Of Successfully Changings Social Norms for Sexual Freedom


sexual%20rightsI was walking between the building in which my office is housed and the Student Union and noticed a young guy smoking between the buildings.

Smoking on a college campus when I began college in 1981 was nothing of note, and a generation before that it was the rule.  But even here in the deep-south, smoking is so rare as to get my attention.  After thinking about it I could not remember ever seeing a student smoking since I began this program nearly 2 years ago.

In terms of social norms, 25 years is not a long time, even 50 years is barely consequential, yet, tobacco use has gone from being ubiquitous to so rare it garners attention. A steady progression of social norms has remade how Tabaco use is perceived.

At the university at which I both work and attend, students of African heritage were not allowed to attend until 1963. A short 50 years ago. Yet today one would be hard pressed to find anyone on this campus who would suggest that segregation was anything less than unmitigated evil;  again a complete transition from one norm of right and normal to another.

When my mother went to college in the 1950’s “moral” character (a euphemism for sexual abstinence) was expected as a prerequisite for both attendance at the college and for gaining employment after graduation.  As late as the mid 1980’s courts were upholding moral (sexual) rules on female teacher’s in their private life.  Pregnancy out of marriage was the end of a teaching career as was “a public reputation of moral turpitude”

Today, public school’s moral codes are exclusively tied to issues of criminal activity, academic ethics and sexual contact with students.   Even in the rural southern school district where I worked prior to this year I had a friend who was an unmarried female kindergarten teacher have a baby and then return after her maternity leave.  This would not have happened a generation ago.

And certainly one can look to the normalization of same-sex relationships as a sea change in cultural norms. US society has come thought the phase of tolerating these relationships to treating them as normal in most of society (under age 50 or so). National legalization of same sex marriage is only a matter of time, currently within the next decade or so.

What’s the point?

I began blogging for three reasons. One was to help me organize my thoughts in a coherent form, and writing makes me do so, a public journal of sorts. The second was to provide myself with a soap box for the oft neglected moderate position in the public sphere.  It has been said that traditional liberalism is all but dead in the US and has been since the mid 1970’s.   I contend most Americans believe in the enlightenment vision of political liberalism espoused by Locke, Rousseau and Jefferson, and so I try to voice those views. And finally I sought to preach the gospel of what I call “The Final Freedom”.

I believe that freedom to express ones sexuality is basic to ones humanity that all other freedoms that it deserves a place right next to freedom of conscience and religion.  The final freedom refers to the right to express ones sexual nature openly in the community. The GLBT community pushes this for their members; however, even if they are successful, that still leaves around 95% of the population in the closet, forced to hide their sexuality in private.  Would it be freedom of speech if you could say whatever you wanted, but only in the privacy of a closed room? No it would not. Would it be freedom of religion if I could not ever talk about it or express my religious life in public? No it would not.  Similarly, we do not have freedom of sexual expression while it is shuttered behind closed doors.

Nudity and consensual sexual activities are more prevent in the media than ever; however, it is still ghettoized and kept safely behind the screen. In a truly free society our bodies and our sexuality is only limited by our infringement on others; and just being in someone’s sight is not infringing on their liberty.

No one claims the right to demand a freedom from seeing others joyful, silly, or even rude in public by banning such behavior to one’s home.  Just because someone’s behavior makes me uncomfortable about myself or violates my personal moral code, does not inherently give me the right to stop their behavior. I don’t automatically have the right to demand they “get a room” to do what annoys me in some other place.

If they are naked or engaged in sexual behavior in a closed environment where the passage of pathogens is likely, then the society has a just reason to act to ensure public health. However; that is not the case with current societal restrictions on nudity and sexual expression.

There are powerful forces on both the right and left who collude to prevent sexual freedoms, but I believe that if the vast center had the courage to stand up and challenge the extremists this freedom is possible.

This is an interesting video, by a George Mason Law School expressing the horror that sexuality and sexual expression is considered a human right. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wlXUSfkwcY She is openly espousing the Catholic position that sex should not be about self-actualization, but solely about procreation and that birth control is evil because it separates sex and babies.   Sexualityism is the word now given to this concept and a search on the word clearly shows this concept has strong support in the Catholic press.

I however, do not believe such a position is where most Americans live.  Most Americans, even religious Americans, even Catholic Americans, see sexuality as a intrinsic part of their everyday life and have sex to make children is the very rare exception. That is the true mainstream, or center,  of American culture. However, I think that many people who live their lives in this manner are easily bullied by powerful figures into publicly espousing something different than what they actually do.

Thus we find many, many people who would like to live their sexuality openly and honestly, live a life of secrecy and hypocrisy.  They do not do this willingly, but do so out of fear of being attacked, and being attached will find no allies because their friends and allies are also afraid of being “outed”.

Thus the minority of true believers in the sex-negative position, act as a kind of mafia, using fear to keep the majority silent. Why were the moral white people of the south not coming to the aid of the civil rights movement? They saw the blood on the faces of the white kids who marched. They knew they would be outcasts if they acted on their convictions. Just like we see on the news how people’s lives are destroyed by a leaked nude photo or do you recall how a young Barach Obama ran virtually unopposed for the US Senate after someone leaked that his opponent had once suggested to his ex-wife they go to a sex club in Holland?  The mere suggestion of attending a sex club ended that man’s political career.  So, yes, the sex-negative forces are powerful, but their power only comes from the majority who live sex-positive, but publicly espouse sex-negative.

Thus we, the majority, must provide one another the mutual support and defense so that we might all own our true beliefs in the face of the threats.

I also believe that we in the majority must make ourselves as accepting of other’s sexuality as we are of our own.  It is too easy to define “normal” sexual behavior by what I do (or what the media presents as normal), but human sexual expression is a broad canvas and as with freedom of religion or speech, my freedom to do what I think is normal and right is contingent on my willingness to defend my neighbor’s freedom to practice what he/she believes is normal or right.

I write this to suggest that over the next 50 years, societal change of the magnitude we have seen in smoking or race relations is entirely possible in the arena of sexual freedom. It is just a question of when will we begin the journey and who will lead?

My hope would be someone who reads this little blog of mine will take up the cause of the Final Freedom.

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One comment on “Of Successfully Changings Social Norms for Sexual Freedom

  1. gwenkuo says:

    Good post of sexual politics! Somehow it echoes to her art.. http://wp.me/p3bwN9-2f

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