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June 24, 2008

The Sexies

The winners of this year's Sex Positive Journalism Awards were announced last week, and we've been having fun working our way through the list. The Sexies honor stories from the media that cover sex-related issues in a way that's straightforward, accurate, and fair rather than the ignorance and judgment and stereotyping that so often occurs with stories about sex.

More often than not, sex seems to fall outside of the media's standards for objectivity and fairness: The spectrum of sex-education opinions is assumed to run from abstinence-only to abstinence-primarily. Science-based information on sex, sexuality, and the diversity of human sexual practices is lacking, and sometimes misleading conventional wisdom is reinforced. A man in a court case who participates in BDSM is described as having "unsavory habits" and a professional domme is described as an "admitted" dominatrix. No sources are sought to counter the government officials who proudly describe how they are manipulating local ordinances to shut down a sex toy store or a venue that hosts "swingers" parties. Stories that treat sexuality as something other than a problem or prurient curiosity are few and far between...

...To recognize the times when journalists stick to the standards of their craft in the face of such challenges and produce good, informative journalism that spreads accurate sexual information, stays fair in covering highly charged topics, and celebrates healthy sexuality as a positive force in people's lives, the Sexies advisory board decided to launch the Sexies.

Here are some of our favorites from this year's list:

~Never Too Old for Sex,” by Jill Bauer, Miami Herald
The Sexies judges said: “This journalist challenged conventional assumptions about geriatric asexuality and undesirability, and did some excellent reporting on a sensitive, sometimes-taboo subject. She also did a fine job of rendering her subjects' humanity without making fun of them or lapsing into stereotype.” “Super matter-of-fact, with both a cultural slant and plenty of sex information. Terrific use of a ‘lifestyle’ piece to address real issues.”


"I'm very healthy and my husband is relatively healthy and, yes, we do have an active sex life, as do most of our friends," said Boynton Beach Bereavement Club producer Florence Sei-delman, 76. "When I got older I think my sex life got even better. When the kids were around we'd lock the door but we always thought they would barge in. When you get older you become freer and more honest and we can get away with more."

"I lived in China for three years and there were no partners there for me and I forgot my toothbrush but not my vibrator," Manulkin said. "But we're not open to that stuff because it's not normal. Everyone has a driving force to be what normal is and there ain't no normal. Anything between consenting adults is normal."

~Let's Talk About Sects,” by Omar Mouallem, Vue Weekly
The Sexies judges said: “Eye-opening and timely. We rarely get to read about Muslim sexuality, and almost never from an unbiased, objective point of view.”

This piece is about a custom called mutah: "Imagine getting married and knowing that your vows will eventually expire. After a year, a month, three weeks, maybe just an hour, you will part ways from your spouse, no strings attached. It has nothing to do with irreconcilable differences and everything to do with mutah nikah, or “pleasure marriages,” a rare but still prevalent 1400-year-old Shi’a tradition of marrying temporarily, sometimes just for sex."

~“Abstinence 1, S-CHIP 0,” by Amanda Robb, New York Times
The Sexies judges said: “A quick but effective jab at the silliness of abstinence-only education policies.” “Her article is scathing, and her wrath is in proportion to the outrageous damage being done by a government in thrall to Christian fundamentalists.”

"Abstinence-only courses, the only form of federally financed sex ed, teach that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to cause psychological and physical harm. If that were true, our health care system would be not only broken, but besieged. A 2002 survey found that 93 percent of American adults had had premarital sex by the age of 30."

"By dropping the financing for abstinence-only sex ed, Congress could save enough money to insure 150,000 children a year."

~“The Bareback Controversy,” by Joanne Cachapero, XBIZ
The Sexies judges said: “[Barebacking] is such an important issue in porn, and generally gets pretty short shrift inside the industry; this piece expands the discussion substantially and the author gets great quotes/perspective from each side of the controversy.”

We can't say that we spend all that much time reading articles about the gay porn industry, so this piece was an interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes that also touches on some important issues about STDs and how pornography might influence the lives and choices of the people that watch it.

~“Hot and Bothered,” by Emily Bristol, Las Vegas CityLife
The Sexies judges said: “Pieces about prostitutes almost always follow the cliches of ‘exploited womanhood.’ This one takes a more balanced look and makes readers smarter for it.”


"It was at her next gig, a more upscale French club where the women were called ladies and wore evening gowns, that Lopez says she overcame her initial fear. Over time, Lopez says, she learned the tricks of the trade and became a popular and successful dancer in the clubs. The experience was empowering, she says, but for a long time she couldn't bring herself to tell people she was a stripper without making excuses.

'I really needed to decide, 'Do I like the work? Do I like what I'm doing? Am I ashamed?'" she says. "I made a decision to embrace it. I'm a stripper. I stopped lying about it. If you say it with power, people can't judge you.'"

"'You can be a feminist and be pro-sex work," Brents says. "It's not a contradiction. ... Many prostitutes are great about claiming their own sexuality. This has been an arena denied to us -- the good girls. Sex work does allow women to be sexually free but it may or may not allow women to create their own freedom.'"

Check out the full list of winners, along with some background on the panel of judges and resources on healthy sexuality at the official site for The Sexies. You can also keep up with them and keep talking about sex in the news on their LiveJournal blog. And when you read a sex-positive story in the media somewhere, contact the publication and give a little positive feedback. It's encouraged more often to write when you see something negative or misleading that pisses you off, and that's definitely important too, but we've got to remember to let the media know when they've done something right so that The Sexies will always have plenty of nominees to choose from.

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