Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NORMAL

There is such a thing as nudity: either I have some clothes on, or I don't.

However, we might also say that there is a concept of nudity where there isn't particularly a concept of cardiganlessness or hatlessness. If I were writing this article with no hat, or no shoes, or in my shorts, you wouldn't be very surprised and might wonder why I mentioned it. If I were writing it in the nude, you would be amused or surprised or shocked, as indeed would the other customers in Cafe Kino.

The line between "nude" and "not nude" is quite curious: you can watch athletes in very small swimming trunks on daytime television, but if that one piece of clothing was removed, it would become shocking and X-Rated. And it isn't merely about what parts of the body are showing: a lady who runs across a football field with no clothes on at all is doing something amusingly naughty and outrageous: a man who left all his clothes on and exposed his penis would be doing something really quite sordid and disgusting. Although if either of them left on all their clothes but exposed their bottoms, you would probably take it as a harmless comic insult.

And this "concept" may very well change over time: it looks a lot like previous ages would have used "naked" to mean "having removed some of his clothes" (naked being the past participle of the verb "to nake", to strip or to peel). Quite disappointingly, when we read that William Blake and his wife sometimes took afternoon tea "naked" (and implicitly challenged their visitors to complain) it may mean no more than "in their underwear". And Victorian underwear was probably a good deal more modest than the clothes modern people wear in a mixed public gym. (When we read that Victorian miners and factory workers went naked, I think it probably means "when it got hot, they took their shirts off.")

So. If I said "I wish to abolish the very concept of nakedness" you might take it two ways.

You might think that I wished to put an end to clothessness and make a law that people keep their knickers on in the shower.

Or you might think that I wanted to change people's way of thinking, get rid of the special status of "being naked" and instead just think that at certain times people wear a lot of clothing, and at other times, very little. If I arrived at the pool to find that I'd left my swimmers at home, and said "Oh I'll manage without them for today" you wouldn't pay any more attention than if I answered the door to the postman with no shoes or socks on. It could happen. In my lifetime, it seemed funny or indecent or actually illegal for a mother to breastfeed her baby in a public place. Now, we literally don't notice.

I think that when Melanie Phillips talks about "normal" sexuality she means "heterosexuality". Being straight is normal; being gay is not. When she says that The Secret Masters of the World want to destroy "normal" sexuality, she intends her readers to infer "to stop people being heterosexual and force them to join The Gay".

However, when someone says "You're mental. Gays don't want to force anyone else to be gay: they just want ignorant arseholes like you to leave them alone" she shifts her ground and points out that some sexual radicals argue that "normality" is not a useful concept when talking about the wide gamut of human sexual behaviour. We've always suspected that a lot of weird stuff goes on in the average bedroom, to say nothing of the average mind; the Internet has decisively shown us that we were right. So wouldn't it be better to divide sexual behaviour, not into "normal" and "abnormal" but into, say consensual and the non-consensual, the safe and the not so safe, the advisable and the inadvisable.

"There you are." she replies "Some people really do want to destroy the concept of normal sexuality. They have said so. Har-har, Guardian readers are silly, Obama is a commie." 

Richard Littlejohn, another Mail columnist who combines the social attitudes of Melanie Phillips with the subtlety of Jeremy Clarkson, was outraged at the compulsory (i.e optional) gay lesson plans that were put out for Lesbians and Gay history week. 

"And why a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender month, anyway?" he frothed "Why not a Foot Fetishists, Spankers, Sadists and Masochists History Month?" 

I think he was doing the same thing that Mel was doing when she didn't say that homosexuals were on a moral par with people who practice bestiality. Setting up a link in his readers' minds between homosexuality and "weird" sexual behaviour. Implying that homosexuality is something kinky, something sordid : at best a rather eccentric hobby or quirk, at worst a disgusting perversion.

But the more I think, the more I ask myself: why not a foot fetishists spankers and sado-masochists history month?  

Could there have been a society in which people defined their identity by what they did, not who they did it with ? There have certainly been societies where it is quite okay and normal for a man to sexually penetrate another man, but very weird and shameful for a man to allow another man to sexually penetrate him.

A while back, Stonewall ran a poster campaign which said "Some people are gay. Get over it." At the time, I thought this was admirably clear message, in admirably clear anglo-saxon words. But I now think that that kind of language takes the puritans and theocrats too much on their own terms.

I think it should have said: 

"Some people are more gay than others. Some people are a bit gay, some people are very gay, some people are not at all gay. Some men think that Michelangelo's David is a thing of beauty; some men would quite like Orlando Bloom to do a nude scene. Some men go to bed with other men. Some men are into foot fetishism, spanking and sadomasochism. And some men, more than you'd think, would honestly rather stay home with a cup of tea and boxed set of classic Doctor Who. And the women as well, of course; neither me nor Queen Victoria wants to even think about what they get up to. And it's all normal. And none of it matters. And none of it's any of your business. Get over it."


I'm done.

35 comments:

Dwayne said...

Andrew,

I enjoy your blog very much and I appreciate the depth and subtley of both your thinking and writing. The music "background" for the earlier post was hysterical.

