Terre Spencer finds an unexpected comparison for the oppressive sex-positives.
It struck me the second time I was called a conservative. Well, after I stopped hysterically laughing, that is. There was something familiar, well trodden, about the accusations. Yet, me, a conservative? About anything? Twice? Seriously?
Me, a conservative? Barry Goldwater, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would be horrified at the thought of incorporating any of my political ideas into their ideologies. Maybe worse than horrified. Likewise, no religious conservative would welcome one iota of my theology. Wally—my father-in-law, a man who considered me a “communist” and a “pinko”—were he alive, would rail at anyone calling me a conservative of any stripe and then we would laugh over such a preposterous event over an after-dinner scotch. Damn, I miss him.
But the memories of Wally faded into the current circumstances that led me to be called a conservative. What on earth was going on? What was that unidentified, and distantly familiar, sense about this?
For failing to embrace the exact sexual mores of the two accusers, I was practically spat upon as an anachronistic conservative. Yep, that was it. For failing to embrace free love and porn-saturated imagery for myself, I was dismissed as a conservative by two persons who claimed to be sex-positives.
Sex-positives? What? So if I somewhat disagree, I am, by inference, a sex-not-so-positive? And if I really disagree, I am a what? A sex-negative? Tricky devils. That was it—the familiarity—just like the danged Puritans. The sex-positives were behaving just as the Puritans did. Right down to accusing me of being conservative.
The Puritans—Radical Reformers
In 1534, Henry VIII defected from the Vatican in order to divorce his post-child-bearing age wife, Katherine of Aragon, with the intent of marrying Anne Boleyn for the purpose of having a male heir. The Church of England was created by Henry VIII and established as England’s official state religion.
Although England did revert to Catholicism briefly under the rule of Henry’s eldest—and Catholic—daughter Mary, her early death brought the Protestant Elizabeth I to the throne. Pragmatic and determined to hold the middle ground in religious matters, Elizabeth reveled in resplendent pomp for both court and religious ceremonies at the same time she reinstated the Church of England as the state religion.
Upon Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, a previously exiled group of English Protestants returned to England. This group was determined to enforce very strictly the Calvinist code they believed to be correct. They also believed that the English Reformation had not gone far enough. Elizabeth’s retention of lavish trappings for herself and her court were considered “popish” by these extremist reformers. In reaction, a particular group of reformers dictated black-and-white-only garb for their members, because ornamentation was conservative, a remnant of the Roman Church that they strove diligently to eliminate from all of England.
For their efforts to purify English doctrine along Calvinist dogmatic lines, they were named Puritans by their detractors, although they had another name for themselves. They never gained political power in England and became increasing shrill and separatist. By the mid-1700s, the Puritans were no longer a political consideration in English politics at all—doctrinal infighting and several generations of emigration reduced their effectiveness, their numbers and their ardor.
In the New World, however, they had quite an influence. In the colonies, they practiced their doctrines that were considered radically extreme in England, and as a result, the Puritans’ beliefs shaped the emerging United States’ culture to a much greater degree.
Remember, if you will, that the Puritans believed that the English Protestant Reformation had not gone far enough. They were fighting against both the reforms of other Protestants and the established doctrines of the Roman Church, convinced that their interpretation of Christian scripture the only possible correct one. All others were in error from their viewpoint. An interesting aside: the Puritan declaration of doctrinal infallibility foreshadows the Vatican’s 1870 papal infallibility declaration.
So, in the Puritans we see a group of reformers who insisted that their doctrines must become the social norm with no latitude or questioning/discussion from either practitioners or others.
The Sex-Positive Movement
Fast-forward to 1999 and the founding of the Seattle Sex Positive Community Center, frequented by a group of reformers who believed that the sexual reformations of the 20th century had not gone far enough. Is this starting to sound familiar? By calling themselves sex-positives, the implication is that if one does not agree 100% with their every doctrine, one is sex-negative.
The Puritans self-referential name? “The godly.” Adopting this moniker certainly was a sly means of condemning those who disagree with their reformations as the presumably ungodly.
Now turning the same techniques (rigid fundamentalism, all-or-nothing insistence upon doctrinal agreement, and judgments delivered to dissenters with rabid contempt), onto Protestant sexual mores, the sex-positive movement is taking a Puritan-like tack in its approach to sexual matters. Could anything be more ironic?
