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The Agnostic Pulpit: The American War on Sex

 article about The Agnostic Pulpit: The American War on Sex

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The United States government has been waging a War on Sex for decades. Like the failed War on Drugs, the inability to banish popular interest in sex is astonishing in view of the money and resources wasted in the effort. These moralistic wars seem to be driven by religious groups. For politicians, success is not as important as being seen as fighting the war. The goal of these holy wars, of course, is votes, not victory. Appearance is more important than substance in so many parts of American life.

Back in 1968, the United States Supreme Court held that people could view whatever they like in the privacy of their own homes. This should have been obvious to most people with any understanding of the United States Constitution. That decision, however, did not sit well with the prohibitionists who then forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to create a long lasting and expensive Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. This is tradition with American Presidents: when you don't want to take a firm position on an issue, you create a committee to study the problem.

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So long as I am in the White House, there will be no relaxation of the national effort to control and eliminate smut from our national life.
At last, failing to find that pornography caused people any harm, the Commission suggested more research offering only the opinion that children ought not be exposed to it, whatever "it" is. Upon seeing the report, the always political Richard Nixon proclaimed: "I have evaluated that report and categorically reject its morally bankrupt conclusions and major recommendations. So long as I am in the White House, there will be no relaxation of the national effort to control and eliminate smut from our national life."

Nixon thought he knew best; so much for the Supreme Court and individual liberty. Of course, his own immorality would eventually force him to resign the presidency, and so the multibillion dollar pornography industry still flourishes and pays taxes to a government sworn to eliminate it. As is often the case in politics, money is made while progress waits.

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Minnie Joycelyn Elders was asked for an opinion, she suggested in public that perhaps masturbation could be taught to young men as a way of reducing violent sex crimes.
In his turn, President Clinton appointed an old political ally, Minnie Joycelyn Elders, M.D., as Surgeon General of the United States. Known for her liberal views, she was the first African American to hold that position. She had not held this job for long when, asked for an opinion, she suggested in public that perhaps masturbation could be taught to young men as a way of reducing violent sex crimes. President Clinton was embarrassed and promptly fired her. His own sexual exploits, of course, soon led to personal and national humiliation. Perhaps he should have taken Dr. Elders' advice and left the intern alone.

The only surprising thing about Dr. Elder's opinion was the idea that young men have to be taught what is almost an inevitable discovery of their own! What she perhaps meant was that the awful sin of self-pleasuring could be encouraged and done safely in private with absolutely no harmful effects and with possible social benefits.

Meaningful sex education is missing in most of our public schools. Religious groups say it is best done in the home by parents, but that seems to be more wishful thinking than fact. As a result, many children eventually teach each other and sneak a few looks at sex magazines. The teen years are a difficult time in individual development, and they are made even more stressful by the ignorance of a basic and universal human need.

American attitudes toward sex can be described as schizophrenic, hypocritical, paranoid, or just plain stupid. Our attitude toward prostitution is another example our fear and loathing of sexual pleasure. Police like to arrest bad people, and when prostitution is illegal, as it is in most of the United States, prostitutes and their customers make for an easy night's work on the street. Police set up traps for customers by using female police as lures. These police capers are even shown as entertainment on American television.

As usual, prostitution doesn't go away when we make it illegal, it just moves on down the street. Prohibition doesn't work; it only makes certain groups of self-righteous people feel like they are doing the Lord's work. Prohibition never seems to solve any social problem and eventually causes more problems than it fixes.

When prostitution is legal, it can be regulated and taxed, but many voting Americans are under-educated and brain-washed by religion before they learn to think for themselves. Prostitution is legal or accepted in Singapore, Denmark, Canada, France, Mexico, Netherlands, Israel, and even in some counties in the State of Nevada in the U.S.A.

Studies show that, when prostitution is legal and regulated, prostitutes have far fewer sexually transmitted diseases, experience almost no physical assaults, enjoy much better working conditions, and show fewer alcohol or drug problems. When legally employed, they can get health insurance, build their Social Security eligibility, and pay taxes on wages.

Many young women working in Nevada's legal brothels have worked their way through college to earn excellent jobs in business. In Las Vegas, however, where prostitution is illegal, where prostitutes have no mandated medical examinations, many young women have suffered abuse, disease, and worse.

Prohibitionists argue that legal prostitution will destroy marriage. But, what about all those young, unmarried men who are supposed to ignore one of the strongest of human urges? The availability of legal prostitutes might well reduce date rape and date violence. And those married people; well, half of all married couples get divorced, and for many others sex is absent in an older marriage. The market for legal prostitutes is enormous.

The United States leads developed countries in prisoners per 1000 of population and in the murder rate. We lead in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS. Our divorce and suicide rates are among the highest. This is American "exceptionalism" at its worst. Many of these problems seem to be related to simple-minded and always ineffective prohibition.

The American people could vote at any time to legalize prostitution, but the chances of getting such a measure on the ballot are remote. Meanwhile we will all pay the price for making sex between consenting adults for money a crime.

(Julian I. Taber, Ph.D. is author of Addictions Anonymous: Outgrowing Addiction with a Universal, Secular Program of Self-Development: ISBN 978-1-60145-647-2, or go to: http://www.booklocker.com/books/3717.html)




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