A new episode of The Humanist Hour is available for listening. Keep reading to find out about the guest on this month’s show.
In this month’s podcast, Todd and Kim interview author and sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein. Listen as they discuss his latest book
Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex–and How to Get It, along with a variety of topics related to human sexuality, including talking to children about sex and the sexual revolution that took place in the last half of the 20th century.
Dr. Marty Klein
Dr. Marty Klein is a licensed psychotherapist, certified sex therapist, and international lecturer in sexuality and public policy. He has been an expert witness or invited plaintiff in many important state and federal obscenity and anti-censorship cases. His landmark book America’s War On Sex, with a foreword by the ACLU’s Nadine Strossen, was honored as Book of the Year by AASECT, and has since been released in an updated second edition.
Links from this month’s episode:
- Website: sexed.org (Dr. Marty Klein’s website)
- Book: Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex–and How to Get It, by Dr. Marty Klein
- Book: America’s War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty (Sex, Love, and Psychology)
- Foundation Beyond Belief’s Light The Night Walk team raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- Hug an Atheist Week fundraising program (Oct. 1-7) benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- Free Wedding Services to Same-Sex Military Couples Being Offered by Humanist Society Celebrants
Music from this month’s episode (in order of appearance):
Transcript: The Humanist Hour #87: Dr. Marty Klein
Bill Nye: Hey, Bill Nye, the Science Guy here.
Salman Rushdie: This is Salman Rushdie.
Julia Sweeney: Hi. This is Julia Sweeney.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: I’m Neil deGrasse Tyson.
E.O. Wilson: This is E.O. Wilson.
Dar Williams: Hi. This is Dar Williams.
Brian Keith Dalton: I’m Mr. Deity, and you’re listening to The Humanist Hour. I command you to listen now or I will smite you.
Todd Stiefel: Hi. This is Todd.
Kim Ellington: And this is Kim.
Todd Stiefel: Welcome to The Humanist Hour podcast.
Kim Ellington: Yes, welcome. Humanism is the joy that I feel when I wake up every day and have no idea what life is going to bring me.
Todd Stiefel: That is beautiful, almost profound.
Kim Ellington: I feel it. I feel it deeply.
Todd Stiefel: Excellent. Oh, yes. I’m slacking on the job. I forgot to mention this is the official podcast of the American Humanist Association.
Kim Ellington: That sounded very official.
Todd Stiefel: It did sound official. I felt I should give like one of those things they give during the NFL games, like any recording or broadcasting of this without the expressed written consent of the National Football League is expressly prohibited.
Kim Ellington: Except probably it should be from the American Humanist Association?
Todd Stiefel: No, no, no. The NFL has full authority over AHA, I think. I have to check that.
Kim Ellington: Who knew?
Todd Stiefel: I’m almost certain. It makes logical sense. I would recommend you drop your skepticism now.
Kim Ellington: I shall believe in you, Todd.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed. So we have an awesome guest, but he’s so good he almost seems like plural. We have Marty Klein this month who we will get to you later. But the topic of this episode is sex, which is always fun. We do this once every year or so, and it’s always a blast. But let’s talk about some other fun things first. What’s going on, Kim?
Kim Ellington: I saw an interesting little piece that you had written in response to a town that was really upset about not being able to put a great big cross out front.
Todd Stiefel: So this is Brandon, Mississippi. And just to give you a quick overview, just one data point of what Brandon might be like. I’ve never been there. I’m sure it’s lovely. I’m sure there are many great people there, but their elected representative in the Mississippi legislature last year publicly was talking about his feelings on gay people and quoted Leviticus 20 and how gay people should be killed and their blood will be on their own hand and then was called out on it and would not back down or apologize. He’s like, “No, no, no. I feel like what the Bible says.”
Kim Ellington: Oh, my, gosh.
Todd Stiefel: Wow, you are in the stone ages Mr. Representative. Anyway, he’s their representative and this is a town that had to remove the 10 Commandments from inside the police headquarters when the FFRF got involved. Now a church is trying to put up a 110-foot tall cross, which they were doing on private land. Bravo. That’s not an issue. The issue was there’s a city ordinance requiring buildings not be above I think it was 20 feet tall, and this thing was five-and-a-half times that size. They were asking for a special exemption for the cross because it would bring joy and the feeling of the Holy Spirit to all the motorists going down major Interstate 20 next to the church. The Planning Commission recommended no and the church immediately accusing them of being afraid of Muslims and all this religious rhetoric. So there was a public hearing set where the final decision was going to be made. Well, I have no problem with them wanting to put up a cross. I do have a problem with them asking for a special religious exemption. I thought this would — yes, just seemed a little unfair, right?
Kim Ellington: A little bit.
Todd Stiefel: As our government pointed out, if they start making exemptions for one group, they might have to make exemptions for other groups. So I thought it might be good to provide a disincentive, which unfortunately I never got to use because the church ended up giving up and the issue died. But we’re actually full plans ahead even looking at real estate. I was going to buy a piece of real estate in Brandon, Mississippi near the highway and threaten to erect a 110-foot tall obelisk, so basically the same design as the cross, just taking off the cross beam and then adding to the top an atheist logo and painting it rainbow colors top to bottom and calling it the Pride Tower.
Kim Ellington: Now that sounds like a serious disincentive to some people. I like it. I think we should do it anyway, but it’s not my foundation. However, wow. So what did they say?
Todd Stiefel: They only heard about it after they gave up. I posted it in Facebook like, look, I just recommend you to not change your minds because my guess is you don’t want this in your town. Many cities in the country would love to get a free pride tower. They’d be like, oh, this is a cool monument. Backwards in Mississippi, a representative that believes in killing gay people, yes, they probably wouldn’t want a beacon of pride and liberty in their backyard. I just thought the concept of a rainbow-painted phallic symbol was hilarious to stick in their town if they were going to try to have special violations of the law.
