Seeking Qualified Therapists? Call to Action

Can therapists get away with being homophobic in BC?

Can therapists get away with being homophobic in BC?

Yes, but a group of concerned counsellors is pushing for regulation

In BC, anyone can hang out a counselling shingle, without necessarily being qualified. An umbrella group of concerned therapists’ associations wants to change that.

Indiana Joel/Daily Xtra

Bigots and charlatans pose too great a danger to queer mental health patients for psychotherapy in BC to go on unregulated, practitioners say.

Currently, anyone can claim to be a professional mental health counsellor without presenting, or possessing, any skills or qualifications.

“Psychotherapy counselling has a long history of traditional training that is heteronormative at best and homophobic at worst,” says Pega Ren, a clinical counsellor in Nelson, BC (and Daily Xtra’s retired “Ask the Expert” columnist).

As part of her counselling practice, Ren, who spoke with Xtra by phone, says she works with queer patients who require remedial therapy after inadequately trained therapists cause harm.

She remembers one client who came to her “quite broken” after being told they could just stop cross-dressing if they really wanted to. She fears what they might have done if they had been left with that message.

“We have people struggling with counsellors who are giving them the message that they’re sick or wrong or broken and that they can be fixed by willpower and self-hatred,” she says.

When someone is struggling and seeking help, Ren says, they need competent help, not further harm caused by an unqualified therapist.

A voluntary umbrella group of concerned therapists’ associations is now urging the provincial government to regulate the field of psychotherapy.

The Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in BC (FACT BC) is calling on practitioners and the public to write their MLAs.

FACT BC wants to help the government set up competency evaluation, a process for registering as a professional, quality assurance, and complaint resolution.

The initiative would be funded entirely by its members, says chair Glen Grigg.

FACT BC is funded by practitioners and advocates for statutory regulation under the BC Health Professions Act, Grigg tells Daily Xtra by email.

Grigg says he hopes enough people will write their MLAs to get the issue into platforms for the 2017 provincial election.

Vancouver-West End’s gay MLA says he has discussed the risks of unregulated counselling with practitioners, but politicians need to hear from the public before taking action.

“There may be an assumption that it already is regulated, that for something this important there would be a requirement for practitioners to sign a code of ethics,” Spencer Chandra Herbert suggests.

Chandra Herbert says part of the problem may be the privacy with which people guard their mental health.

“You’re at some of your most vulnerable moments when you go out and seek help,” he says.

“You would never want to be in a situation where you reach out for help and find a homophobic counsellor, and be unable to say they shouldn’t be practicing because they are giving hateful advice,” he says.

“Right now, you can still do that and call yourself a counsellor,” he says.

Only Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have full counselling regulation, according to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association website.

Reconsidering Resolutions

Reconsidering Resolutions

With winter’s weather reminding us it is still January even while our memories of eggnog and wrapping paper are rapidly fading, those of us who dutifully write New Year’s resolutions are likely sorting them into two categories, self-congratulatory “Hey, I’m doing well”s and self-critical “Whatever was I thinking?”s.

Much of the difference hinges on the reason behind our resolution. If we choose a goal from our own heart, we tend to succeed. It’s the ‘shoulds’ that we resist.

Take a second look at your resolutions. Re-evaluate them. Do you really want to quit smoking, or did you list that because you know it’s bad for your health? It’s important that we realize that guilt and shame are poor motivators.

Another barrier to success with our resolutions is that our goals may be too vague. “Become a better person” is an admirable goal, but how do we measure our success? And do we need to wait until next New Year’s Eve for the thrill of checking it off the list?

The solution to more successful follow through is to break that goal into manageable pieces. For instance, your partner would certainly consider you a better person if you mentioned every day something that you appreciated about your life together. Try that consistently for a few weeks and I’ll bet you get some positive feedback to boost your motivation! Or set a reminder to bring a special gift home once a month for no reason except to say “You’re special to me”. Wouldn’t that make you feel like a better person? And you’d be assured of continual positive response as the year progressed.

As a sex therapist, I cannot resist encouraging you to include a resolution to improve your sex life in the coming year. If you are single and happily so, resolve to expand and enrich your fantasy life. Indulge yourself in a new book, video or toy. If you long for a partner, make this the year that you pen a sparkling profile—and post it! Go on that blind date; join that group.

