I've had some extensive sidebar discussions over my last post on sexual conduct. Read the comments, and then my responses, here.
Let me start by saying: I love these kinds of discussions. I've written and re-written numerous responses, only to discard them after thinking more, or doing more research.
Well, actually, I do think that the problems of inner city poverty and violence are directly correlated to the breakdown of family structures. That's certainly not the only problem there, but I think it's the one that's most important and the one we can directly influence.Â I only used the inner city to illustrate the point, since itâ€™s the most dramatic illustration of the problem. But itâ€™s not just a problem in inner-city black communities.Â Most of the increase in single motherhood in the last few years has been among whites, and Â following the same pattern that has played out in the inner city: generational cycles of poverty, ignorance, neglect, and abuse.
Yes, women unfortunately bear most of the risk associated with sex. Morally responsible men will recognize that, and respect it. In my own upbringing, my mother was pretty explicit about putting the moral burden of "saying when" on the GUY, because without that moral restraint the guy is more likely to take advantage of his less-risky position to push for sex. Of course, in days of yore there was a consequence for men who knocked up women: the woman's father and brothers usually came and beat the crap out of him. Not exactly â€œdue process,â€ but cultures generally do evolve some mechanism to protect women from (literally) being taken advantage of.
Unfortunately, codes of sexuality are often used as means of subjegating women. Women are kept from education and involvement in the community on the pretext of "protecting their purity." Yes, that's bad. But that doesn't mean ALL restraints on sexual conduct are efforts to unreasonably restrict the freedom of women. As far as I can see, sexual â€œliberationâ€ is highly overrated; the freedom to screw around is hardly the most enobling aspiration, for women or for men. And is either of them really better off for it?
Ummm . . . actually, overpopulation stopped being a serious public policy issue about ten years ago. Much of the world is facing the opposite problem â€“ their birth rates are so low that their demographics are wildly imbalanced, with not enough young people to take care of the old. (See the Wikipedia'sÂ discussion of "The Greying of Europe.")Â I donâ€™t think birth rates are tied to liberalization of sexuality, so much as they are tied to economics. In agrarian societies, having lots of kids provided the economic advantage of free labor. In a post-industrial society, the incentives are reversed, since kids are expensive and provide no immediate economic advantage.
Lots of people are inclined to blame religion for sexual repression. I actually credit religion with sexual repression. Given the current cultural climate, I think we could stand to be a little more repressed.
When I traced out the evolutionary rationale for marriage, I wanted to make it clear that these traditional rules were not arbitrary: they served specific purposes to deal with very real biological and psychological consequences of sex. Marriage is not a patriarchal conspiracy to subjegate women; it is a mutually advantageous contract that gets both men and women what they want. The worldâ€™s religious traditions were merely the vehicles for transmitting and enforcing those values.
Besides, shame and humiliation, in association with sex, is not the invention of culture. Psychologically, there are always taints of shame in sexuality simply because sex is one of the most obvious reminders that we are merely animals. All human cultures have evolved extensive traditions and taboos around eating, elimination, and sex, in an attempt to minimize our â€œanimalnessâ€ and emphasize our identity as rational beings. People eager to take the shame out of sex will argue that itâ€™s â€œonly natural,â€ but thatâ€™s exactly the problem. Human beings donâ€™t want to be natural. We want to be super-natural, better than beasts. (The best discussion of this overall sweep of human history is the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker.) The extent to which people are slaves to their bodily appetites is exactly the extent to which they feel shame, which is why I think chastity and temperance in general is necessary for psychological health.
I suppose some people see an increase of infidelity as a sign of women getting more power. In an attempt to appear â€œempowered,â€ many feminists have celebrated their ability to behave as badly as the worst men. Casual sexuality, smoking, drinking, cursing, slovenly dress â€“ all these habits have been employed by some feministsÂ to demonstrate how liberated they are. I much prefer to see women embrace their freedom to be better than men â€“ to get educations, to thrive in professions and commerce and the arts, to take care of their families and communities. I do believe that double standards in sexuality is unfair, but a race to the bottom proves nothing. Better to hold men to higher standards than to lower the standards for women.
My take on all of this is colored by the fact that I am the father of a teenaged girl, and also by the fact that I am a sexist pig.
So, I'm going to make a grossly sexist generalization. Men are out for cheap sex, and women just don't get it. And if that is too oversimplified to be completely true, it isn't too far off to be useful.
A girl wears short mini-skirts to get attention. Why? Because girls want attention from guys, and walking around half-naked works pretty well.
One very smart lady I know wrote: "Throughout junior high and high school, a lot of the male athletes were my friends. During this time, I heard them talk about all their 'scores' with other girls, etc. I decided right then and there that I would be a virgin when I married, and I was."
