So maybe I’m disclosing more about myself than anyone really wants to know, but I’ve never understood our society’s pre-occupation with sex. I think of sex in much the same terms as I think of a game of pickup beach volleyball – a lot of fun if you have the opportunity, but if it doesn’t happen I’ll find something else to do with my time. My casual attitude about the whole venture stands, at least to my eye, in sharp contrast with piously intoned truisms that come from all corners of society – that sex is a deep and profound part of the human experience, that expressing your sexuality is a fundamental human right, that a person’s sexual identity is an intrinsic part of who they are. Maybe it’s a facet of hetero/cis privilege, but I just can’t get that fired up about the subject.
That being said, there are fewer people who obsess over sex more than religious folks. To be sure, most religious people are just as laissez fucke about other people’s sex lives as I am, but if you want to find people with a level of obsession that borders on the psychotic, you need look no further than religious hardliners. The scriptures are replete with proscriptions about where, when, how, how often, with whom, and exactly how terrible you should feel about yourself afterward. Some folks think that this is an issue of population control – that by controlling this oh-so-crucial component of human life, religious authority can tighten their grip on every aspect of human life. As you might conclude from my first paragraph, I am less than convinced.
That being said, the religious preoccupation with sex, particularly the contemporary evangelical Protestant one, holds that sex has a specific purpose – the
whelping of spawn creation of precious life. Much of the counterargument to arguments about abortion boils down to the phrase “well if you didn’t want a baby, you shouldn’t have had sex” (I am being intentionally generous – usually this sentiment is expressed in terms that are much less polite). After all, the argument goes, YahwAlladdha gave us the gift of sexuality for the purpose of populating the Earth with tiny soldiers for Christ. Birth control and abortion interfere with the divine telos of our genitalia.
Of course, this is all nonsense, but if one grants this assertion legitimacy for the purpose of argument, there is a fun contradiction hidden within the folds of this line of ‘reasoning’. Exploring the outer lips of the statements about the intended purpose of sex, we arrive at the nub of the problem – sex feels good. Sex feels really good. Really fucking good, in fact. It’s also a super fun way to burn through a half hour or so – if you can’t sleep, if there’s nothing good on TV, if the lineup at the bank is taking too long (I now manage all of my finances online – by order of the judge).
Why is this a problem? Well, aside from the obvious “if it feels good do it” response (which is more or less good enough for me), the idea of sexual pleasure flies directly in the face of the telos argument. Especially if one holds to the idea of the direct intervention of YahwAlladdha in the design of human beings. If human beings were created special by the gods, endowed as we are with the power of reason, we would not need any other encouragement to fuck. If the production of children were the only purpose, procreating would be something that is done by choice, not by accident. We would choose to join our various bits and pieces when we decided (mutually, one would hope) that another child was desirable. It would be like cleaning the gutters or re-caulking* the bathroom tiles – not something we enjoy doing, but a necessary periodic chore.
Holding all other things constant – length of gestation, difficulty with birth, the fragility of newborns – the simple fact that the clitoris exists and orgasms are just s’darn nifty blows the whole “sex are for babbys” argument right out of the water. It would be a piece of piss for a truly intelligent designer to reduce both the sexual drive and the pleasure derived from copulation. We wouldn’t have any problem propagating the species, it just wouldn’t happen by accident so often. Indeed, removing the fun from intercourse would make compliance with all the ridiculous edicts about who/when/why/how much simpler. It would become a total non-issue, and the people protesting abortion clinics could find something useful to do with their time.
Of course those of us who accept scientific fact know that humans enjoy sex for pretty much the same reasons that other animals do – those individuals with the strongest sex drive out-competed others, and evolution did its inelegant but ultimately powerful work. Human beings had a number of other evolutionary pressures which combined to give us our somewhat-idiosyncratic sexual patterns, but the detritus of the evolutionary process still exists, for good or ill. Of course, this fact stands in sharp contrast to the idea that humans were intentional creations of a divine being who simultaneously wished us to pork for solely reproductive purposes.
Of course the capacity to hold contradicting ideas as both equally true is the hallmark of faith-based belief, so the existence of a simple contradiction like this will not perturb the most hardened minds; however, it is an interesting thing to throw back in the face of someone talking about the “purpose” of sex. Sex has no “purpose”, just outcomes. If we wish to experience some of those outcomes and not others, that is easily accomplished. The more we obsess over how all-encompassingly important the act is, the more control we cede to those who would presume to tell us about their ideas why we should or shouldn’t. For my part, I put as much emphasis on sex as I do on playing squash – I don’t spend my days hell-bent on it, but if I am presented with a skilled and willing partner, then let’s smack around some balls.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
P.S. For those of you who don’t get the reference in the title