We welcome this guest post from Carly Chillmon, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara.


When I began constructing my dissertation project in the fall of 2008, I was met with one recurring response, “You should check out the Lusty Lady.” I was developing a study to examine how legal sex businesses are regulated and operate within the urban setting of Seattle.  In my research the majority of people I have spoken with identify the Lusty Lady (a woman-managed peep show) as a true Seattle gem… a last-stand to Seattle’s not-so-metronatural past.  Sadly, this beacon of sexual expression announced on April 11, 2010, that it would be closing for business in June.

While in many instances adult entertainment is met with contention with those who don the cloak of moral superiority, the Lusty Lady did not meet such policing. In fact, Assistant Chief Jim Pugel of the Seattle Police Department told me that,

“…I can’t recall the last time we had a complaint of a robbery, of a drug deal, or any other activity that is usually associated or part and parcel with prostitution or people engaged in vice.” — Seattle Chief of Police, Jim Pugel

In other words, the Lusty Lady maintained its status of a legal business without ties to criminality and vice. The Lusty Lady’s humorous billboards also helped bridge the social distance and discomfort that often exists between the sex industry and the broader public. In my same interview with the Seattle Chief of Police Pugel, the Chief said that “.. their billboards are just the best billboards you’ve ever seen.”

At a time when freedom of speech is often in need of defense, the Lusty Lady openly expresses sexuality in an engaging and often topical tongue-in-cheek fashion. Passersby on 1st Avenue are met with such greetings as “We Takeoff More Than Boeing,” “Business Doing Pleasure,” “We Give Raises,” and one of my timely favorites, “Check Our Stimulus Package.” The pink and black marquee offers a sense of humor and a savvy way to make people think, even for just a moment, about sexual desire.

When I spoke with local politicians about the regulation of legal sex businesses, the Lusty Lady was consistently noted as something special. Seattle City Council Member Tim Burgess stated,

“The Lusty Lady is interesting because it is kind of iconic in a way and I think that’s because of their billboard…”

Burgess went on to note that:

“…That might not be my choice of a business to patronize or to run clearly but I don’t think it’s the government’s role to get engaged there. As long as they’re not breaking the law and as long as they’re keeping a clean facility and getting along with their neighbors and they’re policing themselves, then I have no reason to question them or get involved with them.”

Council Member Burgess demonstrates an understanding of the legality of the business and a marked absence of complaint as a means to justify the existence of an establishment that he may personally not patron but politically accommodates.

Former City Council Member Peter Steinbrueck reflected on the relationship of the Lusty Lady to its across the street neighbor, the Seattle Art Museum. In his interview with me he said,

“In a quirky way, the Lusty Lady was accepted as sort of living art right next to the art museum. They have a small billboard, a marquee over the entrance, and they put artful little messages up there that can be seen from the galleries of the Seattle Art Museum so there is a funny kind of relationship there that is, I think, mutually acceptable…It seen as part of the cultural life of the city basically…They (the Lusty Lady) were there before the art museum and they are part of the neighborhood.”

Through its play on words, the Lusty Lady was able to enhance its status and move away from the usual connection to deviance and stigma that is associated with adult entertainment. The Lusty Lady was able to move towards a place of cultural significance and artful appreciation.

However, such cultural standing is not resistant to the impact of the current economic recession. Management of the Lusty Lady reported through many local news outlets that they are a prime example of how the adult entertainment industry is not recession-proof (see articles by Kiley, Lacitis, and Cohen below). During these economic hard-times when many local small downtown businesses are closing, the Lusty Lady is just one of many casualties. Coupled with the rise of access to free pornography on the Internet, we can better understand why the Lusty Lady’s income dramatically dropped from the late 1990s to today.

It is also important to understand that this particular neighborhood has been undergoing dramatic change since the 1970s. The Pike Place Market preservation and development project, an influx of investment into real estate, particularly high-rise developments and office space, and a general evacuation of Seattle’s Flesh Avenue greatly altered this city’s landscape.

City Council Member Jean Godden, a former Seattle Times columnist, referred to the changing landscape of downtown Seattle, specifically of the changes that occurred along 1st Avenue. She stated,

“It (the Lusty Lady) is sort of the last bastion. There really isn’t much anymore… It’s very different than it used to be ,and 1st Avenue, in particular was the one that certainly has gentrified so to speak, if that is what one wants to consider it over the years.”

Peter Steinbrueck further sheds light on the the ways that downtown Seattle has changed: “There were sex shops…up and down 1st Avenue, there were multiple pawn shops, second-hand businesses, used clothing, and, I think, right next to the main entrance to the Market was a porn theater of some sort…That was the kind of neighborhood that it was. I guess it would be described as a little seedy.”

In contrast to its “seedy” past, Seattle now boasts a premiere art museum, a Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, and a revitalized Pike Place Market. And, until June, the Lusty Lady still stands as a reminder to Seattle’s history and as a contributor to its cultural development.

While many are quick to praise the creativity of its marquee, the lack of recognition of the work that goes on within the Lusty Lady needs mentioning. As part of the material culture of Seattle, the Lusty Lady also holds symbolic meaning for many people. The lapse of comprehension that “real” work went on beyond that marquee is possibly another reason for the Lusty Lady’s demise besides the economic downturn and Internet access to porn.

Further research must be pursued to understand the nuances of sex work in the legal business world. Without scholarly investigation into how sexual spaces are regulated, zoned, and operated, we fall victim to using the lens of sex work as deviant rather than sex work as legitimate labor and business organizations. It is not only important to understand the sex industry at moments of moral panics, but is vital to recognize how these businesses operate under a set of specific socio-political and economic conditions.

