Saturday, August 29, 2015

"Everything You Know is Wrong!"

‘Men and women are the same sex!
Pigs live in trees!
The Aztecs invented the vacation!
Aliens are living like Indians in an Arizona nudist park!
EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG!’  -- The Firesign Theater

They were on vinyl back then.  "Sir, Syrup won't stop 'em.  They're in everybody's eggs!"

Back in the trippy early 1970’s the crazed psychedelic comic radio theater ensemble Firesign Theater came out with a series of loopy stream of consciousness record albums for stoners.  They were changing the face of comedy by constantly reframing their narrative, back before Monty Python cornered the market on silliness.  This radio play is a send up of then-famous pseudoscientist Erich Von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods.

Humor is a fertile object of study and inspiration for any social constructionist because it demonstrates the relativity of meaning is entirely dependent on context.  Flip the context and you flip the meaning.  Monty Python shows this with dialogues in which characters obstinately refuse to accept each other’s meanings.  The Firesign Theater did this by constantly changing the frame so you had to keep up just to know what they were talking about.  Each segue was a free association worthy of William Boroughs.

But I didn’t come here to talk about comedy. I came to talk about science.  Especially the social and medical sciences that constitute the background of all the therapeutic work we do.  If modern sexology can be considered to have started with Napoleonic civil administrators trying to count the prostitutes of Paris, figuring out how we count things is especially important.

In fact, sexology didn’t really get started until 1869 with Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s first edition of Psychopathia Sexualis.  That volume did not rely on counting things.  It was an anthology of case studies, and initiated a clinical methodology that would dominate sexology and much of psychology until 1947 when Alfred Kinsey first published The Sexual Behavior of the Human Male based upon survey data.

Kinky Boots:  Crippling fetish, or good clean fun?
For the entire period between 1885 and 1950, the practice of sex therapy was dominated by the clinical case history.  In the later language of statistical sampling, case histories are studies with an N of 1.  The dangers are obvious, now.  If Krafft-Ebing learned of a shoe fetishist who was unable to sexually respond except to women’s shoes, it was assumed that sexual fetishists were all unhappy weaklings who couldn’t get satisfaction without their preferred sex object.  It took years for it to occur to anyone (Freud) that many fetishists could get off just fine without their fetish being present, but only the seriously unhappy ones who couldn’t braved the costs and uncertainties of treatment to discuss it.


Methodologies have epistemological traps.  In the process of illuminating some truths, they throw others into shadow.  Today’s front page story form the New York Times illuminates this regarding laboratory experiments, today’s blue chip method of academic psychology.  Laboratory studies are appealing because they offer scientists the opportunity to control variables and to potentially prove causality.  Case histories can prove that something can happen.  Surveys can show that things co-occur and co-vary, experimentation can prove a change in one thing was caused by change in another.

As a psychologist, one of the things I know is that about 5% of everything I know to be true is wrong.  This is before we get to any personal issues of fallibility I might have that are unique to my professional limitations.  I consume studies that meet the professional standard prevailing in academic research that if a hypothesis tested in a psychological study has a 95% chance of being right, it is true, and if it has a 94% chance or less of being right, it is wrong.  This is how the statistical tests used to test hypotheses work.  A test is conducted to see if the data supporting the hypothesis might have occurred by chance.  If the likelihood the result happen by chance is a p = 5% or less, most researchers call their hypothesis confirmed. If this standard worked ideally from a statistical point of view, occasionally perfectly correct hypotheses would be proven ‘wrong’ about one chance in 20, and incorrect hypotheses would occasionally get lucky and be proven ‘right.’  So at any given moment in time, only most of what I know is genuinely correct.  Hopefully, only the good stuff is in this post.