Kim Ellington: I love that. And you know what? The chances of you actually being able to do that, I’m guessing someone else will give you an opportunity perhaps. Let’s put it that way.
Todd Stiefel: I think there’s going to be another opportunity, yes. It was fun. They ruined my fun though. I was looking forward to that actually. But, hey, the good guys win. They didn’t get their special religious privilege.
Kim Ellington: I guess on the upside is the fact that at least the town did recognize that if they start giving exemptions, then there will have to be more exemptions and more exemptions.
Todd Stiefel: Exactly.
Kim Ellington: So, Todd, there is some big stuff coming up in the next month or so. It’s been happening for a while. The anticipation has been building. We’ve got a lot going on about something that’s very close to your heart as well as mine and I think a lot of humanists.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed. We are in year two of the Foundation Beyond Belief-Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Project where we’re going to be doing the Light the Night Walks and those are starting right now. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so. We need everybody to sign up. Please don’t allow the bystander effect to take place and think, oh, somebody else will do it. Now, we need everybody to listen and get out there. Sign up. Join the team and help raise money. It’s such an amazing way and positive way to be out and open as a humanist just raising money for scientific research to beat cancer. So go to FBB-LLS – that’s pronounced feebles – fbblls.org. You can learn all sorts of stuff there. By the way, just a forewarning, the page takes a long time to load. We have so many teams and people, not as many as we’re going to need if we’re going to hit our half-million-dollar goal. But we have so many we’ve kind of overwhelmed the LLS system so their tech people are trying to figure out a way to get the page to load faster. But please go there, join a team, help us fundraise, and let’s hit that $500,000 goal.
Kim Ellington: Yes, definitely. I’m doing my part. I know there are a lot of people out there, but I know there’s a few more so come on. If you can’t walk, it doesn’t matter. Just go ahead and donate. Help somebody who is walking and help somebody with amazing ideas on how to cure cancer. Just give us some money, honey.
Todd Stiefel: Exactly. We’re also organizing a Hug an Atheist Week the first week in October across the country. So if you are part of a local group, please set up a table somewhere on a public area and basically give hugs away in exchange for donations to LLS. It’s a cool event. You can learn a lot more including ideas on how to do it at foundationbeyondbelief.org/hugaheathen. There’s a lot of information there. And actually a really cool thing, we just got a pendulette. He just sent a picture of him and Teller combined, Penn and Teller, hugging, with a little quote about his support. Of course, Teller didn’t provide a quote because he’s the silent type.
Kim Ellington: He’s got two quotation marks with nothing in between.
Todd Stiefel: Exactly. That’s exactly right. So, yes, they’re supporting it. It’s really awesome, lot’s of cool stuff going on. Please get involved. Good stuff.
So you became a celebrant recently. Actually, listeners – especially anybody who knows any gay folks in the military or who might be – AHA is offering free celebrant services to perform same sex weddings to members of the military, which is pretty cool. You can go to the americanhumanistassociation.org to learn more about that. But if you all can get married and want a free celebrant, we are happy to hook it up. That’s something pretty cool to know about.
Kim Ellington: Yay, humanists. We love them all.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed. We also are up to something else interesting. This has been in the works for a long time. David Niose, the most recent former president of the American Humanist Association – he is also currently the president of the Secular Coalition for America which AHA belongs to – just got to do something very, very cool. He got to argue in front of the Massachusetts Supreme Court that the “under God” aspect of the Pledge of Allegiance is violating not federal law, not the Establishment Clause of the Constitution which a lot of these cases have been about, but in this case specifically state law guaranteeing equal protection of the law saying that this phrase specifically discriminates against nonreligious people and sets them up as second class citizens. He’s been working on this case a long time and just got to argue it this month in front of the Supreme Court there. It’s pretty cool. You were watching the video, Kim. What did you think?
Kim Ellington: It was happy chills. I was amazed at — I’ve watched a lot of stuff. This was interesting to me that the judges were actually questioning him. It sounded like arguments to me, but then I have my own perspective. He was presenting about the indoctrination. He actually used that word in the classroom daily. It was essentially the base part of why equal protection needed to be the issue here. One of the judges asked him, he said, “When this court opened, we make the court call and then the bailiff says, ‘May God be with the Commonwealth.’ Is that a problem?” He kept trying to ask why is that not an issue. David was amazing, taking the argument right back to where it needed to be in that the difference between opening court every morning and the difference between indoctrinating children daily in a school situation with peer pressure and led by teachers was a way different situation than a court call. It was stunning. Like I said, I had chills. It was wonderful.
Todd Stiefel: This is certainly the most creative case we’ve had in a long time. We are really hopeful on it. We’ll see how it plays out. But if we win, this could be a game changer and may open up the ability to try federal courts under the 14th Amendment. We’ll see. So we’ll find out in a couple of months. The court has to wait and decide. But kudos to Dave. He’s an awesome, awesome guy and very brave of him to work on this case this far. I wish him the absolute best of luck. It’s so freaking cool if we could win this one.
Kim Ellington: It really would. You know I’ve been seeing a lot of polls that are coming out that a lot of Americans are actually in favor of not even having the pledge, but definitely taking the “under God” out of it, which was surprising to me considering what we see a lot in the media about how people feel about atheists.
Todd Stiefel: Me, personally, I’m kind of conservative here, like really conservative when it comes to the pledge. I want to restore it to its original form. To me, that’s being conservative. It’s ironic that the religious conservatives are like keep it in. It’s like no, no, no. You edited it. More than half of its existence, “under God” was not in there. Let’s put it back to the way it was, the way the person who wrote it, the pastor who wrote it wanted it and get over this cold war stuff. I think it’s so important.
