Food for Thought: The GOP’s Bizarre War on Sex

From Salon.com comes this article about the US Republican Party’s all-out assault on sexual freedom:

Rick Santorum, who has compared gay sex to bestiality, outdid himself in an interview that resurfaced this week in which he suggested that states should have a right to outlaw birth control since contraceptives are “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” The other Rick, former Texas Gov. Perry, has been an outspoken opponent of gays in the military and the “sin” of homosexuality. Recent dropout Michele Bachmann seemed a messenger from a previous era, what with her belief that homosexuality is “personal enslavement” and her pledge to ban pornography.

[…]

All of this raises the question: Why are the GOP’s leading candidates becoming more sexually conservative as the rest of America heads in the opposite direction? How are the remaining prudes so good at filibustering the rest of us?

In a lot of ways, this is probably the natural result of the fact that the Republican Party has actively and aggressively courted the Evangelical Christian vote for the past several decades. Evangelical Christians may hold a number of different ideas about religion and governance, but one thing they generally tend to agree on is that sex is something which is acceptable only if it is tightly regulated, and only a very narrow range of behaviors is morally acceptable.

That puts the party at odds with the majority of citizens, though, who don’t subscribe to the same narrow views about sex and sexuality. The end result, incongruously, is a political party which has long claimed to stand for smaller government and less regulation calling for increased, massively invasive regulation of the most private of all activities.

One of the points that the article touches on is something I think deserves to be expanded on a bit more.

Klein argues that “the normal pushing and shoving, pluralistic conflict-driven politics doesn’t work when it comes to sexuality” because few people are willing to speak up in defense of their private sexual practices. “If the government says, ‘We’re gonna ban hot dogs,’ everybody stands up and says, ‘Hey, I eat hot dogs, don’t do that!’”

With sex, however – whether it’s reproductive rights, censorship of porn or prohibitive zoning laws for adult businesses – things are different.

It’s true that people who have sex lives outside the narrow range approved of by the Republican candidates, or who support the right of individuals to make sexual choices free of government intrusion, are rarely willing to stand up and counter the rhetoric of government regulation of sex.

I can see a couple of reasons why that might be. The first is that many people who favor the right of the individual to make sexual choices free from government involvement also see sex as a private affair, not really suitable for public discourse.

Which is fine, as far as it goes, but it becomes self-defeating when the enemies of sexual freedom see sex as a matter of regulatory policy, and have no trouble expressing their views in public. If people who see sex as private are unwilling to have a public discourse about it, that leaves only the voices of the people who want to regulate it.

The second is shame. Even folks who see sex as a positive, healthy thing that can be expressed in many ways between consenting adults still may experience lingering shame when talking about it. The culture of shame that surrounds sex in the US is something that a lot of folks from other pluralistic countries might find hard to understand. We are a nation that is deeply schizophrenic about sex; on the one hand, we treat it as a subject of loathing and shame, and we’re unwilling to talk openly and honestly about it or teach even basic sexual anatomy to our children, yet on the other hand our media is awash in sexual imagery. The result is a push-you-pull-me attitude toward sex; we’re fascinated by it but also ashamed to talk honestly about it, even in the face of political candidates calling for extreme government regulation of it.

One of the purposes of this site is to help address that culture of shame. I personally believe very strongly that it is absolutely imperative for those of us who support individual choice about sexuality to stand up and say so wherever it is possible, and I call on others to do likewise when they can. If there is to be any voice in the national debate opposing the call for government intrusion into our sex lives, it has to come from us.

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