Saturday, October 03, 2009

Sex, Power, and Prohibitions

Her companion refused
permission to use bathroom,
she urinates on Police Station.

No one seems to know what will happen with health care. No one seems to know what will happen in Afghanistan. No one seems to know what will happen with global warming. No one seems to know much of anything so speculation just runs rampant. Not wishing to indulge in further speculation at the moment, I decided to write about sex. Sex seems to have become a national obsession lately, what with endless ads for “male enhancement,” different methods for attaining artificial erections, all sorts of sexual advice and instructions in women’s magazines, and what have you. It has become perhaps the single most widespread media topic. It is obviously a subject that cries out for encyclopedic treatment. Alas, my goals are much more modest. I wish only to comment on the issue of sex, power, and prohibition.

If you read or watch television you must be aware that in recent years there has been a great deal of attention given to sexual matters as they pertain to people in high office or high public visibility, the latest focus on David Letterman. Letterman has confessed (gasp) to having had sex with women who were employed on his well-known late night show. There are those who believe this is a terrible thing, because, they say, there are rules (if not laws) against people having sex with their subordinates. There are also laws against having sex with minors, as the Polansky case has made clear. I believe there are good and just reasons for making sex with minors illegal, and the Polansky case is a particularly egregious case for which I believe he should rightly be punished severly. The fact that his abuse happened many years ago, or that he is a great director, or that he has been forced to live in Europe is no excuse whatsoever. But sex with minors is not my concern at the moment. I am concerned here only with sexual behavior that occurs between consenting adults, no matter who they are or what they are engaged in.
You must be aware of the recent cases of Letterman, Edwards, Sanford, Vitter, Spitzer, Ensign, Craig, Foley, and perhaps others as well. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that illicit sex of all kinds is widespread both in Washington, D.C., Hollywood, and in businesses of all kinds (as well as in the general population). Even just a few years ago you did not hear much about such things, not because they didn’t happen, but because they were only rarely topics for public consumption, certainly not the transgressions of Presidents or Congresspersons. We know, for example, that John F. Kennedy was a philanderer’s philanderer, but we didn’t hear much of anything about it during his Presidency, as the media in those days did not reveal such information, which was regarded as more private then than now. Part of this probably has to do simply with our changing attitudes toward sex in general, but it also has much to do, I believe, with the Republican attack on President Clinton, which for the first time made public information about his sex life an acceptable topic for news coverage. And what coverage it was, thanks to the Starr report and the efforts to impeach him. True, they didn’t actually impeach him for the sex acts themselves, but, rather, because he lied about them. The unbelievable hypocrisy involved in not impeaching Bush for lying about the “war” in Iraq has been mentioned from time to time, but it doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone enough to do anything about it.

Clinton’s illicit sex involved two consenting adults, took place in private, and would not have been brought to our attention if the Republicans had not been so desperate to bring down his Presidency. Certainly Clinton is not the only high-level official in Washington D.C. to have received a “blow job” in his office (or some other private place). And I’m certain that other sex acts are even more common in Washington D.C., as well as elsewhere in the country. Some were outraged that Clinton “took advantage of” a young intern, as he was in a position of power. In this particular case this is utter nonsense. Monica Lewinsky was a twenty-something woman from Southern California who is known to have instigated the relationship herself. She was certainly no sexual innocent. I have no doubt that in some cases persons in power may take advantage of their employees or others, but I know that these things are not as simple as they seem. First of all, women are sometimes attracted to people in power and often offer themselves willingly (as in the Clinton case). In the Letterman case I doubt very much that he coerced women into having sex. I also know that sex between University Professors and students, particularly Gradute Students, is not uncommon, although there are rules prohibiting such relationships, just as there are rules against it in other workplaces. These prohibitions are not realistic. I am not talking about High School and Elementary School teachers and younger students in general. But sex continues to occur no matter what the prohibitions against it. Prohibitions against sex acts between consenting adults is every bit as ridiculous as prohibitions against alcohol and drugs, and cannot possibly succeed any better. And it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about heterosexual behavior or homosexual behavior (although soliciting in public places should not be allowed for obvious reasons). Sexual attraction and desire, as well as love itself, is not something that can be easily controlled, and to penalize or criminalize it is useless. We should at least be as realistic as the French who just assume that such affairs will happen, that people in power may well have mistresses and so on. I’m sure they believe that many of our concerns about affairs are much ado about nothing unusual.

This does not mean that if there are cases of obvious abuses of power, and there are complaints brought forward, they should not be investigated and, if necessary, punished. When blackmail is involved, as in the case of Letterman, or perhaps in the case of Ensign, obviously something needs to be done about it, those are criminal acts that go far beyond the sex itself. And it seems even more obvious to me that taking advantage of children (pedophilia), and engaging in child prostitution, should be both prohibited and rigorously punished. Attempting to prohibit behaviors that people are going to engage in no matter what just never works.

There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.
W. Somerset Maugham

Narwhals, when in captivity, live only a few months.

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