I spent much of the weekend rapidly reading Dagmar Herzog's most excellent Sex in Crisis: The New Sexual Revolution and the Future of American Politics, the kind of smart sex book we need more of, which reminded me a bit of Cristina Page's How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. It's about the Religious Right and evangelical Christians and their take on sex. Salon has a piece up about it called "Jesus loves you - and your orgasm." I found the Christian married sex chapter "Soulgasm" fascinating, but not as offensive as Herzog did.
The rest, about our failings over abstinence education at home and AIDS in African countries like Uganda due to promoting abstinence over condoms to the tune of billions of dollars, is more than just disturbing. If you think we've come a long way sexually, well, we have, but not far enough. Herzog reminded me of the scope of some of these massive organizations, and also talks about how they mobilized and basically latched on to various causes, found new and improved ways to be publicly homophobic ("love the sinner, hate the sin" was their spin when out-and-out hatred failed), and basically tried to make their extreme views seem less extreme to the masses.
"For liberals, sex has become the problem that has no name; one simply does not hear liberals articulate a defense of sexual rights. Instead, what we have witnessed is a coalescing of conservative evangelical and mainstream secular perspectives on sex. The conversation on sex in America -- when sex is discussed in a serious and earnest way at all -- tends largely to adopt the parameters set by the Religious Right."
Assuming this to be the case, how exactly did it happen? Herzog's intriguing and deeply researched thesis is that evangelicals, over the last couple of decades, have beaten liberals at their own game by adapting liberal rhetoric for conservative ends.
As recently as 2003, for example, a certain public figure was arguing that voluntary prostitution was "despicable" because it "demeans the value of women" and promotes "the severe degradation and exploitation of women, the literal rape of countless women around the globe." Was it Andrea Dworkin? Catharine MacKinnon? The correct answer: pro-life Rep. Smith, R-N.J., whose distinctly illiberal purpose was to limit AIDS outreach efforts to prostitutes and sex workers in developing nations.
Or consider these descriptions of the female orgasm: "waves of pleasure flow[ing] over me ... like sliding down a mountain waterfall ... like having a million tiny pleasure balloons explode inside of me all at once." Erica Jong and Xaviera Hollander? Try evangelical sexologists Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus. (Even their names are suggestive.) Far from scorning the pleasures of the flesh, evangelical and marriage experts -- recognizing, in Herzog's wry phrase, that "repression alone is not sufficiently appealing" -- have made their careers by hymning the joys of strictly marital sex.
"We think the G-spot should be seen as one more way God gave us to share in the pleasure of sex," announced the Revs. Paul and Lori Byerly, hosts of the online site the Marriage Bed. Evangelicals Melissa and Louis McBurney have endorsed oral sex, mutual masturbation and rear-entry vaginal penetration -- between spouses. The Rev. Charles Shedd has declared that he and his wife, Martha, like anal sex just fine. As Herzog notes, these sex-positive Christians have absorbed from the women's movement of the 1970s and 1980s "an interest in intensifying women's sexual pleasure," as well as "the frustration at male fascination with pornography and emotional nonpresence during sex." The result is a kind of "Christian porn," as sexperts guide their married readers toward the holy land of "soulgasm," where spirit and flesh come ecstatically together. If you follow the rules, Herzog writes, "magnificent sex will be yours forever."