HOLLYWOOD—Dr. Marty Klein, psychologist, family therapist and author of the ground-breaking analysis America's War on Sex, spoke to an audience of about 200 at the Center for Inquiry-L.A. on Sunday, urging them to stand up for sexual freedom... or lose some of the freedoms they already enjoy.
"Sexuality is the place American democracy is most vulnerable to the religious challenge," Klein declared. "We must defend our rights from those who want to vote on them."
"In the United States, religious exceptionalism and the fact that in the world of religion, morality means limiting choices rather than making moral choices, that is the process that they're using to undermine secular democracy," Klein began his lecture. "We are not a movement that says 'if it feels good, do it.' We are not a movement that says the rules don't matter. We just want to pick which rules we follow."
And according to Klein's analysis, it's the religious community, with the help of conservative (and even some not-so-conservative) politicians, that are out to stop citizens from making their own sexual choices—because as they see it, that's their job.
"Mainstream religion has been promoting that for 2000 years, that morality equals restricting sexual choices, and people who don't want to do that, there's something wrong with them," Klein assessed. "The Religious Right, when they talk about restricting choices around sexuality, they want to restrict anything that makes sex easier, healthier, more enjoyable, more comfortable—that's how they decide. Anything that makes sex more like real life, that's what they want to restrict. Anything that makes sex just like the other things that adults do, anything that makes sex just like other places that humans interact and make the kinds of choices that they make."
The problem, of course, is when legislation is unduly influenced by religion, and Klein presented several examples of situations where that has happened, from the years teenager Genarlow Wilson spent in prison because his 15-year-old girlfriend gave him a blowjob, to Joanne Webb who was arrested in Texas for throwing a sex toy "house party, to University of Minnesota football player Dominic Jones, who was convicted of rape for cumming on a woman's face—even though a cellphone video recorded her asking him to do just that, to Jennifer LaPenta, who was found to be in contempt of court and ordered by a judge to be jailed for 24 hours for wearing a t-shirt in his courtroom that read, "I have a pussy so I make the rules."
"The thing about that is, when the New York Times reported on the story, they said the shirt 'used a slang expression for female anatomy'," Klein recounted. "In other words, you, a member of the public, are not allowed to know what gets you thrown out of a courtroom and into jail. The LA Times said the same thing; the Chicago Sun-Times said the same thing; CNN said the same thing. Nobody is willing to say what the t-shirt said because the word 'pussy' in a sexual context is so horrifying it will melt your ears off. This is a serious issue. You can bet that if the New York Times or CNN had quoted exactly what it said, somebody would have complained. We need to have as loud a voice to complain about this as the Religious Right has when the New York Times says 'Citizen thrown out of courtroom for using the word pussy on a t-shirt.' We need to be as loud as the people who would complain if this was accurately described.
"These issues are connected because it's all about sex," he continued. "If you want to attack free expression, like Jennifer LaPenta's expression; if you want to attack church-state separation; if you want to attack science-based public policy, like public policy around should teenagers be allowed to send nude photos of themselves to each other, or should sex education actually be tolerated in American schools—if you want to undermine science-based public policy, sexuality is the place to do it. Because the public accepts the idea that religion should have a special place at the table of public policy because people are uncomfortable with sex and they're not willing to stand up and say, 'Wait a minute; I personally don't want to have sex with Larry Craig in a public toilet but I support anybody's right to do it if they want to do it.'"
Hand in hand with suppression of people's private sexual conduct and harmless public sexual conduct, according to Klein, is what he terms the "Sexual Disaster Industry," a central theme of America's War on Sex, and which one of his slides noted includes the federal government, local governments, law enforcement, morality organizations, anti-porn groups, anti-sex crime groups, conservative Christian groups, right-wing think tanks, right-wing legal firms, "victim-parade" talk shows, the mainstream news media, the therapy profession, the addiction profession, and "adrenalin-rush" crime shows.
"You know, the whole conversation about pornography, which used to be about immorality, they're so sneaky and so clever, they don't talk about pornography as being immoral anymore; they talk about pornography as being dangerous to public health," Klein stated. "The Religious Right is committed and skillful at scaring the hell out of Americans about sexual danger... The Religious Right is pounding this message out day after day after day that there is danger stalking the land and that we are irresponsible if we don't challenge it and protect ourselves and our loved ones from it. That's the politics of fear."
"Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun magazine... talks about 'surplus powerlessness,' a wonderful expression," he continued, "that the Religious Right has encouraged people and trained people to feel powerless in the face of danger that does not exist. And it doesn't matter if the danger exists or not; when people feel frightened, you can motivate them real easily."
But, Klein noted, most of the problems of sex in modern society have nothing to do with the "dangers" claimed by conservatives and extremist religious groups. For example, despite what they claim, there is no "gay problem"; there's only an intolerance problem, and that's squarely on religion's shoulders. Likewise, there is no "porn problem"; the problem is censorship. There is no "immorality problem"; there is a problem of religious extremism. There is no "abortion problem"; there is a problem of religious conservatives trying to limit women's (and men's) access to contraception. And as for the "anti-Christian bias problem"? The real problem is Christians (and other religions) haveing too much influence on secular government.
And why, one might ask, does religion spend so much time and effort (and money) repressing people's sexual choices?
"Sexuality is religion's worst nightmare," Klein answered. "Every mainstream religion goes after sex. Why? Because sex is the place where no matter who you are, you can do as you damned please. You can discover who you are. Sex is the place, whether you're rich or poor, fat or skinny, young or old, smart or not so smart, sex is the place where people can experience personal autonomy. The Italians have a wonderful saying, and that's 'Bed is the poor man's opera.' There's a number of reasons they go after sex, one having to do with fertility, but another has to do with, it's the place where personal autonomy can be experienced, and that's why mainstream religion loads it down with rules, so that people can't experience personal autonomy. If you're mainstream Christian and you believe in those rules, you get into bed, you can't just do whatever you want. All those holes in the other person's body? They're not available. All those things you've got to put in those holes? They're not available!"
And of course, as we're currently seeing, the group that's taking the brunt of these repressive policies is women.
"In our culture, women are sort of the cultural representation of illegitimate sex or dangerous sex," Klein said in response to an audience question. "The idea is, let's restrict or limit female sexuality, whether it's by covering their faces, chopping out their clitorises, whatever it is. The attempt to restrict female sexuality and any references to female sexuality is a really central issue in most religions."
When another questioner asked why Klein was hopeful that these religious influences on sexuality might be thwarted, he responded, "I'm hopeful because there's such a collision between what people are doing in their private sexual lives and the increasingly crazy set of rules attempting to restrict people's sexuality. This can't go on indefinitely."
Klein then recounted how the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas made him hopeful, in that it reversed the high court's prior decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, legalizing consensual sodomy, and he urged the audience to download the Lawrence case and read it—and to take notice of Justice Antonin Scalia's blistering (and one might say "paranoid") dissent.
In all, the audience sat riveted for more than an hour, after which they filed out into the lobby to purchase Klein's just-published updated edition of America's War on Sex, as well as his other recent book, Sexual Intelligence, which takes cases from Klein's own therapy practice, notes the problems that some of his patients have brought to him, and analyzes the best paths to take to alleviate those problems. Both can be purchased through his website.
It was a hell of a lecture—but the real test will be if the audience goes out and actually becomes more open and understanding of the roles of sex in society... and religion.