Research paper written at Saybrook Graduate School & Research Center
Rhea Orion November 2007/accepted for publication 2008
Sexology as an independent scientific field emerged during the twentieth century. Definition of the field is imperative when determining parameters of study for competent practice. Those calling themselves sexologists include professionals who have additional specialized training in human sexuality in several fields: biology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, marriage and family therapy, education, medicine, and even ministry. Sexology is recognized by major national and international organizations which support the dissemination of research, clinical knowledge, and continuing education of professionals in the field. These organizations also promote the recognition of and research into areas of human sexuality often ignored or misunderstood by the general public such as prostitution, exotic dancers, and other aspects of what is referred to as the “adult entertainment industry,” now a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. So called “sex workers” of all types are at risk due to laws and policies that offer no protection or regulation and foster an “us vs. them” paradigm in the culture at large. Research could help public understanding and legal policies support health and safety of workers as well as reduce social derision faced by the millions of young people who make up the population in question. Unfortunately some poor research has been done which adds to the problem rather than combating negative attitudes with knowledge. Sexology is a growing field needed more than ever in a global, technological world where sex is used to sell everything but is viewed as more sinful than violence. Sexologists in all fields work to research, educate, inform, change policy, and treat those in need.
SEXOLOGY, THEORY, AND APPLICATIONS:
DEFINITION OF THE FIELD
The first obstacle I am encountering both as graduate student and as practicing sexologist is that the general public and many professionals have no idea what sexologists do. How much can there be about sex to study? What can a sex counselor do to keep busy developing a whole new profession? Is it really legitimate to make a career out of studying, discussing, and teaching people about SEX???
Sex has been regarded and portrayed as a representation of life in all societies as far back as we have information of any kind. Besides serving reproduction and pleasure, sexuality has played and does play many roles in the arts, in ritual and worship, in a multitude of practices from reverence to mutilation. Sexuality serves many functions in relation to cultural systems such as religion, politics, and medicine. Yet the idea of sex as a field of openly discussed scientific study and professional attention still seems to take people by surprise.
It is true that sexology is not as old a school as most other “-ologies,” having become a field of its own only in the first quarter of the 20th century. Sexology is the study of sex: sex as a biological function, sex as a pleasurable expression and extension of relationships. Sexology is also the study of societies, of how sexuality is integrated into the functions of family, community, and cultural life, and how, in turn, politics, religion, and medicine affect sexuality and its many functions and manifestations.
To become a Doctor of Sexology, I need to be fully informed of sexology’s history, cross-cultural and current knowledge, and ongoing trends. I must be cognizant of theory in sexuality education and therapies. I must be well-practiced in applications—in methods of counseling, education, and therapy.
Research is imperative for the advance of knowledge and its applications. Professionals must continue to develop national and international organizations carrying out and supporting research, the dissemination of new knowledge, and the sharing of resources and techniques.
Professional sexologists may include medical doctors in obstetrics, biologists studying reproduction, neurobiologists studying the nervous system in relation to sexual functioning, nurses, clergy, and a variety of counselors who find themselves educating and advising their patients, clients, and parishioners on sexual and relationship matters. Professional sexologists are also professors and, of course, sex therapists and researchers.
As in most professions, research into human sexuality has led to knowledge that is useful in more than one discipline. A recent example is a study done by Whipple and Komisaruk (2003) on reported orgasms of paralyzed people. Brain wave and nerve functions showed that these individuals were indeed experiencing physiological change, even though they are paralyzed from the neck down. Test results showed that some brain areas and nerve passages were functioning where it had been believed that this could not occur. Messages were somehow being sent around the paralyzed body, resulting in some kind of unexpected physical experience.
This new knowledge about the brain and nervous system leads us to hope for discoveries about paraplegic and other disabling conditions. This knowledge leads to further questions about possible regeneration, replacement, or adaptation of certain functions previously unknown in these conditions, or thought to be impossible. Another interdisciplinary benefit of this sexology research is new information about pain and pleasure centers in the brain that resulted from the study.
Sexual medicine research led to the discovery of the “G” spot (Whipple & Komisurak, 2000) which expanded our knowledge about the structure of the pelvic floor in both men and women. Working with these muscles helps restore the birth canal and can eliminate incontinence; the same exercises can increase frequency of orgasms, or control rapid ejaculation.
Engaging in sexual activities has been shown to improve health by supporting cancer prevention, stress and blood pressure control, pain relief, emotional stability, longevity, and more (Morin, 2008). Sex is not just for reproduction, feeling guilty, or having fun!
There are still, however, prevailing attitudes that sexual pleasure itself is morally wrong, and that sex has only the purpose of reproduction through interaction between heterosexual married people. This archaic orientation to sex is dangerous, because we now know that from birth on, touch and human contact, sensual contact, are necessary for growth and health. Child development specialists and gerontologists, among many other professionals, have evidence that the need for touch is inherent at every age (Butler, 2002; Vaillant, 2002; Dworetzky, 1990). Far too many children and adults live without adequate pleasurable human contact. Tactile experience does not have to be sexual, but sexual negativity and repression have now led to legal restrictions concerning touching; the attempt to banish sex has caused parents to hesitate to be physically affectionate with their own children. Warped development is one result.
