Nathaniel Peters

‘The Meaning of Sex’: why sexual integrity isn’t out-of-date

Nathaniel Peters
By Nathaniel Peters
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June 7, 2012 (thepublicdiscourse.com) - How should we respond to the hookup culture? A number of concerned parents, pastors, and professors from all sides of the religious and political spectrum have expressed concern about the sexual culture that today’s young people inhabit. Some scholars, such as sociologists Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker, and Kathleen Bogle, have published value-neutral analyses that aim to assess current trends and save us from common misperceptions. In empirical terms, they tell us how and why the sexual economy hurts its actors. Others, such as Laura Sessions Stepp and Donna Freitas, have offered more personal—and, for Freitas, spiritual—analyses of problems and possible solutions in modern sexual culture. Interestingly enough, these authors don’t write as traditionalists or social conservatives. They aren’t advocating purity rings or “modest is hottest.” Instead, they seek to help young people make more responsible sexual decisions. Not surprisingly, though, their counsel often aligns with a traditional conception of sexuality and monogamy, even if not perfectly. The science shows that more commitment and fewer sexual partners tend to make people happier.

But what about those who think that morality requires a bit more of us? How can they persuade young people that reserving sexual intimacy for marriage is the right thing to do? In his book On the Meaning of Sex, popular author and political philosopher J. Budziszewski attempts to make such an argument on the basis of human nature and natural law. He begins with an anecdote from teaching. During a classroom discussion of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, one of his students, Harris, said he found the characters disgusting. When pressed, Harris clarified that he had no problem with their sexual habits: “Sex doesn’t always have to mean something,” he insisted. What he found disgusting was their factory production of human beings.

But, Budziszewski argues, holding those two positions is not logically consistent:

It shouldn’t have bothered Harris unless procreation is something that ought to take place in the loving embrace of the parents. . . . Moreover, since Harris was revolted that the aspiration to children could ever be separated from the aspiration to union, it would seem that he recognized that these two meanings aren’t merely sometimes joined together, but that they are joined whenever we have sex. . . . Apparently sex means something to us even if we don’t admit to ourselves that it does.

That last sentence conveys Budziszewski’s goal and style of argumentation: He wants to draw attention to the reader’s gut feelings and instincts that may have been trained away by education or social conditioning. He wants to help them see what they know, even if they don’t know that they know it.

After some well-laid-out arguments about function, purpose, and natural law, Budziszewski argues that our bodies and actions have natural purposes. This means that some actions, such as those necessary for sexual union, mean something, whether we want them to or not. To put it another way, they say something, even if that is not what we want them to say: “A bodily action is like a word; we mean things to each other no less by what we do than by what we say. . . . To crush your windpipe with my thumbs is to say to you, ‘Now die,’ even if I tell you with my mouth, ‘Be alive.’ To join in one flesh is to say, ‘I give myself to you in all that this act means,’ even if I tell you with my mouth, ‘This means nothing.’” What sex means is total gift, a union of selves instantiated through bodily union, and it cannot but help mean that. By acting against this nature, which we cannot change, we do damage to ourselves and others.

Budziszewski further argues that human nature entails complementary differences between men and women. He notes that these differences are similar across cultures, both in terms of what people think they are and what they think about them. “Mark it up as another victory of quantitative social science,” he writes: “We can now confirm by counting that what everyone used to know without counting really is true.” He then explores how the particular characteristics of men and women make them attractive—in short, what we mean when we say that someone is sexy. Budziszewski thinks we mean that we find their manliness or womanliness desirable. Womanliness, for instance, “isn’t something she contrives, but something that glows from her. . . . The most compelling and believable signs of being a nice person to marry, make love with, and have children with are the ones that arise spontaneously. They are an outward glory given by an inward and invisible reality. A beautiful woman cannot help giving off such radiance, because it is an effect of what she really is.” Beauty conveys something deeper and more holistic than raw sexual appeal.

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Similarly, spousal love is not a matter of feelings but an act of the will. Enchantment is a feeling of emotional infatuation, the moment of “wow” when she enters the room. Love, by contrast, is really about charity, which Budziszewski defines as “a permanent commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” Erotic charity is a mode of charity bound to one person, and sexual intercourse is a particular act of this charity that fuses two selves together in the union of their flesh. Because love is not about enchantment, but charity, it is an act of the will, not a feeling. Therefore, Budziszewski argues, “it is something that one decides to do, and it can be promised.” To the many young people who claim that permanent, exclusive marriage is impossible because you can’t promise feelings, he would say yes—but marriage is not a promise of feelings.

