Segregating Sex

“As long as we equate sex with dirt, weakness, and guilt, a powerful weapon exists for demagogues who not only flatter supporters that they are disciplining their own erotic instincts correctly, but also advertise the values they profess as essential to living a good life.” – Jay Gertzman, “There has been no sexual revolution,” p. 315 in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong, The Disinformation Company, 2006

I’m still thinking about the discussions we’ve been having about what is “mature” and about what people should be protected from stumbling across accidentally. There is no question that most of the “what” here is sex, or sexually explicit, or erotic material. That made me think back to the Jay Gertzman quote, above.

By making sexually explicit or erotic material the stuff from which we protect people – or to be more clear, the stuff we segregate into a separate space so that people don’t come across it accidentally, we continue to link sex with “dirt, weakness and guilt,” which Gertzman warns us against. We could add all kinds of things to the list of “dirt, weakness and guilt.” We could add “shame,” “secrecy,” “fear,” “embarrassment,” and perhaps other things as well, but “dirt, weakness and guilt,” seem to form the foundation for all those other things.

Of course there are people who don’t want to come across sexual material. But why should we cater uniquely to those people and not, say, to people who would rather not accidentally come across movie reviews, or blogs about gaming, or blogs about gambling, or blogs about politics? Why segregate sex?

It is true that the values of our dominant culture in the US assume sex to be something reserved for private spaces, something that is supposed to be shared only between partners in long term loving committed relationships. But our own dominant culture is riddled with examples of where that is not the case. One only need to look at advertising to see that. Yet that is really just an aside.

It is true that our dominant culture values assert that sex should be private. But that, as Gertzman claims, supports a dangerous ideology, so why should the public sphere of ideas be governed by that? Isn’t the public square or the public sphere the place where we are supposed to have the most open exchange of ideas, where we test ourselves and our worldviews against others and where we persuade others to change their minds, or where we change our own minds in the face of persuasive arguments?

Separating sexually explicit material out from the rest makes it seem equated with “danger,” “dirt,” “guilt,” and “shame,” and contributes to its usefulness as a weapon – a weapon that is useful for instilling fear into anyone who wants to be ‘respected’ by neighbors, co-workers, families, or bosses, and who has ideas that deviate from the dominant sexual script. For that matter, it is a tool that is useful for cowing anyone, because it becomes a source for accusations that are nearly impossible to refute. Remember how sex was used to keep blacks down? Whites just had to assert that black male sexuality was dangerous to white women. No proof necessary.

As long as sex is segregated from all other kinds of material, we will continue to let it be a tool for exploitation, oppression, discrimination, fear, and hate. The danger of sex is not in sex itself, but in the hiding of sex and the shaming of sex.

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4 Comments

Filed under censorship, community-building, Homophobia, life, Personal Reflections, public discourse, sex, sexuality

4 responses to “Segregating Sex

  1. Incredibly well said, Elizabeth.

  2. To be fair — there are other dangers associated with sex, especially for youngsters. Unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease are perhaps the reasons society has evolved the attitudes which attribute sinfulness to sex. There are very real emotional dangers as well. And youngsters hardly need artificial stimulation to be obsessed with sex, natural instinct makes that a certainty.

    Of course, the association of sex with sin is the response of a society before the advent of birth control and modern medicine. But youngsters are certainly not characterized by good judgement and advance planning! It seems to me that the best approach to safeguarding the young against the dangers of sex, is education. Too bad the same folks who most strongly brand sex as sinful, also most strongly oppose sex education.

    But the greatest reason to work against the classification of sex as “dirty,” is that the idea is morally wrong. In my view, the association of sex with sin, is itself a sin.

  3. To be fair — there are other dangers associated with sex, especially for youngsters. Unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease are perhaps the reasons society has evolved the attitudes which attribute sinfulness to sex. There are very real emotional dangers as well. And youngsters hardly need artificial stimulation to be obsessed with sex, natural instinct makes that a certainty.–tamino
    While I think it’s difficult to justify any evo-psych theory (i.e. venereal disease as a reason that society makes sex sinful), in a way the reasons don’t matter to the larger point, because more good information about sex–the kind that can be had by people talking about it on blogs, for instance–can help avoid things like unwanted pregnancy and STIs. Ditto with emotional dangers–the more people talk about them and are allowed to hear how other people have gone through things, the more likely people (youngsters and oldsters) will be able to navigate those things as well. Keeping the info from them doesn’t help and, as you yourself point out, they have a natural curiosity about it (and as adults, we do too!). The Dangers you refer to are made more dangerous, not less, by keeping people from talking about sex.

    Also, keeping in mind that most people have sex out of wedlock, which is sinful–even if we did create sin to do some good, it ain’t working.

    Great post, by the way.

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