Health, sociological climates, and influential attitudes are some of the factors that sexologists deal with. In a recent gathering of professional women, I spoke about my work as a sex counselor. I’m always surprised when I experience in yet another context the fact that most people don’t talk about sex on a regular basis, and possibly have talked about it very little, ever. As soon as I “give them permission” as a professional in an official field, I am barraged with questions about bodies, relationships, specific sexual functions and dysfunctions. Usually people find out that they are not, as they feared, weird or unhealthy or abnormal. Suddenly people have stories to tell or listen to, are laughing—or at least giggling nervously. Invariably they are interested; often they are changed. Those who undertake work with a sex counselor usually experience life improvements.
In response to commonly asked questions, I explain that I do not have sex with clients; that in my practice, sexual activity is part of neither consultation nor treatment. This may sound like an amusing thing to say, and the statement is usually responded to with laughter. But people do wonder, and they are visibly relieved to hear my assurance.
There is a practice of sexology in which professionals do have sex with their clients; they are called surrogates, sacred intimates, or similar titles. There is a certification available for this profession, and strict guidelines as to how one practices and with whom. Unfortunately although the need is great, there are not many sex surrogates in the United States; considering our generally sex-negative culture, this is not a surprise. Surrogates function legally when they work in conjunction with each client’s psychotherapist, who must refer clients to the surrogate; a specific contract is spelled out for a limited number of sessions. The extent of sexual contact, which depends upon the client and the problem, is clearly defined. The psychotherapist must also monitor every client’s progress and experience.
Clients of surrogates include disabled people who may have been unable to learn how to undertake sexual activity; because of physical problems they have to work around or through, they need to learn about sexuality with a trained, safe partner. Clients can also include “late life virgins,” who may have mild emotional or developmental disabilities, or for some other reason are devoid of personal sexual experience. In some cases treatment may not include sexual interaction; as in any work with troubled individuals, treatment often requires teaching skills other than those of sexual experience, such as the art of pleasant conversation, or how to behave socially in kinds of situations the client has, sadly, never experienced successfully.
I am not a sex surrogate; I considered this career, but after researching the occupation, I decided it is not for me. I do, however, hope to do work that can add to respect and understanding for direct sexual help for many people who need it.
Unlike surrogate work, most other concentrations within the field of sexology interest me: research, education, and therapy. This places me in a majority among my colleagues, as most sexologists combine research with either education or counseling, or both. Sexology is a specialty within the field of psychology, sociology, medicine—or all of these.
The study and practice of sexology addresses needs in our culture in many arenas of life. Sexuality as a primary concern of human development is at last coming out of the closet. Beverly Whipple, prominent contemporary sexologist, in a public information lecture delivered in San Antonio, Texas, in 2003 at a Regional Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, emphasized that “Sexual health is more than the absence of sexually transmitted disease.” The physical and mental health of individuals and of people in all configurations of relationships in every orientation, the strength and vitality of families of every constellation, and the wellbeing of societies and the world at large: all are intrinsically and powerfully affected by the sexual health, attitudes, and activities of all people.
THE INTERDISCIPLINARY NATURE OF SEXOLOGY
Interdisciplinarity is not only about studying and working in different fields, but about how those fields interact, inform one another, and through interaction develop something new. Sexology is inherently interdisciplinary in that it comes from several disciplines. Sexology IS something new that developed, a newly defined specialty, while remaining connected to those fields from which it emerged.
Sexuality is part of humanity and therefore has always been part of sciences including biology, sociology, psychology, medicine, and anthropology. Sexology has been defined and recognized as a specialized field comparatively recently. It is impossible to study sexology without becoming involved in several different sciences and other arenas of knowledge and experience. Tantric sex, for example, provides a long history of integrative approach to sexual practices.
I find that therapies are often not interdisciplinary enough; some professionals apply narrow approaches from one school of psychology, such as cognitive-behavioral, or psychoanalytic. Many treatment approaches, on the other hand, are more eclectic. In my professional experience, I find the more successful methods of therapy (successful meaning genuinely helpful, success being what works) to be a combination of approaches from a variety of disciplines. For example, spiritual practices and somatic techniques are being integrated with other modes. More and more clinicians are realizing the value of this interdisciplinary approach.
Several aspects of my studies, which I tie into my professional practice do not come from the more common origins of sexology and counseling, such as biology and psychology. The work of Rupert Sheldrake, British philosopher and research biochemist (Sheldrake.org), includes research study of “paranormal phenomena” and is not only hard science, but revelatory for many professions. His research reveals vital components of human life, and indeed of all life, that I believe we need to understand in order to be effective in any of the helping professions.
