Red-Light States?

Sex And Religion

Ingraham presents a study finding that porn-related Google searches are more common in conservative states:

Cara C. MacInnis and Gordon Hodson of Brock University found that residents of more religious and more politically conservative states — often in the South — are more likely to Google things like ‘‘sex,’’ ‘‘gay sex,’’ ‘‘porn,’’ ‘‘xxx’’, ‘‘free porn,’’ and ‘‘gay porn” than their peers in more secular states. The study, published this month in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, analyzed state-level Google Trends data for 2011 and 2012, and combined it with measures of religiosity and political conservatism from Gallup surveys. “Overall,” the authors say, “a reliable positive association of moderate-to-large association size exists between state-level religiosity and searches for the term ‘sex.’” They observed similar patterns for Google image searches for sex with political conservatism.

Morrissey rolls his eyes:

The abstract proposes, “These findings were interpreted in terms of the paradoxical hypothesis that a greater preponderance of right-leaning ideologies is associated with greater preoccupation with sexual content in private internet activity.” Except that the researchers didn’t do the hard work of actually identifying and studying those specific populations of “right-leaning ideologies”;

that would require time and effort in crafting a study of several populations, along with control groups, and then perhaps reaching some conclusions that actually show real correlation and perhaps causation.

Instead, they based their studies on entire states’ Google trends without any control over which populations did the searching. There’s nothing in the abstract or the Post’s recap, for instance, that even posits that religious and/or political conservatives use the Internet overall at the same rate as other populations, or more or less so. There is no data presented at all that assigns that traffic to specific subgroups; the authors just assumed that the controlling factor had to be “right-leaning ideologies” without ever establishing that as a fact, or even a data-supported hypothesis.

A Stand-Up Drug

Samantha Allen takes stock of Viagra’s legacy. While its impact on older men’s sex lives hasn’t quite measured up to the hype, its impact on dick-related comedy has been outstanding:

According to The Wall Street Journal, it took Jay Leno only four years to make nearly 1,000 Viagra jokes on The Tonight Show. In 2008, too, TIME published a compilation of 10 years of Viagra jokes. Saturday Night Live, in particular, has a long history of constantly returning to the well of Viagra humor with parody commercials and a particularly memorable installment of the popular Ladies Man sketch. If you were in the business of telling jokes in the 2000s, Viagra and erectile dysfunction were the gifts that kept on giving. And 15 years later, comedians are still keeping it up. Just last week, for instance, Conan O’Brien compared the iPhone 6’s issues with bending to erectile dysfunction in a mock advertisement.

To an extent, Pfizer’s advertising has embraced the humor of Viagra throughout the drug’s history. While Pfizer tends to play it straight in the U.S. with straightforward advertisements that show men involved a variety of manly tasks like surfing, sailing, and commercial fishing, their international approach has been much more light-hearted. In South Africa, for example, Pfizer promoted the drug with a playfully suggestive image of a milkman re-buttoning his jacket as he leaves an estate. A Saudi Arabian television ad for Viagra shows a man struggling to push a straw through the lid of his beverage. And a Canadian spot promotes Viagra as a way for men to get out of tedious household responsibilities like helping out with the redecorating.

Dreher On Blow

After reading Charles Blow’s intense and fascinating account of his own childhood abuse and his particular experience of bisexuality, Rod Dreher actually comes out with this:

The thing that stands out to me about it is Blow’s (very modern) belief that his passions constitute an essential part of his identity as a person. That is, he seems to believe that his freedom consists in accepting his desires, and that he is “subject to the tide.”

But is this really true? Somehow, reason tamed his homicidal passion in the case of avenging his rape. Why is that passion restrainable, but sexual passion is not? He would say that the passion to kill someone is not the same thing as the passion to have sex with someone, and he would, of course, be right.

But he would be wrong in another sense. According to Dante (speaking from a position informed by both classical and medieval Catholic thought), all sin comes from disordered passion. To be truly free is to master our passions by making them subject to our reason. We cannot prevent our desires, but if we make ourselves “subject to the tide” of passion, we cannot be said to be free.

