European Flesh and the American Prude

I find that Europeans are, compared to Americans, more comfortable with their bodies and with sex. (In fact, I imagine even bringing up this topic in my blog might offend some Americans.) Thinking through my recent travels, the examples are plentiful.

My Dutch friends had a copy of a graphic, government-produced magazine promoting safe sex on their coffee table. I was sitting on the toilet at an airport in Poland and the cleaning lady asked me to lift my legs so she could sweep. I’ve learned that I can measure the after-dark romantic appeal of scenic pull-outs along Italy’s Amalfi Coast drive by how many used condoms litter the asphalt. Soap ads on huge billboards overlooking major city intersections in Belgium come with lathered-up breasts. The logo of a German friend’s travel guidebook publishing company is a stick figure of a traveler on a tropical paradise islet leaning up against its only palm tree, hands behind his head, reading a book that’s supported by his erect penis. Children play naked in fountains in Norway. A busty porn star is elected to parliament in Italy. Coppertoned grandmothers in the south of France have no tan lines. The student tourist center in Copenhagen welcomes visitors with a bowl of free condoms at the info desk. Accountants in Munich fold their suits neatly on the grass as every inch of their body soaks up the sun while taking a lunch break in the park.

I’m not comfortable with all of it. In Barcelona during a construction industry convention, locals laughed that they had to actually bus in extra prostitutes from France for this gang. I find the crude sexual postcards sold on racks all over the Continent gross, the Benny Hill-style T&A that inundates TV throughout Mediterranean Europe boorish, and the topless models strewn across page two of so many British newspapers insulting to women. And I’ll never forget the time my wife and I had to physically remove the TV from our children’s hotel room in Austria after seeing a couple slamming away on the free channel 7 (and the hotelier looked at us like we were crazy).

Comparisons with America are striking. In our culture, a popular children’s TV host is routed into obscurity after being seen in an adult theater. A pop star dominates the news media for days after revealing a partially obscured breast for a fleeting moment during a football halftime show. During one particularly moralistic time, statues of classical goddesses gracing our nation’s Capitol were robed. And, because my travel show includes naked statues, it actually has to be shown only after 10 p.m. in some American towns.

I’m not saying we should all run around naked and have Playboys lying around in the doctor’s waiting room. But I have a hunch that children raised in America, where sex is “dirty,” are more likely to have problems with sex and their bodies than those in Europe. I suspect there is more violence associated with sex here than there. I have a hunch that the French, who have as many words for a kiss as Eskimos have for snow, enjoy making love more than we Americans do. I like a continent where sexual misconduct won’t doom a politician with anyone other than his family and friends, and where the human body is considered a divine work of art worth admiring openly.

An early edition of my art-for-travelers guidebook featured a camera-toting David— full frontal nudity, Michelangelo-style — on the cover. My publisher said sales reps complained that in more conservative parts of the USA, bookstores were uncomfortable stocking it. A fig leaf would help sales.

When it comes to great art, I don’t like fig leafs. But I proposed, just for fun, that we put a peel-able fig leaf on the cover so people could have the book cover the way they preferred. My publisher said that would be too expensive. I offered to pay half (10 cents per book times 10,000). He went for it, and I had the fun experience of writing “for fig leafs” on a $500 check. Perhaps that needless expense just adds to my wish that Americans were more European in their comfort level with nakedness.

Am I off-base? What’s behind all this, anyway?


86 Replies to “European Flesh and the American Prude”

  1. Well, I have always thought it interesting that according to legend most early emigrants came to this country for Freedom. Religious and otherwise. Of course we now know, that only meant freedom for THEIR religion and lifestyle, not anyone else’s. I live in Utah, where sex, alcohol, press and freedom in many forms are highly regulated. Probably most interesting is that some Mormon’s continue to practice multiple wives. This is a part of their religious freedom afforded them in our constitution, however, made illegal anyway.

  2. Oh, I forgot the sex part: Having observed closely the mating habits of Mormon’s, I have observed that spending all their time trying not to have sex or think about it, seems to have the opposite effect. I think trying to ignore sex is like trying to wrestle an octopus. Better to learn and accept the nature of the beast rather than try to hold it down. Missionaries used to sleep together. Legend has it to save money and to keep an eye on each other. Worked so good they had to stop it. Too many lonely boys were turning gay…all that way from home.

  3. This reminds me, how my American husband freaked out, when he saw a picture, that my mom had taken, on one of my trips to Finland, of our daughter with a little naked boy in the background. Where I come from, little kids are often naked at the beach and nothing is thought of it. Nobody finds it sexual. Nor is breast feeding sexual. Going to sauna is not sexual and a lot of families do it all together. You Americans definitely need to lighten up on the matter. I wonder what caused you to be so uptight about it? Was it the puritans that settled this country? As a matter of fact, I think that this weird mentality breeds people like Jeffrey Dahmer and the like. It breeds perverts and weirdos.

  4. Each trip to Europe restores my faith in humanity in general but lowers my opinion of Americans. This isn’t as much to do with the nudity issue as it is with topics such as your previous post about work ethic. Americans need to grow up, seize life, and learn to enjoy it.

  5. Human sexuality is normal, healthy, and should be discussed openly, but repectfully. The trick is to achieve openness without becoming immoral or having lost respect for either gender. Obviously, European culture goes too far, which I think demonstrates the difficulty of this challenge. My parents, I think had some of it right. When we asked a question we received full, complete answers. It was not uncommon to discuss oral sex, masturbation, (pick a sexual topic) etc. at the dinner table. I have no memory of ever being made to feel embarrased to ask a question. A question asked was a question simply answered. This was also done while teaching both the sanctity and the beauty of the human body. If we treated our body cheaply, then we would earn a cheap reputation; it was our choice. We were taught that character was the ability to control our passions and it was the poor man that lived subservient to the carnal desires. Further, it would be considered sacriledge to “cover up” the Michelangelo’s David or the paints of any of the works of the masters. I know that for some people morals are perceived as the social structures of the prude and the unliberated. However, history demonstrates that without some degree of morality society begins to decay and results in failure. I wish we could find a happy medium, but it seems the social pendulum wants to swing to extremes. As an aside, let’s cease the repetition of Mormon mythology. It may be fun to poke fun, but what is shown is our own shortcomings. Good topic for cultural differences. Cheers.