As I'm reading through this, it occurs to me that I have my opinions about sexuality, about what is "in bounds" and "out of bounds" so to speak... and that sexuality is very close to the core of our self perception and extremely important in that regard.

With that in play, it isn't surprising at all that people are emotional / irrational / overboard in their reactions to this and that seems clear enough.

I agree that the way the folks you're writing about are out to lunch. Where I'm struggling is in considering how sexuality ought to be viewed (maybe at the cultural level) and what would be a better approach.

I think it's terribly important to say Something as a culture (or maybe even simply as parents) about what we should and should not do sexually and if that changes, it should be changed with great care.

So, for a moment, imagine a blue sky, money no object, you're King and your word is law... maybe even completely out of the context of people who are extremely stupid about how they approach this...

what Should we do or say about sexual behavior?

No pressure (of course), but I would honestly like to hear your thoughts in this direction.

NickPheas said...

"And so Sir Launcelot went into the chamber that was as hot as any stew. And there Sir Launcelot took the fairest lady by the hand that ever he saw, and she was naked as a needle; and by enchantment Queen Morgan le Fay and the Queen of Northgalis had put her there in that pains, because she was called the fairest lady of that country; and there she had been five years, and never might she be delivered out of her great pains unto the time the best knight of the world had taken her by the hand. Then the people brought her clothes."

NickPheas said...

I have a gut feeling that there have been societies in which the active homosexual is lauded while the catamite is sneered at.
I don't know enough about ancient Greece to say anything certain, but I think the footnotes in the Magnusson/Palson edition of Njall's Saga imply that it is quite specifically the buggered person who is a criminal. But I can't find my copy to check.

Andrew Hickey said...

Dwayne:

"I think it's terribly important to say Something as a culture (or maybe even simply as parents) about what we should and should not do sexually and if that changes, it should be changed with great care."

Why?
Why not simply say "Don't hurt anyone else who doesn't want you to hurt them" and have done with it?

NickPheas said...

@Andrew:
Which is of course saying Somthing as a culture about what we should or should not do.
Not that I have any great objection to your proposed Somthing. I would probably want to add something about not doing anything to people who're too young/too ill/too drunk to properly express a desire that you should do things to them.

Andrew Hickey said...

Nick, it's saying something about what we should or should not do, but not with any special regard to sexuality. It's a rule that applies equally well to physical violence, for example.

What I'm questioning is that we should have a separate rule for sexual acts as opposed to other acts - or indeed that it's especially meaningful to talk about 'sexual acts' as a separate category. Does Andrew's Doctor Who box set and cup of tea count? Would it make any difference if it was a DVD of pornography instead of a DVD of Doctor Who? What about if the Doctor Who DVD is Talons Of Weng-Chiang, which I am reliably informed has inspired sexual thoughts in many young men (and young women who are that way inclined)?

I think we should have strict laws against acts that cause significant harm to others (which e.g. rape does) and no laws against acts that don't cause significant harm to others (which consensual sex between two or more adults, or watching Doctor Who DVDs, don't). I think that lumping the rape and consensual sex together as 'sexual' and seeing that as the important bit is a category error on the same level as saying Hitler and Gandhi were alike because they both had moustaches.

(I may not be making myself very clear here, I have a migraine)

culfy said...

I believe that one of the main differences between nowadays and the days what the people Andrew likes to hear people sing about is that homosexuality was considered one of the range of sexual things that people liked to do with each other. However, with (check this) the likes of Oscar Wilde, homosexuality became defined as 'The love that dare not speak its name" (with the emphasis on love) and is not really to do with a preference for any particular sexual act. Stephen Fry, amongst others, have tried to demolish the myth that being gay is primarily about anal sex (a myth still promulgated by the baffling overpraised Brokeback Mountain) which occurs no more regularly in homosexual partnerships than it does in heterosexual partnerships. See also Quentin Crisp who despite being the very platonic essence of the Queer, didn't seem to enjoy sex all that much.
Some people use the phrase 'What people do behind their own closed doors is no business of mine, just so long as I don't have to know about' and believe they're being frightfully liberal. The trouble is that such people also seem to believe that announcing 'I'm gay' means 'I like to take part in a particular range of sexual activities' and think they're being asked to take a good long hard think about such activities and picture them in their mind. Bizarrely, announcing or 'my wife is pregnant' does not have the same effect even though it's arguably being even more specific about what sexual actions have taken place.

I think what Gay people would like more than anything else is to have people think that 'I'm gay' means "I would like quite like to share my life with someone, go to the shops and the theatre with them, watch telly with them, argue about the washing up with them and hopefully grow old with them, indeed I may be doing that right now. It just so happens that the person I would like to do this with, or am doing this with, happens to have matching genitals to myself." I think they would prefer it if saying "I'm gay" no more summoned up images of bumming than saying "I'm married" means people have to imagine the person saying this sweating and straining in an enseamed bed. I think in this respect gays would like to change the norms of society.

Which proves that Mad Mel is absolutely right and we are indeed going to hell in a handcart, the end is nigh repent! repent!

Helen Louise said...

Don't forget the lesbians (and transgender people!) :)

Dwayne said...

