Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Birds and the Bees

I often think about poor Jocelyn Elders, who was forced to step down as Surgeon General, after suggesting that masturbation is a "part of human sexuality" and "perhaps something that should be taught." Thanks to the National Archives, where the Clinton incarnation of is preserved, we can still read the transcript of the press conference with Leon Panetta in which he defends her public shaming.

Since then, I have found it entertaining to search through .gov sites with the keyword "masturbation" to see just how bi-polar e-government continues to be about issues of human sexuality. While the National Institutes of Health indexes many abstracts on the subject (including one with the sleazy-sounding title "Development of masturbation in college-age women") and current official guidelines for pediatricians aren't so far from Elders' scandalous recommendations, many other .gov sites rigidly stress abstaining from all forms of sexuality, including exclusively private, unsurveilable acts.

For example, the pro-abstinence government site is a model case in point, in which "nocturnal emissions" are normal but masturbation certainly isn't. One sexuality "conversation starter" on the site actually reads as follows: "I was at the store yesterday and ran into Kendrick, Mrs. Jakes' son. He is joining the military after high school. What do you think you want to do when you graduate from high school?"

4Parents is backed by the official-sounding National Physicians Center, which despite its nonprofit status is clearly a political group aimed at protecting "religious speech" and blocking FDA approval of RU486, and not a credible national professional association like the AMA.

On the other hand, there is the index of sex manuals in the Library of Congress that has managed to survive this insistence on a family-friendly e-government, and of course "masturbation" will always have its own Library of Congress call number: HQ447.

Certainly this list of definitions from U.S. code contains some x-rated terminology.

Yet this official Puritanism has strange consequences for government websites. This search term brings up several FCC orders against Clear Channel Communications from 2004 regarding the use of the word on the air. And there is an especially odd document from the Patent and Trademark office about attempts to trademark "Jack-Off," which are far stranger than those surrounding Daman Wayans recent efforts to trademark the word "Nigga."

These results were generated from "advanced" searching. It is also interesting to note that a simple Google search produces far more "masturbation" listings from the national governments of other countries or from local state, county, and city governments than generally appear in association with the Feds.

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