This has led some humorists to characterize psychologists and their ilk as faceless grey ciphers.  After all, nothing rare ever happens to me.  Anything unlikely proves some hypothesis or other.  Who knows what desperate shenanigans I will be driven to do to disprove that facetious mischaracterization.  Perhaps a blog on kink and psychotherapy?  But it is worth wondering what we ought to do to improve the odds.  After all, 5% of our teaching and clinical wisdom is probably not correct.

A 20-sided die, often used in role playing games.  The chance of rolling a '20' is 5%.

Which brings us to the problem of replication.  If a study is conducted once and meets the 95% confidence interval, there is about a 5% chance its wrong.  But if it were to be precisely replicated, and met the standard 2 times in 2 tries, the chance of error shrinks from one in 20 to one in 400.  That is simple enough:  conduct important studies twice and only report those that are replicated, and the chance of error falls precipitously.  And exactly this type of statistical thinking does influence medical and safety studies where error might be fatal.  The researchers chose much more strict confidence intervals to test such hypotheses.  But the sociology of science does not make replication easy or trivial.

While experimenters are required to report methods and results so that other qualified scientists could check or repeat their work, only the tiniest fraction of work is replicated.  Careers are rewarded for original, not replicated work, so someone has to specifically and exceptionally reward replications.  Senior scientists who have carefully dreamed up and executed work are sensitive about who and how such replication might be conducted.  Who wants younger or less qualified colleagues to ‘check’ their work?  What if replication fails?  And there are hosts of methodological issues about what constitutes exact reproducibility.  What if the subjects, the times, the geographic regions, institutional support, the public’s familiarity with the study’s design and outcome; all kinds of variables threaten to make an attempted replication systematically different in a manner that might account for different results. Many studies rely on naive subjects or deception bringing to mind Heraclitus warning:  "No man never steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man."  The result: no genuine replication.

Despite all those potential obstacles to replication, three major psychology journals, Psychological Science, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and The Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Learning, Memory and Cognition participated in The Reproducibility Project, which selected the 100 most important studies published in the year 2008 for replication.   To overcome barriers to proper execution, the Reproducibility Project mandated and funded close cooperation between the original researchers and the teams conducting each replication.   To ensure stability of results, many replications used more subjects than the original published studies.

If 100 studies had all had a 5% chance of failing replication, we would expect 95 to pass and about five to fail.  In the reported replication effort, 60 failed, 36, passed, and 2 were too ambiguous to call, and two of the original studies failed to achieve statistical significance but got published and rated as important enough to replicate.  Most of those failing had results that were similar in direction to their original studies, but failed to make statistically significant results.  If they had been conducted for the first time, these 60 would most likely not have been reported.

Which brings up our first and most serious form of bias in social science research.  If I read the literature, form the best hypothesis I can, scrupulously conduct my study, and for whatever reason I fail to obtain a statistically significant result, I quit, pick another hypothesis to test and start over.  I probably can’t get my failed results published, certainly can’t advance my case for academic tenure, and no one ever knows about my negative result.  All of my efforts fail to become a part of the scientific record.
 
This is a problem for science because someone could go out and do my failure all over, not knowing my work.  But it is very unlikely that if I had published my negative results, anyone would have bothered to replicate them.  Career considerations alone would propel them to test something that didn’t already have one strike against it.  You might think that a thoughtful person who looked at my work might have a creative idea to improve on my failed methods and retest under more favorable conditions.  And you would be right, a great deal of this goes on in pharmaceutical research, with slight changes in research design getting repeated until a positive result is achieved.  Mostly such programmatic research is a good thing, but it too has vulnerabilities.  One can take an indifferent study and repeat it enough times until one gets a statistically significant result, and thereby pass clinical trials.  But that raises the specter of another source of possible error, that of excessive self or financial interest.

As fond as we are of saying it doesn't, in research, effect size matters!
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The practice of managing statistical significance is only part of the problem.  A more socially relevant statistical measure of a study’s importance is effect size.  Generally effect size statistics tell us how much of one variable is accounted for by our knowledge of another.   While the philosophical role of p values tells us how likely a given experiments results might have been achieved by chance alone, when studies have thousands of subjects, it is easy to achieve statistical significance for very tiny effects.   If I learned that only children made better managers, it would matter a lot in how much better run my company would be if they were 3% better managers, or 15%.  In the latter case, it might make sense to ask about interviewees’ birth order.   With tiny effects, it might not be worth the added expense of asking the question.

In the Replication Project, the average effect size of the 100 replicated studies was half of that of the originals.  That is the equivalent of halving their miles per gallon.  Everything I know isn’t wrong, but right is now at half strength.

Brian Nosek, PhD, Director of the Reproducibility Project

The Replications study’s director Brian Nosek is full of admiration for the courage and integrity of the team of 270 professionals who participated in these studies.  No evidence of wrongdoing was found.  He stresses that this is not about any lack of integrity.  No one knows better than Nosek about how hard doing replication really is.  But it is not the least bit reassuring about the overall integrity of the average psychology experiment reports submitted to top journals for publication.  97% of these achieved statistical significance, but only 36% could be replicated.

P hacking (methodologically cheating to increase your likelihood of achieving statistical significance); collecting part of your data, then checking your results, and only completing the collection of data if the sneak peek looks good; and deep sixing failed results are only a few of the actions biasing experimental results.  Funding and publication biases, prevailing research fads and orthodoxies, the occasional power plays by senior scholars, academic hiring practices, social prejudices, and the occasional outright fraud also influence what gets published and what is deemed important from among the thousands of research reports published annually.
 
We clinicians, busy with our clientele and paperwork, have biases of our own about which of these studies we consume.  And frankly, the methodological sophistication of most clinicians could be greatly improved.  Most of us selected clinical work in preference to academic research.  For all but a few of us, that was a wise economic decision.  Even those of us who are fanatical about CEs, career updating and re-certification are likely to retain biases from the period of our training long after we have left school and devoted our lives to practice.
 
The biggest source of bias, however, remains epistemological.  With limited money and time, and a realistic assessment of what promotes career advancement, it is far easier to get money to solve big problems that effect lots of people, and hard to get money to solve the problems of a few.  Social stigma is hard to research because societies retain vested interests in maintaining them, rather than spending risky money in hopes of overturning them.  People who insist on researching what they love may be just as biased as those who research what pays well.  We are each readier to see what we expect to see than that we do not expect.  It is easier to confirm our biases than to dispel them.  It seems there are biases, as the lady said of turtles, all the way down.

All of this must give us pause when we demand that clinical practice be more ‘evidence-based.’  The effort to collect experimental data is extremely valuable, as long as we appreciate the limitations of our methods and are careful not to over-interpret them.

The Kepler Space Telescope searches for exoplanets in .25% of the sky.

The Kepler Space Telescope is currently conducting a search for exoplanets, with special hope of detecting Earth-like planets that might sustain life, and perhaps maintain conditions for the evolution of intelligent life.  A great deal is unknown about exactly what those conditions might be.  Because of its orbit and limitations, the Kepler Space Telescope can only train on a tiny percentage, .25% of the visible sky.  This chosen percentage is focused in the lens of the Milky Way Galaxy where stars far enough away from the galactic core not to be irradiated and close enough to have high star density.  Midway through its mission, the aiming machinery broke, further limiting the Kepler’s field of view.  While the universe of potential experiments in psychology is genuinely infinite, and the Milky Way star population is immense, but ultimately finite, the analogy between xenoplanetology and psychology is a good one.  We cannot know that the Kepler’s chosen sample from the stellar population is representative of those stars most likely to harbor a planet that sustains life. We are simply taking the best shot we know how to take at this time.  In fact, the acts of orbiting the telescope, using it to find planets, and its mechanical failures have precipitated innovations in how to search for new planets.  But we have similarly sampled from a tiny but reasonable sample of possible psychology experiments.  Our evidence is spotty, but remains the sum of the best efforts of very thoughtful people.  I would say the same, however, of all those clinicians who made abundant errors generalizing from their first case studies.  Great care needs to be used in deciding what is true and what is not on the basis of fragmentary evidence-based science.

Perhaps the Firesign Theater was right.  Everything you know is wrong!  With the Replication Project data in and counted, we are about halfway there.   Even before checking our privilege, it would be well to check our biases.

2015 Russell J Stambaugh, Ann Arbor, MI. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Outlier Kinks

In two previous posts, 'Flavors' and 'More Flavors' I described the main dimensions of the activities in kink.  While these are described great diversity of sexual activities, they were intended as a general overview, and did not begin to convey the full range of outlier preferences that human imagination and diversity are able to concoct.  For me, we are still relearning Alfred Kinsey's main take away from his 1947 sex research on males; sex diversity is far greater than society believes it to be.  This post is intended to show that it is more diverse than my initial generalizations suggest as well. 

Casual perusal of Facebook gives the impression that new kinks are being devised all the time. Whether they are brand new, or creative elaborations on old ones is a matter of some debate, but suffice it to say that the wellspring of creativity available to every other realm of human endeavor is equally available for sexuality.

Ovipositor play:  'Ovipositor' is a sufficiently uncommon term that blogger does not have it in their starting dictionary.  It is the organ in most insects and some vertebrates that lay eggs that actually deposits them. Ovipositors exist in all sizes and shapes in the insect world, but anyone who ever saw the movie Alien can imagine the possibilities.  Although the alien in that movie did not actually insert eggs, but larva, in its victims in the depicted life cycle, nothing prevented an imaginative entrepreneur from inventing a dildo that lays eggs, allowing interested parties to imagine they have been parisitized.  

The ovipositor of a grasshopper.

http://www.vice.com/en_au/read/the-emerging-fetish-of-laying-alien-eggs-inside-yourself

Ovipositor dildo and glycerin eggs

This 'fetish' is not precisely new, and exists on the cusp of pegging, cosplay, and fantasy and sci-fi geekdom.  Various creative dildos that do not insert eggs are already on the market.

Dragon Dildos.  Dragons come in convenient sizes.

Tentacle dildo

The glycerin eggs liquefy in a short time from body heat.  Suffice it to say, this kink becomes heavy sensation play if one is allergic to glycerin.

Tomato Hornworm with wasp eggs

Interestingly, few insect and no fish ovipositors penetrate flesh to deposit eggs.  For example, tomato horn worms, the larvae of the sphinx moth, are parasatized by braconid wasps.  The wasps lay their eggs on the outside of the worm, When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae burrow into the caterpillar's flesh, secreting a paralytic that immobilizes the caterpillar until the larvae are ready to cocoon fortheir transformation into their adult stage.

Etymological precision not being absolutely required for insect/predator role play, nothing requires that eggs not be inseted and that the insertion not be sexually stimulating.

Feeder Play:

Feeders are a variant of BDSM that involves forced feeding, generally in large volume.  Play involves an interplay of shame, coercion, and nurture.  Some feeders are obesity fetishists who really enjoy the look or feel of extreme fat.  Attached is a link that shows a variety of reactions to a woman's post questioning whether her relationship with a feeder is 'normal.'

http://isitnormal.com/story/extreme-feeder-sex-7243/

Extreme pregnancy and breast illustrations:

Some sites specialize in fantasies of extreme pregnancy and lactation.  Often, size in mammaries is linked to fantasies of squirting long distances and enormous productivity. Lest one imagine that this is all in reaction to rise of working mothers and breast pumps, I have included  a representation of medieval fantasies of squirting milk.

Breast milking fetish with furrie elements.