Andrew Hickey,

As a societal rule of thumb, you proposed:

"Just don't hurt anyone else who doesn't want you to hurt them."

I'm sympathetic to that view, but I'm not convinced it is enough for two reasons.

1) Victims of child molestation tend to be curious about sexuality and willing participants, because of that curiosity, at least at first.

It might be a particularly bright 9 year old who might agree to sexual acts with his teacher, but regardless of apparent consent, and that this "feels really good", it still needs to be out of bounds.

2) Different people have wildly differing definitions of what "hurt" means.

For a sociopath, rape is a temporary unwanted rubbing of skin on skin and really isn't that big of a deal. No permanent physical damage, no problem.

So who defines what "hurt" means and how far things can go before it's too far?

You might reply, well of course I'm not talking about sexual dysfunction and mental illiness resulting in rape and the abuse of children!

Of course. This is precisely what I'm struggling with. There is a list of things that are "not OK", and these are currently defined by a sort of "traditional morality."

If we want to take that out to the woodshed, that's fine, but I think we really need to have some sort of well thought out Plan B before we do.

That may exist, but I haven't heard it yet, I just get a lot of vaguery that I'm not sure works very well.

Plus, I think we tend to arrogance in assuming that because we're technologically more advanced, and on the whole, more literate than previous generations, that we're somehow wiser or smarter across the board.

Maybe. But I don't think that is a given. We look at the Victorians or the Puritans and laugh about how prudish and backwards they were.

They would look at us in horror about how cavalier we are.

I had the opportunity to visit South Africa on business a few years ago and there were areas that were north of 50% HIV positive. I couldn't escape the thought that if you wanted to life a good life, or at least a long life, being a prude might be a really good way to go in that context.

I think it's at least possible that 100 years from now, instead of being seen as wise and free, we'll be seen as over-reacting idiots to the advent of birth control and sexual freedom was something of a fad that did a huge amount of damage. That being extremely careful with sexual relationships is critical for humans to really thrive and do well.

I don't have a good answer here, it was a real question.

Gavin Burrows said...

"If we want to take that out to the woodshed, that's fine, but I think we really need to have some sort of well thought out Plan B before we do."

Dwayne, I appreciate that you are asking questions rather than attempting answers.

But you seem to be talking as though rape and child molestation are relatively recent arrivals, unleashed by abandonment of 'traditional morality.' I am not quite sure where you are getting this from...

NickPheas said...

Andrew H:
You seem to be proposiong a basic principle of 'First Do No Harm'.
Which is a good starting point, but the problem is that, as Dwayne says, the definitions of Harm differ.
Mad Mel presumably believes that for two men to explore each others dangly bits is harmful. Peter Thatchell does not.

Andrew Hickey said...

Nick:
Belief has nothing to do with it. Either someone is harmed or they're not. An action can't be harmful unless it causes someone harm. Unless Ms Philips or those who agree with her can point to actual people caused actual harm by an act, then they're just talking nonsense and can be ignored.

Dwayne said...

Gavin wrote:

"But you seem to be talking as though rape and child molestation are relatively recent arrivals, unleashed by abandonment of 'traditional morality.' I am not quite sure where you are getting this from..."

That isn't what I'm trying to say.

Yes, rape and abuse of children isn't new, but neither is homosexuality, or adultery or whatever sexual behavior you want to talk about.

Take adultery for example. Andrew H says, "Unless Ms Philips or those who agree with her can point to actual people caused actual harm by an act..."

Well, adultery is consensual and people would probably agree that criminalization of this one isn't the best way to go... but is it harmful?

The spouse left behind certainly thinks so, but he or she would have a hard time proving it with some empirical measure of harm.

Is it still harmful if the person cheated on never finds out?

I think Andrew H is very clear in his own head what means "harm" and what doesn't. The problem is that I don't think everyone would agree with him.

I really don't have an agenda here, I'm only saying that I do think sex is really important.

If we stop doing it (or some variation of it), humans die out within a generation.

I also think it is a powerful force shaping our individual psyche and our culture overall and to say, "just do whatever you want with whomever you want as long as no one is harmed (in your view)" is either a very incomplete answer... or a very bad one.

I think a sexual relationship is filled with meaning and should be treated with great care.

Let me say it this way, I hate shows like "Sex and the City." The reason I hate them is because they have and promote a really confused and ultimately (in my opinion) bad view of sexuality.

They are empowered women who can do what they want, when they want, with whomever they want. Good for them.

They forget that the men they hook up with, can also do what they want, when they want, with someone else that isn't them... and then they're crying in the bathtub drinking a glass of wine. And how dare they take the same approach that I take to dating.

They want their guy to be faithful, even monogamous and at the same time they want to be able to do whatever they want and so on.

You just can't have it both ways, and that's so stupid that I don't have any sympathy for their plight.

Not to that extent, but as a society, I think we're really just confused sexually and I'm certainly not immune from that.

I'll stop talking now, thanks for responding guys.

Andrew Hickey said...

Dwayne:

"Yes, rape and abuse of children isn't new, but neither is homosexuality, or adultery or whatever sexual behavior you want to talk about."