The Lusty Lady is a Seattle landmark; all of us, even those who are neither patrons nor workers at the Lusty Lady, will experience a cultural loss when it is “clothed” for business.


Carly Chillmon is currently an adjunct professor of sociology in the department of Anthropology, Sociology, and Social Work at Seattle University. The working title for her dissertation is “The Regulation of Sex Businesses: Place, Policy, and Politics.”

Recommended links:

The following update on the Uganda anti-gay movement comes from the Box Turtle Bulletin:


American Evangelist To Rally Against Gays In Uganda

Jim Burroway

April 21st, 2010

The month of May will be a very dangerous time to be gay in Uganda, as Pentecostal churches there gear up for a series of crusades, marches and rallies commemorating the 50th Jubilee of the Pentecostal movement there. An anonymous BTB reader in Uganda reports that television is already carrying commercials advertising at least one event, a three-day conference to be held at the sports grounds at Makerere University (Uganda’s largest institution of higher learning) with a march and rally to be held the following Friday, May 7.

In the midst of that expected furor steps yet another American anti-gay extremist, Lou Engle of The Call, who has announced plans to hold a rally in Kampala on May 2, also at the Makerere University Sports Field. The Call Uganda’s web site gives these reasons for holding the rally:

It is intended to awaken and revive the young and the old, men and women, church and family, government and the public and to fight vices eating away at our society. We shall all join our hearts across tribal, political, denominational, and generational boundaries, to cry to God to help us with the challenges in our country such as:

  • The heightened political tensions and wrangles in the country, especially as we go towards the 2011 general elections
  • The increasing level of social evils in our society, some which are threatening our values and lifestyles e.g.
    • Witchcraft and human sacrifice
    • Homosexuality and increased immorality
    • Disasters and the resultant suffering of the people
    • The decay of morals and infrastructure of our city Kampala

Engle’s emotionally-charged extremism and violence-laden rhetoric has become quite familiar here in the U.S. Engle believes that gays are possessed by demons, and was part of a major rally for Prop 8 in San Diego where he called for Christian martyrs. Casey Sanchez, of the Southern Poverty Law Center describes one talk that Engle gave this way:

“I believe we’re headed to an Elijah/Jezebel showdown on the Earth, not just in America but all over the globe, and the main warriors will be the prophets of Baal versus the prophets of God, and there will be no middle ground,” said Engle. He was referring to the Baal of the Old Testament, a pagan idol whose followers were slaughtered under orders from the prophet Elijah.

“There’s an Elijah generation that’s going to be the forerunners for the coming of Jesus, a generation marked not by their niceness but by the intensity of their passion,” Engle continued. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Such force demands an equal response, and Jesus is going to make war on everything that hinders love, with his eyes blazing fire.”

Engle has also said, “The most ‘dangerous terrorist’ is not Islam but God. One of God’s names is the avenger of blood. Have you worshiped that God yet?”

Last year, a BTB reader shared with me his experience of attending a Call rally in Nashville in 2007.  Tyler (his last name is being withheld) remembers that day vividly — July 7, 2007 (07/07/07 was their “Holy Date”):

I went to Nashville and the day was a whole day of fasting and prayer to “turn the nation back to God.”  Their tactics include, in my opinion, a lot of manipulation using emotionally-driven songs, yelling, dancing, and the like to get individuals charged up.

The Call Uganda’s web site lists the following endorsements by Ugandan Christian leaders:

  • Bishop Simon Peter Emiau – Chairman Evangelical Fellowship of Uganda;
  • Archbishop Luke Henry Orombi – Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda;
  • Pastor Jotham Mutebi – Chairman Full Gospel Churches of Uganda;
  • Pastor Titus Oundo – Chairman Deliverance Churches of Uganda;
  • Apostle John Mulinde – World Trumpet Mission, which also has extensive staff in Orlando, Florida under International Director Mark Daniel.
  • Apostle Jackson Ssenyonga – Christian Life Ministries;
  • Pastor Gary Skinner – Watoto (formerly Kampala Pentecostal) Church. An elder of that church is Stephen Langa, who helped to organize last year’s anti-gay conference featuring three American anti-gay activists. That conference delivered the “nuclear bomb” that served as a precursor and catalyst to the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is now before Uganda’s Parliament.
  • Apostle Joseph Ssewadda – General Overseer of Born Again Federation;
  • Peter Asiimwe – Uganda Evangelical Mission Agency;
  • Pastor Fred Wantaate – Coordinator for Pentecostal Golden Jubilee – Full Gospel Church.

The next several weeks will prove to be exceedingly dangerous for LGBT Ugandans. Last year’s conference led to a massive public anti-gay pogrom that included a public vigilante campaign in a major Ugandan tabloid and various FM stations in Kampala in which gay people were forcibly outed. We have reports that several people lost their jobs and were abandoned by their families as a result. Several were arrested, and there are reports of at least one death in the eastern city of Mbale.

Frank Mugisha, president Sexual Minorities of Uganda, said, “Gay people are already fleeing their homes and have to move from house to house because of threats to their lives. Americans need to stop Lou Engle from coming to Uganda.”

When we first reported on the anti-gay conference last March in Uganda, we warned that it was a very dangerous move. But even knowing and warning of those dangers, we had no idea that it would ultimately lead to a proposal to put gay people to death under certain circumstances.

