But although it’s clear that neither Bush nor Gore represents the pro-sex electorate, still, we did get excited. Campaign 2000 may have been, as many pundits have noted, a prude’s game, but it was a prude’s game in which the sexiest prudes scored highest. For despite all the candidates’ clumsy efforts to imbue the elections with asexual “seriousness,” voters kept judging them on “personality,” a code word, it turns out, for sex appeal. Remember: It was Al Gore’s kissing his wife and George W.’s confident dick-swinging strut that spiked the polls, not their take on Pakistani nukes.
So at this strange moment, in which we hang suspended by Florida between two possible administrations like some cute little Cuban boy cast adrift between competing families, we ask our poor selves: What can we do about this pro-sex agenda of ours? We used to just push, push, push it. To the limit. But it’s apparent from this election that neither Democrats nor Republicans can currently win a majority by courting their extreme wings. So, to make the world safe for sexiness, it is the center that we need to seduce. The conclusion is clear: For the pro-sex electorate the sexiest political act of the upcoming era will be the act of persuasion.
Luckily, this is something we can learn to do from watching politicians themselves. Like them, we must start with a realistic agenda. Here is some of the territory we need to cover: reproductive rights, sex-positive sex education, freedom of speech, gay rights, STD research and affordable sexual health care (including RU-486), and more generally speaking, tolerance for sexual conduct considered fringe or even perverse. The job is to imbue these blah-blah issues with interest, feeling and life.
And like great sex, effective opinion-changing demands great communication. It’s a variety of lovemaking both Bush and Clinton, whatever their other shortcomings, are masters at, so study up.
One: Always flirt. Flirt particularly with undecideds, but flirt with allies and enemies too. People only listen to you if they feel liked and respected. Please don’t fake it: Find something to like in whomever you’re trying to persuade and enjoy the hell out of it. If you can’t, find something to respect about them instead and let them know it. If you don’t feel anything positive towards someone, don’t even bother making the pitch. All they’ll come away with is that snobs who dislike them think like you.
Two: Stay inside your skin at all costs. Inauthenticity reads as dishonesty. You can exaggerate your virtues, but the image you project has to come from your bones, not your words. Clinton and George W. move as if every joint in their bodies feels good to them, and their pleasure’s so palpable people open up to them in the hopes of a contact high.
Three: Be shame-free rather than shameless. Don’t use your sexual difference or eccentricities to cow the timid, but admit to transgressions when appropriate, without a shred of defensiveness. (Clinton missed big on this one.)
Four: Listen hard. Figure out what fears are driving people towards repression. Address those fears. Don’t present yourself to a prude simply as a sex freak; present yourself as a loving, responsible sex freak who shares their opposition to harassment.
Five: Wear the other guy’s shoes. Figure out why the policy you’re promoting is beneficial to whomever you’re trying to persuade. Don’t tell a doubter why sex ed would have saved you a lot of misery in high school; tell her why it could save her kid from pedophiles.
Six: Stay reasonably positive. If you fixate on how you hate the Christian Right or try to punish the benighted with contempt, you’re history.
Seven: Concede points before refuting them. Before you bring out your European statistics showing otherwise, admit that it makes sense for someone to believe that if sex is taught in school, some kids will be encouraged to try it “before they’re emotionally ready.”
Eight: Find common ground. Most people believe in the basic premises of pro-sex policy: That individuals vary, that sex is a private matter, that there’s no accounting for tastes, etc. Use pre-accepted phrases that underline those commonalities.
Nine: Bridge the divine and ridiculous. You’ll seem phoney if you don’t cop to the moral range of sexual behavior. Don’t pretend that sex is always a mystical experience or always benign. The point is sex is too big and vague a set of experiences to legislate.
Although it’s hard, thankless work, persuasion is exciting because it is a reproductive act one that creates a new, living version of your thoughts and feelings in the minds and hearts of others. At its best it’s an exciting exchange of mental and emotional fluids. At its worst it’s a dry hump. But if you don’t reach people in the center of the center with your vision of sex, you can count on this: somebody you disagree with will.