See, you keep making this same error, of taking several very distinct things - rape, child abuse, homosexuality and adultery - and lumping them all under the category of 'sexual behaviour' as if they're somehow the same thing.

As for the rest of your argument, I fail to see how it's any of your business what I do or do not do in private with friends of my choice. I actively want *not* to know what you do in the same situation. I fail to see how that changes when one or other of us puts on the mantle of 'society'.

No-one's saying you have to approve of adultery, or of characters in a TV show I've not seen having apparent double standards. What I am saying (and I think others as well, though I wouldn't want to speak for anyone else) is that it's not any of your business.

I am pretty sure there are aspects of the behaviour of almost everyone I know which I would disapprove of were I to know about them (X smokes, cutting years off her life; Y watches Top Gear and finds it amusing; Z uses a Mac and feels smug about it). I don't think I (society) should go around asking people about those things, and you've yet to make a coherent argument as to why turning into a nation of busybodies looking into each other's windows for any behaviour that doesn't match the views of some hypothetical society.

*You* "think a sexual relationship is filled with meaning and should be treated with great care." That's great. Go off and have meaningful relationships that you treat carefully. I have a friend who also thinks that, so she makes sure she always lets her husband know when she's going to do stuff with her girlfriend and makes sure that everyone knows their safe words.

I have other friends, though, who don't think that way, and just do what they want with who they want on very much an ad hoc basis. They seem perfectly happy to me, and if they weren't they'd stop doing that. I don't see why I should be bothered by that, and I *certainly* don't see why you should...

(And I have yet more friends, the vast majority in fact, who never really talk about their sex lives, but do talk quite a lot about Doctor Who).

Dwayne said...

Andrew H:

Will go ahead and apologize now for some snarkiness. Sorry.

I've never said that rape, adultery, homosexuality and child molestation are the same thing. I truly don't know where you're getting that.

They are, in fact, by their respective definitions, sexual behaviors and it isn't an error to say so.

If you disagree, great. Please take that up with the OED definitions of rape, adultery, etc... you can leave me out of that one.

I'm not making the argument that if you hold that homosexuality is OK, then that's the same thing as bestiality or [insert bad thing here] or that you think raping children is OK too.

I'm not saying that, please stop acting as if I am.

Is saying, "this deserves more serious thought than a one liner about harm" really the same thing as saying we need to become a "nation of busybodies looking into each other's windows for any behaviour that doesn't match the views of some hypothetical society"?

I mean come on, really?

I understand your position. Boo Harm. Consent needed. None of my business. And you get to decide what harm is, anyone else's view is "nonsense."

Got it.

Now that we've reduced human sexuality to a fortune cookie, I'm completely clear and we can move on.

Very helpful.

NickPheas said...

OK then, let's move off sexual behavior.
Some websites write positively of anorexia, since this is an empowering condition that allows young (usually) women (usually) to take control of their destiny and live their lives as they want to.
The owners of such websites are, I think, clear that they are not doing any harm.
Many family, friends and healthcare professionals of such websites followers are quite convinced that encouraging people to see themselves as morbidly obese while starving themselves to death is profoundly damaging, and the best way to avoid harm is to shut such sites down.
Should society as a whole, and the state is just an expression of a free and democratic society, not something other, be entitled to an opinion?

Andrew Hickey said...

Nick,
That's a perfectly reasonable question. People can, of course, hold any opinion they want anyway (I'm not talking about banning people from thinking or saying things, rather the opposite in fact) but my instinct would be that it would do more harm to shut those websites down than not to. AFAIK there's no way to show an actual cause-and-effect relationship between those websites and any individuals getting hurt, so I think that's an area where, while I disapprove of them, the state shouldn't get involved.
(I'd be prepared to change my mind on this given sufficient evidence of harm though).

Gavin Burrows said...

”That isn't what I'm trying to say.”

Well, okay. But if you’re not saying that ‘traditional morality’ wasn’t some kind of bedrock, and that leaving it behind hasn’t opened some kind of a Pandora’s Box, that leaves me at something of a loss as to what your point actually is.

”We look at the Victorians or the Puritans and laugh about how prudish and backwards they were.

They would look at us in horror about how cavalier we are.”


Well actually, no I don’t about them and I don’t think they would about us. They might well look at us in horror about how frank we are, but Victorian society was rife with pornography and prostitution, including child prostitution. They would be more likely to look at us and say – how strange, so many magazines with women in their underwear on the cover and yet no twelve-year-old on the corner offering herself. They were not sexual innocents but sexual hypocrites. (Incidentally, you do know that the Puritans and the Victorians were actually a couple of hundred years apart?)

To give one fairly clear-cut example, its well know that the ‘True Love Waits’ sexual abstinence movement in the States actually increases teenage pregnancies. Young people aren’t educated in sexual health matters because it’s not considered relevant, then of course hormones takes their course and the results are inevitable. In Finland, conversely, at your fifteenth birthday you are sent a pack of condoms and an instruction leaflet. And… surprise, surprise… Finland has an exceptionally low rate of teenage pregnancies and the States an unusually high one for a developed country. Given the choice, I side with frankness.

