UPDATE: Australia’s Channel 7 Sunday Night segment on “Object Love” aired this weekend (May 19th). I’d like to make a correction. The segment summary says I surveyed 40 people. It was really 21. I don’t know how they got 40. The article referred to in the next paragraph clearly states 21 people. I haven’t seen the broadcast itself yet.
It’s been ten years since I designed a simple survey for the English-speaking members of Objectum-Sexuality Internationale (OSI) and nine years since my survey results article was published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality.
Since I’ll be speaking about Objectum Sexuality (OS) with Australian reporters this coming Sunday, I thought I’d give some background regarding my history with this topic and the OS community.
This quote below is from “What Is OS?” on the OSI website.
Objectùm-Sexuality is an orientation to love objects.
Sexual orientation is defined as the nature of sexual preference while the prolific definition stands as: the direction of someone’s sexual desire toward people of the opposite gender, people of the same gender, or people of both. This does not include objects.
However, orientation itself is defined as: a complex mental state involving beliefs and feelings and values and dispositions to act in certain ways. This does include objects as we see it.
We love objects on a very significant level and many of us in an intimate way. This feeling is innate. Objectùm-sexual love comes for most in a similar awakening as other sexualities at the start of puberty. This is often followed by an acute awareness that we do not relate to peers due to the source of projected feelings. Often objectùm-sexual people feel outcast or pressured by mainstream sexuality with a helpless feeling that we cannot change what comes so naturally to us.
2009 and Beyond: I Encounter Objectum Sexuality
In October 2008 I’d received my DHS (a professional degree, Doctor of Human Sexuality) from the now defunct Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS) in San Francisco. (In 2011, I earned my Ed.D. in Human Sexuality). One of my two student research projects was into sexual concerns experienced by people with Asperger’s Syndrome and their partners. (Since then, the DSM-V has removed Asperger’s as a separate diagnosis and replaced it within the term ‘autism spectrum disorder.’)
In February 2009, a young relative of mine who is autistic sent my kids a Valentine drawing of San Francisco’s Sutro Tower, surrounded by hearts. My oldest kid used to have friends among the Victorian houses we’d pass on the way to nursery school, particularly “Onion Dome-y” who was supposed to jump into a “shape truck” and follow us to school, and my youngest used to pretend to eat pictures of ice cream cones by plucking them off the page, so I didn’t think anything of the valentine. I adore childhood imagination.
However, I must have been fated to encounter the adult version of Object Love. The very next day, a sexology colleague sent me a link to Married to the Eiffel Tower (2008)–a film that I would later learn was denounced as exploitive by the OS commuity. I visited the OSI website and saw that a number of their members were on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. Given my student research, I became intrigued. I contacted OSI by email and began talking with Erika on the phone.
I was concerned about the sensationalisation of OS sexuality and eventually volunteered to do a simple survey as an “in-house” vehicle for the members of OSI so they could learn about themselves as a group and have some preliminary data to offer reporters and health practitioners. I hoped this would enable them to be taken more seriously.
Though I took a lot of care over the project, this simple survey was not designed as serious research instrument. Its main value would be in the qualitative responses–comments from OS people about their experiences and concerns. But when Erika Eiffel was asked to tell her story on Good Morning America in April, 2009, she told the reporters about the membership, and GMA sent a crew to my house.
I was not prepared for what happened next. Erika and I were fielding inquiries from Laura Ingraham (we turned her down) and other media. I wound up–inadvertantly–on a right wing radio station on the East Coast but was able to get in a couple of jabs until the host hung up on me, live! The two of us were vilified all over the internet. My favorite insult was “whack job of a sexologist” in a troll blog. I went from media infant to media traumatized in the blink of the eye.
I wish I could say “media saavy” happened sooner rather than later, but this was not to be. The Tyra Banks appearance was very high pressure (they were filming four shows in one day) and I suffered from not having an adequate sense of the show format (I didn’t own a TV at the time and didn’t really know who Tyra was.) Plus, I had no idea of how to direct my TV make-up and hair, so that I could look like my normal self but better. Instead, the make-up artist, hearing I was a sexologist, got all excited and made me up as a “Fifth Avenue Cougar.” Lesson learned: never accept high gloss over a lipstick if you’re “of a certain age.” Lipstick creep will cause a show guest to melt-down at the worst time.
I know. It happened to me.
Plus, I left my comfortable Berkeley sandals in the dressing room, which must have been picked up with tongs and tossed in the wastebasket after I left. I think I can honestly say that both Erika and I were somewhat stressed by the experience, but she was a media veteran by then. I flew home, though, hoping that all this television stuff might be a boost to my career. And I was interested to see that Erika, as always, was credible and articulate enough to win over even a tough customer like Tyra Banks!
A few months later, National Geographic Taboo was much more relaxed. Instead of flying to New York, I drove to Palo Alto and sat in front of a green screen. I did a second filming with NG Taboo several months after that. Fortunately, human puppy training was the topic then–which was a bit of a relief, actually. I’d begun to worry that OS was all I’d ever be asked about.
Another thing: In the summer of 2009, I arranged for Erika to give a presentation on OS to a number of sexologists, therapists, and medical professionals at IASHS during 2009’s eight-day, “Sexual Attitude Restructuring” (SAR) program. This was a tough crowd–highly educated and rather skeptical–but Erika did a great job and won people over to an understanding of Objectum Sexuality–just as she would later do with Tyra and so many others.
Since the flurry of 2009 and 2010, there’ve been several media inquiries a year, and usually they are pretty much the same old, same old. Often the journalists want me to find an OS individual for them to interview. I alway refer them to OSI. The community seems to have become more wary and more sophisticated about “gatekeeping,” to shield members against exploitative projects. That’s important, given the carnival freak show sensibility that prevailed in early coverage.
My interests as a sexologist have always been broad, including the sexological and erotic uses of hypnosis, neotantra, sexual and gender human rights, and much more, but sometimes I track where my name and this issue have been paired in media. There are always surprises. For example, today I discovered that my article has been monetized and is on sale through iTunes by the Gale Group, “an affiliate of Cengage Learning.” So for $5.99 you can read an article about my pro-bono research but I’ll never see a penny of this. I’ve never minded the article being open-source and free to all the world, but the fact that it’s now on sale without my permission, irks me. Just read it for free, here.
The Need for Professional Cultural Competency
I’ve always been afraid that media coverage of OS may have distracted professionals from the notion of learning more about OS, particularly in the context of sexual literacy and cultural competency.
This world is rough and often dangerous for people of sexual and gender minority communities. It doesn’t help when the clinician or therapist is distracted because they don’t know enough about the broad range of human sexual behavior and genders and may be focused on that, rather than the actual presenting problem (which might be a toothache or bereavement and have little to nothing to do with their partnership with a beloved object (or two or three).
With these concerns in mind, several years ago I created a two-hour class called Objectum Sexuality — A Clinician’s Guide. It was wildly ignored. But now I am going to share that class on my website now, just in time for Valentine’s Day…
A New Experience
I am readying now for what I think will be a really good media experience this coming Sunday. I sense a fresh approach from a skilled, curious, and compassionate reporter who is used to taking on difficult and complex topics. I hope that I’ll be able to provide a clinical context and address some of the points that I consider important, but which seldom get much play.
Updates coming soon!