One of the things I noticed on the left hand side of the Atlantic was how many people took the dust jacket off my book before taking it out in public. No one wants to be seen in the company of “Whores” on the subway. But who is the word offending? Both left and right, it seems.
Check out “Jesus loves you — and your orgasm”, Salon’s review of Dagmar Herzog’s book “Sex in Crisis”. In the review, Louis Bayard says that Herzog implies that the religious right has hijacked the language of the liberal left, the better to control our sexuality. The rhetoric around sex work, for example:
As recently as 2003, for example, a certain public figure was arguing that voluntary prostitution was “despicable” because it “demeans the value of women” and promotes “the severe degradation and exploitation of women, the literal rape of countless women around the globe.” Was it Andrea Dworkin? Catharine MacKinnon? The correct answer: pro-life Rep. Smith, R-N.J., whose distinctly illiberal purpose was to limit AIDS outreach efforts to prostitutes and sex workers in developing nations.
We’ve seen some of this before. We’ve seen leaders of gay communities play down the association between anal sex with multiple partners and infection (including HIV, LGV and MRSA), so finding themselves in cahoots with “everyone is at risk” profiteers. We’ve seen African leaders adopting distinctly unsecular moral rhetoric rather than talk about sex. But the point is, this is all rhetoric. It is not debate, or conversation, or discussion. It is assertion. Asserting beliefs at one another doesn’t change minds. Kids go on having sex despite having been assaulted with messages telling them not to. Preachers go on employing sex workers despite ranting about the fact that prostitution is not work. Fundamentalists of all stripes go on asserting the virtue of programmes that don’t work, despite people like me constantly asserting the opposite. (Though my assertions at least come with data sets.)
And when I hear assertions like this: “Only those women who have been premaritally abstinent will be truly, deeply, and consistently desired by their husbands in the long years after marriage … Have no sex before marriage and you will have outstanding sex after marriage.” I go on snorting in disbelief. But then in my world, I couldn’t find a large enough sample of still-married virgins-at-marriage to disprove the assertion.