I get the impression you are saying “there will be grey areas” as if that’s an argument. Well of course there will be, life pretty much is a grey area! I also get the impression you are assuming that the solution to ‘problem’ areas (such as adultery) is automatically some kind of State regulation. I am highly sceptical of State regulation as regards sexual activity. It seems a classic ‘barometer’ issue, once the State is allowed to determine what consenting adults can do in private, how many other aspects of freedom are likely to be open to us?

Overall, I pretty much agree with Andrew Hickey. It’s the people who keep insisting “sex is a special category” who make it a special category.

Dwayne said...

Andrew H and Gavin,

I'm not saying that the State should be regulating our bedrooms or our view of sex, I honestly don't know where you're getting that.

I'm not saying that leaving traditional morality behind is a slippery slope and pandora's box.

I've never said that Victorians and Puritans lived at the same time or that rape, child molestation, adultery and homosexuality are all the same thing.

They are, in fact, sexual behaviors. If you disagree, fine, please take that up with the OED and leave me out of it.

I've never said that it's any of my business what you do or don't do. I promise that I don't care.

I AM saying that we should try to think clearly about things that impact our lives. And if you're replacing traditional morality with something you could put on a fortune cookie, that is really stupid and shortsighted.

The option you're proposing is:

- Boo harm. Consent good. None of my business. And apparently Andrew H gets to decide what harm is for the rest of us.

Got it.

As to why I'm bothered by this.

Again, I took a trip to South Africa and saw firsthand the suffering and economic devestation that results when you have large groups of people that are HIV positive, because of consensual sex.

In Cape Town, to say that what people do behind closed doors has no impact on other people, just isn't true. It has tremendous, impact for their entire country, for the general health, for devestating levels of poverty, and this will be true for generations.

Maybe you think that infecting someone else with HIV would fall under the category of "harm."

Well then, should the State be involved at that point, like they are when someone is raped? Yes? No? Maybe?

Does that have implications for the homosexual community?

State sponsored solution. That idea bothers me as much or more as it bothers you. I don't like it, and I don't want it.

Gavin, True Love Waits is a great example of how we are not thinking about this very well.

Are you really saying that people should not be allowed to wait until they are married to have sex? They shouldn't be allowed to decide for themselves what they do or don't do?

That parents or community groups shouldn't be allowed to talk to kids about sex in the way they want to do that?

Should they be allowed to take some pledge of chastity... then change their minds later?

If the rule is, "do what you want, don't hurt anyone" - then how exactly does a program like True Love Waits violate that rule?

It's voluntary, and lots of kids don't do it because they don't want to.

By the way, the average age of losing virginity for the True Love Waits population is 21, compared to 17 for the general population.

If the average age to have sex for the first time for this group is 21, how is it raising the level of TEENAGE pregnancy?

Also, do you think that it's ironic that you don't want the State deciding what we think about sex... while simulataneously supporting a State mandated program in Finland to talk about sex in a certain way at age 15, with condoms and pamplets and so on?

Do you mean that when the State agrees with you, it's fine for them to regulate sexuality?

But when they don't this is a horrible, freedom ending practice that threatens our very civilization?

Cognitive dissonance anyone?

Andrew Hickey said...

"I'm not saying that leaving traditional morality behind is a slippery slope and pandora's box."

What do you mean by 'traditional morality'? Do you mean the same thing by it as the people who are currently forcing Egyptian women to undergo virginity tests under threat of torture in the name of 'traditional morality'? Rather than using meaningless terms, try *saying what you mean*.


"I've never said ...that rape, child molestation, adultery and homosexuality are all the same thing.

They are, in fact, sexual behaviors."

And my point has been that that is not actually the salient point about any of them. Albert Schweitzer, Adolf Hitler, Frank Zappa and myself are (or were), in fact, people with facial hair. I'm saying that that may not be the most important characteristic of those people.

"I've never said that it's any of my business what you do or don't do. I promise that I don't care."

You've said it's the business of 'society'. Are you part of society? If so, then you *have* said it's your business. If not, who is, and why is it their business?

"And if you're replacing traditional morality with something you could put on a fortune cookie, that is really stupid and shortsighted."

Note that 'traditional morality' can be put into a fortune cookie too...

"And apparently Andrew H gets to decide what harm is for the rest of us."

No, harm is in fact a well-defined legal term. http://definitions.uslegal.com/h/harm/

"Maybe you think that infecting someone else with HIV would fall under the category of "harm."

Well then, should the State be involved at that point, like they are when someone is raped? Yes? No? Maybe?"

Yes. Of course. And the State *does* get involved then - people get convicted of grievous bodily harm or murder. Knowingly infecting someone with a deadly disease is assault under the law, and should be (and is) prosecuted as such whether the assault is carried out through unsafe sex or through, say, opening a phial containing bubonic plague bacteria on a crowded train. Note, again, that the salient fact here isn't the sex, but the assault.

"Does that have implications for the homosexual community?"

No more than for 'the heterosexual community'.

"Are you really saying that people should not be allowed to wait until they are married to have sex? They shouldn't be allowed to decide for themselves what they do or don't do?

