Saturday, November 29th, 2008...12:45 pm

Sex: It’s Not What You Think

Jump to Comments

I’m thinking about sex.

(I know; you’re shocked.)

But it’s not what you think.

I’m often amused (and often more than a little bemused) about sex. About how sex is usually not about sex. And about how sex is often configured in some communities in seemingly contradictory (or to be more polite, “paradoxical”) ways.

Margaret Talbot’s article “Red Sex, Blue Sex: Why Do Evangelical Teenagers Become Pregnant?” in the November 3, 2008, issue of The New Yorker, observes that social science research conducted by Mark Regnerus (U Texas Austin) has found:

  • Religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and this gap is especially wide among teen-agers who identify themselves as evangelical
  • The vast majority of white evangelical adolescents-seventy-four per cent-say that they believe in abstaining from sex before marriage.
  • Among the major religious groups, evangelical virgins are the least likely to anticipate that sex will be pleasurable, and the most likely to believe that having sex will cause their partners to lose respect for them.
  • Evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews.
  • On average, white evangelical Protestants make their “sexual début” shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.
  • Evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception.
  • Abstinence-only sex education delays sexual initiation by 18 months and in communities with high rates of adolescents’ taking public abstinence pledges have high STD rates.

The “grups” and ” ‘rents” aren’t much different. Talbot notes the research of two family-law scholars, Naomi Cahn, of George Washington University, and June Carbone, of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, who contrast marriage and sexuality in Republican-voting “Red States” and Democratic-voting “Blue States”:

In 2004, the states with the highest divorce rates were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and West Virginia (all red states in the 2004 election); those with the lowest were Illinois, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The highest teen-pregnancy rates were in Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas (all red); the lowest were in North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine (blue except for North Dakota). “The ‘blue states’ of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have lower teen birthrates, higher use of abortion, and lower percentages of teen births within marriage,” Cahn and Carbone observe.

In a book review in the October 31, 2008, Times Literary Supplement (TLS), historian of gender and sexuality Thomas Laqueur discusses Dagmar Herzog’s new book, Sex in Crisis: The New Sexual Revolution and the Future of American Politics (Basic Books). Herzog is a Christian from the American South, the daughter and granddaughter of pastors who recalls growing up in a Christian South in which sexuality was treated with greater privacy than now and with greater forgiveness and tolerance of human frailty than now among some evangelical Christians.

How and for what purposes Fundamentalist Christian leaders turned sex into a political phenomenon is the subject of Herzog’s book. Laqueur notes:

For the Evangelical Right, premarital intercourse and adultery and even homosexuality have become not so much wrong as injurious to mind, body and society. Even the Right’s arguments about abortion are often now less about whether it is an act of murder than about whether social science finds it harmful. . . . In other words, the religious Right created late twentieth-century sexual politics on the coat tails of the secular Enlightenment’s ways of arguing. Even if the state could not be asked to legislate morality . . . it did have a clear role in furthering the psychological and physical well-being of its citizens and, indeed, of people all over the world. It is by secularizing sex that the religious Right made it so central to politics.

Putting this struggle in historical perspective, Laqueur notes the vehemence of the debates about contraception in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when sex began to be understood in the West as a private, personal matter and when sex and procreativity began to be disconnected. An abhorrence of homosexuality and a defense of premarital sexual abstinence have been the Right’s causes in this postmodern struggle.

In an on-line venue, sex-positive Live Girl Review (Audacia Ray) reviews Herzog’s book, new high-tech erotic technologies, print porn, a how-to sex sex feature for women (the first one-third of the vagina is more sensitive so short thrusts are better than deep thrusts–who knew!?!), and duo performers Wet Spot.

Leave a Reply