A man kills in an attempt to eliminate sexual temptation. But isn’t murder more heinous than sex? And is sex heinous?
How does one arrive at such a mindset?
Much has been said about evangelical teachings that, while rarely inciting murder, drew Robert Aaron Long to kill eight people, six of them Asian women who worked at spas in the Atlanta region. The teachings commonly reduce a man’s worthiness to his skill at keeping his mind off of illicit thoughts and reduce a woman’s worthiness to modesty — so as to keep men from sinning. Because if he sins it’s her fault, really. The next logical step in Long’s mind was to eradicate evil, immodest women.
Few reach that level of crazy. Yet many see sex as sinful and find worthiness reduced to women showing skin and men masturbating. But why do so many see sex as the pathway to Hell in the first place?
Sex-negativity has a long and strong history in the Western world, yet some cultures are, or have been, marked by sex-positivity. Before European contact, the ancient Hawaiians saw sexual pleasure as a gift of the gods. Genitalia of powerful gods were prominently portrayed and even worshipped. American Indians, pre-contact, were also sex-positive. Young people who had sex outside of marriage were simply normal, which is similar to both the Hawaiians and the African !Kung, who say sex is like food, both being necessary for sustenance.
Each of these societies also lack a system of patriarchal male dominance, unlike Robert Long’s Baptist church which, as part of the Southern Baptist Convention, tells women to submit to their husbands and blames women for men’s sexual misdeeds.
But why would gender equality align with sex-positivity and gender inequality bring sex-negativity?
Early humans were foragers and foraging societies even today are marked by general equality and unconcern with “sexual sin.” We don’t know exactly how patriarchy — a system of male dominance — came to overtake most of the world (there are a number of theories which I won’t go into here) but when it did everything shifted. Including turning sex from good to ill.
Riane Eisler has studied domination versus partnership cultures for years, and her bestselling book The Chalice and the Blade along with Sacred Pleasure make a persuasive argument for understanding the alignment between gender inequality and sex negativity. She points out that in early egalitarian societies women’s seemingly magical ability to bring life forth from their bodies was highly valued, as was sex, itself, as the initiator of life. But as patriarchy emerged male dominance was likely buttressed by removing the magic and goodness of all that. Under the new system of patriarchy birth often came to be seen as polluting and requiring women to cleanse themselves. Sex became evil, dirty, your mind is in the gutter… and women were reduced to sex which is, of course, evil.
As woman were objectified as all about evil sex and nothing else, how can you have partnership between the sexes? How can you have partnership between two full human beings? More helpful still for patriarchy, this one-dimensional woman-object is not someone that her husband needed to care about, either (since objects don’t have thoughts or feelings to worry over) further enabling ill treatment. Finally, patriarchy is not well sustained if women have a strong hold over men sexually, so women must keep their allure under wraps, literally. The ensuing injustice of women being blamed for men’s behavior only reinforces a system that privileges men. Eisler goes into all of this in great detail and I would recommend her books.
Gender inequality and sex-negativity both bring a whole lot of awful: low self-esteem for both women and men as they strive to deny basic human needs, name calling, abuse, and sometimes even murder. By recreating a world of gender equality we can create a whole lot of good. Including good, clean fun.
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