Monday, March 01, 2004

The Sex Post
There's a comment thread going on Matt Yglesias' site about sex and sex education. Matt makes the very reasonable point that we might get better results out of sex ed if we pretend that teenagers are rational creatures, rather than hormone-addled, free will-deprived zombies. He goes on to assert that sex is good, but potentially dangerous, and that sex education should concentrate on maximizing the good and minimizing the danger.

There are, of course, some very good reasons why what he's asking for hasn't happened in any kind of widespread way. For instance, his base principle that sex is good but dangerous is far from universally held. A large group of folks believe with all their heart that sex outside of marriage is bad. Not just immoral, but bad. As in dangerous. Rots your spiritual teeth, I guess you could say. If I had to argue their side of things, I'd say that sex creates a profound bond between people, and each making and breaking of a bond leaves its mark upon you, so that by the time a modern couple come together in marriage, they're both crisscrossed with scars that get in the way of their really being together.

Absolutely true. My previous relationships have left me with more than my share of baggage, and it's tempting to think that things would be easier for Christie and I if it wasn't there. But there's some good stuff in that baggage, too, and each lesson I learned in my previous romantic life is one I don't have to learn at Christie's expense. And then, of course, there's the honing of skill, but I won't go into that. Well, not much. Let's just say that Christie's lucky she didn't find me 15 years ago, when I was but a bumbling schoolboy.

But that's not what this post is about. I had some thoughts this weekend that just happen to dovetail nicely with this topic, so I'm using Matt's post as an excuse to post other thoughts about sex.

Timothy Leary used to talk about The Robot. Not as a dance maneuver, but as a metaphor for a particular part of the human experience. A friend of mine claimed to have very clearly heard The Robot in his head during his first acid trip, as a droning voice saying, "Hungry, thirsty, wanna woman, feet hurt, hungry, thirsty, wanna woman, feet hurt" over and over again. Grossly speaking, The Robot is the body.

I don't particularly like The Robot as a metaphor, though, because the body is an animal, and it acts and reacts like an animal, not like a machine. Crassly speaking, the animal wants to fuck. We are a bundle of genes that wants to make copies of itself, and the body throws up the drives and desires necessary to make that happen. The human being, however, is more complicated. Another friend of mine, in recovery from a bad relationship, talked himself out of pursuing who knows how many women by telling himself, whenever he felt a flash of desire for someone, "I want to take that girl home and fill her with my sperm." The animal wants to fuck, but the human being wants it to mean something, and recoils from the animal's desire when it comes uncloaked in rationalizations.

Human beings are different from most animals, however, in that we have sex when there's no chance of reproduction. Why? Much ink has been spilled on the matter, but the general consensus is that it's about pair-bonding to improve the child-rearing environment. The pleasure of sex is the carrot used by the powers that be (be they genetic or supernatural in nature) to get us to do what needs to be done to keep the human race running.

But not only does most sex take place when the woman is infertile, but much sex (or, at least, sex-related program activities) occurs in such a way that conception is physically impossible. And this is not a new thing, though every generation seems to think they invented the hand job. Or masturbation. Or any of the thousand other things two people can do that falls somehow short of actual penis/vagina intercourse.

Like a rat pressing a button for a food pellet, we're gaming the system. The pleasure that's meant to reward biologically virtuous behavior has been repurposed as an antidote to boredom or loneliness, or simply as pleasure for its own sake, with virtue left to find its own way. We've hacked our own bodies.

So how are we supposed to feel about it? Personally, I think it's great. What with weirdly fluctuating emotions, migraines, digestive inconveniences, sore muscles, bad eyesight, etc., etc., my body gives me more than enough trouble, and I spend more than enough time catering to its needs. So if I can find a way to pry a little pleasure out of it, more power to me. But, then, I'm a geek.

But if you believe we were designed rather than developed, then hacking your own body isn't about pleasure or realizing your potential, it's about subverting the desires of your creator. Which explains why so many creationists also oppose homosexuality, masturbation, premarital sex, and other forms of hacking the sex drive. It doesn't really explain the foul temper with which they express these opinions, but that can be explained by the lack of blow jobs.

No comments: