Here’s my second post for you, which I intend as a heart-to-heart sort of thing – insofar as that’s possible under forum circumstances – because, in short, I have great empathy for your difficulty with sorting out your sex-related behaviors.
I do hope other folk will read what I have to say here, because I think the issue is both extremely important and insufficiently exposed (not meant as a pun
). I hope it doesn’t become terribly long. Fat chance.
I have to write a thing or two that belabor the obvious, but which I feel are necessary to express so that I can be fully understood.
First, I absolutely do not deny, nor wish to minimize the role of personal responsibility in life. No matter the source or degree of true free will (let’s go there another time), both psychological and social health require that we assume responsibility for our actions as much as we can. Surely everyone can agree with that.
At the same time, it’s folly to ignore or fail to fully appreciate the role that upbringing and social environment plays in our thinking, our subconscious attitudes and predispositions, and our outward behaviors. In particular, early training and environment has a deep effect on us for our entire lives, no matter how much we may feel the need to “outgrow” or escape it.
Second, while human sexuality is a highly variable trait, existing on a number of spectra, there is no doubt that it is among our most powerful drives, just as it is for all living things, owing to its relationship to reproduction.
For most of our lives, our sexuality compels us not only in ways that we easily identify, but in ways that are subconscious and which we never recognize as having anything to do with sex. The best analogy for this, I think, is that we don’t think of a lot of the things we do as having much to do with eating, unless we’re buying groceries, cooking, or stabbing something with a fork, but if you think about it, most of what we do in life has a whole lot to do with getting a tasty bite into our pie holes.
(A short book I haven’t read in a number of years, but which I remember being very impressed by as an introduction to the workings and power of sexuality was called Making Sense of Sex – How Genes and Gender Influence Our Relationships
, by a couple named David Barash and Judith Lipton. I think it’s out of print, but can probably be found in libraries, for anyone interested.)
But as I mentioned in a post to humanguy earlier, in addition to recognizing the tremendous power of sexuality in our lives (quite close to eating in a needs hierarchy), we have to keep in mind that expressions of sexuality can produce both wondrous pleasures and awful harms, both for ourselves and others. Surely I don’t need to elaborate on either of those facts, except maybe to note that aside from those aspects of pleasure and harm that are completely obvious, there are numerous areas subject to some disagreement – such as pornography (and how it should be defined).
So, we have these elements:
1) the power of upbringing and social environment,
2) the power of sexual drives, and
3) the potential of sexual attitudes, not to mention behaviors, to create large measures of pleasure and/or harm.
Given the above, I’m sure we can all agree that in a person’s upbringing and early socialization the greatest care and the very best knowledge should be employed by parents and other teachers so that he or she will have the best foundation for making decisions and acting in ways leading toward healthy and happy sexuality and relationships.
Now here’s the nub of what I want to express to you, Wonders.
Again, like everyone, you must take responsibility as much as possible for all your behaviors and choices. But I say that your upbringing as a Christian has almost certainly done considerable harm to you in regard to your sexuality, and has tremendous bearing on how you came to have struggles with pornography in the first place
. And when one person’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors regarding sex are harmed, everyone with whom they have sexual relationships (and even some not overtly sexual) is also harmed to greater or lesser degree.
Now in order to forestall at least one or two howls of protest from believers here, let me ask and answer some rhetorical questions that in a sane and intelligent world would be screamingly obvious and unnecessary:
First, if you were to suddenly stop believing in the divinity of Jesus and the existence of God, would things be “all better” right away?
Absolutely not. From where you are now with regard to your sexuality and ingrained views of women, Wonders, I’d predict you have work to do for the rest of your life. I do not say this condescendingly. My upbringing in a fundamentalist tradition was probably even more damaging than yours, and my efforts to get a healthier handle on my handle, so to speak, will also be life-long.
Second, does non-belief in general, by itself, necessarily produce healthier sexuality, either in personal relationships or in public expressions (like advertising and electronic media) than religious teachings about sex and relationships? Absolutely not. What non-belief allows is a greater OPPORTUNITY for parents and society in general to work toward accurate, knowledgeable, sane, and healthy approaches to sexuality, its (myriad forms of) teaching to children, and to relationships between genders ranging from casual and platonic to marital.
Third, and similarly, am I saying that the Bible should be thrown in the trash? Absolutely not. As I often acknowledge, the Bible has a lot of great stuff in it, especially some of the teachings and parables of Jesus. The problem arises when the Bible is thought to be divinely inspired. That notion prevents, and will always prevent, a whole lot of people from separating the wheat from the chaff within the Bible’s pages. And when it comes to sexuality and gender relationships, there’s an amazing amount of very poisonous chaff.
