February 21, 2007 at 3:51 pm (sex)

Throughout history there have been various attitudes on sex, one of the pre-dominant ones is that it’s wrong or bad, especially if done in the wrong context, e.g. infidelity, homozexuality, etc. Another view is that it’s a very holy, sacred event between two people.

My question is: why is there such a hang-up about sex? It’s just another human behaviour. Ok, it’s immensely pleasurable but eating and drinking can be immensely pleasurable if done in a certain way, same can be said for sleeping, why aren’t they made into sacred events or condemned as immoral? Opinions, please.



  1. soniarott said,

    Agnes Wolf wrote:
    ‘Homosexual couples should not be entitled to adopt children’.

    All right, let’s see what arguments you summon up to support this contention…

    ‘They have made a choice of sexuality that involves the interaction of individuals with identic genitalia. The interaction of individuals with identic genitalia does not result in birth. While an anus might superficially resemble a vagina for a confused observer, it is not. Nature does not contemplate the possibility of two individuals from the same sex to create descendants’.

    So what? The ‘interaction’ of sterile heterosexual couples also does not result in birth — ‘Nature’ clearly does not ‘contemplate’ sterile couples giving birth. If your above argument precludes homosexual couples from adopting then it also clearly precludes heterosexual couples who are sterile (or where the female is past the age of reproductive fertility). Do you also want to ban sterile heterosexual couples from adopting children?

    ‘The purpose of adoption is to provide an environment for a child that resembles as closely as possible the natural one’.

    Is it? I thought the purpose of adoption is to serve the best interests and further the welfare of children whose biological parents are either unwilling or unable to raise them. From that standpoint, all of the longitudinal studies thus far conducted have demonstrated that children raised by homosexual couples are no worse off (or better off) than those raised by heterosexual couples.

    ‘It is cheap sophistry to argue that two homosexuals can be good people (no doubt about that). No matter how good they are, they will never resemble a heterosexual couple even if liberal amounts of silicone are used’.

    So what?

    ‘There is no doubt that a child is a gifted simian, and the process of learning-knowledge, emotions, social interaction-involves a great deal of imitation. While it can be argued that it is not deterministic, the conditioning is strong enough. Notice that it’s irrelevant whether the adopting homosexual parents engage in open expression of emotion or sexuality that could vary from holding hands to kissing to anal penetration. Children don’t need to see explicit expressions of affection to be influenced by that affection as it is the basis of the relation between those adopting parents’.

    What is the point of the above paragraph? Is this an expression of the fear that children raised by homosexual couples will be more likely to be (or to “choose” to be) homosexual themselves? If so, then you a) need to show this is a bad thing which society ought to prevent, and b) provide evidence actually demonstrating this effect — so far none of the studies have found such an effect.

    [I snipped the rest, because it does not argue for the contention at hand]

  2. sharan said,

    In my opinion it is because sex is so powerful. Remember that throughout most of history contraception was non-existent or ineffective. Sex gives people the power to make more people, a precious commodity. When something is powerful, those in power naturally seek tocontrol it.

    Eating and drinking are hardly the same thing. Killing may be an approximation, which is why that act too is subject to various taboos and social controls in order to regulate it’s practice.

    Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves – Bruce Lee

  3. floyd said,

    I?d guess the following as one of the largest factors contributing to the allegedly common negative historical view of sex: The territoriality of men…

    Generally an insecure bunch, I bet men often conditioned women away from sex and men influenced culture to do the same. That of course when they didn’t/don’t go even farther, and mutilate female genitalia in a female circumcision.

    You can notice that these social opinions, legal and moral laws, and patriarchal practices usually apply to women. It’s women whose sex lifes are harshly judged. It’s women who were/are married off at the youngest of ages, expected to stay in a lifelong monogamous, and often arranged, marriage. It’s women for whom polygamous marriage is most often outlawed (either morally, religiously, or legally).

    Like so much in our human lives, it’s caused by pussy men who are insecure about the size of their penis.

  4. petunia said,

    ‘My question is: why is there such a hang-up about sex? It’s just another human behaviour. Ok, it’s immensely pleasurable but eating and drinking can be immensely pleasurable if done in a certain way, same can be said for sleeping, why aren’t they made into sacred events or condemned as immoral? Opinions, please’.