  6. I think the childrens’ tv host was doing more than just watching at the adult theater when he was arrested. ; ) It *is* tough to figure out where to place the line. I applaud some of the more natural nudity in Europe but agree that I don’t want my kids watching couples banging away on tv. I spent much of my childhood in Europe and now before my kids’ first trip over, I am trying to make them understand the culture is different. Our family is fairly open with nudity (breastfeeding, too!), but my kids still have some American prudishness to get over. I remember my favorite German great aunt and uncle (my Godparents!) always had nude women calendars in their house. Here, they would be pervs!

  7. Rick………The contrasts with attitude to sex are often both attention getting and thought provoking. Maybe both cultures have their extremes that may both be a bit much at times and a middle ground makes sense. Of course cultures are different by their nature and who is to say who is “right” and who is “wrong”………Seeing explicit magazines on a hall table in one hotel shocked me a bit because it was so unexpected in that setting and anyone could see them, which might not be suitable for some of the hotel patrons………….on the other hand topless beaches don’t seem such a big deal to me but here there would be outrage…………….as you say Rick travelling challenges our assumptions (…in many areas….) which is one reason I love travelling, expecially to Europe….good BLOG entry Rick

  8. Kaarina, I agree with you. Suppression has bad consequences. I think that is what Tristan was saying about the Mormons, though many religions do the same thing. Maybe if we could see ourselves as natural animals, then all the weird extremes would fade away. Unfortunately, some people don’t think we even are animals.

  9. My first trip to Europe when I was 15 was with my father, but my second trip to Europe when I was sixteen was with friends on a school trip. Back then, we were given a tremendous amount of freedom, that I doubt a school trip would experience now. On one free day in Rome my girlfriends and I, got on a train and went to the beach. We expected nudity, and intended to participate in some toplessness ourselves. I still have emblazoned on my memory the first topless woman we saw. She was no Bond chick, more like Jabba the Hut, with 300 lb breasts. Additionally, she was gnawing on salami, not the sliced kind, but the whole thing like you see at the deli before it gets sliced. We felt pretty good about ourselves the rest of the day. I expect nudity in Europe, and kind of look forward to it. But a nude is not a nude, is not a nude…….

  10. I will always remember a trip to the MBL beach in Woods Hole Mass. I was 11 going on 12 and remember this beautiful woman in a bikini and her naked 2 year-old boy who was having a grand time in the sand. My mother told me that she was from Europe and it really didn’t matter whether little children wore bathing suits. The MBL had lots of grad students and other working at the Marine Biological Laboratories. More recently, when we visited Washington Island in Wisconsin, my little niece who is four really, really wanted to go swimming at stoney beach. We were on a tour and had no suites. My sister looked around, said, what the heck and stripped off Julia clothes and sent her off to swim. The tour guide later had a good laugh and said that her husband had grown up on the island and they all used to swim naked at Stoney Beach.

  11. Wow – I wish I had one of those fig leaf books! :-) I really wonder at why there is such a difference. Suppose it is to each thier own, but I have to wonder at an Italian grandmother finding things very normal that would make my grandmother have a fainting spell. Make me curious about the “big talk” that parents have with thier kids, and if they have the same problems with teen pregnancy and STDs we have here. thought provoking!

  12. Having been a child of the seventies in Boulder, Colorado, where “sexual freedom” was the movement-of-the-moment, a musician with oportunites of all sorts of opportunities for “expression”, my (our) most exhilerating experiences of love have come in our maturing years, after 36 years of monogomous love(-making). Whatever the cultural or political climate esteems, it seems to me that my grandparents had it right….

  13. During the summer the banks of the Danube are littered with topless women. The main shopping street (Mariahilfer Strasse) has a sex shop right in the middle: it’s clientel are a healthy mix of couples and men and women. Every nice hotel has a co-ed nude Sauna (My mom-in-law visiting from the states loved it! I avoided that particular adventure.) Our favorite public pool has co-ed changing rooms, a designated nude sunning area and –on any given summer day– topless women everywhere. And it is a very popular family pool. However, all this is not what I find most surprising about Vienna. What is most surprising is that men and women actually flirt. In my office, a male colleague gave a female colleague a peck on the cheek and I almost feinted. No criminal charges were filed. On public transit, women will make eye contact and hold it until I blush and look away. What’s the world coming too?? On the other hand: Sometimes advertisements do cross the bounds of good taste. Also: Prostitution is legal and regulated. There is a red light district out by West Bahnhof. But I hear a flood of working girls have come in from the former communist countries and I wonder how regulated and “under control” the situation really is. But, in general, I too like the “what is natural is natural” outlook that Europeans have. For one thing, it promotes more open and honest communication with my kids than I’d probably otherwise have. But also, let’s face it, it is fun and adds a little spice to life. But at the end of the day, people can usually be counted on to be grown-up and responsible about it. I’d also be interested in seeing comparative sex crime figures for Europe and the USA. In general, however, I do know that Vienna has a reputation for being a very safe city. You will often hear that an unaccompaied woman can safely walk the streets at night (but that is anecdotal hearsay.) Happy travels!

  14. Rick, what you’re suggesting would hurt all of those poor people like Beavis and Butthead. Who would ogle “naked chicks” and say things like, “Woah!” and giggle like, “Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh,” for our entertainment? You’re talking about taking money out of the pockets of people who make millions by saying “pee pee” and “poo poo”. (For those of you who can’t pick up on nuance in blogs, chats and emails, this post is sarcastic)

  15. When I was 16, I went to the Black Sea in Varna, Bulgaria. Walking on the beach seeing so many nude women and banana hammocks, I was in silent shock and awe. Needless to say, it was one of the more memorable cultural experiences and eye openers (literally and metaphorically) that I have ever had.

  16. I gew up in a very sexually repressed family. On one hand sex was said to be a wonderful gift one saved to give after marriage. On the other hand it was rarely talked about except to comment on all the negative public images (according to my parents). As a result, I grew up very interested. Once I had my first girlfriend I realized it was always wonderful and has been ever since, even if relationships don’t work out. On my first trip to europe a family was in the jacquzzi and invited me in. When I hesitated, they laughed. I had tried to climb in with my trunks on. I guess they had seen Americans before. I’m still never quite sure when it is okay to strip down, so I watch for signals. The nice thing is, it has never been sexual, just relaxed people enjoying the goofy Yank. I can now also appreciate a living “work of art” without getting a woody I have to hide all the time.

  17. It seems to be we are rehashing old subjects. Haven’t we had discussions on sex and nudity within the last a year or two? How come no one responds to Andy’s blog? He is just starting out and needs some feedback. Also do you any of you post to the Traveler’s Helpline? Cheers!

  18. Non-native Americans are more often than not the desendants of Europeans from decades to centuries ago. Those Europeans were church goers and prudes. That background is the genesis of modern America. Europe has clearly changed, America not so much. Europeans are far more atheistic than Americans leading to the European flavor for skin absent the preacher’s warnings. The real question is why are Europeans less religious, or why do the churches condemn nudity? Religious Europeans are not espousing nudity. Perhaps, as Europeans do not have the same strong cultural and governmental separation of church and state, Europeans show more distain for organized religion as religious organizations have played a larger role in their political histories. This distain leads to more atheists and more nudity. Churches generally frown on nudity for the obvious reason that they consider lust sinful. Lust is primative animal behavior and often at odds with church teachings on morality.

  19. Rick, I think you are on base with the idea that Europeans are more comfortable with thier bodies and sex, than we Americans. I suspect many factors behind this, including our Puritan roots and a geographically large country wich is vastly rural and until recent decades, extremely insulated. Plus, much of our country is just bitterly cold and not practical for taking it all off! I suspect our protestant work ethic also placed a higher value on sacrifice, work and toil than on human pleasures, art appreciation, the skill of flirting, and leisure time. We host French Students every summer,usually aged 15 or 16. They love to get out all our DVD’s and start watching movies, rated R, or otherwise. I get a little embarrased, but those kids watch the nudity and sex scenes without batting an eye or having a concern about watching those scenes with adults. Most American teenagers would find watching a movie like this with their parents excruciating. (and so would the parents)

  20. I really don’t get it. It seems that americans really mess with our heads in a lot of ways! We really need to lighten up, everyone in the US has some big problem or another. Most people have to take prescription drugs for depression anxiety sleep disorders. There are probably more Phsycologist, Phyciatrists here than anywhere, and it does’nt seem to help. As it showed during the election, how many people believe only in one way no matter what! Americans don’t think about anyone but themselves, so they raise their kids that way, thinking they are protecting them from everything, but actually making them insecure, fearful and lact any sort of confidence!

  21. Yes Audrey we did this same blog back in February 2008 wherein Jim Humbard said something about a woman on a bill board and then boom the arguing and chatter was off and running.

  22. I don’t really think most people really “believe” anything. I think they mistake their “programming” for individual belief. You can also say the same of “think”. We don’t know how. I include myself in this, but have been working for sometime to de-program. People like Rick, other cultures and especially the repulsive hate radio/hate tv people show us how we are controlled by our own weaknesses everyday…if we become aware enough to see it. I say: reject convention, reject your comfort zone and you have taken the first step to free yourself from those who control us.

  23. Audrey: Yes, the topic may have come up in the past; No, I haven’t read Andy’s blog; Yes, I have posted many times to the Traveller’s Helpline (Graffiti Wall). And Yes, I still do like Rick’s blog………What’s your point? Thanks.

  24. A trip to Europe in general, in my opnion, really makes the high-strung, “not in my backyard” attitude seem quite silly. BUT, we are still defined by our own culture, and yes, the passage of time. Does passage of time mean our culture changes? Yes. But I think some things (such as racy, and very sexed-up advertisements) will still never fly, not even here in Canada, not for the next 50 years.

  25. I was changing my baby’s diaper in the men’s restroom of the local IKEA in Germany. The changing station was conveniently adjacent to the condom/sex toy dispenser, which was graphically advertised. I guess European shoppers might need a sexcapade while shopping for cheap furniture.

  26. So where does the Islamic approach fit in? Rick seemed to find their hyper-prudish ways to be somewhat charming when he was in Iran this summer. When you compare the American approach to the Iranian approach we seem almost European, don’t we. All that naked hair and everything.

  27. Yes, Andy is back at Notre Dame and perhaps the timing is wrong. He hasn’t received the feedback Jackie did and it is probably due to the timing. I didn’t think about that being the reason. For non-readers of Andy’s blog, he has developed a website geared toward students studying abroad and perhaps finding his own niche in the travel business. Okay the above is off topic of Rick’s discussion and I apologize. I just think Rick’s needs to find some more current topics instead of bringing up the same old same old. Are you tired Rick? Writer’s block? Write about your trips around the US giving talks and the responses you get from the audience. I check out this blog several times a week (sometimes a day) hoping for something new and inspiring. Cheers and happy travels to all!

  28. I have been travelling to europe every year since my early teens. I’m now 25. I used to be quite titillated by the statues and nude sun bathers. I was taught how all this immoral stuff would destroy America. It is easy to see it has not destroyed europe. In fact it seems to me the people are more open, accepting and mature in this way than we are in America. I know their attitude has helped me to mature in a more human way. Where I once was titillated I now see simple human beauty which is unfettered by the oppressive crap of religious dogma and other social pressures. I challenge anyone to find my european friends to be less valuable than my American ones.

