COMES NATURALLY #152 (October 21, 2004)
Copyright © 2004 David Steinberg
VOTE FOR SEX
"I don't know how you can think about sex in these times. The world feels like it's coming to an end. I can't even THINK about sex, much less feel like having it, I'm so depressed and fearful." -- Email from a friend
"Any sexual activity that might decrease the amount of coal mined, the number of pyramids built, the quantity of junk food confected, will be proscribed through laws that, in turn, are based on divine revelations handed down by whatever god or gods happen to be in fashion at the moment." -- Gore Vidal, Sex Is Politics
"Originally and naturally, sexual pleasure was the good, the beautiful, the happy, that which united man with nature in general. When sexual feelings and religious feelings became separated from one another, that which is sexual is forced to become the bad, the infernal, the diabolical.... People who are incapable of [sexual] release... begin to sense sexual excitation as tortuous, burdensome, destructive.... The religious conception of sex as an annihilating, diabolical force, predisposing one to final doom, is [thus] rooted in actual physical processes." -- Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism
"The centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned." -- William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
Bumper stickers I haven't seen, but wish I had:
I LIKE SEX, AND I VOTE!
I WANT MY KIDS TO BE TAUGHT THE TRUTH ABOUT SEX, AND I VOTE! I'M KINKY, AND I VOTE!
I'M QUEER, AND I VOTE!
I LOVE ANAL SEX, AND I VOTE!
I LOVE ORAL SEX, AND I VOTE!
I WATCH PORN, AND I VOTE!
I LOVE MY VIBRATOR, AND I VOTE!
I LOVE EXTRAMARITAL SEX, AND I VOTE!
I'M POLYAMOROUS AND I VOTE!
I GO TO SWING CLUBS AND I VOTE!
I GO TO STRIP CLUBS AND I VOTE!
I PAY FOR SEX AND I VOTE!
I'M A SEX WORKER AND I VOTE!
I'M HETEROSEXUAL, MONOGAMOUS, AND VANILLA, I SUPPORT EVERYONE'S RIGHT TO FREE SEXUAL EXPRESSION, AND I VOTE! (for those with a very wide car)
Now is the time to vote for sex. For your sex. For your sexuality. Really.
I know, there are many other important issues to think about when you decide how you want to vote -- terrorism, the economy, jobs, education, social security, global warming, corporate greed. Important issues, all of them.
But sex is an important political issue also, an issue that goes to the core of who we are as individuals and as a nation, an issue that shapes a huge swath of government policy and activity, even if we're not used to thinking of sex in explicitly political terms.
This year, more than ever, it's important to vote your sexuality.
People regularly vote their pocketbooks. People regularly vote their religious beliefs. People vote for candidates they believe will work for better health care, better jobs, better schools for their kids. People vote for candidates they feel will protect the environment, or protect the nation from terrorist attack. People vote for candidates they believe will defend and promote their gender interests, their racial interests, their ethnic interests, their commercial interests, their ethical interests.
What about their sexual interests?
What about YOUR sexual interests?
Most of us don't decide how to vote based on which candidates will defend and advance our sexual interests. Most of us don't think we even have sexual interests that need to be defended or promoted. I think that's a mistake. I think that the sexuality of all of us -- not just the gays, lesbians, and other identified sexual outlaws -- is under attack and therefore in need of both defense and advocacy.
Of course, if we don't think of our sexuality is being threatened by the government, by specific political candidates, by specific political parties, then we certainly won't be thinking about sex when we're in the voting booths. Gays and lesbians, long aware of the need to defend their sexuality against legal and governmental intrusion, have a lot to teach the rest of us about sexual politics. Gays and lesbians are as used to thinking about their sexuality when they vote as most of the rest of us are not. Because they vote their sexuality, they have become an identified sexual voting block that both major political parties, and virtually all candidates for office -- regardless of where they come from, and regardless of whether they're running for national, state, or local office -- know they must take seriously and respond to thoughtfully.
What would it be like if people in government felt they had to pay attention to an aware, politically active, pansexual, pro-sexual electorate, as carefully as they now pay attention to anti-sexual voters, and to the gay vote?
This is a time when the sexual freedom, happiness, and well-being of all of us are front and center in the political arena -- perhaps more powerfully than at any other time in U.S. history. The government is waging war on sex, war on sexual enthusiasm, war on sexual pleasure, war on sexual information. That war is not limited to attacks on people whose sexual choices are outside the sexual mainstream (although sexual minorities certainly suffer more direct attack from the government than others). We have a President who believes that fighting AIDS worldwide is less important than making sure that programs of the United Nations conform to the strictest abstinence-only doctrines. We have an Attorney General who believes that dancing is immoral and that attacking the broad availability of sexual material on the Internet needs to become a top priority for law enforcement.
Every time the government tries to limit sexual expression, or cuts off funding to agencies and programs that offer sex-positive information and support, or challenges the legitimacy of people who advocate free, open, diverse sexual expression, it affects every one of us. It affects how we think about sex, what we know about sex, what we know about ourselves as sexual people. And when the government makes a point of criminalizing sex, and criminalizing people who express themselves sexually in unconventional ways, all of us become more restricted with regard to where we let our sexual energies wander. We rein in our sexual desires, trying conform to boundaries we think will be acceptable to the people around us. We become -- consciously or unconsciously -- more than a little less expansive, more than a little less free, more than a little less inventive, more than a little less committed to our spontaneous sexuality than we were before.
We need to acknowledge sex -- sex itself, not this kind of sex or that kind of sex -- as a core political issue, in the same way we recognize taxes, national security, health care, and foreign policy as core political issues. And, as with these other core political issues, we need access to information that enables us to rate candidates for political office according to where they stand on the sex-political spectrum.
