Framed: Political Philosophy of Sex
Political Philosophy of Sex
The following terms and phrases are recalled until further notice:
- "family values"
- "abstinence-only education"
- "Marriage Protection" (Amendment)
- "Defense of Marriage" (Act)
- "activist judges" or “a few judges”
- "traditional values"
- “term:sex addiction” or “term:sex addict”
The Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA) is currently the primary political initiative on the right and is intended to interfere with the freedom of states to acknowledge gay marriages.
DO NOT USE ANY OF THESE PHRASES. See the term:list for other questionable terms.
Example of use (don’t emulate):
- “Government has a duty to promote and protect marriage and family in law and public policy.” (From the Family Research Council mission statement)
- “After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization.” (President Bush)
- “[Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.] said pro-family citizens have been bombarding the offices of his fellow senators with faxes, e-mails and phone calls to support the MPA.” (Focus on the Family)
- “How to confess your sex addiction” (Article available at Focus on the Family)
- “Justice Demi Democrat, a known activist judge, ruled today against...”
- “The longstanding pro-life stance of the legislature...”
- “Parents pressed for abstinence-only education in line with traditional values...”
Conservatives have taken the initiative to define how sex should be performed, experienced and used in the United States. Their definition is flawed and inappropriate for the liberal community. The result is that Democratic candidates can be defined as “liberal” and subconsciously hooked in the minds of the voters to immoral conduct.
The Cost/Benefits of Having a Philosophy of Sex
One cost of having a liberal political philosophy of sex is that any definite position is subject to attack. Conservatives have a long history of attacking liberal sexual ideas.
Another cost is that achieving consensus on a sex, as with any major issue, can take time and energy.
However, there are costs to not having a liberal political philosophy of sex. That cost is that we are in a weakened position to debate all issues related to sex. This impacts almost two dozen issues important to the political debate, including women’s rights, welfare and education.
The benefit of having a liberal philosophy of sex is that we do not need to be defensive about our positions if we have a strong moral position. In that case, we have the option of taking the initiative. In any case, we can stop attacks in this area that would otherwise continue, leaving us vulnerable and taking attention away from other areas where we have the opportunity to win.
Realigning the Frame
Liberals have strong morals around sex that are different from those of conservatives. Our morals follow from fundamentals about what it means to be human and the inalienable rights of humans. In particular, we believe that consensual sexual relations between humans are intrinsically good because they carry with them an implicit element of love. As a result, we do not see the need or the benefit of forcing individuals to blindly follow rules defined by others, but rather believe that they should look to their own consciences, with loving support from society, for the appropriate behavior in all matters related to sex.
What Progressives Value and Want
Sustainability. Our beliefs and values about sex must be sustainable in the modern world. Fairness. The standards of conduct should work for all people. Neither males nor females should get preferential treatment by governments or institutions open to the public. Consistency. The rules should be internally consistent so that they work regardless of the situation. This implies flexibility that takes into account real-life situations.
What Is Sex?
This question can only be answered in context because the unqualified term “sex” means many different things. In talking about a political philosophy of sex we are talking about the values, beliefs and societal rules around human sexuality. For a more complete discussion, see “Human sexuality” in the section “Sex among humans” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex in Wikipedia.
Liberal Sexual Values
Liberals have a positive view of sexuality. We believe sex is intrinsically good, in that consensual sexual relations between humans carry with them an implicit element of love. Because sex is not evil, it does not need to be redeemed by religious rites, and it is an inherent human right to participate in sex with a minimum of interference from society.
Liberals believe that sex, like everything that confers power on those who use it, should be used responsibly. Like all powers, sex can be dangerous. The best way to address the inherent dangers of sex is through knowledge of both the mechanics of sex and the morality around it, combined with holding individuals responsible for their conduct.
In particular, since sex can be a procreative act, we believe that all individuals who produce children are responsible to provide for those children until they are capable of living independently. This means providing for both their physical and psychological wellbeing.
It is society’s responsibility to support the individual in their choices about sex, as outlined above.
Liberals are not opposed to marriage. Marriage is appropriate for many in society. The difference is that liberals do not view marriage as superior to other forms of relationship and believe that government should not attempt to force members of society into marriage.
Conservatives suggest that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the only form of commitment. Liberals understand that commitment is a manifestation of love, not a cause of it. As such, wherever there is love we are likely to see commitment. So, there is no reason to believe that commitment only exists within marriage, as defined by conservatives. We see commitment in those who are single, as well as those who are married. We see commitment in homosexual couples, as well as in heterosexual ones.
Commitment can’t be forced on others through rules. Following rules eliminates choice, and choice is central to love. Automatically following rules is not loving, even when it results in good. People with successful marriages have discovered that they have commitment as a result of their love, not their marriage.
Putting Sex in Perspective
Problems related to sex may need to be addressed by government action, but it is important to prioritize our response. Does the situation require national response? How important is it compared with other national and international priorities? Can it reasonably be handled by non-government attention?
Applications to Political Issues
Power and Sex
Liberals believe that sexual relations between humans should be entered into voluntarily and with full information about all pertinent facts. The policy in this document only applies to consensual sexual relations between humans. To be consensual they must be entered into between adults who have roughly comparable social power, so that neither party can use economic power or other outside means to force the other to participate.
