Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Accusing others of sexual repression

I've long had a nagging suspicion about accusations of sexual repression. Now, it's not actually clear what people mean by sexual repression. Sometimes they mean that a person isn't willing to acknowledge their own sexual feelings. Sometimes they mean that a person is deep-down really interested in sex despite the plain reality that they aren't. Sometimes they mean that not having sex somehow in a super-secret way causes neuroses. Sometimes they mean that a culture is sexually restrictive with it's negative messages and oppressive rules about sex. Sometimes they mean that a person isn't able to express their sexuality because of such rules. Sometimes that mean that a person who isn't interested in sex must be disinterested because of such societal rules, ignoring the fact there might be other reasons for not being interested in sex (like lack of desire, for example.)

Despite this slight lack of clarity over what is meant, we find accusations of sexual repression. Republicans are sexually repressed! Conservatives are sexually repressed! The religious right is sexually repressed!

I've sometimes wondered if this doesn't stem from a certain fact of the sociological situation of modern sexual politics. The main political opposition to of sexology, the primary polemics against "comprehensive" sex-education, and the principal resistance to LGBT rights all come religious conservatives, some of whom are known for condemning opponents of spreading sin and supporting evil, and sometimes even telling opponents they are going to hell.

Amidst the name-calling and accusations, among the insults and condemnations, throughout the cultural wars, it's hard to one-up eternal perdition. And for those on the political left--and even those in the political middle--such proclamations are either unavailable or unacceptable.

This may just be cynicism on my part, but I can't help but wonder. If warnings of condemnation in the world to come are not an option, declarations of condemnation in the present world may be employed. Or if, perhaps, not condemnation, at least accusations of being boring old fuddy duddies whose ideology prevents from enjoying the most awesomest thing since like ever.

But this accusation seems wrong. I grew up Evangelical and it seemed quite clear at the time that Evangelical teens are just as horny as, well, any other teens. And generally, as much as Evangelicals lament changing trends in cultural values about sexuality, as much as the bewail the effects of the "sexual revolution" on sexual beliefs and practices, it is clear that they have been enormously impacted by those trends, and their response to the "sexual revolution" fundamentally impacts their message on the matter. The message that they teach about sexuality is not that sex is bad, not that sex is dirty, not that sex is evil. It is that sex is good, that sex is holy, that sex builds intimacy, but sex is dangerous if misused. And, according to them, any sex outside the context of heterosexual marriage is such a misuse. I think that they have to emphasize how great sex is because otherwise, no one would take them seriously.

Consequently, accusations of sexual repression strike me as generally nonsensical. Granted, don't believe in sexual repression, but still the point seems clear enough: lots of people with conservative values about sex enjoy sex just fine.

I also think that in politics, name-calling is of rather limited value. It makes people feel good about themselves and their own moral (or, evidently, pleasural) superiority without having to understand the perspectives of the people they're disagreeing with. It works well enough to embolden and enrage those you already agree with. But in advancing your cause, a task of fundamental importance to persuade the people in the middle--politicians wanting to win elections know this well enough. Name calling and insults don't help with swaying those who don't agree with your position but aren't dead set against it either. Ultimately, social progress regarding sex-education and LGBT rights isn't about who is "repressed" or who is is "liberated"; it's not about who is "erotophobic " and who is "erotophilic". It's about getting people to recognize the impacts of ideologies and the consequences of policies on the lives of real people.

For those interested, I've made a threads about "sexual repression" on AVEN (Do you believe in sexual repression? I don't) and Apositive (Sexual repression?.)


miller said...

Actually, I believe you have got the typical liberal position slightly wrong. In my experience
(of course, this is all dependent on which set of liberals I hang out with), liberals do not deny that Evangelical teens are horny. On the contrary. Conservatives are just as likely to lust, just as likely be kinky, just as likely to be queer. But conservatives are more likely to deny these facts, as if they were necessarily bad and denying them would make them disappear. That's why we have things like saddlebacking and the ex-gay movement.

But clearly, none of the above applies to asexuals.

pretzelboy said...

I'm aware of this. Part of the issue (mentioned in my previous post as well as my comments in the forums linked in this post) is that there is a wide range of meanings in the term "sexually repressed," and depending on the context it may or may not be possible to figure out what one earth the person means when talking about "sexual repression." One meaning (the one you seem to be using) is being in denial regarding one's own sexual desires. But often accusations of sexual repression aren't aimed at the teens or the queer members (though I'm hesitant to use the term "queer" for someone who doesn't identify as such). Often they'll be vague accusations of large groups or of particular people (when there may or may not be any evidence of same-sex attraction or kinky anything.) It's mostly these sorts of cases that I was referring to in my post. Based on my own use of "sexual repression" I remove from the term any of the actually sensible meanings (and prefer alternate terms for those) in order to avoid confusion with the totally absurd meanings, which I think accusations of sexual repression often employ (and rarely, if ever, explicitely reject.)

miller said...

I completely agree. I will avoid the use of "sexual repression" in the future. However, I'm not really happy with the alternative term "sexual oppression" (which you suggested on AVEN). Sexual oppression suggests to me that there is something even more insidious going on, like really strict gender roles or institutionalized honor killings.

I'm tempted to just explain out the entire concept in words rather than using a short label, but damn if that isn't impractical.

pretzelboy said...

Since you also made a comment on the AVEN thread on this topic, I just went ahead and responded there.

Empty Promises said...

This blog seems tainted by examples that are either very selective, or draw from a limited experience.
Evangelicals think sex is good in a heterosexual context? Really?
Have you seen The Jonas Brothers?
When their marketing campaign is attacked, they defend themselves saying that they're being mocked just because they don't want to be "whores."
Now, I'm reading into this a certain disrespect for members of the oldest profession, and that when comparing people who have sex to "whores" it is not meant in the kindest way.

Do you think they have nothing to do with "sexuality being a premium" as Aven likes to say?
It's very simple. Culture is obsessed with sex because sex is portrayed negatively, because it is suggested that we aren't supposed to have sex. Outside of premium cable, frank descriptions or depictions of sex can be found far more often in crime dramas or in characters taking some kind of wrong turn than can they be found in a positive light. This is either because of a sex negative culture, or because sex is in reality more often associated with mistakes and crimes than it is with any positive or even neutral experience.