Fourth, weird, damaging, and patriarchal sexual practices and attitudes are by no means limited to Bible believers, so why single out the Bible? Anthropologists recognize that most primitive societies were patriarchal for the simple fact that males had the most testosterone and bigger bones and muscles as a result – same with gorillas. And as a secondary consequence, many sexual and social practices became, shall we say, rather one-sided and weird over time.
The idea – the necessity - in the modern world is to allow our brains to be our most influential organ. And as I’ll try to begin showing below, in our particular portion of the world, it’s belief in the divinity of the Bible that most egregiously promotes unhealthy views about sexuality, not, say, a tradition of foot-binding.
So I say, Wonders, that the problems you’ve suffered in your married life and with your porn compulsions stem, in major part, from two sources.
The first of those is the Bible’s teachings about sex and sexuality generally, and that those were probably imparted to you more or less in the common manner within Christian homes, which boils down to instructions that sex must only and always occur under specified circumstances and in certain ways between certain people (and very possibly for the sole end of procreation), otherwise it’s a SIIIIIIIINNNNNNN!!!!!! And God WILL BE WATCHING! (This same point of view, of course, is displayed in the attitudes and demands of Christians who go nuts about sex education in American schools, thereby diminishing useful and needed education for everyone's children.)
Like many primitive folk, those who composed the Bible (not to mention the Koran) were bizarrely, comically, obsessed with sex – who does what – how, when, and with whom (and never with yourself, heaven forbid!). But their actual knowledge of biology, psychology, and even the rudiments of hygiene, were minimal. In the case of the ancient Hebrews, of course, they also had a maniacal fixation on slicing off a bit of every boy’s penis, which they figured was important to their god. (Why, of all things, that would be a big issue of symbolic importance for a deity that created the universe is another matter. Dear God, why not maybe a bit of earlobe?
Then, of course, there is the common practice in a variety of Muslim societies of female “circumcision,” which in terms of sexual pleasure is often the equivalent of cutting off the entirety of the male glans. Muslims, of course, deny that this practice has anything to do with Islam – it’s just a “tradition” or "tribal." Somehow, that’s a bit difficult for me to believe.
So the Bible writers’ traditional practices, prejudices, and paranoias about sex and gender came to be enshrined in the Bible. And people, being the way we are, subsequently interpreted the words in a variety of ways, many of which take the Biblical notions, already not usually helpful, to even further extremes. Those extremes, spread throughout the world by various Popes and happy protestant campers such as John Calvin, created all sorts tragic and vicious taboos and repressions and a general fear of sexuality, preventing more healthy and productive acknowledgments and understandings of the role sex plays in human life - and how we can all approach it in ways that generate health and happiness.
Second and maybe even most importantly, among those unhelpful ideas, generated within the patriarchal Hebrew society, was the idea that women were secondary, inferior, weak-minded, and even dangerous beings, created and intended explicitly for the purpose of serving – and servicing – males (the latter being generally couched in terms of producing offspring, which of course also had practical purpose). This concept, of course, runs from Genesis through dandy points like 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2, 11-15, and on to the whore of Babylon in Revelations.
Consequently, as much as men have suffered through the bizarre and asinine Biblical passages relating to sex, this other fifty percent of humankind has suffered far, far, more.
And relationships between
men and women have suffered far too much and for far too long as a result, for the same reasons.
For my part, I was raised in a Christian environment, and having almost always been exceedingly fascinated with girls, I soaked up ALL the Christian teachings about them, both in church and from my very macho, rigid, and domineering father, who quite logically justified the crazy and mean stuff he taught me about women as being in accord with scripture.
I can’t begin to tell you how much difficulty those teachings have caused me throughout my life. And sometimes I only realized the relationship between my attitudes and actions far later, when it was much too late.
But having had some great good fortune, along the way of my 52 years I’ve met – and loved – several women whom I discovered to my surprise were more – a lot more - intelligent and wise and productive, not to mention moral and compassionate, than I’ll ever become. As you might imagine, the Bible teachings increasingly seemed even more ridiculous. I couldn't help but note, by the way, that each one of those women were either atheists or agnostics who had never been taught to bother with religion, but instead had been encouraged to learn all they could about the broader world as they found it, without fear or interpretive gloss or the need to defer to men.