If you are coupled, the goal to enrich your relationship can be narrowed down to “How can I better access my erotic courage?” or “How can I better reach my spouse romantically and sexually?” To accomplish this, you may need more individual space to remember what you longed for. Perhaps give your love an evening out per week to take a class or see friends while you arrange something special with the kids. Or perhaps you have grown apart and need to find ways to rebuild intimacy. In this case, a no-interruptions weekend getaway may be just the ticket. Resolve to return to balance, one step at a time, in whichever direction is appropriate.

This may be the year to put into motion that plan to come out, to tell your sexual secret, to ask for what you really want in bed. Now that the end-of-year pressure has passed but the year is still new, reconsider what you would like to accomplish for yourself in 2013.

Toss out those other-directed resolutions and replace them with goals in which you vote for yourself. Break the year long goals into bite sized pieces and don’t forget to check off your progress. Your sense of pride and accomplishment, and likely your improved relationships, will make you glad you reconsidered your resolutions.



Same-Sex Marriage, Part I

“I Cannot Breed in Captivity” ~ Gloria Steinem

At the beginning of May, the British Columbia Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling by an appeals court regarding same sex marriage restrictions. The unanimous decision echoes those of the Supreme Courts of both Ontario and Quebec. Effectively, this means that all of us can choose to marry if we wish, regardless of gender or orientation. This victory for civil rights is not a fait a compli. The Supreme Court of Canada has a year to consider this decision and uphold or overturn it. Still, this third ‘yes’ vote signifies a powerful advance toward inclusion.

There are many who endorse Ms. Steinem’s sentiments regarding the institution of marriage and scratch their heads at why this is an issue at all. After all, marriage is a relatively new concept, only a few hundred years old, and designed to protect the inheritance trail of wealthy landowners; romance and love had little to do with it. The original reasons for marriage have long since deteriorated and been transformed into a social statement of love and commitment. Our government offers tax incentives to those who choose to sign on, and community property legislations offer some protection for wives and children. Even so, marriage is now a business (a multi-million dollar business!) and a social tradition that endures despite the objections raised by feminists during the sexual revolution of the sixties and an ever-growing acceptance of living together without benefit of legal approval.

For those who long to make public their mutual dreams of life together, this legislation validates their wishes. No longer denied the rights of others, gays and lesbians can soon choose whether to marry. This marks another important step away from the shame and fear associated with being inside the closet and outside the realm of acceptability. Surely, this is reason to celebrate!

Love is difficult to find and even more so to sustain and nurture. Lesbians and gays know full well the lack of social supports others enjoy in enduring the inevitable strains of living together. This legislation will provide an important link to community backing. It will, as well, protect children and guarantee the rights and responsibilities heretofore taken for granted by heterosexuals. No longer must couples fear losing property to obscure blood relatives, or worry about how medical staff will respond to a mate’s directives about life-threatening crises. In other words, lesbians and gays will be treated pretty much like everyone else.

Religious adherents and other conservative thinkers will object to this legislation. We must weigh their arguments about the perceived threat to the family, and eventually we will need to redefine the term. ‘Family’ will come to mean those who love and protect one another, who support and nourish their bond, and who identify as a small group within a larger community. Come to think of it, isn’t that already a working definition? Let’s embrace all those who come together in love and kindness, companionship and care, and welcome everyone who chooses to celebrate publicly such society-sustaining values.

Kudos to our courts! The law often lags much farther behind in reflecting society’s values. Truly, this decision signals a reason for all of us to be proud, regardless of the gender of the people we love.

Same-Sex Marriage, Part II

May’s newsletter column dealt with Canada’s Supreme Court ruling that prohibiting same-sex marriages contravened our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although I try to address different subjects each month, I believe this issue warrants further discussion. The new ruling has been effected in practical terms, and lesbians and gays are marrying legally. Let’s contemplate some of the possible spin-off effects of these changes.

