Sunday, July 11, 2010

Any Sex OK Between Two Consenting Adults or God's Way?

Not sure whether or not my partner on this site is alone in his thinking or if he would be joined by most or many atheists and naturalists.  If I understand his argument correctly, unless I can show a negative outcome resulting from consenting sex between adults, then the only restriction Bernardo would place on sex would be based on age.  Not sure what age, but I suspect that since this is a consent issue, society would have to decide what age to allow kids to consent.  Regarding sex, this has had some experimentation ranging from about 12 up. 

Leaving out sex with animals, since they can't consent, this would leave us to pairing off in any combinations of partners participating in any kind of behavior as long as everyone in the room was up for it.  Not sure how drugs fit into this, but we do know that various legal and illegal drugs can be used to heighten the experience, so potentially this would be a question of consent as well.

Providing evidence that this type of society would be an improvement on a society based on family, sex kept between a husband and wife after marriage, and a general societal proscription against all other forms of sexual expression would seem to be a stretch, but if there is evidence, I'd love to see it. There seems to be quite a lot of historical evidence that such licentiousness has led to the decline of other societies.  And there is huge amounts of evidence that almost all societies have had an expressed preference for the monogamous approach with commitment by the male to a spouse. 

So, the question is, should we as a society open the doors to a much wider expression of our sexual selves, and see what happens?  If not, where do we draw the line and why?


Bernardo said...

Let me generalize this question for a second, to help see just how hard it is to answer.

Most political discussions, at their core, have to do with balancing "individual rights" with "what's best (most just, most orderly, least dangerous) for society". For example: Balancing the "right" to get someplace fast with the danger that this would impose on other drivers; The "right" to have loud parties into the night, to own a gun, to keep all the money I earn, to NOT pay for the health care (and other needs like food and shelter and education) of poor people, etc, versus the detriment (or potential detriment) that the exercise of these "rights" would impose on my fellow citizens.

Let's suppose for a second that the kind of creative sexual activity described by Randy is indeed detrimental to society. I don't think it is, but I'll get to that later. For now I will grant him the point, for the sake of argument.

I still think that people should have a right to do it. What you do in the bedroom is, for me, something that a good society gives you the autonomy to decide by yourself. It's like how to raise your kids (and how many to have), whether to practice a religion and if so which one, what opinions to express, what race to have romantic relationships with, etc. Some societies (including ours) had and/or have restrictions on these basic freedoms, and I think we can agree that we don't like those restrictions. Even when the restrictions are not coded into law, but instead are embedded in the social zeitgeist, they are still unwelcome by people who cherish those freedoms.

So, just in principle, I don't want people telling me what I should or shouldn't do in the bedroom. That'd be like telling me that I shouldn't marry a black girl because inter-race marriages are on average less stable, and children in such marriages are likely to be victims of discrimination. You know what? Tough shit. It's still my right to do it. And that's because we as a society have decided that who I want to marry is not anyone else's business, that society can and should take any extra burden caused by inter-racial marriages (especially because an increase in inter-racial marriages is the only way for that "burden" of racism issues to decrease over time).

Bernardo said...

Then, the question becomes: But is this even bad for society? Does unconventional sexual behavior cause any detriments to people other than those engaging in it?

If they are irresponsible and catch STDs, and if society must then help pay for the treatment, then yes, that's bad. Same for tobacco, alcohol, and base-jumping. Those things are risky enough to be frowned upon (but not so risky as to be illegal, like marijuana use, and not so low-risk as to be effectively harmless, like aviation).

If these sexual behaviors cause people to be less likely to want a family... So what? A family is not for everyone. I don't think that people have a DUTY to have a family for the sake of stabilizing society. Some people WANT a family, some people do not, and each person is free to make that call. Sure, if more people chose to have families, society might be more stable, so it might be good to ENCOURAGE people to want to have a family. But denying them the freedom to satisfy their sexual curiosity does not strike me as a good way to get more people to have families.

Besides, a society where there is less stigma attached to not having a family, a society where people feel more free to say "A family is not for me" and are not given a hard time about it, might be a happier society despite a slight drop in overall stability. (Because people who have families and didn't really want them probably should not have had them in the first place. Want to reduce divorces and bad parenting? Then make it easier for those people to not feel forced into having families!). That's because I personally value freedom and individual happiness more highly than social stability, when it comes to this particular issue. (But not when it comes to health-care and taxes and such, as you might guess. I do have an issue with speed limits, though...)

And one other "besides": I don't think that sexual exploration precludes having a family. People can do their sexual exploration during their pre-marriage years, figure out what they like (and most people will probably figure out that conventional sexual behavior, within committed relationships, has the highest benefits for the least hassle/risks), and then move on to seeking only committed relationships if they want. That way you get the best of both worlds.

Maybe the most important single parameter is; How much of a detriment to society is unconventional sexuality? Where does it lie on the spectrum that goes from driving, aviation, alcohol, tobacco, base-jumping, marijuana, driving at 95mph on the highway, and doing cocaine? I think it's in the aviation/alcohol part of the spectrum: Most people can do it safely, and the fact that it will kill SOME people does not justify telling EVERYONE they can't do it. You seem to think it lies closer to the marijuana/95mph area of the spectrum, the point where it stops being a "right" just because it's too much of a burden for everyone else. Again, until we have good data, it's hard to say for sure. said...

30 years ago, we as a society thought nothing of having a double scotch at lunch and driving back to do business. We also had no such animal as a designated driver. The result was carnage.

Then society said enough and created both social and legal sanctions. As a result, you no longer have the huge negative results that you did.

Meanwhile drugs were considered to be socially unacceptable until the 60's. Then they became the new source of getting the buzz for the connected. Now drugs are wrecking families, and creating havoc in society.

We reap what we sew.

Bernardo said...

I agree with all that you just wrote.

The question still remains: When we "sew" unconventional sexuality, just how bad are the results? Are they terrible enough to justify prohibition (as with drunk driving or cocaine), bad enough to justify tight regulation (as with aviation), or barely bad enough to simply be frowned upon (as with, say, junk food)? I think it's at the junk-food end of the spectrum, maybe even less harmful than that. You think it's in the drunk-driving end of the spectrum. How do we settle that question? said...

The method you propose of finding out the consequences is the part I take greatest issue with. Let's just try it and see.

I'm actually ok with the limited experimentation by a state or two, or even a small country. This will give us the data to eventually make better guesses about the potential issues.

On the other hand, my expectation would be that unfettered sexual experimentation including the elimination of all barriers legal and cultural to the formation of families of any make-up and the out of marriage approval of any and all kinds of sexual expression would be a disaster. Here's why.

Sexual activity is known to be similar to use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. The excitement of today's high brought about by one behavior is not enough for tomorrow. In order to get to that feeling again, the experience needs to be heightened.

Marriage has a mitigating effect on this inclination. We may want to experience more exciting highs through sex when we are married, but we are constrained by the moral, legal, and social pressure. Take away that pressure, and we'll have folks, lots of them, seeking more and more outrageous ways to get that high. It will be more catastrophic than alcohol, drug, or gambling abuse in that the only way for the sex to go is towards younger and those who are powerless to resist. said...

Moreover, drug and alcohol abuse (and to a lesser extent gambling) negatively effects 16 individuals in the family of the addict. We can certainly expect the impact of broken families, sex within families, lashing out, lack of trust, etc., to further exacerbate the disaster we now have with divorce at 50%. Licentiousness without responsibility is automatic disaster. People don't act responsible without some kind of reasons for restraint.

Bernardo said...

I only propose unfettered experimentation when the likelihood of seriously bad consequences is very low. I do accept your point that the risks in this case are non-negligible. I suppose I can't argue with your analogy to drugs, seeing as people do seek progressively more heightened experiences.

But just because we need SOME pressure ("moral, legal, social") to keep our impulses from sending us into a downwards spiral, that doesn't mean that the current level of pressure that we have right now is optimal.

You think we need more pressure, because you think the more pressure we have, the more restrained we'll be, and the lower the chances of detrimental behavior. But this isn't a linear system. I think we need less pressure, because once people are open about their wants and about their behaviors, and things are more out in the open, it will be easier for people to moderate their behaviors, and recognize non-moderate behavior and get help for it.

Two examples of this are guns and marijuana. We may want to say "Those things are detrimental to society! If we have stricter laws against them, and if they were not so socially acceptable, then they would be less detrimental". However, countries that legalize marijuana (e.g. Portugal) see lowering rates of use, lowering marijuana-related crime (theft to buy drugs, gang violence, etc), and lowering incidences of health issues. Cities with the strictest gun laws have the highest rates of gun crime. Of course, correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but my point is: When something is bad, making it illegal and pushing it into the shadows isn't always the best approach.

For example: If Americans weren't so prudish, if parents talked with their kids about sex, if the American social zeitgeist were such that people who like unconventional sexuality felt free to mention this without feeling like moral deviants... then we'd have fewer problems. TRULY dangerous sexual behavior would be recognized and something would be done about it. (And you have to admit that there is a lot of stuff that lies between "monogamous committed sexual+romantic relationship" and "TRULY dangerous sexual behavior).

Keeping your analogy with intoxicating substances: Most adults can handle some wine every evening, a few beers on the weekend, maybe even the occasional drunkenness when in safe conditions (i.e. with trusted friends who are less drunk and who will make sure you get home safe). But the danger of alcoholism, drunk driving, etc, still exist. The fact that alcohol is LEGAL, and that we talk about what's dangerous and what isn't, and that there is little stigma associated with moderate alcohol use or even with the disease of alcoholism, and that this freedom to talk about it allows us to recognize when someone is slipping into dangerous levels of alcohol use, minimizes the impact of alcoholism and drunk driving.

So, are there risks? Yes. Is unfettered experimentation the best solution here? Ok, maybe not. But is the best solution to increase social pressures and to make certain acts illegal? No, that only drives into the shadows the distinction between what's generally safe and what's actually risky, causing us to enjoy sex LESS and to get ourselves into trouble for it MORE. If we can remove the stigmas and pressures and be more open, we'll enjoy ourselves more AND be safer, I think. said...

I doubt if there is a sane individual who has studied the sociology of sex and/or parenting who wouldn't agree with your wish that parents would be more open in the discussion of sexual things with their kids. Ironically, one of the reasons that they are not any more open today, and possibly even less so, is because of their own inappropriate behavior as teens or even as adults when their kids are teens. It is hard to admonish children to do one thing while you did or are doing another. Do you tell them of your own mistakes and then explain what you should have done? Do you give them license to experiment since you did? Or do you provide them advice with no context and become a hypocrite. We know how much teens love hypocrisy!!

Instead, our current social leadership has decided to entrust this teaching to public school teachers who may have their own hangups, agenda, etc., and assisted by books and films that are almost certainly agenda driven. Then the fight is over whose agenda should be driving.

A lot of imperfect approaches and those are resulting in kids who have absolutely no idea what the norm or mores should be, so are more open to the powerful influence of peers, movies, tv, and influential older children or young adults who are interested in seducing them.

If instead we had one clear teaching, as we did until the '60's, at least we all knew what the "right" thing was. Many chose to ignore the Biblical and church teachings, but they knew there would be consequences. Most of those consequences had to do with being responsible for choices and bearing the consequences of irresponsible behavior. Today, our kids think that they will always be bailed out (and our adults, too.)

Yes, that means that those who followed their foolish hearts into inappropriate sexual practices, substance abuse, gambling, etc., tended to keep it in the closet. Maybe this was not a perfect system either, but we all knew where we stood.

Social psychologists may or may not be right on this issue, and their theories may have even changed on this since I was in school. But I remember so distinctly their statement that their was a major direct link between emotional illness and anomie.

So in the originating case: If I am a homosexual in the '50's, I might not like that I need to sneak around, and I may not like that I can't be honest with my family, but I know how I am supposed to act, I still have my family, and unless I also act effeminate or butch, no one is concerned about what I do in the bedroom. Unless what I do in the bedroom is to take advantage of someone who isn't in to it. Then we don't have gay bath houses, we don't have gay prostitutes, we don't have gay cruises to other countries for the purpose of having sex with underage children, and we don't have gay parades and television acts with emotionally disturbed individuals parading depraved acts in public.

s0l0m0n said...

Men & Woman SEX- normal
Men & Men SEX-useless