The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Why Does Sex Terrify Americans?

Why do Americans hate sex so much?

I don’t mean they aren’t obsessed with it — I suggest quite the opposite. The more people openly despise the erotic the more secrets they have hidden in their closets. If there is one psychological trait that is common in the United States it’s what psychologists call projection.

That’s a defence mechanism where individuals attribute “one’s own unacceptable urges to another. For example, if someone continuously bullies and ridicules a peer about his insecurities, the bully might be projecting his own struggle with self-esteem onto the other person.” One reason anti-gay crusaders end up in gay sex scandals is because they hate in others what they hate most in themselves. So they attack others for being gay because they themselves are gay.

In terms of sex in general this can mean people who grew up being told sex is disgusting, sinful, “a loss of innocence,” etc., become most obsessed with sex.

In 1989 I was in Paris during the Bicentennial for a conference. The event had people from various countries. The hotel was a high rise and behind the hotel was a swimming pool, which allowed women to swim topless.

What I heard was hotel staff were commenting about “the Americans” and how all these American men were standing in windows ogling the women at the pool throughout the day. They didn’t notice other nationalities as obsessed. I dare not guess how they would have acted if these men visited the beaches in the South of France.

Some years later I lived in Berlin and my apartment building was between the grand department store, Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) and the Tiergarten, the grand park in the center of the city. It edged up on the Zoo and was a lovely park to walk around. I quickly discovered a huge field in the park, only yards from the main road, was used for nude sunbathing. It was hard to miss as the main walkways went through it and it couldn’t be avoided.

Now where Americans were leering in Paris the Berliners I saw strolled through the fields of naked people without batting an eyelash. Elderly couples were walking their dogs and younger couples were visiting all areas of the park with their children in tow. No one seemed particularly obsessed with other people’s bodies.

In evangelical circles the subject of sex came up constantly as preachers — often themselves molesters and abusers — would rant and rave about it. And they always blamed the women. Men were never responsible for their actions — of course virtually all the preachers were men — it was the fault of women tempting them. If a preacher got caught seducing an underage female she was the temptress sent by the Devil to ensnare him. In evangelicalism men were the victims of women. Often there were dozens of them all directed by the Devil to tempt this one preacher.

I found this theory odd to say the least. I was in a boarding school for the last years of grade school and the coaches were awful men intent on beating masculinity into you whether it meant requiring you to box and punch other boys in the face, or climb ropes. Also you had mandatory swimming once a week and none of the boys were allowed swimsuits. The swim coach would watch the boys intently and stand in the shower door staring until the last boy had finished showering.

Nationwide young males were forced into situations of nudity with other males — whether they wanted to be there or not. Yet no one considered why the young men who were gay managed to resist the temptation forced on them by a culture of toxic masculinity. They could control themselves but “God’s men” were falling to the temptations of underage harlots with amazing regularity.

I have concluded Americans are experts at projection when it comes to sexuality and the more sexually repressed they are the more they projection their “sins” onto others.

We have seen multiple scandals within Catholicism of “celibate” priests molesting underage parishioners. Just recently the Southern Baptist Convention admitted they had a secret list of hundreds of molesters in church positions, few of whom were required to face legal consequences. Like the priests in Catholicism it was covered up.

Yet, in American politics the most self-righteous willing to impose their theology on others by force of law have been the Catholic hierarchy and evangelical theocrats in the pulpit. Yet these groomers point figures at drag queens and call them groomers; the predators of the pulpit claim they are not the real threat to children, but gay people are. The louder they preach the more they are hiding.

So, from where did this come?

I think in the Western world the source is a power-hungry church that long ago learned guilt is a wonderful tool for the subjugation of others. Histories of the rise of Catholicism show power hungry popes using marriage and sex as means of controlling the political hierarchy. It allowed them to transfer power to the Vatican along with vast amounts of wealth.

Priests were eventually forbidden to marry because they left wealth to their wives and children and the church wanted those riches for itself. In addition, by imposing celibacy on priests and teaching it was the more moral option they found the perfect means of social control.

There are few universal needs. The most obvious are food, water, and sexual release. The human body evolved with sexual release necessary. If it isn’t done while awake it is often done while asleep. A strong urge that the church made sinful means confession and seeking absolution. Both are methods of control.

One result of this anti-sex, anti-body theology is that it inspires the guilty to seek out scapegoats. They need someone to blame for their urges or hidden activities. So they scream about the media, or library books, or drag queens. It’s always someone’s fault that they routinely violate their own “moral standards.”

Erick Adame was weatherman for TV1 Spectrum News in New York and he did a sexually explicit video cam with consenting adults. Some bitter individual decided he should be punished so they sent screen captures of Adame to the station and to his mother, to further the embarrassment. NY1 then fired Adame.

Adame handled the whole thing badly and immediately went into apology mode with the “I’m sick” sort of excuse making. He branded his sexual needs “compulsive behavior,” which is a psychological equivalent of the guilt-inducing “sin” theory of the church. Yes, sex is “compulsive” in that sexual needs are present in almost all people, for most of their life. That isn’t a compulsion anymore than breathing is, drinking water, eating food. It is a natural need.

Some counselors make a good living dealing with the “sexually compulsive” actions of people who hurt no one but they buy into the psychiatric equivalent of sin and feel guilty. The go to the therapist for absolution and like the church he gets well paid for absolving people of having natural urges.

Adame says he’s getting “professional help” so he can make “appropriate decisions.” But really, whom did he hurt? The guilt being imposed on him by his therapist and his former employers is little different than centuries of guilt imposed on adolescents for masturbation or on gay people for daring to be homosexual.

Bizarrely John Casey, an editor at the LGBT The Advocate joined the pile on saying Adame should have been fired. Casey, in a rhetorical flair best suited to a Republican hate festival, said Adame’s cam sessions were “a world of debauchery, decadence, and dalliance that only those in the know know about.” He then assured his readers he only heard about the site because of this story. He did not offer a bridge in Brooklyn for sale, but he may as well. His column sounded more like a Baptist sermon than an editorial in a publication that once supported sexual choice between consenting adults in it’s more libertarian youth. Casey can’t help but let loose with a series of insults and attacks on sexuality itself — which sounds like the rantings of someone upset he isn’t getting any. He thinks it witty to call it a “fornicating forecast.” Get out the Scarlet Letter, Rev. Casey is on the loose.

Casey stoops to low insinuations such as “Some say he was using drugs.” Gee, some say Q has the truth but it takes a moron to repeat it. He does say drug use was denied but then insinuates it might be involved a second time, all with nothing more than a “some say” it’s true.

“If you’re older, you would say the weatherman was metaphorically caught in a public restroom having sex with another man,” wrote Casey. Well, I am older and I can see the two are nothing alike. People don’t innocently enter a sex cam site, search through the listings and pick one out without knowing what they are seeing. Two men having sex in a public place can easily expose unwilling people to they gymnastics, Mr. Adame could not. That’s a major difference.

This old guy thinks Casey is being more of an ass than Adame. Adame didn’t hurt Casey or anyone else, but Casey is out to denigrate and insult Adame. He really sounds envious of a younger generation with more freedom than he had — though his obsession with restroom sex sounds more biographical than theoretical. But one thing is obvious, Mr. Casey does sound jealous that people today have choice he didn’t have, and his solution is to attack them and the “expressive individualism” of the younger generation.

Don’t make this a generational issue Mr. Casey because this old guy, who lives a pretty subdued life, thinks you’re being a prig and a prude.

Consider a similar scandal for a young straight celebrity instead of a young gay weatherman. Dylan Sprouse, along with his twin Cole, could be said to have grown up on the Disney Channel so when rather explicit photos of him were leaked, there was some media hype about it. Dylan didn’t apologize for “compulsive” behavior. He smiled and said, “Whoops, guess I’m not 14 and fat anymore.” He released a statement:

“I’m of the mindset that whoever you are, if you are proud of your body and want to show it off, so be it! You do you. There is an odd taboo with the human form (especially in the USA) and I don’t particularly think its a good thing to teach people that you should “hide yourself” as something incredibly sacred. Blah blah blah, that’s a medieval notion.”

Twin Cole commented on social media, “Cold in that bathroom huh?” Good on him for not taking the hoopla seriously.

This idea that one should feel guilty over natural, biological needs is absurd. What matters is two fold. Are they hurting others or violating their rights? If the answer is “no” then it isn’t a legal matter and people should mind their own business and leave them alone.

The second question is; are they hurting themselves?

That’s more complicated because the harm they do to themselves is often harm inflicted on them by others — such as by Mr. Casey. I advise people to be aware others may try to harm them. The country is filled with evangelical Republicans out to flog adulterers and execute sodomites the way Jesus did. That should be taken into account.

But these “sinners” aren’t trying to hurt anyone and as long as it’s consenting, beyond offering advise we should leave them alone. We certainly shouldn’t join the pile-on that will be inflicted by the religious Right.

What Adame did was no more evil than solitary sex — in fact, that is precisely what it was. If you don’t like it stay off the cam site. But if you tell me you’re sexually pure, avoid such “sinful” impulses, etc., the first thing I’d do is put a lock on your closet door. What you’re likely to have hidden in there is not something I want to see. The louder your condemnation the greater your own sins of the flesh are likely to be—just ask Jerry Falwell, Jr.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.