Archive for category sexuality
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.
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.
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.
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.