After that experience, there now can be no excuse. We know what can happen following rallies like this one. And whatever happens as an aftermath of this rally, no one can say they could not predict what would happen next. Given the virulent hatred openly expressed by ordinary Ugandans and their religious leaders toward the gay community, Engle’s rally is a dangerous and reckless escalation.


I’d like to know this: at what point will other countries began offering political refuge for gay Ugandans? At what point will there will be airlift evacuations? When will American people of faith intervene with these extremist religious leaders?

Related Sexuality & Society posts:

A legacy of White Supremacy: Why Ugandans embrace U.S. Christian right’s anti-gay-agenda (Jan. 13, 2010).

Growing Global Opposition to Ugandan “kill the gays bill” (Dec. 14, 2009).

Homo hatred in Uganda: A gift from US conservative evangelicals (Dec. 9 2009).

Gonorrhea and syphillis get sporadic attention from the press–and now is one of those times because rates of STIs in the US are increasing. In recognition of STD Awareness month, William Smith of the National Coalition of STD Directors provides an overview of these and other contemporary STD/STI and sexual health trends. As noted below by Smith, gonorrhea rates are particularly acute in the African-American population, while syphillis is making a come-back among MSM (men who have sex with men). Smith warns that “we are on the verge of a highly untreatable gonorrhea epidemic:”

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection and bacteria have a funny way of developing resistance to treatments – their own built-in evolutionary survival mode. This is what has happened with gonorrhea, the second most commonly reported notifiable disease in the United States with more than 336,000 cases reported in 2008.

It is also among one of the most racially- and age-disparate diseases. For example, according to the CDC, though blacks make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, more than 70 percent of reported cases of gonorrhea in 2008 were among blacks. It also affects young people disproportionately, with the majority of new cases being consistently reported among 15 to 24 year olds. In early 2007, after much reporting of resistance to the class of antibiotics known as quinolones, the CDC stopped recommending them for use in treating gonorrhea. We now have just a single class of antibiotics left to treat gonorrhea but resistance is also developing with this class and the pipeline of new drugs is nearly empty. Future treatment might require multiple drug combinations or multiple doses over a longer period of time and even then, we are not sure what the future holds.

Gonorrhea leads to all sorts of adverse sexual health outcomes including infertility and likely exacerbates susceptibility to HIV. Something called Disseminated Gonococcal Infection that can cause crippling arthritis could become commonplace, and toxic blood and outright organ failure are likely prospects for infected persons if we do not get ahead of this situation with new treatments. I hate to sound alarmist, but the prospects of this situation are frightening.

Over the past several years, Advocates for Youth have also voiced alarm over gonorrhea rates in the US, especially in comparison to the Netherlands and other European countries. The following graph from Advocates for Youth illustrates a cross-national comparison of teens in both countries (but no distinctions by race, sex, class, etc):

"Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States, and U.S. adolescent rate is almost 33 times greater than the reported teen rates the Netherlands." (Source: Advocates for Youth).


In addition to the escalating rates of gonorrhea, syphillis is back in business in the US. William Smith of the National Coalition of STD Directors also warns that “we are about to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory in the battle against syphillis”:

Once on the verge of a major public health success story, the nation’s efforts to combat syphilis – still optimistically termed as an effort to eliminate it – have virtually collapsed. In 2008, we had the highest number of reported syphilis cases since 1995 at 13,500 (these are primary and secondary syphilis cases which is when the disease is most infectious). There were another 431 cases of congenital syphilis in 2008 – cases where mother to child transmission occurs. In Chicago last year, one colleague told me that two babies died of congenital syphilis. Yes – in the 21stcentury United States of America, children die of syphilis. Where is the outcry? And the disease is now increasingly shifting to men who have sex with men, where syphilis infection in a sexual network can have devastating results both on its own and in increasing susceptibility to HIV infection. NCSD has called for a renewed discussion on our nation’s approach to syphilis control and sexual health and we will be convening a meeting later this year to help pave a new way forward.

The graph below from Advocates for Youth also shows a gap in syphillis rates between the US and the Netherlands:

"Among teens, syphilis rates in the United States are more than twice those in the Netherlands." (Source: Advocates for Youth)


The reasons for these and other sexual health distinctions between the US and the Netherlands are a complex, involving a mixture of social, institutional, and cultural factors. And, race and class relations–and their intersection look very different in the US and the Netherlands. Regardless, much work is needed in the US to offset these and other negative sexual health trends, and raising the visibility of these trends is at least one step toward this goal.

Bibliography and Related links:

Adolescent Sexual Health in Europe and the U.S.: Why the Difference? Advocates for Youth.

William Smith. (4/15/2010). “What I didn’t know about sexual health: Reflections from a new perch. Rh Reality Check.

GYT (Get Yourself Tested)

National Coalition of STD Directors

Last week Iceland made history by becoming the first European nation to abolish strip clubs — made effective by passing a law that makes it illegal to profit from the nudity of employees. The law will take effect on July 1, 2010. What is perhaps even more unusual on a global scale is this law is being reported as a NOT a result of religious, but of feminist influence. Julie Bindel in Guardian UK writes:

Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.”

Bindel continues:

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not.

This news (all of it: that strip clubs will be banned and that mostly foreign women work in those clubs) came as a surprise to many including me. But then again, my only experience of that country comes from a short layover in Reykjavik a few years ago on my way to Oslo. From my window airplane seat I looked down on a landscape unlike any I’d ever before witnessed, a fascinating result of glaciers, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. At the Reykjavik airport in my jetlagged state, I looked for Bjork and wondered if perhaps the plane had mistakenly landed on the moon.