For instance, when a heterosexual couple argues and the woman turns to her friends and family for solace and support, she is typically advised to cool off, pick her battles, and figure out how best to resolve the problem. Her community’s expectation is that the marriage will survive and endure, and this in turn supports the couple in resolving their conflict. Men, likewise, are often reminded of their commitment and responsibility and after a conversation with their buddies, they return home to smooth out the wrinkle. The expectation of continuity is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, when gay and lesbian couples experience discord, they hear quite different messages. Gay couples are ‘expected’ to dissolve, often attributed to their ‘promiscuous’ lifestyles (another false stereotype, but nonetheless a powerful influence). Lesbian jokes abound about the ‘standard’ two and a half year relationship (one year of honeymoon, another of domestic stability followed by six months of unravelling prior to separation). These messages are subtle yet influential, and undermine the longevity of same-sex unions.

How might Canada’s inclusive marriage laws affect the community? I suspect that those who decried same-sex relationships as a threat to the family may now view those couples who opt to legalize their unions as supporting the same values. I’m hopeful that this may narrow the gap between homophobes and homosexuals. Socially, we view a spouse as more ‘valid’ than a boy- or girl-friend. As the definition of marriage expands, so too will that of ‘family.’ All married couples will have the same legal rights and responsibilities. Corollary laws (legal, medical, and educational concerns) will necessarily change to adapt to the laws governing marriage. The prophecy of serious, long-term commitment for same-sex couples may become, as for heterosexuals, self-fulfilling.

Perhaps I am being overly optimistic about the repercussions of our changing laws, and the social impact they may have. However, Canada is proving itself a leader in promoting such values as peace, inclusivity, and rationality. When I asked Silva Tenenbein, a seasoned activist, how she felt about Canada’s progressive politics and our new marriage laws, she replied, “I’m proud of being Canadian the same way I’m proud of being queer.” We’ve come a long way.

Sex Positivity and Mac McLellan

The Internet has been all abuzz the past week or so with reaction to an article penned by Mother Jones’s reporter Mac McLellan about how she finally found some relief from her job-related PTSD. It seems Mac had been covering some of the hardest stories, those that involved earthquakes, human rights violations, rapes and the like. She thought she was coping pretty well until one day, while escorting a Haitian woman from the hospital back to the rubble she called home following a brutal attack and rape, Mac found her defenses lying about her in shambles.
She sought help from Meredith Broome, whom she describes as “a brilliant Bay Area therapist who specializes in trauma,” who wisely let Mac follow her own instincts. Mac bravely admitted her belief that to shake the recurring terror of memories and intrusive thoughts of all the violence toward women she had witnessed, she needed some rough sex herself. Really rough sex. She wanted the fear knocked out of her. As she put it, “violent sex wasn’t a matter of recreation for me. It was a way, one way, to help get better.”
Uncharacteristically (and very professionally), Broome gave her permission to try this remedy, with appropriate safeguards. I wonder if Mac realizes how rare it was to have located a therapist with this level of sex positivity and non-judgmentalism.
Armed with encouragement and belief in her own best judgment, Mac asked a trusted ex-lover if he would oblige, explaining the reasons and the desired process. Together, they loved and fought and struggled until …”My body felt devastated but relieved; I’d lost, but survived.” She was free.
Mac wrote about this whole story here: Unsurprisingly, a number of women missed the point and wrote a rebuttal ( defending the beauty of Haiti, which was not what her article was about at all.
Following this, Mac did an interview with Ms. Magazine. (Yes, Ms. Magazine is still around, still insisting on thinking clearly and speaking out logically. Gawd, I have been lovin’ that rag for forty years.)
Ms. did an interview with Mac ( in which Mac defended her right to speak about PTSD and to speak for herself personally, not only as a journalist. The piece was unsurprisingly well done, yet I was left asking myself if there was yet another point that still had not been made. In all this discussion, had something else vitally important been overlooked?
Was I the only one cheering Mac for writing about wanting rough sex, finding it, and then championing its beneficial effect? She experienced a need from somewhere deep within her wounded psyche that compelled her to revisit and redefine the juxtaposition of physical ecstasy and physical disempowerment. She went for it because she knew somehow that sexuality, unfettered and uncontrolled, would set her free and make her safe again.
Without excluding Mac’s story, or the stories of her detractors, I think this one, too, should be heralded.
Mac McLellan had the courage to embrace sexuality as a possible solution to her hurt, and to seek help that would not shame or belittle her for sexual awareness and pride. We are so easily intimidated by even the hint of the pejorative “slut” that we are often willing to deny our own erotic desires and expression. Not so Mac, nor Broome.
And Mac didn’t stop there. She considered something potentially out of her comfort zone, and for found safe, consensual ways to experiment with her desires. We are lucky that she shared it with us all, even when she must have known we wouldn’t understand, we would judge, we would scold.
It is so common to be afraid of stretching our limits. Mac showed us how, and proved that, regardless of ‘popular’ response, the benefit is undeniable.

