(VIDEO) So… About that Video

Heather Corinna

Heather critiques a sexuality education video from a national organization which, she argues, unnecessarily perpetuates negative stereotypes about both men and women.

I heard complaints about a video from SexReally/The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy at sex::tech from audience members at one of my own panels, a video I had not seen myself. Then I received an email the following morning with some of those complaints CC’d to me.  So, I had a conversation with Larry Swiader that day, in his role there as a representative of the NC, about the reactions the video got (which I did look at before our conversation, and was not a fan of myself).

This was a conversation where I was primarily trying to help support someone new in the field facing an intense swell of reactivity, however valid. I know how challenging working in sex education can be, especially when you’re new to it, and I also know how overwhelming it can be to face en-masse complaints about loaded topics, especially if you get caught off-guard. I like to try and be supportive of others in the field even when we may have ideological conflicts, particularly when I know we also have intersections in what we’re trying to achieve and who we’re trying to best serve. I have had private exchanges with the NC in the past about some of their content when they have asked for my opinion or endorsement, as well.

At the time, I felt like that conversation was all I needed to have, especially since a lot of the conversation was not actually about me or a need to voice my own feelings as it was about my trying to help mediate, inform and finesse the larger conversation. Suffice it to say, this one video is hardly the only place I have recently seen sexism, and there simply aren’t enough hours, enough coffee or enough environment for primal screaming for me to voice every single one of my objections to sexism every time I see it, everywhere I see it.

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However, some of what was said in this blog entry bothered me, especially given some parts of the conversation I had with Larry about it, and I felt the need to say something that wasn’t private.

From that blog entry:

During my presentation I spoke about our work on the SexReally.com website and showed a video that became a hot topic of conversation during and after the conference. The video shows guys hanging out “in their natural environment” talking about sex. Later in the video, we cut to one of their girlfriends who says that it might not be so bad if she got pregnant and that her boyfriend would make a good father. Cut back to him and he’s talking about ogling some unknown woman (not his girlfriend) and we can conclude that he might not be as ready as she thinks. The point? Be careful, have a plan, make sure your partner’s plan is compatible with yours, and use contraception until you are both really ready.

The video was criticized for perpetuating stereotypes of men and women.

…I think that our audience understands that the depictions of men and women in the video are caricatures in which there are fragments of truth in order to be funny and provoke reflection. Do all guys talk like that? Of course not. Do some? I’m sure they do and often it’s meaningless, relatively harmless posturing. The point is to think about the decision of having a child, and your relationship, carefully.

This video is one of many that we’ve created and will create. We are trying to use a wide range of techniques to engage a broad spectrum of people in this messy, personal issue. Some things won’t work, or won’t work for some audiences. We can’t let that deter us.

…

I invite our readers, critics, and fans to work with us in this process. Do you have a great feminist comedian to recommend? Do you have an idea about another take on the “guys” video? We are all ears. Work with us.

If you’re saying you can’t let objections deter you in the messages you send or the ways you choose to send them, not even from many smart and experienced colleagues in the field, yet are asking for cooperation from others, you seem to be sending a mixed message.

I also don’t think it’s sound to present objections from the Abstinence Clearinghouse about the NC participating in a general sex education conference as the same as objections from a diverse collective of sex educators — not all who identify as feminist, a sweeping assumption as well as an exclusion — about gender stereotyping. Especially if one is presenting oneself or one’s organization as being about actual sex education, something the Abstinence Clearinghouse is likely to have a problem with no matter what you do, unless the sex education you give is “Just say no.” We’ve got a very broad and long-running consensus in sex education and public health that gender bias is a very serious problem and a very big barrier to effective sex education messaging and public health. That’s not an issue only feminists or feminist sex educators and health workers have, not by a serious long shot. For example, there is a very substantial history of conversation about that issue in HIV/AIDS work among men.

I’m also sure we don’t need a “feminist comedian” to do humor that isn’t misandrist or misogynist.

Over the many years I’ve worked in sexuality and sexual health, I’ve seen humor used often by people of all genders — and used it often myself — which didn’t come from either a feminist viewpoint or a “feminist comedian” but which also wasn’t misandrist, misogynist or enabling or reinforcing gender stereotypes or culturally constructed divides.