"The Road Home to Reykjavik" wallpaper, from HDR Landscape Wallpapers


Now that Iceland is back on my radar (and I’m not currently jetlagged), I thought it would be a good time to take a better look and to investigate how and why strip clubs are being banned on this North Atlantic island. Bindel’s Guardian UK article credits the triumph of feminism, calling Iceland “the world’s most feminist country.” I’m intrigued by what does appear to be a very strong showing of feminist abolitionist (anti-sex work) sexual politics. But I’m also curious about how the demographic context — including the sex and race/ethnicity of migrant laborers — may be influencing this current abolitionist stance.

First, a look at indicators of gender equality in Iceland. According to the 2007 Global Gender Gap Index (published by the World Economic Forum), Iceland ranks fourth in the world in providing equal economic, political, and health standards for women and men. The current prime minister of Iceland is a lesbian woman, the world’s first openly gay leader.

Iceland Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir


For some feminist commentators these cultural and structural factors explain how strip clubs became ousted from Iceland. After all, aren’t all feminists and lesbians opposed to the commercial sex industry?

Because the answer to this question above is “no,” I’ll move to another line of inquiry: Might other, demographic, variables also be encouraging this abolitionist stance?

Let’s look at who lives in Iceland. According to Statistics Iceland, the population of Iceland has decreased for the first time since 1889:

On 1 January 2010 the population was 317,630, compared with 319,368 1 January 2009. The population decrease is due to a record negative net migration in 2009, while the natural increase (births less deaths) was 1%.

In other words, people are leaving Iceland, and those who are staying aren’t having many babies. The TOTAL population of Iceland is LESS than the population of most major US cities, and comparable to the population of many Carribbean and South Pacific islands (see list of world populations by country here). The vast majority of people in Iceland live in the Reykjavik area (120,000 in the city proper.)

(Side note: Reykajavik is a small town. It’s not usually a good idea to work as a stripper in the same small town where you grew up. Things quickly get uncomfortable when your brother, uncle, friend, former coach, and dad show up. If you are an Icelandic woman who wants to be a stripper, go elsewhere!)

Given Iceland’s decreasing population, it makes sense that immigrant workers may be needed in many occupational sectors. Indeed, there has been an increase in citizenship granted to immigrants:

“The largest number of those who are granted Icelandic citizenship come from Europe. In 2009 the majority of those originated from Poland (153) and Serbia (76). Asians are the second largest group, with 106 who had formerly a Philippine citizenship and 51 Vietnamese.” (Statistics Iceland).


Click on the graph to see a larger version


This pattern of immigration from Europe and Asia is not new, at least within the past few decades. As seen in the graph to the right, since 1991 there have been relatively stable (and low) patterns of immigration from Europe, Asia, the US and Africa. What has changed however since 2001 is an increase of immigrants from Europe.

It is interesting that in the news coverage of the strip club ban (which has mostly replicated the Guardian UK article quoted above), the topic of “trafficking” is mentioned. What is curious is that there does not appear to be any direct evidence for women being trafficked (forced) in to Iceland to work in strip clubs. If there is, it’s not being reported. Instead, readers are left with comments such as Julie Bindel, who writes:

“I have visited a strip club in Reykjavik and observed the women. None of them looked happy in their work.”

Not exactly reliable evidence of trafficking.

And so I am left once again with the suspicion that this ban isn’t about protecting workers from being trafficked. It’s about the tensions that arise over immigration; it’s about a conflict over the meaning(s) and use(s) of sexuality; it’s about not recognizing sex work as labor, and hence not assuming that sex workers deserve basic labor rights. It’s also about a lack of reliable research which, at minimum, investigates the experiences of people in the industry. Visiting a strip club and thinking that people don’t “look happy” doesn’t count.

Some people, the majority perhaps, cannot imagine ever choosing to be a sex worker. Since they cannot imagine it, they assume that they must be forced into it (and thus either must be saved or punished). Some people also believe this about gay people.  It is no coincidence that the GLBT movement has long fought for freedom from arrogant attempts to “save” and/or punish them.  Thus I find it more ironic than understandable that a lesbian Prime Minister has decided to outlaw the sexual and occupational choices of others.

For more reading about the misdirected politics of anti-trafficking and anti-sex work policies, see Laura Austin’s recent article on the South Africa preparing for the World Cup.

Stories about Catholic priests and sexual abuse are so common that for some, “priest” is nearly synonymous with “pedophile.” Because the bulk of *known* Catholic Priest sex abuse cases have involved boys, the association also leads to assumptions about priests’ latent homosexuality. Reflecting and reinforcing these associations about Catholic Priests are the plethora of jokes on late night talk shows:

“I read this in the paper this morning: New York City has a priest shortage. So you see, there is some good news in the world. … To give you an idea how bad it is, earlier today in Brooklyn an alter boy had to grope himself.” —David Letterman

“As you’ve probably heard, the Pope has asked all the Cardinals to return to Rome. You know how they got them all to come back? They told them that there was going to be a performance by the Vienna Boys Choir.” —Jay Leno

“The Cardinals will be staying at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the new hotel at the Vatican, where turn down service means the bell boy isn’t interested.” —Daily Showhost Jon Stewart

Just when it seems like surely all the scandals have been aired and all the jokes have been told (and for some the bigger scandal may be that the Priests might be “gay”, rather than that they sexually abuse children), we hear about more Priests abusing massive numbers of children and of the Catholic hierarchy systematically attempting to hide the abuse.

