(Sex) Education Denied
"This has nothing to do with sex."
—City of Pawtucket town clerk's office
After my column a few weeks ago, I left many of you hanging regarding the political fallout over the opening of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. Much has happened in three weeks, but it boils down to this: The CSPH has been forbidden from opening. And although I've been accused of having nefarious ulterior motives (teaching BDSM to local high-schools, distributing dildos around the neighborhood, and secretly trying to start a brothel) the official reason that I cannot open my resource center is a lack of zoning clearance for educational businesses. That's correct, folks: the city of Pawtucket, RI took a firm stance against "education" coming into their town.
Since the official zoning rejection letter, I've received a lot of advice, some helpful and some not so. Many people suggested I invest in thick window shades. The mayor of Pawtucket himself suggested that the CSPH might be "more welcomed" in a different city. The city-zoning department almost required an affidavit swearing that I was not opening a massage parlor or brothel.Though the CSPH was verboten in Pawtucket, with many nationally famous speakers already booked for the grand opening event, we held the kick-off event all the same. At "The Spot on Thayer" in Providence, RI we welcomed over 200 sexually curious adults, each one checked in with their right hand stamped to proudly proclaim "Ignorance Breeds Fear". More than 25 organizations came together offering the best in holistic sexuality options for the New England community. Professional organizations like the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality handed out sexual research information, sex toy companies like We Vibe and For Your Nymphomation donated thousands of dollars in healthy sexual aids, Sex Smart Films provided participants with access to their visual sexual literacy online library. All in all, it was a victory for the forces of sexual education.
Since the official zoning rejection letter, I've received a lot of advice, some helpful and some not so. Many people suggested I invest in thick window shades. The mayor of Pawtucket himself suggested that the CSPH might be "more welcomed" in a different city. The city-zoning department almost required an affidavit swearing that I was not opening a massage parlor or brothel. Most commonly though, people thought I should just change the name from "Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health" to "Center for Sexual Wellness and Health".
Do you see the logical inconsistency here? If the "official" holdup is a zoning problem with my business being educational in nature, then why does every suggestion merely attempt to hide the fact that it's SEX I'm educating people about? In a Providence Journal article, Bob Kerr even got the Pawtucket Mayor's Chief of Staff to admit that in the same situation, if I had opened a business teaching arts and crafts no one would have stopped me.
In Rhode Island (and in many other places in America) it seems it is okay to teach people how to date, eat or get a job, but it's just not okay to teach people how to nicely play with each other—at least not officially. Maybe that's why there aren't many other centers like this open around the country. Yes, it seems that the fear of sex has been part of our country's history since the Puritans first came here. Why else would they design those belt buckles so tight?
Living in Rhode Island, we're proud of our famous forbears like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson who fought against that strict puritanical morality. Similarly, in today's America, pre-eminent sex educators like Marty Klein, John Ince and Carol Queen have been leading the charge against erotophobia. It's a tough battle but one I am proud to partake in.
You may be asking, "Why do people have this fear of sex?" John Ince, author of The Politics of Lust, posits three distinct reasons for our society's fear of sex: anti-sexualism, nasty sex (including rape), and resistance to playfulness. Whether you believe his theories or not, it's clear that the conservative anti-sex movement in America is made up of many different factions. But not all of those conservatives are beyond reason.
It may surprise you to learn that right-wing talk radio has come to the aid of the CSPH. The Dan Yorke show, following New England's long libertarian tradition, has taken the stance that whether or not you like The CSPH, being denied to open boils down to a First Amendment issue. I was the fortunate beneficiary of three hours of prime-time air that became a drumbeat against "government interference" and for "free-enterprise." Listeners phoned in with their concerns regarding the city of Pawtucket acting like something out of George Orwell's book 1984 and the host weighed in. Like sex-education or not, he said, it really boils down to "It's none of our business." Consenting adults have the right to access information about sexuality.
And whether or not I choose to invest in thick window shades, it's as simple as that folks. When we reach the age of eighteen, we are given the rights and responsibilities of being an adult. Included therein are the rights to vote, buy a lottery ticket and attend a sex education workshop. We're adults now and we have a right to touch dildos if we want to.