Thursday, December 17, 2009

Guess What? Casual Sex Won't Make You Go Insane

By Ellen Friedrichs, AlterNet

Casual sex: even the phrase sounds a little suspect. And its connections to STDs, unplanned pregnancy, depression, and even alcoholism? Well, those are just a given, discussed endlessly by pundits, and in books with titles like, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus, Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, and even, Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. Add to this the unrelentingly dire warnings about “premarital” sex given by abstinence programs and many religious groups, and it can be hard to make a case for any kind of non-monogamous-non-matrimonial-non-procreative intimacy. But what if the links between casual sex (an ill-defined term, which seems to refer to anything from a one-night stand to sex between committed domestic partners) and the troubles of the world aren't as straightforward as people would have you believe?

Some recent research makes this seem pretty likely. Last week, for example, researchers from the University of Minnesota announced the findings of a study looking at the effect of casual sex on young adults. After studying 1,311 sexually active 18- to 24-year-olds, researchers were somewhat surprised to discover that, "young adults engaging in casual sexual encounters do not appear to be at increased risk for harmful psychological outcomes as compared to sexually active young adults in more committed relationships." And back in 2007, another study at the same institution found that despite what many people believe, non-marital sex doesn't negatively affect a teen's mental health or make a young person more prone to depression.

But what about research demonstrating that women, unlike men, can't handle casual sex due to their chemical makeup? One of the most frequently made claims is that during sex women release more of the "love" hormone, oxytocin, than men do. Since a primary role of oxytocin is to promote bonding, the logic goes that women are programmed to become emotionally distressed if sex doesn't lead to a relationship. But such thinking fails to take into account the existence of the sexual double standard, which punishes women for sex outside of a relationship far more than it does men. It stands to reason that this could account for a woman's post-casual sex unhappiness. Nor does this line of thinking address the fact that even if one of oxytocin's roles is to promote bonding, humans have shown time and time again that we are very capable of trumping our pure biological destiny. If we weren't, legions of infertility specialists would be out of work.

Some people stretch the biological links even further. Dr. Eric Keroack, the former deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services claimed that sex with multiple partners affects a woman's brain chemistry by suppressing oxytocin and impairing her subsequent ability to maintain relationships. He made these claims based, in large part, on the work of Dr. Rebecca Turner, who called his conclusions "complete pseudoscience" and a misrepresentation of her work. Still, Keroack continued to promote these notions while overseeing federally funded teenage pregnancy, family planning, and abstinence programs.

Misrepresentations are all too common when it comes to the mainstream portrayal of casual sex. For example, a study out of Durham University in the UK, prompted headlines like "Women Have Not Adapted To Casual Sex, Research Shows." However, this failure to adapt was not evolutionary, as the title implied. In fact, what women in this study couldn't adapt to was something very different: being treated poorly by their male sex partners! As the lead researcher explained, “What the women seemed to object to was not the briefness of the encounter but the fact that the man did not seem to appreciate her.”

To complicate matters further, a whole lot of otherwise smart people seem to forget that casual sex did not first emerge after Y2K. Last year, for example, in a New York Times op-ed, Charles M. Blow lamented what he saw as the advent of a hook-up culture. His piece cited a study by the Washington research group, Child Trends, which claimed that contemporary high school seniors no longer date seriously and instead choose to “hook-up" without commitment. He also quoted Kathleen Bogle, the author of 2008's, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus. She explained that, "Under the old model, you dated a few times and, if you really liked the person, you might consider having sex. Under the new model, you hook up a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider going on a date."

But even Blow's own newspaper contradicted this assumption the very next day, when the wedding section ran an interview with a newly married couple in their 50s. The pair explained that although they had actually been sexually involved over 30 years earlier, a committed relationship hadn't been on the table. Back in 1975, the woman explained, "People didn't date. You hung out and then you slept together." Sounds a lot like this dangerous new phenomenon of hooking-up that people find so shocking....

Seriously, we all know that hooking-up and casual sex are not new. In the United States, at least, sex outside of marriage has been around an awfully long time. A 2006 study found that 95 percent of Americans, including people born as far back as the 1940s, have had "premarital” sex. And how can we forget milestones like the sexual revolution, or the "Me" generation, when getting laid was just something to do? To be sure, not everyone in the '60s, '70s and '80s was having free love orgies, throwing key parties or embarking on cocaine-fueled office affairs, but these were important years for sexual freedom: syphilis had long since been cured, morals were relaxed, the birth control pill was an option and abortion became legal. Today those agonizing over what they see as an uptick in promiscuity, loose values and risk-taking, need to be reminded that while the cast may be different, much about the casual sex plot remains the same.

Despite the fact that sex without marriage is so common, we still cling to the notion that it must be damaging in some way. Solid research demonstrating that this isn't always the case simply cannot counter our existing social assumptions: if a person claims to be undamaged by sex without commitment, that person must be lying, ethically challenged, or at the very least, deluded. Sure, sex can be dangerous. One in four people will contract an STD by the time they are 25; American teen birth rates, while not what they were in the '50s, are still the highest in the Western world; and sex crimes continue to shock and unnerve us all. But we need to concentrate on reforming our sex education and health care systems to fight these issues, not waste time simply condemning forms of sex that make us uncomfortable.

