July 26, 2006

The Myth of Anti-sex Conservatism

By: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway

When approached to write a sex column, I jumped at the chance. I love pondering and discussing sex and body issues. Sure, I may have been the only would-be sex columnist in history to run the idea by her pastor before going for it, but I see no conflict between writing about sex and being a Christian.

Many people do, however, see a conflict. They think that sex columns should have only one function: doling out prurient advice to degenerate freaks. I, on the other hand, think the answer to every question in Dan Savage’s column should be SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP.

Not being a furry* or into watersports** doesn’t mean you don’t like sex. But that is exactly what sexual liberals say about conservatives.

In March, Mike Littwin* wrote a column in the Rocky Mountain News that began: “I think I finally get it. It isn’t just gay sex they don’t like. It’s all sex. It’s not just teen sex. It’s adult sex. It’s sex outside of marriage, inside of marriage, outside the house, inside the house, under the covers, over the covers, 4 feet over the covers. It’s sex leading to bestiality. And, yes, it’s sex without involving even a single act of cross-species necking.”

Christina Page writes in her book How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America that pro-lifers aren’t just opposed to abortion but “they are against sex and the sex lives the vast majority of Americans enjoy.”

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Mark Morford wrote a pre-2004 election column titled, “No Sex Please, We’re Republicans.” The teaser line said, “Right now, to be sexually attuned and kinky is to be part of the anti-Bush revolution.” Liberal writer Heather Wokusch wrote that the religiosity of males in the Bush administration precluded their doing the nasty. And former ACLU national director Ira Glasser used to give speeches where he claimed that conservative Christians “don’t like sex or don’t want to admit they do.”

Libertarians are no better. A writer at Reason‘s blog mocked religious conservatives for supporting an anti-sex-trafficking bill, saying they weren’t concerned about human rights but opposed to “sex for any purpose other than producing a gurgling mini-conservative.”

I am a libertarian. I believe people should be free to do what they want so long as they don’t infringe on anyone else’s life, liberty, or property. But more than a few of my fellow ideologues became libertarians solely because they’re gay, drug users, or God-haters. These people adopted the philosophy to justify their personal issues. Libertines more than libertarians, they have a visceral
reaction against people who exercise moral restraint.

(But really, does any group ooze sexual immaturity more than libertarians? I am ashamed to say that not one, not two, but five libertarian suitors — one female, of course — tried to seduce me by telling me I was their Dominique Francon. Sure, I too thought that Fountainhead sex scene was totally hot — when I was sixteen. At that age, I also liked to turn off the lights and burn a candle while listening to Sisters of Mercy.)

The point is, just because someone is sexually conservative doesn’t mean they are asexual or opposed to sex for pleasure.

Yet the successful refutation of this ad hominem attack seems only to tee up another baseless accusation: Anyone who dares to criticize looser sexual mores must somehow derive their opposition to free love from their own deep-seated repression.

Well, guess what? A philosophical objection to bestiality doesn’t mean your feelings for the family Shih-Tzu go beyond the occasional tummy rub.

If I were to write that all gay men are that way because they had an absent father and an overbearing mother, the understandable response would be to accuse me of being unfair. Yet, somehow it’s okay to say that people oppose abortion because they aren’t getting any.

That’s just stupid. As much as our respective egos would love to think we’re unique in experiencing the heights of sexual pleasure, the fact is that all people, more or less, enjoy sex. (The Ramones being the main exception: “I don’t like sex and drugs / I don’t like waterbugs.”)

What we’re fighting about, then, is not enjoyment of sex but, rather, a sexual ethic. And since the data rather consistently suggest that those with traditional sexual morality have more satisfactory sex lives, it’s high time liberals shut up about conservatives’ anti-pleasure principles.

It’s not all the left’s fault that they don’t understand conservative sexual ethics. If a conservative wants to know how a liberal thinks — about culture, economics, or foreign policy, whatever — all they have to do is watch an hour of television. They will get fairly well-developed explanations. But what if a liberal wants to know how a conservative thinks? They’re screwed. All they get from television is crude Daily Show caricatures. And all they get from most books and magazines is more of the same: phony experts offering what-Martians-are-really-like guesswork on the alien conservative species.