This is a very strange response to the essay. Rod insists that his point is not about bisexuality, but about “passions” in general and our modern sense that we should accommodate them, rather than “master” them with reason. But I didn’t find any evidence in the piece that Blow had somehow “surrendered” to his “passions”. What he did was simply come to terms with who he really was – to probe what his sexual orientation really was and is. This is an integral part to mastering any passion. If you are not fully aware of who you are, you can act out in all sorts of ways, or enter relationships you really shouldn’t, or make horrible mistakes, or suppress feelings without ever really confronting them. What Blow describes is very much an exercise of reason, of inquiry, of remarkable poise in the face of a troubled past (including sexual abuse). Surrendering to passion meant in this case a seven-year marriage to a woman, including kids. And Blow rather movingly explains how an actual homosexual relationship was not something he could pull off.

If Blow were heterosexual, I doubt Rod would have said anything about “disordered passion”. We all have unique and complex sexualities – and all Blow did was examine his own past and his own nature and channel both toward a constructive present. It has to be the element of homosexual attraction that provokes Rod’s splutter – as if anyone can simply master by reason who they actually are. We do not have control over that. But those who come to terms with their sexual identity, who face it squarely, are likely to have a much better chance of channeling such passions toward good ends.

One other note about Blow’s piece: it’s a very convincing and eye-opening explanation of a certain kind of bisexuality:

I had to accept a counterintuitive fact: my female attraction was fully formed—I could make love and fall in love—but my male attraction had no such terminus. To the degree that I felt male attraction, it was frustrated. In that arena, I possessed no desire to submit and little to conquer. For years I worried that the barrier was some version of self-loathing, a denial. But eventually I concluded that the continual questioning and my attempts to circumvent the barrier were their own form of loathing and self-flagellation. I would hold myself open to evolution on this point, but I would stop trying to force it. I would settle, over time, into the acceptance that my attractions, though fluid, were simply lopsided. Only with that acceptance would I truly feel free.

Dan Savage adds:

As Blow’s piece makes clear, writing “lopsided bisexuality” out of the bi experience, the constant and often smug framing of bisexuality as the capacity to be sexually and romantically attracted to both men and women equally, excludes men like Blow and makes it harder for men like him to accept themselves as bisexual. Men like Blow walk around believing that they’re either not really bi (like this guy who wrote me at “Savage Love”), or that they’re bi but defective or broken.

But bisexual guys like Blow aren’t broken.

They sure aren’t. Which is more than one can say, sadly, for many men who refuse to confront their identity, and construct lives based on fantasies about what they’d like to be rather than what they are.

For much more on the nuances of bisexuality, check out this Dish thread.

“The Only Time He’d Ever Felt ‘Sexiness'”

Alice Robb presents new findings on why some disabled men pay for sex:

[Sociologist Kirsty] Liddiard interviewed 25 physically disabled men and women, recruited through ads on websites and in publications for people with disabilities. (The ads didn’t mention that she was studying sex work.) Of the 16 men included in the study, seven said they had at some point purchased sex from a female sex worker. (None of the women had ever paid for sex.) This is consistent with other research that suggests disabled men seek out prostitutes or “sex surrogates” at higher rates than non-disabled men.

In a 2005 survey carried out by the British magazine Disability Now, 22 percent of the 1,115 disabled male respondents admitted they had at some point paid for sex, and 37.6 percent said they’d at least considered it. (Only 1 percent of disabled women had hired a sex worker, though 16.2 percent had thought about it.) Researchers estimate that about 10 percent of all British men have ever visited a prostitute. …

[Liddiard] found that for many of the men, it was as much about demonstrating their independence as it was about the sex. For Harjit, a 23-year-old-student whose parents had moved into his university residence to care for him, making secret arrangements was as much an accomplishment as the sex itself. “From the excitable way such stories were told, it appeared that a lot of the ‘buzz’ … was as much from exercising agency, autonomy, control and independence as it was about experiencing sexual fulfilment, pleasure, and satisfaction,” wrote Liddiard.

Other men simply wanted to have an experience they believed they wouldn’t have otherwise. “I wish I could go out and meet someone, but it’s not that easy,” one man complained. “I can’t go into a nightclub and easily pull, although I have in certain circumstances, but I can’t do it easily,” said another. Mark, a 35-year-old Liddiard interviewed in person, said that his experience with a sex worker was the only time he’d ever felt “sexiness.”

Object Lesson

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Arguing against feminists (but which feminists? more on that in a moment), Ann Friedman defends objectification within relationships:

Within a healthy relationship or sexual interaction, a little objectification is a good thing. Often, it’s a necessary thing. Even the most ardent feminist sometimes wants to feel physically appreciated and desired in a way that is separate from her other qualities. Without a little bit of objectification, every sexual encounter would essentially be gentle lovemaking with lots of eye contact. The sort of eye contact that’s deep and meaningful enough to convey complex messages like, “You really killed it at work this week, you make me laugh, and I love your hot bod.” It’s a nice sentiment, sure, but not exactly a headboard-banging night. Sometimes you just want to get laid.

Especially when you’re several years deep into a relationship, a bit of remove is often essential to getting it up. It can be hard to feel sexy when you’re thinking about the financial stress you’re under, or a parent’s illness, or your partner’s work, or any of the multifaceted aspects of your daily relationship. Focusing on bodies can provide a welcome disconnect. “There has to be an ‘other’ for there to be sexiness,” psychologist Marta Meana told Macleans last year.

All of that sounds reasonable enough, if not as contrarian as Friedman’s making it out to be. She opens her piece by declaring that there’s a feminist consensus that objectification is “bad.” But is there? There is, as she notes, some new research on men who “excessively” objectify their female partners. Fair enough, but who’s arguing against a sensible amount of physical admiration? There’s a feminist consensus, I suppose, that it’s bad to be treated as a sexual object in an inappropriate setting – that is, by your professor or boss, or by a man who’s traveled the length of a public bus just to let you know that he thinks you’d be prettier if you smiled.

And there’s certainly dissent among feminists when it comes to pornography. While I – a feminist, not speaking for all-the-feminists – agree with Dan Savage that the wife in the first letter here sounds… troubled, he might have at least acknowledged that there are ethical concerns about how a good amount of porn is produced, and that even a woman without tremendous “DTMFA”-worthy insecurities might be, I don’t know, miffed, if she really thought about how she stacked up, so to speak, against the women her partner looks at on the internet. But where’s the feminist who, if called beautiful or hot by her male partner, would cry sexism and run for the hills?

Friedman, then, is completely right about the value of objectification within relationships. I disagree only with her assessment of how much of an aberration that position could possibly be within feminism today.

How Sexually Fluid Are Women Really? Ctd

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

My earlier post on female sexual fluidity-or-lack-thereof has caused some controversy on Twitter. Some are upset that I’m questioning the caller’s own label:

People should, of course, identify as they see fit, and that includes Zen Heathen. I’d merely point out that a) the caller expressed 0% sexual interest in men (we don’t learn what she thinks about the 10% of the time she’s not thinking of women – for all we know it’s that she has to pick up her dry-cleaning – and she could well be with a man because of the social pressures to be with one), and b) if you’re pairing off with someone, and their variant of bisexuality involves preferring the gender you are not virtually all the time, this is maybe a red flag. Or maybe not – by all means, if you find the one person of a particular gender you’re attracted to, enjoy! – but people certainly think so when it comes to men.

Others point out that fantasies don’t necessarily reflect what people want:

This is a fair point. What was clear from the call, but not my post, is that this is a woman who has wanted to date women for years but been too shy. That’s a little different from someone simply having this or that pop into their head during sex. I’d also repeat here, though, that I wonder how blasé and hey-people-fantasize we’d be if this were a man fantasizing 90% of the time about other men. I’d also, while I’m repeating myself, reiterate that fetishes, etc., are different from sexual orientation. Someone might fantasize about scenarios or individuals they’d want nothing to do with in real life. But always picturing men, or always women, or close-to-always, would seem to indicate something.

Oh, and allow me a starstruck moment: Savage himself replied!