Not surprisingly, Budziszewski calls for embracing sexual purity, which, he makes clear, is a matter of pursuing goods—goods that will be useful and helpful for marriage—not fleeing from them. Its temporary “no’s” enable one to give a full “yes” at the right time. He sees sexual purity as coming in both masculine and feminine flavors: “One awakens the feminine intuition of something that must be guarded; the other, the masculine sense of something that must be mastered.” And he extols the virtues of purity: decorum, “the conduct befitting the dignity of man as a rational being”; modesty, which “expresses respect for the fragility of this dignity . . . [and avoids] provoking appetites that people should be trying to moderate”; and temperance, finding order and the mean in one’s actions.

Throughout the book, Budziszewski resists invoking God or anything beyond rationally accessible premises. More accurately, he hints at such ideas without developing his hints, nor has he explained why every chapter begins with a quotation from John of the Cross. In the conclusion, though, he argues that sex points to and is ultimately about God: “Nature points beyond herself. She has a face, and it looks up. . . . ultimately, human love makes sense only in the light of divine love. The point is not that divine love means something and that human love doesn’t. Human love means so much, because divine love means still more.” In a variation on C.S. Lewis’s argument for the existence of God based on desire, he notes that even when we love well, mortal love is not enough. Since no human longing is made in vain, this unfulfilled natural desire must point toward a supernatural lover.

But taking this argument into religious waters poses the question of which audience Budziszewski hopes to reach. And that poses the larger question of how effective his efforts—not to mention the broader efforts of like-minded religious believers—actually are. If he wants to strengthen the faithful as they navigate young adulthood, he might well succeed. To be sure, far too many young religious men and women have followed the cultural lead and abandoned chastity. If On the Meaning of Sex gave them better reasons for it, that alone would be a great feat. But how is he to persuade students who press with further questions or actively oppose his views on principle? Budziszewski’s occasionally chivalric language might go over well with young Chestertonians, but many young adults would balk at passages like this one:

When we do attempt the journey back to the commonwealth of sense, we will meet trolls and enchanters on the way. They will obstruct passage, demand tribute, and try to lure us into byways and bogs. But why should that discourage us? We are already begrimed and bewitched. The first thing to do is open our eyes, grasp hold of the nearest branches, and pull ourselves out of the ooze. Odd knights we! Having made ourselves muddy and ridiculous, we may as well journey with a smile.

Likewise, the Arthurian metaphor of the Siege Perilous for a woman, her sexuality, or her reproductive organs is not going to fly outside more traditional Christian circles, and even there it might receive tenuous support.

Inquisitive students will desire more proof that sex has to mean what Budziszewski thinks it means—and why it cannot mean what they might want it to mean. His passages about sexual beauty offer an attractive vision of what it means to be human, but can they pierce the carapace of wounded, ironic disdain? He discusses sexual differences with nuance and care, and many young adults would no doubt find resonances of his words in their lives, but, albeit unfairly, a good number will dismiss it as patriarchal and outmoded.

How then can those who agree with Budziszewski try to show young adults a more excellent way? There are few easy answers, but On the Meaning of Sex’s strengths show where to begin: by offering an eloquent, engaging description of the beauty of men, women, and sexuality. Moreover, it seeks to show young people the wisdom of their desires and repugnance. It tries to preserve good intuitions and gently check misunderstandings, to show them what their hearts know, even if unwittingly. It also hands on the wisdom of our forebears with care and winsomeness. Of course, those who believe that chastity leads to flourishing must also demonstrate it with their lives. But arguments are necessary as well, and both the style and the content of On the Meaning of Sex offer a good place to find them.

Nathaniel Peters is a Ph.D. student of theology at Boston College. This article reprinted with permission from thepublicdiscourse.com.


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Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

‘It’s a miracle’: Newborn girl survives two days after being abandoned in a field

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

The survival of a baby who was abandoned by her mother and left in a field for two days has been described as "a miracle" by the doctor attending the newborn girl.

