Can Sex Be Evil?
TC raises an interesting question: Can sex be evil?
To lay my cards on the table, I grew up as the "sexual revolution" was apparently revolutionizing our ideas about sex, but I grew up in a culture (maybe an outlier) where sex before marriage was still taboo, or the surest way to get married real early (well, if pregnancy was involved). Not that there weren't girls who "went away" in high school, and not that high school students weren't having sex. But it was taboo among "nice families," in a way it simply isn't anymore.
And most of that taboo was centered on sex as the gateway evil, not unlike marijuana was a "gateway drug" (yeah, it was weird). Nowadays, of course, sex is natural; it is good; it is human. We are almost back to the culture that produced "Gilgamesh," where Enkidu, made by the gods to be a companion to Gilgamesh, but not yet human, sleeps with the temple priestess (we would unkindly call her a "temple prostitute") for days on end, until he becomes human through the encounter. That is actually, I think, a healthy view of sex, though it puts it back onto the "rite of passage" that sexual intercourse was for young men (never young women!) when I was growing up.
Yeah, it was really weird.
TC has some very good thoughts on the pernicious effects of pornography. This is becoming a problem not just for the abuses it leads to (even promotes, in TC's argument), but because it is such an unrealistic picture of human sexuality, and yet it is how children, more and more, are learning about human sexuality. We don't teach it as they would have in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life", and our children end up, reports say, learning about it from the internet (apparently there's a lot of porn on the internet. I thought it was all just politics and cat videos.). And that raises two questions that need answers: Is sex evil?, and what is sex?
If sex is just male/female intercourse, then sex is porn and rape and the wedding night. So of course it isn't that simple, because rape is not sex (not even about sex; it's about power. Let's be clear on that up front.) But then there's the question "What is rape?" Broadly defined, rape is nonconsensual sexual intercourse (let's leave it there and leave out non-bodily parts ('foreign objects') and using something other than the reproductive organs alone). We can argue the nature of consent, but that's not the issue here. The issue is: what is sex, or maybe even: when is sex?
If two college students, male and female, engage in sexual intercourse, this is now good and natural, rather than shameful and to be hidden (well, sex in public is not good, but you get the idea). But sometimes it isn't; when it is called rape, suddenly it is evil. But is it still sex? No, is the consensus; because rape is sexual intercourse without consent. Okay, so what happened to consent in the sex that is now rape (and so both evil and not sex)?
We do two things there, neither of them wrong per se: we remove rape from the category of sex, and then we declare the sexual intercourse that is ordinarily "just sex," to be evil. Now, sex used to be justified on the "will you still love me tomorrow" basis: if it's part of a loving relationship, etc., etc. That was the way we decided sex outside marriage (well, before marriage is what we meant) was okay. "Casual sex" was still "bad," but that barrier fell, too, and sex wasn't evil even if it was just for fun. Women could consent without being "bad girls," ("fallen women" is the adult version, I guess; but that was archaic before I was born), but then the weight fell on the idea of consent. Anytime consent was withdrawn, suddenly the sex was no longer good; now it was evil (because rape is an evil so profound the rapist should wear the scarlet letter forever) and, being evil, was rape; and being rape, was not sex.
That was the formula. That is the formula.
It's the "No True Scotsman" fallacy: sex cannot be evil, so whenever sexual intercourse is evil (child pornography, rape), it is not sex.
But can sex be evil?
Actually, anything human can; but drawing the line between "good" and "evil" is not easily done. Child pornography is undeniably evil; pedophilia is evil. Sex with minors is evil as a matter of law (they cannot legally give consent, even if they do). Some still want to say Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was evil (because he was her boss; or because she was so much younger than him). We slide these boundaries around to suit our preferences. And when we do it, we exclude what we declare "evil" from what we declare to be "sex." Or we re-categorize sex: it would take a peculiar definition to categorize pornography as sex, but we excuse it by saying the participants are consenting adults (the claim that Clinton sexually harassed Lewinsky steps lightly over the question of consent between adults) and if you don't like it, don't watch it.
That's not a line we take with child pornography; again, because of the consent issue.
So consent transmutes sex into good; lack of consent makes sexual intercourse evil, and so no longer "sex." We can't allow sex to be evil, for fear of returning to what we call the "Puritan" past (the Puritans, like the Victorians, were actually far more sensible about this than we are; though I don't want to return to their mores, either). We draw this simple line, and we apply it absolutely, so that pornography without consent (children) is bad, but with consent, it's accepted. Does it warp and distort ideas about human sexuality, even encourage horrific acts? Apparently that's the cost of doing business; or of having freedom. Besides, the minute it becomes horrible, it isn't sex; so one is evil, and the other incorruptible.
The problem with that freedom is not limited to extreme examples of criminality, because now it has given rise to the concept of "rape culture." Sex without consent is rape, and rape is bad. But what is the timeline on consent? If two college age kids consent to sex (even if both are drunk; and isn't drinking something adults do, and take responsibility for?), and one regrets it in the morning, was it still sex last night? Kinda depends on who regrets it, doesn't it? If the guy thinks it was a mistake, no one calls the girl a rapist, do they? But if the regret is on the other party, the male part of that activity should be banned from college, shunned by society, driven out into the void reserved for those who can never get a college degree or any public recognition because they wear the "R" forever.
It's no accident that, as sex became freer, "rape culture" became a concept. If we tell women to "just say no," that would be bad. But if their agency is equal to the male's, then rape becomes almost entirely the stranger in the bushes or the roofie in the drink. So the female's agency is superior to the male's; she can decide whether she wanted it, or not, and she can decide whenever she wants. My mid-20's daughter tells me she tells her boyfriend's younger brother, now in his second year of college, "Don't stick your dick in stupid," meaning to warn him away from being called a rapist. But maybe the only solution is: "Don't stick your dick in, period." Except that would make sex bad, again. Now what?
Rape is evil. Sex, on the other hand, is good; and college kids should engage in it. But they shouldn't rape: and we'll decide whether you did, or not. We'll decide in kangaroo courts run by colleges who have no requirements of due process, rule of law, rules of evidence; or we'll decide in social media, whether or not you were tried in a criminal court. We will declare rape evil, and sex good, because rape can never be sex (nor should it be), and evil must be forever punished.
Because that's the only way to keep sex "good."
Does this system make sense to anyone? Cui bono?