So I’ve recently come under fire, by (mostly) my pornographic Twitter followers, for my anti-porn rant, which I admit was sensational and reactionary, and I would now like the chance to wade into these waters with a clearer head. The subject of sex is complicated and controversial, with widely divergent opinions colliding about the media-verse to the nth degree. Whether you’re religious, atheist, left leaning or right leaning, rarely does any consensus regarding sex emerge, and too often when we are debating it, we fall into an either/or fallacy. Either everything is acceptable or nothing is acceptable. Either sex work is a valid career, like flipping burgers for McDonald’s, or everyone in the industry is a social pariah. But we need not be limited by these extremes. It is crucial to look at the subject in a more nuanced way, because despite what people argue, the act of sex will always carry some measure of societal and emotional significance.
A moment of infidelity can destroy a marriage, a family, a home. If sex meant nothing, if it were equivalent to a game of tennis, this would not be the case. Even swingers, married couples who exchange their wives or husbands to experience physical intimacy with another, establish rules regarding the who, when and where. A swinger’s wife coming home to her husband in bed with a stranger will feel a far greater emotional impact than if she were to find them at a game of Battleship.
Throughout recent history, the joining of the flesh was synonymous with emotional bonding, because expressions of love and commitment favor the success of ensuing generations. We need not forget the evolutionary purpose of sex, from the semen produced in the testes to its deposition in the uterus, to the fertilization of the egg, the end goal being the proliferation of life. The pleasures that comes with coming is merely a byproduct, a trick of nature to lure us into a specific behavior, without which humans would have long gone extinct. The engine of natural selection is fueled by survival and procreation. To Dawkin’s blind watchmaker, it doesn’t matter how long you live, so long as you reach the age in which to copy your DNA. Is it any wonder, then, why matters of death and sexuality remain of paramount importance to the human brain? We are hardwired for feelings of jealousy and possessiveness, because our progeny are born helpless into this world, and are in need of parenting to survive it. We simply need to know which parent is responsible for which child. Perhaps, if we were born as hyper-intelligent sea turtles, we could all have sex with whomever and whenever, with reckless abandon, because our offspring, barring wayward headlights, could manage on their own. Bonobos, our ape cousins, do not appear to share the jealousy gene exhibited by humans, but our closest ancestors, chimpanzees, most definitely do, unwilling to waste resources on kin other than their own.
And yet, if evolution favored nurture above all else, the problem of human sexuality, and the debate over moral behavior, would not exist. We are driven, rather, by our twofold natures, to love and care for a single partner for life, but also, to spread our seed across numerous wombs, and to a lesser degree in the female, soak up a variety of that seed, to maximize the chances of our species’ survival. For this very reason, we enjoy pornography, which celebrates the machinery of making babies, devoid of the emotional entanglements that limit the scope of our sexual agriculture. Throughout history, the human race has played tug-of-war between these opposing drives of love and lust, and this is reflected in our art, and in our social and religious traditions. As Pat Benatar opined, love is a battlefield, and we have drawn our lines over moral grounds, and the choices we make fall to either side, or somewhere in the middle.
Prior to the last century, it was impossible for a man to know, with certainty, whether a child born to his wife or lover was truly his. Considering the lifetime expenditure, both emotionally and financially, involved in raising children, it is not difficult to understand the outrage to follow should the man discover himself a cuckold. Unfortunately, patriarchal dominance over women and their bodies has a great deal to do with this fact of biology. While the Bible and Koran explicitly prohibit adultery, it is only with regards to benefiting the man. The Ten Commandments states, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” but says nothing about “thy neighbor’s husband,” or his personal slave. YHWH speaks directly to the men of Israel, to ensure the protection of the man’s property. Intercourse between a Hebrew and his concubine was commonplace, specifically for the purposes of bearing his children, which his wife would be required to raise. King David’s hundred spouses would turn the biggest PornHub star green with envy, but no Biblical woman was ever been permitted, on pain of death or ostracism, to know more than one partner. When the Israelites were commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites, they were instructed to murder every man, woman and child, but were granted all of the girls who had never known a man. Lucky them! Turning to Islam, a man is allowed up to four wives, but polyandry is an unimaginable haram, or sin. When a martyr dies for Allah, he may (depending on the veracity of the Hadith) inherit seventy virgin brides, forcing one to wonder, where do all these magical women come from? And what do the female martyrs get? Despite its prohibition, prostitution was common to every ancient culture. The Prophet Mohammed used sex work as an excuse for polygamy, and even for the taking of underage brides (Mohammed’s youngest was nine), whereas Jesus admonished the prostitute who washed his feet with her hair, telling her, “Go and sin no more.” Oddly enough, the Law of Moses instructs that gays and eaters of shell fish be put to death, but ladies of the night are permitted to live, so long as they are not Israelite women. It’s easy to imagine a tent full of aged men coming up with these rules, and some Bronze Age incel despairing over his lack of vaginal access should every harlot be eliminated.
