I’m not really fond of telling people what they should do. My normal method is to tell people what the facts are, and then let them reach their own conclusions. I’m particularly shy about telling people what they should or should not do sexually. After all, most of what science tells us about human sexuality is that we can pretty much do what we want, and it’s probably ok. Also, to be honest, I am reluctant to be considered an advocate for any kind of sexual lifestyle. That’s stuff for advice columns, not a blog on atheism, philosophy, and science.
All that being said, I have to give props to Greta Christina (one of my favorite atheist bloggers, by the way). In THIS ARTICLE, she has pretty much encapsulated my own views on sex from a rational materialist point of view.
In other words: According to a materialist viewpoint, the capacity for transcendent sexual joy is hard- wired into our brains . . . and it’s deeply and powerfully hard- wired, as a crucial and central feature of our lives, by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. And this doesn’t just mean that suppressing or trivializing sex is stupid and futile, dangerous and harmful, a cruel and pointless crusade against the deeply- laid grain of our nature. (Although it certainly does mean that.)
It means that the act of sex, and the experience of sexual pleasure, connects us to every other living thing on earth. We are the cousins of everything that lives on this planet, with a common ancestor of primordial soup going back billions of years . . . and we are all related, not entirely but substantially, because of sex.
That is awesome. That makes me want to go fuck right now, just so I can feel connected with my fish and tetrapod and primate ancestors. That is entirely made of win.
Well spoken, Greta.
I’ve got friends and acquaintances of all sexual bents. I know straights, gays, bisexuals, polygamists, swingers, monogamists, and celibates. In all of these groups, some people have happy sex lives and others don’t. There is no magic to sexual identity. Humans have the genetic capability to practice a very wide variety of sexual lifestyles, and none of them is inherently “right” or “wrong.”
A few weeks ago, I did a short blog about all the benefits, both physical and psychological, to having regular sex. For me, the logic starts here. Our bodies want us to have sex. At the lowest level, we want to have sex because those of our ancestors who wanted to have sex reproduced better than those who didn’t. Desire for sex is a basic no-brainer. It stands to reason that natural selection designed us with a really high sex drive, and gave us lots of built in “rewards” for doing things to reproduce. Our enjoyment of the desired sex’s bodies, sexual excitement, sexual pleasure, orgasm, and the rush of endorphins experienced during and after sex are all part of the reward system. So is the feeling of intimacy and bonding with our sexual partners.
Of course, sex isn’t just about reproduction anymore. In fact, it’s safe to say that for most people, the vast majority of their sexual activity is either not specifically intended to cause reproduction, or is specifically intended not to cause reproduction. For us, sex is a social activity, an exercise in self-actualization, and a powerful form of stress relief.
One has to wonder, then… why do so many people avoid sex so meticulously?
Obviously, one answer is religion. Religion exerts a powerful control system over its adherents by controlling their sexual activity. I’ve said it many times, and it’s worth repeating — our sexuality is not part of our base nature to be overcome. It is literally that which makes us human. By controlling sex, religion literally takes control of the whole human being. In the words of Paul Atreides, “He who can destroy a thing controls a thing.” Destroying a person’s natural sexual expression is equivalent to destroying a person.
Religion isn’t the only answer, though. We have a false impression of sexual bonding — not entirely free of religious origin — which makes us as a culture believe that sex is more important than it really is. We believe that sex should only happen between two people who are deeply in love, and who intend to stay together in a bonded relationship, at least for a long time, and preferably for the rest of their lives. This is simply not the way we’re built, and this false belief is one of the major reasons many people opt for celibacy when there is plenty of healthy, honest sex waiting for them.
Sexually transmitted diseases are also a source of worry for many people. Unfortunately, most of the sex education in America is designed to scare children out of having sex. This has the nasty side effect of scaring adults out of having sex, too. STDs are certainly a real concern, but let’s not pretend they’re nastier than they really are.
In the first place, there’s really only one STD in America that has a good chance of killing you, and that’s AIDS. Condoms prevent AIDS. Period. Sure, there’s always a small risk, but it is considerably smaller than the risk of dying in a car accident while driving home after having protected sex. In a recent study over four months, the incidence of an infected partner transmitting the disease to their partner while using condoms every time was zero percent. Not one partner out of a hundred and twenty two contracted HIV. That’s not just zero out of a hundred twenty two. It’s zero out of a hundred and twenty two times four months of regular sex.