Children and Population
Liberals believe that each individual has the right to decide when and if they want to initiate pregnancy and whether they want to carry such pregnancy to term. Liberals understand that it is an individual’s responsibility to keep population in check through their own actions.
Sex and the Christian Religion
The political right has used Christian religion to justify their positions on matters related to sex, including their positions on marriage, abortion and sex education. Liberals have just as much of a claim to the support of the Christian religion for their position on sex.
In particular, to be a Christian is to believe in Christ and so to believe in Christ’s teachings. It is incompatible with Christ’s teachings to do something that is not loving. Since consensual human sexual relations are loving, they are compatible with Christ’s teachings.
Since sex is intrinsically good, it does not have to be redeemed through marriage. The government should take no position endorsing or preventing marriage, nor should it try to define marriage. To do so is to take a religious position. That would be incompatible with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Public School Sex Education
Since sex can be dangerous unless the participants are well informed, it is in the interest of society to make sure that each person is fully informed about the mechanics and public policy about sex before they can be called on to engage in it. In practical terms, this is about the time of puberty. Liberals therefore believe that the public schools have an obligation to provide comprehensive and realistic sex education to all students before they reach the age of 13. This education must take the position that sexual relations can occur at any time, based on the individual’s preferences. It must emphasize our society’s belief that each person is individually responsible for the consequences of their actions, including pregnancy and transmission of diseases, and should include all reasonable methods pertinent to preventing pregnancy and transmission of disease.
Liberals believe that the meaning of any image is only fully determined in the mind of an observer. As such it is not possible to attribute moral good or bad to images. Therefore, any depiction of sex or matters related to sex has no special standing and should not be independently prohibited or prosecuted.
Liberals also believe that each person has an individual right to determine what they can see or otherwise experience in those situations in which humans have control. No one should be forced to look at or prevented from looking at any image based on another’s wishes.
Liberals also believe that each person has a right to control recognizable images of their own bodies, unless they have held themselves out to be a public person.
Liberals do not believe that terms involving sex are inherently obscene. In our community, we are unwilling to restrict others in their speech because to do so is wrong and conflicts with the First Amendment. Restricting speech about sex restricts vital information about sex. The First Amendment does not restrict speech based on age or sex, therefore any act of Congress seeking to restrict speech in order to “protect” people based on their age or sex is invalid. Liberals believe that the government should take the broadest possible interpretation of the First Amendment because it is the foundation of liberty.
Since liberals believe that sex is intrinsically good, they do not believe that society should specially control sex toys or other products related to sexual activity. This does not, of course, mean that such products are exempt from rules about safety.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Sexual contact carries with it the risk of transmitting certain diseases. Liberals believe that individuals should be responsible for detecting such diseases, informing potential partners if they are infected, and attempting to prevent the spread of such diseases. Liberals believe that society is responsible for assisting individuals in these responsibilities by making healthcare affordable (in general, but specifically with regard to STDs) and by sponsoring research that would find cures for such diseases and methods that would help prevent their spread. This specifically includes ensuring that condoms are available and affordable to anyone who wants to have sex.
The Centers for Disease Control state, “Consistent and correct use of male latex condoms can reduce (though not eliminate) the risk of STD transmission.”
In 1996, Republicans (with the complicity of Democrats) ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and instituted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The acknowledged target of this was “out-of-wedlock pregnancies.” However, ten years later, TANF has not had any discernible effect on births to unwed mothers. (See “Welfare Woes” by Rodger Doyle, page 25, Scientific American, May 2006.)
The reason for this failure is that TANF did not address the core problem. The problem is not getting poor women to marry. The problem is that many fathers do not see the need to take responsibility for their children. Liberals believe that sex should be used responsibly. The critical element in reducing the welfare roles is to get parents to take responsibility for their children.
The two key elements in ending welfare are (1) realistic and comprehensive sex education, and (2) raising the minimum wage to be a living wage that includes in its basis a high enough wage for each person to raise a child. The primary funding for children should be through the wages of their parents. Corporations that do not pay a living wage are contributing to the welfare rolls.
Politicians and Their Private Lives
Liberals believe that every person has a right to privacy. When a person goes into public life, they should not have to automatically give up certain privacy rights. Among those rights is the right to associate with whomever they choose. While there are limits even on rights to privacy (for example, privacy does not give anyone a right to commit a crime), liberals believe that the sexual lives of politicians, including who they have sex with, is their own private business and should not be made public by any member of the government or press.
Lifestyles Related to Sex
Single Men and Women
Liberals believe that single men and women have a right to have sex just the same as married men and women. The government should not discriminate against or in favor of anyone based on their marital status.
Liberals do not object to masturbation. Many conservatives, including the Catholic Church, believe that masturbation is wrong because it is the deliberate use of sexual capabilities outside marriage. Since liberals do not believe that marriage is required to make sex good, it follows that the experience of sex outside marriage is not intrinsically bad. Others have objected that masturbation would allow one partner to know more about what pleases them and that might devalue the other partner. "If he already knows what pleases him, and he can please himself, then why am I in the picture?" (Christine O'Donnell.) Studies show just the opposite. For example, women that work with their partner to communicate what they want generally have more satisfying sex lives than those with a "romantic" attitude about sex (expecting their partners to just "know" what works). Knowing how sex works leads to greater satisfaction.