History has been unkind to women, especially when it comes to sexual expression, which is why modern day feminists like Victoria Batman champion the rights of sex workers. Feminism is predicated on the notion of equality, and we unquestioningly live in a society where the men are permitted greater sexual license, which is both hypocritical and paradoxical, as a heterosexual male cannot be found guiltless for a crime requiring a female accomplice, for which only the female is penalized. It takes two to Tango. And two to fuck. But while equality can be achieved by excising terms like “slut” and “whore” from our lexicon, it can just as well be achieved by including males into the definition. Calling a guy “slutty,” would be, at least for me, a greater insult, as it is typically the men who coerce and manipulate the women, and who more often assign no meaning to the deed and take no responsibility for its consequences. Notions of chastity have been used for centuries to curb women’s freedoms, but the biological instinct at the core of our mores—the imperative to know to whom our children belong—cannot easily be dismissed, nor can the symbolic and emotional currency given to sex. I’d wager that 99% of parents worldwide would prefer their children, boy or girl, steer clear of the porn industry. This may simply be a factor of societal taboos and outdated prejudices, but I believe there is more to it than that. If sex meant nothing, monogamous relationships would mean nothing, rape would not be thought more heinous than assault, the crime of incest would have no basis, and pedophilia would be no worse than child abuse.
That being said, there will always be those who think more casually about sex, and who regard fornication as no more significant than Battleship. Since time immemorial, this strand of humanity has always been with us. Just as we have learned to accept the LGBTQ community, we must also tolerate the innate differences that constitute the human species. Our current Western values lends greater sway to equality and individualism. We abhor discrimination and authoritarianism in all its forms, and celebrate inclusiveness and pluralism. In that spirit, we are enjoined to make ethical concessions to those who feel driven by promiscuity, or as is more often the case, to the majority who do not fall neatly onto the behavioral spectrum, who are neither chaste nor promiscuous.
Ethics should not be confused with morals. Stealing and murder and rape are unethical, regardless of your personal beliefs. But morality is a personal view. It is the code of conduct we adopt for ourselves. This is why we tolerate the existence of other people with strongly held religious convictions, why we can coexist with Christians, atheists and vegans. As long as one’s beliefs do not impose upon the rights of others, it is ethical to hold them.
It may be that I am just old fashioned, that I am unable to divorce from my mind love and libido. But I am cognizant to the way in which technology is continually transforming our culture, our psychology, and our evolutionary journey. The advent of the Pill, and over the counter paternity tests, have made the concerns of Abraham unnecessary. It may be that, in the distant future, sex will mean as little as a handshake. And, if born into such a time, I would undoubtably hold a very different view, just as Mohammed, if brought into the modern age, would likely be appalled to see the liberty entrusted to women. But I will never live to see such a world. So while advocates are free to push for the normalization of sex work, I am free to hold to my own traditional convictions. This is not to condone condemnation, shaming, or hating, for to live in a truly pluralistic society is to allow for competing value systems, to have the freedom to judge for myself the value of a partner who values sex in the way that I do, and to hope that my daughters never fall into, what is for me and my wife, a lifestyle of diminished worth.