One little piece that I thought is a very interesting side note on this is Jessica Ahlquist, the hero from Rhode Island who fought back against the official public school prayer banner in her school, told me that right after all this stuff heated up and went public that in class the next day, they’re reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and her entire class turned to her and screamed “under God” when they got to that part of the pledge. That right there makes it crystal clear what the problem is. Because her classmates all saw it as, wait, you’re wrong. We’ve been told our whole lives every morning that this is one nation under God and now you’re saying we shouldn’t have an official school prayer? No, no, no. You’re wrong. Of course we should have an official school prayer. The government told us we should be under God. No, no, no. The government’s been wrong the whole time, and this is actually being used to discriminate against people.
I can’t tell you how often I see “under God” posted or “In God We Trust” posted on blogs and forums when people are trying to justify why we should shut up or move out of the country or give up on our civil rights. This is supposed to be one issue, under God. Of course the government should be involved in religion and build us free crosses and restore our churches. It’s like, no. Hopefully, we kick some tail on this case.
Kim Ellington: Absolutely. Jessica and everybody else, we’re fighting in there. We’re fighting. Good job, David.
Todd Stiefel: Welcome to the show, Marty. It’s great to have you. I just want to start by saying a huge thank you for interviewing Dan Savage for us last month and being our guest host interviewer for August. That was really awesome, so thank you so kindly. I appreciate it, man.
Marty Klein: It was my pleasure, and actually doing the research to get ready for the interview with Dan was actually very interesting. So I’m glad I had the chance to do that.
Kim Ellington: Did you learn anything you hadn’t heard of before?
Marty Klein: I learned more about the It Gets Better Project which I didn’t realize just how big it had become. It Gets Better Project started out as a little video project where Dan and his husband were basically doing a YouTube explaining to young gay kids, “Look, I know your life may suck now like mine did when I was your age. But trust me, it’s going to get better.” Their goal is to get 100 YouTubes from 100 different people, and they wound up getting 100,000, including from Obama, including from some Hollywood celebrities, including from the staff at NASA. So learning a little bit more about that project was interesting.
Kim Ellington: How inspiring.
Todd Stiefel: I want to talk to you, and I know Kim does as well. She’s been gobbling up our book, your most recent book, Sexual Intelligence. I want to hear about that. So, first, what do you mean by sexual intelligence?
Marty Klein: Sexual intelligence is the combination of skills and psychological abilities that we need to create the kind of sex that we find enjoyable with skills, psychological abilities, and accurate information. You put that all together and you have sexual intelligence. You have the information you need to make good decisions. You have the decision-making skills you need to make good decisions. You have the communication skills you need to talk to your partner about the kind of sex that you want to have. You have the self-awareness that you need and the self-acceptance that you need to be able to talk frankly to your partner. So you put all those together and that’s what I call sexual intelligence.
Kim Ellington: Which was absolutely fascinating to me because, okay, normalcy was — I have a 9-year old daughter and she’s getting into social situations now where everybody’s wondering what’s normal, 9-year-olds they want to know what’s normal for people. It was amazing for me to be able to — I was reading this book and I was like, well, of course your book is a little much for a 9-year-old. But your views on normalcy are timeless and they need to be in everyone’s head in the world.
Marty Klein: Thank you. My patients are forever asking me what’s normal, but it’s not only my patients. On Valentine’s Day, which is a big day in the sex therapy field every year, I get calls from USA Today and from London Guardian and from media outlets all over the world. Everybody wants to know what’s normal in terms of, you know, what’s the normal amount of sex that newlyweds have? What’s the normal amount of time that intercourse should last? What’s the normal amount of gallons of ejaculate that a guy should expel during orgasm or whatever? You’re right, Kim. Everybody wants to know what’s normal sexually. It’s a question that I just don’t answer in a straightforward way because I think the answer itself can be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Todd Stiefel: Sorry, but I think this gallons of ejaculate thing is a little bit ridiculous. Everyone knows we shouldn’t measure ejaculate in the metric system, okay. Let’s just get that straight.
Marty Klein: It’s liters. How many liters?
Todd Stiefel: Yes, liters of semen.
Kim Ellington: Yes. And nobody should use Todd as a measuring stick. That’s the whole point of normalcy, right, Dr. Klein?
Marty Klein: That’s right.
Kim Ellington: Don’t measure yourself by someone else’s standards or what’s normal for them. That is wonderful. One of the things that I enjoyed most about your book was your sense of humor about it because you just mentioned about having the information to work with and knowing yourself. And I thought, well, that’s kind of the overlying part of your book that to me is really important as a human being that I think why other people should read it, is your sense of humor about sex, about being human and about relating with each other.
Marty Klein: Sex is too important to not have a sense of humor about it. Part of what makes sex difficult for people is that they get so grim when they get into bed. They get so grim because for so many people, the stakes are so high that each time they get into bed with somebody, it’s an opportunity to fail. It’s an opportunity to show that you’re a miserable human being. It’s an opportunity to show that you’re not a real man or you’re not a real woman. It’s an opportunity to prove that you’re not as attractive as the last person your partner had sex with. So for a lot of people, sex is a situation that’s fraught with so much danger. I don’t mean the danger of catching a disease. I mean the psychological danger of exposing how inadequate you are.
With that kind of perspective, it’s impossible to have a sense of humor. It’s impossible to take things lightly. When somebody leans on your hair accidentally, it’s impossible to laugh about it. So I’m glad that you laughed while you were reading the book. I think it’s important that we remind ourselves and each other that it’s only sex and it’s only this one time. There’s going to be another time.