Then somewhat later, I got to know several teenage children of relatively sophisticated non-believing parents. They clearly had far more mature and balanced approaches to sex than I did – and far more knowledge about human sexuality – male and
female – than I did until I was probably nearly forty!
Their parents told me that they’d taught their children about sex much as I’ve described above – that sex and loving relationships with non-family members would become very important to them some day, bringing both the potential for great pleasure and some very real dangers, that for those reasons they should take their time learning a great deal about the various aspects of it, and that above all they should feel free, no matter what, to discuss their feelings and desires and activities about it with mom and/or dad, without fear of repercussion of any kind.
Hmmmm… Contrast that with the more distorted, hyperbolic, yet intrigue-sparking, typical Christian approach outlined above.
Now at this point my forum friend Pseudonym may already be preparing a retort about how I cite only anecdotes rather than any data he’d consider persuasive. I’m not going to take time right now to go find the data showing that, for example, sex crimes are far, far, more prevalent in countries where religious belief is strong and widespread than in countries where religious belief is inconsequential. And that both sex crime and divorce
statistics are higher in the U.S. in states where religion is most prominent, too.
In any event, I’d predict that Pseudonym would also say such data shows only correlation rather than causation. Point taken in advance. But my experience in life, along with countless other corresponding information, makes me give greater credence to that particular data.
Also, there is this study
about porn consumption, the results of which are only suggestive.
I’d note only that among states, Utah’s population is among the most religious, not just the most politically conservative.
The last sentence in the linked article also brings up something worth mention: “One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you're told you can't have this, then you want it more," Edelman says.
So Wonders, did anyone ever give you the idea that sex was “dirty?” If so, do you think that notion had anything to do with that person’s religious orientation and community? And if so, did that pique your interest? Do you think such early experiences might have had any bearing on your desire for “forbidden” sex stuff like porn?
Similarly, while unhealthy sex attitudes and practices are by no means confined to religious believers, non-believers, not being members of rigid "morality" enforcing communities, for obvious reasons, are far less compelled to be dishonest and hypocritical about their sexual mores and behaviors.
Honesty (with regard to sex and everything else) is the key foundation of health and happiness.
In contrast, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and repression tend to generate harmful and diseased thoughts and behaviors, just like a mold growing under a rug. As Pseudonym might also wish to point out, I’m no psychiatrist, but does anyone really doubt those two points?
I say that the fact that the following situations, chosen off the top of my head, all involving god-believers, specifically “divine” book followers, are not coincidences, but are directly related to and in considerable part the result of, twisted and diseased explicit and implicit religious teachings about sexuality:
1) Good ol’ Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, sneaking off to do cocaine and have sex with a male prostitute.
2) Pope Ratslinger goes to Africa where he denounces condom use where HIV infections are soaring. Meanwhile, lest the protestants feel left out here, nut job evangelist Ernest Angley goes to Africa
to tell people there not to worry, he and God can heal AIDS.
3) An ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect tells the NYC health department, essentially, to go to hell when the department asks for modifications in the practice of metzitzah b’peh
. That practice involves the mohel “kissing” the baby’s penis after circumcision to remove the blood. It had become known that at least one mohel who was infected with HSV1 (oral herpes) had been performing this act. Unfortunately, direct infection with HSV1 can be, and was in at least one case, fatal to infants. (In a bit of illustrative irony, this Hasidic sect is very much “pro-life.”) I loved one of the comments of the public health commissioner, who candidly allowed after the Hasidim told him to buzz off, “This is a very sensitive area, so to speak.”
You don't say, Commissioner?
4) Here’s another old Rabbi story, a favorite for it’s irony. Israeli Rabbi, caught trading sex with female students
for exam scores, splits for Morocco and converts to Islam (easier to get the girls?).
His wife has difficulty getting a divorce in Israel, because the Jewish / government law says husband must concur officially with her request.
5) Robertson and Falwell blame Katrina on homosexuals in New Orleans. (That’s just one sliver of ice off the tippy tip of the iceberg when it comes to wacko stuff about homosexuality promulgated by all three of the Abrahamic religions.)
6) The cover story on this month’s Free Inquiry
magazine involves a shy and vulnerable young woman who naively converted to Islam and subsequently had her first sexual experiences in the form of repeated sexual abuse by her very first imam, a married man.