  29. Living in Cincinnati, OH (motto: we didn’t invent conservative, we made it extreme), I can tell you that a prime example of uptightness came when my wife was thrown out of the women’s locker room at the health and fitness center for breast feeding. She was told that she could not breastfeed the locker room and had to go somewhere else.

  30. I agree with those suggesting that Rick move away from these tired topics and tell us about his travels and experiences when he is at home. Also about having one, or more, of his tour guides blog once in awhile. The whole topic of European “open-mindedness” and American “prudity” has been done to death.

  31. Good post and I agree. Somehow someone hijacked normal human behavior and put it under the thumb of the creeps in robes. I heard a young friend say in response to someone calling their body a temple, that his was an amusement park. About time we all lightened up and threw the guys in robes out.

  32. If Rick would like to feature a Michelangelo sculpture, he should use Pieta instead of David. In my opinion, this would show a more meaningful work (in my opinion) without the nudity.

  33. Kevin, I understand your point, but I find it hard to compare the two. His purpose seems to be so different for each one. For me, David is the most stunning of his works. But that is because it is the ultimate example of gods best craftsmanship. On the other hand, Pieta invokes the deepest religious and maternal feeling than any other of his works. David would not be the work of art it is if it were not nude.

  34. I have two questions for you Rick. It has now been shown that there are more medical marijana shops in San Franciso than starbucks. The adult goes in and buys the pot comes out and sells it to teenagers for almost double what he paid and then goes off and buys meth. Is that what you had in mind for legalizing marijana. Also it looks like Obama is coming to the middle and will not be ruling as a radical leftist does that make you mad that you voted for him as a radical left campaigning on bring that to the White House and now is bringing in all old Clinton retreads and will be ruling moderate?

  35. No matter if you agree with Rick’s political/moral/religous beliefs or not; he is definitely good at working the crowd and spurring discourse. Kind of fun to sit back and watch.

  36. I don’t understand Rachael’s comment about Pot, Rick or Obama. There are 71 Starbucks in San Francisco. From what I have been able to Google, there are only 27 Medical Marijuana dispensing stations (what is your point, anyway?). I’m sure people share and trade their pot, but don’t forget: 30 miles or so north is the worlds number one pot growing region. Whether there was med. marijuana or not, people would have all the pot they want, to smoke or trade. Rick is about as middle of the road as you get. So is Obama. Unfortunately, too many people got their info during the cam”pain” from Fox rather than Obama’s record. I try to look at facts, not words of people who profit by creating fear and hysteria. btw, I took a few puffs of a high quality joint about a month ago…after not smoking for 30 years. It was entertaining, but didn’t like it anymore than I like over drinking. But, to each his own. It’s not my business to tell anyone else how to live or enjoy their life…whether many millions more use prozac, valium, alcohol, etc. than pot or not.

  37. Update: Monday night, the feds changed their blog entry to say there are 71 marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco and 66 Starbucks. But Starbucks spokeswoman Vivian Doan told The Chronicle that even though the company Web site lists 66 shops in San Francisco, there are actually 71. Even if you believe the feds’ contention that there are 71 pot clubs in the city (city officials don’t) their bottom-line premise is still a bit of a pipe dream. Here’s our original post: Good news for all you caffeine-adverse medical marijuana users out there, courtesy of the federal drug czar (We know. How often does that happen?) There are more medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco than Starbucks Coffee shops. Or at least, so says the Office of National Drug Control Policy in a posting on its official blog,…. ,,,,,To me Rick is about as far left as you can get. Obama who I have I always believe is a closet moderate liberal pushed himself as a far left to win those radical left over to him instead of Hillary.

  38. The European attitudes are quite refreshing in comparison to some of the restrictive views on this side of the Atlantic. However, it’s also a good idea to have limits (“all things in moderation”). I was totally disgusted at the ridiculous and heavy-handed response to the “pop star” incident at the Super Bowl. Spending huge sums of money for FCC “investigations” and fining the networks was far more obscene in my view. A good example of cretinous prudes in action! Canada tends to lean more towards the European example, although there are still some restrictive attitudes prevalent. Some examples: a portion of the programming on late night network TV resembles that Rick referred to in removing the TV from his children’s room (I find some of the violence shown on TV to be more obscene and disturbing than the nudity or sexual content!). Topless protests seem to occur in Vancouver (and other cities) from time-to-time and the Police response for the most part is to just monitor but not interfere (the tourists always seem to enjoy those occasions, as they never fail to show up for the photo op). The “breast feeding issue” also seems to crop-up on a regular basis, but this has been getting a bit better lately. Finally, Wreck Beach in Vancouver has been a “clothing optional” beach for years – noboby really cares – the nudity is just not an issue for most. People need to “lighten up” a bit and focus on more important issues, rather than worrying about inconsequential things like fig leaves on the cover of books or a bit of public nudity (as long as it’s not too extreme).

  39. How many sex shops? How many doctors who prescribe “happy” medicine? How many soldiers used to be stationed at the Presidio, etc? (violence). I went on a Everest trek a couple years ago as part of a climbing expedition. Interesting country. The same girl/old woman who gives the haircuts also gives you a “happy ending” (hand job).

  40. As a Canadian I am very much aware, largely through the amount of American television and print media that we are exposed to, that there are significant cultural differences between us and Americans were nudity is concerned. Americans seem to equate all nudity to sex whereas Canadian media usually does not have any problem with showing uncensored non sexual nudity. There was a Herman cartoon a few years ago that seems to sum typical American attitudes. It showed two boys watching television and one said to the other “I am allowed to watch all the crime and violence that I want as long as they all keep their clothes on”. I believe that the prudish attitude of the American media, largely influenced by the political power of the conservative religious right in your country, is responsible for much of the prudish attitudes of many Americans, I have watched several of your travel shows and looked at several travel books and find it strange that American products almost always completely ignore the mention of nudity that is common in some European countrys.

