I live in a culture (The United States of America) which manages to be obsessed with physical beauty and sexuality, while at the same time demonizing it. No easy feat. It's also no secret where the vilification comes from--it's our religious and puritanical roots. I'm told that not every culture has the bass-ackwards perspective on sex that we do, and that many of those cultures think we're completely bat-sh*t insane. No surprise there. And of course, there are cultures with far more unhealthy perspectives on sex. (I'm lookin' right at you, Sharia law land.) But I'm not here to discuss how we got here; I'm interested in how we can get out. I want to help improve our perspectives on sexuality.
It's no secret that I'm a very sex-positive person, with a strong belief in embracing sexuality as a natural part of healthy living. I believe that the way we think about sexuality ought to be much more open and less taboo and stigmatized. Before I continue, however, I want to make something abundantly clear at the outset. I will say this once, and only once, so pay attention: Sex absolutely is a big deal. Engaging in sexual activity is not a decision that should be taken lightly, as the consequences can be great and dire. I would never suggest or claim otherwise. Sexual activity is something that requires responsibility, maturity, and education in order to do safely. At no time will I imply otherwise, and nothing I say for the duration of this piece should lead you to think any differently. Remember that.
I have always been puzzled by how my culture views sexuality. We crave it. We obsess over it. Then we turn around and make people feel bad for thinking about it. It's shoved in our faces in the media, and yet we're afraid to talk about it honestly. Perhaps some of this is changing, but this has been my experience.
I have always been a very sexually-oriented person. I was interested in the opposite sex at a very young age, even before I knew how it all worked. Other kids were worried about cooties, and me?--at 33 years old, I'm still kicking myself for not asking out my crush in the first grade. I mean, all I would have done is had her over to my house for pizza and video games, but, y'know, I wish I had. I began self-pleasuring at a very young age as well. I certainly didn't need to reach puberty to become interested in that sort of thing. I didn't see anything wrong with it at first, but as I got a bit older, I started to feel a bit guilty about it at times. I still don't fully understand why. Guilt over sexuality is completely irrational. And here's the funny thing, the real kicker: I didn't have a religious family. I grew up in a secular environment. I was never told or taught anything that should have made me feel guilty or ashamed in any way. In fact, all of the education on this subject that came to me from my parents was quite healthy, and didn't even imply anything that should have made me feel bad about myself. We didn't talk about the subject all that much, but still--there wasn't any negativity or discouragement. The negative feelings must have come from outside the house; from society. But even that seems odd to me, as I didn't grow up in a religious nor conservative community, wasn't exposed to such things as a child, and I can't recall any specific information coming from the media or any other sources that would have given me any negative feelings about my own sexuality. And yet, it was there--a twinge of guilt or embarrassment now and then about what I did behind closed doors by myself. The fiercely religious would probably love to pounce on this as proof that sexuality is evil, as evident by the fact that god obviously programmed in an automatic sense of shame and humiliation about it. Here, let me respond to that argument:
I have a better theory: I call it the Age of Poison. The occasional negative feelings started when I reached the so-called "age of reason", when I became old enough to absorb ideas from my peers and the outside world, and become susceptible to subtle, societal corruption. I never had any reason to feel guilty or embarrassed until society gave me one. It didn't have to be explicit. It's all due to that unhealthy, vilifying perspective that America has on sex. Sex is sold to us through advertising, and then we're made to feel dirty if we're interested in it. There is, of course, nothing inherently dirty about sex, as I've argued before.
Despite having no religion, I somehow adopted a subtle, subconscious mindset that masturbation was shameful, and that abstaining from it was an inherently noble and virtuous decision. I thought that if nothing else, denying your sexuality would somehow make one a stronger person. This didn't work out for me in the slightest. I never stopped self-pleasuring. Not even a little bit. What I did do throughout my teenage years was pretend that I wasn't interested in sex or girls, because I thought it made me better than everyone else somehow. All of this was 100% pure, grade-A bullsh*t, of course.
There is absolutely nothing immoral about masturbation whatsoever, and moreover, nothing even remotely noble or virtuous about abstaining from it. Sexual pleasure is a natural, healthy thing that hurts no one. If you want to abstain from self-pleasure as some sort of challenge just to see if you can, a la the Seinfeld Contest, or "no-nut November" *rolls eyes*, then knock yourself out, but don't delude yourself into thinking that it's a moral decision that makes you more righteous.
