I find it interesting that so indispensable and natural a biological act as copulation carries so many stigmas in our society, but perhaps not so surprising. As animals with the capacity for forward thinking and the potential for cognitive mastery over our instinctual urges, we can recognize the harmful effects of over-population and the need to control it. A need arose in society to prevent individuals from producing more offspring than the community resources could support.
The need to control population growth is the reason for interfering with copulation in places such as China and much of the third world. The focus of the solution is to implement devices to prevent the production of zygotes, a merged sperm and egg. These forms of birth control include condoms, diaphragms, birth control pills, and vasectomies. In China abortions and child taxes are used as secondary population controls.
The disputation in all nations revolves around the consequences of the copulation act itself. Sexual intercourse provides a means for many diseases to transfer from person to person. Teenagers who become pregnant are not as capable as adults for providing for and raising children. Rape and sexual addiction are abnormal behaviors that objectify other human beings and are detrimental to the afflicted individual.
In America and other nations with a large population of western religious followers, a disputation concerning the ethics of copulation takes place. Most Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sects prohibit sexual intercourse outside of marriage, a contract between two individuals pledging dedication to a monogamous partnership. Even sexual intercourse for the purpose of mutual pleasure and not procreation is prohibited by many of the sub-sects of these religions. Additionally, non-reproductive sexual practices, such as fellatio, sodomy, homosexuality, and birth control are all often prohibited as well.
Thanks to scientific discoveries in psychology and genetics, we are becoming more informed on these issues and possibly coming closer to achieving an ideal mean on them.
Abstinence VS Birth Control
There are basically four methods of controlling population growth. These range from the simple to the extreme. For human beings, with our proclivity for forward-thought, all of these are cognitive methods, choices consciously made.
There are many reasons for birth control on both personal and societal levels. Sexual intercourse is an enjoyable recreational activity we engage in for purely for pleasure far more often than we do for procreation. Many individuals have other priorities than raising offspring, and pregnancy can be detrimental to career or lifestyle goals. Society may also be concerned with individuals incapable of caring for their offspring placing a burden on the community, which must then care for them.
Trying to spread the various methods of birth control across the American left/right political axis is an exercise in futility; however, it is possible, if not perfect, to look at them from a type of natural vs technological perspective. We could also split these along lines of what is more human nature along the spectrum.
Proponents of abstaining from sexual intercourse cite it as the only method 100% assured to prevent pregnancy. Some cite it as the only method 100% assured of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, but this is not true. It is possible to catch many STD’s without sexual intercourse. A true statement would be that sexual intercourse significantly increases one’s chances of acquiring an STD.
The variety of methods used to allow sexual intercourse without pregnancy range from artificial barriers, to medication, to surgery. Condoms and saran-wrap (for giving oral sex to a woman) are barrier methods that help prevent the transmission of STD’s as well as preventing human gametes from merging. Birth Control medication prevents pregnancies by manipulating the female’s menstrual cycles. Surgeries effectively render an individual sterile without otherwise impairing their ability to copulate.
Abstinence is more natural in a technological sense compared to other birth control methods; however, it is more unnatural on an instinctual level. Our natural urge is to have sex. It has served an indispensable role in the propagation of our species, like eating, so denial of this urge is also unnatural.
The healthiness of each method also comes into the dispute. There are some relatively minor health risks to medications and surgeries. There are also some health benefits to the sex act. So there is certainly a gray zone to this issue and a combination of both methods is the most popular choice in today’s society. Both birth control and abstinence practitioners should seek STD testing for themselves and their partner to make themselves aware of any potential risks.
There is a third option to this debate, which I have left out because it is unthinkable to our modern principles, and that is no birth control or abstinence, which is the most natural approach of all. Nature’s preferred method of birth control is starvation. A species overpopulates, the resources needed to support it are exhausted and those members less-capable of obtaining resources die.
In our modern civilization, the community assumes responsibility for children who’s parents are incapable of providing for them. This is an unnatural situation that allows individuals to reproduce without concern for being able to provide for offspring because the community will prevent them from starvation. The genes of the irresponsible members then propagate and the community becomes exploited by them.
Neither of these options, starvation or welfare, is ideal, but the disputation does exist and our civilization must work to strike a balance between them.
Sexually arousing material confronts us everywhere we go. Lingerie ads in the newspaper, music videos, advertisements, and styles of dress are all assaulting our senses, trying to trigger that hypothalamus response to get us thinking about sex, and therefore get our undivided attention. Even textbooks may contain unintentionally sexually arousing imagery. Some even argue that naked babies in advertising constitute pedophilia, as they tempt individuals plagued by that sexual abnormality.
Pornography is defined as “The explicit depiction or exhibition of sexual activity in literature, films or photography that is intended to stimulate erotic, rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” Pornography, therefore, has no artistic or emotional value. Its sole purpose is to evoke arousal in its audience.
So what constitutes pornography under this definition? The Supreme Court was completely at a loss to answer this question. On one extreme are people and organizations that believe ancient Greek statues are pornographic. On the other are people who find anything permissible. The personal nature of sexual arousal, taste in art, and emotional response make this an incredibly complex issue to deconstruct.
Definitions fall subject to societal norms. The criteria for determining pornography revolve around standards of normalcy that differ between cultures. America and Canada are much less permissive regarding explicit material than Europe. Standards of decency within these cultures vary between individuals, so an ideal mean is sought. It is no wonder, therefore, that this disputation holds a permanent place in our public forum.
