â€œLove is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” â€”Marianne Williamson
The sex-negative strategy is composed of two major stages, each with its own primary tactic. First, scare; second, confuse. Both tactics are wielded against institutions (a political party, universities, medical associations, etc.) and individuals (activists, celebrities, researchers, journalists, etc.). In this series of posts, I examine these tactics closely, using real-world case studies and examples.
Although the actors and details of a particular situation are obviously unique, the overarching culture creates a cycle of abuse in which one can observe obvious patterns. Let’s begin by looking at a couple recent examples of the “scare” tactic.
Fear-inducing messages and the media
In the United Kingdom, reports of a surge of sexually active 11 year old girls have made headlines recently and are understandably concerning. However, as Dr. Petra Boynton elucidates, the headlines are inaccurate:
Rise in 11 year olds on the pill (Sunday Times); One thousand girls on Pill at 11: Huge rise in contraceptive prescription for pre-teens without parents knowing (Daily Mail); Huge rise in 11-year-olds on the pill (Telegraph).
The UK appears afflicted by â€˜soaringâ€™ numbers of sexually active girls, who lie to parents, enabled by GPs. Is it accurate? No.
This was picked up first by the Sunday Times then spread to other newspapers, websites and broadcast media. As weâ€™ll see, journalists did not show due diligence in investigating the story.
While sensationalist journalism is hardly eye-opening, what is important to observe is how sex-negative activists employ mass media to implant their revisionist reality in an anxious populace. As Dr. Petra says,
There is an ongoing crusade by elements of the media to be anti young people, particularly young girls, and against all forms of sex education. And, as weâ€™ve already heard, scandalous headlines about teenage nymphos sound a lot more exciting than the real story. Dr. Petra correctly observes that
the media sets these stories up as moral debates where there are distinct baddies (doctors, trampy teens, and anyone offering sex education) and goodies (Christian/Family groups, parents).
And the kicker, as Dr. Petra also notes, the frenzy can be traced back to the Christian Medical Association, on which most of the reporting relied, but did not critique. Let me repeat that, because it’s very important: journalists relied upon sources whom they did not question.
Once journalists have a story, however, experts are put in the difficult position of re-contextualizing a decontextualized report. In Dr. Petra’s words from BBC Radio,
The problem with the story was it, I think, jumped to very extreme conclusions without explaining the wider data. (Quote begins at 13:07 in the recording.) Moreover, when experts try to introduce rationality, they get the Third Degreeâ€”they get the grilling the agenda-driven source should have gotten.
Through simple ignorance, over-eager sensationalizing, or intentional misreporting in the worst cases, journalists distributed fear-based messages that had parents scared about the well-being of their children, children unwittingly cast in the horrific role of untrustworthy miscreants, and sex-positive adults as (you guessed it) child exploiters. (Dr. Petra chronicles that
most of the calls I took from journalists today were seeking to pitch me into battleâ€”cast in the un-winnable role of the â€˜pro sex bogeywomanâ€™.) Only the bravest of sex-positive educators and activists would be willing to step into the fray at this point, so of course most remain quiet.
Again, while details across stories vary, the frameworkâ€”a self-reinforcing catacomb of fear-based messaging and emotional appealsâ€”remains consistent. Observe, for instance, the recent love affair anti-porn activist Dr. Gail Dines is having with the media.
Gail Dines and her colleagues insist that when men view porn, it leads them to child molestation, and when women view porn, it gets them gang-raped. However, the actual data tells a different story. So insidiously effective is this tactic of fomenting moral panic (and decontextualization, which I’ll detail in an upcoming post) that Gail Dines even headlines in left-wing women’s media.
Look under the hood and you can see Gail Dines’ campaign is promulgated by Christian groups and companies with explicit anti-gay histories, that her most visible sidekick is faith-based Pink Cross “charity” founder Shelley Lubben, or that among her most vocal supporters is former Bush-era Obscenity Task Force Prosecutor Patrick Trueman (whose own “Porn Harms” group crows with obvious delight at censorship of sex-positive discussions). Here too, the fear-inducing messagesâ€”and the thinly-veiled threatâ€”is the same: “good girls don’t; men are predators.” It is a centuries-old reinforcement of gender stereotypes and The Patriarchy, of all things!
Moreover, some of these people are journalists themselves, collaborate directly with sex-negative activists or, as is the case with Julie Bindel, both.
This happens time and again, across all kinds of sexuality-related issues. Watch this pattern playing out right now about the misguided “end the demand” protests targeting Craigslist. The media only rarely mentions that the protests are organized by anti-prostitution activist Melissa Farley, a questionable source at best.
There are many people doing what they can to allay specific out-of-proportion fears, but I see far fewer people striking at the root issue: the fear-based landscape itself. Although organized fear of this magnitude may win at the ballot box, creating laws that cause real harm, it has no place in the better society we all claim to want.