    It’s worth asking how is sex different from those other activities. One difference is that it can produce children. This is a longer term result than one night of sleeping or one really good meal. The other pleasurable activities have a balanced outcome. The benefit is almost as fleeting as the pleasure. Because sex produces a vulnerable human being that needs to be taken care of for many years, but only requires a comparatively few moments of indulgence, it scares the heck out of us. By placing as much weight on the act itself as what the outcome requires, we try to balance the equation so to speak. Just remember birth control is a new phenomenon, and even now does not consistently work

  5. snafu said,

    Strangely, there are few times in the history of civilization when sex was dealt with as a serious criminal offense. It appears as though sex is more frequently regarded as recreation, as a part of life, as a casual activity. Every ancient culture I can name off the top of my head–well, actually, every culture I can think of before the 1500’s– was more of less open-minded and easy-going about sex. Sex is so crucial and so important to society (without it, we wouldn’t HAVE society) that it was usually considered something that shouldn’t entirely be regulated.

    Now, when we start to talk about mores like monogamy and whatnot, there’s a slightly different issue at hand. Floyd was going somewhere with this. Most early regulations on sex involved restrictions placed on women. Men are possessive and territorial… just like most male creatures. And they don’t like sharing women. If they’re going to be bringing bacon home and protecting the wife and baby, they want to make sure that the baby is actually their genetic offspring. It’s a matter of wanting to ensure his genes get carried on (when we considered this on a purely evolutionary matter, it seems to make quite a bit of sense–what with natural selection and all). So, it’s not that there’s a hang-up on sex when it comes to issues like monogamy and infidelity; it’s just that men want to feel sure they’re protecting something that’s theirs.

    However, to say that sex is not a right would be ridiculous. Sex is not just a right, it’s an obligation and a necessary function. We were gifted with year-round sex drives for a good reason (well, okay, so maybe the most obvious reason was our unique fertility cycle, resulting in the continuous ability to mate to compensate for the fact that we have to lowest fertility rate among mammals –a measly 70% success rate–but this is all beside the point). The point is, we have sex drives because our bodies (and species) wants us to get nasty as much as possible to try and compensate for the fact that we have around 5 actual days to get a woman pregnant.

    I’d like to make a point by talking about one of the culture’s whose sexual history fascinates me: China. Chinese Taoists (who are partially to blame for Zen Buddhism) considered sex to be as functional as eating–literally. They believed it was a natural exchange of energy that was necessary to maintain a well-balanced life. People who abstained from sex where considered unhealthy, unnatural, and just plain dumb. Even Taoists nuns and monks didn’t abstain from sex. Husbands had a serious obligation to sexually satisfy their wives (even more of a burden when he was wealthy and took on several wives), and would often seek the company of courtesans so they could enjoy a woman’s company without having to (ahem) perform his duties.

    I really don’t think the threat of children or abortion was an issue in determining sexual taboos. Before the miracle of birth control, people still very obviously had plenty of time and desire for sex, but not so much for the little tykes. Children were viewed as often burdensome (especially when they grew to numbers of small armies) and they often became damning evidence of naughty behaviors (like having a son nine months after Lent–when sex was forbidden). So, people prevented children by taking what was the equivalent of an RU-486 pill. Women would ingest a small amount of poisonous herbs, which was so harmless it usually just made her grow nauseated or vomit, but was plenty to kill off any unwanted smaller things that might have been growing inside of her (and I don’t mean tapeworms). Pretty much every early culture had a version of this solution, and they did it without impunity, guilt, or consequence. So, if you want to start saying that sex is regulated under the threat of abortion, that’s certainly not the case.

    But I’ve rattled on and on enough about my favorite subject. So, if I had to conclude anything about why we have sex, it would probably be what everyone else has been saying. Sex is a natural function like eating and sleeping, but its one that’s shrouded in mystery. We are still baffled about why getting naked and wet really ends up in producing children, and we aren’t even entirely sure why we orgasm the way we do. And I think the unknown areas of sex lead to fear and wonderment, and that leads to cultural hang-ups like making it sacred or making it forbidden on Lent.

  6. leannne woolrich said,

    I think it is appropriate to relay an extremely brief summary of Foucault’s History of Sexuality: Will to Know. Foucault discusses how sex is a dense transfer point for relations of power (power being constituted by interrelating localities of force and resistence): students and teachers, children and parents, men and women, old and young, priests and laity, administration and population. Indeed, the social construction of sex lays it out as implying a unified act of biology, demography, and spirituality. As a very bare-boned summary of Foucault (it is hard to do, I suggest you read the book, it is also titled “History of Sexuality: An Introduction”), this does not present the argument in all its breadth, but only the thesis. The point is, sex serves as a convenient focus of power, as a conducive transfer point for all these different locales of force and resistence which constitute power (the focus of power on sex is non-intentional, but rather occurs through unintentional, overarching strategies with no particular body behind them, much like water flows down the most convenient path). Consider an example: lightning. Lightning is created by a variety of interrelating locales of force and resistence. Sex is much like a lightning rod, as it provides a very convenient transfer point between the sky and the ground. Lightning does not have to intentionally strike the lightning rod, but it does so because it is “easy”.

