Toronto Star

Why no reporters on the sex beat?

Oct. 19, 2003

ANTONIA ZERBISIAS

What the media need is more sex.

Oh sure, it looks like everybody's doing it, talking about doing it, talking about having done it or talking about who else is doing it, but the truth is, we're only talking around it. Not even the reality shows that feature folks doing it in the dark, under the covers or in the hot tub, actually show it, or seriously discuss it.

And even the stuff that purports to be about it, and about nothing else, such as educational cable series (The Sex Files) or a piece not long ago by the Star's David Graham (`'Everything's Coming Up Penis''), dances around the maypole with images of towering cacti or lush Georgia O'Keeffe-ish renditions of flower petals.

According to John Ince, a Vancouver-based lawyer, author and co-founder of the sexuality centre The Art of Loving (http://www.taol.ca), just because there seems to be hot sex everywhere doesn't mean we've warmed up to it.

"This is what happens when you're uncomfortable with the real juicy parts of sex — really being vulnerable, really talking about what you like in bed, what you don't like, really talking about your sexual history — all of this is still taboo,'' he said the other day, as he devoured a blueberry muffin in a way that had me contemplating ...

Oh never mind. I can't discuss it in a family newspaper. Which is why I listen up when Ince observes, stating the obvious: "We can't grapple with the essence of sexuality because of prejudice and phobia and yet we're drawn to sexuality by nature.''

And that's the point, or at least one of them, in Ince's just-published scholarly book The Politics Of Lust (Pivotal Press) which examines our phobias about sex and genitalia.

So what's this got to do with the media, I'm wondering, especially since, nowadays, sex and nudity seem to be in our faces?

(In fact, just as I was typing these words, a news release from CHUM's Star! channel landed in my in-box, promoting an upcoming episode of Maggie Cassella's Because I Said So which asks "Is TV Too Racy?" This from the channel that runs the digitally-blurred-in-strategic-places Wild On every night? (Give. Me. A. Break.)

Ince says that his study of our attitudes towards sexuality has very much to do with the media. For example, he asks, isn't it hypocritical of us to report stories about sex or genitalia — whether we're reviewing the play Puppetry Of The Penis or covering sexually transmitted diseases — and never show the organs in our organs?

"The first journalistic principle is to tell the whole truth. Even if the story is unpopular, you must tell the truth,'' Ince insists, adding that, by slapping black bars or blurry pixels over the verboten bits, we're legitimizing the same sort of censorship to which we in the free press always say we're opposed.

"To on the one hand argue that the government and other organizations cannot censor and then to practise it yourself overtly is contrary to the notion of a free press,'' he says.

To make matters worse, we in the media allow the erotophobes in the audience to dictate what we publish.

"Fear is motivating, relaxation isn't,'' Ince says. "When I see genitals or breasts in your newspaper and I react erotophobically, I am probably going to call and complain about it. If I have no negative arousal, I am not going to call and say I am really glad you had an image of a breast there. You might think I am a little weird."

Indeed. And so Ince posits that, because of a vocal, overly moral minority, "the media, the police and all people in positions of authority get a biased image of what the public wants or doesn't want by the propensity of negatively aroused people to complain and the propensity of those who are not upset to do nothing.''

Last but not least, Ince maintains that what the mainstream media need is not just more sex, but more sexpertise.

"There is no paper in Canada that has a reporter covering the sex beat. There are niche reporters covering gardening, technology, wine, labour, hockey ... But there is nobody covering the extraordinary world of sexuality."

Adding that he doesn't mean sex advice columnizing, Ince says that, what with all the legitimate sex-related news going on, whether we're talking new cures for male impotence or the rise of cyber hook-ups, he's amazed that the media don't have specialists on the job.

"Why is that discourse absent?" he asks, posing an astonishingly good question.

So, even if it seems that sex is oozing off every page, screen or billboard, it's all just a big fat tease.

"We play in the world of double entendres. We giggle. We have everything but the raw erotic elements. And that's what I see so much on shows such as Blind Date and the rest of the media,'' he concludes. "It's not about the sex per se. It's about everything but. It's the doughnut. But sex is the hole in the doughnut. Everything else is just the doughnut."

Damn. I'm focused on that muffin-diving again.

Must get mind off it ...