The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sex and Taboos

For those who have not yet read Greta Christina's blogs, I highly recommend them. While I often disagree, she is both intelligent and articulate, and often quite entertaining. Earlier today, I read this entry about the nature of public discourse on sex (how's that phrase for pseudo-intellectual hyperbole). Her basic question (and she only hints at the answers that she herself is unsure of) is: why do we treat sex as an especially taboo subject, beyond other subjects? Why is it that we can talk about almost any other aspect of culture and life, and express it openly, but not sex?

She suggests that it may be because sex makes us feel out of control in a way that other biological drives do not (though I wonder if this is the case in a time and place where the subject of other drives, such as food, are not as readily accessible), and that this makes us nervous and prone to not only feel uncomfortable about our own sexuality, but also that of others.

Oh, and if you think that only a wacky leftist could think that sex is really comparable to other biological drives, you might want to read C.S. Lewis's best known apologetics work Mere Christianity, where he makes similar observations (though coming to very different conclusions than Greta Christina).

I would add that there may be one other reason, a biological reason, why sex makes us uncomfortable. Sex is the vector by which our genes are transmitted or stifled, by which our genetic base is broadened and secured or becomes inbred and flawed. It has to do with the survival of the species in a very literal way. This gives sex a power that drives such as hunger do not have. By recognizing this, though, it seems reasonable to suggest that we should not allow our unease to keep us quiet - after all, keeping quiet prevents us from dealing rationally with the issues that face us.

Anyway, read the entry, think about the subject, and be aware of your own knee-jerk reactions (I know that I kept thinking "but of course sex shouldn't be spoken of as publicly" while not being able to come up with much in the way of good reasons why). It's worth considering why this subject makes so many of us so uncomfortable, and whether or not we should work to change that.


Kay said...

Taboos are funny things… on the one hand I think they can serve important social needs…. On the other hand I know that clouding things in mystery, in keeping things secret for no real reason “(“real” is a relative term) can add undue weight to undeserving things.

Not really sure where sex falls… and actually I wonder if it is silly to try to lump all of sex into something like this… should some aspects be taboo and others not? Of course that brings us to who decides…. And then my head explodes.

That shirt is a really good color on you by the way.

Evan Davis said...

Sex is something that is not necessarilly acceptible with all demographics of society. It is highly unnacceptable for children to be sexual and I think this is where the uncomfortability factor comes in. Children become capable of sexuality around 10. I say capable as in they are beginning to form levels of attraction with other people. They don't always explore this and when they do they have no idea what they are doing or what is happening. Parents when they see this instantly respond with odd reactions that would give any child the impression that pursuing this course is wrong and consequently taboo.

This taboo is reinforced when hormones kick in and teenagers want to explore this urge only to be tabooed again. The same with young adults who are unmarried.

While I do agree that sex should be kept within the confines of marriage, tabooing it outright is not the best way to deal with it. As with any physical desire it needs to be properly educated. I like the "right idea, wrong time" approach. Whereas only eating before bed and gorging on junk food all day would be wrong, it's not the eating we should discourage, but the time and selection of that food should be taught. The same could be said of sleep or other fun bodily functions (like farts).

Anthroslug said...

Evan: While we would obviously disagree about whether or not marriage is the only appropriate venue for sex, I do think that you have something when you talk about appropriate ages. Certainly, when someone is not mature enough to deal with the consequence sof sex, this can create no end of problems.

That being said, as a culture we tend to both fetishize both virginity and losing virginity and have a view of sexuality based on the taboos rather than the realities of sex. The particular way that we deal with it - seeing the onset of a sex life as a "loss of innocence" for example - is culturally determined, and not necessarilly healthy.

That being said, there are other cultures that are more open about sex and yet manage to handle it just as badly. There are, however, also places that are more open about it and actually handle it well (much of northern Europe, for example, has lower STD rates, less unplanned pregnancies, etc. than the U.S.).

What seems like the best thing to me is for us to be able to talk openly about it, but do so in a way that we don't treat sex as something mystical or with superstition - rather we treat it as something that has alot of biological and emotional power, and therefore should be respected but not feared or treated as "dirty."

By the way - everytime I try to read the "Mormon Skeptic" blog, I get an error message while trying to load it.

Evan Davis said...

Um, I think we are in agreeing here. Taboo = bad, responsibility = good. I hadn't thought about the fetishism of virginity, but it fits the facts.

I hear you mention the virtues Northern Europe, specifically the Scandinavian countries, often. I have some reservations about those numbers. For one they have an extremely different climate than, say, Los Angeles. Getting out and chatting about is not as easy there. I would imagine they are more likely to have less contact with other people. They also value personal freedom more probably because their choices are less likely to affect those around them.

Another thing is they have higher rates of depression, suicide, internet use, etc. I know it would be extremely difficult to factor those in, but I would imagine they could have a significant impact.

Back to the fact, I agree that sex should be a more open topic. How can we take a healthy view of sex if we have no input from normal sources.

You actually tried to read the blog? Yeef, that means I should write something for it.

Anthroslug said...

Sorry, didn't mean to give the impression that I thought we were disagreeing (other than on your comment about marriage). I was pontificating rather than arguing.

I was thinking of northern Europe rather broadly, actually, and not just Scandanavia. Basically, think France on north, and even some of the southern European countries - so, places with climates much closer to us as well as the frigid north. While these places have their problems - just listen to the news and that comes out, on this particular subject, they are doing pretty well.

But, yeah, we do agree pretty much overall.