That parents or community groups shouldn't be allowed to talk to kids about sex in the way they want to do that?"

No. Next question...

"If the rule is, "do what you want, don't hurt anyone" - then how exactly does a program like True Love Waits violate that rule?"

It doesn't. It's a very bad idea, but nobody's trying to ban it.


"By the way, the average age of losing virginity for the True Love Waits population is 21, compared to 17 for the general population.

If the average age to have sex for the first time for this group is 21, how is it raising the level of TEENAGE pregnancy?"

Because, by definition, half the people in that group have sex *below* that average age. And those that do, unlike their counterparts in 'the general population', are less likely to take sensible precautions.

"Also, do you think that it's ironic that you don't want the State deciding what we think about sex... while simulataneously supporting a State mandated program in Finland to talk about sex in a certain way at age 15, with condoms and pamplets and so on?

Do you mean that when the State agrees with you, it's fine for them to regulate sexuality?"

No, because sending someone a packet of condoms isn't regulating their sexuality.

Gavin Burrows said...

Dwayne, I am honestly striving to understand you, not engaging in some game where the object is to belittle you. But when you say, for example…

”I'm not saying that leaving traditional morality behind is a slippery slope and pandora's box.”

…but then…

”And if you're replacing traditional morality with something you could put on a fortune cookie, that is really stupid and shortsighted.”

…I am quite unable to square these two things. You might think ‘traditional morality’ is superior to what we have now, about the same or inferior. But if you’re claiming the first one you are obliged to defend it. Currently you are contrasting it positively with what we have now, then when asked to defend it saying “well I’m not really supporting that anyway.”

”Are you really saying that people should not be allowed to wait until they are married to have sex? They shouldn't be allowed to decide for themselves what they do or don't do?...

Also, do you think that it's ironic that you don't want the State deciding what we think about sex... while simulataneously supporting a State mandated program in Finland to talk about sex in a certain way at age 15, with condoms and pamplets and so on?”


This is simply disingenuous. It is quite natural for teens to have some fears concerning sexual activity. True Love Waits plays on those fears to the extent of distorting them with downright misleading information. As I said earlier “I side with frankness.” This movement is neither frank nor honest.

And, as I am sure you will have already guessed, the Finnish government do not make the use of those condoms mandatory. Their issue is not accompanied by uniformed cops ordering you to “assume the position”, nor does non-use get you marked down in your homework. They are about guidance and information.

Similarly, I suspect people in South Africa are not receiving a great deal of guidance and information about HIV. Infection rates tend to be more prevalent in poorer areas than wealthy ones. We’re talking about a problem of poverty and a lack of infrastructure, not a lack of sexual abstinence. (I am charitably assuming here you recognise safe sex to be a viable precaution against HIV.)

Your comments remind me of the debates in the UK around equalising the gay and straight age of consent. Some argued against this because they argued it would protect gay youth by making them delay sexual activity for a couple of years. As others (for example me) pointed out, the likelihood of two young gay people waiting a year to bonk each other because a suited politician said so seems a little… ahem!... remote. Of course the very opposite is true, that it would make it harder for them to get sexual advice or check-ups, because to do so would officially count as abetting a crime.

There is not a ‘we’ who mandate sexual behaviour, which is then taken up by everybody else. It mutates and evolves just like everything else in society, and is itself affected by all those other things. It is foolish and counter-productive to pretend otherwise.

Dwayne said...

Andrew H wrote,
"What do you mean by 'traditional morality'? Do you mean the same thing by it as the people who are currently forcing Egyptian women to undergo virginity tests under threat of torture in the name of 'traditional morality'? Rather than using meaningless terms, try *saying what you mean*."

Are we in Egypt?

If you want a line in the sand, say the official line of Catholicism about sex. I'm not Catholic and disagree on a number of points, but if you really don't know what "traditional morality" means, related to how to think about sex, it means something like that.

You wrote:
"You've said it's the business of 'society'. Are you part of society? If so, then you *have* said it's your business. If not, who is, and why is it their business?"

Two things here. First, I really haven't said this or anything like this. I've asked if it should be. You're saying no. Got it.

The reason I've asked is because sometimes it is VERY much the business of society, in the cases of rape or abuse, or whatever.

You're saying it doesn't matter if the issue is sex, or robbery, or other activity, what matters is the concept of harm. Fair enough.

You wrote:
"Because, by definition, half the people in that group have sex *below* that average age. And those that do, unlike their counterparts in 'the general population', are less likely to take sensible precautions."

So the mind control doesn't work on not having sex at all, but it does work related to birth control.

Again, this is exactly what I'm trying to talk about.

Instead of demonizing monogamy, or demonizing people who use condoms... wouldn't it be a better approach to say something like:

"Abstinence can work, it does work for lots of people. It's the safest alternative to preventing pregnancy and STDs. If you're not going to be abstinent, then please take sensible precautions."

I guess if I have any wish here, it would be that we don't take things off the table too quickly.

My sense is that the root cause of disagreement here is that I view sex as sacred, or at least very important.

I'm not sure you would agree with that, and that's OK.

If sexuality has zero intrinsic meaning or value that is unique then it seems to me that the things you are saying are completely rational, even if I would still want to push a bit related to what harm means.

I'm not willing to buy the premise, but that's my personal problem and I'm ok with that.

Gavin - overall I think I would like to see an approach where we could talk about all the different ways people view this kind of behavior, clearly understanding the benefits and risks for doing and not doing specific things... and then making decisions holistically as best we can.

Maybe we just do that as individuals and families and the only time "society" should agree about anything is when "harm" is firmly in play.

That certainly is an option.

It was more of a personal thought experiment than any attempt to prefer one agenda over another.

Would we be better off if we thought about things differently? What might that look like?

culfy said...

Well, adultery is consensual and people would probably agree that criminalization of this one isn't the best way to go... but is it harmful?

The spouse left behind certainly thinks so, but he or she would have a hard time proving it with some empirical measure of harm.


Funnily enough, adultery is probably the one consenual sexual activity that the state DOES take an interest in, to the extent that adultery is one of the factors that the state considers contributing to 'an irretrivable breakdown of marriage'. The state recognises that people can be 'harmed' (to the extend of being seriously upset) by a consensual sexual activity in this respect. So why not make it illegal?
I can think of a number of good reasons

1) Swinging couples who have sexual relationships outside of marriage as a matter of course and with the full consent of each other would be liable to be punished for such an action. What good would that do anyone?
2) Someone may condone the adulterous activities of a spouse, they may feel that a spouse is doing their duty by providing for them and keeping them in a home and the sex side really doesn't matter that much (I gather the wife of the late Alan Clarke thought along those lines). Again, what good would the law punishing someone for this do?
3) The adultery may just be a one off and the guilty party feel ashamed and embarrased and swear not to do it again. Punishing them would only make things worse.
4) The adultery may happen in the final stages of a marriage breakup and, in fact, the adulterous parties be better suited to each other than the original marriage pairing.
5) The adultery might be only technical in nature anyway - just an excuse for a divorce.

culfy said...

Mad Mel presumably believes that for two men to explore each others dangly bits is harmful. Peter Thatchell does not

I don't actually think Mad Mel thinks that at all. I think she feels that exploring each others dangly bits is something a bit weird and disgusting, but not actually harmful. I think she feels that so long as men who like to touch each other's dangly bits confine themselves to making coded references to being the sort of the men who like to touch dangly bits on prime time tv (c.f. Larry Grayson) then all is fine.

What she seems to dislike is men saying that would like to spend their lives with other men, go shopping with other men, take out mortgages with other men and argue about who left the cap of the toothpaste with other men in the same way that men currently do with women.

culfy said...

If you want a line in the sand, say the official line of Catholicism about sex

I think that the current teaching about Catholicism is that it is for the purpose of pro-creation within a married couple consisting of a man and a woman.

This might be all well and good. It might be the best way for society to prosper and indeed it might be best for society if this way was strictly enforced.
It also probably doesn't match the reality for up to 90% of the population.

Let alone homosexual couples, there may be couples who don't actually want to have children (artificial contraception is still a sin I believe), there may be people who simply can't cope with commitment etc.

This line is also totally different from traditional morality, in fact I don't think that you can even say what traditional morality is -it's certainly not a monolithic entity. The old testament says that 'It's not rape if its in a town', extra-marital affairs used to be condoned for men until they weren't, pre-marital sex certainly wasn't as much of a taboo as is sometimes thought (read Bill Bryson's account of early sexual mores in America).

"Abstinence can work, it does work for lots of people. It's the safest alternative to preventing pregnancy and STDs. If you're not going to be abstinent, then please take sensible precautions."
Which I believe IS the current message, certainly all the sex lessons I remember from school stress that no form of contraception is 100% reliable.

Andrew Hickey said...

Dwayne, if you're really going to argue that because of the high incidence of HIV, we should follow the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality, then all hope for a rational discussion is long gone...

Gavin Burrows said...

This debate is showing a distinct tendency to get silly...

”So the mind control doesn't work on not having sex at all, but it does work related to birth control.”

The point about abstinence movements is that by definition they with-hold useful factual information regarding birth control and STDs. ‘Mind control’ has got nothing to do with it, and no-one is suggesting that it has.

”"Abstinence can work, it does work for lots of people. It's the safest alternative to preventing pregnancy and STDs. If you're not going to be abstinent, then please take sensible precautions."

You could replace the word ‘abstinence’ above with ‘not crossing the road’, and pregnancy with ‘flattened by a truck’, so I am not sure where the special case for sexuality is coming from. If people want to live their whole lives never crossing a road, that’s entirely up to them. But most of us will cross roads, will learn and then teach their own children in road safety and it is rather pointless to pretend otherwise.

”My sense is that the root cause of disagreement here is that I view sex as sacred, or at least very important. I'm not sure you would agree with that, and that's OK. If sexuality has zero intrinsic meaning or value that is unique then it seems to me that the things you are saying are completely rational.”

Of course sexuality has zero intrinsic meaning, it’s a purely abstract category! It’s when people carry out sexual acts that it gains meaning. It can mean anything from an expression of a lifetime commitment to five minutes of fun between people who then never go on to see each other again. The only possible ‘rule’ I can think of is that the people involved should mean pretty much the same thing by it. I really don’t think there is much else to say on the subject.

