Naked City

Sex Is Good for Texas

Gary Condit, Monica Lewinsky, George W. Bush: Their sex lives were probed, poked, and mocked during Planned Parenthood's "Sex and Politics With Texas Divas," a panel discussion featuring syndicated columnist Molly Ivins, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, and author/ex-Lady Bird Johnson press secretary Liz Carpenter. Held Friday at the Capitol Marriott, the panel discussion was moderated by Planned Parenthood national President Gloria Feldt as part of a weekend conference for PP's Western region. Besides providing comic relief, the panel discussion was billed as an exploration of Planned Parenthood's commitment to ensuring that sexuality be considered a normal aspect of human life, not a weird, dirty habit.

For more than an hour, the trio of liberated, liberal women touted the merits of openly discussing sex -- which never fails to make politics more interesting -- and how the two subjects have merged in their own lives. They chided the culture's hypocritical attitudes towards sex: While T&A is everywhere, there's little discussion about how it all actually works, and the resulting ignorance can produce devastating political consequences. Especially if the ignorant happen to be elected officials pondering votes on bills dealing with reproductive rights or sex education. Richards recalled a half-hour discussion with one male state senator who didn't understand the difference between a tubular pregnancy and a test-tube baby.

"The challenge for Planned Parenthood is to try to make these people at least informed enough to cast an intelligent vote," she said. Texas used to have "a pretty good lobby system" among women who slept with politicians during legislative sessions, the former governor explained. "You used to be able to get word to the women ... about different bills, and tell them what you expected their guys to do." But that was before Lewinskygate showed both politicians and the press -- "who are screwing around themselves" -- just how much damage a sex scandal can inflict on a political career.

Ivins and Carpenter focused on some of the "sex scandals" that don't make Lewinsky-sized headlines: For instance, the mysterious evolution of the definition of "feminist" from "free-loving, easy screw" to "man-hating lesbian," as Ivins put it. Or Bush's current attempts to place Kentucky obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. W. David Hager, a member of the far-right Focus on the Family's physicians council, on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of marketed and investigational drugs for women. Hager is one the fiercest opponents of RU-486 and has recommended reading the Bible as a cure for women suffering from premenstrual syndrome.

But in the looming shadow of the war on Iraq, such significant domestic issues have slipped into the same drawer as the family copy of The Joys of Sex. As Carpenter put it bluntly: "We're not a civilized society."

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