Both magic and religion are based strictly on mythological tradition, and they also both exist in the atmosphere of the miraculous, in a constant revelation of their wonder-working power. They both are surrounded by taboos and observances which mark off their acts from those of the profane world. – Bronislaw Malinowski
One year ago today I published “February Q & A”, in which I answer the questions, “Do you know an escort who works in my city?”, “Would you please give us a few pointers on how to perform oral sex on a man?” and “Why do so many more escorts kiss nowadays?” But every so often I get a single (complex) question whose answer is enough for a whole column; this is one of them.
Why is sex such a taboo in human culture and civilization? I am in my 20s and I find that the cultural conditioning is not allowing the natural sex urge to express itself naturally. Which social, economic and political factors are responsible for such a situation? The expression of sex urge has become more artificial in modern society. How much role does pornography play in making sex experience artificial? Do you think marriage is necessary in our modern society?
I suspect the sexual taboo derives from two different but related factors. First, consider birth; once our ancestors recognized the link between sex and babies they (understandably) developed a sense of awe about it. To them, it was magic (which in the end really just means “anything we don’t understand”), so they devised rules and ceremonies around it (such as marriage and sacred prostitution). And once religion and law get into the act, everything becomes more complicated and artificial. The development of the concepts of private property and the ability to organize society on a larger level than the tribe allowed the growth of cities and nations and the appearance of social classes, and heredity became important; since it was the responsibility of each family to care for its old, children became vital not merely as heirs but as caregivers in old age. Thus taboos developed around the generative organs, from which descendants sprang; if an enemy or evil spirit wished to harm one, causing his genitals to malfunction via magic could be an effective way. The ancients believed that words (especially names) had magical power, so people became reluctant to speak aloud of the genitals or sex acts, and it became more important to hide the organs and behaviors from sight and to describe them with euphemisms. In women, the mammae were sometimes hidden as well since they produce milk without which babies die.
Once such trends start, they continue by themselves even after people have forgotten the reasons they began in the first place. The modern welfare/police states have managed to turn children into a liability rather than an asset and birth control has made it possible to avoid them, yet we still pretend that every sex act is a magical ritual which may produce the most valuable of resources. We no longer believe that words have magical power, so we instead ascribe pseudoscientific explanations to the imagined “harm” they can cause and continue to legislate against them. And we cloak taboos against nudity with meaningless words like “decency” and pretend that for a woman to undress in front of strange men will somehow cause harm to society as a whole.
The increasingly-artificial expression of sex has nothing to do with porn (which has existed since man discovered art and language) and everything to do with burgeoning legal penalties for those who express sexual urges in anything resembling a natural fashion. Religious fundamentalists use the old excuses, neofeminists use new ones equally unfounded in reality, and governments seize upon any excuse whatsoever to harass, impoverish and imprison citizens. We’ve added new crimes to the old, and devised ever-more-fiendish punishments like “sex offender registration” for those who sin against the Holy Ritual of Sex; we’ve added an entirely new field of civil law in which individual women (no matter how warped or unrepresentative their views) are the sole arbiters of acceptable male sexual behavior; and in many cases we have elevated these previously-unprecedented civil torts into criminal law. People (especially men) are therefore increasingly wary of stepping into any of the arbitrary, subjective and often-invisible snares governments have designed to entrap them, and now have to consider any interaction with others (even their own children) as a soldier considers crossing a minefield; any misstep could result in swift and total disaster. Is it any wonder modern sex is artificial?
Finally, marriage. Though I’m a strong believer in traditional marriage, I think it’s like the riding of horses: a novel curiosity accessible only to the very few. And for nations to expend the time, money and effort they do on its continuance is equivalent to mandating horse lanes on motorways. It is an anachronism, and needs to be abolished; simply put, government needs to get out of the marriage game entirely except in its role as the adjudicator of private contracts. All marriages should be contracts written and freely entered by citizens of legal age, the number, sex and conditions of which are determined by nobody other than the participants. The function of the registrar would merely be to inspect the contract to ensure it contained all the necessary provisions (such as child custody and alimony/support) and no illegal ones. If such a contract were broken, the injured party could sue in civil court just as he could if any other contract were breached. There would be no such thing as “family law” or “divorce court”, which would remove the unfairness inherent in the current system and make it difficult for either party to use his or her natural advantages (money, sex or children) as a crowbar with which to leverage a lopsided deal into which no sane person would enter without compulsion.