Dwayne said...

Andrew H writes:
"Dwayne, if you're really going to argue that because of the high incidence of HIV, we should follow the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality, then all hope for a rational discussion is long gone..."

Let's call that statement 1.

What I actually said was, "I'm not Catholic and disagree on a number of points, but if you really don't know what "traditional morality" means, related to how to think about sex, it means something like that."

Let's call that statement 2.

Can you really not tell the difference between statement 1 and statement 2?

If so, then yes, a rational argument isn't possible. We've passed the point where words mean anything but what you want to hear before you even start reading.

You asked for a clear definition of "traditional morality" in this regard and I gave you one. I never said that I agree or would support this view fully, in fact, I DID say the opposite.

At that point, I just don't know what to do to help you... except stop talking, because to continue is clearly wasting time for both of us.

Dwayne said...

Gavin wrote:
"The point about abstinence movements is that by definition they with-hold useful factual information regarding birth control and STDs. ‘Mind control’ has got nothing to do with it, and no-one is suggesting that it has."

I've never been to a True Love Waits meeting (or anything similar) so I'm not 100% sure what they share or don't share in this regard.

That being said, I don't think they are trying to give comprehensive education about birth control and pregnancy, anymore than they are trying to give comprehensive financial planning advice for retirement, or how often to change the oil in your car. Those are useful facts too.

There's a difference between saying, "Sex is great. You should wait until you're married" and "You should never have sex. The only thing you ever need to know is to not have sex for the rest of your life."

Which is where your analogy leads us, in "never crossing a road."

Gavin wrote:
"If people want to live their whole lives never crossing a road, that’s entirely up to them. But most of us will cross roads, will learn and then teach their own children in road safety and it is rather pointless to pretend otherwise."

Even the Catholics aren't saying NEVER cross the road. They say you should cross the road when it's safe to do so, and here is a way to do that.

What is alarming to me about this, is that you quoted what I said directly above your non sequitur response!

I said:
"Abstinence can work, it does work for lots of people. It's the safest alternative to preventing pregnancy and STDs. If you're not going to be abstinent, then please take sensible precautions."

If we inserted that into the road analogy, I think it would look more like this:

Don't cross the road during rush hour, it isn't very safe. If you do decide to cross the road during rush hour, then please look both ways and be very careful and make sure you have enough room to cross, so you don't get run over by a truck.

If your point is that abstinence programs really Ought to say something clear about birth control should people decide to not be abstinent... that seems like a fair point to me.

Which is why I said that exact thing explicitly in the quote above.

I feel like I'm writing, "apples" and I'm getting odd responses about what an idiot I am for supporting oranges.

I'm not responding anymore, and I sincerely apologize if I'm somehow being unclear or wasting anyone's time. That wasn't (and isn't) my goal at all.

Gavin Burrows said...

Bye, Dwayne!

Should anyone else I) have not got it and ii) care at all (both probably unlikely) I was using the road analogy as a metaphor for using birth control ie. sexual activity as something other than 'baby making.' I was talking about this because it was the subject we were all talking about. Apologies to anyone who didn't follow this reckless leap into left field.

As for True Love Waits and abstinence, well the clue is in the name there really...

dagonet said...

The Catholic Church does not (official) have a "traditional" morality. Neither is Sharia "traditional" morality. It is a legal system.
This
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeer
is traditional morality (& customary law). It is what legal systems where created to keep from happening, & quite rightly so.

People who appeal to "traditional" morality are actually undermining the basis of moral decisions, not to mention civilization.

E said...

@Gavin - actually no... the context was boundaries of allowable sex, the rabbit trail was being abstinent until marriage, after which birth control is fine. True Love Waits is a Baptist program, they don't hold the Catholic line on birth control.

So your analogy doesn't follow, even with your adjustment, and Dwayne's comment still makes more sense, he mentions birth control specifically in his original statement.

Sorry, but you're the one in left field here.

@Andrew H - you're confusing "average" with "median" in this statement:

Because, by definition, half the people in that group have sex *below* that average age.

Nope. They could all be 21. They could all be 21, except for a couple that are older, for an average age of 21. It is more likely that it's a bell curve with 21 at the top and tapering in both directions, but it isn't a given.

@Dwayne - it isn't just you. yes, people are making weird and irrational responses to things you've never said.

Welcome to the internet. My advice would be, "get over it."

Gavin Burrows said...

"True Love Waits is a Baptist program, they don't hold the Catholic line on birth control."

I search in vain for the point where I claimed True Love Waits to be a Catholic organisation.

I am quite happy for people to disagree with me. Misrepresenting what I am saying, however, is both pointless and tiresome. I comment sometimes on Andrew's blog because people mostly engage with the arguments that are being made. Alas, however, this doesn't seem to be a universal rule...

Gavin Burrows said...

(Hopefully) the last word on this subject...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4FsxtlGi3k

dagonet said...

Would still like to know how, exactly, semi-catholic morals would be of particular use to South Africa?
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1946645,00.html
Oh.