  41. Rick, Your blog “European Flesh and the American Prude” from Monday really resonated with me. The generalizations you cite and the comparisons you draw between American and European views on sex and the human body are very parallel to generalizations and comparisons you can cite between straight and gay views on the same subjects. As gay people, sex is a large part of our identity and it is by design, not by choice. I think this makes much (but not all) of straight America uncomfortable because we freely admit that an often taboo subject (sex) is integral to how we define ourselves. Those who are most uncomfortable with it turn their discomfort into fear and hate. They end up doing unspeakable things to an already vulnerable and disenfranchised minority…things like the passage of Proposition 8 in California or the blunt instrument murder of a college kid in Wyoming. With some very simple word changes, your blog from November 17 could easily be re-titled “Gay Flesh and the Hetero Prude”. I don’t mean to waste your time with this email, but I wanted to express my appreciation to you and let you to know how you can touch different types of people in a positive way. This email is also a way for me to say thank you for providing an environment in which I feel comfortable enough to not only write it, but to send it. Thanks…and I’ll get back to work now,

  42. The post from me above looks a little out of context. To clarify, it is an email that I sent to my boss, Rick Steves. I was moved enough by this blog entry to post the email I sent to him here. It made me realize that many people like me are very repressed in their work places and I am so thankful not to be in mine. Sometimes I have seen people speculate unkindly about Rick’s management style in these posts…maybe this will generate some better understanding.

  43. Independant here. I can lean either way when it comes to the different issues out there, depending on what I believe, and in this case I lean conservative. It’s obvious to me that there is a line out there that should not be crossed. I can understand a kid under age 5 or so playing on the beach nude. I can even accept topless beach/park areas for better tan lines; no problem there. But that’s about it. There should be a level of decency upheld for those that seek it. The rest of the population will just have to be satisfied getting naked inside there own homes. My opinion.

  44. I’m really glad Rick’s Product Manager popped in. I used to be one homophobic SOB. Grew up that way. Took delight in the creativity of my bashing. It finally got old as I matured, but it was still in me. Funny thing is, I had never met “one”. Then I started coaching and discovered gay girls were in my group. No problem, no threat. And though coaching ethics forbid sex with athletes, didn’t keep the fantasies out of my head that I could “turn” one of them (typical guy thing, right?). I became very close to one great male human being/athlete. Loved the guy. Then they guy became the object of gay ridicule by another coach. I had no idea my friend/athlete was gay. It suddenly made no @#%!&@! difference. That guy and those girls were my friends and charges and I would not allow any slurs, attacks, etc. I pretty much made mincemeat of the problem and any future ones. The only reason for my change is that I had come to know and respect these people for their humanity and their abilities before I knew they were gay. After that, it didn’t matter. I’m so grateful it doesn’t matter to me. I would hate to be the kind of person that I was in my youth, like some of the people we see on the political scene today or in the churches or in the history books. In my opinion, hating, shunning, feeling superior or “correct” and fighting against gay civil rights is what does the real damage to humanity, the family and the institution of marriage. Love, acceptance, and support makes one call upon all the qualities that churches say is their foundation. I was faced with the choice many years ago, I am so glad I made the correct choice. For if we are all created in God’s image, then God includes gays in his flock too…and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t make them sit in the back when he is at the podium.

  45. I agree that America can be too prudish, but on the other hand, Europe is WAY too open about sex and nudity! If one has to choose, I’d rather go our way than theirs. An important point to all of this is that the USA is still a Christian-influenced nation, with a large percentage still at least trying to live according to a biblical moral code. Europe, on the other hand, for the most part is a post-Christian world. Over there, the Church is simply a social club, and its morals are ignored. For Europeans, “if it feels good, do it” is the rule. Some good measures of how these differing morals are affecting society: (1) the divorce rate; (2) the shack-up rate; (3) the out-of-wedlock birth rate; and (4) the abortion rate. I’ll bet ALL of these are much higher in Europe — which makes me glad I’m raising kids over here, rather than over there.

  46. To Rick’s Product Manager: It’s insulting and over-the-top to compare the killing of a gay man in Wyoming to the passage of California’s Proposition 8! One was pure hatred-filled murder, while the latter was simply the majority of good California voters expressing their opinion on how the word “marriage” should be defined. To say that the majority of Californians (including 70% of blacks) voted for bigotry is just plain wrong.

  47. AIN, Prop 8 was not about how a word is defined, but how an institution is defined. The words below are the exact words to be added to the California state constitution: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Bigotry can be defined as an intolerance for something. This time the state and the population of the state has declared a intolerance/bigotry against gay marriage. The murder of the gay Wyoming boy was an act. The vote to deny gay people the same rights as others was an act. Both acts were in opposition to gays. Both were very damaging to gays. To think that the voters did not vote their fears and their hate is quite an unfortunate position to take.

  48. Whoah, A/N. You are way off-base. Instead of pontificating based on knee-jerk speculation, maybe you should have done a little research first. (Anytime you find yoruself typing “I’ll bet,” it’s a sign you should check the facts first.) The US actually has far more liberal abortion laws than most of Europe. The divorce rate in the US is much, much higher than Europe’s (about double, depending on how you measure the rate). And you’re right that the “shack-up” and “out of wedlock birth” rates are higher…but you’re assuming that’s a bad thing. I know personally several Europeans who choose to live together in what we’d call a “common-law marriage.” They have great kids and a relationship that (in my perception) is far more loving, devoted, and mutually fulfilling than many “legal” marriages I’ve seen in the US. Maybe their willingness to follow their hearts, rather than being bullied into a legal/religious institution they don’t buy into, explains their substantially lower divorce rate. Speaking as a happily married man, I respect their lifestyle choices, as it clearly works for them. A/N, it is uninformed, reactionary people like you who drag down the level of discourse on this blog (and in this country).

  49. A/N, you are totally mistaken with your “facts”. Teenage pregnancy and abortion rates are way lower in Europe than they are in the U.S. The difference is that they are more informed to make the right choices. The problem with a lot of you conservatives is that you spout a lot of mantras and are brain washed to think that U.S. is the best in everything but most of you just do not know the real facts and differences with the U.S. and the rest of the World.