Todd Stiefel: Marty, for the listeners out there that might be considering learning more about sex and going out and buying a book about it, why should they choose your book over one of the others out there? Because there’s a lot of them out there.
Marty Klein: Because it has a pretty cover.
Todd Stiefel: Oh, that’s a good reason.
Kim Ellington: It does. It really does.
Marty Klein: Choose my book, don’t choose my book, have a nice day folks. What I aspire to when I wrote this book and, in fact, this book includes a critique of a lot of other self-help approaches, self-help that doesn’t help basically. My mission statement in this book was to help people understand, number one, that sex has to be custom-tailored to each individual and to each couple. So part of my mission statement with this book was to help people understand sex is there for you, the reader, to shape the way that you want it and not for you to fit into the box that you think sex presents to you. And then to continue that mission statement on the book, the book then tells people how do you do that. What ideas do you need to let go of and what ideas do you need to have in order to create the kind of sex that you personally want and the kind of sex that you and your partner want?
The tagline on the book is sex is not just an activity, it’s an idea. The book is not about where do you put your leg or what color of hat you ought to wear if you want to have a better orgasm. The book is about what kinds of ideas do you need to have and what kinds of ideas do you need to let go of if you and your partner want to create whatever kind of sex you’re going to find enjoyable. And that’s why people should buy the book.
Kim Ellington: I would agree with that. After having read it, I was like, oh yes, oh yes. Well, not like that. But that makes sense. A lot of it really did.
Marty Klein: The promotion for the book is going to be this is a book that made Kim say, oh yes, oh yes.
Todd Stiefel: When you do the paperback printing, you could just put that on the back as a review.
Marty Klein: The book is available in 12 or 13 languages by now, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and –
Todd Stiefel: How about Hebrew? Can we get a review of, “Oy vey, oy vey,” from Kim?
Marty Klein: Very good. Very good.
Todd Stiefel: I find it fascinating talking to you two in particular about this (a) Marty, just because you’re an expert in this, and (b) something you may not know which, Kim, may be embarrassing for you, but Kim’s business that her and her husband run is actually an IT forensics company that often is going through hard drives. So Kim has all sorts of fascinating stories about the crazy stuff found on people’s hard drives often involving sex and of course like — what is it, Kim, pretty much 100 percent of hard drives have some sort of pornography on them?
Kim Ellington: Yes, absolutely. It’s true.
Todd Stiefel: It’s true. It’s just the degree to which what is normal for each person and how intense does the pornography get, I guess.
Kim Ellington: Yes. Of course, intense being it’s different for different people. I think, Dr. Klein, you can probably relate –- not even probably. You will relate to this because that line of what’s normal is so very different. We’ve learned we have to very careful when we talk to — a lot of the people that come to us are spouses that have suspicions that their spouse is not acting how they expected them to, I’ll put it that way. But the line of what’s pornography for different people is amazingly different. I think I can say this without revealing too much, but we’ll say a gentleman who apparently and completely unbeknownst to his wife, he liked to dress up like a Hooters girl, complete with the pantyhose and the whole actual uniform and a wig and everything.
Things like that happen often enough that that is actually normal. That’s a normal day at work for me now which, you know, it sounds funny but it’s true. It just becomes normal. Yet, there was another day that a lady came in and found out that her husband liked to look at women dressed up like superheroes. It wasn’t even pornographic. It was just women dressed up like superheroes. She was horrified that he would do something like that. So I can imagine that a typical day for you in a different way is pretty much a typical day for us as well.
Marty Klein: Right. That’s absolutely accurate. What’s interesting is that we have hundreds of TV channels, and everybody thinks that’s a reasonable thing. There have been a jillion movies that have been made in the world. There have been 20 jillion artworks, paintings, and 20 jillion sculptures that have been made in the world and they’re all different. Some of them are attractive to you, and some of them are repulsive to you. Some of them are attractive to me, and some of them are boring to me. Nobody thinks twice about that. People think, of course, we live in a world where we need to have Van Gogh and Andy Warhol at the same time. Of course, we live in a world where we need the Three Stooges and the Maltese Falcon at the same time.
Logic suggests that when it comes to sexuality, it would be exactly the same thing that you would want porn that looks like this and somebody else would want to look at porn that looks like that. But somehow people don’t make that logical leap. People assume that pornography has to sit in some narrow band or else it’s going to be abnormal, or that people have to want to look or enjoy looking at a certain limited selection of visual images or else there’s something wrong with them. It would be the equivalent of saying, well, it’s normal to enjoy Casa Blanca but it’s not normal to enjoy Lawrence of Arabia. Or it’s normal to enjoy Andy Warhol, but it’s abnormal to enjoy Van Gogh or the Mona Lisa. So when it comes to sexuality, there is the same infinite taste for imagery that there is in every other art form, whether it’s music or cinema or sculpture or advertising or anything else.
Todd Stiefel: Do you find it in your practice that your humanist and nonreligious clients have a greater acceptance of their own sexuality than religious customers or do you find that to be roughly equal?
Marty Klein: I think it’s about the same. I mean, everybody, whether they’re a theist or an atheist or whether they’re humanist or not, everybody is struggling with a culture that is so twisted about sexuality. No matter what you believe today about the validity of the human body or the validity of human experience or whatever, we’re constantly pressured by whether it’s advertising or fashion or religion or history. I mean religion has an enormous effect on atheists, whether it’s because as an eight-year-old you have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance that says one nation under God, or whether it’s because you have to put up with a city council that includes a prayer at the meeting, or whether it’s because when there’s a debate about war, the newspaper feels obliged to tell us what the Pope has to say about it like I actually care.
