Kernes Addresses Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality

Following is the complete text of Mark Kernes' April 12 speech to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.

Our topic is "Legal and Social Obstacles to Sexual Communication," and in my work as Senior Editor of Adult Video News, that's pretty much all I deal with on a daily basis. In a sense, it's difficult for me to talk about this topic, because as an ardent follower of what political and religious conservatives are saying, it's obvious - to me, at least - that the entire right-wing side of the political spectrum, and a good portion of the left, are fueled by a fundamentalist religious reaction to all things sexual. In other words, scratch the surface of many political positions taken by Republicans and Joe Lieberman Democrats and you'll find an underlying sexual component.

I probably don't need to convince anyone here of that. Everyone remembers the fact that a president of the United States was impeached essentially because he accepted (and possibly solicited) blowjobs from a member of his staff and, good ol' Southern boy that he was, dissembled and lied about it to the American people. Even his lying didn't rise to the constitutional requirement that impeachment be for "high crimes and misdemeanors," but religious conservatives smelled the semen-salty air and moved in for the kill. A similar fate was visited only last month on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who arguably violated the Mann Act, another sexual "crime" whose high-profile victims - actors Charlie Chaplin and Rex Ingram, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, musician Chuck Berry and cult leader Charlie Manson - have all generally been political targets as well.

As a writer, what concerns me most in the struggle between sexual repression and sexual sanity is the words themselves. Most of you hopefully have received my handout, "Needed: A Factness Doctrine," which deals with one level of this issue - the provably false statements about political issues and figures that have become commonplace on radio and television, not to mention the plethora of religio-political websites scattered across the Internet - but the problem dealt with in the handout is even more critical when applied to sexual speech and all sexually-related topics ... which, as I plan to demonstrate, include almost all issues which we as a society hold to be important to our health, mental and physical, and even to our survival as a species.

As most of you probably know, beyond actual knowledge of the subject, linguistics is the most important factor in any public discussion of sexual issues. In a news story, whether a person or group is described as "pro-life" or "anti-abortion," "pro-choice" or "pro-abortion" often says as much about the writer as it does about the subject. I highly recommend that everyone here read linguistics professor George Lakoff's "Whose Freedom?", which applies the concept of framing to non-sexual political and social issues, but it doesn't take much reading between the lines to see those same memes at work in discussions of sexuality as well.

Aside from the New York Times and various articles linked from GoogleNews, most of my daily reading consists of emailed articles and website postings from the major religio-conservative pro-censorship groups. These include the Media Research Center, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Morality In Media, the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Parents Television Council, the Alliance Defense Fund, Community Defense Counsel and Citizens for Community Values. (Incidentally, I've found that a good rule of thumb is, if a media-related organization has either "family" or "research" in its name, it's probably a religious pro-censorship group.)

Moreover, Talkers Magazine lists Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage as the three "most important" talk radio hosts in the country, followed by Laura Schlessinger, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham. All of them can be counted upon to promote sexually repressive religious viewpoints, even if they don't follow those precepts themselves.

The writings from the above-named groups cover the entire spectrum of sex-related topics - even ones that the average person may not consider to be sex-related. For example, most of the religious right sites have been posting reviews of the premiere of talk-show host Ben Stein's so-called "documentary," Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which claims that "intelligent design" is a legitimate topic for debate in high school biology classes. I might note that reviews of the movie have only appeared on religious right sites, because audiences at the movie's showings, which have largely been in church venues, have been carefully screened to try to keep out critics of intelligent design. Of course, the import of the idea that an other-worldly "intelligence" created humans, rather than their having evolved from simpler forms, has vast implications for human sexuality.

Then there was the article on which purported to identify "America's most sinful cities." In the "Most Lustful" category, Denver was ranked first, followed by Charlotte, San Antonio, Seattle and Providence. How did they determine the lustfulness of these cities' inhabitants? The AC Nielson research firm used sales figures for contraceptives, adult DVDs and sex toys in ranking the list. "Sin," of course, has powerful negative connotations for the religious.