In an article published today in the Huffington Post, Rev. Debra Hafner, an Ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, discusses the need for faith communities to directly address sexuality and sexual abuse. Hafner also calls upon Pope Benedict to “move beyond apologies to action,” … urging “all religious institutions to address sexuality in healthier, more open and responsible ways.” 

I’m not holding my breath on Pope Benedict suddenly becoming a proponent of sexual health (!). On the other hand I am hopeful about the leadership of the Religious Institute, which is calling for religious leaders to move away from guilt and shame framings of human sexuality toward framings which support holistic sexual health.


Up to the Pope: Stop the Pandemic of Pedophilia“, by Rev. Debra Hafner.

The latest revelations about sexual abuse against children by Roman Catholic priests are nothing short of revolting. The story of Father Lawrence Murphy, who abused more than 200 deaf boys in Milwaukee over decades, despite the boys’ speaking out and calling for help, should outrage us all. The new revelations from Germany and other European countries add to the understanding that the prevalence of pedophile priests are, in the words of my colleague, Dan Maguire, “a global Catholic Church pandemic.

“It went up to the Pope,” a formerly Roman Catholic friend said to me yesterday, with tears in her eyes. “How is it possible that people knew and didn’t stop it?” Unfortunately, the answer is that the Catholic hierarchy did know, and chose to transfer the priests rather than address the crimes they were committing against children.

Yes, crimes. In the secular world, the offending priests and their superiors would be held criminally accountable for their behavior. It is not enough for the Pope to apologize, as he did to victims last week. It is unconscionable when Catholic apologists try to explain away the church’s inaction as a relic of another time, when people didn’t talk as much about sexual abuse. We are talking now – and learning, to our dismay, how widespread sexual abuse in faith communities really is.

A national research study from Baylor University last year revealed that three percent of adult women, across a range of Christian and Jewish traditions, were involved in instances of clergy sexual misconduct. Most of this occurs between adults; sexual abuse of children and youth by Roman Catholic clergy is of a different magnitude altogether. Still, we must not deceive ourselves that other houses of worship are safe havens from abuse and harassment – or that clergy are prepared to address sexuality issues in a healthy and responsible way. Indeed, many religious leaders are complicit in the silence that has shrouded sexuality concerns in congregations for decades.

Last month, the Religious Institute published a report – Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade – that envisions a future when all faith communities will be “sexually healthy, just and prophetic.” In practical terms, this would require:

  • Sermons and sexuality education that will break the silence around sexuality and help to mitigate the stigma and shame that too often attend sexuality issues among people of faith.
  • New requirements that seminarians (or those studying to be clergy) examine and reflect on their sexual histories, understand the dynamics of sexual attraction, commit to clear boundaries regarding intimate connections with those they serve, and complete training in pastoral care for sexuality-related issues.
  • Established polices for safe congregations, including screening of staff and volunteers, background checks for those who work with children and youth, annual trainings on sexual and physical abuse, prevention education for parents and youth, referral agreements with local assault programs, and clearly stated grievance procedures. Every congregation should have a clear, well-publicized policy that sexual contact by clergy, pastoral care providers, religious educators and youth leaders with any congregant, of any age, is not only inappropriate but also actionable. 

The Pope now has an urgent responsibility — and an extraordinary opportunity. He must not only move beyond apologies to action, but could also use his influence to urge all religious institutions to address sexuality in healthier, more open and responsible ways.

Pope Benedict, the world is watching and waiting.


Related links:

When Madonna released “Like a Virgin” in 1984 she dedicated the album to “all the virgins of the world.”  At that time, her fans (including me, a reserved high school girl infatuated by Madonna’s commanding sexuality) thought we knew what she was talking about. But if this album were released today, it’s likely that many high schoolers and others would have a more diverse understanding about Madonna’s message.

This is because several forces have been in the works for many years (at least in mainstream American culture) which have allowed people to envision “sex” — and hence, virginity —  as including more than the presence or absence of heteronormative, procreative, penile-vaginal intercourse. (Societies and cultures across time have always had a variety of meanings attached to various sexual acts, so this shifting and broadening perspective on “sex” is actually a global norm). A new study from researchers at The Kinsey Institute provides further empirical support that the idea of “having sex” is not seen as static or universal in contemporary US culture. The following comes from a press release from Indiana University, which houses the Kinsey Institute:

The study involved responses from 486 Indiana residents who took part in a telephone survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research at IU. Participants, mostly heterosexual, were asked, “Would you say you ‘had sex’ with someone if the most intimate behavior you engaged in was …,” followed by 14 behaviorally specific items. Here are some of the results:

  • Responses did not differ significantly overall for men and women. The study involved 204 men and 282 women.
  • 95 percent of respondents would consider penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) having had sex, but this rate drops to 89 percent if there is no ejaculation.
  • 81 percent considered penile-anal intercourse having had sex, with the rate dropping to 77 percent for men in the youngest age group (18-29), 50 percent for men in the oldest age group (65 and up) and 67 percent for women in the oldest age group.
  • 71 percent and 73 percent considered oral contact with a partner’s genitals (OG), either performing or receiving, as having had sex.
  • Men in the youngest and oldest age groups were less likely to answer “yes” compared with the middle two age groups for when they performed OG.
  • Significantly fewer men in the oldest age group answered “yes” for PVI (77 percent)

…   William L. Yarber, RCAP’s senior director and co-author of the study, said its findings reaffirm the need to be specific about behaviors when talking about sex. 

According to Yarber, because “There’s a vagueness of what sex is in our culture and media,” it is especially important for sexual health workers to be specific about what they mean when they talk about sex:  

“If people don’t consider certain behaviors sex, they might not think sexual health messages about risk pertain to them. The AIDS epidemic has forced us to be much more specific about behaviors, as far as identifying specific behaviors that put people at risk instead of just sex in general. But there’s still room for improvement.”

These study results appear to show that respondents have a broad range of understandings of sex: Men and women across generations are likely to count “sex” as including oral, anal, and vaginal activities. And while many assume that sexual change always starts with youth, this study indicates that the attitudes and behaviors of older men (who were LEAST likely to count penile-vaginal activities as sex) as not what we might expect. 

Given the disconnect between popular culture and people’s lived experiences around sexuality, I have a proposal:

  • To Madonna: I think that you should re-release “Like a Virgin” in 2014, 30 yrs after its original release, and partner with sexual health organizations like SIECUS and the Guttmacher Institute to critically discuss the various meanings and cultural associations attached to being a “virgin” as well as being “like a virgin.”
  • To sexual health workers: By entering into a cultural conversation around the varied meanings that people attach to virginity and sex, you would open up a needed, and much broader conversation about sexuality, health, and the various pathways to living a vibrant life. (Plus, come on, how cool would it be to partner with the goddess herself?!)


Study citation:

  • Sanders, S., Hill, B., Yarber, W., Graham, C., Crosby, R., Milhausen, R., (2010) “Misclassification bias: diversity in conceptualisations about having ‘had sex,'” Sexual Health. 7(1), 31-34.
  • It seems appropriate that our follow up to the Facebook “Kill your hooker” story is a post on Sex Worker Rights.

    Today, March 3, has been named by sex worker rights activists as a day to recognize sex worker rights as human rights. The following article comes to us via the St. James Infirmary, a free medical and social services clinic in San Francisco run by and for sex workers:


    International Sex Worker Rights Day

    The 3rd of March is International Sex Worker Rights Day. The day originated in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. The organizers, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

    Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (2002): “We felt strongly that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally. Keeping in view the large mobilization of all types of global sex workers [Female,Male, Transgender] , we proposed to observe 3rd March as THE SEX WORKERS RIGHTS DAY.”

    This year, we celebrate March 3, International Day for Sex Worker Rights with a lobbying day in Sacramento. Our issues include criminalization of out communities, targeting of transgendered workers, migrants and sex workers of color, lack of police protection and recourse in cases of abuse, and targeting sex workers in lieu of addressing the real issues of trafficking.

    This March 3rd Sex Workers Outreach Project NorCal members are bringing forth a specific and urgent issue for which we seek you support. Among the numerous hardships which effect our communities, it is surprising that our insistence on condoms for protection is actually used as evidence in prostitution cases by police and District Attorneys in this state. Although sex workers use condoms, it is clear that condom use is inhibited when the mention or use of condoms can be employed against them. This practice is rampant. In fact, two SWOP members are challenging cases which use this type of evidence. The legislation we bring to Sacramento will halt this practice.

    As the late Senator Milton Marks wrote in a 1994 letter condemning this practice, “The result of this has been a fear among prostitutes to use condoms. This is alarming to me and should be alarming to all public health officials, as it runs directly counter to the work we have done in the AIDS pandemic.”

    We believe ONLY RIGHTS CAN STOP THE WRONGS.  If you would like to join us please call SWOP 877-776-2004


    Other resources on US-based and international sex worker rights movements include:

    Last Tuesday, Feb. 9, I learned of a Facebook fan page dedicated to “Killing your hooker so you don’t have to pay her.” As a sex worker ally, sexuality scholar, and someone invested in the humane treatment of all people, I became dedicated over the next 24 hours to shut that page down. I immediately reported the page to Facebook administrators, and encouraged all of my Facebook friends to do the same. On Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 1:26 pm (PST) when the site was still up, I posted the following to my Facebook friends:

    This was the image for the Facebook page, "Killing your hooker so you don't have to pay her." The group Sexinpower.com inserted the word "Fail" on it to illustrate the failure of this fan page.


    “In less than 24 hours, I have seen the FB site dedicated to “killing your hooker” increase from 17,500 fans to now more than 22,000. Please join me in kicking this FB group out of our community; report it to the FB directors. This group is in clear violation of FB rules, including: 6. You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.7. You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, … etc”

    Many other sex worker activists and humanitarians across the globe were simultaneously doing the same work. By Wednesday at 5 pm (PST), just over 24 hours after I learned of the site, and just days after its creation, Facebook administrators deleted the site. For Facebook, this was not a matter of “free speech”; it was a matter of a clear violation of their community rules. (Hate groups and bullies all of kinds are free to proliferate on the internet, but are not welcome on specific community membership cites such as Facebook).

    Unfortunately, I fear and see that this is just the beginning of hate-speech pages on Facebook. Because Facebook allows anyone to set up an account, and because (at least for now) it seems that Facebook administrators are not pro-active in monitoring hate groups, everyday Facebook users (people like me who would otherwise be taking breaks from work to post about their kids or their cats) have found that they have an ethical obligation to also watch out for and report Facebook hategroups.

    The group Feministing.com is one such group that this week has found itself to be one of these reporting the abusive, hate-filled page. As might be expected, those behind the “killing your hooker” fanpage are not happy about the critique. Here’s one quote from the “killing your hooker” folks:

    “The worthless CUNTS over at Feministing are reporting you because they think they are the policemen (oops policePERSONS) of the internet. Let Feminist cunts know what you think about their crusade to silence all free speech they deem “inappropriate.” (see article in Carnalnation.com)

    These slurs against women and feminists are as old as misogyny and a common tactic for diverting attention away from serious, grownup critique and dialogue. The issue of “free speech” is one that is incredibly important, but it is a principle that is always constituted and negotiated within particular parameters. “The internet” is a broad space that allows all (and hence not a true “community”), but Facebook is a smaller space with particular rules.