Lactation pictures are not, by any means a recent phenomenon.  Here is a painting from the 17th century.  There are several variants of this story, in which St. Bernard was endowed with wisdom when a vision or statue of the nursing Virgin Mary squirted milk on his lips. Often a large stream is depicted traveling great distances.  The parables depicted in these paintings are not explicitly sexual.  The stories date from about 1200AD, but few paintings go back so far. While St Bernard is praying to the Virgin Mary, who is feeding the infant Jesus, a miracle occurs and her milk goes into his mouth.  Sometimes the story is told that the milk comes from a statue, rather than the vision of Mary.  The milk is thought to have brought St Bernard wisdom and healing powers.

The Lactation of Saint Bernard,by Alonso Cano - 1650AD


Extreme Pregnancy:  And I don't mean drinking while carrying!


2015 Russell J Stambaugh, Ann Arbor, MI. All rights reserved.
















Monday, August 24, 2015

Romantic Idealization, Betrayal, and the Free Rider Problem





The hackers who craved a more just sexual universe have finally published their stolen Ashley Madison data.  I suppose we should acknowledge their public service not only in defense of marital fidelity, but in demonstration of the eternal principle that our on-line privacy is entirely illusory.  Corporations and the NSA are not the boogeyfolk anymore.  Anyone can re-purpose our data.  Out is the new normal.

Josh Duggar (right) and Mike Huckabee (left) in happier times.

Among those outed is perennial anti-gay activist, reality TV star, and fundamentalist Christian advocate Josh Duggar, whose discomfort might evoke schadenfreude in even the most self-restrained for his perennial railing against healthy sexuality.  Hypocritical sexual adventurism does seem over the top for a scion of the Family Research Council who have consistently claimed that gays’ ability to marry would lead to the downfall of Western Civilization.  But Josh’s professional sex negativity took a gothic tone earlier this year with circulation of the story of his sexual abuse of several under aged girls, including some of his younger sisters, back in his mid-adolescence.  For this he was essentially untreated, aside from a stern conversation with a state trooper who later was embroiled in charges of inappropriate sexual behavior of his own.  One can only imagine the mental states Josh’s erotophobic parents, whose fear of the media exposure must have been acute.  Suffice it to say, whatever interventions they used then do not appear to have solved Josh’s difficulties reconciling his actual behavior with his professed doctrine.

An Io moth, an example of mimicry in nature.  Those startling eyes may give a predator pause, an evolutionary demonstration of the free rider in action


As bad as all this personal drama is, the exaltation of marital fidelity, reliance on the term ‘cheating’ and rage at cheaters are demonstrations of a universal human struggle with the free rider problem.  Fundamentalist Christians and fallible moral entrepreneurs are not the only folk who deplore free riders.  Originally derived from hobos who jumped freight trains and subway users who jumped turnstiles, free riders are a perennial problem in human organization, and in nature.  Mimicry, parasitism, and intraspecific completion all provide abundant examples from evolution to demonstrate the interspecific benefits of getting one organism to pay the full cost for another’s useful adaptation.  Monkeys and dogs have been shown in the lab to quit work they have already been trained and rewarded for doing if they see another animal receiving a better reward for the same work.  We humans can’t stand to see non-union members get the same pay we had to pay union dues and go on strike to achieve.  So resentment that cheaters might masquerade as faithful spouses arouses envy and resentment in those of us who identify as faithful in the face of myriad temptations.
 
All of which is just a little ironic for the founders of Ashley Madison, who invented the site as not only a powerful source of revenue, but marketed it as an alternative to, you guessed it, the free rider problem.  On many dating sites, married people claimed the social advantages of being single, leading to disappointments, dissatisfactions, and failed dating relationships for singles and married alike.  Ashley Madison provided an opportunity to start an ‘honest’ relationship with a married partner who presumably would understand not only the lures of extramarital affairs, but their costs.  Even Ashley Madison subscribers who had no illusions that their partners were deceiving their spouses, could dream of zipless affairs where the burdens of hiding the relationship would be mutually understood, and they would not have to face the opprobrium of being free riders on ordinary dating sites.