Most recent developments in sexology include a subfield of spirituality and sexuality. There is evidence that spirituality is one key to healing trauma, sexual and otherwise (Ogden, 2006). Cross-cultural studies of relationships verify that spirituality and sexuality have always been intertwined — it’s a matter of discovering how, in each culture and time, that connection is expressed (Francoeur, 2001).
Another subfield or specialty recognized in the scientific sexual field is the “artsy” side of sexology. Erotica is a study in itself and is offered as a certificate program at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. Erotic artists are painters – modern, classical, and ancient; photographers and film-makers, animators and sculptors—and those are just the visual artists. Written erotica is another genre; modeling, acting, and dancing are yet more art forms which can be avenues for human sensual and sexual expression. All are recognized as legitimate components of the study of sexology. Having worked in the field of erotic dance for more than a decade, I am aware that the population of workers in this field are understudied, often at risk, and are the topic of controversy in public policy and law. While the adult entertainment industry is recognized as a division of sexology known as sexuality and commerce by the World Association of Sexology, support for research is scarce.
There are medical professionals in the field of sexology: biologists, neurologists, urologists, OB/GYN’s, and other reproductive specialists. In many cases, it is standard practice for the client to be examined medically prior to or concomitantly with other forms of sex therapy. Just as the physician would not generally undertake to provide comprehensive counseling or therapy, neither would the sex therapist attempt to do the medical doctor’s job.
Sexology as a defined field emerged from several other disciplines; the study of sexuality remains part of those disciplines. Sexology as a field has in turn created and legitimized new arenas of exploration; sexology continues to ask questions and to delve deeply.
SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SEXOLOGY AS A FIELD
Many scientific and spiritual sources support my belief that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of life. But as Lenore Tiefer (1995) explains in her book of the same title, sex is not a natural act. People have the right to information, skills, and services they need in order to make responsible sexual decisions and to have healthy, pleasurable lives.
According to Strong and Devault (1992), in 1985 the National Institute for Mental Health reported, “…overwhelming evidence indicates that excessive violence on television causes aggressive behavior in children (p. 338).” This information was based on approximately 2500 individual studies conducted over a fifteen-year period. It was also concluded that children may learn to see violence as an acceptable means of solving problems, and that they may become desensitized to observed violent acts. In addition, much television programming promotes or condones racist, sexist, homophobic, and other negative stereotypes. As well as unrealistic and stereotypic portrayals of family roles and configurations, other relationships, love, problem-solving, and responsibility.
Strong and Devault documented physiological effects produced by watching television. These include impaired hand and body use and eye movements, hyperactivity, and trancelike states. In addition they state (1992) that “Television has…been observed to have deleterious effects on learning and perception, nutrition, lifestyle, and family and social relationships,” (p. 337).
Their research in 1992 revealed that by the age of 18 the average child had spent at least sixteen thousand hours watching television. I think we can assume that this astounding statistic has not changed significantly in the fifteen years since the research was carried out, unless watching time has increased. Not only are the minds of children and adolescents being formed by watching television, they are also NOT doing other healthy developmental activities such as interacting with family members, exercising in or out of doors, reading, playing creatively, fantasizing, doing schoolwork, or even resting.
Why am I going on about television when my topic is sexology? I answer this question with another: What if all the violence on television were replaced with some form of positive sexual expression instead? What if the sixteen thousand hours contained positive, appropriate, useful, and joyful depictions of families, relationships, lifestyles (sexual and otherwise), love, decision-making, and responsibility?
One could theorize that in their trance-like state, television watchers would absorb positive sexual and familial values and skills, just as strongly as they now absorb violence and invalid, damaging information; that people would come to assume that sexuality is a normal part of life, and that observing sexuality in the context of many situations and as part of many issues and aspects of life, would be expected and normal. Then discussion and education of children about sex would not be referred to as a “sensitive” area; desensitization would take place and sexual expression would be viewed as a natural part of life. Sex might then be – a natural act.
What would it be like if people all over the world engaged in appropriate, safe sex, as a contribution to solving problems, instead of resorting to violence, for which there is no safe or appropriate behavior?
Sex sells, so they say, and according to Debra Roffman (2003), a respected sexuality educator in America for over twenty years, sex is now selling everything from cars to balloons. Nevertheless sex is considered too dangerous to be directly or explicitly shown on television, or in movies to anyone under the age of 18. Violence, on the other hand, is fine. Our children and adolescents are caught in an ancient tug of war and proscribed double standards and sex roles, long proved to cause problems with health and safety of children, adolescents, and adults.
We observe that ratings of television shows and movies sometimes reflect “excessive” violence (how much violence is acceptable before it becomes excessive?), but that ratings always depend upon sexual content, which is defined as including “adult themes and language” and nudity; and in evaluating nudity, not an entire human body needs be shown, but only partial breasts.
