The McDonaldization of Sex 4: Organic Sex (Sex and Christianity 13)

Some forty years ago a small group that many perceived to be left-wing radicals, began an ecological movement that gave rise to Earth Day. At the time, gas-guzzling cars were a status symbol. Smoking was common in many restaurants, bars, and other public places. Corporations had few, if any, disincentives to pollute the air, land, and sea until after President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. In short, the whole notion of protecting the environment was the purview of a marginal community of activists.

That marginal community, however, launched one of the great social justice movements of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Today, concerns about ecology are written into every school curriculum, every corporate business plan, every small business that uses "green technology," and every home that recycles. Concerns about ecology represent a massive change in the way Americans think and act; people understand that ecological concerns are human concerns, because ecological concerns always affect the poor who depend most radically upon access to clean land for growing food, clean air for breathing, and clean water for drinking.

Like the ecological movement, the movement against contraception is similarly rooted in a vision of the common good—a human ecology. Instead of the target being patterns of consumption and waste of the goods of the earth, the target is the consumption and waste of relationships—the glue that holds a society together. Today's critics of "McDonaldized" sex can learn something from the ecological movement in its effectiveness in changing attitudes.

First, it is an invitation to individuals and couples to learn organic sex, which I am proposing as the opposite of McDonaldized sex. The latter is cheap, abundant, corporatized, and promoted through media advertising for profit (e.g., commercials, TV, movies, song lyrics, magazine covers, pornography, etc.). It is driven by impulses from a corporate stimulation of the limbic system, writ large over contemporary Western culture. (As an experiment: consider each sexualized image you encounter in the next 24 hours and ask if there is a profit motive that drives it.) In contrast, organic sex unfolds slowly, when one person truly encounters another person, not as an "it" but as a "you." It abolishes the reliance on a sexual script. Instead, it demands that at each stage of a relationship a person discovers the other as a mystery to behold rather than as an object to be claimed.

Second, it demands that there be a small group committed to acting as agents of change. To use Toynbee's language, it requires a "creative minority" showing the social effects of approaching sex with reverence and love. More specifically, it demands transparency about the challenges and benefits of organic sexual communication.

Third, an organic sex movement would involve highlighting ways changed sexual behavior has implications for public health, such as reducing the transmission of HIV.

Fourth, it means promoting awareness of methods of educating women and men about organic approaches to sex. With fears and misinformation about older models like the rhythm method, it is clear that many doctors are unwilling to suggest it as a viable alternative to corporate-mediated contraception.

Fifth, it means highlighting the genuine advances in knowledge of fertility (and advances in technology)—knowledge that has empowered women to understand their bodies more fully.

Sixth, it means expanding the optic with which contemporary culture views sexuality. As I suggested earlier, the problem with the contemporary optic is that it is too small. It sees sex as a personal decision that contraception makes more autonomous. I have argued that a more adequate optic is broadly cultural, even global—panoptic rather than myopic. In the panoptic view, sexuality is about the way people interact with each other, and all the assumptions, biases, expectations, and hopes that influence those interactions. Contraception, I am arguing, completely changes the field within which people make decisions about how to relate to one another. It has McDonaldized sex precisely by making it more available all the time. It has changed our views of nature and our relationship to (or presence within) nature, such that when nature shows up unintended it is named as an enemy.

12/2/2022 9:05:39 PM
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  • Tim Muldoon
    About Tim Muldoon
    Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.