Sex and the Country

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Karl Marx ­ Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Extrapolating from November’s voting results, I conclude that half the country disapprove of “Sex and the City,” “Six Feet Under” or the other HBO programs whose scripts include sex as routinely as they do eating or, in the case of “The Sopranos,” killing.

Programs that entertain millions also violate taboos conjured up by super Christian, Jewish and Moslem fundamentalists. Do diametrically opposite morality tracks run through the country? Do both of the tracks scream: “follow the money?” TV makes fortunes from sex shows. The sexual sentries also cash in, those who personify modern Puritanism, people H. L. Mencken described as possessed by “the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy.” Unlike the “Sex in the City” producers, the advocates of “No Sex in the Country” get federal money.

The Bush Administration allocated $168 million for 2005 to fund abstinence-only programs. Bush himself told a pious audience of “no sex before marriage proselytizers that “Through your educational programs, you reach out to countless young people to give them the support they need to make that responsible choice.”

Do as I say, the president in effect told the pious, not as I did for decades when I gallivanted with women and used intoxicating substances. When California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman evaluated the abstinence-only curriculum that circulates in some public and many religious schools he found that adolescents learn that just by touching genitals pregnancy can result and you can catch the HIV virus through sweat and tears. Waxman’s report concludes that 80% of the “factual” information in the abstinence-only programs about reproductive health is false, misleading, or distorted. (Max Blumenthal (Dec 15 Alternet).

As we learned from Iraq, Administration ideologues don’t care about facts when they fashion policy. So, an ignorant public serves them well. These new Puritans distract a section of the public from thinking about Bush’s plans to privatize social security and continue to sacrifice lives and money in his foolish and egotistical wars.

On the December day that the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq topped 1300 and the Iraqi casualty soared beyond 100,000, tens of millions of Americans focused their attention on abstinence. Apparently less concerned by bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan than about teenagers “getting it on,” members of Concerned Women for America joined their counterparts in the Abstinence Clearinghouse and Focus on the Family to preach not safe sex, but no sex — until marriage, and even then in a very limited way.

These modern guardians of chastity don’t want the government meddling in sex education except to teach abstinence. The Administration funds such programs under the heading of faith-based initiatives not because they seriously reduce teen pregnancy and STDs, but because they depoliticize the population.

By targeting sexual freedom ­ not massive killing in wars — as the most offensive element in US culture, fundamentalist preachers divert their flocks from thinking about reality. Fear and repression of sex, the twin engines of distraction, obfuscate or even justify killing large numbers of people for a dubious cause. Indeed, some TV preachers, golden cuff links and Rolexes shining in the klieg lights, beseech their flock to love the unborn and pray for those who are fighting the Lord’s fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They warn that Satan placed on earth homosexuals and other “perverts” who wait to pounce on innocent youth and win their hearts and bodies.

This contemporary fear-mongering rings hollow in the context of 17th Century Puritans who had posited their mission as building a “Zion in the Wilderness,” a moral society fit for redemption and thus Christ’s return. The new fundamentalists have diluted this theology. Their Kingdom of the Apocalypse, followed by Rapture for the chosen people, will occur only after the Armageddon War brings the world to an end. They have reduced 17th Century hairsplitting Puritan theology to slogans like “God bless only America.”

Puritan theologians who landed in Massachusetts Bay in 1624 drafted rules of permissible behavior ­ morality. They understood that these restrictions ran directly counter to actual human instinct, i.e.; temptation to sin. But the Puritans came to the new world precisely because the old one had grown too corrupt for salvation. They foreswore drinking, dancing, sexual experimentation and even poetry that might suggest the above. Their dogmatic and dubious theology died in the 1690s, shortly after they burned several “witches” (devil’s agents). But their legacy filtered down into today’s simplistic political-sexual guidebook.