"She had been left alone naked, and weighed less than a kilogram, in part because she was so severely dehydrated," said Doctor Barbara Chomik at the hospital in the northern Polish city of Elblag, according to a report from Central European News.

"It is a miracle that she survived under those conditions for so long. It is simply a miracle," Dr. Chomik said.

The report said that the child's mother, Jolanta Czarnecka, 30, of Ilawa in northeastern Poland, had concealed her pregnancy from friends and fellow workers, and had given birth in a field during a lunch break, then returned to work.

When blood was noticed on her clothing, the woman at first claimed she had accidentally given birth in the toilet and the baby had gone down the drain.

However, when investigation found no evidence supporting her claims, Czarnecka admitted to having given birth to the child in a nearby field and leaving her there.

When searchers found the child, two days after her birth, the little girl was dehydrated and covered with insects.

Czarnecka is facing charges of attempted murder for allegedly abandoning her child.

Czarnecka, who has entered a not guilty plea to the charges against her, could be sentenced to five years in prison if she is convicted.


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Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon

To the Christians who think 50 Shades is all sorts of awesome: Please, stop and THINK

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By Jonathon van Maren

It’s pretty depressing when you realize that, in 2014, many people seem to think that destruction of human dignity is a small price to pay for an orgasm.

I suppose when I write a column about a book that just sold its 100 millionth copy I shouldn’t be surprised when I get a bit of a kickback. But I have to say—I wasn’t expecting hundreds of commenters, many saying they were Christian, to come out loudly defending the porn novel 50 Shades of Grey, often tastelessly interspersed with details from their own sex lives.

People squawked that we “shouldn’t judge” those who practice bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM), and informed me that “no one gets hurt” and that it “isn’t abuse” and said that it was “just fantasy” (as if we have a separate brain and body for fantasy).

Meanwhile, not a single commenter addressed one of the main arguments I laid out—that with boys watching violent porn and girls being socialized to accept violence and torture inside of a sexual relationship, we have created a toxic situation in which people very much are being hurt.

In response to the defenders of this trash, let me make just a few points.

  1. Not all consent is equal.

People keep trumpeting this stupid idea that just because someone consents to something or allows something to happen, it isn’t abusive.

But if someone consents to being beaten up, punched, slapped, whipped, called disgusting and degrading names, and have other things done to them that I will choose not to describe here, does that make it any less abusive? It makes it legal (perhaps, but it certainly doesn’t make it any less disgusting or violent.

Would you want your daughter to be in a relationship with Christian Grey? Would you want your son to turn into Christian Grey? If the answer is yes to either of those, someone should call social services.

Anyone who works with victims of domestic and sexual assault will tell you that just because someone permits something to happen or doesn’t extricate themselves from a situation doesn’t mean it isn’t, in fact, abuse. Only when it comes to sex are people starting to make this argument, so that they can cling to their fetishes and justify their turn-ons. Those women who defend the book because they think it spiced up their sex life are being incredibly selfish and negligent, refusing to think about how this book could affect other women in different situations, as well as young and impressionable girls.

In the words of renowned porn researcher and sociologist Dr. Gail Dines:

In his book on batterers, Lundy Bancroft provides a list of potentially dangerous signs to watch out for from boyfriends. Needless to say, Christian [Grey of 50 Shades of Grey] is the poster boy of the list, not only with his jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behavior, but his hypersensitivity to what he perceives as any slight against him, his whirlwind romancing of a younger, less powerful woman, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings. Any one of these is potentially dangerous, but a man who exhibits them all is lethal.

The most likely real-world ending of Fifty Shades of Grey is fifty shades of black and blue. The awful truth in the real world is that women who partner with a Christian Grey often end up hightailing it to a battered women's shelter with traumatized kids in tow. The less fortunate end up in graveyards.

  1. 50 Shades of Grey normalizes intimate partner violence…

…and sickeningly, even portrays it as romantic and erotic. Amy Bonomi, Lauren Altenburger, and Nicole Walton published an article on the impact of 50 Shades last year in the Journal of Women’s Health. Their conclusions are intuitive and horrifying:

While intimate partner violence (IPV) affects 25% of women and impairs health, current societal conditions—including the normalization of abuse in popular culture such as novels, film, and music—create the context to support such violence.

Emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction, including: stalking (Christian deliberately follows Anastasia and appears in unusual places, uses a phone and computer to track Anastasia’s whereabouts, and delivers expensive gifts); intimidation (Christian uses intimidating verbal and nonverbal behaviors, such as routinely commanding Anastasia to eat and threatening to punish her); and isolation (Christian limits Anastasia’s social contact). Sexual violence is pervasive—including using alcohol to compromise Anastasia’s consent, as well as intimidation (Christian initiates sexual encounters when genuinely angry, dismisses Anastasia’s requests for boundaries, and threatens her). Anastasia experiences reactions typical of abused women, including: constant perceived threat (“my stomach churns from his threats”); altered identity (describes herself as a “pale, haunted ghost”); and stressful managing (engages in behaviors to “keep the peace,” such as withholding information about her social whereabouts to avoid Christian’s anger). Anastasia becomes disempowered and entrapped in the relationship as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.

Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence—one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.

  1. Really? Sadism?

I notice that commenters rarely break down what the acronym “BDSM” actually stands for: bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. If they did, they could no longer make the repulsive claim that “love” or “intimacy” have anything to do with it.

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The definition of sadism is “enjoyment that someone gets from being violent or cruel or from causing pain, especially sexual enjoyment from hurting or punishing someone…a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others.”

As one of my colleagues noted, we used to send sadists to a therapist or to prison, not to the bedroom. And 100 million copies of this porn novel have been unleashed on our society informing people that getting off on hurting someone is romantic and erotic. It is a brutal irony that people who scream about water-boarding terrorists are watching and experimenting with sexual practices far more brutal. As one porn researcher noted, some online BDSM porn promotes practices and behaviors that would be considered unlawful under the Geneva Convention if they were taking place in a wartime context.

It seems the Sexual Revolutionaries have gone from promoting “safe sex” to “safe words”—just in case the pain gets too rough. And none of them seem to be volunteering information on just how a woman is supposed to employ a safe word with a gag or bondage headgear on.

But who cares, right? Just one more casualty on our culture’s new Sexual Frontier.

  1. “It’s just fiction and fantasy and has no effect on the real world!”

That’s total garbage and they know it. I’ve met multiple girls who were abused like this inside of relationships. Hotels are offering “50 Shades of Grey” packages replete with the helicopter and private suites for the proceedings. According to the New York Post, sales of rope exploded tenfold after the release of the book. Babeland reported that visits to the bondage section of their website spiked 81%, with an almost 30% increase in the sale of things like riding crops and handcuffs.

I could go on, but I won’t. As Babeland co-founder Claire Cavanah noted, “It’s like a juggernaut. You’d be surprised to see how very ordinary these people are who are coming in. The book is just an explosion of permission for them to try something new in the bedroom.”

  1. What does this book and the BDSM movement say about the value of women and girls?

I’d like the defenders of this book to try stop thinking with their nether-regions for just a moment and ask themselves a few simple questions: What does sadism and sexual torture (consensual or not) say to our culture about the value of girls? What does it say to boys about how they should treat girls? The youth of today are inundated with porn and sexually violent material—is nobody—nobody—at all worried about the impact this has on them? On the girls who are being abused by boys who think this is normal behavior—and think it is normal themselves?

Dr. Gail Dines relates that when speaking to groups of women who loved the book, they all grow deathly silent when she asks them two simple questions: Would you want your daughter to be in a relationship with Christian Grey? Would you want your son to turn into Christian Grey?

If the answer is yes to either of those, someone should call social services.

__

This book and the sadism it promotes are an assault on human dignity, and most of all an assault on the worth and value of girls and women. Please consider the impact you will have on your daughters and the vulnerable and confused people around you when you read and promote this book. Anastasia Steele is, thankfully, a fictional character. But real girls are facing these expectations and demands from a culture that elevates a sexual sadist to the level of a romantic hero. Ask yourselves if you want their “love” and “intimacy” to include sadism and domination, or real respect.

Because you can’t have both.

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Ryan T. Anderson

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New York Times reporter: ‘Anti-LGBT’ people ‘deserve’ incivility

Ryan T. Anderson
By Ryan Anderson

As I recounted Monday at The Daily Signal, The New York Times reporter Josh Barro thinks some people are “unworthy of respect.” Yesterday Barro doubled-down and tweeted back at me that “some people are deserving of incivility.” He argued that I am such a person because of my views about marriage policy. You can see the entire exchange on my twitter page.

