Guidelines for how to discuss the subject of sex with the news media.
This document offers some simple suggestions on approaches to discussing sex, particularly as it relates to common situations that the executive directors of activist organizations may encounter. It was prepared with input from executive directors about issues affecting them and those knowledgeable about how to deal with GLBT issues surrounding sex effectively.
General Techniques That Work Effectively:
First, in any situation, it is important to gauge the "intent" of the individual making the comment or asking the question. Is this an ultra-conservative publication, reporter, or politician, or is it someone who is sympathetic to the issues?
Be proactive about introducing the subject first or bringing up "onerous" topics once the subject has been introduced into conversation and it seems likely that the other party is moving to "attack". This takes away the "shock value" the other party has in introducing the topic in an inflammatory manner first. Simply stated, "The best defense is a good offense."
Using direct, confrontational responses to insensitive and inappropriate comments or attacks related to sex and/or sexuality. This is usually best done in an "off the record" conversation with media (when possible, of course), or by taking the conversation "off-line for a minute" with politicians and others. Making the other party feel "small" or embarrassing them for trivializing or minimizing issues of civil rights by sensationalizing sex. This technique is particularly effective in public speaking or live media situations involving inappropriate comments, jokes or attacks.
Disputing the incorrect and faulty research used by the radical right to perpetuate myths. Be very comfortable talking about issues of sex and sexuality and maintain a sense of confidence and sense of humor, which is often helpful in a public discourse on sex.
Suggestions on What to Say About Sex
The pluralist argument: Americans take a pluralistic stance in religious and political choices. We say we believe that each religion has a right to its way of practicing its faith and that each political party has a right to its specific platform and legislative goals. You may think one religion or party is better than another is, but you would never try to have your choice taught in the public schools and imposed by law on everyone. Such a pluralistic approach is considered a fundamental part of our constitutional rights in this country. But in sexuality we don't openly voice our support of sexual standards other than abstinence even when we believe in them. And we are much less tolerant of differences in sexual practices and in ideas about sex.
Discuss "the freedom to love" and "loving relationships", which in normal, healthy relationships includes sex. If this involves a form of alternative sexual expression or non-traditional sex (e.g. anything other than the missionary position), talk about the issue in terms of the right to love the way you want, which includes sex in healthy adult relationships, providing it is consensual and not harmful. Use terms to discuss non-traditional sex such as "recognized as a normal and healthy form of sexual expression."
Specific Things to Say About Sex Regarding:
"He made a pass at me in the bar." Respond with, "What if Matthew Shepherd did make a pass? He didn't deserve what happened. What if every woman in America who had ever been hit on in a bar used this excuse? (Or, in a more confrontational situation that allows an "off the record" conversation "What if Matthew Shepherd did stick his tongue in his ear and put his hand on his crotch, it still doesn't justify his being tortured and killed.")
GLBT folks are "oversexed" or "always having sex"
Once again, refer to this as a false stereotype perpetuated by the radical right with no scientific basis. It is also appropriate to expand this discussion into how even hand holding in public by GLBT partners is often portrayed by the radical right as "overt sexual", even when the activity is a normal and publicly accepted sign of affection in a loving relationship.
Stress that these issues are more about identity than about sex. Also, a transgendered person may be gay, but is at least equally likely not to be gay. Many people are curious about how transgendered people have sex and ask this insensitive question. A good response is, "Just like any one else, but this isn't about sex. It's about the serious discrimination and persecution that persists exactly because of the sensationalistic focus on sex such as questions like this one."
The "sick joke or attack" in public
When circumstances arise related to crude jokes or attacks in public related to sex, such as talk shows or public forums, use responses intended to embarrass the other party and change the subject. Use responses like, "I'd like to ask you how you think your inappropriate question/comment made those gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks sitting here with us tonight feel? I'm here to have a dialogue about serious civil rights issues affecting GLBT people, not provide a vehicle for crude entertainment or inappropriate discussions."
Introducing sex politically
It may be useful to begin by saying that these are issues on which many people hold strong and sensitive emotional opinions. But then stress that if we can't discuss sex issues in rational, objective, scientific terms, we leave people in the dark and create health risks and emotional problems and make discrimination and bigotry more likely.