Religion is a big force in people’s lives, whether they’re atheist, or religious, or somewhere in between. When people wear their religion on their sleeve or as this is actually the case when people wear their religion around their neck, it’s an easy invitation as a therapist to say, well, let’s talk about that. But sooner or later, what people are wrestling with is not so much religion versus humanism. What people are wrestling with is self-acceptance or self-criticism. What people are wrestling with is, is my body okay or is my body not okay? Unfortunately, religion does not have a monopoly in making people feel bad about themselves.
Kim Ellington: Yes. Especially having a nine-year-old daughter now, I’m making sure that we get the – I don’t like to use the word “right” – I guess positive messages out there early. It’s amazing how soon this stuff can start.
Todd Stiefel: Speaking of kids, my son is 10 and my daughter is 8 or certainly to the age where they pick up on the jokes they used to not pick up on. I used to have great fun throwing around double entendres that they simply didn’t get that other people did. I guess the most striking example of when that ended was when my son brought home a model of the human lungs and he’s talking about how these two little balloons or the lungs, the two little straws are like the equivalent of the windpipe and you pull them. This other balloon at the bottom, that’s the diaphragm. I cut a little sophomoric diaphragm joke to my wife and some friends in the room and they chuckled and was like, what? I don’t get it. Oh, nothing, nothing. Anyway, we come home and we find when we get home that he has opened up Google and looked up diaphragm. Like oh, yes, that’s right, information is available.
So, Marty, what are your thoughts? How open should parents be with their children about what sex is and what it isn’t? Should they be careful? Are there certain ages where you really should hide some of it? What would your advice be to me and other parents out there?
Marty Klein: That’s a great question. I don’t think that there is one right answer for every family. That’s like the question at what age should I no longer walk around the house nude in front of my kids. I think the answer to that is it depends on you, it depends on the kids, and it depends on your family. For some families, you can still do that when your kid is seven. But for other families, I think that would be a problem. It all depends on the family. My answer to your overall question which I think is a really, really great question, my answer is for the most part it depends.
Having said that, let’s look at some guidelines. In general, we have to remember that kids have access to information when we’re not around like your kid looking up diaphragm. We have to remember that you can try and hide things from your kids, but you may not succeed. For the most part, when parents want to hide things from kids, while most parents do that out of a sense of love and concern and responsibility on the one hand, on the other hand, a lot of what parents are actually doing is they’re trying to protect their own butt. They’re trying to protect themselves from having to have uncomfortable conversations or conversations where they don’t want to have to answer questions about themselves. It’s one of the reasons that parents don’t talk to their kids about drugs, because inevitably a kid is going to say well, when you were 14, did you smoke dope, or when you were in college, did you try cocaine? A lot of parents don’t want to answer those questions and so they just don’t talk about drugs to their kids altogether.
I think the same is true with sexuality. How old were you, mommy, when you first had sex? What about you, daddy? Did you ever have sex with another guy? Things like that. It’s good to be mindful about what we tell kids. But if we’re going deliberately not tell them stuff, it’s important I think to be honest with ourselves as parents about why we don’t want to do that. So that’s one thing.
Another thing is kids need a vocabulary with which to talk about sex. Just like they need to know the name of their shoulder and they need to know what’s a reasonable expectation of what a shoulder can do, kids also need words to describe penis, vulva, orgasm, erection. Kids need that at what some of us might think of as a young age. I mean, kids need to know the name of their penis certainly when they’re eight years old. It’s not like it’s dark as Africa down there. It’s an actual body part: vulva, penis. So kids need a vocabulary.
What kids need to know more than anything is that they can ask their parents questions. Kids need to know more than anything. If you ever have a question about sex or anything else, you can come and ask me and I won’t harangue you. If a kid says, mommy, what’s a blow ? If the answer to that question is why are you asking me that? That’s a terrible question. Only naughty girls ask that question. You can say to the kid, now, is there anything else you want to ask me? But the kid is going to get the message, oh, I get it, there are certain questions you don’t ask parents. We need to let kids know if you have any questions, you should ask me.
I guess the last thing I want to say to your terrific and very broad question is that talking to your kids about sex is not a one-time event. It’s not like you sit down with them when they’re 25 years old and talk to them about what is sex, and why should you have it, and how do you make decisions and things like that. No. Talking about sex is a 20-year process. You start talking to kids about sex when they’re two or three years old. When you’re bathing them and you say, oh what a nice belly, oh what a nice kneecap, and you don’t talk about what’s in between, that’s sex education too.
We talk to kids about sexuality year after year after year in the same way that we talk about nutrition year after year after year. We don’t talk to kids about nutrition just once. We talk to kids about nutrition year after year after year. The older and the more sophisticated they get, the more sophisticated the conversations become. At six years old, the conversation about nutrition might be no candy before dinner, why? Because I said so. Or, no candy before dinner, why? Because you’ll spoil your appetite. When kids are 15 years old, they don’t need to know candy before dinner lecture, they need a different conversation. They need a conversation about why oily foods may taste good but why oily foods in general are not so good for you. Telling a five-year-old oily foods are not good for you and let me tell you why, that goes right over their head.
It’s the same thing with sexuality: you don’t tell a six-year-old when you have intercourse, use a condom. That’ll just go right over their head. But a six-year-old, you can say if somebody wants to kiss you and you don’t want to kiss them, don’t kiss them. Or, if you want to kiss somebody and they don’t want to kiss you, say okay and don’t do it. Don’t force them. Whereas at 15, it’s a different conversation. Now to get on pornography quite yet, if we’re going to talk to kids about pornography when they’re 13 or 14 years old, you don’t want that to be the first conversation that you as a parent have with your kid about sex. You don’t want to be silent about sex for 10 or 12 years and then say, well, I guess it’s time to talk about pornography. Listen, stay away from that crap. It’s not good for you. No. If you want to have a meaningful conversation with your kid about pornography when they’re 13 years old, what you really want to have had is a long series of conversations about sex and gender and relationships and love and bodies so that there’s some context for conversation about pornography when they’re 13 years old. So that’s my long answer to your very good question.
