Friday, October 15, 2010
The Friday Sex Blog [Unnatural Acts]
There’s very little more certain than the natural urge to express our sexuality. Almost as reliable as that urge is the societal urge to censor these expressions. I have written before about the more than 2,000-year Christian war against sexuality. I believe sexual censorship is founded on the fear that it is in our sexuality is the strongest power leading toward personal liberation.
Who reading this can honestly say they have never had a deeply moving experience during sex (any kind of sex)?
Let me start off by noting that sexual activities between consenting adults are restricted and carry extreme legal punishments. Until 1961, all fifty states had criminal laws against various forms of consensual sex between unmarried adults. While it is true that many of these laws were repealed during the seventies, as recently as 1997, twenty five states -- half the states in the union -- still have laws on the books criminalizing unmarried cohabitation. Fornication, defined as sex between unmarried couples, and “sodomy,” defined as oral and/ or anal intercourse, are illegal.
What do these really mean? In eleven states around the country, married couples who engage in oral or anal sex in the privacy of their own homes are committing a criminal act, usually a felony. In Rhode Island, an unmarried man and woman engaging in anal sex can receive anywhere from seven to twenty years in prison. In Michigan, two women were sent to prison for enjoying oral sex in the privacy of their tent in a state park. In South Carolina, “the abominable crime of buggery” (not defined in the statute) is punishable by five years in prison. You might think that these are old laws that remain on the books because they haven’t been questioned and you would be wrong. In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples engaging in “sodomy” don’t have a constitutional right to privacy, upholding Georgia state laws in which consensual oral or anal sex between same-sex couples is a felony.
Today many sex educators are leaving the educational system because they are under a tremendous amount of pressure not to talk about sex. Imagine that: not being able to talk about the very subject in which you hold expertise.
For the most part “sodomy” laws are used to discriminate against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and child custody cases, but they can be used to discriminate against straight unmarried couples as well. Considering the Supreme Court’s resistance to upholding sexual privacy at the federal level, the best tactic for fighting oppressive sodomy laws is at the state level.
Sexual expression becomes a crime when the materials produced are legally classified as “obscene.” Obscene materials are exempt from First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The legal definition of obscenity and the manner in which this definition is interpreted, determines what sexual materials we have access to and what materials we can create.
The Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity, in effect since the Miller v. California ruling, allows states to regulate sexual materials according to their own community standards. These regulations must be restricted to works that “taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest in sex,” that portray sexual conduct in “a patently offensive way,” and that “taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Only materials found by judges or jurors to meet each of three standards of obscenity may be deemed obscene.
These criteria are astonishingly vague. For example, the dictionary defines “prurience” as “an inordinate interest in matters of sex.” Wow! That’s very specific! Who or how does one determines if a photograph serious scientific value, versus merely scientific value is a road map for First Amendment violations.
If you think this doesn’t affect you adversely, then you’re probably doing a good imitation of an ostrich. Sexual censorship is used by the forces of sexual repression as a wedge in order to create intolerance and disinformation. One good example is the dismantling of Sex Ed courses. “Abstinence-only” Sex Ed courses that teach only sexual abstinence, actually put teens at risk sexually. Teens attending abstinence only sex ed courses have been shown to engage in high risk sexual behaviors at higher levels than others and are more prone to STDs and pregnancy.
In addition, any writing or material depicting sex in an honest manner can be censored, not because of the sexual content, but because perhaps the ideas in the material are dangerous to the status quo.
American Civil Liberties Union: Non-profit offering educational and legal services to defend First Amendment rights.
National Coalition Against Censorship: grassroots anti-censorship group fighting for freedom of expression.
Electronic Frontier Foundation: Nonprofit protecting civil liberties online.
Feminists for Free Expression: Anti-censorship organization
The Spectrum Institute: Nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the rights of single adults and domestic partners with or without children.