Anthony Comstock should be made the face of the Republican party

It has become increasingly clear that there is a Republican war on sex and that Anthony Comstock has become their flag bearer.

Who is this Comstock, you ask? He is a 19th century anti-vice campaigner who “was dedicated to upholding Christian morality [and] opposed obscene literature, abortion, contraception, masturbation, gambling, prostitution, and patent medicine”. There is a law named after him that is still on the books that reflects his anti-sex views. The Comstock Law was referred to by the two most extreme members of the US Supreme Court Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas during oral arguments on the legality of women accessing by mail the abortion-terminating drug mifepristone that can be used for abortions.

Rebecca Solnit makes a convincing case that the Republican party has become a full-fledged anti-sex movement that is following in the footsteps of Comstock.

The Comstock Law has come up a lot lately, and it’s part of the Republican war on sex, and to put it that way might sound overly dramatic. But there is such a war, and parts of it – against sex education, against access to birth control, against the healthcare provider Planned Parenthood and of course against abortion – have long been out in the open along with a war against the rights of women and on the rights and very existence of queer and trans people.

Comstock was reputed to be driven by religious shame over masturbation to become his era’s most extreme anti-sex crusader. He rose to prominence in the early 1870s, when he convinced Congress to make it a crime to advertise, sell or mail contraceptives or give out contraceptive information, even orally, or to mail anything “immoral” – a term whose vagueness allowed widespread prosecution, including of a feminist newspaper reporting on sexual abuse whose prominent publishers, Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, he got sent to prison. Like modern-day rightwingers he was a book-burner, and he boasted that he had driven 15 people to suicide.

While the backlash to Roe’s June 2022 overturning has been spectacular, with Democratic election victories and blue-state legislation strengthening reproductive rights, that doesn’t spare women in red states from the horrific consequences of the decision.

As the law journalist Mark Joseph Stern tweeted on 27 March, “The anti-abortion movement’s end goal is to let doctors refuse treatment – including life-saving emergency care – for patients whom they deem to be sinful and morally impure.” The patients, largely women, are supposed to die for their sins.

As if that weren’t enough, in May 2023, the Heritage Foundation declared on social media, “Conservatives have to lead the way in restoring sex to its true purpose, & ending recreational sex & senseless use of birth control pills.” It’s a fanatical statement: the vast majority of sex had by the vast majority of human beings does not have reproduction as its goal, though the term recreational disparages what can be a joy, a profound connection, or a transcendence of self, among other things.

The Project 2025 agenda for a rightwing coup, should Trump win this November, declares that the USAid office of gender equality and women’s empowerment “should remove all … language on USAid websites, in agency publications and policies, and in all agency contracts and grants that include” terms including “gender and gender equality” and should also remove references to “abortion”, “reproductive health” and “sexual and reproductive rights”. The threats are in plain sight; I hope people notice them.

It’s not a coincidence that the authoritarian right is obsessed with both the border and women’s bodies; they’d like to increase the patrolling of both, and essentially shut them both down. It’s an obsession with purity and control to be achieved by punitive and sometimes homicidally violent means. And it’s a roadmap straight back to the terrible inequality women were already campaigning against in Anthony Comstock’s time.

The idea that some people, somewhere, at some time, might be having sex just for the fun of it strike these puritans with horror and they want to shut it down. There have always been such people. What is astonishing is that a major political party in the 21st century has tacitly adopted policies curtailing sex outside of marriage, and even within marriage if it not for procreation.

I used to think that the Republican party’s vision for America was to take it back to the 1950s. I was wrong. They want to go back to the 19th century.

Whatever people might say publicly, privately most of them enjoy sex for its own sake. An openly anti-sex party is one that will have few adherents. So it is necessary to take the implicit anti-sex platform of the GOP and loudly and clearly make it explicit.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Comstock was a contemporary of the “gilded age” robber barons and oligarchs who had the political class in their pockets. So he is a very apt symbol.

  2. Mano Singham says

    C. S. @#1,

    Thanks for pointing. that out. That was careless writing on my part. I have corrected it.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    You can’t be certain of much in life, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say this: efforts to clamp down on recreational sex will fail.

  4. Alan G. Humphrey says

    If they were seriously against sex, they would be banning the little blue pills. The hidden agenda is pushing back the date when whites become a minority -- an originalist oligarchic fear behind many of the Constitution’s remaining pro-slavery provisions, the way the US senate works, the Electoral College, the language of the 13 Amendment, and especially the 2nd Amendment. All that continuing recreational sex is supposed to lead to an increase in the reproductive rate among whites. After they outlaw mixed-race marriage and increase the already higher imprisonment rate of POC (they will of course be sentenced more harshly for these renewed crimes) the presumption is a gain for whites with a hope for enough of a gain to keep a white majority.

    It is that always tardy Jesus’ fault. His return was supposed to happen because of all the debauchery and sinning, according to the millennialist nut-jobbery, but now it’s time to go back to hyper moralism and force his return as white, before population dynamics return him to the POC status the scriptural evidence shows him to have always had. That is how majorities work in the land of the free-from-facts…

  5. Matt Monroe says

    Modern American conservatives most core belief is the belief that whatever policies they want to enforce on others should never be enforced on them, which is how they can appeal to their base by being anti-sex: their base understands that it means they opposed to *people they don’t like* having the sex they want to have in the way that they want to. Even if someone in that base likes doing the exact same thing it’s, in their mind, different because *they* are ‘good people’ and the *other* people are not. This applies to all aspects of modern conservative ideology. If a liberal does it’s bad because liberals are bad, if a conservative does it it’s good because conservatives are good, with the caveat that the one way a conservative can be bad is by acting or speaking in support of something perceived as liberal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *