We tend to stay away from explicitly political topics here, but I think there are some alarming trends bubbling to the surface of American politics that warrant a thorough, skeptical examination.
There’s been a bit of an uproar recently in socially progressive circles over the Delaware Republican primary win by Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, and rightly so. She’s a Christian fundamentalist, Sarah Palin-style, self professed feminist (what?!) whose views on sexuality would not be out of place in Saudi Arabia. In fact, she has stated publicly that she enjoyed her time in the Middle East, because she was not “constantly bombarded with smut all the time”. Her record reads like satire, but she’s not joking. And she’s not alone in her views.
We live in fearful times. The Tea Party seems to be capitalizing on the economic and cultural fears of the working class in order to win elections. The two main ways in which this is manifest are the mythos of the “plight” of the white American working man (this recent essay by Bill Maher is especially poignant, and hilarious), and all sorts of fearmongering about what other people are doing in their bedrooms. I’d like to focus on the latter.
I find it incomprehensible how politicians like O’Donnell talk a big game about freedom and liberty, while out the other sides of their mouths seem to be calling for the imposition of medieval sexual morality, if not in law, in what is to be seen as proper behavior for “good people”. Even more incomprehensible to me is the fact that people buy into it. If we truly live in a free country, then as consenting adults, we are free to do as we will with regard to our own bodies. Perhaps sensing this internal inconsistency, they will often attempt to frame these moralizations into arguments about how “sexual deviance” is the root of all our social and political problems; thus making public problems out of our private lives.
This is, of course, nothing new. I recently watched the film Milk, and was a bit taken aback with how little the arguments against sexual freedom have changed over the past 30 years. (It was a wonderful and poignant film, and I highly recommend it.) The main argument against gay marriage these days, as it was in the 70s, is that of the supposed harm it would do to the institution of straight marriage. I fail to see how this is possible. The only way it makes sense is if you conflate civil marriage with religious marriage, and read attempts to widen the availability of civil marriage as infringements thereon. The problem is, people who do this tend to do it selectively. My parents made it very clear to me that they did not view my civil marriage as a true marriage, yet they’ve been protesting with a prominent anti-gay marriage group to prevent marriages that they’ve said they don’t view as real marriages, in another context. Are you dizzy yet?
Forgive me for being a bit all over the place. This is a big topic, and it’s all still sort of swimming around in my mind, fomenting into a semblance of organization as I write this. I sort of like the idea of letting it come out how it will. Bear with me.
I grew up being taught a lot of this kind of morality. Most of my family still hold these views. For some reason, they never really stuck for me. Ultimately, I think it’s because I lack fear. The fear of the corruption of the “material” world that my religious education tried to inculcate in me just never took. I had (and have) such an intense curiosity and sense of wonder at all aspects of the world that I could never truly fear the unknown. I look at the small, enclosed, bubble worlds some of those close to me have created for themselves, and I marvel at the idea that anyone could live that way. That’s not to say I think they’re stupid for doing so; they seem happy and fulfilled; I just know I couldn’t do it.
I tend to avoid these topics with my loved ones, because it’s nearly impossible to have a reasonable argument when we are working from completely different sets of facts. To much of my family, it is unassailably true that condoms don’t stop AIDS and that the acceptance of gay people brought down the Roman Empire. Try to bring up scientific studies and they will tell you that there is an evil liberal conspiracy on the part of the godless scientists to create a world in which they can do anything they wish without consequence, and that anyone who accepts said science must be brainwashed. I hate that.
Because of this basic lack of agreement on what constitutes factual information, it may be impossible to argue with the people on the fringes, but I think it’s important for skeptics to address and point out, for the benefit of the general population, the fallacies in these arguments. We need to explain how and why we know that condoms do prevent HIV, and discuss the reasons why the acceptance of gay people is not, in fact, ruining our society. We need to argue against those who wish to curtail our individual freedoms, and to point out the hypocrisy of conservative politician after conservative politician who very publicly fails to live up to the strict moral system which they would seek to impose on all of us, despite rampant evidence that such a system has been shown again and again not to work.
All this seems to me to be intimately tied to sexual shame. It’s a feedback loop, really. People believe that sex is shameful, so they repress their desires, only to have unhealthy sex to fulfill their needs, which feeds into their belief that sex is shameful, etc. Or more specifically, sex outside of their narrow morally acceptable norm is shameful. Problem is, few of us would really be satisfied with that kind of a constrained sex life (hence all of the ridiculous scandals these politicians get themselves into). And they want us to feel bad about that. Well, I, for one, flat out refuse to be ashamed.
I’ve recently embarked on something of a new adventure. Having split from my husband of nearly 10 years, and wishing to meet my needs while enjoying my newfound freedom, I’ve discovered casual sex. I wasn’t sure how it would work for me, given my upbringing, and the years of being told that sex without commitment was necessarily soul destroying and could lead to nothing but ruin. I’ve found completely the opposite to be true. This endeavor has been beautiful, respectful, joyful, and life-affirming in ways I couldn’t possibly have fathomed.
I can’t help wondering if some of these Teabaggers might change their tune if they experienced some good, shame-free sex.
Thanks to Kink on Tap for inspiring me to finally write about this.