I was very interested in, and curious about, the opposite sex, but liked to pretend that I wasn't. I continued self-pleasuring, but liked to pretend that I didn't. As a teenager, I had some various... uh... routines that I liked to do in this department. I even had some... uh... shall we say... improvised toys for this purpose. I continued this routine for about six months, at which point I felt guilty about it, despite the fact that it was perfectly safe and hurt no one, including me. I felt like it was something I shouldn't be doing. I felt ashamed. I then destroyed and threw out all of the toys that I had procured. I felt like I had made some kind or righteous decision. I could not have been more wrong and confused.
I regretted my decision almost immediately, and proceeded to procure new toys. Over the next few years, as I became an adult, I matured greatly and realized that those negative feelings about my sexuality didn't come from me at all. They didn't come from inside; they came from other people who wanted me to feel ashamed. Humanity has spent thousands of years constructing arbitrary, false reasons for people to feel guilty about sexuality. For thousands of years, we've ridiculed each other, shamed each other, persecuted each other, and killed each other over sexuality, all for naught.
As an adult in my twenties, I purchased much better toys for my purposes. It was one of the best things I could have ever done for myself. Nothing makes me happier and more self-confident than my "routine". It does wonders for my self-esteem, it's a healthy part of a balanced lifestyle, and has been an integral part of my life ever since.
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For some inexplicable reason, people often tend to regard sexuality with an irrational and voracious fear and intolerance that is seldom found anywhere else. Why is it that certain people are intolerant of gays or other orientations for instance? Well, in many, if not most, cases, it's because they believe that it's against their god's will. In those cases, the only way past that roadblock is either to get the person to cherry-pick their holy book and ignore passages they don't agree with, or better yet, get them to question the existence of their god altogether. But there are surely those whose objections to homosexuality aren't religious at all. Some folks like to claim that it's "just wrong". Period. It's gross, it's weird, it's unnatural, etc. Their primal emotion of disgust is triggered, and that tells them that it's wrong. They don't need any more of a reason or argument than that.
Disgust is one of our most basic emotions. It's adaptive, and has evolved to protect us in a variety of ways. We're disgusted by rotten food or feces. We're disgusted by strong, pungent, or chemical odors. We're typically disgusted by things that would harm us if ingested. We evolved to have this reaction to protect us from poisoning ourselves. We also evolved to feel sexual disgust towards certain things in order to create and maintain ideal genetic lines. We tend to be repelled sexually by family members and the same sex. This is no accident. We evolved this way so that we would seek out mates that would produce the best offspring. Disgust served us well in survival situations, and it is not without its utility today, but it's important for us to recognize when disgust is actually assisting us, and when it's clouding our judgement. It says nothing of interest about whether something is right or wrong. Morality is a question of well-being versus suffering. To determine if something is immoral, we have to ask if it is hurting anyone. Disgust cannot be a variable to determine morality. Whether something is morally right or wrong has nothing inherently to do with whether it disgusts us personally or not. The two often coincide, but they just as often don't. Cuisine is the quintessential example, here. The range and complexity of what foods we love versus what disgusts us is just incredible, and varies wildly for each and every person. What one culture considers a fine delicacy, another finds repulsive. To most Americans, eating cows is hunky dory, but eating dogs or horses is abhorrent. Go to another place on Earth, and it may be exactly reversed. The same goes for eating bugs and insects, for example. And all of those cultural norms are solely dependent on where you were raised. How then can the feeling of disgust tell us anything about the morality of food?
Let's look at a more familiar and salient example that's close to home. We all love lots of foods, and we're all disgusted by lots of foods. We all know people who love foods that we hate and vice versa. Take me for instance: ever had an Egg McMuffin? Hopefully you are at least familiar with the sandwich. It's a beloved American classic. I personally find them to be the most repulsive thing on this Earth. One bite would make me vomit. If I just imagine the SMELL of an Egg McMuffin for more than a few seconds, I will literally become nauseated. But does this mean I think it's morally wrong to eat Egg McMuffins? Of course not; I'm not a psycho. I just don't like them. I don't care if you do. And we all feel this way about lots of foods! I can nearly guarantee that right this very second, you know someone who loves a food that you find disgusting, and vice versa. Do you think it's wrong and immoral for them to eat it? Do you think it should be outlawed? (And I'm not getting into the ethics of meat eating, here. 's not what I'm talkin' about.) Would you ban a food just because you don't care for the taste? Of course not. No rational, thinking person would.
