Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why? Why? Why??? II

This is part 2 (continued from here) of my wacky theories about why some people oppose gay marriage. Today's half leans far more into the realm of armchair speculation, so don't feel pressured to agree with me on this one just because you agreed with my previous post. ;-)

Today's question is the following: "Why worry about gay people's love lives? As opposed to, say, minding your own business about what goes on in other people's bedrooms?"

I think this question is related to the question of "Why do humans mate in private?"

Lots of other animals (dogs, chimpanzees, pigeons, rabbits, etc.,) have no problem at all with mating in full view of others of their same species. Not people though. Some people like group sex or acts that involve watching and being watched, but in such cases part of the draw is breaking the privacy taboo.

The "Garden of Eden" story explains this need for privacy as an obvious natural consequence of self-awareness: Since humans can think, they know they need to cover up -- animals don't because they don't know any better.

This explanation isn't terribly convincing to me. Just because you know what you're doing, it doesn't obviously follow that you should be ashamed of what you're doing and hide it.

I got a different explanation from reading Jared Diamond's Why Is Sex Fun?

I know, I know, all the rest of the exmos read Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, but I go straight for Why Is Sex Fun? I gotta be me!!! ;-)

The idea I gleaned is that a species that is at once highly social and highly monogamous (like ours!) would naturally prefer to mate in private.

It makes sense if you think about it. If a committed couple of people want to reproduce just with each other, they don't benefit by mating in view of other random individuals who may become interested and want to join in.

(That's the part I got from Diamond -- the rest of this crazy theory can be blamed on me.)

The way human society works, sexually mature adults are constantly interacting in a non-sexual way with other sexually mature adults. (Think of your colleagues, people you pass on the street, shop-keeps, etc.)

Very little reproduction would get done without sexual desire. However, if people felt only positive feelings towards sexuality, it would be a lot more difficult to stay faithful to one's partner. Therefore humans have strong natural inhibitions regarding sexuality -- often to the point of revulsion -- that counterbalance their feelings of sexual attraction and sexual desire.

Picture some person you see every day. Not your S.O., and not the hottie you have a secret crush on, but just some random person you interact with at work or something. Now picture that person having sex with his/her S.O. (Or worse -- picture your parents.) Yuck, right? I'm sure if you try you can think of someone where your reaction is "yuck," or at least "I'd rather not think about it." Yet you can picture the same person eating a sandwich and you feel total indifference, not revulsion.


Because of your natural aversion to other people's sexuality and sexual expression.

Even people who enjoy erotica typically have a limit; a point where an erotic image is "too graphic" and hence seems gross or vulgar (although exactly what constitutes "too graphic" varies widely from one person to the next).

For everyone -- even lusty people who like sex a lot -- there are sex acts that they don't find erotic, appealing, or arousing at all. When imagining such acts, one feels the usual aversion/repulsion without feeling the counterbalancing feelings of attraction and arousal. And so the unappealing sexual scenario seems nothing but distasteful and possibly disgusting.

Some potentially distasteful sex acts being performed by other people right now might include two men in bed together, a man masturbating while viewing consensually-produced pictures of naked people, very old people having sex, various fetishes, unusual uses of inanimate objects, etc.

The typical irrational response is to deliberately imagine the sex acts you don't like, to feel grossed-out by the image, and to say "This is horribly repugnant to me, therefore it is wrong and evil on principle -- for everyone -- and must be suppressed!!!"

A rational response is to say "Private sexual expression between other consenting adults does not concern me and is none of my business."

Keep in mind, people, that many gay people find straight sex disgusting. For every sexual expression that one person finds arousing, I can guarantee you 100% that there exists another human that finds the same exact scene repulsive and disgusting. The only reason the current debate is about straight people trying to repress gay sexuality rather than gay people trying to repress straight sexuality is just the fact of who is in the majority.

In closing, I'd like to wish each and every one of you a pleasurable and satisfying sex life according to your own tastes!!! I don't necessarily want to hear about all the graphic details, however you may rest assured that as long as it involves consenting adults only and appropriate safety precautions are followed, I'm rooting for you in spirit!!! :D

And that includes people who choose celibacy. My bias is to favor an attitude of "Sex is natural, sex is good!!! Not everybody does it, but everybody should!!!" ;-) However, I don't want to impose my personal sexual tastes on others, so to those of you whose pleasure is not to have sex, I wish you all happiness in that as well!!! :D


JohnR said...