If one chooses monogamy and no porn in one’s relationship, the new “godly” call this conservative with hissing vehemence. Witness: judgment delivered with a Puritanical intolerance with the intention to dismiss entirely or to shame those who disagree into agreement/acceptance of their doctrines.
Shame? From a movement that calls itself sex-positive? How perfectly Puritanical!
Ah, it is still possible to be unbearably self-righteous and quite sly all in the same breath. The sex-positives invite no discussion with the likes of people like me and have no interest in exploring why someone would choose anything but a sexual free-for-all for himself or herself. The message is clear from this camp: “Agree to everything we endorse or we will attack and dismiss you as a sex-negative conservative.”
Somehow, I find this as quaint as the very Puritans against whom the sex-positives claim that they are rebelling. Will the sex-positives soon become marginalized by internal disagreements after they discover that the “yes” to everything sexual is just as ridiculous as the “just say no” approach is to drug use—oversimplified non-discernment?
Surely, someday they will recognize that discernment is necessary, both personally and socially? That both individuals and the culture at large have to make ongoing determinations for sexual behavior? That to naively insist that any and all sexual behavior is good for everyone is as fundamentally puritanical as to insist that only highly proscribed sexuality is utterly necessary?
I would like to hear members of this movement explain their personal and collective discernment process in dealing with sexual matters. At this venture, I cannot see discernment of any sort from the sex-positive movement other than the extollation of safe-sex practices. That is a start, I suppose.
My personal relationship standards for porn-free monogamy have been met with scorn and labels from the sex-positives. How is this threatening to sex-positives? Surely, the sex positives are not in favor of sex slavery that is the result of the flourishing porn industry? Surely, the sex-positives do not want children sexualized and women objectified and dehumanized? Surely there are some grounds for agreement and many more for discussion? Maybe my assumptions are incorrect. At present, I cannot know, as the only contacts I have with sex-positives are the times they call me conservative for my choices. I would really like a discussion with members of the sex-positive movement about a number of issues and hope that one day that is possible.
Are we doomed to 150 years of strife over this essential refusal to discuss our differences without absolutes being thrust upon us all one way or the other? To understand that choices are not always free and simple? My sense of history and the familiar gives me a sobering shudder.
In the meantime, two sex-positives have labeled me a conservative, which provided me hours of entertainment and brought back fond memories of Wally. My only regret is that Wally is no longer alive to guffaw about all this. We would have had a great discussion, probably never agreeing on much of anything other than that the sex-positive movement is as narrowly pinched as the Puritans were. After a belly laugh, we would have moved onto politics and other social issues, disagreeing and questioning each other, and then finally joining the rest of the family in great spirits afterwards.
Wally, what I want is what we had. Affectionate, mostly respectful disagreement. Yes, we volleyed names back and forth and at the same time, the mutual admiration we held for each other was clear to all.
Is Civil Discussion About Sexual Mores Possible?
Although I am not seeing any indications that there is even a hint of an invitation to have sane public discussions with either the religious right and/or the sex-positives about sexual mores, I still hope against all reason that culturally and individually we can craft a mostly respectful means to have this conversation because so much depends upon us being able to do so.
Call me “conservative”; call me a “pinko” if you must. Although I prefer to call myself “discerning,” rather than “conservative” (or “liberal,” for that matter), I won’t be deterred by labels lobbed at me from any camp. Nor will I surreptitiously eradicate anyone’s porn use or free-love choices, my choices are for myself. Conversely, some assume that I share their religious injunctions against porn. Neither is correct.
My disdain for porn is the degradation and dehumanization of women and the effects those portrayals have upon real relationships. Ditto with monogamy, which is neither a moral nor a political statement for me. It is what works for my psyche.
Reformation of any sort is never a smooth process, and certainly not a painless one. We are undoubtedly undergoing a full-out reformation of relationships. Staying in conversation with all parties is critically important to the culture as a whole—even if various fringes cloak themselves in righteous names and point fingers. It has happened before.
I have determined what works for me, and that has been refined over the years. I am looking at human behavior and the individual humans behind the behavior—what works for them and how that evolves. That is the place from which I would like to have the discussions. That, to me, is the best possible place from which sex and/or relationships can be discussed. But will that be possible?