Archive for category sexuality

Love…or something

During the last two semesters I’ve been occasionally involved in conversations about people falling in love with, marrying, and/or having sex with strange things. From these conversations about the real lives of real people, an interesting picture of the possibilities for human experience – the possibilities for living a subjectively satisfying life – emerges. As it turns out, those possibilities are much wider and more bizarre than we’re accustomed to think. Here’s proof:

Guys and Dolls, a great documentary on men whose significant others are expensive, anatomically correct, female dolls (a la, “Lars and the Real Girl”).

A couple who divorce after the husband is caught having sex with a prostitute…via his avatar in the game, Second Life. Not too surprising, given that they met, dated, and married in the game.

A woman who has loved many an inanimate object takes it all the way, by marrying the Eiffel Tower: part 1part 2.

A man who has been arrested for having sex with a horse. Twice. Same horse.  (I feel a bit bad for posting this, considering what he says at the end, but it’s of course up to each individual to be compassionate).

Another man arrested for (repeatedly) making some love to a picnic table.

A forum full of surprisingly decent sounding people who just happen to be in (sometimes quite committed) loving, physical relationships with their pets.

I’ve found more bizarre examples, but the voice of prudence suggests I quit a few posts ago.


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Justice, apology, and such

I just finished watching an incredibly difficult documentary. It’s called Awful Normal, and it follows two young women as they gather courage and confront the man who molested them when they were little children. My chest is still tight.

All in all, their effort was a very successful one I think, but throughout it struck me just how differently this whole thing would have played out in a different time, or in a somewhat different society. That doesn’t come to my mind because I’m interested in abstractions about culture or whatever, but because throughout their quest to find closure and rest from something that happened twenty years ago, I often found my instincts conflicting with what the felt like they needed to end their pain.

The thing that struck me most continually was the difference in what they were striving for – psychological closure, and what I wanted to see happen – justice. These are pretty distinct things, though it seems that most people only want the second because it will give them the first, and I think that’s where I sit, and I have a hard time having the first without the second. Not so for these girls. What they needed was just to see him own it, and hear him say he was sorry, and they could move on. I don’t know if it has something to do with my maleness, or some barbaric gene in my DNA, but the whole movie long, it rarely occurred to me that he needed to own up. Rather, I would have brief fantasies of mutilating him in some horrible way, or just killing him.

It makes me think of Benito Mussolini. When it became apparent to the citizens of Italy that he had screwed his whole country over, they tried him, executed him, dragged his naked body through the streets, and left it hanging in a public square until the stench was unbearable. This seems sort of barbaric to most of us, but I wonder if sometimes the gruesome way is the only way out.

That’s probably a tired sort of instinct. Everyone moans that serial killers get to die peaceful deaths in injection chambers, while their victims die in much more terrible ways. It is interesting though that our catharsis about something as terrible as child molestation can come from the monster’s mere admission. It says something about us that the “solution” (though, of course, there’s no such thing) to our pain is so asymmetrical to its cause. Maybe that shows that we’re becoming a more loving, gracious society. I doubt it though. Our motivation for grace and forgiveness is mostly self-centered now. We’re told to forgive so that we can be free – which is, of course, a pretty morally worthless sort of act; like giving food to the homeless just to earn frequent-flyer miles.

I think, rather, this drastic asymmetry signals that we’re becoming a society with a pervasive lack of interest in justice. The fact that we can get over child molestation to any serious degree by just hearing the culprit confess carries some immediate psychological benefits for the victims, but it completely neglects the need for justice to be served, and if a society is comprised of such individuals it seems like it will have the effect of making serious wrong-doing seem more and more like the trivial trespasses that children make, which somehow are miraculously dissolved by apology. That, to me, sounds like a pretty dangerous mindset for a society to adopt.

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A Christian on Prop 8, and Gay Marriage

So everyone knows that California recently passed a proposal to modify the state constitution so as to only recognize marriages between men and women. Prop 8 was considered by most conservatives, and most Christians, to be a real victory in a battle over tradition, and (somewhat separately) morality. I, myself, am a Christian, and I’m probably ‘conservative’ (whatever that term means – it probably means that I think homosexuality is in some way a bad thing, which I do). But, I probably wouldn’t have voted for Prop 8 if I were a Californian. I’m not sure that it should have been passed, or that its passing was much of a victory over anything. Let me explain, because each state is eventually going to have to go through the same thing California just went through, and we need to be thinking about how we should respond when that controversy knocks on our door.