Homosexuality and Bisexuality
Liberals believe that homosexual and bisexual men and women have a right to have sex just the same as married men and women. The government should not discriminate against or in favor of anyone based on their legal sexual practices.
Liberals believe that the evils of prostitution do not derive from sex, but rather from imbalances of power that force men and women to commit prostitution against their will. Liberals are in favor of redressing the imbalances of power, rather than encouraging the criminalization of prostitutes.
Liberals believe that to the extent any lifestyle is based on consensual sexual activity that that lifestyle is protected by guarantees of freedom in our society, the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, and liberals oppose any societal or government actions intended to discriminate for or against such lifestyles.
Abuses of Sex
Even though rape has a sexual component, liberals do not believe that anything about sex is determinant in creating policy about rape, except for the responsibility of government personnel to maintain the privacy of rape victims with at least the same diligence as privacy in other sexual matters.
Child Abuse and Child Pornography
Liberals believe that sex with a child is not consensual and therefore is not a protected right. In as much as child pornography has been created using children, it is also not consensual and is not a protected right.
Liberals believe that the inherently weak in our society deserve special protection. Since children are inherently weak, they deserve special protection against abuse by adults.
Liberals find it necessary to make a statement on bestiality only because the ultra-religious-right does. Liberals are against bestiality. It’s non-consensual. Unlike our opponents, we are in favor of a Constitutional amendment specifically banning marriage between humans and animals. (This ought to put that canard to rest.)
A foolish person might think that liberals are in favor of sexism because that word has “sex” in it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Liberals are against discrimination for or against anyone on the basis of their sex.
Sometimes the claim is made that a certain person is addicted to sex. In part, the concept of sex addiction is used to support a claim that pornography is evil. It is also used to portray sex as an evil and to make people feel more insecure about wanting sex.
People have different degrees of interest in sex. An intense interest in sex is normal and is not an addiction. People have a natural defense against too much sex, the refractory period (the time after orgasm when they have no urge for sex). In any case, making sex scarce is not an antidote to sexual desires.
Liberals believe that it is not appropriate for government to define problems for political purposes. This problem appears to have been ginned up for political purposes.
- “Government has a duty to promote and protect marriage and family.” Marriage is one of the strongest institutions in the United States. Anyone who believes otherwise apparently hasn’t been living in the U.S. Neither families nor marriage are in danger. What is in danger is our freedom and our right to choose how we live in the most intimate part of our lives.
- “After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization.” Marriage was never defined before. If it had been, this statement would have been totally unnecessary. The best way to handle marriage is the traditional way: leave it up to individuals to decide.
- “Pro-family citizens have been bombarding the offices of his fellow senators with faxes, e-mails and phone calls to support the MPA.” It’s interesting that special interest groups have distracted so many people from the important work of our government to go chasing after shibboleths. It would be of much greater value to our society if these people were to write to the President urging him to increase the minimum wage so that working families had an easier time providing for their children.
- “How to confess your sex addiction:” I love sex and I think it is a very important part of my life. Unlike other addictions I don’t have to steal to support it and it makes a great bonding experience for me and my girlfriend (or boyfriend).
Counter—phrases to describe Conservative sexual values
These phrases are cleared for the list of policy terms. Feel free to add and elaborate.
- “family values” are really “paternal values” because they discriminate against women and children.
- “abstinence-only education” is “ignorance assurance”.
- “Marriage Protection Amendment” is the “anti-gay marriage” amendment/movement.
- “Defense of Marriage Act” is the “Marriage Interference Act”.
- “activist judges” are “judges”--it's a mistake to brag when judges rule your way
- “traditional values” are “antiquated values” like sexism, racism, religious hatred, or “parochial values” that don't take the real complexity of the world into account.
- “pro-life” is “forced pregnancy” (let’s just call it what it is).
- “term:pro-family” is “child-proofing society”, a silly and wasteful endeavor.
- “term:sex addiction” is “sex”--a term that doesn’t need a pejorative associated with it.
Other Resources to Draw On
- San Francisco Sex Information
- Coalition for Positive Sexuality
- The Good Vibrations Underage Page
- Teenwire Includes information on transgender health.
- Go Ask Alice Started by Columbia U. Health Services in 1993.
- Beyond Marriage
Remember: Liberals have a competing view of sexuality that is just as compelling, if not more compelling, than traditional views. Understanding and promoting liberal views is critical to leveling the playing field that neoconservatives tilted as they took over the language of sexual politics and employed churches to get their message out. The liberal view of sex is that all consensual human sex has an element of love and is therefore moral and contributes to the good of the individual, and ultimately to the good of society.
Democrats should not automatically buy into conservative views of sexuality, since those values have been shown to be less than perfect, and Democratic candidates should fight back whenever anyone attacks them for their views on sex-related issues by making the claim for the legitimacy and/or superiority of liberal sexual values.