Monday, July 5, 2010

Letter to Radiolab

If you guys haven't checked out the Radiolab podcast yet, I strongly urge you to do so. It's the most consistently excellent pop-intellectual show around, and there are few ways to spend an hour that are as entertaining and enlightening as listening to one of their podcasts. Still, their coverage of sexual minorities, when the subject comes around, leaves much to be desired. Hence this letter:

Dear Radiolab,

I'm a big fan of the show. While I discovered it only a month or so ago, your insightful commentary and interesting stories have made Radiolab a regular part of my podcasting diet. That makes your persistent sex-negativity and mistreatment of sexual minorities all the more distressing.

The latest incident was, of course, in your "Oops" episode, in which it was clearly implied that the villainous doctor's cruel psychological experiments were related to his sadomasochistic behavior in the bedroom. I'm sure you have an image of kinky people in your head- depraved, evil people whose scruples would never prevent them from engaging in clearly immoral behavior. I'm equally certain that your image would not survive a meeting with these supposed monsters, such as you might have at your local Conversio Virium meetings, a BDSM discussion and meeting group at Columbia University.

If you are not inclined to take such a step (and I cannot blame you, given the standard portrayals of kinky people), listen to the experts. The research efforts of psychologists in this field have been clear: kinky people are no more dangerous than anyone else. For example, a study done by the University of New South Wales found correlation between kinky sexual desires and psychological distress and impairment, and in fact found men into such things scored slightly better than the general populace. "Our findings support the idea that bondage and discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM) is simply a sexual interest or subculture attractive to a minority," Associate Professor Juliet Richters and her colleagues wrote in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. To the extent that stigma against kinky people persists in the psychological establishment, it is largely a result of widespread ignorance of such findings.

Your reporting on this subject has not only been erroneous; it's also harmful. According to the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, 30% of regular practitioners of kinky sex report facing discrimination, with 24% losing a job and 3% losing a child over their private sexual activities. As a member of the media, you have a social responsibility to report with care, a responsibility you have thus far abdicated in strengthening the stigma our society's marginalized face.

A public apology is in my opinion warranted. In the absence of such, I hope that you will have a care when discussing sexual minorities in the future.

James Vonder Haar

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