    So, briefly put, sex is such a big deal in power relations because it serves as such a dense transfer point for power relations.

    “Social agents are determined only to the extent that they determine themselves.” -Pierre Bourdieu
    “The possible ranks higher than the actual.” -Martin Heidegger
    “Power is everywhere: not that it engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere.” -Michel Foucault
    “Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.” -Ludwig Wittgenstein

  7. rabledin said,

    According to some accounts, there were in the past century, isolated cultures in which the connection between sexual intercourse and child bearing was not understood. Within these cultures, promiscuity was common although men and women live in separate communities.

    This suggests that the taboos are consequences, in part, of the understanding of the connection.

  8. dusty said,

    I disagree that sex is a taboo topic to begin with, not as much as it used to be at least. Media is consumed by sexualised imagery, and just about everybody f*cks lets face it. People always talk about it, everywhere. In different contexts people could get offended but i don’t think it’s taboo at such as rather that there are appropriate times, ways and places to discuss things with different people.

    I think social issues that branch off from sex can be taboo topics, such as pedophilia or rape.

  9. softtarget said,

    Certainly attitudes regarding sex have been forged (to one degree or another) out of the epiphany of cause and effect, and that the act of intercourse leads to pregnancy.

    It is easy to take for granted this basic fact, but as stated earlier, such a revolation must have had profound implications once it was understood. It is not hard to imagine that the engines of tribal life in those early days of human revolation probably helped in the design of what we now consider to be taboo or acceptable.

  10. james space said,

    I read that the celtic tribes in Ireland didn’t connect sex with pregnancy. They believed in reincarnation across species, and thought that if a woman ate a microscopic bug on her food the spirit of the bug would be trapped in her womb and grow into a human child. It’s in a few myths, I wouldn’t know where to find them on the web though. I wonder what their attitude to sex was?

    Actually, I’ve just realized what’s also interesting is that they believed in microscopic organisms without evidence…

  11. drifter said,

    Our evolutionary drive to sex implicitly regards its connection to child-bearing, so we can conclude that anyone has at least some understanding, perhaps sub-conscious, of the connection. Certainly we can say that the taboos are consequences of understanding this connection, but I think it would be better to say (as Foucault), that the connection of the biological, demographical, and spiritual aspects of sex render it a conducive point of power relations.

    In addition, to speak of “taboos” about sex is to speak of power (in its relation to sex) in a merely negative way, as repressive. However, this is not usually the case. In fact there is (and has been, even in Victorian England) a wealth of discourse about sex. Consider the very nature of taboos. In that they are well understood and highly important social norms, they inform, and imply, a great amount of discourse (whether linguistic, or by inculcation of doxic norms). Also, taken from my understanding of power and sex (that is, the Foucauldian understanding), that sex is a dense transfer point for power relations, the relation between power and sex is absolutely positive. Power can’t help but regard sex.

  12. unobscurant said,

    sex for pleasure and sex for birth are in the first instance clearly different, since they are for different things. following one can take you to whips and pins, which have little to do with conception, and following the other can take you to surgery and IVF, which have little to do with sensuality. both have to do with the genitalia though, and with the human as an animal. sex can also be connected with wrath, as in rape or marital obligation, or for play in and of itself, for people who truly love sex.

    hang-ups about sex happen if a person’s genitals, their ability to use them, is caught by something more powerful that wants to deny sexuality. this happens first of all in their head, their image of their own sexuality. if you can get a grip of your genitals (two implications intended) in your youth before some sunlike hitler-figure castrates you then you do not get hung up about sex so much. this figure is in all the stern looks you get for strange behaviour, and the remedy is effective secrecy.

    the things that might want to control your genitals might do so to capture sensuality or to capture the production of people, and for many other reasons. sensuality is an inward journey that renders all human connections as broken. even two lovers together creating an eternal bond will one day have this bond broken, but more pertinently, any system of human connection then has sensuality as it’s enemy. the most perfect love is no longer a love of the senses, right? this is an attempt to escape from the necessary betrayal. so is the denigration of adultery, of the office romance, of gay romance as a betrayal of homogenous-gender spaces. beyond romance, when the romantic rejects perfect love for a succession of average relationships, they leave the loneliness of skin in a practical or unselfconscious investigation of relationships. and not just relationships, they might leave for self-contemplation, work projects, alcohol or drugs, or child raising, anything really. the important thing is that there was a take-off point to somewhere else.

    reproduction is something more abstract – people can be having unprotected sex for quite a while before reproduction-related changes become noticeable – and also very concrete, the creation of a source of all things people can do, so a system which captures reproduction has to be a lot more extensive. whereas sensuality only needs a few frowns to be captured, this would render the receiver effectively sterile if applied to reproduction (dont have kids! dont have kids! – ok>

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