The Sex Article

A "PC" piece on sex that's both more and less than you might expect

One of the articles in Birth, Sex & Death (IC#31)
Originally published in Spring 1992 on page 25
Copyright (c)1992, 1996 by Context Institute

It’s ironic that the one IC staff member who is currently unpartnered – the celibate curmudgeon – should be tapped to write the sex article. Maybe it’s because I’ve been an active sexual punster on the office e-mail system (a sign of repressed sexuality?). Maybe because I’m the only one among us with a graduate degree in biology – fisheries that is. (Around here the primary fish of interest is the monoparous salmon. Well, they do put a lot of effort into their single lifetime spawning orgasm.)

Or maybe it was to challenge this future seminarian and parish minister to write something about sex that would titillate – love that word! – without jeopardizing my career (what would the search committee of my future congregation make of articles like this?)

Or perhaps it’s because I know someone who has a little trouble with English and says she lives in a "three-bedroom condom." Speaking of condoms, the latex variety may support sustainable harvesting of latex in tropical rainforests, which is preferable to clearing and burning the same forests for agribusiness. But stay away from "natural skins" made of dead animals – making it in dead sheep parts gives new meaning to that old saying about being "wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing."

My assignment: write something about the history and evolution of sex. Make it interesting. Make it funny. Make it politically correct. Most of all, make it less than 800 words and have it done in two days. A pseudonym would be OK. Our editor supposed that having three children who "look somewhat like you" qualified me.

And now I’m having trouble imagining what a "PC" piece on sex should be like. Boring, no doubt. To avoid offending anyone, it will have to be neither hetero- nor homo-, but asexual: "He/she met/didn’t meet him/her and he/she/they had a good time together/alone. The end."

So, what do you want to know about sex? If you want to know about the sex lives of various creatures (plant or animal), sign up for a basic biology class at your local college, or wander down to the nearest pond in the spring and check out the frogs. That college may also offer a night class on human sexuality. A good library or bookstore can supply reference material on the biological facts about production of gametes and their union to form a unique being and the remarkable body parts that make all that possible. Or a broad selection of books, films, and videos on techniques of sexual practice can be found in the nearest big city’s seedy neighborhoods or a university bookstore. It is all fascinating and maybe useful, but I certainly can’t say much about it in 800 words.

If you want to know about the evolution of sex, you may have to look a bit harder, but there are books on that, too. It’s easy to discover the surprising sexual practices of other cultures in the nearest anthropology department; less easy to learn about our own culture’s sexual practices, though there are some sources even on that (I always suspect that the participants in surveys about sex lie a lot – they sure don’t sound like me.).

If it’s ethical guidance you seek, you’ll find that someone, somewhere has already rationalized and presented a case supporting your secret sexual desires – and that someone else has an equally good case to help you condemn the practices of which you disapprove. It’s likely that both arguments find support in sacred texts.

What I do know is that we place far too much and far too little importance on sex. Let me explain:

We live in a culture that sells everything from cigarettes and beer to cars and toothpaste with sex. Where we can buy the "services" of a young teenage boy for the price of a meal for two. Where our Congress can spend days taking testimony about alleged sexual harassment by a Supreme Court nominee while Senators squirm in their leather chairs – deaf, apparently, to the pain and denial around them, but shocked to hear words like "pubic hair" or "breasts" uttered in public.

We live in a world where women fear to walk alone, where men like me lose sleep worrying that the next call from their daughter will be to report she has been raped or that their handsome son will be abducted. It is a culture that creates the expectation that happiness is to be found in good, frequent, hot sex. It is too much.

But it is also a culture where we expect to find sexual satisfaction without effort to create true intimacy. A culture that too often relegates sex talk to the comedy club, the locker room, or late night television. Where open, honest discussion about our sexual concerns, needs, and desires is embarrassing, perhaps taboo. A culture that creates the expectation that we somehow earn the right to good sex simply by being good looking, using the right deodorant, and having the right things. It is too little.

The existence of AIDS, horrific as it is, seems to be changing some of that by opening the space for discussion, and by causing more of us to look for gratification in long-term relationships rather than casual sex with many partners. Maybe more of us will come to know the spiritual celebration of ecstatic union, the spent joy of waking up to the dawn of a Sunday morning in the arms of a life partner. The calling to serve our love, the celebration of new life beginning, and the commitment to help that new life discover love as tender and wonderful as we have found – perhaps that would be neither too much nor too little, but enough.

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