That our laws do not allow women to walk in public shirtless although men can do so, reflects an ingrained negative attitude of body and sex, a belief system not only that a woman’s body is sinful, but that men are too stupid and helpless to control themselves if they see one. These are twisted, sex-negative values: viewing thousands of acts of violence is OK, but seeing natural parts of the human body in the same contexts is against the law. (We have made some progress; in Victorian times, the legs of the piano had to be covered.)
I’m currently involved in a case where a fourteen-year-old boy is in jail because he got into his father’s hunting guns. He was confused; his father had taken him hunting and shown him how to use guns, and the boy didn’t think anything would go wrong when he showed his knowledge to a friend. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the boy is still in jail. Hunting is not only legal, but highly thought of in some circles; on television, guns are typically in view, frequently depicting illegal activities. Had this boy been caught with pornographic pictures, he would also have been in trouble, although not in jail. How are children expected to understand what they can and cannot do?
Our country was founded by a paradoxical group of people: religious freedom, but sexual repression: and fight for both. Has there ever been another way?
We are still plagued by these archaic dichotomies, and they affect our nation’s and therefore the world’s health. They are part of the absence of world peace. Make love, not war is not just a saying any longer; we are endangering our very Earth, destroying the resourcing of the existence of our children’s future.
We are now a global society. The sexual health and strength of individuals and families everywhere are the concern of everyone, because now more than ever, the world is an interconnected web of people, places, resources, and issues. All peoples are now the concern of all peoples: minorities, youth, disabled persons, people of all orientations, people of all ethnicities and nations.
Sexology as science and practice is an inherent part of current human development. This development (like all human development) needs to become a strong aspect of our global interconnectedness. Sexology is not just the study of sex. Sex does not exist in a vacuum. One cannot study, teach about, help with, or engage in sex without being involved with health, relationships, reproduction, spirituality, politics, history, the present and the future. Nor, any longer, can teachers and counselors in the field of sexology function without utilizing cross-cultural resources and experience.
I’ve discovered no evidence indicating that either viewing or engaging in violent expression is found to be beneficial to people’s health, except as a cathartic act in an appropriate therapeutic environment with intent to transform personal experience. Reports supporting sexual expression as providing numerous health benefits are too copious to list here. A world where violence is accepted as the status quo, but sexuality is not, needs sexologists of every form.
On a more intimate level, sexual problems in individuals not only cause physical and developmental difficulties, but also create other problems. Some of these are due to cultural attitudes. For example, according to Michael Metz (2003), a prevailing negative attitude has permeated not only popular view, but also professional treatment, of “premature” ejaculation. The label of this commonly presented condition indicates the problem: the man climaxes “too early,” according to some standard considered “normal,” normalcy being determined by cultural views of the man’s role in heterosexual relations. In the agricultural world, however, the male animal who ejaculates the fastest is the most useful, often carries the best genes, and certainly does the most to insure survival of the species. He is the alpha male.
Most couples agree that delaying ejaculation allows for more enjoyment for both partners, but this delaying is a skill that some men need to learn. There are several causes for this complaint, but Metz (2003) believes that some men who ejaculate rapidly (a more positive and accurate word than prematurely) are hardwired to do so. An essential part of his treatment plan includes undoing negative attitudes and high expectations that are typically piled on men, as well as healing the resulting low self-esteem.
According to Metz, 60% of men, alone or in couples, do not come for help until damage has been done in the relationship. They wait in part because of their sense of personal failure, caused by these cultural negative attitudes and high expectations, and in part because talking about sex where intimacy does not exist is still an embarrassing undertaking. The man, the couple, and their family are all affected by the negative attitudes surrounding this symptom, more than they are by the symptom itself. Metz is one example of a sexologist who is contributing to the health of individuals and families, as well as supporting changes in professional and common knowledge, treatments, and attitudes.
The case of “premature ejaculation” is just one of dozens of sexual issues and complaints that are misunderstood, mislabeled, negatively viewed, and often unsuccessfully treated because of the impositions of a sexually misinformed and confused culture. If studying and teaching human sexuality for the interest and pleasure of it, and for the improved pleasure and health of others, are not considered reasons enough for working as sexologist, that is not surprising. Being sexual for interest, health, and pleasure is not a nationally nor academically accepted worthy pastime.
Fortunately however, sexuality is being dragged out of the closet; the door can never be shut again. I close my remarks concerning the social significance of sexology with words from David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., former Surgeon General of the United States (2004, no p.):
While sexuality may be difficult to discuss for some, and there are certainly many different views and beliefs regarding it, we cannot afford the consequences of continued or selective silence. It is necessary to find common ground—balancing diversity of opinion with the best available scientific evidence and best practice model—to improve the health of our nation.
AN UNFORTUNATE STUDY
At a March, 2004 conference in San Diego of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, I attended a presentation on Erotic Dance. The paper read was by Sonia Borg, a recent doctoral graduate of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS). Borg was presented as co-author of a book publishing results of a study about secondary effects of erotic dance entertainment. Her audience for this presentation consisted of scientists, researchers, educators, medical, and therapeutic professionals; at least two people in the room had experience as erotic dancers, myself included. I found her presentation lacked scholarly rigor. In addition, where it concerned the dancers, there were inaccuracies and it sounded artificial, although she said that she personally interviewed forty dancers in four locations. From comments and questions, it was evident that many listeners located a number of problems with the study. Borg was able neither to support her findings nor to sustain a professional dialogue on her subject.
As a Master’s level psychologist, as a student immersed in requirements for a Ph.D., and as an ex-dancer, I continued to be disturbed by Borg’s presentation. She had distributed copies of the book presenting the IASHS study exclaiming that it is a $9.99 value on Amazon.com. I can’t be the only one to notice that this publication is not a book of research results; it is a spectacle which is accurately described as a glossy girly magazine.
The cover of this publication is chiefly occupied by a mostly unclad female with pierced nipples, smoking a cigarette. The title is Erotic Moves: 1,000 Dancing Girls Bared. A list of five reader-interest hooks printed between the bare legs of the cover girl begins with “Their sex lives.” Neither on nor inside the cover is author or editor given, nor is there any publication or copyright data, including year. Of 84 pages, only 33 do not contain pictures in color of scantily clad females in provocative poses; several pages contain nothing else.
The background of this study and the publication which resulted was related to us during the presentation by Borg as follows. IASHS, which is in San Francisco, was asked to do a study by a San Diego bar owner who was receiving flack about opening another “strip club.” The city was citing crime rates and prostitution as primary concerns. Such concerns have been a subject of state and federal courts for decades, as illustrated by this example (Hansen, 2001, no p.):
“WHEREAS, Sexually Oriented Business Activities can cause or contribute significantly to increases in criminal activity in the areas in which they are located, thereby taxing crime prevention, law enforcement, and public health services; and WHEREAS, Sexually Oriented Business Activities can cause or contribute significantly to the deterioration of residential neighborhoods, can impair the character and quality of such neighborhoods and the housing located within such neighborhoods, and can inhibit the proper maintenance and growth of such neighborhoods, limiting or reducing the availability of quality, affordable housing for area residents and reducing the value of property in such areas.”
Although state and local ordinances have developed regulations to diminish the negative effects cited, controversy continues. Club owners still face community objections and legal obstructions to their “sexually oriented business activities.” One can surmise, from Borg’s verbal presentation, that the hope of the club owner who requested the study was to discover what the lives of exotic dancers and strippers are actually like, how the patrons of strip clubs really behave, and that the study would demonstrate that prostitution and crime are not automatic nor inevitable results of such clubs. The research cited in Erotic Moves was paid for by the bar owner and conducted entirely within his chain of clubs. The published results of the study were also paid for by the bar owner. Even a cursory examination of the research results reveals bias.
A purchaser primarily interested in the photographs is not cheated in buying this publication. Any attempt to use it as a valid source of information, however, is frustrated by its demonstrated lack of research principles, inadequate and confusing reporting, clumsy—even ungrammatical—writing, and impossibility of verifying any statistical or other presented facts. There are no validating sources given, even when statistics are used to back up statements made in interviews or discussion. Acknowledgements list 23 names, 11 of which are preceded by “Dr.”; their cited positions do not suggest that the publication ought to be a farce, but what role any of these individuals played in its creation, or in the study itself, is not indicated. There are 15 references, 10 of which are court actions of various cities and states. Two references are to letters, one of which cites no date and the other no recipient, and neither of which is available to the reader. Two are titles of studies, neither of which carries author nor publication nor other identification. One reference is to an article which is actually locatable, since the reader can figure out what Cummunication Law and Policy refers to, and can posit the correct spelling of Anit-Nudity in the article’s title. Unfortunately this kind of carelessness is not confined to the page of references—so I do wonder about the accuracy of the essential identifying numbers of the legal references. No bibliography is cited.
Interspersed on pages of girly cheesecake are pie charts and bar graphs intended to show the study results. Education, sexual attitudes and activities, and religious practices of the dancers are the subject of some of the graphs. Others claim to present patrons’ sexual attitudes, type of work, education, and why and how often they attend these clubs. The bar graphs are ambiguous, as numbers are not labeled—one assumes that percentages are indicated, but since the numbers do not go to 100, could these instead be the numbers of subjects queried? Even a reader avid to avoid actual information, skimming the booklet, distracted by the many surgically augmented breasts and so on, will take in the big purple pie charts with easy lettering displaying unverified statistics on, for example, the masturbation habits of dancers. Unfortunately, this book makes what may well be misinformation widely available to any level of reader.
In addition, there is no information given relating the masturbation habits of dancers—or many other data—with prostitution or crime. Where is the information supposedly addressed as the purpose of the study, to answer concerns of the officials of San Diego who want to avoid drug traffic and prostitution?
In her published comments following interview reports, Borg states that some dancers disclosed to her that they had once used drugs but had “worked through it.” She states that there is a “right road and a wrong road in dancing. Dancers who cross this line are looked down upon and have lower status in an already low status occupation” (p.10).
A bit more information gleaned about prostitution seems to be limited to a few quotes by dancers from two clubs. One dancer claims that prostitution may go on, but “it ends as soon as they find out about it and the person gets fired” (p.10). Another dancer points out that there are cameras everywhere, so no one would be able to be a prostitute. A third talks about the income of dancers, and that it is affected negatively if something “out of the ordinary” goes on. When the interviewer asks, “So prostitution is out of the ordinary?” the response is an absolute affirmative, and it is explained that these girls consider themselves dancers providing a service of fantasy, that they are “wholesome” and are definitely not prostitutes. In fact, they don’t consider themselves as part of the adult entertainment industry (p.16).
The reader is asked to believe that unsavory behaviors and situations do not exist in this environment. This assumption is unlikely even about other environments and professions. In addition, an unfortunate impression is given that no victims exist in the profession of exotic dancing. An intern at IASHS reports her deduction that the dancers all enjoy their jobs and, when asked what she thinks a dancer would do if she didn’t enjoy it, she replies, “I think she would leave . . . [enjoying it] is a hard thing to fake.” Mentioning as evidence, but without reference or description, the existence of a set of “guidelines,” she indicates that employees are expected to create and be part of a “party atmosphere.” This IASHS intern explains, and I quote, “People want to come into smiling people” (p.19).
After reading the booklet, to the extent that one can clearly grasp the information, one is left with the idea that dancers are not prostitutes because those interviewed said they aren’t; that there is no more drug use or prostitution in this corner of the adult industry than in any other business, because those interviewed said there isn’t. Additionally, according to this study, all dancers are essentially happy, or at least not unhappy, with their jobs. Dancers are supposedly slightly more liberal (a term never defined) and have, on average, earlier sexual experiences (limited definition) than do non-dancers (all college students at IASHS) or “other people” (a group never defined).
Studies of this vocation are needed for a variety of reasons that affect the lives of many people. There may be some important points and information in this one by Borg. Unfortunately the study is so biased and poorly done that it adds to the negative attitudes, exploitative nature, and misinformation surrounding erotic dancing, rather than helping to illuminate any truths or clarify basis for regulations.
In describing this glossy publication for sale, Amazon.com makes the following claim: “Two years of research by the Institute [for Advanced Study for Human Sexuality] makes Erotic Moves the most comprehensive collection of its kind.” Such a study put forth as progress and comprehensive research in the fields of commerce and human sexuality, sexual health, psychology, and human rights is appalling. This work needs to be refuted and superceded by genuine scholarly and professional research.
Since I worked as an exotic dancer for ten years, I am particularly enraged at this representation of the lifestyle supposedly based on professional ethical research. That this study was part of work that earned the researcher her doctorate is even more disturbing. Presenting and publishing such poor scholarship reflects badly on doctoral level research standards, on the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, on the field of human sexuality and commerce, and on the professional organizations that allow presentation and promotion of the study. And ironically, this expensive production will carry no influence when it comes to dealing with law-makers regulating strip clubs—the purpose of the study, according to what Borg said at her presentation. It seems a final confusion that the booklet itself does not proclaim this purpose.
The only value, in fact, that I found in hearing the study presented, and later in carefully reviewing the printed result, is that I feel charged to put my experience and scholarship to work to present an accurate picture of the life and surroundings of an exotic dancer, supported by valid professional and ethical research.
One reason for my interest in this project is the paucity of scholarly knowledge specifically about the adult entertainment industry, including erotic dance. Issues surrounding the vocation are represented in the literature—dance as fine art and as spiritual practice, for example. Women and men in the industry and the industry itself, however, are easily ignored except when problems seemingly stemming from the field infiltrate communities, causing complaint. Little responsible research has been done to analyze, verify, or refute public opinions about the lives of people in this profession. When neighborhood problems are ameliorated, the inherent issues are once again ignored. My extensive personal experience in the field, and decades of other professional work and academic training, place me in a unique position to take responsibility for developing a baseline of scholarly knowledge about the issues and the individuals in the field of erotic dance.
SOCIAL IMPACT OF RESEARCHING THE EROTIC
History has not altered human need for and fascination with the erotic, including the movement and beauty of the human body. That erotic, exotic dance is powerful is illustrated by the ancient to modern, ongoing multi-cultural debate visible in law and social attitudes, about the profession. Hansen (2001) alludes to the power of dance:
“Because the instrument of dance and of sexuality is one—the human body—dancing motion attracts attention. Human survival depends upon alertness to moving objects and reproduction. . . . The inherent sexuality of dance may be a reason why dance is a nearly universal activity and why gender is coterminous with sexuality in dance. Sexual intercourse is seen to be life generating, an action with miraculous power and a magical sense of pleasure and relief. Courtship and foreplay arouse and anticipate. Signs of sexuality evoke these erotic images and sentiments. They also serve as symbolic references to other domains of power.”