Just last week, Albert Mohler, president of Lexington, Kentucky's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, came out against sexual surrogacy, claiming that "introduc[ing] a third party as an agent in the biological equation" creates "complex moral issues for Christians" because "Surrogates carry babies ... for married couples, unmarried couples, gay and lesbian couples, and single adults of all walks of life." And as any conservative Christian or Jew or Muslim knows, sex is only for procreation and babies are only for married heterosexual couples.

Tomorrow night, in fact, CNN will be broadcasting "The Compassion Forum," a discussion on the topics of poverty, AIDS, abortion, genocide in Darfur and human rights that will take place at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. Participants will include Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page, anti-choice Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and liberal Rev. Jim Wallis. In posting notice of the forum on its website on Thursday, the American Family Association concurrently polled its readers, asking, "How likely is it that participants in Sunday's 'Compassion Forum' will find common ground on the issue of abortion when the two key speakers - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - are strongly pro-abortion?" Prejudge much, do they?

Incidentally, I'm not the only one who thinks that religion is a sexual issue, although Rev. Mike Young of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu put it exactly the opposite way. "Sexuality is a religious issue," he said. "It is the most powerful human motivator after air and water for the human species. The dynamics of sexuality touch every aspect of the life we share together. For that reason, priests have been trying to forbid it, control it or co-opt it from as early as there were priests."

I propose today to discuss some of the most important social issues where religion dogma clashes with sexual sanity, the most prominent of which is abortion. As the 2008 presidential election approaches, one of the primary talking points for Republican supporters will be the concept that only a Republican president will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. It's an issue that all of the religio-conservative groups have been harping on since before the 2004 election, and which, allegations of voting fraud aside, along with the fear of legalization of same-sex marriage, was what drove conservative voters to the polls to reelect President Bush.

But while the "judicial activism" meme will be used more and more as the election approaches, Family Research Council is currently floating another method to attack abortion choice: It's launched a campaign to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, based on previous claims that the organization provides contraception to anyone - even minors - who asks for it, that it helps cover up child abuse by providing abortions to underage girls and that it's engaging in a eugenics program.

The "evidence" for that last charge is that abortion opponents have been calling up various Planned Parenthood clinics and offering to donate money as long as they can be assured that the funds will be used to abort only "black babies." Of course, Planned Parenthood doesn't have programs aimed at aborting fetuses of any ethnicity, but its staff, happy to get any donations offered, probably figured it couldn't hurt to agree to accept the funds on whatever basis the donor wanted to give them - not realizing that the calls were being recorded and would be used by the anti-abortion groups for propaganda purposes.

"For decades, Planned Parenthood has made its livelihood aborting tens of thousands of black babies," FRC said in its Thursday email. "Over 80 percent of its clinics are located in minority neighborhoods where America's largest abortion provider has cashed in on the vulnerability of young women."

If FRC can actually manage to cut off Planned Parenthood's federal funds, that will go a very long way toward effectively denying legal abortions to women who seek them. Jane Jiminez, a regular columnist for the American Family Association's OneNewsNow website, recently wrote, "In one of the greatest public relations scams of modern times, America is being duped by the King of Lies -- doing business as Planned Parenthood." The "King of Lies," of course, is another word for Satan.

And speaking of lies: Google UK has just announced that it would be refusing to accept anti-abortion ads from the Christian Institute, declaring, "We only allow ads that have factual information about abortion."

Also on the horizon is the "Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act", Senate Bill 1810, introduced by fundamentalist Sen. Sam Brownback, which will force physicians and women's clinics to pressure pregnant women not to abort simply because the fetus will be born with Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy and other adverse genetic conditions. Banning abortions on the basis of such genetic defects is the next logical step after banning late-term abortions. Just last month, legislators in Minnesota, at the behest of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, introduced a bill to ban all saline abortions, calling them "one of the most brutal and inhumane medical procedures performed today."

