Answering Some Questions about Sexuality
Friday, May 18, 2012Tweet
My next post, about defining sexual behavior, is ready to go, but since Queen of Carrots took the time to ask a bunch of follow-up questions to my last post, I wanted to take an opportunity to answer those questions first.
I don't pretend to have the definitive answers to anything, but I can always do my best!
How central is sexuality to personhood?
Answering this requires defining "central," "sexuality," and "personhood"! Are you talking about sexuality in the sense of being sexually attracted to other people, or in reference to sex and/or gender, as discussed in the post? I think in either case, there's no one answer for everyone. For some people, their identification as a man or woman is very important to their self-identity, and for other people, it's not. Same with sexual orientation or any other inborn trait. To me, this is like asking, "How central is race to personhood?" Because of the culture in which I live, I tend not to think about the fact that I am Caucasian as being central to my identity, but I know many people for whom being African American is extremely important to their identity. It wouldn't make sense for me to make a blanket statement about one aspect of a person always or never being central to their identity.
Is sexuality something people are, or something they do?
I think this may be addressed better by my next post on what sexual behavior is, but there are multiple aspects to this question, and again it comes down to the definition of sexuality. I was born attracted to men and not women, and that would have been true for me even if I lived in a cave by myself for my entire life. My "sexual orientation" is something I am; my "sexual activity" is something I do. I am sexually active with one individual, my husband, and if he died, I would no longer be sexually active (unless I remarried), but I would still be straight.
Is everyone entitled to a legitimate sexual outlet? Is it a necessary part of being human? (What about the disabled, disfigured, or just plain unlucky?)
This question is tricky because to say yes implies that we have an obligation to find sexual partners for everyone, and I don't think that's the case. I think the question to be asking is the flip side of this -- is there a legitimate reason to deny a group of people the ability to have a sexual partner? It's one thing if someone does not attract a sexual partner because they are (disabled, disfigured, unlucky), it's another thing completely to say that people who are (disabled, disfigured) should not be allowed to have a sexual partner. And I don't agree with that.
Are these cases where someone's biological sex is unclear more like being bad (or good) at math, or more like being born missing a foot? And why?
Well, in the case of either math skills or birth deformities, I'd say these things matter only to the extent that they are a disability (they prevent a person from doing something they want or need to do) and/or a handicap (they cause a person to be judged, labeled, looked down upon, etc.). After all, neither the fact that I can't speak Martian nor the fact that I'm missing a third ear have any impact on my life or anyone's opinion of me, so comparing those things to each other or to anything else would be meaningless. So if someone is born without any genitals, for example, you might say that that is a disability in that the person may need to have surgery in order to urinate. But it is a handicap if that person lives in a society that expects people to be clearly male or female, so the person may be discriminated against in school, employment, and so on. If a person is unsure whether to use a male or female restroom because they have both or neither traditional "parts," I don't think the question to be asking is "Is this similar to not being able to solve a math problem or not being able to walk?" The question to ask is "How can we make sure this person isn't going to be harassed or physically harmed if they make what someone perceives to be the 'wrong' choice between these two socially constructed options?" If the person can safely use either restroom, then the "problem" disappears altogether.
What is sexuality for? Why are we this way and not some other way?
I'm pretty sure every Christian, gay child has at some point in time asked God, "Why did you make me this way?" As far as I know, God hasn't provided a clear answer, so I don't feel qualified to try to answer this myself.
Is there such a thing as normal human sexuality?
Alfred Kinsey attempted to answer this question with his research. What he found (to the best of my understanding) was essentially that what we tend to culturally consider "normal" sexual activity looks completely different than "average" or "typical" sexual activity. So if by "normal" you mean "typical," then yes, I think it's possibly to make statements about what most people do, but that doesn't mean that people who don't do certain things are "abnormal" in the sense of being wrong. Case in point: Mike and I are not "normal" for practicing NFP, if you define "normal" as what most people do.
Another way I've seen this question approached, particularly from a Christian standpoint, is by asking what is "natural." This gets tricky because the general implication is that there is one specific way of having sex that is "natural" for everyone, and I don't think that's the case. I'd say it would be "unnatural" for a man who is only sexually attracted to men to have sex with a woman -- that would go against his nature. So if what you're asking is "Is every person sexually aroused by the same actions/people/whatever?" the answer is no. And if you're asking, "Should every person be sexually aroused by the same actions/people/whatever?" that seems like a strange question -- I think it's hard enough 1) determining what sexually arouses you and 2) communicating that to your spouse, without trying to conform to same standard!
Do you think all loving, committed relationships are OK? Multiple simultaneous partners? Closely-related partners? Why or why not?
I have a hard time finding any reason to condemn this threesome, and I think the author explains well why having multiple partners isn't for everyone but that doesn't make it wrong for everyone either. There are cases (such as adultery) when having multiple partners seems wrong to me, but that's because of the deception, unfaithfulness to commitment, etc., not solely the fact of having more than one partner. And I learned more about consanguineous relationships from Life as a Reader, such as this post. My experience has been that arguments against these kind of loving, committed, consensual relationships are more often than not based on prejudices, misunderstandings, and lack of experience knowing anyone in one of these relationships. I know my previous judgments were.
Is it always unloving to ask celibacy of someone else? (What about, for instance, someone who is only attracted to children? Would it be wrong to expect them to be celibate?)
Again, I'm not sure this is the question I would ask. The first question I would ask is: Does this type of relationship pose serious harm to either of the people in it? And the second question is, is it appropriate to legally prohibit this kind of sexual relationship? A loving same-sex relationship does not pose serious harm to either party. An emotionally abusive relationship is harmful, but is better prevented (in my opinion) through education and counseling than through attempting to define and legally prohibit such a relationship. However, a sexual relationship between an adult and a child almost unilaterally causes harm to the child (with some exceptions, such as consensual sex that is legally statutory rape between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old), and it is to some extent the law's obligation to protect minors, so therefore it makes sense to make this kind of relationship illegal. So now if you're talking about an individual who is interested in a sexual relationship that is illegal, it is not unreasonable to prevent this person from being in that kind of a relationship. If that is the only kind of sexual relationship they're interested in, then by default preventing them from having that kind of relationship would mean they would be celibate. But the emphasis is on the relationship, not on the person; I see a difference between requiring a person to be celibate because of something inherent in them, and prohibiting a specific kind of harmful relationship.
What do you all think?