Pornographic materials present a problem of distorting expectations in their audience. The men and women in pornographic films present unrealistic body types exhibited in only a very small percentage of the human population. In addition to breast sizes, statures, penis lengths, and other attributes all being exhibited in above average proportions, there is also the use of make-up and lighting to disguise blemishes and emphasize the mechanics of the sex act. Just as women should not purchase the largest vibrator they can find, watching pornography can lead to disappointment in one’s sexual partner’s attributes. It is like reading comic books to educate oneself about realistic body types.
The sexual positions in pornographic films are engineered, not for enjoyment, but for exhibition; therefore, many of the positions performed are not practical for couples pursuing mutual pleasure. Pornography’s focus on the visual, for the purposes of self-gratification, is detrimental to the physical sensations. It is the many frictions that occur all over the body, the breath on skin, the sounds of arousal, not just the main sexual organ, that produces the enjoyment of sex.
Why Porn is a Problem
Several religious organizations have claimed success at converting homosexuals to heterosexuality. I avoid the use of the term “curing” here because it implies homosexuality in and of itself is an abnormal behavior–abnormal being defined as compulsive and destructive to the health and happiness of the individual.
While homosexuality does occur in many other species of animal, including primates, Dr. Marie Helweg-Larsen notes that this does not settle the debate of whether homosexuality is natural or not. Most animal species are promiscuous. Should human beings follow that natural model? Rhinoceri mate for one and a half hours, while chimpanzees mating takes less than 30 seconds, which species should humans emulate more?
While generalizations about homosexuality in other species are used by defenders of the behavior, generalizations about homosexual humans are used by its opponents. They characterize homosexuals as being more promiscuous, more prone to certain health problems and diseases. While some statistics may support these claims, we must evaluate the behaviors of individuals and not condemn an entire demographic for its stereotype.
The American Psychology Association’s more that 150,000 members is that homosexuality is not abnormal and sexual orientation not a choice, but rather an emergent behavior. This scientific consensus differs from the organization’s pre-1970’s stance that homosexuality was abnormal. Both society’s changing standards and our evolving scientific understanding of sexual behavior prompted this change.
Alfred Kinsey had a scale for sexuality ranging from 0, completely hetero, to 6, completely homo, with 3 being bisexual. The scale is a self-assessment tool, a simple and subjective reflective exercise in understanding where we each stand. It serves to illustrate that homosexual behavior occurs along many degrees and is not an either/or phenomenon.
An additional gray zone in this debate is in the area of toleration and validation. It may be possible for a person to find homosexuality morally wrong, but respect another human being’s right to such a lifestyle. This is important for the homosexual community to keep in mind when defining it’s goals. Toleration is an achievable end, but across-the-board validation is impossible for anyone.
Lauren at Feministe has explored the conflict between two postmodern movements, feminism and multiculturalism, in regards to the issue of female circumcision, the act of surgically removing the clitoris practiced in some African and Middle-Eastern cultures. The principles of Multiculturalism argue that such cultural norms require respect. At the same time, the principles of feminism argue that the practice mutilates female genitalia and reduces their enjoyment of the sexual act.
There are limits to Multiculturalism’s mandate of tolerance. No one suggests cannibalism or genocide requires respect and protection as a cultural practice. So the question orbits the issue of human rights and whether these women are being oppressed.
Similarly, feminism would not dare to prevent women from circumcision if that were their desire. In fact, many women in the Middle East are proud of the fact that they have been circumcised. Again, the question is one of freedom and respect for human rights.
The debate over female circumcision has raised questions about another cultural practice, male circumcision. Many people who believe female circumcision is an inhuman practice, think nothing of removing the male foreskin popular in western culture, but studies have suggested the practice can reduce sensitivity in males, and has given rise to a debate in the medical community. If female circumcision is a violation of human rights, then is male neonatal circumcision?
Who should and should not be allowed to reproduce? Throughout history people have used a wide variety of criteria to argue for preventing certain human beings from having offspring. Ethnicity, physical disabilities, mental illness, age, and abnormal behaviors are just some of the reasons being used, even today, to argue for removing the reproductive rights from some individuals in our society.
While most modern day societies have adopted a position that anyone capable of reproduction is permitted to attempt it — a sort of “Free Market” of sexual relations. Technology has brought the debate back into the public light. The recently forgotten questions of who should be allowed to reproduce have come up again now that medical science is permitting people who previously could not have children to bare them.
Fertility clinics are making it possible for nearly anyone to produce offspring. Menopausal women are able to have children, but this comes at great medical risk to themselves and to the child. After the age of 40 pregnant women are classified as high-risk. Should society impose age-restrictions on reproductive rights? What about men, who may continue to have children long past an age where they may care for them? Consider the 80-year-old man who impregnates a young woman and has little chance of raising the child to maturity.
Medical Science is also making it possible for women and men genetically incapable of producing offspring to have them. Once again, science has found a way to circumvent biological evolution. The children of these individuals will also carry the genes making them incapable of reproducing. As one doctor describes it, “We are making the next generation of patients.”
While contemplating the possible restrictions society might require Fertility Clinics to subscribe. We must also consider the fairness of restrictions these clinics place on themselves. A survey reveals many clinics deny people their services for a variety of reasons. Lesbian couples, couples with physical disabilities, and biracial couples are just some of the demographics some clinics will deny services to.
Should Fertility Clinics, a free enterprise, have the right to decide who has the right to reproduce and who does not? Has the free market produced a situation where a corporation may legitimately prevent demographics it disapproves of from having children? When does pragmatic policy become eugenics?