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Vol. 20, No. 3, 2021
 
     
 
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WHEN SEX BECAME DIRTY


by
ROBERT J. LEWIS

____________________________________________________

 

Purity is the fruit of prayer.
Mother Theresa


Good girls go to heaven,
bad girls go everywhere.
Helen Gurly Brown)

 

It is a common misconception that humankind began to think of sex as dirty or shameful (sinful) with the development and institutionalization of the religious impulse. And while it is empirically true that the world’s major religions place restrictions on all but conservative (monogamous) relationships, man’s turning away from the instinctive expression of his sexuality began significantly (understatement) prior to the birth of formal religion: the Vedas, 3,500 years ago.

There is a compelling anthropological line of thought that argues that the imposition of restraints on human sexuality dates back to the first modern human, Homo Erectus (1.9 million years ago). [At the risk of disappointing an unquantifiable percentage of readers, ‘Homo Erectus’ refers to bipedalism.] However, placing even an approximate date on that momentous development is problematic since it required hundreds of thousands of years for our immediate ancestors, the great apes, to evolve into humankind.

The most striking development in the history of life on the planet Earth is the emergence of sentience, when life became conscious of itself, recognized itself as separate from the world and all other forms of life. As soon as man utters “I exist,” he understands it is possible not to exist. The birth and development of human culture is coeval with that first utterance that continues to toll in the echo chamber of time.

Time and Space, Being and Nothingness are man’s non-negotiable, existential progenitors. From their direct issue he find himself thrown into a world where and when after 1.9 million years of evolution he still does not feel entirely at home.

To better understand the emergence and implications of sentience (self-consciousness), consider the transition from the innocent, pre-pubescent children we once were into self-conscious adults; an imperceptible transformation that takes place over a period of many years. Getting a handle on it is like trying to watch a flower grow, or the minute hand of a watch advance. We only become aware of the change after the transition is either well on its way or is complete, at which point we can reflect on our prior, unselfconscious, uninhibited earlier selves. In like manner, when life first became self-conscious, it would have taken place only very gradually, perhaps requiring hundreds of thousands of years, and it would have been appreciated as such only when the new sentient life form recognized itself as distinct -- and uniquely privileged -- from all other forms of life.

The epochal significance attributed to the birth of self-consciousness (the birth of Being) cannot be separated from species-specific changes in man’s behaviour as he gradually comes to understand that self-consciousness is both a gift and a bane; on the one hand a source of unprecedented power (over one’s destiny) and on the other hand, a source of anxiety (the knowledge that cellular suicide is programmed into every human being). There can be no better example of mixed emotions than the empowerment that derives from being able to exercise choice and judge others – contrasted with the knowledge that one can choose poorly (catastrophically), and the person rendering judgment can in turn be judged and turned against himself.

Being self-conscious proved to be a condition almost impossible to bear without some form of daily relief. To see one’s self mirrored in others in every possible manner, from the way one walks, talks, dresses, dines, excretes, hunts, makes love, must have been at a minimum daunting, if not at times overwhelming, resulting in a state of mind that ached to escape its brave new neo-cortical imperatives. Out of this longing (to be insensate, mindless) arises the universal urge to seek out the means to temporarily revert to animal unselfconsciousness (Freud’s Death Wish). Such is the incredible heaviness of Being self-aware and the desire to be relieved of that uniquely human condition. There isn’t a culture in the world that doesn’t incorporate into its rites and reasons the employment of either alcohol or drugs to achieve that end.

Studies in anthropology suggest that the concept of privacy, the staking out of an inviolable territory of one’s own, is one of the most momentous developments -- born in the crucible of self-consciousness – in the affairs of man. It marks the beginning of the end of communal existence in respect to a shared, common territory, as the more dominant males began to mark out their personal, sacrosanct space. As the concept of privacy became more explicit and the demand for it more widespread, the need and respect accorded to it eventually became enshrined in the rule of law that forbade unlawful trespass. The formalizing of privacy privileged those (family members) who were granted unconditional access to a particular address. Closer to the present, the right of entry to the adult bedroom, especially during conjugal relations, is usually off-limits.