Rocks in Our Pockets

The inspiration for this Hot Topic comes from Moving Violations by communications analyst Deborah Tannen which haunted me and peppered my social conversations for days after I read it. Tannen’s article is about women’s common experience of being groped by men in the subway. She compares North American women’s passive, humiliated response with Greek women’s vocal, aggressive one. Every woman I spoke to had her own story and most admitted they had suffered silently or tried to wriggle away from her offender.

One firebrand scoffed: “I was on a crowded streetcar when I felt someone groping me. It was just once too often! I grabbed his wrist, held it high above my head, and asked loudly, ‘I just found this hand on my ass. Does it belong to anybody here?’ I held on until he was identified by all around. He was the one humiliated, I tell you. I don’t know where I got the courage, but I don’t worry about unwanted touch anymore.”

Her reaction was akin to the Greek women’s practice of carrying rocks in their pockets for pelting their molesters. Sadly, women worldwide learn they must fear men. They learn also that their protestations may be dismissed and that they may be punished for making them. This same reason often keeps women from reporting rapes.

Surely men are learning a lesson that they are entitled to touch. When women’s protests are firm but polite, they are sometimes not taken seriously. With the burden of sexual initiation placed so squarely on men’s shoulders, where do they draw the line between persistent and predatory? None of us seems too comfortable with actually talking about sex with each other. It’s little wonder some men resort to ham-handed attempts at furtive connection when they lack the skills to make social contact, much less establish loving relationships.

For their part, women are learning to be sexual victims. Deborah Tannen added a half hour to her daily commute so she could safely sit on her target rather than defend it. I understand her, as do most women. We have been scared silent. We are generally smaller and weaker than men, and pay equity is still a dream, keeping us financially disadvantaged and often dependent. We’ve been culturally trained to feel shamed if we are mauled, though the logic of this escapes me.

I don’t have a solution, but I don’t think literal rock-carrying is the answer. I propose we talk to each other about how horrible this empty and unwanted touch feels from both directions. I think it will help if we carry our voices in our throats as surely as we carry rocks in our pockets and use them on the same occasions. It would help too if we insist that we will not be made victims by men or by our bodies, but will stand proud.

I can only surmise that some men feel so isolated and contact-starved that they resort to stealing touch. While sad, it gives them no right to violate the rights of others. I hear from women that they, too, wish for more loving touch but often receive only perfunctory fumbling. We need to learn better communication, as we all seem to want more closeness and intimacy.

As we learn to accomplish this, I agree that women would do well to carry metaphorical rocks in their pockets. When all we want to do is ride the bus, we needn’t put up with any man’s inability to communicate adequately his social or sexual desires. We certainly need not become his groping victim. We’ve a right to be left alone, and if that is violated, we’ve a right to make a scene and a spectacle of our attacker. Ever since contemplating and discussing Dr Tannen’s article, I’ve felt more powerful and somehow happier. Now I don’t go out without my rocks. I think it’s a good decision.

Little Lust at the Lusty Lady

In an effort to stay current and informed, I attend a number of conferences each year, some better than others. I recently returned from one in Seattle that left me thinking long after the handouts and business cards had been filed. I’m speaking of FtM: 2006, A Gender Odyssey, three-days of information and thought-provoking workshops about gender and relationships punctuated by a bonus film festival.

This month’s Hot Topic is not about that valuable conference, but about a field trip I took during my weekend there. During my graduate studies in San Francisco, I learned that The Lusty Lady peep show there was the only union-run shop in the country (Seattle’s, sadly, is not). I had cheered Carol Queen’s sensitive and hilarious performance piece about working there. Still, I had never seen it for myself and here was my chance. After a testosterone soaked day at the FtM conference, I sought balance in an estrogen-dipped experience at The Lusty Lady, Seattle style.