Since these other responses arrived only after Savage’s tweets, I for a moment wasn’t quite sure what he meant by “shit storm”-producing “#bisexual activists.” Then I was accused of not believing anyone could be bisexual by a bunch of Twitter users, all because I didn’t think this one woman sounded like she had any interest in men, and of hating bi people and gay people and women and… I think I see what he meant:

Noted.

So how might Savage have answered the call differently, without bi-erasing anyone’s experiences? He might have done what another Twitter user suggests:

The idea isn’t for the caller to be officially declared a lesbian (as if such a thing were possible), but for her to consider – and, if she sees fit, to reject! – the possibility. She is, after all, soliciting advice. But the main thing I’d have emphasized is that this call would have been received entirely differently if it had come from a man. I mean, there might have been a nod to the possibility that the man was bisexual, but a nod would also surely have been given to the ever-so-slight chance that a self-identified bisexual man with a female partner, but who can’t stop thinking about Idris Elba, is in the closet. I find it hard to believe that – outside whichever limited sphere of bisexual activists – anyone would object to throwing “gay” out there as a possibility.

Andrew Asks Anything: Rich Juzwiak, Ctd

Readers continue to comment on our latest podcast, sampled here and here:

I found your talk with Rich Juzwiak to be quite interesting (from my perspective of a straight older male). I have never heard such frank discussion of gay sex, and found it quitejuzwiak-banner-sq reveling in many ways. I was particularly struck with how you characterized the male gay attitude to be primarily masculine (and not necessarily gay at all). It is not something I have every really thought about, but I think you are right—the sort of “serial intimacy” you describe driven by testosterone and male orientation rings true to me, anyway. (You mention how it would be if straights were able to think of having sex with almost any woman they knew as a sort of natural and good thing, and how it would change things. Indeed.)

It made me think that perhaps male gay sexuality was more “natural” than the heterosexual male sexuality, in the sense that it seems truer to the kind of sexual drives a male naturally has! That made me laugh! I can almost imagine some argument (put in appropriately Thomistic form) for this new truth about the “laws of nature”. Certainly the kind of brotherhood you describe seems a great natural good, anyway, and one I can only envy (being, alas, “unnaturally” and firmly fixated on the female of the species).

Another dissents by quoting me:

“We actually talk about the sexual adventurism of gay men – a subculture where no women dish-podcast-beagle-transparentrestrain sexual desire – as an often wonderful thing…” Sorry, but this is pretty offensive to women  and to straight men. As if a woman’s primary role in a hetero relationship is to act as some kind of walking, talking saltpeter. And the men just glumly sit and take it. The subsequent sentence is a better expression of your point -“There may be a measure of mutual respect, friendship, democracy and brotherhood in a sexually liberated gay male world – that is perhaps unavailable to heterosexuals” – but really guys, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

Another makes a crucial point:

As a straight man, I have to say: We did it to ourselves. If women restrain sexual desire – and that’s probably fair – it’s because men have shamed them (or much worse) when they didn’t.

Subscribers can listen to the whole conversation here. If you’re not a subscriber yet and want to sign up for as little as $1.99/month, the link is here.

So It Really Is All About Sex Then, Rod?

The compulsively readable and admirably honest blogger, Rod Dreher, had an epiphany the other day. He was trying to define what he means by “traditional Christianity.” And what he means by the term is the following:

It seems to me that “traditional Christian” is political code for “Christians who adhere to traditional teaching about sex and sexuality.”

That is a really striking statement – though not one that exactly comes as a surprise to those familiar with Rod’s evolution over the years. It’s striking because it doesn’t actually concern itself with doctrine, the critical content of a faith tradition, like, say, the Resurrection of Jesus or the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not about a literal reading of Scripture as the only avenue to truth; it is not about whether doctrine can evolve; it is not about a belief in a personal, intervening God as opposed to a more distant and absent one. It is entirely about how one manages one’s private parts. Rod is pretty frank about that:

When I deploy the phrase “traditional Christians” in my writing, I’m not thinking about ecclesiology, sacramental theology, or any other thing that separates Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. What I’m thinking about — what we are all thinking about — is this: what separates “traditional Christians” from “modern Christians” (or “progressive Christians”) in our common discourse is their beliefs about sex. Nothing else, or at least nothing else meaningful.

