Doing what comes naturally

“When Adam ate the apple in the Garden and learned how to multiply and replenish, the other animals learned the … Continued

“When Adam ate the apple in the Garden and learned how to multiply and replenish, the other animals learned the Art, too, by watching Adam. It was cunning of them, it was neat; for they got all that was worth having out of the apple without tasting it and afflicting themselves with the disastrous Moral Sense, the parent of all the immoralities.”
Thus observed Mark Twain in Letters from the Earth

So is this moral sense, which distinguishes human animals from other animals, beneficial or harmful when it comes to sex? The answer, I would argue, is not as black and white as Mark Twain and most religionists would have us believe. Or perhaps “black and white” really is an appropriate morality metaphor. When my white cat was in heat, she cared not at all if her partner were white, black, or orange. And she was a resident of South Carolina, which once prohibited such coupling of black and white human animals on moral and religious grounds.

Sex is a biological act, and fun, which is why our pets and we are here today. But sex for humans is not purely biological. It also has emotional and moral components. Morality enters the picture when we decide what kinds of constraints we should place on doing what comes naturally. Not all of us have the same criteria for constraints, and that’s where religion usually enters and sometimes screws things up.

Here are my atheist and humanist constraints: Sex should never be exploitive. Couples who have sex should do so by mutual consent, without pressure or threats. One should not have sex simply to go along with the crowd. Sex should not be about power. Men and women should be concerned about the pleasure of their partners as well as their own pleasure. It matters not at all whether the partner is of the same or different sex. Abstinence is sometimes desirable, but contraceptives and other protection should be available for young people who choose not to be abstinent, as well as for people who want to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And it should go without saying that adults must never exploit children for their sexual pleasure. Those who do should feel the full weight of the law, whether the exploiters are white collar, blue collar, or black collar workers.

Religious constraints are fine with me, as long as they are comparable to those in the paragraph above. However, applying moral standards written a couple thousand years ago can be problematic. To “be fruitful and multiply” made more sense in an under-populated world than in this one. It never made sense when either parent did not want additional children or when the health of the woman was at risk. There is more to sex than procreation, and all religions ought to recognize this, but they don’t. In the Bible (I Cor.), Paul doesn’t even approve of sex for procreation. He says it’s better that men not even touch women, but grudgingly permits marriage to prevent the sin of fornication, for which hell is the appropriate punishment. This kind of sexual attitude has led countless religious believers to suffer tremendous guilt about a natural and pleasurable human function. Its only beneficiaries have been late-night comedians who are presented with an opportunity to make fun of a religious view, “Sex is dirty, and you should save it for marriage with the one you love.”

Finally, there is a tendency in our culture to equate morality with sexual behavior, when that is just a very small component of morality. Ethical behavior and morality are about treating others with respect, dignity, and compassion. We should not exploit people, whether through sex or any other means. Morality should not be viewed through the narrow prism of sexual behavior. Sex is an important part of life, but there is more to life than sex, and there is much more to morality than sex.

Herb Silverman
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  • WmarkW

    If we could just make sure everyone (who wanted to) got safe sex on a reasonable schedule, we could eliminate 90% of the emphasis on it.

  • lepidopteryx

    The only wrong sex is sex that is not mutually consensual fore veryone involved, or sex that involves the breaking of a promise.

  • fhay18

    When I was a teenager in the 1950s, I wondered why my mother and others made such a fuss about sex. Things that bothered me we war, abuse, intolerance,etc. My grandmother was puritanical, and was proud of the fact that my grandfather had never kissed her on the mouth. I thought she must be from another planet! My mother’s and grandmothers’ views were religion based and the cause of a lot of guilt I placed on myself. And it wasn’t just them. Growing up in a small southern town, the whole culture was smothering with religion based “rules”.

  • YEAL9

    Although most religions warn us about the dangers of pre/extra-marital sex, it is obvious we are not paying attention as pre/extra-marital intercourse and other pre/extra-marital sexual activities are out of control with over one million abortions and 19 million cases of STDs per year in the USA alone. from the CDC-2006″Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain STDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psychological consequences of STDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs associated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”How in the world do we get this situation under control? A pill to temporarily eliminate the sex drive would be a good start. (Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes calls it an anti-desire pill – 4/18/2010). And teenagers and young adults must be constantly reminded of the dangers of sexual activity and that oral sex, birth control pills, condoms and chastity belts are no protection against STDs. Might a list of those having an STD posted on the Internet help? Sounds good to me!!!! Said names would remain until the STD has been eliminated with verification by a doctor. Lists of sexual predators are on-line. Is there a difference between these individuals and those having a STD having sexual relations while infected???And the following data need to promulgated so everyone is aware that today’s contraceptives don’t always work to the degree advertised:Percentage of women (men) experiencing an unintended pregnancy (a few examples)Periodic abstinence – 25.3 (Masturbation) 0

  • beersnob11123

    A lot of the rules religions lay down for us appear to originate from social and public health necessities. Don’t eat pork (trichinosis)and don’t kill or steal or disrespect your parents (lest there be mayhem) are some examples. I tend to think the moralization of sexual behavior has a similar origin, primarily because of STDs and probably to a lesser extent because of propagation of a man’s own genes/ bloodline. Cultures without rampant STDs and with low genetic diversity don’t (didn’t, rather) have the western “hang-ups.” Libertine behavior is almost universally risky at present. Even if one eschews the religious morals and moral judgment, he or she can still chose to behave in a socially and personally cautious manner.

  • jonesm2

    Once again, I think that Professor Silverman has some great insights. With regards to his cat, however, I’m not sure if sex is “fun” for animals. To get humans to have sex, it had to be pleasure. Evolution may have been able to hardwire many animals to instinctively pursue sex whether or not they found it pleasurable. It is important to realize that sex is definitely part of our genes agenda since they are the ones that get to reproduce. You and I enjoy but one life while our genes can have many. Our genes, on the other hand, don’t care at all about our happiness. Many animals suffer debilitating injuries from fights with other animals in the attempts to pass on their genes. Their genes are not concerned with their happiness either. With regards to sex, we should keep in mind that sex is part of our genes agenda and does not equate with human happiness. There are often many unintended consequences for humans and other animals.

  • LorettaHaskell

    We’ve heard from Dr. Silverman, now let’s hear from Pope Benedict.

  • ladyknight1

    It is a fact that the center of our brains is the Hypothalamus where “Hormones” (there are different kinds) get “Regulated” for blood delivery. And in fact, because “SEX” (a stmuli) is only made possible for Pleasure or Procreation via the very back Part of the Brain or the “Pleasure-Center,” where Sex and drug Addictions takeplace, shows that “SEX,” is Not-LOVE. Eventhough Pain (via nerves and signaling) is a perception; LIFE Is LOVE, not Sex. There is some people here that know what I’m saying. “Life” with a CREATORin mind or awareness of life (without a Creator in mind) is “Love,” and love awareness, less appreciation, is only made possible In The “Frontal-Lobe.”Reality is Beautiful. Hence Life is Beautiful where one is in Love With It (Beautiful) or hates it (beauitifull or ugly) or doesn’t care(like a Co;, Animals with No Frontal Lobes). So According to DEIST’S and or SPINOZAISM; Life is LOVE, not Sex. What the BIG-BANG is is all Beautifull because it is a projection-Of-It’s-Love, that’s what “Manifest [Really] Destiny” Means. LIFE is a Miracle, Not Sex. So LIFE, living, is not Sin, only via SEx can there be Sin?Meaning “Love” is Not located in the Hypothalamus, nor at the back of the Brain. Eventhough there is a correlation, via brain imaging, that there is a ‘Path-Way” from Frontal-Cortex to the Pleasure-Center, which triggers (“CRAVING/URGES”) that it by itself does not stimulate the Sexual-Organs of either a Male nor a Woman. Note: Today “Scientist can control addiction, SEXual Desire and Organ stimili via modern Drugs to block the “Path-Ways” to Frontal-Cortex mentioned. Also Pain during Intercourse is not Love. Loving Pain does not enhance nor lessin the experience. It’s just awareness or closed mindedness of the experience that lets us tolerate or cope the moment. And Unlike the Power Of Advertising; Sex is Not Power. But Sex is always a two-way street; straight or Same, but still it’s not LOVE. Life is. Example: Paying or Bartering for Sex is NO love. Only Pleasure with a potential tpo procrate; planned or not planned (HUMAN RESPONSIBILE frontal lober) not Animalistic (No Frontal Lobe).

  • iconoclast8

    “He’s not married and one is supposed to assume that he’s celibate. He’s the very last person I would want to hear from.”

  • Rongoklunk

    LorettaHaskell I would think that the pope knows very little about sex – with adults anyway.

  • dangeroustalk

    Lately the topics of sex and religion have dominated the headlines due in no small part to Catholic priests who aren’t supposed to have sex and yet can’t seem to stop having sex with children. Judging by the holy books of the Abrahamic religions it is pretty obvious that God hates sex, but he probably loves to watch.You can read the rest of my response to this topic:I will be responding to every issue posted in the ‘On Faith’ section. If you would like to be notified when my new response is up, please subscribe.

  • pelicanwatchcb

    Down here in South Carolina, we still have powerful political and cultural forces at work, trying to impose abstinence-only sex education in the public schools, as if talking about god is going to stop teenagers from doing what comes naturally. Is there any wonder that S.C. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country?