As I already said, I am morally opposed to homosexuality. I don’t think it’s good for humanity or morally right, and I think families with same-sex parents are unhealthy environments for children. So, at that moral level, I’m on the same page with most of the people who voted for Prop 8. Why then would I probably not vote for it? If I think something is immoral, unhealthy, and dangerous to children, wouldn’t I want it outlawed? The answer is no. Or, at least not necessarily. I don’t believe that just because something is morally wrong it should be illegal. In fact, there are tons of things that I think are truly morally wrong that I don’t think the state should step in and outlaw. For instance, rudeness, gluttony, fantasizing about another person when you’re married, gossip, promiscuity, white-lying, and many other things are all wrong, but I (and I bet most everyone else) would have a real problem if the government decided it was going to start regulating people’s diets or monitoring their thoughts for illicit fantasies.

So (unless you’re totalitarian-minded), if you agree that at least some of the above things are morally wrong, you will agree that just because something is immoral doesn’t necessarily mean the state ought to illegalize it. There’s a line somewhere, between things that ought to be legal (which includes some immoral things) and things that ought to be illegal (which includes both immoral and moral things – for instance, there’s nothing inherently immoral about driving on the left side of the road, but it’s certainly illegal, and should be here).  The question is, where do we draw that line, and why do I think maybe we should draw it to allow marriage between same-sex couples?

Well, to be honest, I’m just not sure why it should be illegal. I have a hard time coming up with a reason why it should be illegal that wouldn’t also make illegal some other things I don’t think should be outlawed. For instance, if we say that homosexual marriage should be illegal because it’s morally wrong, then we also ought to outlaw gluttony and illicit fantasizing, which is ridiculous. If we say it should be illegal because homosexuality is a sort of disorder that is psychologically unhealthy for the person who ‘has’ it, and is unhealthy for them to practice, then we should also outlaw phobias, but that’s stupid. If we say that it should be illegal because it poses a psychological threat to children, then we should also make it illegal for parents to let their children watch most horror movies, but that doesn’t seem like it should be illegal either. Probably the most common argument for illegalizing gay marriage is that it is not an ideal home life for children in general, but then neither is a divorced home an ideal home life, but the state certainly shouldn’t outlaw divorce.

So I basically have no good argument for making gay marriage illegal, and, because I believe in the principle ”innocent until proven guilty” (or in this case, ”legal until shown that it should be illegal”), I have to say that I wouldn’t vote for Prop 8 if it came to my state, and I don’t think anyone else should either until they have a good argument for why gay marriage should not be legalized. All in all, I’m not really opposed to outlawing gay marriage if there’s some good argument for it. I just don’t know of one. If you have an idea, feel free to throw it out.

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Virginity pledges fail

This is a great example of how totally ineffective it is to try to make people good by making them simply follow certain rules or courses of action, without ever breeding good character in them.

Originally from the Journal of Pediatrics:

“Researchers say the federal government spends about $200 million annually on abstinence promotion programs, which include virginity pledges. Two previous studies have suggested that virginity pledges can delay sex, but researchers say those studies did not account for pre-existing differences between pledgers and non-pledgers.

In this study, researchers compared the sexual behavior of 289 teenagers who reported taking a virginity pledge in a 1996 national survey to 645 non-pledgers who were matched on more than 100 factors, such as religious beliefs and attitudes toward sex and birth control.

The results showed that five years after taking the virginity pledge:

  • 82% of pledgers denied ever having taken the pledge.
  • Pledgers and matched non-pledgers did not differ in rates of premarital sex, sexually transmitted disease, and oral and anal sex behaviors.
  • Pledgers had 0.1 fewer sexual partners in the past year but did not differ from non-pledgers in the number of lifetime sexual partners and the age of first sex.

The biggest difference between the two groups came in the area of condom and birth control use. The study showed that fewer pledgers used birth control or condoms in the past year or any form of birth control the last time they had sex.

