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We get a lot of inquiries about international submissions to the Sexies. Along with not finding it fair to change the stated rules mid stream (because some other international writers may have read the criteria and chosen not to submit), there are a few other rationales for not going global, and I wanted to share how one of our board members put them:

(1) Unless we could afford the huge expense of translation, it would privilege journalism in Anglophone countries or countries where upper-class people read stuff in English even if everyone else doesn't.

(2) As a group, our judges know a lot about problems in North American culture with how sex is handled in pop journalism. They aren't so familiar with how it works, or doesn't, in other cultures, making it hard to accurately judge them in context.

So, it's not that we don't know there's incredible work being done all over the world! But we don't think it makes sense for us to claim to be able to judge it in the same way.

As you're thinking about what to submit to the 2009 Sexies, I wanted to make a specific call for well-done news stories about "negative sex news."

What do I mean? In short, when people hear "sex-positive journalism," they tend to think of things like sympathetic profiles of sexual subcultures, or coverage of good news about legal defense of our sexual freedom, or myth-dispelling coverage of good sex research.

All of these things are awesome and we want to see more of them.

But there's another place where we need better reporting about sex: when things do go wrong. We can't pretend that sex is always good or that news about it is always cheery. And when it's not, it gets in the news. Think about these scenarios:
  • A beloved priest is accused of child abuse and those accusing him keep talking about "these gay priests."
  • A sexual relationship ends up in court and one person is saying it was consensual kink and the other is saying it was abuse.
  • Neighbors are complaining that people going to a private swingers party at a local inn are disruptive and loud—and immoral.
In each of these situations—and countless others—a sex-savvy and responsible journalist can provide a service for readers by giving them the tools to sort out tangled issues and by pointing out when the actors in a story are mixing up different issues due to their own biases. Journalists can explain that being gay does not correlate with abusing children, describe the hallmarks of a consensual BDSM arrangement so actual abuse can be identified, and write in such a way that sorts out true nuisance problems from conceptual discomfort.

This is hard work to do, often thankless, done on short news deadlines rather than fun feature schedules, and yet it is crucial. We strongly encourage writers and readers to notice and submit stories on topics such as these that get it right, are accurate and fair, and increase understanding in their readers rather than hysteria.

Boston Mag Takes Sexies Judges Advice

Well, OK, not literally.

But one Sexies judge did say of runner-up Tom Johansmeyer's article "War Games: No WMDs But Military Police Find ‘Dangerous’ Dildos in Iraq," "This is the sort of story that ought to find its way into the mainstream, but is instead consigned to the adult press specifically because of the biases we've started the Sex-Positive Journalism Awards to address.”

So whether we can take any credit for it or not, we were quite pleased to see that it did so, in a Boston Magazine piece by Tom called "Operation Desert Porn."

The Sex-Positive Journalism Awards got a shoutout in the introduction to Cleis Press’s Best Sex Writing 2009, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (a Sexies judge for the 2009 awards), and three Sexies winners show up in its pages.

The anthology includes pieces from “blogs, magazines, newspapers and books” and with its blend of news, opinion, and essay is meant to stimulate “your biggest sex organ, your brain” rather than arouse (Cleis has other books for that!).

The Sexies runner up article "War Games” by Tom Johansmeyer is included the collection, as are pieces by Sexies first-place winners Debbie Nathan and Amanda Robb. In fact, Bussel says she discovered Robb through the Sexies!

Read the introduction and the table of contents here.

Stories Behind the Sexies: Debbie Nathan

Debbie Nathan, author of the first-place winning "Hysteria, Exploitation, and Witch Hunting in the Age of Internet Sex" shares a little of what it was like to report:

"I made myself an apron after I found out I'd won, and I bought iron-on letters. The first thing I put on the apron was: "I wrote responsibly about sex and all I got was shingles." It's true: while working on my article I broke out in a flaming case of herpes zoster. I've never had a more nerve-wracking experience trying to report a piece and get it published.

One of the people I was writing critically about, the former New York Times reporter, was constantly threatening to sue any reporter or publication who covered his dicey journalism practices. Everyone was terrified to cross him, and it goes without saying that after he noisily announced he was suing me for $10 million, I had a hard time finding any place to run my work about him. But Counterpunch stepped up to the plate. Publisher and editor Alexander Cockburn felt that the story was important, and he paid over $10,000 in lawyers' fees to deal with unremitting threats of a lawsuit if Counterpunch were to run my article. It came out and I was not sued. Neither was Counterpunch. Even so, I was exhausted!

Then I won the award. I was so jazzed that I scratched out "shingles" on the apron and replaced it with "Sexies." I so appreciate the prize. It energized me to keep writing responsiby about sex, even if it raises some blisters."

Debbie gives shout outs to the following folks for helping her along the way:

Counterpunch publisher and editor Alexander Cockburn, who spent over $10,000 in legal fees, out of his own pocket, responding to unremitting but ultimately baseless threats by Kurt Eichenwald to sue me and Counterpunch if the piece were published.

