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Yay, sex journalism! Winners and judges celebrate the Sexies in New York City.

Better Journalism, Better Sex

Miriam Axel-Lute will not be giving out crystal dildos anytime soon, no matter how much the nation’s reporters deserve them. But, she wants to encourage journalists to impartially cover the hot and sticky issues of sexuality with her brainchild, the Sex-Positive Journalism Awards. Although friends suggested that she should go with the flashy phallic symbol, she stuck with a more traditional award format of plaques and certificates.

“These awards should be something that any traditional journalist would be proud to hang on their wall,” Axel-Lute said. “This is not an award for sex journalists; it’s an award for journalists who cover sex responsibly.”

Axel-Lute, former news editor for Metroland and current contributing writer, got the idea for the awards, nicknamed the Sexies, in 2004. In her Metroland story “Who Will Speak for Bare Ass Beach,” she reported on the threat to close a 60-year-old nude beach on the Poestenkill River that had become a gay hook-up spot. A homophobic journalist might have taken up the city of Troy’s cause, interviewing the area’s shocked parents or opinionated religious leaders and leaving the actual subjects of the article essentially voiceless.

She chose to stick to the standards of reporting that she would follow if she were covering any other story. “To me a news story that has sexual content isn’t particularly different. If you have a news story, it’s not at face any different from anything else. You have to ask all the hard questions, find out what the motivations are and get past the sound bites.”

“The point is that people’s own prejudices get in the way,” she said. “If you’re covering the environment or housing, people tell you to go look it up and learn about it. But we don’t do that with sexuality. If you don’t understand the difference between BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) and abuse, you can’t write an accurate article. If you don’t educate them, then you give this misleading perception of an entire community.”

According to Axel-Lute, sex-positive journalism is “not just someone saying ‘Yay sex!’ It’s more detailed than that. It can be a story about something that’s a problem, but if you report it objectively then it still counts for the award.”

Featuring articles from papers like the Miami Herald, The New York Times, and Washington Post, the award is given for several categories: daily newspapers, other news publications, features, columns, sex-themed publications, and opinions. Judges included sex columnist Dan Savage, sex therapist Marty Klein and journalist Judith Levine.

The inaugural first-place winner in the daily category was Jill Bauer’s article “Never Too Old for Sex,” an article about the sex lives of the over-50-somethings that appeared in the Miami Herald. Axel-Lute explained that she was especially eager to receive entries from daily papers because they are the publications that reach the most people, and have the most pressure to avoid explicit language and topics that are “too icky to cover.”

“If we don’t talk about it accurately and objectively, then people think they’re alone,” she said. “They don’t realize they are normal. But if the newspapers won’t come out and call it as ridiculous as it is, then [sexual puritans] get this extra power to have control over people’s sex lives.”

Though the award is in its infancy, Axel-Lute hopes to see article submissions to the Sexies increase fivefold. She wants it to be an award for journalists to aspire to, something that they would be proud to put on their resume, or at least something that might come up in a journalism class.

Of course, if the Sexies have trouble catching on, the organizers can just ask the religious right for a leg up.

“Somebody suggested that we send a press release to Morality in the Media so they could get all indignant about it, then that would get us more press,” Axel-Lute said. “We should do that next year. But I don’t think we have yet reached the stage where we’re high-profile enough for people to get too worked up about—that can be our goal.”

—Allie Garcia

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