"America’s War on Sex" Book Review

This is J writing. . . finally! It has been so long since I have written a post but K told me that I have three book reports to write and they were all due yesterday.  Oops. Now that I am on vacation I am trying to catch up on all the books that I put off reading while I was in school.  My next blog post will be about “Gay, Straight and the Reason Why” by Simon LeVay which is a book that explores a lot of the research that has been conducted into sexual orientation.  However, the first book that I read this summer was “America’s War on Sex” by Marty Klein; it was published in 2006, before “Sexual Intelligence.”
“America’s War on Sex” was essentially a summary of the immense discomfort that our culture experiences in regards to sex and how that discomfort manifests in an attack on sex and sexual expression.  He covers a variety of topics relating to sex and sexuality such as: sex education (with a focus on abstinence-only education programs), pornography, gay marriage, swing clubs, abortion and reproductive rights, and mass media and censoring.  The book is a sort of A-Z of every way in which the right is attempting to limit your sexual expression and sexual freedom.  Dr. Klein makes no attempt to hide his disdain for right wing leaders like George W. Bush, Rick Santorum, Jerry Falwell and others who he sees as responsible for attacking a citizen’s right to freely express themselves sexually without interference from the government.
The main theme of the book seemed to be that regardless of what your own level of comfort is with someone else’s sexuality, this is America and people should have the right to express themselves freely and openly so long as they are not harming others.  This closely dovetails with an important point in the book, which is that those who are not at ease with their own sexuality see attacks on their way of life everywhere – in the media, on billboards, in sex education programs, in the mere existence of pornography, and in books like “Fifty Shades of Gray.”  Because some people are so uncomfortable with the fact that they are sexual beings, they are unable to simply recognize and then dismiss those parts of the culture that are sexual; they must seek to control and limit the sexual expression of others in an attempt to protect themselves from what they see as a “sexual onslaught” in which they are being constantly attacked.  Dr. Klein sees this need to control the sexuality of others by limiting their rights to free sexual expression by watching pornography, going to strip clubs, et cetera as distinctly “un-American.”  After all, part of living in a pluralistic society means tolerating those with different views and expressions than you. 
I personally think that Dr. Klein did an excellent job of explaining how the law and especially the U.S. Supreme Court shape our sexual culture through their interpretation of the First Amendment.  The foreword to the book was written by the president of the ACLU and specifically commended Dr. Klein for the excellent job that he did covering how the law is involved in shaping what sort of sexual expression is permissible and where it is permissible.  One thing that I think that he somewhat glossed over is the fact that while the Supreme Court has been the most protective branch of government in terms of allowing people the right to sexual expression (even if what they have done has been pretty limited) they are essentially the last resort; these sorts of cases in which a person is not being permitted to express themselves freely only make it to the Supreme Court because of laws that were passed by legislatures and signed into law by governors or presidents.  If we convince our elected officials to not give into the pressure placed on them by those who are too fragile to handle other people’s sexual expression, the Supreme Court would not have to “put it’s foot down” in order to protect our First Amendment rights.  For example, there is currently a circuit-split (when two circuit courts rule on the same issue in different ways) regarding whether a state may pass a law that makes it illegal to sell sex toys.  Texas and Alabama have both passed laws making the sale of sex toys illegal.  The 11th Circuit struck down the Texas law finding that it was unconstitutional but the 5th Circuit upheld Alabama’s law finding that it was reasonable.  You can read more about this issue here if you are interested: http://newyorklawschool.typepad.com/leonardlink/2008/02/a-circuit-split.htmlThe bottom-line is that this case only matters because states like Alabama and Texas are bothering to pass these laws that then call into question whether or not a person has a constitutionally protected right to buy sex toys or not; if state’s would not pass these ridiculous laws then it wouldn’t matter whether you had a constitutional right to buy a sex toy.
Another important point from this book is the extreme misinformation that is proffered by those uncomfortable with sex and sexuality in their attempt to limit the sexual expression and freedom of others.  He discusses the immense quantity of evidence that has been put forward against abstinence-only education and the fact that the right continues to tout abstinence-only education as the only effective means of preventing pregnancy and disease. Dr. Klein cites a figure that abstinence fails 88% of the time; he gets this from the fact that 88% of those people making an “abstinence-until-marriage pledge” will have sex before they are married.  Furthermore, those breaking the pledge are statistically less likely to use safe and effective forms of contraception and/or to use the contraception properly.  Another interesting piece of misinformation that Dr. Klein refers to is the idea that pornography causes violence or sexual assault; peer-reviewed studies tend to show the exact opposite which is that access to pornography reduces the number of sexual assaults in a community.  The book is loaded with misinformation commonly volunteered by the right as well as citations to peer-reviewed studies that refute this misinformation.
The last really important point that I got from the book is the way that the “war on sex” has been framed by those warring against sex and sexual expression.  It is framed, according to Dr. Klein, as an “us versus them” battle in which the “us” are the “righteous crusaders” who are uncomfortable with sex set out to save the community from the “them” who are perverts who do things like watch pornography, go to strip clubs, swing with their neighbors, and teach their children about contraception – you know who you are 😉  This framing has the effect of making this small but vocal minority seem as if they have the moral high-ground which makes those people who consume pornography, go to strip clubs, swing, et cetera refuse to speak up and stand up for themselves since they are afraid of being attacked and smeared by those in this small minority.  One of my favorite examples from this section of the book was about a populated place that had many residents as well as strip clubs.  When the area became incorporated one of the first acts of the new city council was to pass zoning laws making it illegal for the strip clubs to continue to operate in their city.  In this decision the city council framed those that went to the strip clubs as “them” – perverts coming from other places to go to the strip clubs – but Dr. Klein asks the question “Who did this city council think were keeping these strip clubs in business? Probably the people who lived within a few miles of the clubs.” 
While the book was a bit disheartening because it reminded me of all of the ways in which sexual expression is limited and about the constant attack that sexual expression and freedom is under, I ultimately think it is a worthwhile read.  I think it is important to be knowledgeable about the constant attack on sexuality and sexual expression so that we can defend our right to express ourselves sexually in ways that are not unfairly limited by the government.

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