I was excited. Dressed in a low-cut top and high-heeled shoes, my cleavage was padded with money to spend. I didn’t know what to expect, although I had previously enjoyed strip shows and exotic cabarets. I trotted in, trying to look comfortable and worldly.

The receptionist eyed me, sighed, and gently asked, “Want me to explain how it works here?” I had fooled nobody! I bought twenty dollars’ worth of ones (which quite impressed the fella behind me), listened to my options and headed inside, hopeful for an evening of entertainment.

Beyond the doors lay a different environment. No more eye contact, bright lighting, and quick smiles–here it was dark, hushed, and cold. One long corridor of doors led off another, and each door reached only to the knees, below which stood rumpled trousers above still shoes. Nothing moved. There was no floorshow. The entertainment here was clearly solitary.

For a moment I considered turning on my heel and retreating, pretending I’d simply walked into the wrong theatre. This was not at all what I was expecting. But my curiosity propelled me forward.

I found a legless door and slipped inside a dark claustrophobic cubicle with a little box for whisking in dollar bills. All right! I had a brafull of those. Immediately one wall of the booth snapped skyward to reveal a brilliantly lit, fluorescent pink Astroturf- and mirror-covered room occupied by three very young, very bored, very bare women in impossibly high heels touching themselves like the models on late night TV. I quickly realized they couldn’t see or hear me—I could not interact with them. The only role available to me was that of voyeur. The curtain snapped shut.

I fed in another dollar.

I tried to turn this scene into fantasy but was overwhelmed with what felt like loneliness. I moved closer to the window to feel less isolated only to hear one of the dancers squeal “We got a girl over here.” They could see me through the screen! How rare it must be for them to see another female face in those windows. I retreated into the darkness of the booth, unsure of my role. They quickly forgot me.

I learned a lot about sex that night at The Lusty Lady, especially about how men can access non-personal sex more easily than I as a woman could. I understand now how important it can be for a woman to wear sexy lingerie for a man, because that connection is powerful and immediate for him and by being part of the action, she gets to participate in it.

It seems men can translate a visual image to a mental erotic state, bypassing the emotional stations that women visit on the way to arousal. Women lament that men don’t indulge them in the romance they need to feel sexy. I see now that women don’t pander to men’s need for that direct link between their eyes and their cocks either. My visit to The Lusty Lady showed me how different our pathways can be. I see now that, with that understanding, we can make sure that each gender gives the other what they need so that the fires are kept mutually burning.

Yes, my weekend in Seattle taught me valuable sexological lessons. I hope that sharing my experiences with you enriches your understanding of how complex and magnificent our erotic lives can be. Gals, climb into something sexy. Guys, reward her with whispered sweet nuthins. We all win.

The Dworkin Legacy

Andrea Dworkin’s recent death surprised me. Reading the notification, I recalled her strident writings, her angry lectures and her brash personal presentation. She was a frightening and influential icon in the early days of feminism. Anti-porn to the core, and by extension anti-sex, she presented women as forever defending themselves from men’s lustful urges. Though she arrived amid the sexual revolution of the sixties, she was decidedly Victorian in her views about sex.

And women (and many men) listened! Who would vote for something that caused harm to women and children? Dworkin’s anti-pornography platform appealed to women who were on the brink of accepting or rejecting their sexual power. Even as we chose to say “Yes” to sex, we could not ignore warnings from anti-sex feminists that men’s sexuality was dangerous. Many of us folded. We agreed that viewing sexually explicit material (though few of us ever dared to see any of it) was degrading to women and a threat to the security of the couple bond. We thanked our mates for not being ‘that kind of man’ and forgot about porn altogether, except perhaps to worry privately with other women about the wolf in the woods.

Now, in the new millennium, watching porn is like masturbating. We all do it, but we don’t talk about it. We do not want to get caught doing either, and when we ARE caught there’s often hell to pay, just as we feared. Couples veer off course over this issue. Assumptions play heavily in the drama. For instance, while she assumes that he is not watching porn (for political reasons, or because — she believes — it is tantamount to cheating), he assumes that she knows he both views porn and masturbates (often simultaneously).