Kim Ellington: That was a great answer. I actually subscribe to your blog as well. The post you had on talking to your kids about porn was very helpful and not something that I hadn’t even thought about because I deal with porn every day. Again, it’s become normal here, so sometimes I have to look at things through a different lens, and I was like, oh, that makes sense. I have some great what’s happening to my body-type books from my daughter that are fantastic. They don’t talk about porn, and the fact of the matter is the kids are growing up in a very visual age with all the technology and it’s a big deal.
Marty Klein: Correct. Absolutely correct. First of all, if you wait until your kid says to you, mom, I have questions about pornography, forget that. That would be like never telling your kid about how to brush your teeth and then waiting until they’re 12 years old and they say, mom, I noticed everybody else has white teeth and my teeth are blue. Do you think maybe we ought to do something about this? No. We don’t wait for kids to ask us how to take care of their teeth. We say to kids, I know you’re not in the mood to learn about this, but you’re going to learn how to brush your teeth and you’re going to do it and we’re going to talk about it.
It’s the same thing with porn and sex in general, by the way. You can’t wait around until your kid asks you about it because they’re not as smart as a parent is. A parent knows that a kid needs to understand porn way before a kid knows that. A parent knows what some of the troubling issues are about pornography or sexuality way before a kid knows that. The kid is not going to walk up to you when they’re nine years old and say, could we please talk about broken hearts? I’m concerned that in a year or two, or in a week or two, or last week like there’s this girl in my class who I really like and she didn’t like me and I have a broken heart. No. You can’t wait around until kids ask you questions like that. We have to be proactive. We have an affirmative obligation to raise the subject of sexuality with our kids and to talk to them about it.
Kim Ellington: I like that phrase, “affirmative obligation.”
Marty Klein: You have an affirmative obligation.
Kim Ellington: I like it.
Todd Stiefel: I sometimes wonder if I tell my kids too much because, I mean, I’m ridiculously open. I try not to get disgusting or anything, but I pretty much don’t hide anything. I am full disclosure kind of guy. Is there anything you shouldn’t tell your kids? Are there things you should hold back on?
Marty Klein: I think the answer is mostly a function of what do you want kids to learn? For example, I think the concept of privacy is really important. Most of us, at some point or other, we close the bathroom door when we’re in the bathroom. I don’t know about how it goes in your house, Todd, but in most houses, there is some activity or other where mom or dad closes the bathroom door. What the kid learns from that is, oh, there are times when a certain amount of privacy is allowed, or when parents want an alone time to cuddle or whatever and they close the bedroom door and they tell the kids we’ll be out in a half hour, go away, or when someone says I want to make a private phone call, I’m going to go into the kitchen, please don’t come into the kitchen.
I think the concept of privacy, and personal space, and personal boundaries is really important, and we want to teach that along with everything else that we want to teach. When a kid says to you, well, what about you? Do you go down on mom? I think for the most part, the answer to “do you go down on mom” kind of question would be that’s the kind of private thing about me that I don’t necessarily want to talk about with you, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because that’s within my private zone. While we’re on the subject, let me teach you about the difference between privacy and secrecy. It’s not a secret. It’s just private. A secret is when you feel ashamed of something, or when you feel embarrassed, or when you feel guilty, or when you think you did something wrong, or when you’re afraid if other people know you’re going to get in trouble and all that. But privacy is different.
Privacy is what everybody has a right to just by virtue of being a person. You have a zone of privacy around you and you have the right to maintain that little zone. If anybody says to you, you have no right to privacy, your body is mine or your thoughts are mine or this or that, I think there’s something wrong with that and maybe you want to come and tell me about that.
Kim Ellington: I like that, the difference between secrecy and privacy.
Marty Klein: It’s on my first book all the way back in 1988. Before you were born, Kim. All the way back in 1988, I wrote a book called Your Sexual Secrets: When to Keep Them, When and How to Tell. I talked about the difference between privacy and secrecy.
Kim Ellington: It’s actually a really good point. That has a lot to do with the feelings that you have with that secret or that private thing, whichever you like. I was alive and well in the ’80s, thank you very much, and still I’m learning all this stuff for the first time. That’s really funny. One of the things that I was surprised at, which I shouldn’t have been when I thought about it, but at first was – I’m a child of the ’80s, I was born in the ’70s – how much of my generation and the ones before me were affected by the Masters and Johnson work?
Marty Klein: There’s a new TV show coming out of that Masters and Johnson, right?
Kim Ellington: I don’t know.
Marty Klein: Yes, it’s called Masters of Sex. This is not a plug for the show. I’m assuming it’s going to be awful. But I interrupted you, Kim. Please continue. You were talking about Masters and Johnson.
Kim Ellington: Oh no, that’s actually interesting. There was a couple of things in the books where you had mentioned some of their findings and how they’ve been misused over the years and how that can be issues for people who are laboring under the misconception that this is what sex is just because of some of the work that they did.
Marty Klein: Masters and Johnson were absolutely revolutionary. It’s hard to remember, but just to give you a sense. My first year in college was 1967. Now you’re not going to tell me you were alive then, Kim. I entered college in 1967 and I went to one of the most progressive universities on the face of the earth. At this very progressive university, there were dorms for guys, dorms for young women, and they were in separate places. And you were not allowed to visit a dorm of the other gender after 10:00 in the evening on weekdays, and I think it was 11:00 or 12:00 on a weekend. There was even a control on how much you were allowed to visit the dorm of the other gender. Of course this school was filled with traditions about people climbing out of windows at 3:00 in the morning and all that. But imagine that sexual world where there was that radical separation of the two genders in a radical attempt to control the sexual behavior of each other.
That was in 1967. The birth control pill had just been invented, and that changed everything. Masters and Johnson had just started publishing their work in 1964. That’s the world. That’s the Mad Men, if you know that show. That’s the Mad Men world that Masters and Johnson walked into where homosexuality was considered a disease. It was only back in the ’60s homosexuality was considered a disease and the clitoris had not yet been invented. So Masters and Johnson did this amazing thing. They actually measured what happens to the human body during sex. What happens to heart rate? What happens to skin temperature? What happens to eye dilation? What happens to vaginal lubrication? What happens to anal muscles? They actually measured. Nobody had done this before in North America.
It was as radical in its own way as what Kinsey did back in the ’40s and ’50s. Kinsey documented what people do. Masters and Johnson documented what does the body do. What Kinsey was about is what are the choices that people make. What Masters and Johnson did was to measure. When people are doing what they choose to do, what are their bodies doing? The dominant metaphor of the age back in the ’60s was about machine. Now, of course, it’s the computer. The dominant metaphor back then – things were that streamlined – trains and rockets to outer space and how machines were going to change everything. Masters and Johnson put together their data and basically conceptualized the human body as a machine and talked about, what do the different parts of the machine actually go through as part of sexual experience? They arranged this data in what they called the sexual response cycle. It assumed that most people were going to have an orgasm as the climax of sexual activity. It assumed that sex was going to mostly involve penis-vagina intercourse, which back then for most people it did. Now, of course, oral sex and anal sex is far more common.
Now about 90 percent of adults in America have experienced oral sex one way or another. Back then in the early ’60s, oral sex was considered exotic by most people. I would say that today anal sex is talked about and done more than oral sex was talked about and done in 1960. Even oral sex was considered exotic and not everybody did it. Some people thought it was only something that prostitutes did. It was a very different world. Masters and Johnson, in their own way, were as revolutionary as Kinsey in that they actually talked about, well, what happens to the human body and what is sexual response? Shere Hite built on that a few years later when she did talk about the clitoris and she said, “Most American women, they’re not climaxing from just penis-vagina intercourse alone. They’re not climaxing from having something put in and out of their vagina all by itself.” Most American women who are having orgasms, according to Shere Hite and subsequent researchers, it was because of clitoral stimulation. That was a big discovery. I forgot the question, but that’s my answer.
Todd Stiefel: I’ve got a question. It’s on the same topic, but kind of a different vein. Something has been running through my head based on some conversations over the last few months. I guess I don’t fully understand just apparently there is –- I mean, there are a number of people into S&M and bondage and things like that. Apparently, some women needed more than their man can. Even if they ask their man to dominate them, it’s not enough. They need something. Their method of dominating is too meek or whatever. They need something like serious dominating. What is going on there? What’s the root cause of that? Back to the normalcy question, is this normal? Is it not normal? Is it a deep-seated root from daddy issues? I’m not a therapist, so enlighten us please.
Marty Klein: Well, that’s about 10 different questions in there, so let me start by changing the question. It’s not about women needing this and men not being able to provide that. It’s people. Some people, they want a certain kind of sexual experience and their partner is either not interested or not able to provide that experience. That’s not limited to S&M, by the way. Some women will say I want lots and lots of intercourse, and some men will say you know, either I don’t like doing that or I’d love to do that, but I’m sorry I can’t provide that. That dynamic is not just about S&M.
But to focus on the S&M thing that you were talking about, S&M or sadomasochism, or dominance and submission, or bondage and discipline, some people talk about that as an orientation like same gender sex. Other people talk about it as this is just my preference. Either way, it involves a bunch of physical stuff and/or a bunch of psychological stuff. For some people, the dominating and the submitting have to do with physicality. It has to do with I’m going to hold your wrist down and I’m going to spank you, or we’re going to pretend that you don’t want to kiss me and then I’m going to force you to kiss me. For other people, it’s explicitly psychological. It’s we’re going to pretend that I’m holding you captive and I get to dictate what you’re going to do. Or, we’re going to pretend that we’ve never met and we’re going to go to a bar and I’m going to pick you up. Or, we’re going to go to a bar and you’re going to pretend to be available and I’m going to watch other men flirt with you and I’m going to watch you get all excited about that.
The main thing is not necessarily physical pain and it’s not necessarily humiliation. It’s not necessarily one thing. The main thing is about the power dynamic. My friend, Bill Henkin, a psychologist in San Francisco, coined the expression “erotic power play.” I really like that expression. It’s the conscious playing with the erotic side of power. It’s the playing. It’s the conscious playing with the power dynamics in erotic relationships. It’s mostly about trust and it’s mostly about sharing because it’s not something you do to someone, it’s something you do with someone. It’s something that involves a lot of communication. It typically pairs physical and psychological experiences at the same time. Somebody might like to be spanked. But if they bumped into a piece of furniture, they say, ow, that’s no fun, but then they liked to be spanked.
There are some couples where one person likes that more than the other person, or one person likes that and the other person doesn’t like it or want it at all. That’s just part of the normal dynamics in couples. I mean, it’s rare that you get two people or a couple and they both like Chinese food exactly the same amount or they both like watching science fiction films exactly the same amount. It’s very rare. It’s true with sex too. It’s very rare that you get two people who like exactly the same kind of sex or exactly the complementary roles in a sexual situation. So what grown ups do is they sort of negotiate and they sort of horse trade a little bit and they say well, I’ll do a little bit more of this, but I don’t want to do that other thing; well, maybe I’d be more willing to do this if you explain to me why you like it so much; or I’d be willing to do more of this, but not as frequently as you might want to do it. I’m willing to do it occasionally, but don’t take that as me saying I’m willing to do it all the time.
