November 22, 2013
Why Is Sex So Taboo?
Why do we all get so uptight about sex? It is a question I have pondered for a while but which has been put back on my mental agenda this week due to a couple of things in the news.
The first was a story in the New Statesman entitled ‘Why can’t we accept that women enjoy casual sex too?’ It questioned a recent report in the New York Times that most women only really enjoy sex when they are in a long-term relationship. The New Statesman said, “Despite decades of female testimony, the myth that women need romance and rose petals to get off, that they are somehow less sexual than men, still pervades the media.”
Also in the news this week was the BBC story that a leading public health expert in the UK suggested that the country’s age of consent should be lowered to 15, to allow the huge numbers of people of 15 already having sex to have better access to advice and contraception. The government immediately ruled out the possibility.
Whatever people may think of either issue, and there is plenty of discussion to be had on both, my point is not about either specific story but more about the way that people react to sex. The government rejects proposals for a debate on the age of consent out of hand. They seem unwilling to admit that young people’s sexual habits are changing. The media too, as the (slightly radical) New Statesman points out, seems a little backward-looking when it comes to sex.
It might seem like our public exposure to sex is greater than it was a few decades ago. That is true, but our exposure to all kinds of other things is greater, as well; the bombardment of advertising and proliferating consumerism being examples.
In ever more gratuitous movie scenes, I would argue that it is much more common, and acceptable, to show extreme violence than it is to show graphic (but non-violent) sex. The same applies in softer form on TV and in other entertainment: violence of some degree is absolutely everywhere and always has been, from the kids’ cartoons with guns, swords and martial arts to WWE wrestling to daytime TV. We sometimes see punches in daytime soap operas; we never see sex scenes. We see morning TV cartoon characters firing bullets at each other, but never making love.
Yet, unlike attacking people, sex is overwhelming a good, pleasant thing. Okay, it is a private interaction between two people first and foremost, and yes, there are delicate emotional issues attached to it. When it comes to young people especially, it should be treated with care. But my question is why is it still treated with so much care, and suspicion, and so controlled, when so little else in public society is? Why does religion talk about it so much, and why are parents so embarrassed to talk about it?
I think one reason might be that when we have sex we are, in a sense, at our most out of control. Just like government and religious authority are controlling entities, violence is a means of control, especially the TV violence of the ‘hero’ that is a calculated one; the hotshot or the martial arts expert. Sex, though, is when we lose it; we let go. That is not an easy thing for governments, churches or parents to come to terms with. Maybe it is not an easy thing for any of us to deal with, unless we’re the ones doing it at the time. Someone having sex looks like someone who starts acting erratically at a train station, and we all know how much that unsettles us. If you start taking it out of its little bedroom cage, we might all start on a decadent path toward self-destruction. After all, it is a widely held theory that decadence kills empires, so why not countries and communities too? Personally, I like a bit of decadence. But I can see why it makes people worried.
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