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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D. is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas. His most recent book, Gay and Healthy in a Sick Society: the Minor Details (HumanityWorks!, 2003) is listed as one of the “Top Gay Books of 2003” and his previous book Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to be Human (HumanityWorks!, 2001) was a finalist for both the Lambda Literary Award and the Independent Publisher Book Award. Bob has lectured and led workshops on gender roles, homophobia, and racism for universities, colleges, national and regional PFLAG conferences, past “Creating Change” conferences, and meetings, churches and religious groups as well as workshops for nonheterosexuals on personal growth beyond "coming out." He received GLAAD’s Leadership Award for Education in 1999.
Find out more at http://www.fairnessproject.org
by Bob Minor
Don’t Talk About Sex in the USA
I know people in the United States have sex. In fact, I’m sure they do. I’ve heard about it on Fox (pronounced as the French faux) News. I know that most of them wish they could have “more” or “better” sex. That doesn’t mean that I’m sure that they know what they really want.
I also know it’s usually dangerous in our country to get into conversations about sex – particularly if you admit you like or want it. Our culture is so sick about sex that even scientific researchers must watch their backs if anything they study has to do with genitals or being sexual. They’ve got to take extreme care not to offend the politically and religiously powerful who are the most obsessed with sexuality.
The diseased are constantly in the business of censoring what we can know about sex through guilt, accusations, shame, out-dated misinformation, law, and punishment here and hereafter. They don’t even want sexuality to be scientifically researched in fear that the results won’t support their “traditional” misunderstandings.
Psychologist Leonore Tiefer in her insightful book, Sex is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays (2nd ed, 2004) writes that “powerful conservative political groups opposed to reproductive rights, sexual empowerment, and sexual self-determination have discouraged and even prevented funding for sex education and scholarship.”
Scientists also know the fallout from right-wing “abstinence only” educational programs. Impartial studies have not only shown them universally ineffective, and a study published in 2002 in the British Medical Journal found that, far from reducing unwanted pregnancies, abstinence only programs actually “may increase pregnancies in partners of male participants.”
In fact, during the period when President Bush’s was governor of Texas (1995 to 2000), with abstinence-only programs in place, Texas ranked last in the nation in the decline of teen birth rates among 15- to 17-year-old females.
The economic benefactor of such ignorance is the all-powerful pharmaceutical industry. With little understanding of sexuality, the dominant voice of authority becomes the pharmaceutically-funded medical establishment. Hyped solutions to “sexual dysfunction” are now purchased from the drug companies. Sexual ignorance, in other words, fills bulging corporate pockets.
In spite of this conservative desire to control human sexuality (and controlling other people’s sexuality is a traditional “value” for authorities), corporate, profit-oriented media and its advertisers use our ignorance of the nature, variety, and art of human sexuality to sell their products. Buying things is the key to “good,” “more,” “intimate,” or “hot” sexuality, or just to getting any sex at all.
Cultural sickness about sex weighs it down with a burden that’s too heavy for it to bear.
It carries, first, the weight of all morality. We use words like “virtue” (“she lost her virtue”) and “immoral” (“all nations fell when they became immoral”) and have been taught to think of sex. It’s as if there is nothing more to morality and virtue than how we conduct our sex lives – nothing about citizenship, community, charity, compassion, greed, or usury.
Sex thereby carries the weight of “naughtiness.” That makes it obsessively attractive, dirty, anti-God, anarchic, and an apparent act of freedom from parents, preachers, and other authorities. That means the media can use sex in a formula for profit-making, and then moralize their profits in the name of First Amendment freedoms.
Sex carries the weight of closeness. Instead of one of many possible means one human being can choose to express closeness with another, it becomes the one activity for attaining closeness with another. All closeness needs get piled on the sexual act.
It’s used to get close, stay close, feel close, and make someone else stay close. It’s used to get something from someone else – their love, their fidelity, their security, or their attention.
Sex carries the weight of medical “normalcy.” You’re not only abnormal and probably psychologically sick if you aren’t interested in sex, but there’s a definition of what “normal” or (the new scientific term) “adequate” sex is.
Tiefer argues that the authority for interpreting sexual behavior is shifting from the realm of religion to the realm of science, “from the domain of sin and evil to that of disorder and abnormality.” We now wonder: “What is normal sex?” “How often is normal?” and “Am I normal?”
Sex bears a heavy economic weight. Inherent human closeness just is. It makes no money for anyone. In fact, it threatens economies like ours geared to isolation, independent living, and dysfunctional, over-hyped sexual patterns.
But closeness and normalcy as sexuality is sellable. If you buy the right car, gym membership, drug, deodorant, education, food, entertainment, and on and on, you too can get closeness and be “normal.”
All of this sickness gets acted out on LGBT people. They’re seen as destroying “healthy” (that is, really this culturally sick) sexuality. They’re probably getting more sex and enjoying it more. They’re stereotyped as less burdened by cultural taboos.
LGBT sex is portrayed as “animal,” “dirty,” “obsessive.” It’s okay to obsess about them as sexual, but never as loving.
On NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross was interviewing the new openly gay Episcopal bishop, one of my heroes, Gene Robinson. She posed a common question: “What do you say to those who claim it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it?
Bishop Robinson gave a long, insightful answer about sexuality as a gift from God. It was brilliant.
But it was about a subject the culture is too sick about and identified with condemnation for LGBT people.
My answer would have been different, if less brilliant. I’d have looked Terry Gross directly in the eye and just asked: “Are you saying that people shouldn’t express the love they have to the people they love intimately?”
Face it. Sex is too hard to talk about in the USA. So, don’t get caught in discussions about such a chronic cultural sickness.
Talk instead about love. After all, it’s love that they don’t want anyone to connect with LGBT people.
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