All of which makes our lust to purge free riders look a little like the mirrors in my childhood barbershop which covered walls directly across from one another and led to infinite recursive reflections of the shop and my newly shorn head receding into infinity.  The free rider problem never ends.  Justice in one context is injustice in the next.

I will add my voice to the minority chorus that decries the exposure of Josh Duggar and all his ilk in the interest of reasserting the primacy of sexual shame as a deterrent to bad behavior.  Not because he is not justly served with his own treachery, but because achieving a sexually healthier world cannot be achieved by a simple shuffling and redistribution of the same old social controls.  Yesterday its gays, today its cheaters, tomorrow, prostitutes, and next week, sex robots.  We are seduced by the romantic illusion of stamping out the free riders.  While struggling to check our privilege, we would do well to check our chronic fear that someone is getting a better deal than we are.

The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

Romantic illusion, of course, has been the target of a fair amount of criticism dating at least as far back as the writings of the Marquis de Sade.  Outraged by religion and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s defense of innate human goodness, the Divine Marquis lived his life in continual confrontation with idealization.  Never mind that Christianity’s reliance on the doctrine of original sin was overdue for serious deconstruction, de Sade both argued and illustrated that our internal contents, physical, mental and emotional, did not merit idealization.  For de Sade, they are gross, base, self-centered, sexual and aggressive.  But de Sade, who in many ways was a terrible writer who many of us would love to forget, remains uncomfortably relevant because of our Freudian wish to overcome the crass realities of social life with our fondest wishes for a better world.  We can always imagine a better world than we can achieve.  We periodically need to be reminded by de Sade, Freud and Bretton that we can always dream a little better than we achieve, and our dreams may not look very pretty to others.  And that such fantasies also lead many of us to Ashley Madison and to extra-marital affairs.

Esther Perel

This is one of Esther Perel’s great insights about infidelity.  Our sense of entitlement to the imaginary trumps our commitment to the real, and this compels us to fly to ills we know not of rather than bear those that we have!  Nor are our fantasies of better always disappointing.  Extramarital affairs can fulfill unmet needs.  Aftr all, all of the world’s great philosophies and inventions began as dreams.  
The discovery of an affair may be curtains for a bad relationship, but can be the painful beginning of transformation for valued relationships that are merely imperfect.  In the shock of shattered idealization, you may not be in a very good place to begin to learn from the discovery of an affair.  But the potential for learning something is present.

Esther’s other great insight about infidelity is that, with the modern decline of marriage’s role as a primarily economic and political institution for controlling resources and its rise as a celebration of romantic attachment, the meanings of infidelity all serve to defend romantic idealization.  In her TED talk, she explains the new conventional wisdom that a ‘wronged’ partner is crazy to stay in a bad marriage that has been shattered by infidelity.  Such interpretation made no sense in a marriage arranged by family elders, and not expected to be a love nest.  Telling someone who has been cheated on that they should leave doesn’t defend marriage, which after all would be dissolved, but ideal relationships in which there is no conflict.

But Perel does not deny that flawed marriages can be improved to better meet partners’ expectations, even if they are romantically idealized.

Dan Savage

This makes Dan Savage’s potentially wise cautionary advice that you should seriously question whether you really want to know about an affair into a double-edged sword.  Perhaps you spare your imperfect self and imperfect partner a load of unnecessary grief by failing to check the Ashley Madison scroll of shame.  Staying away can sidestep immersing yourself in the poisonous culture of sex shaming.  Surely Dan is correct that armed with the information from so uncertain and imperfect a source, you may easily misjudge your partner’s behavior from a full disclosure of their account activity.  You may not know what is fantasy, what is behavior, and what the narrative you build from it conceals and reveals.  It might be easy to imagine you know things that remain excruciatingly elusive and ambiguous.  Dan warns that looking is no panacea.

