Introduction to Second Edition:
From Bush to Obama—Little or No Relief from the War on Sex

Baseline: Bush

As documented in the first edition, the presidency of George W. Bush was a continual series of assaults and new restrictions on sexual rights. During this period America struggled through:

  • The congressional pursuit of Internet censorship.
  • The creation of the Department of Justice’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force.
  • Massive funding of dangerous, inaccurate abstinence-only sex education, totaling over $1 billion.
  • A dramatic reduction in reproductive rights.
  • Multiple lawsuits, punitive actions, and regulations launched by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) against “indecency” on TV and radio.
  • Fierce maintenance of laws excluding homosexual men and women from military service, adoption, marriage, and other civil rights that the government routinely provides heterosexual Americans.
  • Enhanced government cooperation with, and financial support of, “decency” groups such as Morality in Media, Enough Is Enough, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and Focus on the Family.
  • Increased state and municipal government interference with the rights of sexual privacy, assembly, and commerce. Successful targets included sexually explicit magazines and videos, strip clubs, adult bookstores, revealing swimsuits, swing clubs, bathhouses, and even adult sex education centers.

Enter Obama

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 was supposed to change many things, including government intrusion into private life. In the area of sexual rights, unfortunately, the positive effects have been extremely limited. More than halfway through Obama’s first (and perhaps only) term, we can see several clear socio-political trends, including:

  • Abdication of federal leadership in maintaining or developing sexual rights
  • Continued legislative ignorance (local, state, and congressional) about how the First Amendment and other protections of free expression relate to sexuality
  • Continued legitimacy of scare tactics, inaccurate beliefs, ideological agendas, and false assertions to justify virtually any legislative restriction on sexual rights
  • Continued expansion of government tools to undermine sexual rights, including zoning, eminent domain, police power, redevelopment, public health imperatives, exclusion zones, Sexually Oriented Business laws, bogus secondary effects doctrines, and medical regulations
  • Use of the Patriot Act and “national security” considerations to undermine sexual rights

Lacking a clear vision or mandate from Washington, and with the president’s bully pulpit disused and in tatters, individual states have aggressively led the way in increasing restrictions on sexual rights and sexual expression. Examples include restrictions on access to abortion, pointless expansion of sex offender registries with increasingly punitive conditions, restrictions on the availability of adult entertainment, protections for licensed medical personnel who reject their professional responsibilities, and heightened entrapment programs (often motivated by federal grants) to pursue adults in adult chatrooms engaged in fantasy age-play.

In addition, many sex-negative narratives or beliefs (all demonstrably false) have become more popular in American society during the Obama administration. These include:

  • Sex trafficking is an enormous problem and is getting worse.
  • Adult use of legal, adult pornography is a public health menace.
  • The Internet is increasingly full of predators preying on young people.
  • Sex research is a waste of time and money.
  • Adults should be allowed to opt out of virtually any contact with sexuality they find distasteful, whether in school (various sexual books, words, and ideas), at work (“conscience clauses” for pharmacists and others), in professional training (most medical students are no longer required to learn a full range of gynecological procedures), or in public (public art is increasingly sanitized of sexual content, including classic Greek sculpture).

Such discourses continue to complicate progressive efforts to base public policy on fact and science rather than on emotion and opinion. As the media, Religious Right, and conservative politicians continue to trivialize science as one perspective out of many—that is, just an opinion—it is increasingly difficult to find legitimate venues with which to counter baseless anti-sex rhetoric with fact. The life-saving, virtually risk-free vaccine Gardasil is an example.


One of the most troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, and contemporary state and local politics, is the continued exceptionalism regarding religious belief in political life. Even more than under President Bush, religious sensitivities have a special seat at virtually all public policy tables, from reproductive rights to tax codes to employment policies.

Obama has actually expanded the destructive Office of Faith-Based Funding begun by his predecessor. He started by naming Pentacostal pastor Joshua DuBois to lead the White House faith office (DuBois still holds this position). Obama then poured billions of dollars in federal money into social service programs that, because they are “faith-based,” are exempt from the normal federal requirements of non-discrimination in hiring, firing, proselytizing, and so on. When campaigning in 2008, Obama promised he wouldn’t tolerate such discrimination, but he has and he continues to do so.

Today’s federal Department of Health and Human Services has reaffirmed that even health workers who are licensed to provide medical care are not required to perform their duties if their “conscience” instructs them not to. This is in clear contrast to anyone who declines to do their job if they believe Napolean or Cleopatra instructs them not to. Favoring religious “instructions” over non-religious “instructions” is a clear violation of America’s invaluable separation of Church and state.

Virtually all instances of these religious fits of “conscience” involve sexuality—often reproductive services such as filling prescriptions for contraception, providing D&Cs, performing abortions, and so on. The door is wide open for taxi drivers, janitors, office workers, and virtually any employee to claim a religious exemption from doing work that supports sexual expression with which a worker disagrees.

America’s tax codes are quite clear in requiring that, in exchange for massive tax exemptions, religious institutions are barred from directly participating in election campaigns. Unfortunately, there are dramatic, ongoing violations of this regulation under the Obama administration. Thus, churches are now firmly part of the infrastructure that helps elect candidates who oppose reproductive choice and contraceptive access. Having been thus emboldened, the Alliance Defense Fund is actively campaigning to end this restriction on tax-supported Churches. For more on this, see Chapter 13.


So why have sexual rights become increasingly tenuous during this nominally Democratic presidency?

Part of the reason is the lack of a coherent vision of either sexual rights or sexual health coming from the president. One is tempted to excuse this by noting the profound systemic challenges this president faces—global economic collapse, enormous unemployment, a Republican Party focused solely on destroying his ability to govern.

However, the criminalization and sanction of ordinary sexual behavior causes great suffering for millions of Americans. To a parent who loses custody of her child because she’s into sadomasochism (S/M), or a teen put on a life-long sex offender registry for texting nude photos of himself, the War on Sex is no abstraction that can be sacrificed to other issues. For people whose lives are damaged or ruined because of it, the War on Sex is real and current and profound.

Another reason the War on Sex has gotten worse is that the Religious Right has become stronger, smarter, richer, and more aggressive with regard to sexuality. Having almost completed its planned criminalization of abortion, it is now going after contraception and other medical interventions. They have successfully marginalized the wonder drug Gardasil, which could have protected an entire generation from human papillomavirus (HPV)—on the grounds that it “might” lead to “promiscuity.” Indeed, it became an issue in the recent Republican presidential nomination process, as Michelle Bachmann and others went after Rick Perry, who as Texas governor required the inoculation of schoolgirls several years ago.

Finally, the Religious Right has created coalitions on zoning boards, city councils, and state legislatures that have reduced or even eliminated adult entertainment in large parts of the country. They have persuaded many major hotel chains to stop offering adult movies in guest rooms. Regional bigots like Phil Burress have been rewarded and are now national bigots.

A Bright Spot

In all, the outlook for sexual rights in America is dim, particularly with the leadership of the Republican Party jostling each other to prove that they are the most conservative, most religious, most anti-sexual, and least respectful of individual rights. This is a movement that demands small government—except when it comes to limiting Americans’ sexual rights.

The only bright spot ahead in this regard is the dramatic advance in civil rights for America’s lesbians and gay men. For more on that, see the Epilog. For an update on everything else, turn the page.


Although every Alabaman has a fundamental right to own a gun, they don't have the same right to own a dildo.

--page 89








Who's Waging the
War on Sex?






© 2012 Marty Klein, Ph.D. - All Rights Reserved