Finally, let me note that protesters outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Lynchburg, Virginia, have been videotaping women entering the clinic, and have been paying particular attention to those driving cars with parking stickers from nearby Liberty University School of Law, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell. The protesters have announced plans to report those students to Liberty's administrators, with the aim of having the women expelled from the school for possibly having had abortions.

Another frequent topic on the religio-conservative websites is sex education: Both support for so-called "abstinence education," plus vehement opposition to anything that even hints at the idea that post-pubescent teens might be having sex, and that adults should help the kids avoid both pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections. In fact, on February 26, Family Research Council teamed up with the National Abstinence Education Association to host a "training session" for federal legislators and their staffs on the "positive impact such programs have had on the attitudes and behavior of young people." This was apparently to counter the conclusions of a study prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman which concluded that 11 of 13 abstinence-only "sex ed" programs contained distortions and outright lies, particularly as to the effectiveness of contraceptives, the risks of abortion and of contracting STIs, the comparative horniness of boys and girls, and whether God cares when and if they have sex.

Incredibly, religious and conservative groups have used the recent finding, reported in the New York Times, that one in four girls ages 14-19 has at least one sexually-transmitted infection - most of them, HPV - as evidence that true sex education doesn't work, and that more abstinence propaganda is necessary. Of course, those same groups have been campaigning around the country to stop legislatures from making HPV vaccination mandatory for young girls.

"The current contraceptive-based education approach offered in 75 percent of U.S. schools not only relies on an overly narrow focus on physical health that is spurring an epidemic, but it also completely ignores the emotional consequences of premarital sex," declared Family Research Council.

"Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood should not be supplying our students with information about sexual health," said Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, who signed a law last year banning Planned Parenthood from conducting sex ed classes in public schools. (No; obviously, Missourians should get their sex ed from church groups!)

Moreover, Mathematica Policy Research Inc., in a study of four abstinence programs begun in 1999 and concluded in 2006 found that roughly the same number of abstinence-indoctrinated students had had sex as in the control group - that is, about half - and that the average age of first sexual experience was 14 years, nine months - which of course would be illegal in most states. And many more abstinence-indoctrinated youth have substituted oral and anal sex for vaginal in order to remain "abstinent"! Even so, the teen birth rate rose in 2007 for the first time in 15 years.

In all, as of late 2007, 14 states have rejected federal funding of abstinence-only programs, and in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, First Lady Laura Bush advised Americans to "practice safe sex," use condoms "every time" and get tested for HIV. Imagine that: An intelligent Bush!

But even when something approaching real sex education is the approved curriculum, as it was for Brevard County, Florida schools for the first time this year, that doesn't mean that's what the kids will actually be getting. For instance, teachers there are forbidden to discuss "three district-defined 'moral issues': Abortion, masturbation and homosexuality," and they're supposed to stress abstinence.

"I really think that when we teach health, that we should talk about healthy behaviors ... and the healthy behavior for unmarried teenage students should be no sex," said Florida high school health teacher Brandi Morford, who has taught abstinence education for four years. "Just because they're all doing it doesn't mean it's a healthy behavior."

Indeed kids are having sex - and getting busted for it! In December, 2006, the Utah Supreme Court found a 13-year-old girl guilty of sexual abuse of a child for having had consensual sex with her "victim," her 12-year-old boyfriend - and found him guilty of the same thing for having had sex with her!

Just this past January, Pennsylvania State Police began checking the cellphones of Parkland High School Students to see if their classmates had sent them nude pictures of their fellow students. Apparently, 40 Parkland students had them on their phones. Last month, four 12-year-old Daphne Middle School students in Daphne, Alabama were arrested and charged with possession of material harmful to minors for using their cellphone cameras to snap nude photos of themselves and exchanging the images with each other.

