Formalities of Normalities

As much as Americans tout a maverick, even rebellious spirit, we spend a lot of time, effort and cold hard cash trying to get to “normal.”  Even those who consider themselves unconventional eventually gravitate to clans with similar interests as a means for fitting in somewhere.  Whether it’s an emotional need for acceptance, a primal urging towards community or something to do with strength in numbers, “normal” appears to be a big deal–especially when it comes to sexuality.

Here’s the thing about “normal:”  When a particular social tribe takes it on themselves to define what is normal, the default result is divisiveness and, to a large extent, intolerance when it comes to anything outside the resulting definition–whether it’s actually based in fact or not.  While compliance with certain values (for example, protecting children) has its place in a civilized community, power within groups tends to obsesses over what certain behaviors are, rather than what they actually do.  Even if such nonconformity is positive, productive and poses no threat whatsoever to anyone else in the circle, challenging the prevailing groupthink is likely to be perceived as a disruption to the status quo and therefore, labeled as (you guessed it) “abnormal.”  More often than not, the label is otherwise baseless and is frequently even hypocritical, but the stigma attached usually has a real and significant impact on whomever is tagged with it.

Leadership to confront and combat mythologies about “normal sexual behavior” has been slow to materialize, but sustained efforts have been made during the past 50-60 years–even in the face of stiff opposition and incredulity.  For example, since 1947, The Kinsey Institute (originally known as The Institute for Sex Research) has led the field in discerning facts regarding human sexuality, dispelling many unfounded conceptions and redefining “normal” much more broadly than previously believed or accepted.  As one might imagine, however, political and legal controversies arising from many of their findings served to impede (and in some cases, actually derail) progress and unnecessarily prolong a state of intolerance.  The fact that the institute has remained steadfast in its mission says a lot about its leaders in their quest to better define “normal” more realistically and in an inclusionary manner, but should it really be that hard?

Human history is replete with stunning examples of groundless beliefs trumping coherent facts, but what’s even more astonishing is the consistent, irrational tendency to embrace certain beliefs rather than uncover and accept a reality which might be in opposition.  Without a doubt, a lot of that is purely political, but acceding to the power of groupthink simply to keep a superficially steady boat from rocking is a recipe for doom.  There are plenty of solid examples of that as well.

While it’s certainly much easier to merge with the popular pool of “normal” and bask in its illusory safety, good leadership is less concerned with what’s  popular than it is with what’s real and right.  Indeed, it takes a lot of spunk and moxy to go against the formalities of normalities and instead inspire a lasting respect for rational discussion and eliminating knee-jerk intolerance.  There’s likely to be tremendous pushback when facts are uncovered that disrupt ingrained beliefs, but progress cannot be made with heads buried in the sand.  Opposing any kind of bullying takes courage, commitment and conviction but the result can literally change the world for the better.

What’s more “normal” than that?

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Defining Sex in America: Can It Be Done?

(2/1/16)  Larry Flynt is a genius.  Having taken a $2,000 investment in an Ohio bar and turned it into a publishing empire valued in the hundreds of millions would be reason enough to hang the G-label on him, but the more valuable accomplishments of Mr. Flynt’s career are found in the social and legal battles he initiated to protect expressive and sexual freedoms in America.  It wasn’t always pretty–and there were certainly tragic casualties along the way–but his inspired efforts helped an entire generation (and hopefully, many more to come) define a clear line between personal rights and government interference.  He could have just let his bar go bankrupt, but no, he had a different idea instead.  Genius.

Ironically, while a lot of progress has been made in defining sexual freedoms, Americans still cannot agree on what “sex” itself is.  Images of a U.S. President wagging his finger and fiercely proclaiming, “Ah did nawt have sex-shul relations with that woman” might be a semi-humorous example of this dilemma in practice (even if just a self-serving one), but apparently it’s just the tip of something bigger.

Among a wide range of adult males and females, a recent study by the Kinsey Institute found that there was a significant lack of consensus on what kind of behaviors are actually being defined as sex.  While the basic peg-A-into-slot-B notion (penile-vaginal contact) seems safely inside the bin, all bets are off when it comes to just about anything else.

For example, fewer people concurred that it constituted having sex even in penile-vaginal scenarios if the male didn’t orgasm.  Additionally, the study found that 20% didn’t agree that anal intercourse constituted sex and 30% felt that oral activities shouldn’t be included in the definition.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, about 50% of those surveyed stated that masturbatory behaviors did not qualify as sex, even if the contact was performed by someone else.  The bottom line:  What seems to be a fairly simple concept in principle is apparently anything but.  The question is:  Is that a “good” or a “bad” thing?  While there are certainly medical and educational ramifications in these findings, the social and legal aspects merit attention and serious discussion as well.

Diversity is a productive ingredient in any evolved society, but divisiveness tends to create a vacuum that is often filled with reactive shortsightedness–and sometimes worse.  Just ask Larry Flynt.

What say you?

S.A.A. Extra: Senate Releases New Report on Campus Sexual Assaults

(7/11/14)  (From the U.S. Senate)  According to a report released this week by the United States Senate, approximately one in five undergraduate women has been the victim of sexual violence at U.S. colleges.  Missouri Senator, Claire McCaskill, also noted that many institutions are failing to meet their obligations under existing federal law regarding how they handle sexual violence among students.  The report is based on a survey of 440 four-year institutions of higher education, which includes a national sample and separate samples of the nation’s largest public and private institutions.

Read the full report here.

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S.A.A. Extra: Kentucky’s Ban on Same-sex Marriage Struck Down

(7/4/14)  (From U.S. News and World Report)  The latest in a continued winning streak of court rulings overturning state same-sex marriage bans belongs to the conservative state of Kentucky as a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional this week.  Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear, said that the state will appeal the decision.

Read the full story here.

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