Strange Sports

Via Crooked Timber, I learn that Simon Kuper (author of the excellent Football against the Enemy) has an article in the Financial Times on strange sporting contests involving animals (elephant polo, that kind of thing), which discusses the impressive athletic achievements of Rosa Luxemburg, the Balliol College tortoise…

Tortoise racing, too, has failed to conquer the world. It barely exists outside Oxford University. Each June the university’s leading tortoises race in the garden of Corpus Christi College, spiritual home of the sport. But this year the race was not held due to bad organisation, and last year’s race was spoiled when a student entered in a tortoise costume and declared himself the winner.

Presumably this refers to someone at Magdalen, since the JCR here is very proud of its tortoise costume, and I certainly woudn’t put it past them to disrupt a major sporting contest like this. Vandals.

Corpus’s own reptile died years ago and the college now usually fields an animal borrowed from a tutor. “Various tutors own tortoises, bizarrely enough,” explains Jack Clift, former president of Corpus’s junior common room.

I don’t know which tutor’s tortoise gets borrowed: in the early 1990s, when I used to pay attention, I think the race was a three-cornered contest between the Balliol tortoise, the Corpus tortoise, and the Corpus gardener’s tortoise, who was (if I remember rightly) called Bulldozer.

Like goats, tortoises prefer sex to running. This favours Balliol’s veteran female champion, Rosa Luxemburg. “The tortoises we tend to borrow are male, so she toddles off and the males follow her,” complains Clift.

I hadn’t come across this theory before, and I wonder whether it is true. In fact, I’ve no idea whether Rosa Luxemburg actually is a female tortoise, having very little idea how to sex tortoises. I always thought she used to win owing to her combination of rigorous physical and ideological training provided by an elected official known as Comrade Tortoise, together with her unique diet consisting of the cigarette butts left out on the Garden Quad. But what do I know?”Sex is the whole point of camel wrestling…”, the article continues, at which point I think this discussion should draw to a close.

Sex Toy Ban Upheld

The Associated Press:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Sex toys are still illegal in Alabama, at least as far as the Alabama legislature is concerned. Legislators voted 37-28 against a bill Tuesday that would have removed a ban on sexual devices, such as vibrators, from the state’s obscenity law.

The ban on sexual devices was added at the last minute when the obscenity law passed the legislature in 1998.

A federal judge in Birmingham has twice ruled that the ban is unconstitutional. The first ruling was overturned by the 11th circuit court of appeals and the second ruling has been appealed.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative John Rogers (D–Birmingham) said because of the court ruling, the obscenity law is unenforceable as long as it contains the ban on sex toys.

“All this does is make our obscenity law unconstitutional,” Rogers said.

(via LBO-Talk)

Solitary Sex

The world gears up for war, and I am reading about masturbation…

(Via Arts and Letters) I enjoyed two reviews of Solitary Sex, the new book by the Berkeley historian Thomas Laqueur, here and here. I look forward to getting a copy of the book when it appears in UK bookshops.

Both reviews place a great deal of emphasis on the emerging ideologies of anti-masturbation which developed in eighteenth-century England, with the 1712 publication of Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution and all its Frightful Consequences in both SEXES given pride of place. And these discussions reminded me, not for the first time this week, of one of the most intriguing eighteenth-century anti-masturbation essays: Jeremy Bentham on “Offences Against One’s Self” from around 1785.

It’s an intriguing piece, since the bulk of Bentham’s essay is given over to a slashing attack on Britain’s sex laws (which proscribed death for gay sex, etc.), up to and including the laws against bestiality (“Accidents of this sort will sometimes happen; for distress will force a man upon strange expedients”), much of which is splendidly humane.

But Bentham then turns to masturbation, concerning which he writes that “Of all irregularities of the venereal appetite, that which is the most incontestably pernicious is one which no legislator seems ever to have made an attempt to punish…” He doesn’t recommend legislation — since it “can always be committed without any danger or at least without any apparent danger of a discovery” — but he does disapprove…

Read the whole thing. It’s good stuff.

Sex strike now!


On Monday 3 March there will be (at least) eight hundred and ninety-two public readings of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata all around the world.

Friends and colleagues will be taking part in the Oxford instantiation of this phenomenon, which will take place at Balliol College at 7.30pm, using the Tony Harrison text. Do come.

While I’m on the subject, Virtual Stoa readers in Oxford might like to remember to sign the antiwar petition, which will close on Wednesday. Students go here; staff here.

UPDATE [8.3.2003]: The Oxford Lysistrata was excellent, and Katha Pollitt’s coverage of events in New York in The Nation is here.

Gender as Anti-Church Code

Oh dear: I seem to be experiencing another anti-Catholic moment. (Last month’s anti-Catholic moment, you will recall, concerned the way the Church in Boston is behaving like a bunch of thugs as it tries to evade responsibility for ruining many people’s lives: this piece by Christopher Hitchens also deserves a link). This month’s takes a different tack:

OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK
Vatican Says Word ‘Gender’ Is Anti-Church Code(WOMENSENEWS)–The Vatican announced it will publish a collection of phrases and words including “reproductive rights” and “gender” that it says are code for anti-Catholic sentiments.

The Vatican said these and approximately 76 other neutral-sounding terms about family and life are used to cover up deeper, anti-Church meanings, according to The Associated Press. The Vatican will publish the 1,000-page lexicon of the terms soon.

In an interview with the religious affairs monthly journal 30 Giorni (30 Days), Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said the phrase “reproductive rights” is misleading because it “is used for propaganda–not for the right to reproduction but . . . to abortion,” The Washington Times reported.

The Vatican decided to create the book after nongovernmental organizations complained about “ambiguous” words and phrases used at United Nations meetings…

It will be great fun to get a copy of this thousand-page lexicon when it comes out, which will be required and entertaining reading. But what’s sad — more than sad, in fact — is that this isn’t just the usual run of harmless religious lunacy, since these interventions on the subject of “gender” have a real impact on the development of the international legal regime.The International Criminal Court website, for example, trumpets this:

“The Rome Statute explicitly recognizes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and sexual violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Trafficking is encompassed within the crime against humanity of enslavement. Also, for the first time, gender-based persecution is included as a crime against humanity. The codification of these crimes in the Statute is significant as prior humanitarian law has afforded trivial treatment to such grave violence.”

This sounds excellent, and indeed, it mostly is. Turn to Article 7, Paragraph 3, however, and you find the weaselly definition of “gender” being used by the Statute, negotiated by the Vatican and supported by various Islamic regimes and the United States (which isn’t proposing to cooperate with the Court after all):

It is understood that the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different from the above.

So much for the work of a generation of gender studies. And so much for the human rights of transsexuals and other gender queers who alone seem to be exempted from international legal protections against gender-based violence. The small print bit: Credit where it’s due: the above information came to me via Raj, but is originally from Women’s Enews, which is a nonprofit independent news service covering issues of concern to women and their allies: an incubator program of the Fund for the City of New York, Women’s Enews is supported by readers and various progressive foundations. Donate now by going here.

Harmful to Minors

Here’s an interesting story from the world of academic publishing. I’m not sure if it’s had an airing in the UK press. On 2 April, the Associated Press reported that “A month before its publication, a provocative book about children’s sexuality is being denounced by conservatives as evil and prompting angry calls for action against the University of Minnesota Press”.

Judith Levine’s new book, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex, was rejected by a number of publishers before being accepted by the University of Minnesota Press — which only agreed to publish it after sending the manuscript out to review to five experts for comment, advice and approval, rather than the usual two.

In Harmful to Minors, Levine argues that abstinence-only sex education is misguided. She also suggests the threat of pedophilia and molestation by strangers is exaggerated by adults who want to deny young people the opportunity for positive sexual experiences.”Squeamish or ignorant about the facts, parents appear willing to accept the pundits’ worst conjectures about their children’s sexual motives,” Levine writes. “It’s as if they cannot imagine that their kids seek sex for the same reasons they do.” …

Levine said this week that she disapproves of any sexual relationship between a youth and an authority figure, whether a parent, teacher or priest. However, she believes teen-agers deserve more respect for the choices they make in consensual affairs, and suggests that America’s age-of-consent laws can sometimes lead to excessive punishment.

Predictably enough, the Right has weighed in. Radio looney Dr. Laura and other talkshow festermongers have denounced the book, sight unseen, and Robert Knight, the director of Concerned Women for America’s Culture and Family Institute, a group dedicated to bringing “Biblical principles into all levels of public policy”, is urging the University of Minnesota to fire the university press officials who decided to publish the book. He said this: “The action is so grievous and so irresponsible that I felt they relinquished their right to academic freedom,” and described the book as “very evil.” Not just evil, but “very evil”.A few days after the story broke, the Press announced a review of its policies. A snippet in the local paper, the Star Tribune, said this on 5 April:

In response to national criticism of a soon-to-be released book about children’s sexuality, the University of Minnesota on Thursday announced an external review of its publishing department.

The review will be conducted by a panel of experts from other academic and university presses during a two-month period, said Christine Maziar, a university vice president who oversees the University of Minnesota Press.
She said the review will cover policies and procedures for acquiring, reviewing and developing books.

“We’re going to turn this into an opportunity instead of a crisis response,” said Maziar, who is also dean of the U’s Graduate School.

Let’s hope so.Is this a story with a happy ending? On 10 April, the AP reported again…

Furor over book on youth and sexuality turns it into a hit

The furor over a provocative new book on youth and sexuality has helped turn it into a hit.

The University of Minnesota Press ordered a second printing of ” Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex” by writer Judith Levine.

It will print another 10, 000 copies of the book, a larger than usual second run, spokeswoman Allison Aten said Wednesday. The first run was 3, 500 books.

“We’ ve had strong orders for the book, so we decided to go back to press just because she’ s getting so much publicity, ” Aten said. The demand is coming from independent, chain and online booksellers, as well as wholesalers and distributors, she said.

Have a look yourself: excerpts are posted here. Enjoy.

Orgy puts stop to degree courses in sex

Only in the Daily Telegraph:

By Oliver Poole in Los Angeles

A university course on male and female sexuality has been suspended after students took part in orgies and were taken to a gay strip bar where they watched their instructor have sex.

Male undergraduates at the University of California at Berkeley also complained that they were made to listen to other people’s depraved sexual fantasies, take pictures of their genitalia and watch explicit pornography.

A female sexuality class at the university, which was synonymous in the 1960s with the spirit of free love and psychedelia, is also being investigated after it emerged that it, too, involved visits to strip clubs, along with lectures from porn stars.

Social science faculty heads took action after student Jessica McMahon said that at the end of the trip to the gay strip club the class instructor stripped on stage and started to engage in sexual activity with one of the club’s male performers.

She said: “It got kind of crazy and one of the [strippers] ended up getting fired.”

Christy Kovacs, a Berkeley freshman on the course last term, said that there had been an open invitation to any students who were interested in attending an after-class orgy at another instructor’s home.

They were encouraged to pair off and disappear into one of the bedrooms before swapping to have sex with another partner.

Marie Felde, the university’s spokesman, said that an investigation into the accusations had begun. She said: “Those sorts of activities are not part of the approved course curriculum.”

State senator Dick Ackerman, a Republican and a former student at the university, has demanded the institution “re-evaluate” its approach to pastoral care.

The male and female sexuality courses were set up by the university a decade ago to examine the limits and prejudices surrounding sex.

Although established and monitored by the social sciences faculty, student instructors ran the classes, which counted towards end of year marks.

Among the lecturers scheduled to speak at the male sexuality class this term were Nina Hartley, a porn star who appeared in the Hollywood film Boogie Nights, a representative from an anti-circumcision organisation, and the owner of Good Vibrations, a local sex shop.

It’s such a good Daily Telegraph story that the reader has no idea at all as to whether it might be true.