When Dworkin-influenced women discover their partner’s erotic pastime, they feel betrayed and abandoned. Body image issues further obscure the situation when she compares her body to those on the Internet…some hard acts to follow. She wonders why she alone is not enough and questions her desirability. She wonders why her beloved mate would not confide this private sex to her, and she questions the solidity of their bond.

Often, I enter the scene here. Either gender may call me, desperate for help in de-escalating what is quickly challenging their whole relationship. Following therapy, many couples remark that, oddly, confronting and exploring the many meaningful layers of pornography moved them to a deeper, more authentic, and sexier place.

But in the beginning, it just feels rotten for everybody. Therapy begins by acknowledging the enormity of the emotional turmoil the discovery has caused, and reaffirming the couple’s stable relationship. Once everyone understands gender differences in regards to visual stimulation (guys like the stuff a lot and we tend not to understand the fascination) and once we learn to speak openly about sex, the problem becomes more manageable. Women’s ‘porn’, from high budget Hollywood sizzlers like Unfaithful to sappy romantic bodice rippers, is absolved of sin because of the safe plot lines. Women are soothed by relationships, and if we can say we are watching character development while our men can claim to be only watching smut, then our titillation is noble and theirs is base. We are so easily judgmental about lust. It is important that we alter our perspective on this issue for the sake of our relationships. Think about it: if we women are successful in eliminating all of our men’s erotic turn-ons, we ‘win’ sexless mates. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot!

What we women must do, instead, is open ourselves to exploring erotic stimulation, whether with fantasy, erotica (the sanitized term for porn) or actual sex, partnered or solo. Women are often less visually cued than men are, but we are no less excitable or interested. We need to foster our own and our mate’s interest in sex and get out of our own way regarding political correctness. We need to seek out images in film and literature that arouse us, too. We need to demand and support pornography that we like. Perhaps most importantly, we need to accept differences in how we experience desire and fulfillment. It is not in anyone’s best interest to make sex or desire our enemy.

Finally, as we learn to accept sex in its diverse and glorious forms, we can risk speaking sexual words, thoughts, and feelings. This is what heals a rift caused by confronting our societal over-reactions to pornography. If we can talk about the hard stuff, surely we can talk about the hot stuff, too. And that’s the carrot. We face our fears and risk vulnerability in our search to understand another human being. In response, intimacy builds and love and sex can flow freely again.

Andrea Dworkin connected patriarchy and porn, and she opened a discussion that had not previously been dared. Unfortunately, she got confused between sex-ist and sex-ual. Pornography got a bad rap. Research repeatedly proves that pornography does not cause violence to women. Sex is not our enemy, nor are men. It is our fear of sexual power that trips us up. Desire can no more be controlled or owned than can love. Better to let it flourish and thus stay so acutely tuned in to its rhythms that it defines our lives as couples bound by our mutual appreciation for the sex we share.

Farewell, Ms. Dworkin. You made us look critically at how we experience desire and arousal, and we owe you a debt of gratitude for that. You represented the extreme of radical feminism, showing us where the edges were. You symbolized an era in which we came to terms with our views (and viewings) on sex. Fortunately, you were mistaken that we needed to live in fear and distrust. We know now that we live together better when we share and encourage desire, rather than retreating to separate camps where we measure and analyze our sexual responses for their sinister intentions. Perhaps your passing will mark the end of an era where women feel righteous about controlling sexual desire and instead embrace it as a human privilege. Perhaps a new message will emerge to replace the fear and loathing you engendered – a message that celebrates desire.

Oprah and the “Evils of Lust”

I recently watched an episode of Oprah that surprised me, and prompted me to pick up my pen. Oprah is often spot-on in her evaluations of people and situations, and she frequently presents a unique perspective. She also influences North American women, just as she reflects their sentiments. But on a recent show, the underlying thrust of the message confounded and distressed me.

This show was segmented into several mini therapy sessions, the first of which was the story of a 30-something, urban woman, married for about five years, who was having great difficulty forgiving her husband for a “transgression” that occurred prior to their wedding. She was clearly stuck in her emotions, her trust of her husband was woefully lacking, and she admitted that her feelings about the issue were negatively affecting the marriage.