And who can forget the furor over the Sundance Film Festival's 2006 showing of Hounddog, in which 12-year-old actress Dakota Fanning was shown being raped. Interviewed later, Fanning thought the scene had been a good experience for her development as an actress.

Family Research Council has also had some success in retargeting the funds in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The bill now recommends using the $50 billion allotment in a "balanced approach" between contraception and abstinence promotion - while allowing funded religious groups to avoid discussing contraception and abortion altogether, and maintaining the ban on all fund recipients from providing services to prostitutes in the targeted countries.

On the home front, Morality In Media has taken the NYC Department of Health to task for its media campaign to promote condom use, advising New Yorkers in ads to "Get Some." Condoms, that is, which the Department is handing out free.

"I think it will be perceived by many people - young people, in particular - not just to get condoms but to get promiscuous sex," predicted MIM president Robert Peters. "The NYC Department of Health now targets all 'New Yorkers,' including children and adults whose religion teaches them that use of condoms is sinful. To the extent that the campaign is aimed at married couples, it is not only pro-promiscuity but also anti-children."

That's funny; I thought it was okay for married couples to be "promiscuous" - that is, have a lot of sex with each other - and is Peters seriously saying that when married people do have sex, they should expect that the woman will get pregnant and do nothing to try to prevent that?

The fundamentalists were up in arms just last month when Barack Obama had the temerity to suggest that in addition to abstinence education, sex ed should include "information about contraception, because look, I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I'm going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby. I don't want them punished with an STD at the age of 16. You know, so, it doesn't make sense to not give them information."

The religious immediately went into high dudgeon. Rather than focusing on the point of Obama's statement - that sex education should be more than just telling kids not to "do it" - Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, focused on the "baby as punishment" concept, telling, "Stigmatizing the babies conceived by teenagers is not the way to reduce teen pregnancies. Instead, it provides an excuse for aborting them." Concerned Women for America also opposes comprehensive sex ed.

Sex education is one of the driving forces behind the home-schooling movement, which in recent months has become much more prominent among the religious. Websites like OneNewsNow and Focus on the Family's Citizenlink have run dozens of scare stories about Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in schools; about children sent home for wearing t-shirts with slogans like, "Be Really Gay - Go Straight"; about how more and more districts are shunning "Intelligent Design" in favor of actual science in biology classes; and about how many schools are turning down abstinence funds and teaching comprehensive sex ed. The sum of these has been to convince many parents that the public schools will morally corrupt their children and drive them away from the church - and they're fighting back by attempting to home-school the kids so when they go out in the world, they'll know that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that God made fossils and carbon-dating just to fool scientists, that gay people are sick if not actual agents of Satan, and that godly children have perfect control over their sexual urges.

Oh, yeah; and they're also opposing California bill AB 2943, which would "criminalize the non-injurious swat of a child with virtually any object, such as a ruler, newspaper, or paddle" - apparently before the kids get a chance to decide if they're into spanking sex-play.

I've already referred a couple of times to the fundamentalists' opposition to gay rights, and not a day goes by that there aren't multiple stories about Christians being discriminated against by having to accept gay employees, by a municipality allowing public facilities to be used by gay groups, by reported proposals for unisex bathrooms at schools, and by publicly-traded companies like UPS and McDonald's providing benefits for same-sex partners - all the while continuing to claim that "Gays Can Be Cured!" This, despite the fact that Pastor Ted Haggard, who resigned from his parish in 2006 after his homosexual relationship with a prostitute was revealed, has asked the team of ministers overseeing his "spiritual restoration" recovery program to "end their oversight." However, "officials with New Life Church say the termination of the relationship is premature." Translation: He's still gay or bi.

Of course, I've saved my favorite topic for last: Pornography.