Among the fascinating new objects of the world upon which early man could cast his gaze was the animal world, which he had just left behind. And while he might have shared as much as 95% of his physiognomy with the species to which he no longer belonged, his new understanding of himself threw into sharp relief that his animal predecessors were dumb, that is totally unselfconscious, uninhibited. To more effectively demarcate the ever-widening gap between himself and the animal world, which corresponded to a new way of perceiving the world, the notion of hierarchy and pecking order became more explicit, with Homo sapiens at the apex. Out of this informal taxonomy a new pejorative was entered into the world. To accuse someone “of acting like an animal” implies the accuser is more evolved than, superior to the person being compared to the animal. From here on in, early man would pounce on every available occasion to differentiate and distance himself from his animal heritage.

Man’s new and better brain was tantamount to the discovery of a superior weapon, and with this new power (of choice) he expressly discouraged behaviour that recalled his animal origins, and rewarded behaviour that marked the great divide that now separated him from his animal predecessors. And this was especially true in respect to his sexual conduct. In order to demonstrate his superiority over the apes, early man began to frown upon the free and spontaneous manner of copulation commonly practiced in the animal world, and at some point in his evolution he decided it was more dignified for sexual activity to take place in private, a constraint that was reinforced by a growing reluctance to be gazed at or judged during sexual congress. Urination and especially defecation would have followed a similar timeline. To further distance himself from his animal heritage, he began covering up his sexual parts, which conveniently provided protection against the elements and disease.

So even at this very early stage of man’s development, if sex hadn’t come to be regarded as dirty or shameful, it was already being regulated. Of course none of this prevented the alpha male from imposing his will on the females of his choice, who, when it was required, vaunted his authority via public copulation. But in general, intimacy became a leisure pursuit reserved for the private sphere.

It is only very recently in human history, with the emergence of formalized religion, that sex came to be regarded as dirty or shameful (sinful). The reasons speak volumes to the fears and frailties of men.

Man has never been comfortable with women’s more formidable sexual powers. The latter are exempt from performance issues, they can copulate all day long and are multi-orgasmic; superiorities for which men have never forgiven them. So with the advent of formalized religion, ever resourceful man -- recognizing the propensity of humans to surrender to a higher power: God (his edicts and decrees) -- stumbles upon a subterfuge that allows him to recast women’s sexuality as an evil that must be kept on tight leash.

It is not a fortuitous development that all the major religions place profound importance on women’s purity (virginity), punishing, in certain instances to the death, female sexual conduct deemed sinful or untoward. To reinforce this view, from their earliest years, little girls are taught that virtuous women go to heaven, sluts go to hell. Conveniently, there is no masculine equivalent for slut.

It is not a coincidence that all of the man-founded major religions have turned the notion of female purity into a quasi-fetish, which in Catholicism culminates in the concept of immaculate conception (virgin birth or parthenogenesis); code for sex is dirty.

Orthodox Judaism makes bed sheet inspection compulsory for proof of virginity.

Until recently, Hinduism infamously called for Sati (bride burning) in the event of an impure bride. And Indian women who survived their husbands were expected, via the rite of pyre and fire, to join him in the next world. Since men (God’s emissaries) wrote all the rules, those who lost their wives were of course free to remarry.

In the 11the century, Catholicism introduced the concept of celibacy as a requirement for priesthood, and that women seeking to ingratiate themselves into God’s favour were encouraged to become nuns. In both cases, conjugal life is regarded as an obstacle to serving God. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche marks this development as a point of civilizational decline when the effete, sterile and unmanly are raised to spectacular eminence at the expense of the alpha male.

Further enforcing the notion that sex is dirty, Catholicism forbids widows to remarry, obliging them to dress in black for the remainder of their lives.

Islam, not to be outdone, at the onset of puberty imposes the wearing of the burqa under which the woman’s body is disappeared for life, and obliges her to submit to a sunna, a religious ceremony that culminates in the excision of the clitoris (FGM).

The constant that runs through all religions is that the most prized and virtuous woman is the virgin, and the least virtuous are women who have given or sold themselves to many men. We note that men are quick to assign pejoratives to women who expressly make themselves available to them, and that women are demonized for the same behaviour that is envied in men. Edith Wharton, in The Age of Innocence, observes that there are women men respect and women men enjoy.

During the past 150 years all religions have been waging a losing battle against the rising tide of secularism. Emerging out of this sea change is the feminist movement that dared to challenge the male hegemony. Not without setbacks and a high casualty count, the movement continues to spread, and thanks to social media the whole world is watching as women begin to wrest erstwhile absolute power from men.