The market for all forms of adult entertainment has become one of the most lucrative industries in the United States. In his paper on the affects of regulating nude dancing and erotic expression, Hansen (2001, no p.) also reports the following:
“As of February 1997, Americans spend more money at strip clubs than at Broadway, off-Broadway, regional, and nonprofit theatres; at the opera, the ballet, and jazz and classical music performances—combined. U.S. News and World Report stated that ‘the number of strip clubs in the U.S. roughly doubled between 1987 and 1992. The annual revenues from these clubs range from $500,000 to more than five million at well run, upscale ‘gentlemen’s clubs.’”
Regardless of what seems to be a powerful need in human life, the public and legal response to all things erotic and sexual in our culture is fraught with negativity and fear. Being an exotic dancer is not viewed as a respectful or legitimate vocation and is potentially harmful to health. Women living at-risk lifestyles seem to populate the profession, and their lives are intertwined with other people related to questionable vocations, such as the club owners and law enforcement personnel, not to mention the patrons.
What is known about living inside the world of erotic entertainment can hardly be called common knowledge. There remains an “us vs. them” paradigm, as if people who work in adult entertainment are not of the same species as people who don’t. These are just the kind of people that Americans like to ignore—why do we need to know about them anyway? It’s a dirty, dark, and seamy aspect of society; let the police officers and courts deal with it, that’s what they’re for. Just don’t put one of those clubs in my neighborhood!
There is evidence that employees and neighborhoods become at-risk when strip clubs are opened. In response, laws have been passed that control the placement of clubs in communities (Hansen, 2001). Regulations developed have curbed negative effects of strip clubs. This has served to reduce the attention paid to them by the public, which in turn maintains a lack of knowledge and understanding.
The clubs themselves and the people who work for and patronize them are still misunderstood and often maligned. What is known about them tells us that there is probably a mixture of healthy and harmful behaviors, in an environment that also may represent both help and harm to the women who work there.
As sex does not, dancers do not exist in a vacuum, and isolating them in our minds and geographically from our environment does not isolate these women from harm. Ignoring them does not prevent their problems from influencing larger circles. It is well documented that awareness and education help ameliorate health risks and criminal behaviors, but the treatment of exotic dancers and the environments of strip clubs remains negatively influenced by cultural conservatism about sexuality and the human body in general. Hansen (2001, no p.) noted:
“…the casual attitude toward sex was altered with the change in religious values: [The pervasive attitude toward sex] changed with the coming of Christianity. Nudity became taboo; sexual desire was disparaged, and with it efforts either to stimulate it or to satisfy it through masturbation. The sexual ideology of the Church left no room for erotic representations, and the poverty and illiteracy of the Middle Ages would have limited the production and dissemination of erotic art and literature in the best of circumstances.”
Certainly we are living freer, healthier, and more expressive lives than was possible in the Middle Ages, but political and religious influences remain pressures and foundations for public attitude and, often, law. Prevalent accepted sexual roles and mores embedded in our culture today are based in archaic, ancient Christian teachings.
So what are the facts? Are crime and prostitution as prevalent around strip clubs as is believed? To the extent that these do exist, is it because they are near strip clubs, or because the patrons are inherently lonely, or the clubs have historically been placed in questionable commercial parts of town? Or a combination of all? To what extent are dancers prostitutes, and are fewer prostitutes working in bars that do not have exotic dancers? An examination of police records and court cases, and conversations with law enforcement professionals, could possibly answer these questions, or at least add to our knowledge.
A more heuristic form of qualitative research could address from the inside, the general misunderstanding of the exotic dancer’s personal life. Current common view is skewed by legal battles and influenced by very little valid research.
Leaving common assumptions and inaccurate research unchallenged allows proprietors to be unfair employers, allows women and patrons to be exploited, allows patrons to be potentially dangerous. Those within the industry as employees or consumers who need help go unrecognized and unaided. To the extent that neighborhoods are also negatively impacted, real information as to why – and therefore how to ameliorate those effects – remains lacking.
And, perhaps the most tragic of all, erotic expression itself remains unchampioned. That which humans relentlessly seek in public or private, in high culture or low, regardless of law or social attitude and sometimes because of it, remains in the dark, maligned. This is a problem because humans are erotic. Besides being an ancient profession once revered and always powerful, erotic dance is an expression of our human quality. Keeping true understanding of the world of the exotic dancer at bay is a symbol and a symptom of cultural fear and misunderstanding of the nature and beauty of human erotic expression.