First, we might ask, "Just what is pornography?" You might think you know, but consider that the American Family Association wants Redbook magazine taken off supermarket shelves for printing articles like "Handbook: Your Sex Life," which contains 56 suggestions for how to "feel sexy in a flash!" Among the article's suggestions: "Got ten minutes? Swap your coffee break for a visit with your vibrator!" The American Decency Association wants Wal-Mart to remove Maxim magazine and Sports Illustrated's swimsuit calendars away from checkout areas, both of which ADA president Bill Johnson contends "feature pornographic photographs of women." On Thursday, Parents Television Council called on supporters to complain to the FCC about the CW Television Network's having broadcast an episode of "America's Next Top Model" that featured a momentary glimpse of a computer-blurred woman who apparently had no clothes on under the blur - and in primetime, no less!

And in case you're still not sure what porn is, Dr. Gail Dines will teach you this summer at Wheelock College near Boston. She's sponsoring a symposium titled, "Media Madness: The Impact of Sex, Violence and Commercial Culture on Adults, Children and Society," which will feature such topics as "How media images perpetuate and legitimize sexism, racism, consumerism and economic inequality" and "How media affects children's ideas about sexual behavior and relationships with others." Dines has written "Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality," and my invitation to the 3-day, $475 event - $2,025 if I want three graduate credits for having taken it - came from an organization called

But despite yet another study showing that porn, however you define it, is harmless - this one from Denmark, done by Martin Hald and Neil Malamuth, which found that the Danes generally believe hardcore porn to have had a positive influence on their lives - we still have groups like Concerned Women for America sending 16,000 signed petitions to the Justice Department "respectfully demanding" that the nation's obscenity laws be properly enforced; "experts" like Dr. Mary Anne Layden claiming that porn is an "equal opportunity toxin"; and the heads of most of the censorship groups I named earlier sending a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey last November requesting a meeting with him "to discuss this rapidly growing pornography epidemic." No word on Mukasey's reply.

And then there are the so-called feminists like Robert Jensen, who claim that pornographers' presence in mainstream culture "shouldn't be surprising, because they represent mainstream values: The logic of domination and subordination that is central to patriarchy, hyperpatriotic nationalism, white supremacy and a predatory corporate capitalism." Who knew?

You also may be familiar with the case concerning celebrities saying "fuck" and "cowshit" on national TV during award show telecasts that's working its way toward the Supreme Court. The broadcasters - Fox Television, of all people - won at the Appeals Court level, with the Second Circuit finding that the FCC had provided no reasonable basis to fine the networks millions of dollars over the so-called "fleeting expletives."

It's looney-tunes like these who inspire people like Knoxville, Tennessee resident Kent Blackwelder to file a lawsuit against Delaware-based Specialty Publications, a gay porn company, for having sent him a DVD of Titan Men's Farm Fresh in an envelope marked "Free DVD" - which Blackwelder's 12-year-old daughter opened, thinking for some reason that it was a Disney movie, and was "horribly shocked to see numerous sexually explicit photographs of completely nude males." That "great pain of body and mind and emotional distress", he claims, is worth $4 million.

That also may be why everyone seems to want to tax adult entertainment to the hilt these days. California Assemblyman (formerly Senator) Charles Calderon, who's been introducing porn tax bills for most of the last decade, now wants to tax porn downloads from the Internet. A couple of states want to tax porn sales or strip club door fees to support everything from battered women's shelters to health care for the poor, and municipalities all over the country are passing ordinances designed to keep adult material out of their towns - often when nobody's even tried to bring it into their towns! These attempts often fail because porn has a legal right to be sold, though the Supreme Court claims that obscenity doesn't - although the 1969 opinion in Stanley v. Georgia recognized people's right to own obscenity in their own homes. This legal schizophrenia has led to the current crop of obscenity prosecutions, the latest being the Evil Angel bust for two movies - one featuring milk enemas, the other depicting squirting - and a trailer.

By my count, there are five other ongoing federal obscenity cases: Extreme Associates, Max Hardcore, Movies By Mail, Karen Fletcher's and Ira Isaacs, a couple of which will be coming to trial this summer. You'll be able to read about them all on