Researcher Janet Elise Rosenbaum, PHD, of Harvard University, says the findings suggest that health care providers should provide birth control information to all teenagers, especially virginity pledgers.”

If (sneakily) forcing children to pledge abstinence doesn’t lead them to right living, the better option (aside from chastity belts) is to get them to genuinely value sexual temperance (or whatever) for good, sound reasons, and to breed in them the strength to follow their convictions when it’s difficult. These things are obviously part of good character, but you’d never know it by how people raise their children. Kids have rules and consequences barfed at them tirelessly without ever hearing a good reason for following them. Bah.

You can read the full article here.

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Oh You Poor, Misunderstood Links: A Disclaimer and a Vid

I once on this blog (perhaps some of you will remember) posted a link to a Barbara Walters interview with a former (now former former) porn actress named Belladonna. Well, as a result of my ignorance of Youtube’s media addressing, rather than linking to the video itself, I accidentally linked to a page that simply listed the results of a search for that particular actress’ name and the word ‘interview’ which simply began playing the first video in the search queue which was, needless to say, of a very different nature than the Dateline interview. I’m older and wiser now. Or something. So I wanted to make a once-for-all disclaimer, and give you another risque link.

The disclaimer: For anything to which I link, I have always judged it to be constructive and reasonably appropriate for a thinking adult audience. That won’t mean that it doesn’t have distrubing content, but it does mean that I’ve judged the content to be worth watching because it exemplefies some feature of reality worth noting. In doing that I’m assuming a lot of my audience. I’m assuming we all know what a penis is, for instance, or that we’re all familiar with the various words our parents dogmatized us into thinking of as dirty, and that we can blink it off with maturity, always looking for depth and truth that transcends the vileness of the world, because that’s a big part of living well. If you can’t do that, but are bent on guarding yourself against any encounter with the deep, tragic corruption of the world, then this isn’t the place for you. And I don’t just mean this blog. I mean human society. Terrible things are out there and we can either open your eyes (including that third one) and deal, or shut them all, stand still, and hope to sleep through it all until death. Melodramatic, you say? Not at all. That’s just the way it is. Although this sounds like it must certainly be directed at someone, or pertain to some conflict I’ve had with a reader, it doesn’t at all. It’s just my pep talk for fighting through life with open eyes, and, more immanently, prep for the link I’m about to give.

The link: In my last post, I talked about the effects of technology on personal and social human existence, and I included several links. This one was among them, but I removed it because, though it’s quite safe, the first page it links to might lead you to think otherwise. The link is to a documentary from PBS on pornography in america. It deals with the history of this massive industry (which grosses more than the NBA, NFL, MBA, and NHL combined), the legal status of pornography (which is enlightening, since apparrently what is morally acceptable for public distribution, regarding sex, is literally based on a popular vote), and, most interestingly, interviews a lot of people in the business, who give their take on the most demoralizing, marginializing, and dangerous (legal) business around.

The link is right here. A word of caution, especially to guys: there are a lot of attractive people in this and, while you never see their privates, or watch them have sex, the topic is probably going to get broached a lot in a documentary on porn. At some point you’ll probably think about sex yourself and most people can’t do that in purely condemning terms. That’s good. You shouldn’t be able to because sex is a naturally excellent thing. But, at the same time, if you watch this and it makes you want to go watch a porno or be promiscuous, then the point has been missed. The point in putting this up is to expose the very vileness of pornography, an industry that takes eighteen year old girls still in their braces and lures them into letting eight guys rip them apart for shopping money. The hope is that, in seeing the dirt and grime of the industry, we will see the deep perversion of the pornographic and promiscuous way of life that sees others as toys, will come to hate it deeply, and so will have a greater reverence for the sacredness of others and the beauty of sex, which is the picture of our hearts, good or bad.