7) Need I say “Catholic priest?” For anyone who might wish to minimize that little bit of current day news, please go to your nearest bookstore or library and read chapter 15 of Bill Lobdell’s Losing My Religion
8 ) Lest I forgot Mormons, well, just read a bit somewhere about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Warren Jeffs, or Brian David Mitchell. Better yet, if you want to be really horrified, read about them all in Jon Krakauer’s very fine book, Under the Banner of Heaven
I’ll skip examples 9-1,000,001. Pseudonym will tell us they don’t add up to anything, anyway, and they certainly don’t have anything to do with sophisticated liberal Christians, so of course, they're off the hook.
Move along, nothing to see here…
But if anyone is interested, every month in the Freedom from Religion Foundation
newspaper, there is a long list of religious authorities around the U.S. who have been arrested and/or convicted of various crimes, the majority of which involve sex offenses, usually with minors. Granted, that list is a tiny percentage of all the religious authorities in the nation, so somebody here will say it’s inevitable, or we’re all humans / sinners, it’s not what Jesus taught, etc. But taken together with the constant drumbeat of similar stories, not to mention those in our own experiences that don’t make the news, and the repressive and unhealthy teachings of the Bible itself, I say that sexual perversity and religion are intimately connected – again, no pun intended.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make to you personally, Wonders, is that while you do have to take responsibility for your life, your views and your actions, doing so will be a lot easier if you have some more basic understanding of where some of your internal conflicts came from, especially those having to do with sex and relationships. And that knowledge is unlikely to come from your minister or from a week locked up sweating bullets praying.
I’d like to point out one more historical and current consequence of Biblical teachings and resulting practices regarding sex, which has everything to do with Biblical (and Koranic) subjection and debasement of women, and with scriptural emphasis on sex as being only useful for procreation.
I refer to the simple fact that the scriptures have the effect – hard to imagine that it’s not intentional – of ensuring sexual satisfaction for men while making no provision whatsoever for the sexual satisfaction of women, in fact making the likelihood of female sexual satisfaction unlikely indeed other than as a coincidence for most of history.
Granted, just in the last few years, thanks to knowledge of female anatomy, needs, and capabilities becoming more widely available for the benefit of both
genders, even some
religious folk are making use of that knowledge.
It's no coincidence also that virtually all of that information came through secular research and secular authors, much to the outrage and horror of a great many "moral" Christians.
And that knowledge has been, and still is, difficult to gain for the vast majority of women in religious settings around the world, and even when it is obtained by the women, often their men could care less. After all, the Bible or Koran doesn’t encourage, or even say anything about, such a notion.
Finally, since you were candid in the podcast, Wonders, here’s a little bit about me – a classic story common to many men my age. When I was a teen and had started to fool around with, and be obsessed with, girls, whom I thought must already know about, and/or expect me to know something about, sex (Wrongo!
), I decided I’d better try to learn “how it was done” meself. But how?
From my uptight, Bible-thumping, prudish parents? Not a chance.
Friends? Just as dumb as I was.
Books? There were none I knew of, and had there been, I would never have had the courage to buy them or check them out of a library.
So I put on a coat, dark sunglasses, a pipe in my mouth for disguise and off I went to the local dark, smelly, blurry-screened, sound-wavering porno theater. I spent many hours there alternately mesmerized and bored silly (better not say stiff), rolling my eyes at how infantile everything but the sex was.
But the real joke was that I didn’t learn ANYTHING of use about sex there, ESPECIALLY about the things a man might need to know if he wants his female lover to consider him “good,” not to mention if he wants to help her have an orgasm.
You’ve probably already figured this out, but there’s really nothing useful to learn from porn today, either – almost all of it (to my knowledge) leads in exactly the wrong direction (and that's just the "normal" porn
). It generally depicts what any kangaroo or other marsupial can figure out on his own.
Women in porn are of course not only objectified (gee, where could that notion have come from?), but made to appear as if
1) the sexual activity itself is all that’s required for most women to feel the greatest pleasure and fulfillment during sex (ask any woman – that’s not even close to the half of it
2) most often porn makes it appear as though women get equal pleasure as do men from the activities that men
like most (also nonsense - made to boost male fantasies), and
3) porn depicts all women as being essentially alike in their needs, desires, feelings, and basic anatomies (other than differences obvious to anyone with eyeballs). Again, that’s not the way it is at all – women are far more different from one another when it comes to sex than are men. We males are far simpler creatures, but I hope I don’t get the women here started on that
So if you’ve ever justified your porn habit with the rationalization that I used, that you'll learn something, you’re barking up the wrong, ummm, well, whatever.
Good grief, what a tome!
But there you go, FWIW.
Those who know the most of nature believe the least about theology. - Robert Ingersoll