  50. Do yourselves a favor and stop watching hate tv (Fox) and stop listening to all the hate radio. They are the ones who truly hate America. Those who appeal to the worst in humankind should always be suspect and make sure you don’t let them tell you what is the worst. Fear, bigotry and continuing to do the same stuff that doesn’t work is why the caveman is still alive and well in America.

  51. Talk about bigotry toward A/N. Lighten up you guys. I am against a lot of things such as murder, abortion, hate etc etc so I gue I am bigoted. Prop 8 has nothing to do with hate. God love gay people just as much as anyone else. Society has a right to set standards. Prop 8 is just setting standards for society.

  52. Great topic although it has gotten a little off topic towards the end. I grew up a conservative and am still morally conservative. I have spent most of my adult life in church, by choice. I think others have made some valid points about the violence. There is way too much violence on TV and in video games but no one comes down hard on that. As far as nudity, I want to speak from my own experience in Europe. Last year, while in Portugal, I went to my first nude beach. And after getting up a lot of courage, I went nude (with lots of sunscreen of course!). I learned that I was more embarrassed about not having a tan than I was being nude. It’s one thing to go to a nice beach with no tan. It’s another to go to a nice beach with no tan NAKED! It wasn’t sexual at all. It was a great experience. With that said, I think Rick is also correct that nudity in Europe can go too far. Graphic sex on TV or in magazines for anyone to see is wrong. There is a difference between nudity and sexual nudity. Europeans do a better job of distinguishing the two but that line can be blurred and crossed at times. With that, I don’t agree. Americans see all nudity as sexual nudity and I don’t know that I agree with that either. I think our moral/religious base has something to do with it. I think that creates a difference in attitudes between Americans and Europeans. Americans are much more rooted in religion and faith than Europeans are. And that’s reflected in their attitudes towards nudity and sex. Again, a distinction should be made between the two. Nudity is a nude beach, breast feeding (for those comfy doing so in public), naked kids on the beach. Sex is an attitude or a situation in which nudity is taken to the next level. In all honesty, Americans could do better at distinguishing between ok nudity and sex and Europeans could do better at realizing there is a difference between the two and that a line should be drawn.

  53. John: There has been a long history of laws that set standards for society. I bet you can think of some that were not as harmless as you seem to think prop 8 is. Just a very few examples: 1. Women not being allowed to vote. 2. Women not being allowed to inherit the husbands property. 3. Women not being allowed to sit in the front of the bus. 4. Laws that made women a man’s property. 5. It wasn’t until about 1988 that war rape was even considered a war crime. Any aware and half informed person could go on for hours about injustices that were codified into law “for the good of society”. Unfortunately, there are always plenty of people who are willing to hide behind the safety of archaic traditions as they deny civil and human rights to others.

  54. One comment on the gay marriage thing. I live in California so this was definitely a hot topic here. I understand the arguments for gay marriage. However, I also understand what is already in place. Almost everything that gay marriages would have is already protected or given in domestic partnerships. I know there are some minor and subtle differences in which most people wouldn’t be affected anyways. The vote for prop 8 was not an effort to change any of that. People make this argument that it is an issue of civil rights. What “rights” weren’t protected here? The state of California has ensured nearly every legal right for domestic partnerships that marriages have. So please be careful when throwing around civil rights and comparing it to women, voting, property, blacks, etc. They truly didn’t have the same fundamental rights. The state has done everything they can to protect the same RIGHTS that come with marriage. Prop 8 was just defining what marriage is, not changing any rights. To say a woman couldn’t vote, didn’t have property rights, or that a black man had to sit or eat in a different place than a white man is a violation of civil rights. However, please point out the rights (as legally violated) that gay couples do not have as a result of this? There is a difference in the rights of marriage and the moral, ethical, and cultural definition of marriage. The former is protected. The latter was put to a vote. Throughout history, marriage has always been defined by cultural, social, religious, and moral reasons by societies. Arranged marriages, marriages by proxy, even a Hebrew had to marry his sister in law if his brother died. Marriage has always been an ethical, cultural, religious, etc decision defined by society. California has already protected the rights to domestic partners as given by marriage so there isn’t much that was going to change here. I felt like this distinction needed to be made.

  55. Wow! What pretzled logic in the post by JB. Amazing what firey hoopes one has to jump through when one tries to justify not treating everyone the same. JB says: “Marriage has always been an ethical, cultural, religious, etc decision defined by society.” It has also been a LEGAL decision. JB asks what rights weren’t protected here?” Answer: Marriage for ALL members of society. Even the ones who are “equal”, but just can’t marry. “…please point out the rights (as legally violated) that gay couples do not have as a result of this?” Okay: The right to be treated the same as all other California citizens. This right has been “legally” taken away from a segment of society. This is and always will be a civil right.

  56. I’m a very old woman now. I have seen a lot. I used to walk in shame and look away in shame for how people treated other people and I am ashamed for the times I was afraid and didn’t speak up or join the fight. A lot of people did fight though and a lot has changed for the better. There has always been resistance by closed minded people, but they always lose. Our society is becoming a better one. Gay people will someday have full rights and the responsibilities that go with those rights.

  57. Someday Jeremy B, you will have a daughter, grand-daughter, a niece, a nephew, a son, a grandson or just one of the kids next door you have grown up loving as your own; will find and fall in love with the most wonderful person in the world. Unfortunately, from the start it will be known that there won’t be a courtship with a happy ending. There won’t be a proposal on bended knee, an engagement announcement, tears and laughter by family and friends, getting on the list at Nordstrom’s, planning the special day, inviting friends from everywhere, getting fitted, showers and bachelor parties, the music that signals the walk down the aisle lined with a lifetimes accumulation of friends and family, the vows read, the rings exchanged, the trembling lips, the kiss, the smiles, the toss and the welcoming arms of all. All that joy will be denied your loved one. Your special loved one.

  58. Hopefully no one will be too hard on Jeremy B. He was only expressing his opinion and view on the subject, as all of us are doing here. It’s great that we have the freedom to agree or disagree on whatever issue is being discussed! I don’t live in California, so haven’t followed the debate on Prop. 8 too much. Based on some of the comments I’ve seen here, I have the impression this is more a matter of semantics, based on the definition of the word “marriage”. Would it be correct to assume that the “marrigage scenario” described by Bev in the previous post could still take place in California, but would be called a “civil union” (with all the rights of a marriage) rather than a “marriage”? As I understand the situation, this was a democratic vote so whether one agrees with the outcome or not, the process has to be respected.

  59. This is a matter of semantics. Again, those that posted failed to give any rights that are violated. What is marriage? If we are talking from a legal perspective of the state, it is a legally enforceable contract guaranteeing certain rights and responsibilities for people. Gay couples do have this. It is called a domestic partnership. This is why it is different than the rights of blacks or women, etc. Their RIGHTS are protected just the same as married people. It’s not that different. They can file joint taxes, have property rights, health and benefit rights, etc. Until someone can give me a legal justification as to what is gained here other than someone being able to feel better about what they call their relationship, then you don’t have much to stand on. So when we define marriage here, this now becomes a societal definition as to what it is because legally, NOTHING CHANGES from as it is now under domestic partnerships to marriage. If their rights were being taken away by Prop 8, I would feel differently. The argument here is about what people want to define it as, not whether rights are being violated. This was about whether the moral, cultural, religious etc definition of marriage is changed, not whether rights are violated. Legally, everything is still the same. Again, show me what rights are violated here? The right for someone to feel able to feel better about what they call their relationship? Sorry, that’s not a right that needs to be protected by the state. For those of you angry about this, step back and think. What rights are really being violated here? From the state of CA’s perspective, NOTHING. You fail to see they are treated equally by the state of CA. This was a vote by the people of CA to define what marriage is. Not what the rights of gay couples are or aren’t. That doesn’t change. Please distinguish between what you call rights and what is legally defined as a right. The latter is completely and totally protected.

  60. One more point to make above. I am as clear headed and logical on this as anyone. I look at this from a completely legal and logical perspective, not an emotional, moral, or even a religious one. Rights are already protected. You don’t have to like how it is done but it is wrong for anyone to say that rights are violated. You really need to understand this fact. This vote was for defining what marriage is, not rights. You don’t have to like the results of the former but but there is nothing violated about the latter. That has already been completely protected. I believe that how marriage is defined should be left to society. I also believe that the rights of individuals, gay couples included, should be protected as they are now by the state.

  61. OK, I promise last comment (please go easy on me admins). There was a comment above about a proposal, tears and laughter, showers and parties, walking down the aisle, the special day, etc. Please don’t confuse a wedding day with marriage. A marriage IS NOT a wedding day. A wedding is one day. A marriage or even a domestic partnership is what you have and work on every day after that. Don’t get caught up in the wedding day bliss and forget this is a discussion about marriage. They are not one in the same.

  62. JeremyB from a legal standpoint there are lots of rights that a domestic partnership cannot be dealt with in court.For example what if the could have a child together who gets the child as primariy custodian and how do you enforce child support if the child is not the legal child of one of the partners. A child can only be made legal through adoption, marriage,an adjudication of paternity or legitimation. Same for alimony if one partner stays home and they split up how do you compensate that person for their time and effort and the career they put on hold to raise the children of a gay couple.The laws of inheritance don’t recognize partnerships so if one partner dies under present law the other and non legitimated children would not be entitled to amounts of money by law that married people with children are same with social security benefits and disability. And in a partnership agreement the court does not have to uphold the agreement if it goes against public policy.So it stretches far beyond must adding soeone to the insurance or assuring an equitable interest in material things.

  63. The wedding is not part of the marriage and Gays should be just fine to do without it? I remember folks in the past with similar logic: “Hey, the coloreds are on the bus. What are they complaining about?”.

  64. Gay marriage, a civil rights issue? You got to be kidding. Gays have all right same as anyone. What right has been taken away? None. Get over it. Marriage is between a man and women. Period. Don’t try to push that lifestyle on us. Live and let live.

  65. Kathy M, I don’t want to take up much more time on here so I will answer your questions as it applies to CA. children – If one partner gives birth after getting a domestic partnership, California will treat the other partner as a parent to the child. alimony – If you decide to split up, a court would treat the breakup like a divorce and could order you to pay financial support to your partner (or the other way around). inheritance – the right to receive a portion of your partners property if he or she dies without a will. partnership agreement will always be upheld in court. And now domestic partnetships are allowed to file joint state income taxes. What I have given you refutes just about everything you had stated as all of this is protected in the state of CA. If you want to argue federal, that’s a different story. However, all those rights you mentioned are guaranteed under CA. They are treated like a marriage in almost every single circumstance.

  66. Looks like the main kind of “sex” that people are really heated up about is gay sex. A lot of the comments seem to think “sex” is really all that gay people are. Pretty easy to come down on a class of people when you define them as not possessing and not worthy of all the other components which make up a human being. I’m not gay, but find myself increasing on their side on the issue of marriage. John makes a very interesting point when he says “Live and let live”, but refuses to let gays “live” as they wish. I wonder if he understood what he was saying? It is also interesting that he thinks gays working for full rights is somehow going to make his own lifestyle gay in someway. Finally, What right has been taken away? The right to the same kind of marriage process you enjoy, sir.

  67. The United States Supreme Court struck down “seperate but equal” in education. California State Supreme Court used the same rational for marriage. History has shown the will of the people to be unfair time and again. Unfortunately, it always takes awhile for society to catch up or mature. If it is a civil right for hetero couples to marry, it must be a civil right for homosexual couples to marry.

  68. Seperate but equal was not equal. All did not have the right to the same education. All men, regardless of anything can marry a woman and likewise women can marry a man. It is equal for all men or women. If you allow men to marry men, where will it stop? It doesn’t take much to realize how far you could go. NAMBLA wants to legalize marriage between a man and boy. Think about it.