So the problem is not just that the media over-sexualizes young girls; the problem is that we allow girls to over-sexualize themselves, and we don't explain to them that the attention they are getting is not at all the attention they want. It's worth at least considering the possibility that a heaping helping of sexual repression is in all girls' best interest.
Ah, you put me to shame. I should be so courageous in speaking the truth.
I am reminded of a recent Wall Street Journal article. A psychologist noted that more girls are embracing modest styles . . . but he couldn't get a hearing on Dr. Phil, because that didn't conform to the liberal orthodoxy:
I think it helpful to spell out where it is we agree, and where we don't. We agree that sex has consequences, and we agree that a promiscuous lifestyle has the potential to have negative consequences. We also agree that it is the duty of the parent to provide proper moral instruction for their kids and to set appropriate boundaries. (I'm sympathetic to Kenny's concerns as the father of a teen-age girl). From here, we begin to part company.
While I believe in the idea of social restraint, I disagree about where the origin of this restraint should lie. I don't think sexual restraint is best achieved by appealing to traditional methods of moral coercion, such as religion, social condemnation, or the like. I agree with your historical assessment that "traditional rules were not arbitrary: they served specific purposes to deal with very real biological and psychological consequences of sex." However, by chaining yourself to historical rationalizations, you neglect all that has changed. For example, it would be much easier to justify the traditional divisions of labor of man as "provider" and woman as "homemaker" if we were still a subsistence based society. The efficiency gained by that division of labor would be worth it. That attitude of course would be very misplaced today. When looking backwards in history, we can only confidently speak in the past tense.
Women's lib in the 20th century was not about picking and choosing freedoms, but to be free in all their choices. But here's the crux, and I think what you are ignoring: "with great power comes great responsibility". I'm not being flip here. Read Simone de Beauvoir's "Second Sex" ; there is no such thing as personal responsibility without the concept of the freedom to choose. I do not doubt that many "empowered" women chose to indulge in "casual sexuality, smoking, drinking, cursing, and slovenly dress", but more importantly, many women CHOSE to be outstanding workers, wives, and mothers. Because it was their choice rather than a socially imposed imperative, it becomes many times more meaningful and enduring.
Regarding some of your other points:
- overpopulation remains a great concern to this planet. Much of the world is NOT facing the opposite problem; it is a problem only for some western countries, and one can easily argue the problem is a product of previous generations' excessive birth rate rather than today's lower birth-rate. Maintaining a high birth rate only postpones the problems. For most of the world (that is, the non-developed world), over-population remains a significant problem. And while I agree lower-birth rates are predicated on strong economies, I would argue strong economies are predicated on an innovative and educated work force which is predicated on liberal societies that have a strong sense of personal freedom (and equal access to freedom). Is it just a coincidence that the most robust economies (on a per capita basis and with the best dispersion of wealth) are those countries with the most liberal attitudes, including those of sex?
- It's true that only people, not animals, feel "shame out of sex". But to go down this path, you'd have to recognize that only humans (with the possible exception of the dolphin and the bonobo) have sex for pure pleasure, i.e. when there is no possibility of procreation. Therefore, should we embrace this too to emphasize our humanness and non-animalness? Embrace our hedonism? I'm more inclined to accept the latter and not the former, but then again, I think all these distinctions between us and animals pale in comparison to our ability to reason. And I think there are many convincing reasons to "control our appetites" that appeal to our rationality, and not a sense of shame. Shame is not instinctual with respect to sex, although it may seem that way since it has been with us for so long.
I think I agree with all of that, with the single exception that I am inclined to think that the shame associated with both sex and defecation are biological, not cultural, in origin. But I agree that overpopulation is a real issue, world-wide. I agree that a choice to make the right decision is far more meaningful and valuable when it is free, rather than imposed. I don't want to stone any women; I do want them to understand the consequences of their decisions.
But--besides pregnancy, disease, and any religious issues, there is another huge consequence of sex, which is emotional. And we cannot educate people about this if we start by assuming, out of some modern moral imperative, that it all has to be the same for guys and girls. The girl pays the higher emotional price, almost always.
Here is an excerpt from a recent Al Stewart song. Actually the first two lines of this excerpt really say it all.
Everyone went out with her;
Everyone knew why.
But no one ever stayed around,
No one ever tried.
Now Gena drowns her sorrows,
And drinks away the night.
She's wrapped around some stranger,
Hanging on for life.
Whether the sources of our "shame" of defecation are biological or cultural or some blend of the two is beside the point. What is important is to recognize that 21st century microbiology makes these old reasons totally moot. We now have "good" reasons to treat our waste products carefully; we understand how disease is transmitted and how bacteria breed and grow. I don't doubt that shame once played a vital role in shaping primitive attitudes toward defecation; today, I would hope public attitudes (as well as public policy) are better informed.
The same can be said of many of our sexual attitudes.