monthly column from lifestyle author/activist
Accentuate the Negative
One of my favorite radio shows is the Dr. Dean Edell program. As an admitted hypochondriac, my feeling is that if I don't already have any of the diseases he's discussing that dayit's only a matter of time. So you can imagine my surprise when, the other day, the good doctor mentioned "Swingers." What in the world could he possibly know about the Lifestyle? It seems he was referring to an article published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The piece began with a definition of Swingers as "married couples who exchange partners solely for sexual purposes" and then went on to review what the medical literature had to say about this group. The notion going in, of course, was that this one bit of behavior (swapping mates) was so bizarre as to almost guarantee that it would color every other aspect of their lives. The study concluded, however, that this was not the case. Significant differences between Swingers and their straight neighbors were simply not to be found. Compared to the population at large, about the only thing the researchers could find was that Swingers tended to be more from the upper middle class and tended to be more from the Conservative end of the political spectrum.
Neither the social class nor the social views would come as any great shock to those familiar with the group. Indeed, the higher educational and income levels along with a staunch support of upper middle class values are almost a given at Lifestyle events. The few areas where Swingers do differ from their more monogamous peers all involve - as you might suspect - sex. Swingers are typically more liberal when it comes to premarital relations, divorce, homosexuality, abortion and pornography; areas where, presumably, Swingers have had more experience than non-Swingers. And speaking of non-Swingers, the article went on to say that they were convinced wife swappers had to be heavy drinkers and users of heavy drugs. Again, anyone familiar with the group knows that alcoholic consumption is typically far below that found at most country club soirees and the NO DRUGS admonition at most Swing parties has become something of a mantra. Dr. Edell concludes with "The article dashes a stereotype that we may have about this particular group we think we know."
So here's an honest, open-minded guy presenting the facts and avoiding even a hint of prejudicial condemnation. Again, no great shock. Over the years, Dean Edell has repeatedly demonstrated an almost saintly acceptance of extreme views. About the only time I ever heard him come close to losing it was when a father called in to say he'd rather have his daughter die a prolonged and painful death than be the recipient of a fetal cell transplant. But you have to admit, even as extreme views go - that's pretty extreme! So I called up the Dr. Dean Digest at HealthCentral.com to see if there was anything else I might be able to share and there I found Multiple Sexual Partners. Finally, I was shocked! The site was devoted to dozens of headings which include: cervicitis; cervical erosion and genital warts; gonorrhea; pubic lice; syphilis and urethritis. In short, everything that might possibly go wrong - gone wrong. Is there no up-side to sexno joy, no beauty, no healing? What could Mother Nature have been thinking when she attached so many nerves to our sex organs, filled our blood streams with sex hormones and devoted vast tracks of our brains to thoughts of sex? Must we be doomed to a choice of either denying the mental anguish of abstention or suffering the physical deterioration of decadence? Boy! She sure screwed us!
Or did she? Actually, we live in a time and place where, in so far as sex is concerned - Accentuate the Negative has become the Golden Rule. There is nothing, the conventional wisdom goes, so dangerous to your home and family, your town and country, your health and well-being as S-E-X. Is it any wonder that 31% of males and 43% of females now suffer one or more symptoms of sexual dysfunction? So who is responsible for this appalling perversion you ask? The answer is really quite simple. Any psychologist will tell you that the most obvious sign of neurosis is an overpowering need to control. The neurotic feels adrift amidst conflicting emotions and irrational beliefs. The only option is to hang on for dear life. Get a grip on yourself and as many of those around you as you possibly can. That and that alone is the motivating force behind those who would censure and condemn all that they themselves can't handle.
I was listening to another radio show the other day, on a religious network, where callers were going on and on about how important it was to control the Internet. One fellow said that pornographic sites caused his prostate cancer, another said that he spent 8 hours a day making lists of sites that might lead children to Satan, another said that he had become addicted to live sex sites and wanted them banned. Curiously, it's basket cases like these that have convinced even those who should know better that sex is not normal, not wholesome, not healthy. Talk about the inmates running the asylum! And the sad part is, eventually they will probably prevail. Fighting for control, they will devote whatever energy is necessary to shore up their shaky psyches. Those comfortable with sex are just that - comfortable. Why wage daily war against the crazies when that time can be better spent getting off? So who's to stand up and be counted - stand up and fight the good fight? A hundred years ago, experts were convinced that masturbation rerouted blood from the brain to the genitals and caused dementia. Fifty years ago, medical text books still included symptoms of masturbation such as poor posture and weak eyes. Ten years ago, the United States Surgeon General was fired because she dared to use masturbation and sex education in the same sentence. Today the neurotics among us (together with those who know better but do nothing) have created a really sick message: If people are going to masturbate at least they can feel guilty and ashamed.
The truth is, in any legitimate risk to benefit ratio, threats related to sex are so small as to immediately make suspect anyone who would effort at making it taboo. So the next time someone starts to tell you about the need to ban pornography, censure the Web or outlaw Swing clubs, ask yourself if their need to control others may well be nothing more than a symptom of an inability to control themselves. And always remember, neurotics can never get enough. Allow them to close the local sex shop and the next thing you know, they'll want is to prohibit women from riding bicycles.
Dr. Mason may be reached with comments and column suggestions at: DrSBMason@aol.com