But failing to explore the weaknesses and imperfections of your relationship might also spare you loss at the price of failing to improve a valuable marriage.  Not only is the perfect the enemy of the good, but good can effectively contest with the mirage of perfection.  Often we know that it is unloving to demand perfection of our partners.  Robust affection proffers love unmerited.  To love someone, we must tolerate their accurate reflection that we are imperfect images of our own idealizations.  Learning to tolerate these painful insights can improve our relationships.  Love demands forgiveness.

To examine the Ashley Madison core dump is to risk the scourge of betrayal.  There you may discover your partner’s lies, limitations, and hidden desires for someone other than you.  It will be impossible not to imagine that this behavior was not done in reference to you.  How is your damaged sense of self to be repaired after assaults of this kind?

To learn from an affair, it is necessary to discover it, but it is also necessary to get beyond the betrayals of our imperfect partner’s painful reflection of our own inadequacies and limitations.  Identification of the lies; the violated clauses in the broken contract; the selfish points in which our partner who claims to love us put their needs ahead of ours; the ambiguity of the lies told to ‘protect’ us, or merely for the convenience of deception; or even the pleasure of getting the better of us in some nasty contest that appears entirely unloving on its merits, requires tolerating a great deal of loss.  For the potential learning from such a breach in our relationship cannot be achieved by falling back on the same strategies for avoiding loss that made our relationship so vulnerable in the first place.  This kind of differentiation is bound to drive us from our comfort zones.

Macaques

In the animal world, like the human one, organisms are intolerant of loss.  For every example of community mindedness and sacrifice, there are also stories of competition, rivalry, and self-interest.   Framing a partner’s behavior as betrayal protects us against the loss of realizing that we might not be blameless, that partner’s needs might have gone unrecognized, that we wanted to give more but were not in a position to do so.  That love is sometimes unable to make things better.  That love is not exclusive.  That love is not especially wise, rational, or generous sometimes.  Rather than protecting us from loss, love makes us more vulnerable.  That rather than making conflict go away, love can make it intolerable.

These are disturbing ideas; painful adult elaborations that complicate the loving fairy stories we are taught in childhood.  But if we are to build better relationships from marital infidelity, we must confront our idealizations in the context of a society that is just as loss intolerant as we are and pretty much devoted to defending the fairy tales.  While confronting the most painful truths about yourself, the media will feed you a steady stream of stories about denying them.  If the ball ends differently than you had hoped, you will be sent in search of a lost glass slipper.  And stories will rarely end, ‘and they worked hard together on their intimacy together ever after.’

Salome with the head of John the Baptist' by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)  This story is a powerful erotophobic parable from the New Testament

This is why one should pause before the excruciatingly tempting invitation to indulge in the sex shaming attending Ashley Madison’s hack, or Josh Duggar’s pro forma confession.  It is also why the obvious observation that sex obsessed erotophobia cannot provide the basis for protective sex education will not soothe social conservatives at all.  This Ashley Madison narrative is proof for them that sex is dangerous and they had every reason to fear its power. They are defending the romantic idealization of pure Christian love from the depravity of unruly sexual desire.  The more cogent our criticism, the more reflexive their defense.  In this, we have not advanced the discourse very much farther than that bogeyman de Sade.    Our conservative friends are yearning for fairy tales from a very long time ago.  I guess it’s pretty hard to have an original sin, anymore!


Josh is a poor test case anyway.  Although he was deprived of a decent sex education or a reasonable moral framework for making healthier sexual decisions, he was entirely manipulative and hypocritical about the moral framework he did learn.  Rousseau would have argued that Josh would have been fine without the corrupt guidance of society, but Rousseau declined to recognize that humans, like macaques, are born into seething social milieus, not a pastoral Eden.   Rousseau missed free riders in the age before someone built railroads to parasitize.  Josh recapitulated de Sade without ever having to read him.