Contemporary bible thumpers, hardly scholars of Jonathan Edwards’ discipline, maintain the old taboos and incorporate empire, and especially the Middle East, into their pseudo Godly mission. Pat Robertson even claims that God talks directly to him ­ a statement that would cause Cotton Mather to frown.

Like their mission-bound ancestors, the 20th Century hard edged preachers defined smoking, drinking, dancing and sex as Devil’s activities. Teenagers in the Bible Belt ­ even those about to go to war ­ still share the inherited wisdom: “Don’t do it standing up lest you be accused of dancing.”

Teenagers hide folded copies of Playboy and Hustler photos inside inspirational novels by Tim La Haye. But the Sodom and Gomorrah signs of cultural decay (widespread masturbation, homosexuality and non-married sex — or thoughts of the above) have acquired neo-satanic tinges.

In case the non-ultra world tries to avoid dealing with the contemporary Puritans, movies like Kinsey bring out the contemporary sex haters. One Jewish extremist, Judith Reisman, attributes to Kinsey the basic moral decline that she associates with sexual promiscuity and cultural degeneracy. This ex-communist, Jewish woman, allied with the evangelical prudes who have even tried to limit the screening of the new movie, sees herself as a protector of morals. Her book, Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences, compares Kinsey to Nazi scientists and insinuates that his teenage involvement in the Boy Scouts was equivalent to membership in the Hitler Youth. Reisman called Dr. Alfred Kinsey a high priest of perversion, who opened the door for The Age of Pornography (See Blumenthal, Alternet Dec 15).

56 years after the Harvard educated Indiana University professor published his Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the Uptights continue to fight their “moral war” against the sexual facts. Indeed, they may have just won an election over sexual issues, disguised, of course, as moral values.

Kinsey, a zoologist who encountered widespread ignorance about sex and the dissemination of nonsense passing as sex education, decided to find out about human sexual behavior. Having studied wasps, Kinsey knew he had to go beyond observation to categorize American sexual mores. So, his team asked questions. The sample of those who confided in Kinsey interviewers revealed that a substantial sector used their genitals in “taboo” ways.

For example, more than half of the rural Indiana males that Kinsey interviewed confessed to “doing it” with animals; not just sheep and cows, but pigs as well. At least they weren’t dropping their seed on a barren rock, a biblical taboo.

Kinsey also discovered that men ­ and later women as well ­ practiced a vast range of sexual behavior. Indeed, Americans behaved pretty much the way the rest of the world did from time immemorial.

But these facts did not deter the carriers of diluted Puritanism who still maintain that pleasure from sex is inherently wicked and that knowledge of it should remain restricted. And those shocked by sexual pleasure get money for advocating such positions

Reisman, for example, recently lobbied the Senate for legislation that would force them to hold hearings about whether Kinsey and his team during their interviews sexually molested children. Federal funds would, of course, finance such “research.” Her previous research has served the straitlaced set ­ at least financially.

The Abstinence Clearinghouse already receives substantial federal money to promote its abstinence-only programs in public schools. The Department of Health and Human Services funds a variety of faith-based abstinence-only movements who spread their blather through public school curricula.

Reisman holds Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson who followed him as sex studiers, responsible for destroying traditional morality. Reisman referred to these “scholars” as homosexual proselytizers.

This line played well before former Rep. Steve Stockman and Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback who continues to try to slip funding for Resiman into legislation.

What a divided nation! Over sex? HBO viewers shake their heads in disgust over the flap around Janet Jackson’s exposed breast during last year’s super bowl. But the prudes mobilized around that mammary issue and the FCC fined the offending network ­ and put a chilling effect on all the media.

To counter the pleasure haters who benefit financially from their odium, I offer words from the philosopher Woody Allen. “Is sex dirty? Only if it’s done right,” he said.

SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University, where he is the director of Digital Media Programs and International Outreach, and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He is also the co-author of “Assassination on Embassy Row,” which is about the Letelier and Moffitt murders. His new book is The Business of America.


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.