So permit me to share a bit about the sexual ethics of religious adherents, conservatives, pro-lifers, and others on the right end of the political spectrum.

First and foremost: discretion. People of a conservative bent are just as likely to enjoy sex tremendously. But they don’t think their sex lives are improved or validated by a public airing on MTV. Sexual conservatives do not tell others about every sexual position they’ve tried out. Andrew Sullivan wrote recently about his love of discretion, but he used the word to mean “lying about infidelity to preserve a false harmony.”

“Monogamy is very hard for men, straight or gay, and if one partner falters occasionally (and I don’t mean regularly), sometimes discretion is perfectly acceptable,” Sullivan said.

Conservatives on the other hand are more appreciative of how difficult integrity and honor are to uphold. They at least know enough to avoid being cute about the importance of honesty and, you know, the “mono” part of monogamy. A good thing, too. Studies show that men who are divorced are twice as likely to have committed infidelity as those who aren’t divorced. So the Sully model — if anyone was wondering — might not be the best to follow, especially if you’re HIV-positive.

Which brings us to the issue of respect, a key component of a fulfilling sex life. Conservatives uphold respect for one’s own body, respect for one’s mate’s body, and even respect for a future spouse.

The fact is that while some liberals like to claim that the height of excitement is cosplay*** and swinging, these actions are often ways of avoiding intimacy. Rather than connecting with another person and revealing vulnerabilities over a lifetime, this point of view supposes that one X-fueled night can be the ultimate sexual experience. What happens when such peccadilloes are oversold?
You feel empty. You value yourself less, and you value your partner less.

This is why, contrary to belief, marriage often enables a fulfilling sex life. The realization that you’ve made a commitment to someone, and you can’t simply walk away, forces you to treat your partner with the same level of respect you wish to be shown. While marriage doesn’t always live up to this ideal, it’s at least built around the right archetype.

Many on the left accuse those on the right of opposing any sexual act that doesn’t result in procreation. That’s blatantly untrue. However, the conservative ethic does recognize where babies come from. That’s why conservatives support monogamous, committed relationships where children are a consideration, if not a goal. Conservatives understand that no matter how much feminists want to pretend otherwise, bearing children before the age of 45 is best for mother and child. So putting notch #124 in the bedpost at the 20th high school reunion is not considered virtuous.

This consideration of the natural course of events comes from a belief in the sanctity of the body. Not worship of the body, where the temple is prepped with boob jobs and genitalia is waxed to look prepubescent. Rather, the conservative ethic believes that bodies are not just vessels through which souls achieve their desires. Bodies were designed for higher purposes, such as procreation, but also for simpler ones, including giving your partner pleasure without endangering their health.

Filmmaker Jay Corcoran’s latest documentary explores the crystal meth scene among gays. He suggests that men with low self-esteem use the drug to overcome their shame and insecurities and that drug use increases through peer pressure. Not only do users face appalling rates of sexually transmitted disease, they find the habit difficult to break because sex off of the drug creates too
much anxiety.

Which brings us to temperance. The conservative sexual ethic says that committed, monogamous couples should have a healthy amount of sex. The unattached life may be glorified as a haven for sexual freedom, but the fact is that most nights are extremely lonely and angst-ridden. Meanwhile people in monogamous relationships are more than twice as likely as single people to have sex at least once a week. Temperance also means restraint. No, not handcuffs, rope, or duct tape. Those
on the right end of the moral spectrum do not lack imagination — they simply discipline themselves. They ask whether a given sexual act is proper or well-timed.

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that without some reasonable guidelines, sex is a moral minefield as destructive as anything in the human condition. The good news is that with some discipline and respect for your chosen partner, sex can be mind-blowing. So if taking things slowly, naturally, intimately and ending up more sexually satisfied as a result means conservatives don’t like sex, then call me Russell Kirk.

* You don’t want to know.
** You really don’t want to know.
*** Cosplay, short for costume play, is an organized form of role-playing in which prospective partners dress up as cartoon characters and remain in character while they try to bed each
other. Okay, maybe you didn’t want to know that either

Mollie Ziegler is a writer in Washington.

*CORRECTION: Mr. Littwin’s first name is Mike, not Mark as initially rendered. We regret the error.