A Little Anal Retentive How the Far Right Tried to Rebrand a Conversation about Sex Education

By Bill Taverner

In November 2010, The Center for Family Life Education held a national sexuality education conference – open to professionals with students and patients of all ages – with a program that encompassed the lifespan, from teaching about puberty to helping couples regain intimacy after a cancer diagnosis.  There were workshops on sexual assault, prevention of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy, healthy and unhealthy relationships, gender and sexual orientation, and so much more of what would fall into the various circles of Dr. Dennis Daily’s model of holistic sexuality.


Click here for a clip of the Anal Retentive
Chef from Saturday Night Live
The conference received a good share of media coverage, including the New York Times, Psychology Today, and other reputable journalistic sources.  Susie Wilson, a pioneer in advocacy for sexuality education in New Jersey blogged about the scope and depth of the conference in her Thanksgiving blog for the New Jersey Newsroom.  But there were only two conference elements that caught the attention of the folks in Far Right news circles, who reported on our conference as one about “butt plugs” and “sex toys”.  I hope you will excuse my pun in the title of this article.  Like our detractors, I recognize that taboo references to the anus can draw a huge readership.  I have some experience with society’s preoccupation with the anus.  A few years ago, I gave a television interview where I discussed the importance of teaching young people about the choice of abstinence, and I mentioned anal sex as a behavior that a person might decide to avoid.  While this comment constituted less than 10 seconds of a 15 minute interview, it was the one phrase that was repeated over-and-over in the promos for the evening news.  So if the clever title is what brought you here, I hope this essay doesn’t disappoint too much as I discuss what the conference was really about.

It was one workshop in particular that really caught the attention of our detractors, so much so that they made sure to attend that workshop – from among 40 course offerings – to get all the juicy details.  The workshop was appropriately titled “Healthy Endings:  A Workshop on Anal Health and Sexual Safety.”  Why a workshop about the anus?  As the workshop description notes, about 40% of adults report having engaged in anal intercourse.  (As comedians have noted, the other 60% have a “friend”…)  Public policy professionals have long been aware of the association between unprotected anal intercourse and HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections.  So the question isn’t so much why we would have a workshop teaching about the anus and sexual safety – but why wouldn’t we?  The course reviewed physiology and recommendations for health and risk prevention.  It also included a fact sheet that provided comprehensive information about the anus.  One fact on this fact sheet cited research and commentary from scholars in the field on sexual safety in the context of butt plugs and other toys, being responsive to the common usage of such toys among adults.  It is important to know that almost half of the sex educators who attended the conference identified their primary audiences as adults.  However, those heckling our conference were trying to paint the picture that we were training middle school teachers to teach their students how to more effectively use their butt plugs.

There may well have been some high school teachers in attendance who wanted to better understand information about the anus.  This is understandable because students are always asking questions about the anus, often along the lines of “Can you get something stuck up there?”  They also ask about anal sex, the rectum and colon, and more.  Teachers – who typically focus exclusively on reproductive anatomy – are often ill equipped to answer these many questions, leaving their students to find their answers about the anus through myth and conjecture, or on the Internet, where one can easily find videos of fisting, urban legends of gerbils and Richard Gere, and the American Nihilist Underground Society (A.N.U.S).

Despite intentionally misleading characterizations, and the juvenile preoccupations of our critics, the conference was not about butt plugs and sex toys.  Why did they fail to mention the program on intimacy after cancer, which would have clearly illustrated that the audience did not only work with teens?  Why did they mention the film we showed, “Orgasm Inc.,” without any explanation of what it was about?  The answer is simple.  Saying that we showed a film titled “Orgasm Inc.” conjures an orgy of hedonistic sex educators, rather than a serious academic program.  Explaining that it was a documentary about pharmaceutical companies trying to develop a female equivalent to Viagra does not carry out their primary objective of misleading their readers.

The Far Right commentaries about our conference are replete with such fabrications.  Yes, in receiving her award, Dr. Eva Goldfarb of Montclair State University did sing an excerpt from the Broadway musical Hair(And she sang beautifully, I might add.)  But to conclude that her singing the antiquated word “pederasty” – means we are supportive of adult-child sex is logic that leaves one’s head spinning.  (And is logic that I would hope even the most ardent critics of sex ed would reject.)

In the interest of fair play, I will note some of the conference content that our detractors failed to mention, as it did not fit their pre-conceived agenda.  These included workshops on cyber-bullying and sexting, drug and alcohol abuse, ethics, healthy and unhealthy relationships, male responsibility, media literacy, myths and urban legend, puberty, sexual assault, and understanding and answering difficult questions.

See the program for yourself.  Hopefully you’ll notice the very supportive letter from United States Senator Frank Lautenberg, a staunch advocate for sexuality education.  Hopefully you’ll see ads for prominent health-promoting organizations, not just the ads for lubricants and other sexual aids.  Hopefully you’ll see program content that has depth and scope that warranted the praise we received from leading experts in the field who attended.  Hopefully you’ll see more than just butt plugs.

One Response to “A Little Anal Retentive How the Far Right Tried to Rebrand a Conversation about Sex Education”