Auntie Fatcat's

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Stuff We Don't Talk About: Sex

Of all the things we're not supposed to discuss in polite company, sex has got to be number one. And yet, we talk about sex all the time. You can't watch TV, walk into a bookstore, or even drive down the street without getting smacked in the face with somebody's attempt to titillate you into buying something. We eat up "news" articles about who's having sex with whom or how to get more and better sex. And the public arena is dominated by two loud voices: one trying to control everyone else's sex life and the other demanding approval of whatever they choose to do with their genitals.

Enough, already.

Sex will always be one of those shiny objects people just have to look at when they see it, and people trying to sell things (including news) will always put their shiniest objects forward. That I can't change. But I do have a modest proposal for limiting the constant need to discuss sex as a policy issue.

First, for the "I demand approval!" people:

Please recognize that insofar as your sexual actions affect the public at large, society as a whole does have some right to set limits on what is socially acceptable. That means if you want acceptance, you have to kindly minimize negative impacts on other people.

For example, the public has a right to protect itself from sexual abuse. So you should get meaningful consent from anyone and everyone you want to engage in sex acts with. Meaningful means everyone giving consent must do so of their own free will, without coercion or bullying. It also means they must be capable of understanding what is being asked, including the ramifications of their choice. (That means no animals, children, intoxicated or comatose people, or people with mental problems that prevent them from thinking clearly, among others.) Consent means informed consent to all significant aspects of the acts you wish to perform with them. Obtaining consent via lies of commission ("I'm on the pill"), omission (not mentioning you have an STD), or deliberate vagueness about your intentions is not okay. And even if you get consent, it should be understood that this consent may be revoked at any time by any party who becomes uncomfortable with it. (Okay, revoking it afterwards is too late, but if anybody says "Stop!" you have to stop.)

The public also has a right to protect itself from inadvertently witnessing your sex acts. Sure, people who deliberately go to sex clubs, peek in windows, read sexually oriented email lists, or watch X-rated movies can't complain if they see or hear something naughty. But regular folks going about their everyday business should reasonably expect not to suddenly find themselves confronted with you and your co-worker groping each other in the copy room. And all those people on the bus with you don't need to hear you yakking loudly on your cell phone about all the explicit details of the great sex you had last night.

Finally, the public has a right to protect itself from the biological consequences of your sexual choices. That means if anybody has or could have an STD, use protection. And if the sex you're having could result in conception, please be sure all parties involved want and are prepared to have a child before you decide you don't need birth control. If you are sorry afterwards that you didn't do these things, please have the guts not to blame other people for your choices.

Anything you want to do within the above guidelines should be socially acceptable, if not universally appealing. (Yes, this includes some stuff I personally find icky. But I don't have to participate in it or witness it, so I'm willing to deal.) Be happy with that. Don't try to argue that society has a moral obligation to let you "act naturally" with no strings attached, or claim that anybody who isn't interested in doing what you're doing, watching you do it, and/or throwing you a party afterwards to celebrate must be unnaturally repressed. That kind of stuff gives sexual freedom a bad name and sends folks over to the other side.

Now for the "You can't do that!" people:

Please recognize that while other people's sex acts may offend you, violate your religious morals, or gross you out, they're not actually your business unless they affect you or the public clearly and directly. (And no, "contributing to the general moral decline of society" doesn't count, especially if your proof that it does is that James Dobson said so.) If everybody around you is properly keeping their fun and its consequences to themselves and their consenting associates, you should be able to live an active, virtuous life without taking part in or witnessing any sexual acts that bother you. Be happy with that. Don't try to argue that society has a moral obligation to impose your every sexual rule on the world, or that people who disagree with your rules are unnaturally perverted and generally evil. That kind of stuff gives sexual morality a bad name and sends folks over to the other side.

Now that that's settled, can we please talk about something else?


Blogger Marge Marshall said...

I just read your blog and couldn't agree more. As near as I know, I have just one hangup about sex. I think my sex life is my private business, and other peoples' is their own affair. Too bad we are baggered by T.V.. etc. However, I don't expect anyone else to follow my beliefs along this line. Maybe it is called minding my own business.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Ron R said...

My goodness, but what a twisted web we weave. You know, I've been a part of the "We can do what we want crowd," for all of my life and I've *never* seen anyone from that crowd argue for the rights you've so properly rallied against.

Consent required before sexual activities take place? Check. You won't find a single accepted member of the "sex is natural," group who would argue otherwise. Folk have to take responsibility for the biological consequnces of their actions? Check. It's the sex people who have been advocating both the use of condoms and education on same for many years, while those who want to legally restrict sexual activity are firmly behind the efforts to limit folk's ability to protect themselves from biological infection or pregnancy. Sex in public spaces? Other than maintaining the clothing optional nature of previously nude beaches I can't think of a single example of a legal action around the "right," to have sex in public.

See, Beverly, the thing that bothers me about your blog is that it shows just how poorly the "it's our right," crowd has communicated their efforts. No one on that side of the coin is advocating for anything other than the right to do what they want, with those consenting folk they want, in private spaces. I've never seen anyone demand the right to "do whatever they wanted with their genitals." But you've somehow got the idea that folk want to screw drunk minors in public while infecting them with STDs without social condomnation. The only folk asking for such things are the extremes, and both sides got 'em. If you want to let the National Boy Love Association define the sex community then you've got to let the women enslaving Mormon sets define all christian attitudes on sexual control.