What grownups do about contrasting sexual interest is what they do about contrasting interest in restaurants and film and childrearing philosophies and everything else, which they talk about it. They don’t criticize each other. They talk about it and they negotiate. They find out more information about each other. What does this mean to you? Why is this enjoyable to you? Why is this scary to you? Like with you and your kid, you say you’re very open talking to your kid about sex. Your partner might say Todd, do you have to talk to our kid about so and so, and you might say let me explain to you why this is important to me; rather than her saying Todd, you’re just a jerk, and you’re saying no, no, no, you’re just a jerk. So what grownups have to do in every relationship is understand the other person better and talk about why is this important to me, why is this important to you? Let’s negotiate.
Kim Ellington: One of the things that I really enjoyed about the book is that you used a lot of examples and a lot of analogies so that the reader isn’t just sitting there and trying to figure out what you’re talking about from a lot of technical gobbledygook. There are some great suggestions that you have when you’re talking about communicating now and that’s what made me think about it, because I was reading your book in many different places. I’m a businesswoman and a mom and I’m constantly on the go so I always have a book with me and trying to smuggle sexual intelligence around as I’m running around the city of Raleigh [sounds like] and not making other people — nobody’s kids need to see what I’m reading necessarily. But I was in my daughter’s orthodontist office and I got to the part, some ideas on communicating with your partner. You likened it being like amazon.com. Well, since you like X, I wonder if you’d like to try Y.
Marty Klein: I had forgotten that. But you’re right, I did say that.
Kim Ellington: I laughed out loud and three mothers turned their head to me and I had to smile and wave like I was in my own world. But that was one of the funniest parts of the book to me. There were a lot of moments. For the readers who are potential readers who haven’t yet, the book is full of wonderful moments like that that really bring the human aspect to the craziness that is human sex.
Marty Klein: Thank you. For example, we do that all the time, we say cheese. Since we like that new Italian restaurant last week, I was thinking this week we might like that other Italian place that’s in the next city. Or, since you like that Italian place and the spaghetti in that Italian place last week, I was thinking we could have some Chinese noodles next week. We do that instinctively all the time. Amazon is copying the human brain when it does that. We can do that with sexuality also. Gee, I never realized you like to be spanked. But if you like to be spanked on the butt, I was wondering if you want to be spanked on the thighs. Or, since you liked wearing that blindfold last week, I was wondering if maybe we could get some handcuffs and tie your wrist behind your head. That’s what I meant by that sort of thing. It’s really the way the human mind works. We are pattern-seeking animals. That’s what makes us different from other mammals. We seek to see patterns and we seek to create patterns. That’s what religion partly is about. That’s what superstition is about. It’s seeing patterns where they don’t exist or creating patterns out of disparate things.
Todd Stiefel: Marty, would you like to tell our listeners where they can learn more about you and where they can find your books?
Marty Klein: To learn more about me, you have to marry me. But my books, they’re available both on amazon.com and on my website which is sexed.org. I have some books for sale, some audios. There’s lots of free information there, articles about various aspects of sexuality. My blog, Sexual Intelligence, is there. It’s all at sexed.org. My Twitter feed – I’ve now learned how to say this – is @DrMartyKlein.
Kim Ellington: I’ll put in another plug for your book, America‘s War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty. For those of you who are interested in the separation of church and state and the lack thereof and some of the stories behind that, that’s a fantastic book as well.
Todd Stiefel: Marty, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it.
Marty Klein: Thank you. My pleasure.
Todd Stiefel: Listeners, that was Marty Klein. I had a lot of fun with that one, although I have to say, Kim, my favorite part was when he transitioned to pornography a little early and said not to get off on porn too early.
Kim Ellington: Yes, it was hard not to giggle like we’re used to doing. Get off on porn. Who does that? Nobody.
Todd Stiefel: Can he get off on porn too early? Especially if you’re by yourself. Hey, who cares how long it takes?
Kim Ellington: We do. Some people have time constraints. We shouldn’t judge, remember? Normal is different for everybody.
Todd Stiefel: This is true. And normal is different for the FCC.
Kim Ellington: That’s right.
Todd Stiefel: For all of our radio markets out there, sorry. I think that passes. I think there are only seven words we can’t say.
Kim Ellington: Where is George Carlin when you need him?
Todd Stiefel: Awesome. Listeners, we need to give you the full 101 on some stuff on the show. You can check out previous episodes, show notes including links to all sorts of cool things about this episode at thehumanisthour.org. You can check us out at our listener comment line and call us and tell us how awesome we are or how awful we are, whatever you think, at (202) 618-1301. Of course, like us on Facebook.
Kim Ellington: I liked us on Facebook.
Todd Stiefel: You do like us? Do you like yourself on Facebook or is that impossible?
Kim Ellington: I don’t think Facebook lets you do that yet, but I’m sure it’s coming. Sometimes I like my own comments because I’m, you know.
Todd Stiefel: You up vote yourself?
Kim Ellington: Yes, yes, I do.
Todd Stiefel: That seems reasonable. All right, awesome. Well, that is our show for the month. We have another great guest next month who is Nikki Stern, an author and speaker at the recent conference. This is not a prerecorded one. We’ll be doing it in the next couple of weeks. It’s going to be really exciting.
Kim Ellington: Nikki Stern, I’m excited.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed. Kim, do you have anything else you want to talk about before we sign off?
Kim Ellington: No. I guess be excellent to one another. Have a Bill and Ted kind of day.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed. All right, listeners, be excellent to each other. Ziggy Piggy, Ziggy Piggy. Google it, kids. All right, until next month. Take it easy, everybody.
Kim Ellington: Bye.
[End of transcript]