A Review of Marty Klein’s America’s War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty

This is an article by Darrel Ray. It appears in the July/August 2012 issue of The Humanist. You can read other articles from this issue and subscribe to the magazine by going to their website.

If I told you in 1979 that we’d be debating a woman’s right to birth control or abortion in 2012, you’d probably want my mental status examined. Well, it’s 2012 and we’ve arrived at that very result. If you are puzzled by the amazingly backwards thinking about sex that we’re seeing in state and national legislatures, to say nothing of the presidential election, you’ll find Dr. Marty Klein’s America’s War on Sex incredibly informative and challenging. No matter what your gender or sexuality, Klein shows beyond a doubt that your sexuality is being intentionally politicized. What you do in the bedroom is the government’s business, as far as the religious right is concerned. Unfortunately, this group has taken over many state legislatures in recent years and is now implementing its program of sexual repression. The process that Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority started in 1979 has been successful even beyond their hopes — and to our detriment.

America got in this crazy sexual position (pun intended) because we didn’t take the threat seriously. We totally underestimated the determination of the religious right to take over this country. As a result, your children and my grandchildren are in constant danger of having fundamentalist propaganda crammed down their throats in federally funded abstinence-only classes, or in federally funded “counseling” programs run by Baptists, Catholics, and other religious groups. A woman’s right to make her own medical decisions is now more influenced by Catholic bishops and religious governors (like Sam Brownback in my state of Kansas) than by a woman and her doctor. Recent Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was only the latest incarnation of religious opportunism. If elected he promised to ban not only abortion but birth control as well. And the presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s Mormon Church has been the elephant in the room with respect to ballot initiatives in California, which they seem to get away with influencing despite their tax-exempt status.

From pornography, kinky sex, and sex toys to masturbation and premarital sex, legislation has been introduced that attempts to define these as wrong, immoral, or unnatural. Yes, the legislation can be subtle and can carry a seemingly positive title, but its purpose is to restrict the sexual choices of consenting adults.

Your sexuality is something to be shamed and sanctioned by government agencies, says Klein. “If you can’t have the decency to feel guilty about your sexuality, you certainly don’t have to celebrate it, much less deliberately inflame your desire,” he says, paraphrasing the view of the religious right. In other words, if you don’t have the good sense to keep your sexuality in the closet, we will write legislation to restrict your sexual rights and put you back in it.

As America’s War on Sex makes clear, this goes much farther than abstinence-only education or zoning porn shops out of existence. Sexual legislation and infringement of reproductive rights is only a foot in the door to the ultimate domination of a single religious worldview. The proliferation of so-called “conscience laws” allows a pharmacist to impose his or her sexual values on you by refusing to fill a legal prescription or sell emergency contraception (Plan B). It allows publicly subsidized hospitals to impose their religious values on you with your tax dollars. And the threat is snowballing. What seemed a crazy aberration only a few years ago has now taken over dozens of State Legislatures and much of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Klein demonstrates how fundamentalist legislators have used the idea of protecting children as a catchall for intrusion into your bedroom and sexual choices. On the surface, protecting children seems a reasonable thing to do but, as Klein questions, what are we protecting them from, and do they really need protecting? If you define sex as always dangerous and withholding information from children as critical, then protection becomes a key idea. If, on the other hand, you believe that children should be educated with science-based information, given rational emotional education about sexuality, and you recognize that children and adolescents will eventually have sexual experiences, protection takes on a totally different meaning. Klein demonstrates that “protection” is simply a ruse to get in the door and restrict your right to buy sex toys, view or buy porn, marry who you wish or attend a swingers party. Yes, child protection requires all these to be criminalized using the religious right’s logic.

Dr. Klein traces much of this back to erotophobia (fear of or negative attitudes about sex). If I am afraid of my sexuality then I am also afraid of yours. Because I am uncomfortable with your sexuality, I have the right to legislate your sexuality to reduce my discomfort. It’s a great way to justify legislation: “The law must conform to my religious beliefs.” This justification is used in Iran and Saudi Arabia with great success and is what the Catholic Church and Focus on the Family seek to enforce in the United States.

I confess, I was not very familiar with Klein’s work when I learned he and I were speaking back to back at the recent American Atheist convention. I had read some of his columns for Psychology Today but nothing else. I immediately ordered and read America’s War on Sex and was surprised to see how compatible his message (conveyed too in his latest book, Sexual Intelligence, and his blog of the same name) was with my own work.

Reading America’s War on Sex, you may find that you’re actually buying in to the religious right’s strategies, enabling them to undermine your own sexual rights. If you don’t think this is important, remember 1979. None of us thought we’d be here today. Where might we be in another ten or twenty years of religious political domination? Will your grandchildren have the rights you had in 1979 or 2012, or will a pharmacist be able to deny them whatever he or she defines as immoral? Will a bishop be able to dictate what a counseling center can say to a client? Read this book and vote.

Darrel Ray, Ed.D. is the author of The God Virus and Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. He is a psychologist and the founder and chairman of Recovering from Religion, an international organization dedicated to helping people recover from the social and psychological effects of religious indoctrination.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Logan Rockhound

    The faces on the people on the cover look really bizarre. Like their roommate burst on them making love and was like “IT’S OKAY GUYS, IT’S FOR A BOOK I’M WRITING, JUST ACT NATURAL”.

    • Stev84

       It was the Republican sex police that burst in on them

  • Spherical Basterd

    Government small enough to fit into your bedroom.

    • Kaydenpat

      Or if you are a woman, small enough to probe your vagina.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

        It’s okay though, because if we have sex, then we’re sluts and we deserve it.

        • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

          Women are permitted to have sex once for each child they bear (although somehow men are permitted more). If you fail to produce a child for each sex act, you are some form of “barren”, and must pray to fix that.

          Women are not sluts because they have sex. Even virgins are sluts. Women are sluts because men can’t help looking at them with lust.

          • Liberated Liberal

            This would be hilarious if they didn’t actually believe it were true. :(

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I never get the “protect the children!” line. Protect them from what? 
    Conservatives seem to overlook the fact that straight sex is the only type of sex they’ll ever *have* to tell their children about. Straight couples need to stop having straight sex in order to protect the children.

    • Tom

      We must protect their innocence, of course!

      Of course, innocence is basically another word for ignorance, and nobody says that’s a virtue.  Oh, except religious nutters – it all falls into place!

  • advancedatheist

    Eh, many atheists still don’t get it. Patriarchy exists independently from theism; men have had to live with women all along, so patriarchy has an empirical basis and atheists commit a philosophical error by equating the aspects of it they don’t like with the irrationality of god beliefs. The religious right in the U.S. has conserved the patriarchal view of relations between the sexes, rather like George Lakoff’s characterization of the Strict Father metaphor for understanding society, so it has attracted beta males who feel disenfranchised by progressive social policies which enable women to “marry the state” for support and reject beta males as lovers and marriage prospects.  Attacking the religious component of this rebellion of the beta males misses the real issues motivating the drive to enforce patriarchal restrictions on human sexual expression. The god-speak just serves a a rationalization for the men’s side in a biology-based conflict between male and female reproductive strategies. 

    And, no, men didn’t invent patriarchy out of the meanness of their hearts. If anything, patriarchy “invented” men, and women, through natural selection because it favors the survival and reproduction of human genes in a harsh and dangerous world. 

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      The god-speak just serves a a rationalization for the men’s side in a
      biology-based conflict between male and female reproductive strategies.

      I agree with you, but the important point is that the rationalization that religion provides is extremely powerful, and is afforded a degree of legal protection that isn’t found with other rationalizations. Non-religious societies are much more effective at moving away from certain patterns that have a biological component.

      One measure of a successful society is the degree to which it is able to minimize negative aspects intrinsic to our psychology: racism, sexism, familyism.

    • SmashSexism

       Could you expalin how your social- darwinist, anti- feminist, masculinist and libertarian irrationalities and the added naturalistic fallacy (“empirical basis”, “survival in a harsh and dangerous world”) are helpful in defending against the theistic war on sex?  

    • Patterrssonn

      Ah yea the “male dominance is the natural order of things, so those uppity women should just shut up and accept their submissive roles”. Thanks AA for the nut job MRA perspective, perhaps you could enlighten us more with your pop evo-psyche pseudo science.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      Really? This again?
      So all women care about is money. We just marry the state and we no longer need men.
      And the article you linked to is even more offensive, with some guy arguing that women shouldn’t vote because they’ll vote on their “fantasy” guy…all because of something *one* girl said on facebook.
      It ends with: “Know better how your own interests are harmed by females following their instincts.” Yes, because our biological instincts would totally lead us away from men. That makes sense.
      Fuck off.

  • Tim

    ” It allows publicly subsidized hospitals to impose their religious values on you with your tax dollars. And the threat is snowballing.”

    Thanks for that Hemant,  I never knew that Snowballing was so dangerous.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      That’s because you never got hit by a 40 foot diameter snowball coming down the mountain at 200 mph!

  • Patterrssonn

    For those who are unfamiliar with advancedatheist’s bizarre MRA inspired ramblings on the subject of women here are a few nuggets of aa’s wisdom.

    But the whole “secular women” thing doesn’t turn me on”

    Did you catch that secular ladies? You need to drop all this secular stuff its just not turning aa on.

    men have had to live with women all along, and patriarchs
    just might have some legitimate grievances about women’s behavior.”

    Not easy being a patriarch with all those darn women around. Their womenish ways make patriarching damn hard work, just ask Abraham.

    And lets not forget this little chestnut.

    women really, really hate the fact that sexual relations with men can
    get them pregnant. It just strikes me as a form of self-loathing.”

    I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of a response

    -not wanting to be pregnant is a form of self-loathing?
    -the desire to control your bodily functions is a symptom of self-loathing?
    -where the hell did that come from?
    -WTFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF?

    But I realized that nothing I could come up with could possibly do the inanity of the comment justice.

    • Patterrssonn

      Really what can you say to a man who believes that contraceptives
      contravene his evolutionary-patriarchal right to make women pregnant.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      “women really, really hate the fact that sexual relations with men can
      get them pregnant.”True. But never mind the fact that many men hate the fact that they can get women pregnant. That’s not self-loathing though. It’s only self-loathing if your worth is determined by your reproductive value. Of course women are self-loathing if they hate reproducing. That’s what they’re for!!!

  • MV

    I’ll pass.  I doubt his ability to come to sound conclusions based on his blogging.  He’s also not a nice person.  For instance, he seems to think that unwanted sexual attention is somehow not sexual harassment.  And that women should just accept it as the cost of being in public. 

    • http://felicityk.livejournal.com/ Felicity

      Not to mention how he repeatedly edited his “composite” account of one particular woman’s report of harassment, without any acknowledgement that edits were made. A full account of his dishonest behaviour is here.

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    I’m seconding kaboobie’s link to the Skepchick article on Marty Klein. There seem to be a few dings and dents in the man’s purported awesomeness.


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