He later clarified that he was talking about Christianity as it relates to the public square. And I can certainly see how, as an empirical matter, the sex issue has become central to public debates over abortion, homosexuality, marriage and so on. But the difference between me and Rod – and what I’d argue is the actual dividing line between modern and traditional Christians in the public square – is that I do not regard sexual jesus.jpgmatters to be that important in the context of what Christianity teaches about our obligations as human beings in the polity and the world. The difference between moderns and trads is that the trads see sex as the critical issue, and we moderns see a whole host of other issues.

My mum once told me as a kid that “sex outside marriage is a sin, but not that big a sin.” That remains my position. It’s up there with over-eating, excessive consumerism, the idolatry of money and profit, and spoliation of our environment – except the powerful sex drive in humans and the absence of any direct harm to another, gives sexual sin, I’d argue, a little more lee-way. The sexual obsession among trads, in other words, can be deeply distortive. It elides and displaces other vital issues. Access to universal healthcare and asylum for children escaping terror, for example, matter far more in traditional Christianity than whether my long-term relationship is deemed a civil marriage or a civil union. Torture is exponentially more sinful than a pre-marital fling – and yet it is embraced by evangelical “traditional” Christians most of all. The Catholic hierarchy has devoted far far less time and effort to combating torture than to preventing birth control as part of the ACA – to its eternal shame. And the centrality of sex to celibate traditional Christians has a lot to do with it.

I’d go further and argue that placing sex as the critical, core rampart of traditional Christianity is a very dangerous game. It’s dangerous because sexual repression is a very potent psychological tool. A key part of traditional religion’s success in luring and keeping adherents can be by leveraging sexual sacrifice into a greater collective sense of belonging and meaning. If people have to give up sex to be a faithful adherent to religion, they are much more likely to attach themselves strongly to that faith, if only to justify their sacrifice. They are also more likely to want others to join in – to help buttress their commitment. I think that’s where Rod’s point is strongest.

But it’s also where it’s weakest. Faith should surely not be a function of sexual repression. And sexual repression should not be a tool for religious faith.

Introduce that element as the critical one, and you are using social and personal pressure to buttress religious claims that should stand or fall on their own merits. And when sexual restraint or repression is what defines your religious experience, you’ve lost your way. Within religious institutions the sexual repression can also have terrible effects. It is not an accident that cults use sexual control as ramparts of their enterprise. The mind plays games with us on this subject – so powerful and so close to home.

That doesn’t mean that traditional arguments about sexuality should be dismissed. The glibness with which some gay activists now scorn traditional sexual moral codes as mere bigotry is deeply depressing. Damon Linker makes a good point about the scale and novelty of the West’s experiment in sexual freedom over the last half a century or so. And there are obvious developments – like the rise of single parenthood and children outside marriage – that can be shown to harm people’s prospects in life.

But is it a harbinger of social collapse? I look around me and see a sexually liberated society with much lower crimes rates, boundless cultural innovation, declining divorce rates and more stable gay couples. I do not see catastrophe. This “Family Week” in Provincetown I see some of the worst excesses of sexual novelty, as far as trads are concerned – gay couples with children everywhere. But I fail to see the ominous social implications of happy children playing on the beach, or of their two dads’ often super-vigilant parenting. I see a pretty healthy model of family life. And when I look back on the great era of sexual repression, I see evidence of horrifying sexual abuse of children by priests and many others, women treated as prisoners of their husbands, and homes for illegitimate children with mortality rates far higher than average. What I see today, in contrast, is a society not less open to Jesus’ core commandments to love one another, but rather a society less willing to excuse the abuse, distortion and repression of the deepest human longings in inhuman and cruel ways.

I see, actually, in the demise of what Rod calls traditional Christianity the emergence of a calmer, gentler Christianity less obsessed with social control and more open to divine truth. I see hope where Rod only sees calamity. Well, I guess we’ll both find out soon enough.