  69. Thought this post could use a bit more humour. Found the funny on the web, but revised it for the sake of the more straight laced among us. Apologies to Dr. Suess**** Have you done it in the car? Have you simply gone too far? Have you done it on the beach? Have you done it with the teach? Have you done it on your back? Have you done it strapped to a rack? Have you done it in a box? Have you done it with a fox? Have you done it in a tree? Have you done it with more than three? Have you done it in the rain? Have you done it with McCain? Have you done it packed in rubber? Have you done it undercover? Have you done it on a perch? Have you done it in a church? Have you done it with ropes and chains? Have you done it while insane? Have you done it with your friends? Have you done it with all the trends? Have you done it in the fog? Have you done it on a log? Have you done it under clamps? Have you done it under 30 amps? Have you done it without style? Have you done it as high as a mile? Have you done it for all to see? Have you ever made a DVD? Have you done it on Mother’s couch? Have you done it with a grouch? Have you done it while on tape? Have you done it out of shape? Have you done it on live TV? Have you done it whilst eating brie? Have you done it in the gym? Have you done it on a whim? Have you done it on a dare? Do you really think we care?

  70. I totally agree with you Rick, although I’m not sure what should be done about it except for letting the younger generation of Americans see the difference of the European comfort level, and maybe someday the snickers at seeing “David” will fade…

  71. I agree with Europe. There is a great deal of difference between bodily functions & sexual activity. i feel that people that cannot differentiate most be having a hard time with their own morality. You find that Americans tie their thoughts on sexuality to religion. Europeans generally have a religious faith but understand secular activity in a practical way but I have never head a European say “I’m Very Religious”. This statement is common in America & it insults any other religious person that hears it said.

  72. I’ve felt much safer walking around in Amsterdam and Berlin than in many “morally upright” American cities. American tourists often equate sexual prudishness with personal safety. As if a lack of nudity and sexuality will somehow reduce overall crime. And that has always struck me as a non-sequitur. Surely, if these activities are out in the open, the authorities will have a much easier time regulating and controlling them. There are specific areas in Amsterdam where prostitution occurs. There are specific areas in Berlin where you can go nude. It is all done in a very pragmatic and deliberate way. Locals knows where these boundaries are. And if they don’t care for a particular activity, then they don’t go there. I find the European approach quite impressive compared to America’s reactionary criminalization of anything the majority doesn’t approve of.

  73. The specific examples you gave in the article completely support my beliefs I have had for years. In fact, in the U.S. there is not only much prudery but hypocrisy as well.

  74. Wow, you write about all this – how children raised in America where sex is “bad” will end up with problems… and yet you’re the first one to remove a TV from your children’s hotel room because there is a couple having sex on TV. I don’t now what age your daughters are, but in any case – it’s not something that should matter. I grew up in Switzerland, and remember seeing naked people on the 6pm news all the time, I’ve seen porn at a young age, and remember yoghurt billboard ads with nude women showering. Am I screwed up? No. I’m not “loose”. I’m not a sex hound. I’m not scared of my sexuality either. It all depends on parenting, and seeing a spectrum of sexual openness across societies, IMHO.

  75. Just had our first experience in our hotel’s nude coed sauna in Austria! I had to google to see what the story was, thanks for the post Rick! As many of you might not remember, but in the States growing up we had John Byner Bizzar on broadcast TV after 10pm that showed breasts in the 80s and then they cracked down.

  76. I think your observations are spot on. Europeans in general have a far more relaxed attitude towards nudity I think. As a European (Dutch) I’m very used to seeing naked bodies in a non-sexual setting. I won’t blink when seeing full frontal nudity (male or female) in a film. It’s quite common, especially in Dutch films. A naked body can be very beautiful without being sexual in any way. Just look at the arts! It can even be funny; I remember loving a 1980’s Swedish children’s film that actually featured 12 (!) adult, hairy men skinny-dipping in the snow. I was about 7 at the time and just thought it was hilarious. I wasn’t emotionally scarred by their nudity one little bit. And yes, I was aware they had penises. No big deal if you’re used to seeing your parents bathing or undressing. It is also very normal for pre-teen children to be naked on public beaches and swimming pools here. At least up to the age of about 4-5 or so. The famous Janet Jackson nipple-drama made me wonder how sexually repressed and confused Americans must be. I’m just very happy that I was brought up with no hangups about seeing other people’s naked bodies. Seems more healthy to me. And fig-leaves on a picture of Michelangelo’s David, really???

  77. Rick, i thought the most puzzling aspect/ comment in your article was in the second paragraph…ie why were your Dutch friends advocating safe sex ON THEIR COFFEE TABLE? Surely that’s highly dangerous (unless you’re an acrobat!) and the worst sin of all, from a German/Dutch/Austrian/Scandinavian etc viewpoint, extremely unhygienic…otherwise, as well travelled Brit, I totally agree with you.

  78. How often do you see MEN bending over on the smut magazines in Europe? How often do you see MEN naked in a shower to promote yogurt on the billboards? How many nude MEN did you see posing on page 2 of the national newspapers as though they had won some type of award for being the biggest slut? Women are obviously viewed as objects and a lot of them are growing up feeling it, and if you can turn a blind eye to it just because you see it a lot, then I’m afraid you’ve become desensitized to something that can hurt an entire population on a deeper emotional level. The problem that I have with the kind of nudity that I saw in Europe (and yes, it’s in America too) is that it’s USED to cheapen sex, to titilate, to get a reaction in order to make a profit from the people who feel it’s OK just because “it’s everywhere”. USING sex and nudity in this way is hurtful to both men and women and promotes the idea that nudity is all about sex and not about being natural and it definitely doesn’t promote the emotionally healthy points of sex being reserved for who you love or respect for the opposite sex.

  79. And please don’t try to tell me that it’s all healthy and natural for a child in Europe to see walls of magazines with women in sexual poses, half naked in lingerie at the checkout lines of most grocery stores. I just won’t buy it.

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