The debate about nudity and erotic dancing is hardly new; just as prostitution is considered the oldest profession in the world, erotic dancing and striptease are ancient related arts. Controversy and regulations, social and legal, have existed equally as long and continue today. This is nicely related by Hansen (2001, no p.):
” The use of dance to express a sexual or erotic message has existed for ages. In Biblical times, Salomé, daughter of Heródias, danced for King Herod in a provocative manner that persuaded Herod to offer her anything she desired, even half of his kingdom. In other ancient societies, dance was used as a method of encouraging marriage and procreation. . . . In modern society, alertness to the sexual messages conveyed through dance has been seen by one scholar as necessary to the survival of the human race. Nude or erotic dancing at strip clubs (or adult use establishments) has also existed for ages and despite its failure to attain the status as a necessary tool for the survival of the human race, it has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court as a valid form of communication subject to First Amendment protection. . . . Nonetheless these adult use establishments often cause a moral uprising and conflict within the communities that house them, leading to the drafting of restrictive ordinances for the purpose of protecting the community from the supposed harms.“
Attitudes about women and these vocations vary from being extremely negative to being regarded with respect. Using Prohibition as an example, we see that attitudes and laws around “controlled substances” and activities make a big difference in the effect such substances and activities have on the geographical area in which they exist, and on all persons involved.
Issues of health and safety of women and men, as well as illegal drug traffic, surround all commercial ventures in what is now known as the adult industry, making study and understanding of the people and practices therein both valuable and important. Pornography and adult entertainment in a variety of modes are among the largest industries in the United States, representing billions of dollars a year, regardless of what laws and attitudes are in place. Neither uninformed, maligning attitudes nor laws based on ignorance of the facts sponsor the safety and health of anyone involved, nor do they foster fair commercial practices. Education and awareness are the safeguards, not ignorance and prohibition.
Unfortunately education concerning issues of sexuality is far from adequate in this country. William Yarbor, a specialist in sexuality education, suggests (1992) that as a society we are “standing by” while our children are learning to cope with the powerful source of their sexuality, and we are doing nothing to make them safe.
Several psychological studies in the last decade have changed the professional view about the age of adolescence. What was once thought of as a rough stage of development ending in the late teens or about age twenty, is now known to continue until around age 28 (Siegal,1999). Since being a dancing girl is a young woman’s profession, most dancers are adolescents, many still in their teens.
From my own years in the business I know that many dancers become erotic performers because they have to and they can – it’s an avenue that’s open to them if they’re at all attractive, regardless of their education level, family situation, or practically any other factor. Many dancers don’t use their own name, many clubs pay cash, and even the owners may never know the dancer’s real name. While there are advantages to this situation, it also leaves many women prey to unfair commercial practices, unwanted attention from patrons and bar owners, and unaided with the real needs of their lives. As a society, we are “standing by,” doing nothing to make them safe.
I worked inside the adult industry on the edge of the “Bible Belt” in four states for ten years. I danced in a dozen different public and military clubs; I worked approximately 150 private parties for military and law enforcement personnel, fireman, citizens ranging from “bikers” and “rednecks” to lawyers and businessmen, and at organizations such as the Shriners and Elks. An account of this time of my life is far more than one individual’s daily memories and thoughts; such an account provides an overview of the industry and many in-depth experiences, events, and perceptions. As previously discussed in this paper, communities and individuals are moved to understanding and informed decisions through personal knowledge or experience; I propose that qualitative study is therefore needed.
Outside the media, which is the major sexuality educator in our culture today according to Roffman (2003), all that currently exists for the public to learn from are extremely limited or poorly done studies and some biographies of dancers. Most of the public would prefer to ignore, except to regulate or prohibit, any form of commercial, public, or semi-public expression of human eroticism. Our social climate remains reticent about sexuality even in private. Roberts states (1980, lecture), “The silence surrounding sexuality in most families, and in most communities, carries its own important messages. It communicates that it is bad to think or talk about any dimension of sexuality, that it must be kept secret.”
The attitudes about erotic entertainment are an extension of these deep-seated family and community “values” about sexuality. As a result, many young women entering the business are handicapped by a lack of knowledge and ordinary experience, both about their personal sexuality and about public commerce in sex.
One example of an interesting, readable, and artistic account from inside a sexuality oriented business is The Happy Hooker (Hollander,1972, 2002) which was the first story of its kind, sold 15 million copies, and contributed to public awareness about a variety of sexual activities; this attention altered, while possibly glamorizing, attitudes about prostitution. Without the glamor and with less of a sexual focus, I propose an expose of the world of the exotic dancer. If such a project attracts the public, not only will it help to affect social consciousness, but it will also work to break down the barriers against knowledge and against natural enjoyment of free and responsible expression of human eroticism and sexuality.
Studying the world of erotic dance is now legitimate in professional circles. Major international scientific organizations whose purpose is to research and disseminate information about many facets of human sexuality continue to offer presentations on studies of adult entertainment. The World Association for Sexology holds International Congress annually. Listed as arenas for presentation of papers, research, workshops, and debates are fourteen different categories; number eleven is sexuality and commerce. Study of the world of the erotic dancer is legitimate, scientifically sound, and socially significant.
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