The story got my interest, but I was non-plussed when I learned the details of the husband’s trangression. It seems that before their wedding, the groom’s friends threw him a surprise bachelor party at which strippers performed. They danced and flirted, and one of the entertainers treated the groom to a lap dance.

Some time later, after the wedding, the bride began to ruminate about what might have happened at that party, and she snooped into her husband’s things to locate the video. (No mention was made about this snooping or its implications… but I digress.) She found and watched the tape, and from that point on felt imperiously righteous about demeaning and punishing her husband for defiling the “sacred” nature of their marriage. (It was notable to me that “sacred”’ was a word much bandied about during the segment.) The husband insisted he had not even touched the dancer, and though the tape proved him truthful, the bride insisted it didn’t matter because his mere attendance at such a disgraceful event desecrated their union.

At this point I felt confident that Oprah, along with her expert, would point out the flaws in this woman’s argument. The expert was a woman named E. Jean, whose credentials included writing a column for a women’s magazine and authoring several books for the same audience. No educational accomplishments were mentioned.

It rapidly became apparent that E. Jean’s position was horror at this “male chauvinist’s” behaviour. According to her, he was guilty of lustful feelings and of disrespect toward his wife. When she announced that the sacrament of the next night’s marital bed had been defiled by his wanton behaviour, the audience cheered.

I had not expected this. I thought the audience (and certainly the ‘expert’) would reassure the woman that her doubts could be calmed by reflecting on the loving manner with which her husband treated her daily. I thought they might advise her that the somewhat juvenile ritual of the bachelor party was in fact a farewell to casual sex and a celebration of abundant marital lovemaking. I thought American women were more progressive, more savvy, more hip.

This poor guy, up on stage before millions of viewers didn’t have a chance. He weakly protested that he’d not even touched the stripper, nor had he known about the party. This didn’t matter. He had lusted in his heart. His punishment? Well, that was interesting. Columnist E. Jean suggested he could find redemption if he funded a day at the spa for his bride and a group of her friends! They would receive facials, manicures, massages, and champagne, and would end the day toasting the sanctity of the couple’s marriage. Oprah nodded and the audience applauded. I was flummoxed:

Why is a day of her sensual pleasuring atonement for an evening of his sexual fantasy? Talk about a double standard!

Why did we forsake the thrill of erotic anticipation and replace it with humdrum ownership rituals? When did we forget the power we earned during the sexual revolution of the sixties when, for the first time ever, we became free to say ‘yes’ to sex devoid of the consequence of pregnancy or judgment?

My initial reaction to Oprah’s show was disbelief, followed by anger, followed in turn by an abiding sadness. Faithfulness is far more an attitude than a behaviour. Lust isn’t our enemy. Indeed, we need it as our friend.

Having Sex for Columbine

As Michael Moore’s sensational new movie Bowling for Columbine wows theatre-goers and reminds Canadians how wise and lucky we are to be on this side of the border, we can easily translate the movie’s topic of America’s love affair with guns to our own attitudes about sex. Moore suggests that fear keeps our southerly neighbours in a constant state of insecurity and over-reaction. Does fear similarly cause us to resist pleasure and demonize sexual expression? Can we link our conservative censorship (both governmental and personal) to historical factors that we’ve long forgotten?

We certainly have our own sexual Columbines. There was the Montreal Massacre, which resonated with fear and hatred of the female gender. We have the Pig Farm murders. Ditto. We have continuing gay bashings in the West End which seem to go curiously under-investigated and rarely resolved. Are we witnessing another expression of the confusion between sex and violence? Or is Canada swept away with the same kind of blinkered adherence to an unexamined social more of denial of pleasure as the United States is to the insanity of violence as an end as well as a means to capturing a sense of security?

Is it this fear that causes our attempts to silence information about sex? Why does pleasure frighten us so? What are we afraid will happen if we revel in sensual delight, if we talk openly and approvingly of loving connections, if we educate our population (young and old alike) to the joys as well as the consequences of sex? Michael Moore discovered no solutions, but his perceptive view of the problem may encourage critical and creative thinking regarding what seems to be a silly obsession with violence. If we look at sex and sensuality with that same kind of clear perspective, might we see better and kinder solutions ourselves?