    Carnalnation.com (the group reporting on this story above) is a community that is very much dedicated to freedom of speech and expression, but it too is absolutely opposed to the inclusion of hategroups in the Facebook community. In their mission statement Carnalnation states that:

    In our view, fear and disdain of all things sexual have led to a society that too often vacillates between impulsive titillation and compulsive repression. Such extremes can only have a negative impact on our physical, psychological, and social well being.”

    Carnalnation.com is encouraging its readers to report hategroups such as “killing your hooker,” and has found that there are “232 (Facebook) groups that currently have the words “dead hooker” in them.  (Dead Hooker Storage, Accidentally Pissing On A Dead Hooker, and A Dead Hooker A Day Keeps The Doctor Away are just three of them.)” Feministing.com is also reporting that “killing your hooker” now has simply morphed into a new Facebook fan page (still live as of this writing), entitled “GTA taught me that if you kill a hooker, you get your money back.” (note: GTA here stands for Grand Theft Auto, a video game.)

    According to today’s Sydney Morning Herald the creator of “killing your hooker” has been identified. Who was the creator of this page, Gary Ridgeway?

    (Gary Ridgeway, AKA “The Green River Killer,” is serving a life sentence for the murders of 48 women, most of whom he picked up on the streets of Seattle/Tacoma as prostitutes. After his sentencing Ridgeway admitted to a “career” of murdering 71 women.)

    No, the source of “killing your hooker” is an Australian boy described as a “Catholic school student”:

    A Catholic school student has been “dealt with” after he set up a Facebook page that appeared to advocate killing prostitutes. … The principal of St Laurence’s College in Queensland, Ian McDonald, confirmed a student from the school had been disciplined over the creation of the page.

    “It has been sorted out and the boy has been dealt with,” Mr McDonald told AAP on Friday.

    Ian McDonald, the principal of the private Catholic school (which at least one Australian newspaper describes as “elite”) went on to underscore that:

    “This didn’t happen at the school, but does highlight the fact that we really need to educate the students about the dangers on the internet.” (emphasis mine).

    In this logic, the magical, uncontrollable “internet” is the problem, as opposed to cultures that support (or do not directly challenge) the violent degradation of entire groups of people.

    Case in point: In one of the several online groups discussing this case today, “Middie” complains about people taking this issue too seriously:

    There are so many sites going against this. Jesus people, take a fucking joke. Do you realize this is based on the game GTA? I know the guy that did it, and i’m pretty sure he didn’t make it for real life hookers. By the way, hookers are illegal, so they have no fucking rights in my eyes. (emphasis mine).

    Dear Principal McDonald: please note that that “Middie” is probably one of your students. These attitudes do not come to exist in a cultural vacuum. The culture of your school is what you need to be concerned with, not the “internet.”

    Dear “Middie“: your point brings us precisely to the larger problem of a lack of support for the human rights of all, including sex workers. And although prostitution is actually LEGAL in parts of Australia (where you apparently currently reside), your point illustrates the need for clearly articulated and enforced sex workers rights in Australia and elsewhere.

    Principal McDonald, parents, internet and sexuality scholars and activists, please do not blame “the internet” for sites like this; we must investigate how our own assumptions promote (or stay silent on) everyday acts of cruelty.



    In addition the obvious humanitarian need to oppose the degradation of any group of people, many public health scholars emphasize the importance of reducing stigma for sex workers. Here is a link to a recent blog post by Dr. Petra Boynton, on Sex workers, Stigma, and Barriers to Health.

    On Thursday, January 28, 2010, Fox News published a news article titled “Afghan Men Struggle with Sexual Identity” and made the absurd claim that an entire ethnic group (at at times, the article suggests that the whole “country”) is “coping with a sexual identity crisis:”

    “As if U.S. troops and diplomats didn’t have enough to worry about in trying to understand Afghan culture, a new report suggests an entire region in the country is coping with a sexual identity crisis. An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns — though they seem to be in complete denial about it.”

    The article goes on to describe the “study” which was “obtained by Fox News” which:

    “found that Pashtun men commonly have sex with other men, admire other men physically, have sexual relationships with boys and shun women both socially and sexually — yet they completely reject thelabel of “homosexual.” Fox news reports that the “research” was conducted as part of a longstanding effort to better understand Afghan culture and improve Western interaction with the local people. The “research unit,” which was “attached to a Marine battalion in southern Afghanistan, acknowledged that the behavior of some Afghan men has left Western forces ‘frequently confused.’ ”

    According to this “study” of unknown authorship, the men do not perceive that they are at risk for STDs (HIV is not mentioned in the article) because they do not relate to the Western category known as “homosexual.” The article relays this information by reporting that “in one instance, a group of local male interpreters had contracted gonorrhea anally but refused to believe they could have contracted it sexually — “because they were not homosexuals.” (Hmm, this sounds similar to U.S. men who have sex with both women and men.)

    The article does not clarify who ran the study or collected the data (we sure would love to see it!) nor is it clear why FOX news —or the US troops—are confused; the Afghan men themselves likely have a fairly clear idea about what is going on. The report even underscores that “One of the country’s favorite sayings, the report said, is “women are for children, boys are for pleasure” and that “widespread homosexual behavior stems from several factors, including the “severe segregation” of women in the society and the “prohibitive” cost of marriage.”