What Josh Barro says or does doesn’t really affect me. I’m not a victim, and I’ll keep doing what I do. But incivility, accepted and entrenched, is toxic to a political community. Indeed, civility is essential for political life in a pluralistic society.

It also has deep roots.

The Hebrew Bible tells us that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and have a profound and inherent dignity. Sound philosophy comes to a similar conclusion: as rational beings capable of freedom and love, all human beings have intrinsic and inestimable worth. And so we should always treat people with respect and dignity—we should honor their basic humanity. We should always engage with civility—even when we sharply disagree with them. Faith and reason, the natural law and the divine law, both point to the same conclusion.

Just as I think the best of theology and philosophy point to the conclusion that we should always treat people with respect, so I think they show that marriage is the union of a man and a woman—and that redefining marriage will undermine the political common good.

The work that I’ve done for the past few years for The Heritage Foundation has been at the service of explaining why I think this to be the case. Bookish by nature, I thought the best contribution I could make to public life was to help us think about marriage. So while my early work after college was in philosophy and bioethics, and my graduate coursework was in the history of political philosophy, I put my dissertation about economic and social justice on hold so I could devote myself to this debate at this crucial time.

Along with my co-authors, a classmate of mine from Princeton and a professor of ours there, we set out to write a book making what we considered the best philosophical argument for what marriage is and why it matters. Our book seemed to help the Supreme Court think about the issue, as Justice Samuel Alito cited it twice. The reason I’ve written various and sundry policy papers for Heritage, and traveled across the country speaking on college campuses, and appeared on numerous news shows (including, of course, Piers Morgan) is that I know the only way forward in our national debate about marriage is to make the arguments in as reasonable and civil a spirit as possible.

Some people, like Barro, want to do everything they can to shut down this discussion. They want to demonize those who hold contrary viewpoints. They want to equate us with racists and claim we are unworthy of respect and ought to be treated with incivility. This is how bullies behave. In all of recorded history, ours is the first time where we can have open and honest conversations about same-sex attraction and marriage. This discussion is just beginning. It is nowhere near being over.

All our fellow citizens, including those identifying as LGBT, should enjoy the full panoply of civil rights—the free exercise of religion, freedoms of speech and press, the right to own property and enter into contracts, the right to vote and have a fair trial, and every other freedom to live as they choose, consistent with the common good.

Government redefinition of marriage, however, is not a civil right—nor will redefining marriage serve the common good. Indeed, redefining marriage will have negative consequences.

We make our arguments, in many fora, as transparently as possible. We welcome counterarguments. And we strive to treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve as we carry on this conversation.

One of the most unfortunate parts of my exchange with Barro last night was his reaction toward those who identify as LGBT and aspire to lives of chastity. They freely choose to live by their conviction that sex is reserved for the marital bond of a husband and wife. Some of them also seek professional help in dealing with and perhaps even diminishing (not repressing) their same-sex sexual desires.

I have written in their defense and against government coercion that would prevent them from receiving the help they desire, as New Jersey and California have done. Barro describes my support for their freedom as “sowing misery…doing a bad thing to people…making the world worse.”

There really is anti-LGBT bigotry in the world. But Barro does a disservice to his cause when he lumps in reasonable debates about marriage policy and the pastoral care that some same-sex attracted persons voluntarily seek out as, in his words, “anti-LGBT.” If we can’t draw a line between real bigotry and reasonable disagreement, we’re not helping anyone.

This debate isn’t about restricting anyone’s personal freedom. However it goes, people will remain free to live their romantic lives as they choose. So too people who experience same-sex attraction but aspire to chastity should be free to lead their lives in line with their beliefs, and to seek out the help they desire. We can have a civil conversation about which course of action is best—but let’s leave aside the extremism.

Barro asks, “Why shouldn’t I call you names?” My answer is simple: you should not practice the disdain and contempt you claim to abhor.

All my life, I’ve been educated at left-leaning institutions. Most of my friends disagree with me about these issues. But they’re still friends. And their feedback has made me a better person.

My final tweet to Barro is where I still remain committed: “people on all sides of LGBT debates and marriage debates need to find a way to discuss these issues without demonizing anyone.”

Reprinted with permission from the Daily Signal, where you can find Ryan Anderson's Twitter exchange with Barro.


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