Why Is Sex a Problem at All? The Poison of Puritanism

Why don’t human beings just have sex whenever they feel like it, which is usually, just for the pleasure of it? One can speculate that perhaps we did, at some point in our physical and social evolution, tens of thousands of years ago, but direct evidence about that is not possible.

Fear of pregnancy was the old excuse, but after 1963, the Year of the Pill, when I was in my final year at San Francisco State, that excuse is no longer viable. STDs became another reason, narrowing that window on Paradise by about the mid-1980s, but the Aphrodiphobes (see my previous blogs) have used STDs irrationally to perpetuate their pathological fear and hatred of sexuality.

The pendulum has swung far back from the Enlightenment of the 1960s toward medieval mental illness. In the late 60 and the 70s, it was normal for a college professor (at least in San Francisco and environs) to have a romance with a woman student. As long as they were both consenting adults, no one cared. And teenagers were not prosecuted as sex offenders. These days I could be fired if I had a cup of coffee with a woman student off campus in order to offer some counseling advice. (I’m 73. My libido has subsided to what I suppose many people would consider normal.)

Americans rarely grasp how Puritanical our various cultures are compared to those of Europe. Many Europeans, especially Italians and Scandinavians, think we are psychotic about sexuality in general. There are many historical reasons why this pattern developed. One is that most of the northern European Catholics who migrated to America in the nineteenth century were infected with Jansenism (look it up), which was declared to be a heresy by the Roman church, long after it had lost its ability to enforce such a ruling in most of Europe. Even in New Orleans, Carnival does not mean what it means in Bavaria or points south.

Consider the news. A six-year-old boy has been charged with sexual harassment for kissing a six-year-old girl on the cheek. A teenager has been suspended from school for a year for hugging a teacher. And obviously there are batshit Tea Party Evangelicals still trying to recriminalize both abortion and birth control. These are just a few of the symptoms of what Wilhelm Reich called the Emotional Plague and that I have named Aphrodiphobia: fear of having sex, an endemic mental illness, as serious as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, that a majority of our population suffers from and therefore thinks is normal. I have not read through the latest version of the DSM, the Bible of psychiatry, but I know much of modern psychiatry has been vitiated by the unexamined assumption that an active and uninhibited sex life is always a symptom of mental illness. That’s simply wrong.

Having been raised Catholic by a narcissistic mother, I thought as a teenager that Christianity was inherently antisexual. It was about 1963, reading Alan Watts, that I learned better and began the process of discovering that Jesus originally taught that our sexuality is sacred and our greatest gift.  The Christian movement absorbed the heresy of believing that sex is evil from the pagan Greeks, not from its Jewish roots. In Jewish law, adultery could be committed only by a married man with another man’s wife—because it violated the other man’s property rights. Of course, in that sexist society, that rule was enforced only on married women. Nevertheless, sex was not considered to be inherently wrong; it was not, as far as I have found, illegal for two unmarried people to have sex.

Many of the other Christian writings found in 1948, buried in a jar in Egypt, assert explicitly or implicitly that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers; that’s explicit in the Gospel of Philip. Were they married? I have decided, probably not. Marrying Mary would have made her his property. Given that he taught and practiced the absolute equality of men and women, I cannot believe he would have done that. He even set forth a commandment, lost from the gospels but preserved in Gittin: “The son and the daughter shall inherit equally.” “Shall” meant “must.” Does that derail your theology?  I hope so. Deal with it.

I find comfort and inspiration from thinking of Jesus and Mary as avatars of the Divine Lovers, of the Lord and Lady of the Craft, of Shiva and Shakti, of Zeus and Hera. Surely that is healthier than the blasphemy of describing Jesus as sexless and Mary as a whore. I know of several churches whose members believe that Jesus and Mary were married, although they mostly do not advertise that fact.

We are mammals. As Reich realized, our inhibitions about sex are cultural and psychological, not biological. Males and females are biologically equal in their desire for and enjoyment of sex. Inhibitions of our ability to enjoy sex result from cultural brainwashing. We have historical records of cultures in which women had the absolute right to have sex and children with whomever they pleased to.

I have had the blessing of knowing at least half a dozen women in my life who could indulge in sex freely, without inhibitions, guilt, or remorse. I think of them as Priestesses of Aphrodite, or as Alpha Females. Puritans and many psychiatrists would insist these women must have been psychotic, dysfunctional, anything but healthy. That is not what I observed. We have no common terminology for them that is not pejorative. One once said to me, “I am not promiscuous. I am very choosy.” I know these women were sane, functional, compassionate, and stubborn. True, they were not undamaged. How could they have avoided all damage in this society? Nevertheless, I propose that their perseverance points toward an ideal of mental health that is almost incomprehensible to the vast majority of people in our Puritanical society.

Naming the illness is the first step toward curing it. I do not expect that to be accomplished within what is left of my lifetime, but there are signs of progress. Same-sex marriage is legal. An official has recently issued a marriage license to a triad. People are becoming conscious of the diversity of gender identities. Consensual nonmonogamy is becoming acceptable. Polygamy is no longer illegal in Utah. Praise the Lord—and the Lady.

It is Sunday morning. I did not listen to a sermon. As you can see, I instead wrote one—or, at least, a Pagan equivalent.

 

 

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