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Sex and the Pols

(photo: Cult Gigilo/flikr)

Who said this:

Sexual vice has now reached such proportions that it is destroying entire generations, corrupting our youth, and causing them to neglect all forms of work! They are all rushing to enjoy the various forms of vice that have become so freely available and so enthusiastically promoted.

If you answered, “Rick Santorum,” you would be wrong, but you should be forgiven, because Santorum did say this:

Birth control is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.

And this:

Woodstock is the great American orgy. This is who the Democratic Party has become. They have become the party of Woodstock. The prey upon our most basic primal lusts, and that’s sex. And the whole abortion culture, it’s not about life. It’s about sexual freedom. That’s what it’s about. Homosexuality. It’s about sexual freedom.

The mystery speaker of the first quote above wasn’t Santorum or any other American right-wing cultural curiosity. It was Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Reading that quote got me back to wondering about the obsession with the control of everyone’s sexytime. Certain observations on the topic are obvious. The very same people who claim to be champions of individual freedom are the first to insist upon the monitoring of our bedrooms the better to enforce their own odd obsessions about sex.

Rigorous rules and taboos regarding marriage, sex and other familial relations have long been used for social control. There are ancient, free-loving people who must have managed to flourish without such rules, of course. Generally speaking, however, societies of humans get pretty quickly to the business of regulating marriage and sex.

But I’m not convinced that a society’s need to at least recognize some sort of regularized familial relationships has anything to do with obsessions of the Khomeinis and Santorums of the world. How do they bring themselves to even care what other consenting adults are doing with their sexytime? Why are they threatened by it? What do they fear? Or what kind of world do they hope for?

One of the things they fear is the loss of male authority. Women free to control their own bodies threaten men like Santorum (and some women, too, who prefer a hierarchical, subservient role to men). Those who feel threatened then equate liberated women with sexual libertinism. Which is how Rush Limbaugh can call Sandra Fluke a slut.

“Something very important about sex must have happened while we were gone,” Looseleaf Harper tells blustering big game hunter Harold Ryan in Kurt Vonnegut’s play, Happy Birthday Wanda June. Harold and Looseleaf had been lost for years in the Amazon rain forest, and when they returned to late ‘60s America they found that attitudes about sex had, well, relaxed. Woodstock, of course, wasn’t the great American orgy Santorum thinks it was. But in his fevered mind something important about sex was going on and he didn’t and doesn’t like it.

While I can offer these kinds of standard observations, I don’t get any closer to an answer to the question, why do some people care, to the point of obsession, about the sexual relations of others? Little is less interesting to me than the behavior of adults behind close doors, people I don’t know and will never know. It’s not just that it’s none of my business. Imagine that the government tried to make it my business by mandating neighbor-on-neighbor sex spying. Even if threat or fear pushed me past my severe moral objections, sheer boredom would stop my spying in its tracks.

That Santorum and others fret that people are doing this or doing that will always be a mystery to me. I’d quit thinking about it if their fretting didn’t lead to such terrible consequences: women’s health sacrificed, gays legally discriminated against, physicians murdered because they terminate pregnancies, and on and on.

That’s the problem. The Khomeinis and Santorums of the world are not just impotent voyeurs. Their odd obsessions advance dangerous, inhuman policies that demean, discriminate and kill.

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith