Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex

A little while ago, I (foolishly) wandered into yet another online debate about abortion, one that also happened to talk about prostitution. And before long, I found myself wondering: "Why are we even pretending that this is about anything other than sex?" As near as I can tell, two of the big hot-button social topics of today, abortion and same-sex marriage, really boil down to a (reasonably) simple question - "Where do you stand on people (or sometimes, just women) having sex casually and/or primarily for the pleasure of it?" There are the extremes of "Go for it," and "It's absolutely wrong," but there are a lot of stops in between, and they aren't always in the same order. And when we're talking about things like abortion, same-sex marriage, extramarital sex, sex work, multiple marriage, contraception, pornography, et cetera, a lot of what we're really doing is taking a stand somewhere along that continuum.

So why not always frame the discussion in those terms? Why not be for or against same-sex marriage simply on the basis of whether or not one thinks that the state should offer relationships that obviously are not going to result in biological children the same benefits as relationships that apparently (correctly or not) could result in them? Why not openly frame arguments around prostitution in terms of whether or not we should find it appropriate to treat non-marital sexuality in the same manner as any other good or service?

I suspect that part of it is simple prudishness. Despite the centrality of sexuality to the continuation of the species (and most species, for that matter) it's something that's widely considered completely inappropriate to ever talk about. Talking so much about the plans you have for buying a home with a prospective partner that your audience is ready to slit their wrists is chalked up to social ineptitude. Three words about what you'll do in the bedroom is a cardinal sin. By the same token, we find it okay for children to park themselves in front of a screen showing (appropriately sanitized and strangely inconsequential) violence for hours on end. A kiss at the wrong time, on the other hand, or the hint that there's something more than that happening, and the Moral Guardians call out a SWAT team.

Not dealing with that makes the discussion, more often than not, an exercise in obfuscation and absurdity, as people go back and forth on tangential subjects and attempt to maintain consistent positions about things they barely care about. Maybe it's time that we simply laid our cards on the table and talked about what we really understand the issue to be. It can't be any less constructive than what we're doing now.


John McGuinness said...

It seems to me that this framing is, in essence, begging the question.

On one side are those who believe that, regardless of technologies and social customs we put in place, that sex is intrinsically bound to children. On the other side are those who believe that separating sex from children is both possible and desirable.

Drawing lines around these discussions as you suggest seems to me to implicitly take one side of the argument. It assumes that any externalities are irrelevant, what matter is whether you think consenting adults should or should not be restricted by the government on what they can do with their bodies.

Framed that way, the answer is self-evident.

Aaron said...

Actually, I don't see it as self-evident at all. If society want to say that consenting adults cannot do X, then let's say that. But I think that you might be on to why we don't draw those lines.

We can talk about the externalities, because they're very relevant. But the externalities seem to be all we talk about, and I think that we use them to avoid actually discussion what the actual topic is.

(And how are you liking the Seattle area? From the pictures you posted from your place, I think that you're not that far from me.)