Instead those "loud voices," on the "sex side," I've heard want to be able to gather in private spaces without being arrested. That's something like the right to peacable assemble. We want the right to buy and sell sex toys without going to jail. But the U.S. supreme court just refused to give us that right. We want the government to be involved with sex just enough to make sure everyone involved gave consent, and that no one has to watch what happened. It's the other side that wants to criminalize oral sex, same sex contact, masturbation with sex toys, commerical sex, sexual conversation, sexual entertainment, and so on.

I'd love to see you take on the actual reasoning of the side advocating criminalizing private consentual adult sexual behavior with the same kind of vigor you just addressed a bunch of imaginary goals and desires attributed to the "loudest voices," on the side of decriminalizing those behaviors. In other words, spend a few paraghaphs on why passing laws saying folk who sell dildos at private parties should go to jail is silly, why don't you? Or that spending money arresting prostitutes who ply their trade in private spaces is a waste of resources. The few you've spent on why consent is important are accurate and reflect an attitude all but universally shared. But the idea that the government ought not to restrict private, consensual, sexual behavior is contrivorsial here in the U.S.

And, no, as long as folk are jailed, beaten, and shamed for making those private, consensual, sexual choices we can't be quiet about it. Sorry for the bother.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Beverly Marshall Saling said...

Ron, sweetie, don't get your knickers in a knot. If your crowd isn't arguing for the right to "screw drunk minors," etc., then they're not the ones I'm after. (Although I agree with you that your crowd's primary problem is its failure to successfully differentiate itself from these "bad guys." The fact that you assume my assault on irresponsible sex is an assault on the sex-positive community means even you have trouble telling the difference, I might point out.)

I am, in fact, addressing the extremes here--NAMBLA, the Mormons, and all--because like it or not *they* are the loudest voices. Sexual extremism is a very shiny object and always gets the most press. (That's why the religious sexual morality stories are always about Southern evangelicals clamoring for abstinence-only sex ed instead of Catholic groups challenging the pope on birth control policy.) And I'm not "taking on the reasoning" of either extreme because I frankly don't think either side has much of any.

I laid out a minimal set of rules--which you say your community agrees with--and stated that society as a whole has no right to impose sexual restrictions beyond those rules. If you interpret this as an attack on you, then I'd say that might be the root of your PR problem right there.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Ron R said...

If my nickers were in a knot, or I felt attacked, I'd have forwarded your blog along to various other readers. As it is I was asked to read it and give a reaction, and I did. Simple as that. :)

As for my lack of clarity, or inability to understand what you wrote, I got your point. I just think you're misinformed and inaccurately labeling the "loudest voices." Just as Rush Limbaugh does when he rallies against "feminazis." Yes, some feminists hate men. Not many. And letting those that do define feminism as a whole, or mistakenly elevating them to be the spokesfolk for the entire idea of equal rights for women, illustrates both the failures in the feminist community as well as the ignorance and biases of those who do that elevating. Same is true here.

Personally I don't agree that the extremes are the loudest voices. On the side of sexual repression it's not the extreme voices that are in power, it's the majority. If the extremes were in power on that side you'd be wearing a dress and legally forced to marry your uncle. No, on the side of repression it's the voice of the middle class, the moral majority, that is the loudest in my hearing. Those are the folk arresting prostitutes, closing down swing clubs, criminalizing oral sex, arresting those who sell sex toys and so on. They aren't the extreme, they're the norm. They get the most press, more than any others by far, write the most laws, discriminate against the gays, and so on all to a greater degree than anyone else.

In fact if there's any confusion in this exchange I think it's yours. Just as Rush shows he doesn't understand feminism when he uses the term "feminazi," so do does your characterization of both sides show yours. On the side of civil rights you're as accurate in your understanding in this blog as Limbaugh is when he calls all feminists "feminazis." On the side of repression you've confused the middle with the extreme. Looks to me like you're calling the middle of one group the extreme and the extreme of another the middle.

So I'm not feeling attacked so much as sad that someone I respect as much as you, who's as smart as you, could be so misinformed. Sure it's the "fault," of the sex community, just as the negative attitudes many folk have towards feminism is the "fault," of feminists. But that doesn't make it any less of a downer for me.


10:40 AM  
Blogger Beverly Marshall Saling said...

Well, I'm glad to hear that you don't think I'm attacking you, because I honestly thought you'd like what I wrote. I thought my thesis--that only a very few narrow rules properly govern what should be acceptable sexual behavior, and the wide vista of sexual choices beyond that should be neither legally banned nor socially shunned--was the same as that of the sex-positive community. I thought you might welcome such support from someone outside the movement.

Instead you have implied I'm a liar ("what a twisted web we weave") and compared me to Rush Limbaugh. You continue to insist that I have allowed sexually irresponsible extremists to define or represent all in favor of sexual civil rights, which I don't believe I have. I have chosen to address the extremists--and only them--because they are the ones acting badly in the public arena. They are the ones who need addressing, just as the moralists I'm addressing are only the ones acting like repressive busybodies. If you are right and the majority of moralists are in the repressive camp while the majority of libertarians are in the "responsible freedom" camp, then I'm actually condemning a larger swath of moralists than of civil libertarians.

I'm sorry that our apparent disagreement about to whom my remarks are addressed has distracted you from what I hope is our fundamental agreement on basic sexual ethics. Perhaps it may console you that even a misinformed Rush Limbaugh like me is still on what I believe to be your side.

7:07 PM  

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