We need to know which candidates are strongly pro-sex and which are anti-sex; which most strongly support sexual freedom and diversity and which most decidedly want to limit how people are allowed to sexually express themselves. We need to know which candidates support government policies rooted in the belief that sex is a blessing, an opportunity, an important aspect of life fully and happily lived -- and which candidates support policies that express the belief that sex is, first and foremost, an aspect of life that is fundamentally dangerous, insidious, and problematic.
Do you know where the candidates you're about to vote for stand on the issue of sex? We are generally well-informed about whether candidates for national, statewide, or local office are "liberal" or "conservative," strong or weak environmentalists, "tough" or "weak" on crime, believers in big government or governmental laissez-faire.
But what abour whether candidates are pro-sex or anti-sex? Do we know whether they favor expanded opportunities for sexual pleasure and exploration, or sexual restriction? Do we know if they favor or oppose sexual diversity in all its glory? Do we know if they are -- philosophically, personally, and politically -- sex appreciators or sex fearers? Do we even think about the candidates in these terms?
There are frequently cited indexes that rate political office-holders along any number of political spectra. Senators, Congressional Representatives -- even state legislators and governors -- are evaluated by interest groups, and given carefully computed ratings based on how they have voted on specific clusters of legislation. Liberal and conservative groups rate office-holders on the legislative votes they consider most significant as liberal-conservative bellwethers. Their well-publicized rankings strongly affect how the constituents of these legislators subsequently vote. Similarly, there are indexes that rank which political office-holders are the strongest defenders of the environment and which the weakest, which are most and least likely to raise taxes, most and least likely to vote for increases in the defense budget or for gun control, most and least likely to support the identified interests of women, teachers, union members, church-goers, and senior citizens.
We need an index that rates politicians on where they stand about sex -- that tabulates their votes on legislation that pertains to sexual expression, sexual information, sexual freedom, and sexual diversity -- so that we can hold politicians responsible for their sex-political voting record. We need politicians to feel they will be held accountable for how they vote on sex-related issues, not just by the sexual conservatives and erotophobes who have made their political voice so loudly heard of late, but also from the vast sea of too-often-silent sexual progressives and enthusiasts. There really are more of "us" (the pro-sex people) than "them" (the sex-fearing people), according to numerous surveys, studies, and polls. It's just that we haven't gotten political about our sexual enthusiasm in the way that sexual conservatives have.
Isn't it time -- isn't it past time -- for that to change?
There are many, many issues of government policy that directly affect sexual belief and sexual practice in this country. Here's a list of just a few issues that might someday be included in a sexual rating system for political office-holders -- questions we all might want to ask in evaluating both incumbent politicians and challengers when it comes to sex:
Do you support fact-based, sex-positive sexual education in the schools? Do you favor broad sexual expression through art, photography, and literature, and unrestricted access to sexual art, photography, and literature, in printed media and on the Internet?
Do you support the widest possible availability of birth control and increased funding for research into more effective, convenient, low-cost methods of birth control? Do you support increased funding for sexual research designed to increase our understanding of sex, sexual desire, sexual happiness, and sexual fulfillment? Do you support increased finding to cure and control sexually transmitted diseases as a way to increase our opportunities for sexual pleasure and exploration free from fear and danger? Do you support a woman's right, and easy access, to abortion?
Do you support free access of adults to vibrators, sex toys, and sex aids of all kinds, free from governmental restriction? Do you support the repeal of all sodomy and adultery laws that criminalize sex between consensual adults?
Do you support equal civil rights and full equality of sexual expression for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, people who practice bondage, discipline, s/m, dominance-and-submission, and all people whose sexual preferences do not fall within the traditional sexual mainstream? Do you support the rights of people with open marriages and relationships, swingers, s/m practitioners, and people who wish to maintain polyamorous relationships to meet, associate, and have sex with each other however they please, without harassment and intimidation from the government?
Do you support open access to sexual entertainment free from restrictive zoning and other governmental interference, including sexual performance places, strip clubs, and lap dance theaters? Do you support the decriminalization of prostitution and other forms of sex-for-money exchange between consenting adults?
All of these are issues through which the political system currently regulates, restricts, criminalizes, and interferes with free sexual activity and culture -- sexual restriction that limits our sexual openness, opportunities, and creativity in both obvious and subtle ways. There are many other sex-political issues that could be added to this list.
(And, yes, in case you're wondering, it is indeed still illegal to sell vibrators and other sex toys in some states, illegal to have anal sex or oral sex (defined as sodomy) in many states. Yes, sodomy laws are enforced more than occasionally -- much more often that you probably think. Yes, s/m and swing clubs are continuously being harassed by police and building inspectors. Yes, s/m and swingers conventions have repeatedly been disrupted by local authorities and subjected to event cancellation by hotels and convention facilities under pressure from right-wing antisexualists.)
Do you know where the candidates you're about to vote for -- for President, for Congress, for state senate and assembly, for county commissioner, for city council member, for school board, for police chief, district attorney, and sheriff -- stand on these issues? How they would answer these questions?
Do you know where they stand -- all in all, when push comes to shove -- on the issue of free and open sexual expression?
How important will the politics of sex be to you when you walk into your polling place to vote?
Think about it. Isn't the broad issue of sex just as important as the more familiar issues that move you to vote for one candidate over another? Isn't it time to stand up for sex -- for YOUR sex, my sex, everyone's sex, for our collective right to have sex as we please, free from fear of government intrusion -- at the ballot box?
Three books by David Steinberg -- "Photo Sex," "Erotic by Nature: A Celebration of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies," and "The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sensual Self," are available from David by mail order at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at email@example.com. Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]
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