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Aladdin’s Electric Lamp (Sing: ‘A whole new world’)

A meditation on world-making: Technology

Technology is something like an exile for us. It is like a gigantic ethereal backhoe uprooting us from the earth, our home. It lifts us out of our flesh-and-bone, dirt-and-sky, me-and-you reality in a sort of confusing way – by making everything ours; by putting everything at our fingertips. When everything is laid open and immediate to us through technology, we lose touch with anything – so Heidegger said. And this makes a lot of sense when you think about it. You are certainly not deeply rooted into the community you were born into now that anyone can pick up their life and family and move somewhere else – something people couldn’t always do. You’re not tied to a certain climate or region like people who have developed a way of life that depends on certain crops they grow, certain animals they use for clothing, and so forth. You don’t have to live in your home city, or home state, or country, or continent. These rootings used to form a significant part of a person’s identity; you were either English or Scottish; you were part of a tribe that had occupied your valley for as long as you’ve known. These elements simply don’t play anywhere near as big a part in making up who we are as they once did, and their role in our identity will continue to decrease. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is definitely a step away from so much of what humanity has been since its existence.

In addition to this uprooting of humanity from the earth, there is a flipside to this movement generated by technology – the creation of a new sort of world. Now, I’ve never lived as a tribesman in a jungle or as a self-subsistent Native American, but I imagine that the whole tone of their existence was very different from ours in an important way; think on this: Technology is power. The more technology we have, the more capable we are of having our way with the world; we can mold it and shape it into an expression of our inner will. I don’t think this was always so, at least not nearly to the extent it is now. Certianly we have always been able to affect our surroundings, but before the bright explosion of possibility caused by the advent of machinery, we were largely at the disposal of our surroundings. We had to adapt our lives to move in harmony with the world around us. We had to change our behavior to make our way in the world. Now, with bulldozers and dynamite and chemicals, we are changing the world without to resonate with and mirror the world within us. Where our lives and lifestyles were once an expression of the interplay between the demands of our surroundings and the forces of inner passion, now our lives are a triumphant expression of our wills over our natural surroundings, and the struggle shifts. We once struggled with the world without (which involved the struggle with nature and with one another). Now we conquer the world, and the struggle -the drama- is purely interpersonal. Through technology we conquer the world, and in doing so we destroy it. All that is left is for our own will – our desires and passions – to play themselves out in our new society, a society in exile from the earth.

And that only brings us through the industrial revolution. When information technology (especially the internet) arose, we took our exiled existence and planted it in a new world – a world without place, a ghost world that is everywhere, and so is nowhere. It hasn’t fully happened yet, but it has begun, and only a global catastrophe will stop it. A skeptic will say, “It’s all the same though! We still have homes, and friends, and food, and lovers, and culture, and lives. The world is essentially the same, just with more possibilities.” I say click away and see if it’s just a little different, or if technology really has uprooted us from everything that was so elemental to human existence. [Disclaimer – though maturity is required, all links are safe, despite the most initial appearance.]

Now the world isn’t out there any more. And it isn’t really just in here either. It’s in some amorphous nowhere between worlds. A things significance isn’t tied to its being anywhere or anywhen. The only significance for any thing is our experience of it. See, for instance, that the most significant symphonic performance of the year takes place….nowhere. And when you watch it, most of the performers won’t be playing. And when the performers do/did play, you weren’t there. And the people who watch it and enjoy it so much will have the experience in isolation of time and place.

So what is the problem here? It certainly could be that this uprooting isn’t a bad thing at all; maybe it’s just new, but not bad. I don’t think so. I think that this new world – this new way of existing – poses some challenges that we’re not ready for, that we’re not built for. Human life is just not the sort of thing that can thrive in the isolating prison of freedom built with our machines. The generation of people who can read this now are the first people to really face this transformation of the world, and this question of existence is ours to wrestle with, and that wrestling has to take place on a personal level before it can take place on a social one.

I have no solution to this other than to take the step of awareness, to watch and see where we’ve been uprooted, and to walk away from the opportunities to have such foundational elements of our humanity transformed and offered to us anew through technology. This way of authenticity and naturalness provides, for example, an excellent reason to reject pornography apart from any religious belief – because it is an isolated, dehumanized, technologized element of basic humanness that has been uprooted, steralized, and offered to us anew as an invitation into the ghost world we’ve created, a world in which there is only the pixeled shadow of the human, where we grow empty by feasting on our vacant abundance. So let us mind Nietzsche, who looked at his own world and remarked,

The wasteland is growing; woe to those who harbor wastelands within.