There are other pesky diseases floating around out there. If you’re over 25, have had more than two or three partners, and have had unprotected sex with any of them, you probably have HPV. By some estimates, 70% or more of sexually active adults have HPV. The thing is, there are well over a hundred strains, and only a couple of them are aggressive and increase the risk of cervical cancer. Many of them never produce any outward signs at all. New vaccines offer the promise of virtually ending the danger of HPV.
Herpes is pretty nasty, but condoms prevent it, and there are great new drugs which severely reduce the symptoms. Syphilis is almost unheard of. Gonnorhea is curable. In short, if condoms are used consistently and properly anytime both partners are unsure of their health status, disease transmission is highly unlikely, and even if transmission occurs, it will probably not be the worst thing that’s ever happened. There are lots of people in the world with Herpes, for instance, and they still have sex, and still lead happy lives.
STDs are over-hyped in an effort to discourage people from having sex.
That’s enough about all the anti-sex hype. Let’s talk about healthy sex. I’m going to start with something that is admittedly my opinion, but has proven itself both in my life and in the lives of friends, and is continually borne out by people I meet who have happy, healthy sex lives. There is absolutely nothing wrong with short term sexual relationships. There are a lot of people in the world with whom we are sexually compatible. We are designed to desire casual sex, largely because casual sex is one of the ways we move into serious long term sexual relationships. It’s how we test the waters. The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with tossing aside the long term goal if it’s not in your interest at this time. Your body won’t know the difference, and if your mind is ok with it, it’ll be fine.
Particularly in today’s society, many people simply do not have the time, ability, or desire to maintain a long term relationship. Sadly, many of them either abstain from sex entirely, or beat themselves up when they “lapse” and “give in” to their desire for some sexual release. How sad, when a little honesty and a willing partner can give them all the benefits of sex, without the nastiness of having to lie to themselves and their partners about why they’re in the sheets together.
It’s ok to enjoy sex for the physical and emotional pleasure, even if it’s not going to lead to anything permanent.
There are many people who will cross our paths, and we will be in many places, emotionally, physically, and on our “path of life,” for lack of a better term. How sad that so many people miss the chance to be a part of someone else’s life, to bring them pleasure, and to be pleased by them. How sad that the best justification most people can offer for their abstinence is something like, “Well, I just don’t think it would be a good idea.”
I’m not suggesting that everybody ought to boff everybody that gives them a tingly feeling in their privates. We aren’t biologically or emotionally designed for that, either. What I am saying is that different people come and go from our lives, and sexual relationships are one of the most powerful, pleasurable, and exciting relationships we humans can have. We have intellects capable of understanding and controlling our emotions to a great extent. We don’t have to be slaves to our fears.
In the end, when we are nearing death, all we can do is look backwards and reflect upon our lives. Some people’s lives are full of chances not taken, wishes left unspoken, and silence or lies when there could have been honesty and friendship and endorphins and experimentation and excitement. As I look back on my own life, even with (hopefully) three or four more decades to go, I think fondly of the young woman who helped me get through the summer after my divorce when I just needed human contact. I remember the exotic woman who was leaving for Italy the next day and finally told me how she had felt about me for weeks. There was the woman in med school who worked and studied over sixty hours a week, and just needed to reconnect with herself every couple of weeks, and didn’t want someone calling her constantly.
I would not trade my experience with any of these women, and I will not apologize to anyone for revelling in sharing myself with them and being pleasured by them and pleasing them. Sure, I’ve had some bad experiences, too. There have been women with whom I was just not compatible, and those who I probably shouldn’t have pursued in the first place for a variety of reasons. Still, my life has been richer and more exciting, and I am healthier and happier because I’ve admitted to myself that there is nothing wrong with being where I am and accepting other people where they are. When the two positions happen to meet in the middle, it’s one of the greatest things human beings can experience.
It really is a shame our culture is so sex-negative. I wish — for others as well as myself — that more people would take the advice of the Hustler T-shirt: