (or not entirely, anyway). Later that day, I was perusing Facebook and saw that Good Vibrations had posted a link to an article in its magazine. I clicked on the link and was faced with a page that said, “Sorry: The link you are trying to visit has been reported as abusive by Facebook users.” I went to Good Vibrations Magazine’s home page and found the article in question. Turns out it is an article by Dr. Charlie Glickman talking about the very advertisement I just mentioned. He mentions in his article the same thing that first occurred to me when I saw it as well as discussing sexuality and advertising in relation to it and another ad. As usual with what I have read from Dr. Glickman, I found it an interesting, insightful, thoughtful piece.

When I went back and checked, the link on Facebook worked. I rechecked throughout the day, and sometimes it went through while other times giving the disabled message. So perhaps it is/was a glitch with my computer.

If, however, the link was disabled by Facebook (which means, as I understand it, that someone reported it as inappropriate), I find that disheartening and seriously frustrating. This is not a salacious or X-rated article. It is an article written by a sex educator discussing implications of two particular ads and the use of sexuality in their messaging. How it could be found “abusive” pretty much escapes me.

Unless, of course, it was deemed so solely because it centered on the subject of sex.

Whether or not the link-disabling was intentional on Facebook’s part, the possibility itself (and/or of the link being reported as such) reminded me once again of the way sex/sexuality seems to be treated differently from other subjects and areas of life. To much of society this seems to be expected or even appropriate. Since I personally find it arbitrary, that very perception seems to make the situation all the more frustrating to me. And in the case of the disabled link to the article in question, I not only lament the arbitrary bias toward the subject of sex, I find a lack of not only acceptance but also of active appreciation seriously regrettable.

I feel like we should be thanking Dr. Glickman up and down for offering the attention, insight, caring, and dedication he does to sexual matters and the sexual health of all individuals. To me Dr. Charlie Glickman and his numerous (though still a considerable minority) colleagues such as Dr. Carol Queen, Dr. Richard Wagner, Violet Blue, Dr. Annie Sprinkle, Dr. Elizabeth Wood, Heather Corinna, Megan Andelloux, and Dr. Marty Klein should be positively showered with appreciation, respect, commendation, and accolades. Why? Because they care about sexuality. They find it important. They care about and find sexuality important enough that they study, observe, examine, discuss, share information about, and devote their professional, academic, personal, and/or intellectual time, resources, and attention to the subject of sexuality.

Instead of appreciation, their links on Facebook, metaphorically speaking, are reported and censored. They do what they do in the face of a society that seems not only to entirely not get the incredible service they are offering but also continually seems to condemn, disregard, and disrespect their work and sometimes them themselves. They have been mocked, ignored, dismissed, and judged by the simple virtue of the subject matter to which they have chosen to devote their attention—which is for me exactly why I so revere and appreciate their offerings. I do so not only because of their subject choice of sexuality and the way they have approached it, but also because they have done this despite the as-of-yet societal lack of understanding of the immeasurable value of their service.

There are all sorts of positions in which this kind of respect for sexuality and education around it occurs. Sex workers of all kinds have the opportunity to contribute in this way, as do erotic artists and sex-focused journalists and media commentators. The particular mention I give here is to the sex educators, to those who have devoted their academic and/or intellectual resources and capabilities to our sexual health and wellness with utmost respect for the pleasure, beauty, and importance of sexuality. I find what seems to be the societal lack of appreciation for them truly astounding, and I personally feel profound gratitude for the work they do in this area that is so dear to my own sensibilities.

To the sincere, earnest, caring, thoughtful, enthusiastic, hard-working sex educators of the world—thank you.


“Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light, don’t give in without a fight…”
-Pink Floyd “Hey You”

14 Responses “To the Sex Educators”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Gah, I only have time for the first half right now, but listen, people on Facebook reported breastfeeding photographs as offensive, so the other doesn’t surprise me. I think there are puritans out there trolling Facebook for things to report.

    My own brother got banned from it :)

    I agree about the under age smoker/fellaters looking older. And I’m not sure about neutral, more concerned as to how they’ll give the blow job with the cigarette in their mouths maybe?

    Perhaps they should have gone with the Peta slogan instead, and had lots of attractive young people saying ‘I’d rather give a blow job than smoke this cigarette’

  2. Oh, Emerald, thanks so much for posting this! So many thoughts, but first, I add my thanks to the brave sex educators who no doubt sacrificed some professional rewards to help others with one of the most important parts of human existence–our sexuality. Tobacco nothing, if we keep sexuality hidden, despised, forbidden, then we become the slaves of those who tell us our natural urges are wrong, whether it’s religion, polite society, or feminists. It is sad that anyone who claims sex is a valid topic of study, discussion and artistic attention is accused of “a lack of imagination”–perhaps the most absurd accusation I’ve ever heard.

    Now I want to thank you for all you do to remind us there is a better way in your fiction and your essays!

  3. As always, such a wonderful post, full of great points to consider.

    Those who wish to repress sexuality seem to draw the lines further and further back, looking for suggestions of sexuality in innocent things.

    In a sense, they show their own hangups in how far they will reach to make their point.

    Sex educators, researchers and therapists often live on the fringe of “polite society” and take great risks. Think of Masters and Johnson or Kinsey, and what they embarked on in their times, as they attempted to study and quantify the sexual experience!

    Thankfully they soldier on.

    And a hear, hear to Donna’s comment for all you do tot hat end in your writings.

  4. P.S. Haven says:

    Another great post, Em. I’m running out of adjectives. Always thought-provoking and sharp as a damn tack.
    I saw those ads, too. And found them kinda hot, actually. And like you, one of my first thoughts was, “wait…why is giving head a bad thing?” I mean, as peddlers of ze smut, I think we all know how titillating an imbalance of sexual power can be. But even then, it works both ways. I would say the fellator holds all the power in this case. So I guess those ads are saying, indirectly, that it’s the smokers who hold sway over the tobacco companies (keep in mind I live in Winston-Salem…). Because all you have to do is stop smoking/sucking, and you’ll have them begging for more.
    And amen on the gratitude for sex educators!

  5. Emerald says:

    Hi Anonymous!

    “I think there are puritans out there trolling Facebook for things to report.”

    You know, that actually makes sense to me. The first thing I wondered is why someone who was a friend/fan of Good Vibrations was reporting a link to their magazine site??

    Now that you mention it, I remember the breastfeeding photographs controversy. Sigh…

    Thank you so much for coming by and for commenting!

  6. Emerald says:

    Hi Donna,

    Thank you so much, and beautifully put. I realized as I posted this that the timing almost seemed funny in that I was specifically thanking sex workers when you yourself had just been attacked, sometimes personally, as an erotic writer. Believe me, I thank all of us erotic writers too. :) And I’m sorry again that attacks were leveled at something you wrote and sometimes you personally due to what may have been, it seems to me, discomfort on the part of commenters.

    I blushed at your last sentence. Thank you. Thank you for coming by, commenting, and just a reminder, I find you an amazing gift. :)

  7. Emerald says:

    Hi Craig,

    “In a sense, they show their own hangups in how far they will reach to make their point.”

    Yes, I have felt this sense too. I wish everyone the best in opening and awakening around this and all areas.

    Such a good point about sex researches and educators historically. At some times it seems it would have been even more contentious and shunned than now. Thank you for mentioning that.

    “And a hear, hear to Donna’s comment for all you do tot hat end in your writings.”

    Oh, blushing again. Seriously…thank you so much. And thank you very much for coming by!

  8. Emerald says:

    Hi Haven! Oh goodness, thank you so much — blushing all over the place as I read that, heh.

    “And found them kinda hot, actually.”

    Lol! I hear you. That occurred to me as well, which made me even more uncomfortable about the controversy and what was being postulated about the image. I seriously felt surprised that the kneeler was described as looking up “fearfully.”

    Lol more at your overall evaluation. :)

    Thank you so much for coming by, Haven, and for commenting! And HAPPY (BELATED) BIRTHDAY, sweetheart!!!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Emerald, thank you so much for the kind words of gratitude. I hope you count yourself and everyone else who blogs seriously about sexuality in that group of important people who take sex seriously. And, from one Pink Floyd fan to another, here’s to no more turning away.
    In solidarity,

  10. Emerald says:

    Elizabeth, welcome!

    “I hope you count yourself and everyone else who blogs seriously about sexuality in that group”

    Well, thank you so much for saying that. I feel humbled by it and deeply appreciate the offering.

    Indeed I am delighted by the Pink Floyd fan connection. :) Thank you so much for stopping by, and again for the work you do. I so appreciate it and have found it truly inspiring.

  11. Tim says:

    I have to say, I really hate the way that many of us are trained to separate our sexuality off from the rest of our life. I’ve come to see that as a kind of violence against oneself: treating it differently, in the way you describe, can amount to alienating ourselves from the deepest part of ourselves.

    There’s another example of it on WordPress: if you do the responsible thing and report your own blog as mature, your blog no longer shows up in any WordPress search results, tags used link only to your own site (as opposed to all WordPress.com blogs using them), and so on.

    It’s as though sexuality is supposed not to exist, or to be something shameful which nobody should be able to read about.

  12. Emerald says:

    “I’ve come to see that as a kind of violence against oneself”

    I wholeheartedly agree, Tim. It feels sad and seriously does feel painful to me to see it perpetuated societally. I do aim to support both individual and collective opening and awareness in this area particularly (as well as overall); I wish us all the best as such.

    Thank you for reading, and for commenting!


  1. […] reminded as well of a post I wrote a few years ago thanking sex educators. I still feel this way, earnestly, and I see Heather Corinna as truly one of the pioneering ones of […]

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