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Lust and such

Faded into a thin grey on the back of my hand are the words “Lust, objects, and properties”. That probably doesn’t make a bit of sense to anyone in the world except for me…we’ll see, but, first, C.S. Lewis once said that “a man cannot always be defending the truth; he must also feast on it”, and that’s what I’m trying to do in this post. Here I presuppose much that will be outrightly rejected by many people. That’s fine. If I never did that, I would probably be restricted to arguing over whether or not massive, primordial, indeterministic quantum fluctuations can produce a universe, or if our senses are reliable. This is a post about sexuality primarily, so those who don’t share my presuppositions are welcome to read or to ignore it. My thought though is that godless sex is something like feasting on candy all the time – sweet, but devastatingly unfulfilling, and poisonous. That said…

Our society is very lust-driven. And I’m not speaking just in terms of sexual lust. You can lust over nearly anything – as long as you desire it. Now, lust is a tricky thing to define. I know. I’m driven to consider it often, and the best I can come up with is that lust has something to do with desiring something in a wrong way. To flesh that out a little bit, let’s take sexual lust as an example. What’s going on there? To stick with our initial, yet vague definition of lust, we would simply say that sexual lust is sexually desiring a person in a wrong way.

Notice that that definition leaves wide open the possibility of sexually desiring a person in a right way. I didn’t phrase it “sexual lust is desiring a person wrongly” – that would seem to say that sexual desire is naturally, and inherently wrong, but that’s far from the case. Actually, in its most natural setting, it is entirely good. We were created with specifically tailored bodies, that correspond to our natural understanding of beauty so that, when a man sees a woman, he finds her beautiful and desirable, – a place where his strength and capabilities are welcome and needed – and when a woman sees a man, she sees in him strength, support, and safety – a place where her softness is welcome, her needs are met, and the artistry of her body is appreciated. This is sexual desire in its natural state, and, in its natural state, it is a great thing, but it can be misused; it can be twisted, becoming worthless and base. What does that twisting perversion look like?

This mans that sexual desire, in its natural form, is more than a physical yearning. If I’m even close to right in my understanding of sexuality given above, then sex is something more than the firing of neurons elicited by the friction between lubricated muscles that culminates in a relatively weak release of electricity in the cerebral cortex which runs down the spinal column to the genitals releasing fluids. That certainly goes on, but sexuality is primarily about abstract notions – needs, values, beauty, love, strength, safety, comfort, etc, and explaining something as overwhelmingly beautiful as sex with those cold, material descriptions is tragic. You might as well tell a wonderstruck child, when he asks “what is the wind?” that it’s just the fluttering of the curtains. This is what many of us are left with today though – silly, flapping curtains. But anyone who’s ever stood on a cliff and felt the heroic blast of mountain air threaten to throw him down would laugh at, and pity anyone who thinks wind is all about flapping curtains – certainly, anyone who’s even heard of a tornado, or a rainstorm has known the wind better.

So, there’s more to sex than rubbing body parts – but what? Like the curtain, sex is the visible, physical side of what’s going on in the abstract, deeper realms. That is, the rubbing of bodies MEANS SOMETHING. Sex is like a word, and it has a real, concrete meaning. It can’t just mean anything, even though we treat it like it can. Just like a word, when we try to adorn it and exalt it to where it can mean anything, it actually loses all meaning, even the one it originally had, and becomes useless. And here is where the divide between the glory of sex, and the foulness of lust is found. We can locate it through an observation and a question. First, sex, like a word, was crafted to express something specific, and using it any other way is perversion. So, what do we mean when we’re having sex?

Sex takes place in two realms, the physical realm, and the transcendent realm. Our bodies collide and fumble around in the physical realm while our souls caress and quake in the transcendent. The meaning behind sex lies in the transcendent realm, the expression in the physical realm. The transcendental realm is where we believe and feel and know and love, the physical realm is where we say it. Our minds and hearts make their home in the transcendent, our lips and hands in the physical. Real, beautiful, fulfilling sex is had when, 1) in our transcendent, immaterial minds and hearts, we know the other, graciously and selflessly love the other, desire good for them, and are resolved to meet their needs in accordance with the truth and 2) our physical expressions match those beliefs and values. Lust is when something is corrupt or lacking in the transcendent realm, but we entertain, either in our minds or with our bodies, the desire to go ahead and say something we don’t mean. Lust, then, is sexual deception.

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