MIM president calls upon the AARP to stop promoting bettersex.com website (AARP says newspapers carry the advertisements too)

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NEW YORK (Jan. 16, 2009) – Yesterday, after receiving a telephone call from the Houston-based Centers for Decency informing him that the January 2009 AARP Bulletin contains an advertisement for Better Sex videos, Morality in Media president Robert Peters sent a letter to AARP CEO William Novelli and AARP President Jennie Chin Hansen, asking them to stop promoting bettersex.com products to AARP members.  The letter stated:

Perhaps you were unaware that that www.BetterSex.com is connected to Phil Harvey, founder of Adam & Eve, which is one of our nation’s largest pornography businesses.  I hasten to add that Newsweek (Bob Cohn, “The Trials of Adam & Eve,” 1/7/91) described Adam & Eve as “one of our nation’s biggest mail-orderpornography companies” and said that Harvey “buys his tapes and magazines from porn manufacturers in California.”  [Italics added]

During the Reagan/Bush administrations, Harvey and his company, PHE, Inc. (the parent company of Adam & Eve) were indicted in North Carolina on state obscenity charges and in Utah on federal obscenity charges and might have been indicted in Kentucky on federal obscenity charges had they not obtained an injunction preventing the Kentucky indictment.  The Justice Department’s strategy of bringing multiple prosecutions against a major pornographer was challenged in court, but that doesn’t change the fact that Harvey & PHE were indicted.  Had new Attorney General Janet Reno not decided to stop enforcing federal obscenity laws altogether, Harvey and his hardcore porn business may have been convicted on federal obscenity charges.

Today, among the many porn “studios” that Adam & Eve does business with (as observed on the www.adameve.com website under “Shop By Studio”) are: Bad Seed, Combat Zone, Red Light District, Vivid, Voyeur Media, Wicked, and Zero Tolerance.

The www.adameve.com website also promotes DVDs by “Categories,” which include Amateur (with titles like “Sweet Young Things,” “Bubble Gum Cuties,” “Tight & Fresh,” and “Never Been Touched”), Anal, Coeds (with titles like “Bad Ass School Girls,” “Headmaster,” “Baby Face,” and “School Girl Fantasies”), Fetishes (with titles “Guide to Bondage Sex,” “Kink Club,” “Bound,” and “Bound to Please”), Gonzo, Orgy and Squirting.

As you know, BetterSex.com is operated by the Sinclair Institute, which in turn was established by Phil Harvey in 1991.  The Institute bills itself on the BetterSex.com website as follows:

“The Sinclair Institute is the leading source of sexual health products for adults who want to improve the quality of intimacy and sex in their relationships. Since 1991, Sinclair has developed an extensive library of videos and products coveringverything from advanced sexual positions to erectile dysfunction solution.  The best selling Better Sex Video Series, has sold more than four million videos…Sinclair videos aid in adult sex education…Working with a diverse team of professional sex educators and therapists, we create products that work by fostering communication and creativity between partners. Our Better Sex videos address topics many people find difficult or embarrassing to discuss.  Sinclair videos feature commentary by sexuality experts for better adult sex education. Commentary and helpful suggestions are followed by explicit illustrations by typical couples who demonstrate key elements, skills and techniques in an honest, realistic and sensitive manner.”

As reported in the Chicago Tribune (Devin Rose, “The Other Side of Internet Sex; Beyond Unsolicited Porn, Many Women Are Finding Answers to Legitimate Questions on the Web,” 3/20/02), Mark Schoen, director of sex education at the Sinclair Institute, had this to say:

“Because we’re about sex and we’re on the Internet, people assume we’re an adult site, says Mark Schoen, director of sex education at the Sinclair Institute.  The private Institute works with sex educators and researchers in the U.S. to create a vast library of sex education videos.  (The ‘Better Sex’ video series vaulted the group to sex-ed fame.)  The Institute’s online site bettersex.com provides a comprehensive database of sex-related information…and sells videos and other sex-related products…‘For some people, if a video has explicit sex, it’s a dirty movie,’ Schoen says.  ‘But others are seriously looking for accurate sexual info, and they want a graphic depiction.  That’s what we do.  We don’t pull any punches.’”