Gabe Thompson, who volunteered to tag-team-report part of the story that took place in a Tennessee courtroom, when it appeared Eichenwald might have the proceedings closed and sealed if I were seen in the courtroom.

The board members of the National Center for Reason and Justice, who graciously endured threatening demands by Eichenwald that the organization turn over its records because I was on the board.

New York City media lawyer Victor Kovner, who provided me with pro bono representation when Eichenwald first threatened to sue me, and who encouraged me to forge ahead with the reporting that finally turned into the Counterpunch piece.

Lincoln Anderson, co-author of "Media, critics get whipped into a frenzy over Leatherfest" gives us some back story:

"I'm glad that The Villager's article about the Leather Festival received a Sex Positive award. It was a pretty divisive issue in the Village community. One would think Greenwich Village is totally open and liberal when it comes to sex and alternative lifestyles, but there are also pretty conservative people who live down here, and they have their opinions too. Some of them felt a Leather Festival was just inappropriate. I think why we received a Sex Positive award was probably because we didn't just write a sensationalistic article -- as some other local media did, mainly the daily papers -- but tried to simply, objectively lay out the arguments on both sides.

We probably didn't change anyone's views; those who don't like Leather Festivals probably will continue not to like them. But I think it was important that we accurately reported the community-review and -approval process for the fair, the free-speech issues involved, and then the actual happenings at the festival.

Really, it wasn't that "scary" or "evil" -- just your typical street fair, except some guys were wearing leather kilts and black PVC geek wear, a woman wore military garb, had a crew cut and threw lesbian parties, there were bull-whip and tying-up-on-the-rack demonstrations. ... I personally feel people should have a right to express themselves, and if they do it on a little, one-block, out-of-the-way street off of America's gayest street -- Christopher St. -- where no one even sees it, much less little kids, what's the big deal? I'm not sure if that came through in the article, which was intended to be an objective report, but that was my feeling.

[Co-author] Jefferson provided on-the-scene reporting and colorful quotes that added to the flavor of the event -- again showing that these are just real people with a sense of fun and humor. I did some on-the-scene reporting and also got the community board chairperson's position on the festival -- that he felt it was a free-speech issue and should not be banned."

Party Photos!

ebbie Nathan at Sexies Award Party
OK. Now we've got a full batch of photos up on Flickr. Check 'em out, leave a comment if you can identify people I couldn't, and feel free to use them in your blogs etc. if you want: They're all Creative Commons licensed. Just credit James as the photographer.

On the other side of the microphone

Last week I was interviewed by an intern, Allie Garcia, from my former place of employ, for this article, out today: "Better Journalism, Better Sex."

I'm not the best at strict, unwavering message discipline (if only because I feel the pain of a journalist faced with it), so it often feels after an interview like I've run at the mouth a little unwisely. I'm used to giving the soundbites on polyamory, but I haven't yet done too many full-fledged interviews on the Sexies.

Anyhow, this came out quite well. Aside from the requisite innuendo and a little unimportant confusion between our categories (feature, news, opinion, column) and divisions (publication type), it's really quite well done, and gets beyond our own press releases a bit in a fun way. I wish she'd gotten to speak with some of the winners or other folks involved, but I know what her space constraints were, so I'm not complaining.

If I may quote myself being quoted: “To me a news story that has sexual content isn’t particularly different. . . . You have to ask all the hard questions, find out what the motivations are and get past the sound bites. The point is that people’s own prejudices get in the way. If you’re covering the environment or housing, people tell you to go look it up and learn about it. But we don’t do that with sexuality."


Originally uploaded by miriamjoyce
Though it wasn’t announced from the stage, the Sexies Award Party also involved some very good news for the awards themselves: The presentation of a $1,000 grant from the David Weinbaum Memorial Foundation to support the 2009 Sexies. The foundation, founded in 1994, provides grants to support projects that are of service to the SM-leather-fetish community and which further the rights, awareness, education, health or well-being of adults engaging in safe, sane and consensual sexual expression.

Along with the money raised by the party itself, this grant will go a long way to ensuring that the Sexies can continue to seek out, lift up, and celebrate journalism that reports responsibly about sex in all its manifestations.

Stories Behind the Sexies: Omar Mouallem

Winning a Sex-Positive Journalism Award gave Omar Mouallem's story "Let's Talk About Sects" a much wider readership: It was reprinted, along with a brief article on the awards, in the national publication Canadian Arab News.

Mouallem says: "It was very profound to have Lets Talk About Sects republished in Canadian Arab News because of how conservative and community-based the paper is. I've been a monthly contributor to CANews for over two years, and I've pitched sexuality-related stories before – including one on gays in the Middle East and legal punishments they face – but they've been rejected by a neglect to respond. I understand why, of course, it's a very sensitive community. Nobody talks about sex in the Arab or Muslim worlds, not even the Arab and Muslims. It has for too long remained taboo, and that's why so many Sunnis have hostile reactions to the Shiites' tradition of mutah. Getting press was nice, but giving the readers a chance to learn about one another within the community was a great honour."

The CAN story is here.
Mouallem's winning story can be read here.


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