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Where Sexuality and Politics Intersect.
Sometimes an experience outside of what we know changes our beliefs forever.
At the age of 24, my beliefs about sex were upended.
In a safe, free-love community experiment, a group of blindfolded men and women met each other silently by touch only.
Body to body, I noticed vast differences in the way people felt. Some of these blind meetings became sexual. Then we removed the blindfold. What a shock when I found that a woman who felt incredibly gorgeous turned out to be a woman I would’ve never chosen with my eyes open.
The poverty of my bias was exposed. I was suddenly emancipated from a prison of belief about sexy—a belief I might have carried as a burden for a lifetime. This change not only affected my life, but the lives of others. Flawed or false beliefs about the world, other people or ourselves impose unseen and unnecessary limits on us and rob us of our chance to respond instinctively.
Consider the human cost of controversies involving sex and politics. If we, as the human race, cannot face the obvious facts of sexuality, then how can we expect to face a politically loaded problem like climate change for example?
Let’s look at the similarities. Sex and politics both have progressive and conservative partisans, both involve relations with others and, unfortunately, deceit. Both sex and politics often seek a religious sanction and both involve life choices. Both topics are often plagued by errors of judgment and hypocrisy.
We sometimes feel the temptation to change facts according to our beliefs and desires or to explain facts away. Both choices lead to problems. This Machiavellian habit rests on the absurd belief that humans somehow benefit from adapting ourselves to the world as as we prefer to see it, not the way it is. Whether it involves who or how we love or our response to climate change, altering facts involves consequences that we can’t escape.
It’s frustrating and even shocking to discover contradictions in others’ or our own thinking. When a contradiction involves sex or politics, we call the difference between our words and actions hypocrisy.
Let’s ponder for a moment the anguish of misguided humans—people suffering in the autumn of their lives, lamenting that they squandered their youths because they counted on a status quo that failed them in practice, for example. Let this example stand for the larger point. Conceiving the ocean of tears from our disappointed brothers and sisters might help us grasp the scale of human misery in which hypocrisy plays a large part. Feelings of betrayal overshadow real losses, such as years wasted chasing illusions.
I questioned a fellow who proudly shared that he was getting married. I brought up monogamy as an objection. My colleague staunchly objected to my non-monogamous view. We met at an impasse and let go of the subject. Not even one month after his vows, this fellow, a bartender, bragged that he received fellatio after hours from two young, female patrons. He assumed that I would approve, but, instead, I brought up his previous defense of monogamy.
He rationalized the contradiction as “only” a blowjob. I asked if he would be okay with me eating out his wife. His double standard instantly revealed itself. “Absolutely not!” What followed were the typical generalizations of men being different from women and…we know the story. Regardless of the admitted hypocrisy, he would not question the supremacy of monogamy as an ideal regardless of any argument or fact. More plausible arguments for monogamy do exist.
Dr. David Barash admits that monogamy is not “natural,” but his thesis posits that monogamy, as an adaptation, is useful both in child rearing and also to avoid sexually transmitted disease. I’ve opposed his thinking here but let me suggest that both adults and children would be better off adapting to the world as it is. And it is, on the whole, a non-monogamous world.
I don’t believe that, by entering a monogamous commitment, human intimacy is magically improved, just like I don’t believe that water gains magical properties when a priest performs a ritual over it and declares it holy water. On the contrary, I suggest that our capacities for intimacy are often misguided by expectations, of which monogamy is only one common to Western culture.
When I hear monogamy presented as part of a wholesome lifestyle, I’m reminded of advertisers peddling massively sugar-laden cereals to use as “part of a complete breakfast” when, in truth, we can enjoy a complete breakfast without cereals like Fruit Loops. Likewise, we can have intimacy without forcing our instincts into a dubious sexual ideal.
When someone catches a lover cheating, the typical siren songs of blame become self-satisfying. The psychobabble and emotional clichés—“men are dogs” or “women are (insert derogatory epithet here)’—overlook the more dangerous inquiry into our beliefs.
Is it good to raise children in a hypocritical environment? Assuming strict monogamy and unfulfilled longing, does such an environment negatively impact children? Have we ever even known what it’s like to live in a monogamous society? I doubt it. Any historical overview reveals ever-present prostitution and cheating. Let’s include the more obscure practices of ditching one lover for another and the practice of simply using a definition of sex that excludes hand jobs and anal and oral sex (e.g. Bill Clinton’s famous blow job).
Such rationalization maintains a pretense of monogamy.
Finally, many individuals who practice honest non-monogamy with all involved simply keep their sex lives private—an omission that permits others to assume traditional roles for non-traditional people. What we consider middle-of-the-road sexuality is evidently more or less false.
I’ve mentioned the politics of climate change and monogamy but the deception goes beyond these issues which seem far apart. At the intersection of sex and politics, we have many controversial issues, including sex education. The evidence suggests that more comprehensive sex education solves more problems than abstinence-only education. Some conservatives simply reject such facts. We encounter the same problem.
Let’s take another politicized sexual issue. Regardless of the facts and reasoning behind wanting to decriminalize prostitution as presented by Amnesty International and the Open Society Foundation, many refuse to question their assumptions.
Some people consider all prostitution to be slavery. However, when the advocates of decriminalization agree that slavery is bad and mention that we didn’t outlaw agriculture when we outlawed slavery, they typically encounter personal attacks or are simply ignored.
These are the same tactics used to deny climate change.
For generations, we, as a society, have had a habit of simply ignoring or reinterpreting uncomfortable facts in order to make them more palatable. Let’s be willing to question our assumptions when the facts repeatedly give us reason to do so.
If we can improve this effort with something as close to us as our sexuality, perhaps it will be easier to extend such a critical grasp of the facts to controversial political topics, such as climate change and other issues that concern the living so deeply.
Author: Todd Vickers
Image: L.Shyamal/ Wikimedia Commons
Editors: Khara-Jade Warren; Renée Picard