Even assuming that the “Better Sex” video series and other Institute “adult sex education” films are not “dirty movies,” there would still be a problem for mainstream publications that carry ads for BetterSex.com – namely, that BetterSex.com doesn’t just promote “adult sex education” materials.  It also promotes commercially distributed pornographic movies.

In addition to finding links for the Better Sex Video Series and “Adult Sex Education,” if you go to thewww.bettersex.com website and click to “Adult Movies,” you will also find a large collection of pornographic films with titles like these: “Wives: A Voyeur’s Diary,” “Bound,” “Penthouse Variations: Tied Up,” “Guide to Bondage,” “Latina Hollywood Hookers,” “The Accidental Hooker,” “Complete Addiction,” “Better Sex Video Series & Playgirl: Playing Dirty,” “Headmaster,” “Kinky Cock-Tales,” “Dude: That’s My Mom,” “Love Squirts,” “Penthouse Letters: My Neighbors’ Wives,” “Guide to Spanking,” “The Perfect Orgy,” and “Smut Peddler.”

In May 2006, Roger Young, a retired FBI Agent, compared the selection of adult movies available for sale on the bettersex.com website with those available for sale on the adameve.com website.  He identified (by title) 106 movies that were advertised for sale on both websites.   Interestingly, if a movie was purchased on bettersex.com, the buyer typically paid more for it.

By directing its members to the www.bettersex.com website, AARP is not only directing them to a source of purported “adult sex education” materials but also to a wide variety of products typically available in an “adult bookstore.”  It’s a bit like accepting an ad for a parlor that offers health massages, knowing that one or more backrooms have been set aside for promiscuous sex.

Ultimately, it is up to a judge or jury to determine if a particular “adult” movie is obscene; but in a 1973 obscenity case, Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, the Supreme Court said this (at 27):

“Under the holdings announced today, no one will be subject to prosecution for the sale or exposure of obscene materials unless these materials depict or describe patently offensive “hard core” sexual conduct specifically defined…We are satisfied that these specific prerequisites will provide fair notice to a dealer in such materials that his…commercial activities may bring prosecution.”  [Italics added]

Based on my reading of descriptions of movie content published on bettersex.com, I think some (many) “Adult Movies” offered for sale do depict “hard-core” sexual conduct.  Your General Counsel should therefore want to determine the answer to this question, “Could AARP be prosecuted for violating the federal aiding and abetting statute by accepting ads from a business, knowing that the ads directly or indirectly promote the sale of hardcore pornography?”

In an email from Michelle Alvarez, Senior Manager, AARP Media Relations, to Karen Kristopher, Ms. Alvarez stated, “I also wanted to make note that Sinclair also advertises its products in many fine periodicals in addition to the AARP Bulletin and AARP The Magazine.  In 2008, some of those included the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, TV Guide, Woman’s Day and The Family Handyman.”

This response reminds me of the very plausible explanation for why so many seemingly responsible financial institutions ultimately decided to purchase securities tied to subprime mortgages: namely, that others did it, and they were profiting handsomely.

In closing, I would add this about the “Better Sex” videos advertised in your publications.  Even assuming that some sexually explicit materials can have positive educational value when provided by a competent professional for use by a specific individual, doesn’t mean those materials won’t have a detrimental impact on others when disseminated indiscriminately.

To the extent that “Better Sex” videos sexually arouse viewers, they can have the same effect as “Adult Movies;” and for millions of Americans, viewing pornography has become a ruinous addiction.  As the Supreme Court put it in the Miller obscenity case (at 36), “civilized people do not allow unregulated access to heroin because it is a derivative of medicinal morphine.”  I would add, “and civilized people do not allow unregulated access to medicinal morphine.”

I hope you will act now to stop promoting bettersex.com products to AARP members.

P.S.  Even if AARP members order Better Sex videos through the mail, they may receive promotional literature for other “adult” products when they receive their orders.  They may also be put on a mailing list that promotes other “adult” products.

Headquartered in New York City, MORALITY IN MEDIA works through constitutional means to curb traffic in illegal obscenity. MIM operates the www.obscenitycrimes.org website, where citizens can report possible violations of federal Internet obscenity laws.

Author: MIM   01/16/2009

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