Therefore humans have strong natural inhibitions regarding sexuality -- often to the point of revulsion -- that counterbalance their feelings of sexual attraction and sexual desire...Because of your natural aversion to other people's sexuality and sexual expression.

Chanson, could you clarify what you mean by "natural"? I take this to mean that sexual revulsion is inherent instead of learned. I may be going one step further than you on this, but I wonder if such aversions aren't learned, since they vary in depth and breadth according to culture.

JohnR said...

After thinking more about it, I think I agree with you. Sexual desire and repulsion in and of themselves are inherent, but culture (and personal upbringing as well as individual genetic variation) determines what triggers such feelings. Take pederasty: an ideal in classical Greece, an perversion in the modern U.S.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John!!!

Exactly -- I think there's an innate component and a learned component.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Great thoughts here. I personally can't FATHOM a life of celibacy. That seems unnatural to me, but hey, like you said, to each his/her own.


Anonymous said...

I tried celibacy once, for a couple of minutes. It wasn't for me.

I have often asked all of the same questions you ask Carol. And I think I always come up with the same answers you do. I just don't know how to articulate them as eloquently as you do. But somehow it's reassuring to know I'm not alone in my thinking.

I really find it odd that religionists are so interested in what us gay folk do sexually. If it's not for you then forgetaboutit. Move on, get yourself interested in something else. If you don't like what we do, don't stop your fucking bicycle here and get off and stand and stare. Move on!

This profound preoccupation with the sex lives of others is a disturbing indictment of humanity. Or at least the religious part of it. The one question I can never fully answer is why anybody on this earth would be concerned with what goes on in the privacy of my sexual expression. I don't sex in public, so what I do privately is nobody's business but mine. What perversion; to insert oneself so constantly into the sex lives of others. I just don't get it.

It goes beyond religion and deep I think into the cultural and social memes that are not even fully extractable from those who express them. We might be stuck with people concerned with how and who everybody else is screwing for a very long time.

I'm rambling. But I do that when I'm confused. And I'm really really confused as to why anybody has any interest in who another adult is making love to or having sex with. That to me is the ultimate perversion.

What was the question?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey SML!!!

Hard to even imagine, isn't it? But I try not to judge other people's weird sexual preferences. ;-)

Hey Tom!!!

Exactly. It completely baffles me that people can even imagine that it's moral of them to be so preoccupied with other people's private lives.

To All:

On a related note, I was reading this article on Friendly Atheist's blog, and I nearly fell of my chair laughing at this spot on Conan O'Brien's show (which got protested) about a homophobic country-western singer. Here's the song the guy sang:

Oh I love you Jesus
But only as a friend.
You touched my heart but I hope
That’s where the touchin’ ends.

You’re always lookin’ over me
When I need a higher power.
But you better look at somethin’ else
When I’m in the shower.

Just one of many said...

Maybe monogamy is our human attempt to keep our nose to the grind stone and work towards progress. If we were bopping everything without inhibition, I doubt anything would get done! But then again I've never been goal oriented!!! :) love your posts!!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks JOOM!!!

I'm sure that's a big part of it. Never get your day's work done boinking in the noonday sun... ;-)

Kalv1n said...

I think its interesting to think about sex being an inherently private act. Some people get excited then by the taboo of performing acts in so called public spaces. Part of this is really interesting in the sense when we start talking about the legal world (such an example of my american centricism--I decided to leave my foolishness in rather than correct it). As you know Lawrence v. Texas was based on the right to privacy. Scalia vigorously dissented to this "extension" of privacy rights to acts called sodomy. In essence, he was saying that the state had the right to know what goes on in your bedroom. A student following this chain of logic asked Scalia at a law school presentation "Do you sodomize your wife?" which of course Scalia refused to answer which points out his own hipocracy. Sex in public is probably more common than we would like to think. Most likely these are most evidenced by furtive pregnancies conceived on "lover's lane" but I think the sheer fact of wearing a wedding ring is an assertion of sexuality. I think part of our obsession with sex comes from our unwillingness to talk about it in American society, and part of why the Lawrence decision isn't so great is because it cordones off the bedroom and leaves the rest of society open as places for discrimination. I agree that much of our own sexual tastes are learned, and I think this is actually rather problematic. Imagine if going to an Indian restaurant was some shameful many people might discover that they truly like Indian food? The case of monogamy also seems to leave untouched the double standard for men and women when it comes to sexuality. Men don't seem to care about their having sex with whomever, but women are seen as wanting the sole caretaker. (which also plays into reproductive freedom and keeping women's bodies as vessels of the state to reproduce) I watched some program once on how women's sexual taste varied depending on what part of their cycle they were on, but maybe that's a bad study. I just think it's an over simplification to think that women are simply out there to find a nuturer--I think they want the optimum seed as well. Oh well. If only we hear in the states could start to respect people's own rights of self-determination more like Europe. I think it's the whole concept of bedroom sexuality and secrets that keeps people so obsessed.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kalvin!!!

True, it's interesting how the divide between public space and private space is so centered around the bedroom. Especially since -- as you point out -- one's sexual behavior naturally extends into the public sphere (by making obvious displays of "I'm with so-and-so").

I wonder how things would be different if public space vs. private space were divided differently. (Of course there are a lot of non-sexual things people often want privacy for: displays of emotion such as crying, one's precise salary, even choosing music or reading materials without being judged by others.)

But what I'm arguing is that the desire for privacy (especially with respect to sexuality) isn't 100% learned -- it's something that appears to be largely built into our species.

William the Coroner said...

In parts of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the God of Israel, unlike the surrounding Cannanite deities, is not tied to the land, but is an integral part of human interactions. The Book of Judges, in particular, is full of this story line "People of Israel fall away from the Lord, bad things politically happen to them, a Judge rises up amongst the people and leads them to righeousness, and the cycle starts all over again.
Therefore, for people with this worldview, what two people do in the privacy of their bedroom is the business of the community, as it will bring the wrath of God down upon the whole community and all will suffer for the misdeeds of a few.
It's still annoying, Bronze age philosophy, but it's more than "I don't like it, you must stop." These people are, in a way, trying to protect themselves and their way of life from these actions. Not that that makes it less annoying, but it's more than simpel busybodyness. Tom Clark says he doesn't get it, well, this is why.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey William the Coroner!!!

That's a very good point. If you read the Bible, you'll see that God often doesn't bother to distinguish between innocent and guilty when doling out punishment. When He gets angry at a given society he'll just kill them all. Modern people demonstrate that they believe in this sort of God when they attribute natural disasters to sin.

Still -- as irrational as that belief is -- it's fundamentally a rationalization to justify a gut-level revulsion. When people feel offended and disgusted by something, they assume there must be an objective reason why that thing is bad. If there isn't, they try to find one. It's the same phenomenon I was describing in my recent post Come on baby, won't you show some class?

Anonymous said...

I think there may be some truth to this idea. But I think there's something else going on as well. In my admittedly very unscientific sampling of me and my friends/ colleagues, I've found that the "revulsion to sex acts you don't personally enjoy" diminishes significantly with education about it and exposure to it. And it diminishes significantly with education and exposure to sexual variety in general.

In other words: In my 20s, I would have gotten very squicked by things like, say, furries. Now that I've been around the block, my reaction is pretty much a shrug. A certain amount of personal aversion, but no more than I have with foods I don't like. Not my thing, but big deal.

So I don't know how much if this reaction is about "I don't like that, therefore it's bad" and how much is about "I'm not familiar with that and I don't understand it, therefore it's bad."

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Greta!!!

I think you're right, and that's a good point -- the squick factor diminishes dramatically with education and exposure. I just mean that starting from a gut-level distaste or revulsion for unfamiliar sex acts is normal and not pathological -- and there's actually a comprehensible reason why sexual expression is exceptional for humans in this regard. Where you go from that starting point is largely a question of your experiences and your choices.

I also think it's useful for sex-positive folks like us to try to understand the perspective of people who are a bit more puritanical, in order to better communicate with them. That's why I was thinking about this. That and the fact that I was surprised seeing otherwise rational people display an almost hostile emotional reaction to sexual expressions that to me seem perfectly harmless. The hostile reaction can definitely be diminished with education and exposure, but it made me wonder: where does this visceral reaction come from in the first place? From society/inculturation? That's kind of circular, since where does society get its sex-negative message? And why does every human society seem to have this taboo about sexual expression? I think that the need to interact non-sexually with so many other adult humans on a daily basis is the reason for it.