    We are not sure why Fox news is using a particular locale or one ethnic group to make a claim that the entire country (see below about favorite sayings in the “country”) of Afganistan is “coping with a sexual identity crisis.”

    When I’m done shaking my head with shock at the way that Fox news framed this story, I’ll try to write something more.

    For now, let’s just say that it seems that Fox news and the U.S. soldiers interviewed for this study haven’t heard of the idea that sexuality comes in many forms. Indeed, the world includes not just homosexuals and heterosexuals—or transgendered—or transsexuals—but also bisexuals. And there are also all sorts of other sexual systems and sexual classifications that don’t fit those too. The ancient Greeks organized their sexual system in a very similar way to what the men describe in this article. Sex was structured based on public status, and well, women and young boys had lower status than men. Sexual desire and sexual object choice was not set up by the gender of the participant, but rather, on the role that each participant played in sex (boys and women were more submissive, and high status men were active penetrators).

    Thomas Almaguer’s work (1991) on Latin American sexual systems has shown us that the more masculine “macho” who penetrates the more submissive man known as “jotos” are also not in denial or confused, but work within a different sexual system. Machos do not necessarily identify as gay, and they often have sex with both women and men. Walter Williams (The Spirit and the Flesh, 1986) has written about the Native American Berdache, biological men, who take both husbands and wives—and they are revered as a third gender. They’re not confused. And quite a large number of men who have sex with both women and men are in the US—they too do not identify as gay (See Brian Dodge, 2008a, 2008b). They are not particularly confused and enjoy having sex with both sexes. In fact, some argue that heterosexuality itself is constructed, for example, Johnathon Katz (The Invention of Heterosexuality, 2007)  shows that “hetero” used to mean what we now understand in the U.S. as “bi” sexual. Heterosexuality did not even come to mean the nuclear family and opposite sex partner relationships (with child bearing as  the pinnacle goal) until the turn of the 19th Century. This was when work-family institutions were restructured according to the fault lines of white middle class privileges.

    I could go on and on with nice citations to read up on that explain all sorts of people who are not confused across all kinds of sexual systems around the globe. However, Fox News and some U.S. soldiers sure sound confused to me. The best thing to do right now it seems would be to ask what purpose this kind of news coverage serves. Indeed, in times of war, the US has long been known for making muscular claims about the type of masculinity we produce in the US military (see Montez de Oca 2005, and Armitage 2005) when seeking victories while “feminizing” and sexualizing (as other) the troops of other men. This is particularly the case in the war on terror, where authors such as Jasbir Puar in her 2007 book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times argues that  “ ‘homonationalisms’ are deployed to distinguish upright ‘properly hetero,’ and now ‘properly homo,’ U.S. patriots from perversely sexualized and racialized terrorist look-a-likes—especially Sikhs, Muslims, and Arabs.” She argues that such dichotomies help to justify when the US decides to capture, cordon off, or detain “other” men in the war on terror. Such work reveals the ways in which heterosexuality is deployed as a weapon to feminize and exoticize “other” men during times of war. At least we’re not confused by that.

    Bibliography/Recommended reading:

    • Almaguer, Tomás. (1991). “Chicano Men: A Cartography of Homosexual Identity and Behavior.” Differences 3, no. 2: 75–100.
    • Armitage, J. (2005) Militarized bodies: An introduction. Bodies & Society, 9, 1-12.
    • Dodge, B., Reece, M., & Gebhard, P. H. (2008a). Kinsey and beyond: Past, present, and future considerations for research on male bisexuality. Journal of Bisexuality, 8(3/4), 177-191.
    • Dodge, B., Jeffries, W. L., & Sandfort, T. G. M. (2008b). Beyond the Down Low: Sexual risk, protection, and disclosure among at-risk Black men who have sex with men and women (MSMW). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37(5), 683-696.
    • Katz, J. (2007). The Invention of Heterosexuality. Chicago: Unversity of Chicago Press.
    • Montez de Oca, Jeffrey. (2005). “‘As Our Muscles Get Softer, Our Missile Race Becomes Harder’: Cultural Citizenship and the ‘Muscle Gap’,” Journal of Historical Sociology 18, no. 3, 145-171.
    • Puar, Jasbir (2007). Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Duke University Press.
    • Williams, Walter. (1986). Spirit and the Flesh. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Thirty-seven years ago today (Jan. 22, 1973), women in the U.S. were granted the right to ask for and receive abortions from trained medical professionals. This decision set off decades of protests by pro-life activists which occasionally have turned violent. (In a strange coincidence, the trial of Scott Roeder, who was arrested for murdering Dr. George Tiller, also begins today.)

    While stalemate debates over abortion ethics continue, a promising series of side movements have emerged in recent years that help to contextualize the issue of abortion within a larger framework of reproductive, sexual, and social justice. An example of how this shift can occur is provided by Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, a grassroots community organization based in Oakland, California.

    The graph below demonstrates how ACRJ conceptualizes reproductive oppression and reproductive justice, and how to build a reproductive justice movement:

    Click here to download a full-size PDF

    The following two graphs illustrate how ACRJ conceptualizes the connections between social justice and reproductive justice. Note how the lower circle (which shows ACRJ’s work) also includes principles of sexual justice (although this is unnamed, and in my opinion could and should be more clearly articulated):

    We at Sexuality & Society applaud the work of ACRJ;  their leadership in modeling reproduction and sexuality within much larger frameworks of social justice is an inspiration to critical sexuality scholars, practitioners, and activists. Happy anniversary, Roe v. Wade.

    See also: