How is it that sex has become the main focus of morality in today’s so-called civilized countries? By which I mean mostly heterosexual progenitive sex as a nucleus with a penumbra around it of related and deflected issues which are what I really want to talk about. Things like what is a family; what is sex besides fertile fucking; why the “state” would want to register and control who has access to sex; all the scientific interferences in fertility, gender, potency, and attraction; inheritance of genes; inheritance of property, power and status; and transpersonal interactions of all kinds. Plus material culture and gender roles. Don’t worry. My posts are limited to a little over a thousand words, so I can’t lead you too far astray. Or can I?
First of all, sex -- like every other characteristic of identity -- is dependent on time and place. Where and when you are born determine destiny in many ways, particularly in the way that sex is expressed and developed. So let’s look at “now.” First, we are obsessed with dyads: male versus female, homosexual versus heterosexual, married or outside marriage, top/bottom and so on. This is because our legal, economic, and emotional world are constructed on the basis of these dyads. But at present they are completely muddled. Racial categories, religious categories, national categories, gender categories are all totally muddled now. We don’t even clearly understand human maturation. What is an adolescent REALLY?
Second, sex itself has become too transparent to maintain illusions. Kinsey revealed that many men practiced same-sex acts. A paternity test reveals who your papa is. The same kind of tests reveal that some of the romantic role models we had in the animal kingdom (like swans) fool around on the side. The wide array of economic arrangements, braiding births with attachments and responsibilities, that we call “family” have been described in groups from New Guinea jungle to Inuit seal hunters. Many families have been displaced across the continents, causing them to have to learn new languages, new ways of eating, new ways of dressing and maintaining a home. Everything is negotiable. One of the most bizarre and rare examples might be women whose genomes have become mixed with those of their babies in a patchwork so that parts of their body are one inheritance and other parts are different. Who knew? No one.
At the same time the number of options are far expanded. One CAN move from Somalia to California and expect to succeed. And some whole sets of assumptions have changed. The New Yorker magazine can publish a cover showing -- actually SHOWING in a cartoon -- standing around the marital bed all the parties interested in the production of a healthy heir by Willliam and Catherine. BOTH of the newlyweds must have had medical exams looking for diseases, risky genome mutations (consider the in-breeding of the great-grandparents), and any signs of functional problems. What would have happened if Henry VIII had been shown to be sterile -- not the women? Who would tell the king that the royal sperm was missing or ineffective? (Remember that when things don’t go his way, he beheads the messenger -- er, wives.) What would a good dose of Viagra or Androgel have done for the Duke of Windsor? And what about the rumors that the Duchess of Windsor was an intersex person, which he found attractive? If he had become king, would she have been forced to have surgery to remove ambiguity? If he had taken the throne in a different time or place, he might have used a slave to produce an heir, or have had an array of wives, or (now) maybe use a surrogate mother or just a petri dish. Assuming his sperm was operational, however conveyed. Consider that one good reason for Elizabeth I to NOT get pregnant is that in those days a high percentage of women died in childbirth, the equivalent in terms of population control to war for men.
Another of our dyads is the individual versus the group, a conflict of interest that impels the compressed spring of many novel plots, especially the popular generational ones. The survival of the group -- whether nation or congregation or family -- may demand the sacrifice of individuals. In practical terms, women produce the next generation so, except for enough men to defend and feed them and their babies, men are expendable. If you are raising a herd of animals, the males are separated out for sale, sterilization or butchering. If Mother Nature is managing the herd, ten percent or maybe more will be nonreproductive, thus allowing them to be defenders without adding to the population. But they are wired to do that for the entire herd, not just their own “personal” children. And there will be times of the year when the Alpha breeding males drive them off to either circulate individually or form small mono-sexual groups. Humans are animals -- we do similar things.
What complicates matters is our ability to form emotional attractions, to bond with others, often very intensely and one-on-one at the expense of the group, so that the couple is motivated to run away or defy convention. This is good if the range is overgrazed or the hive is overcrowded, so to speak. But one isolated couple will have a tough time raising kids -- ask Adam and Eve. No one told them it takes a village to raise a child because there was no village. So there was no cultural tradition to fall back on when Cain and Abel fought. (Actually, some people interpret that tale as a clash between hunters and the new agriculturalists, two cultures.)
Our confusion about sex slops over into confusion about inheritance (at great benefit to lawyers) and what “owning” really means, since not so long ago marrying meant a man owned a woman and her children, the same as a horse. Other men were prevented from riding her the same as being prevented from riding his horse, maybe deciding to steal it. Politics was sealed and energized by marital relationships. We find that dealing with the Middle Eastern despots means addressing a compound packed with brothers and wives and children. And stupid, narcissistic despots do not raise wise and disciplined children. These aspects of children are not so much biological as cultural and temperamental.
In North America, once a child reaches the age of reason the element of choice and intention comes into sex and we mostly honor that, though the culture is too tumultuous and the economy too dependent on romantic media notions (like fabulous weddings), to be entirely rational about it. Being able to manage fertility and economic success become far more difficult. Reading Dear Abby reveals how thorny these matters can be, esp. when family gets involved in defining who is “in” and who is “out;” who is a promising candidate; what divorce means in a time and place when marriage is so casual, often governed romantically rather than legally.
How do we reconcile the ever-more-common casual hook-up as merely a friendly way to pass the time while not so far away rape of all genders and ages is an instrument of destruction, humiliation, subjugation and torture? Sex can be the best of things and the worst of things. What are the moral guidelines ? No wonder we are confused when so many boundaries have been lost at the same time that so much information has been added.