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Fundies probably don’t do it better

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 8, 2008 14:44 EDT

One of the most interesting parts of this review by Louis Bayard of Dagmar Herzog’s book Sex in Crisis is an examination of how fundamentalists have resorted to using promises of the best sex you could ever imagine if you just wait until you’re married to do it. Bayard suggests liberals should go on the offensive on this tactic, which made me happy, because it just so happens that this liberal is. On this week’s podcast, I talk about the evangelical promise of ecstatic sex and suggest, yep, that it’s actually about being dutiful and substituting quantity for quality. I didn’t want to push it on the podcast (limited time to make a point), but there is a sense in all the lavish erotic writings of evangelicals that are meant to lure you into the fold that the reality is more that women should learn to view themselves as masturbatory devices for men to keep them from self-abuse. Bayard talks about that briefly.

A Christian wife, if she wants to keep her husband’s mind off porn and his hand off his own penis (onanism is still a big no-no), will have to be a 24/7 tootsie. She is advised to wear sexy lingerie and to keep her legs shaved and her nether region douched at all times. (“Wives,” as Jack Jones once crooned, “should always be lovers, too.”) And she has to give it up whenever her man comes calling. The example of a woman named “Ellen” is approvingly cited. “[My husband's] purity is extremely important to me, so I try to meet his needs so that he goes out each day with his cup full. During the earlier years, with much energy going into childcare and with my monthly cycle, it was a lot more difficult for me to do that. There weren’t too many ‘ideal times’ when everything was just right. But that’s life, and I did it anyway.”

The book I talk about on the podcast demonstrates this attitude. It’s hard to explain how frightening the dutiful leg-spreading wife sounds; seriously, just listen to it. But I give you a clip from a video I use in the podcast, which I warn you is scary, because it’s Ted Haggard getting young men to talk about how much fucking they’re doing.

His motivations are suspect to me for obvious reasons, but I think the point is in there. While there’s the promise of non-stop female orgasms, the male-centric view of all this (Jesus will make you an erection-all-the-time stud, guys!) couldn’t be more obvious. I’m not saying that it’s bad to hump like bunnies, by any stretch. I just question whether it’s that great if it’s a duty for her and bragging rights for him.

It’s not surprising that fundies are taking this course. First of all, contrary to what Herzog claims (that the religious right movement is all about sex), the religious right is all about finding religious justifications for extremely right wing views on social hierarchies, especially the patriarchy. So it’s utterly unsurprising that they’d argue that bliss is in a system where male sexuality is exalted as the life force itself, and women are relegated to object roles. The promise that if you’re good now, you get your reward later during marriage also echoes their main argument (deprive yourself of certain joys on earth, get your reward in heaven). This understanding—that the end of the day, this is about exalting straight men at the expense of everyone else—is what’s missing when Bayard argues that the religious right’s war on sex hasn’t been that damaging.

Teens, after all, are still having sex. (America has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world.) Gay sex, as Herzog admits, has “lost its power to repulse,” and our most populous state has now opened the doors to gay marriage. “Abstinence-only” has been a regression, it’s true, but liberal sex educators have pulled off a co-opting trick of their own, creating “abstinence-plus” programs that make abstinence simply one component in a comprehensive array of informed choices.

I’m unsure where his urge to be defensive of the wingnutteria comes from—his own angst of his children’s sexuality, contrarianism, defensiveness of a homegrown weirdo movement?—but he’s being slippery here. Our higher pregnancy rate doesn’t reflect an especially high teenage fucking rate. Kids in other developed nations develop into sex-having people at the same rate, but don’t get pregnant nearly as often, because they use contraception, which the abstinence-only movement condemns. It’s our prudishness that causes our high rates of teenage pregnancy. The co-option trick is cute and all, but pointless, because any “abstinence-plus” curricula that doesn’t adhere to anti-contraception guidelines doesn’t get its hands on that abstinence-only funding. But what bothers me most of all is that he ignores the fundamental project of the chastity movement, which is to demean and control women’s sexuality and self-esteem through strict legal restrictions of birth control, and “education” that centers around the idea that women are dirty and are only acceptable if really submissive and properly aware of their fundamental dirtiness. It’s a shame that Bayard doesn’t take that into consideration in his argument, because earlier he recounts one of the varied classroom exercises used to show girls that they are dirty and disgusting and should really be ashamed of themselves, especially if they’re not virgins.

Consider this classroom exercise: “Boys and girls are invited to chew cheese-flavored snacks and then sip some water, after which they are to spit the resulting ‘bodily fluids’ into a cup. After a game in which the fluids are combined with those of other students, ultimately all cups are poured into a pitcher labeled ‘multiple partners’ sitting adjacent to a pitcher of fresh water labeled ‘pure fluids.’ In the final segment, each boy and girl is asked to fill a cup labeled either ‘future husband’ or ‘future wife’ with the contents from one of the pitchers.”

Yes, technically the boys are supposed to be equally icky for being “unpure”, but that’s only in there so that abstinence-only doesn’t get bounced on a Title IX lawsuit or something. The symbolism of pitchers of water, and of gushiness in general, isn’t lost in a society where douche still sells at a happy clip, despite feminist efforts to educate people of its dangers. The fact that fundies imagine women who have sex at literally befouled, like sewer water or something, does have effects on teenage girls that they get to hear their message, and that concerns me more than the levels of PIV intercourse in the teenage population. In Daniel Radosh’s book (interview in podcast), he comes across concerns from evangelicals, over and over, about teenage girls and cutting. Really, it was weird, because it was a much bigger deal for them than it is for the rest of the population, implying that it’s a bigger problem. But really, the levels of eating disorders and cutting in the young female population shows that the last thing that young women need to hear more is that they’re dirty and unpure, because the next step for people who internalize that message is all too often to engage in self-destructive self-purification rituals. But here we are paying for anorexia and cutting education in the abstinence-only classroom.

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