Ellen Friedrichs is a sex educator based in New York City, where she teaches high school and college classes.

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Obama worse than Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Dubya on immigration

Washington raid brings deportations, mixed signals

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — First they were arrested and faced deportation under what has proven to be the Obama administration's only workplace raid. Then they were given work permits, and told they could stay in the United States while their employer was being prosecuted.

Now, the more than two dozen undocumented workers arrested during the February raid here at Yamato Engine Specialists Ltd. are again facing deportation.

"Well, what can you do? You can't run, that'd be worse," Gerardo Arreola Gonzalez, one of the 28 workers arrested, said about the raid. "I had to face it. Yes, I felt fear, thinking, 'The dream is over.'"

Gonzalez's unusual journey through the immigration system symbolizes just how much immigration policy has changed under President Barack Obama — and how it's still a work in progress.

The deportations and likely removals are a conclusion to a case that displeased both advocates for illegal immigrants and those who lobby for stricter immigration enforcement.

In this case, the company, the workers, and even the Seattle U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office that conducted the raid came in for some sort of punishment or special scrutiny.

Two days after the raid, ICE officials traded urgent e-mails going over answers to questions sent by an apparently miffed White House, according to e-mails obtained by the Associated Press through a federal records request.

In all, 28 men and women — mostly from Mexico — were arrested that February morning. One man opted to leave the country shortly after the raid. The 27 who remained were given work permits until the case against Yamato ended.

Now, five of the 27 workers have been deported. Seven have been allowed to leave the country voluntarily and 15 await court dates with an immigration judge, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.

Dankers declined to comment further on the case.

"We're disappointed. We really did think that things would be different under the Obama administration," said Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, a Seattle-based immigration advocacy group. "It's very mixed signals ... we thought we were getting an administration that was supportive."

Immigration advocates were elated when Obama took office, thinking he'd bring immigrant-friendly enforcement policies. The raid shocked them, and they protested loudly.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano then ordered an internal review of the raid. The workers arrested were given work permits, and the company became the focus of the investigation.

But those who favor strict immigration enforcement saw Napolitano's review as a signal for lax enforcement, and a rebuke to the Bush administration's immigration policy.

For William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, Obama's approach to targeting involved employers is no better than the Bush administration's targeting of those here illegally. Both are incomplete policies, he said.

"I am for the actual enforcement against all parties involved in illegal immigration," Gheen said. "Obama is an arbitrary enforcer, just like Bush, on immigration."

The Obama administration's approach became clearer in the months after the raid: a focus on employers. Hundreds of audit forms were sent out to businesses nationwide, notifying employers to certify that their workers have valid Social Security numbers and other forms of identification proving eligibility to work in the U.S. The administration has also sought to maintain workable enforcement agreements between ICE and local police agencies, and has sought to improve conditions for immigrants detained by the government.

The government's audits of employment status have led to significant job losses. In Los Angeles, American Apparel fired 1,500 workers in September. In Minneapolis, another 1,200 janitors were cut in November.

In order to level charges against employers who hire illegal immigrants, federal prosecutors need the testimony of those workers, and that requires the arrest, confinement and questioning of employees to obtain evidence.

"The most convincing part of that proof comes from illegal aliens," Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Reno said after the Yamato case. "It's going to be just as disruptive to the illegal aliens. That's not going to change."

That new reality doesn't sit well with either side of the immigration debate.

"How could you trust their testimony if you bribed them for it? These people will say anything you want them to say," Gheen said.

"They're saying they're not actively going after the worker, but the workers are a casualty when they have lost their jobs," Jayapal said.

Meanwhile, ICE officials were heartened by some of the response they received to the raid, according to the e-mails obtained by the AP.

Seattle-based Special Agent in Charge Leigh Winchell forwarded an e-mail to his staff from Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, a vocal immigration enforcement advocate, who said Napolitano's call for a review was "backwards."

"I cannot control the politics that take place with these types of situations, but I can remind you that you are great servants of this country and this agency," Winchell wrote to his troops.

Days after the raid, Winchell told his office to convey that ICE is going after the employer, not the workers, according to the e-mails.

The case against Yamato concluded in September with a $100,000 fine being leveled. Members of the immigrant family that owns the company issued a public apology. Yamoto's owners fled Uganda four decades ago when dictator Idi Amin's regime drove out the country's entrepreneurial Indian minority.

Messages left with Yamato management for this story were not returned.

With the case wrapped up, notices of court appearances for the workers began to appear. ICE agents had warned the workers of it.

Gonzalez, who is from Mexico, had entered the country in 1998 at the age of 19, first living in Arizona, where he started his family. He came to Washington seeking a better job, becoming a welder at Yamato, making $10 an hour. For now, a local lawyer is helping him but he knows he could face deportation.

"If I have to go to my country, I have to go to my country," Gonzalez said. "'ll be a challenge for (my family)."

At Yamato, under a basket of employment applications, a poster now warns that Yamato is a company that uses E-verify — the federal program that checks a worker's eligibility to work in the United States.

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