Well, here's the punch line--sexual attraction is no different. We have no control over what we're attracted to, just as we have no control over what foods we like or don't. Matter of fact, we have no control over anything that we like or dislike. If you doubt this claim, you can easily prove it to yourself with a bit of introspection and paying close attention to your feelings as you feel affinity for something, or repulsion from something else. When you see a movie, or play a game, or taste a food, do you decide to like it or hate it? Do have control over it? Is it a choice? If you think it is, then you're not playing close enough attention to the feeling. You simply like it or you don't, and the reason why is due to every prior cause that made you what you are at this moment, and is ultimately mysterious to you. If you like the taste of the food, you cannot choose not to like it, and vice versa. Sexual attraction works the same way. We cannot chose nor control what we find attractive. Sexual orientation obviously isn't a choice. Heterosexual people didn't choose to be that way any more than anyone of another orientation. Being attracted to something sexually is conceptually and fundamentally no different than liking a particular food. If I find something sexy and you don't, it shouldn't be, and isn't, of any more consequence than if I like a food that you don't. We have no control over either, and it doesn't affect anyone else.
People utterly and reliably fail to grasp this concept because sex is wired in the brain to be such a big deal that when people feel sexual disgust, they immediately equate it to immorality, or, at the very least, a sign of mental unsoundness. A moment of objective, critical thought will reveal that what someone finds sexy says absolutely nothing about their morality, and moreover, we have no control over it, so it's all as natural as our food tastes. Sadly, most people are unable or unwilling to devote a moment to critical thought. If they did, perhaps they would not only find that they are in error, but also open their minds up to a world of joy and enrichment that they have been denying themselves all because they are too afraid to face their natural sexuality.
We shouldn't judge others for anything that they are attracted to, whatever it may be. So long as they are not hurting anyone, then it's not a problem, even if others find it personally disgusting. You would never hate or judge someone for liking a food that you don't, so why do that when it comes to sexuality? The difference is only in your mind. Being sexually attracted to something unconventional, such as fictional non-human characters, or cartoon characters, doesn't make someone "f*cked in the head", as many like to say. It's completely natural, and completely beyond our control. You didn't pick your parents. You didn't pick your genes. You didn't create your brain. There's not a cell in your body that you brought into being. You didn't choose any of your likes and dislikes, and you're not responsible for them. You choose your actions, in a manner of speaking, but even then, you didn't choose nor create the thought or desire that prompted you to take that action. Thoughts are the proximate cause of our actions, and we do not author our thoughts. We do not "create" ourselves. There is simply no rationale for judging, hating, or punishing people for preferences that are completely beyond their control. It's only problematic if they act on it in ways that hurt others.
Coincidentally, shortly before sitting down to write this piece, I read a news article about groups of Christians in Lebanon who recently threatened to use violence to stop a music festival because one of the lead singers is gay. Holy f*ckin' sh*t, dude... Thirty-four years after Freddie Mercury performed for the whole world at Live Aid, where no one seemed to care, and now this. It's just appalling. Granted, if one were to make a list of nice, pleasant, forward thinking, tolerant places in the world to live, Lebanon doesn't come to mind. Sure--we've made a lot of progress in many countries, but it's not enough. There shouldn't be anyone in the world who still feels the way those Lebanese Christians do. To people like that, I would submit the following food for thought: even if your god was actually real, why would he condemn people simply for feeling and expressing love differently, when they're not hurting anyone? How small, hateful, and evil would a god have to be in order to be so cruel? Wouldn't an omnipotent, omniscient being be wise enough to figure out what we mere mortals already have?--that the right thing to do is be tolerant, respectful, and compassionate towards other people, regardless of how they were born? Perhaps the believers are right; perhaps life is a test, and perhaps the test is to do what we know to be morally right in the face of intimidation--to be tolerant of those who are different from us even though god's book says otherwise. If your faith makes you hate people just for loving differently, then it's time to rethink your faith. It's time to stop hating love.
I wrote this in no small part because I hoped to reach young people who may be wrestling with feelings of guilt or shame over their sexuality. The parts about my personal story and history were difficult to write, and I cogitated quite a bit over whether I should include it or not. I decided to be so open because I've seen more Life Advice threads than I can count from teenagers feeling ashamed about their sexuality in one way or another, asking if being attracted to the MLP characters is wrong, or if looking at clop makes them a bad person, etc. And that makes me very sad. No one should feel that way. Never feel ashamed. The people who want you to feel ashamed are wrong. Don't make the mistake I did as a teenager--don't throw away something that makes you happy, and don't deny yourself joy because narrow-minded people think it's wrong. Never feel guilty for being attracted to something unconventional. I myself have always found the ponies sexy, and I enjoy clop very much. Nothing wrong with that. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone or interfere with your life and a healthy pursuit of goals, then more power to you. Your sexuality is normal and natural. Embrace it. Celebrate it... because it's truly a beautiful, life-enriching thing.