Today’s thoroughly modern woman now enjoys the right to vote, own property and participate as an equal in every field of endeavour, and just as importantly, to exercise control over her body and sexuality. In light of these new developments that are forcing men to radically revise their behavior and expectations as it concerns female sexual conduct, the idea that sex is dirty, shameful and sinful, like the religions that enshrined the view, is losing purchase, especially in urban centers.

If when man first became man, it would have been a matter of course that he would want to place restrictions on his sexual conduct in order to distinguish himself from the animal world, it is altogether something else to repurpose that inclination (through religion) in order to control women by designating all but conservative sex as dirty or sinful. But that is what men did until women decided to rewrite the playbook.

In especially the West, it is now possible for a woman to be considered virtuous as a consequence of the totality of her life, a dispensation men have enjoyed for their entire history.

It may have taken thousands of years of catch up for women to even out ‘some’ of the playing fields (many remain off limits), but the winds of change are blowing in their favour and the smartest of the men are setting sail to their breeze.

 

 

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COMMENTS

garblflax
This is one rambling mess of an opinion piece.

CyanMagus
Articles like this are always dumb. You can’t pretend “religion” is a single thing and get coherent results. Anyway, the one single thing this article says about Judaism is wrong. Orthodox Judaism makes bed sheet inspection compulsory for proof of virginity. Nope, that’s not real.

servant_of_the_night
"Islam, not to be outdone, at the onset of puberty imposes the wearing of the burqa under which the woman’s body is disappeared for life, and obliges her to submit to a sunna, a religious ceremony that culminates in the excision of the clitoris (FGM)." This is just wrong. Neither the burqa nor FGM are universal in Islam. Also, sunnah just means a practice or a custom, usually referring to a sunnah of the Prophet.

g0dlessanimal/ Secular Humanist
Yikes, whoever wrote this article needs to be fired. So many inaccuracies already pointed out in the comments.

grasshopperV2/ Muslim
FGM and burqa are not mandatory. FGM isn’t even allowed in Islam it is a cultural thing. u/artsandopinion. You have to be the most ignorant person in this subreddit. You possibly have set the lowest standard for atheists here. Go to back to r/atheism if you want a circle jerk, we are not going to give it to you.

shadowfaj
Actually there's a hadith that allows a minor form of fgm, however it isn't an actual endorsement, nor is it said that fgm is beneficial in any manner other than aesthetics. Even then its authenticity can be devated

Campbell_Hayden ·
"As soon as man utters 'I exist', he understands it is possible not to exist." What a *HUGE* load of junk. Question: If the “christ-based” god can make a word become flesh, why would it need a virgin to create a son?
Answer: So that Christianity can dictate when sex, and what forms of sex, can be labelled as being 'dirty' and be dealt with accordingly.
Conclusion: Religious restrictions create their own weakness.

gertninja/agnostic
along with the sheet and FGM already mentioned, we can add Sati as examples of conflating cultural practices with the dominant religion.

shadowfaj
Go take your error riddled atheist circlejerk to r/atheism

The_Puffin_King
If it's not dirty you're not doing it right

user-submission@feedback.com
That’s a pretty poorly written piece.

 

also by Robert J. Lewis:

ORIGINAL ALT-CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR GUITAR

Blood Meridian: (McCarthy): An Appreciation
Trump & Authencity

Language, Aim & Fire

One Hand Clapping: The Zen Koan Hoax

Human Nature: King of the Hill

The Trouble with Darwin
The Life & Death of Anthony Bourdain
Denying Identity and Natural Law
The Cares versus the Care-nots
Elon Musk: Brilliant but Wrong
As the Corporation Feasts, the Earth Festers
Flirting & Consequences
Breaking Bonds
Oscar Wilde and the Birth of Cool
The Big
Deconstructing Skin Colour
To Party - Parting Ways with Consciousness
Comedy - Constant Craving
Choosing Gender
Becoming Our Opposites
Broken Feather's Last Stand

Abstract Art or Artifice II
Old People
Beware the Cherry-Picker
Once Were Animal
Islam is Smarter Than the West
Islam Divided by Two
Pedophiling Innocence
Grappling with Revenge
Hit Me With That Music
The Sinking of the Friendship
Om: The Great Escape
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
1-800-Philosophy
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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