To be clear, and as I explained in the conversation Larry and I had, this video is being presented by some as misogynist primarily because a) it presents the woman in the video as clueless and stupid, b) it suggests she’s effectively responsible for contraception because “guys are assholes” and it makes something that is about men somehow about women’s responsibilties (are we their mommies?), and c) it also left, in the lone text of the video, a seemingly clear message that while one wouldn’t want to reproduce with “assholes” there’s no reason to stop having sex with them, which does tend to come off sounding like the NC thinks men are entitled to sex from women, even the men the NC thinks are horrifying.

That text, for the record, is “Guys are a@#$%^&. Be Safe. Every time.” I did double-check and ask if that message was intended for men who sleep with men, to be sure no one was leaping to any wild conclusions. I was assured that was not to whom the text was directed.

I haven’t heard as much conversation about it being misandrist (though the Sexademic did talk about it here very well), but that’s my own larger concern. That concern is part and parcel of my views as a feminist because what I want from feminism is gender equity: that means people of all genders being treated with care and respect, not just women or not-men.

Misandry is the male-directed version of misogyny: it’s contempt of men and boys, like misogyny is contempt of women and girls. And like misogyny, one doesn’t have to be of a different or opposite gender or sex to be misandrist. There are and can be misandrist men just like there are and can be misogynist women. Often misandrist men and misogynist women frame themselves as “better than” all other people of their gender, or try and suggest most of their gender, but not them, suck in some way so as to position themselves as superior, often for personal gain or as a way to hide their own crummy behavior.

“Men are assholes” is a strongly misandrist statement, much like statements like “men are pigs” or “men are dogs” are; just like statements like “Women are bitches” or “Women are golddiggers” are misogynist. (Of course, if you think men are such idiots, why is the message you’re giving to women to use contraception rather than not to get in bed with them at all? I digress.)

Presenting the way the guys in this video were behaving as something unilateral to all men — which is what you do when you follow it with a statement that says “men are…” rather than “these men are…” — is misandrist. I’d go a step further and say that presenting the challenges many men have in their relationships with other men as somehow being about women or something women need to manage for or around them is misandrist. Suggesting that men saying immature or silly things about sex to each other tells us something about their character is potentially misandrist, especially if you’re suggesting there aren’t groups of women who do the exact same thing (and there are). Suggesting that an over-the-top script written expressly for an organization to make their own point from their own agenda was “men in their natural environment” isn’t misandrist, but it seems disingenuous (as is suggesting the National Campaign is somehow without an ideology of any kind: all organizations have ideologies, it’s inescapable, even if they aren’t clearly stated).

I didn’t keep from laughing while watching this because I was offended by the men, I didn’t laugh because it just wasn’t funny, in the way a totally non-offensive but flat joke isn’t funny. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” isn’t a knee-slapper, but not because it is offensive to chickens or roads. It’s not funny because it’s punch line just doesn’t deliver. Same goes here.

I was offended, just not (for the most part) by the conversation the men in the video were having. I was offended by the makers of the video. Offended by assumptions I ought to BE offended by the men in the first place, and assumptions I needed them to tell me about how some men talk to each other about sex sometimes because I’m a moron. I was offended by the message that I needed a video like this to tell me about men, that the makers of the message thought showing us this conversation was doing us some kind of public service, and/or felt that a woman could glean less from her own sexual and interpersonal relationship with a man than she could from how he talked trash with his friends while drinking. I was offended by the way it presented men and women, as well as relationship and family planning choices, as a whole.

I also have got to ask: why should we as outsiders, including those of us who are women who may or do partner with men, be so offended if and when men say silly or juvenile stuff about sex when they’re hanging out alone together, anyway?

I’ve had to watch this video so many more times than I wanted to to be sure of this, but having done that, I must ask why these men ARE assholes. I didn’t walk away thinking they were. I walked away thinking whoever came up with, made and distributed the video was.

In listening to their statements, I heard the men in the video say things like that they like holding breasts, they like putting testicles on a sex partner’s face, that they are wondering what qualifies as a threesome (particularly since they have but one penis), that tight jeans make them think of yeast infections (me too!), and that they might consider giving another man head. I could only find one statement in the whole conversation that WAS, itself, misogynist and seriously creepy, which was the rape-enabling statement “Phil” made that if “she’s going to dress like that, who isn’t going to lift that up.” One statement. So, I guess I’ll give you that that one guy may well be an asshole.

There are some others issues of course, which fall a bit outside the misandry/misogyny issues, such as the suggestion that people can’t find others sexually attractive or of interest who are not their sexual partners and still be good partners or parents, something we know just isn’t true, especially since most people will always tend to be sexually attracted to more than one person n the world. Of course, this is an issue I think we can agree is more often made as a criticism of men than women, even though a large part of why has to do with unfounded cultural presumptions about women being inherently less sexual than men.

As I said to Larry in the conversation we had about it at sex::tech, I actually think there was a potentially good take on the primary content of this video that was missed or overlooked by the NC.

The video presented itself as being centrally about the relationship between one of the men and his girlfriend, even though that’s not the relationship we saw in it. It also suggested the male behavior was authentic between the men, but that the girlfriend was the one being snowed, when in reality, it’s more likely the men being dishonest with each other. Anyone at all who works in gender studies focused on men, or who does sexuality work with male groups is acutely aware of this issue and these kinds of dynamics. Why make something so clearly about men about women and what you think women need to do regarding contraception at all? How does what was presented in that video have anything to do with contraception? Why send the only message of responsibility in the video to women?

Why not use what you filmed/wrote with the men as an opportunity, for instance, to talk about why some men find it so hard to communicate honestly and without posturing about sex together? Why not open conversation on what all of us can do collectively and culturally to help men feel more able to be honest with each other and to posture less? Why not talk about what individuals and culture can do that they may not even realize is highly unsupportive of men talking about sex candidly and with more maturity?

Why not use a video like that — sans the girlfriend and the text pointed to women — to address that if men could learn how to communicate better with each other about sex and sexuality, it’d probably improve everyone’s sexual relationships, individual sexualities and their same-gender friendships? Why not use a video like that to elicit conversation about the ideas any of us may have about ways we feel are and are not acceptable or respectable to talk about sex, including any double-standards we may have or hold about if it’s acceptable for one gender but not the other? If that kind of conversation between men makes people uncomfortable, why not talk about why?

For that matter, if any organization or group — especially once where it is or may be men making these messages in the first place — thinks men as a whole are assholes strongly enough to make a PSA stating such, why not talk about where that feeling comes from, how to deal with it, and engage the men you think are being assholes? If it’s self-hating or self-loathing, why not unpack that, especially given how many men could probably benefit from unpacking that?

Just like the awful flaw of rape-prevention messaging only given to actual or potential victims, saying nothing to the rapists doing the raping, if someone thinks women need to protect ourselves because men really are assholes, wouldn’t all of us, of all genders, benefit most — and wouldn’t it also be a lot less patronizing — by at least attempting to address those men, not the people someone feels they might harm?

In case it isn’t obvious, I don’t think men are assholes. I also don’t think it’s sound to make my reproductive choices, alone or with someone else, based on something as trite as a round of silly talk with friends about sex, or on if a potential co-parent thinks someone else is hot. Too, we should all try not to malign the poor, defenseless anus quite so much. I grew up in Chicago with an Italian father, so letting go of “asshole” is no mean feat for me, either: “I love you, you big asshole,” is a common, albeit somewhat deranged, longtime term of endearment between myself and my Dad. I’m getting off-point, my apologies.

I think everyone can be an asshole. But I don’t think that’s about gender: my personal experience is that it’s very equal opportunity.

At the same time, I recognize that people, on the whole, often have a lot of growing to do, and that growth around and in sexuality and sex is an area where our collective, group or individual deficits can tend to show themselves often. I’m ell aware that there are some shared issues many men have, some shared issues many women have, and some shared issues many people of all genders have around sexuality that could stand some working out.

I haven’t met a single one of these issues that is universal to every member of those groups, mind, but I don’t think we have to avoid talking about some of the issues we may have found or find among those groups. I think it’s important we do talk about them, just that we talk about them with some measure of fairness, sensitivity and compassion, and that who we’re talking about them to is the appropriate party to address. If we don’t do all of that, I don’t see how we can earnestly improve anything, especially when some of what we’re criticizing is an inability to talk about sex with maturity and care. While we may all excel at that effort but fail at execution sometimes, if we don’t at least try to do all of that as best we can, I think we know who the asshole is.

P.S. I’ve used the term “asshole” here more than I’d have liked, more often than I even use it when giving prostate education, which is seriously saying something. It’s tough to respond to ugly sentiments without both restating them and also trying to turn them on their head a bit.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.