Section 4: Sex: what is it good for?
Sexual acts should cause no harm.
Ask ten people why they have sex and you’ll get thirty answers, from the predictably obscene through the cloyingly romantic to the downright weird. And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the confusion between reality and idealism – between why people think they have sex and why they think they should do so.
6.4a Sex changes
Nothing is certain in sex. From culture to culture and century to century, people’s concepts of themselves as sexual beings change, as do the acts they perform or allow to be performed with their bodies. Ideas such as gay and straight are not constant, but roles that we invent to give meaning and structure to our lives and desires.
Some examples. In ancient Greece and many other cultures, society told adult men and young teenage boys to seek each other as sexual partners, to the presumed benefit of all concerned; in the modern world such behaviour often ends in psychological trauma and years in jail.
Or mainstream heterosexuality in the United States. Today’s twenty-somethings are comfortable with oral sex; their parents were embarrassed by the idea and their grandparents shocked by it. Those grandparents were probably comfortable with each other's nakedness, but fifty years earlier their own grandparents probably undressed in the dark to avoid seeing each other naked.
And how about your own sexuality? How has that changed over the years? The person, or type of person you are attracted to, the act(s) that you want to perform?
Take nothing for granted in sex and you will begin to understand it. Assume that sex is only copulation and you
understand nothing at all.
6.4b Motives are complex
So patterns of sexual behaviour change. What about the motives?
People have sex for many different reasons.
Most of us have sex because it offers pleasure - although pleasure cannot always be guaranteed.
But pleasure is not the only motive. The more we think about it, the more we realise we have sex for many different reasons. We do it because our hormones are active, because we want to please our partner, because we want to be loved or to express love; we do have sex to stave off loneliness or to feel alive, to boost our egos, to express anger, to assert dominance and so on.
We may have sex for money (and don't forget that many men sell sex, as well as women), or out of pity, from jealousy, boredom, excitement. When we are old we have sex to feel young, and when we are young we have it to feel adult. We have sex because society
tells us to – or we have sex because society tells us not to. And far too many of us have sex involuntarily, compelled by an older, stronger, richer or more dominant partner.
Sex drives each of us in different ways. Some of us are obsessed by it, some treat it as routine, others have no interest in it at all. Many, perhaps most, of us are ignorant about it; we do not understand the biology of genitalia and reproductive systems, the way in which diseases are transmitted or pregnancy occurs. We are often unaware of our own motivations and we often rationalize our own and our partner’s behavior - “I do it because I love him” or “he does it because he loves me”.
Sex is both heavy with and void of meaning. It is a mirror which reflects your and your partner’s minds. If you bring guilt, sex will torment you with guilt. If you bring love, sex will return it. If you bring violence, your partner will suffer and you will not be sated.
Sex can be shallow. It can be deeply moving. It can bring nausea or ecstasy. Sex tells you – if you are willing to listen – who you are, what you want and who you can be. Above all sex allows you to give your partner the greatest of all gifts – joy.
manipulate tools. But restricting sex to procreation is as unreasonable as denying our hands the pleasure of making music. As human beings we have the ability – the right – to realize our full potential, including our potential for sexual pleasure, irrespective of whether we want to parent a child.
6.4c What about the children?
Did I forget to mention babies? True, some people have sex in order to conceive, but if we are honest with ourselves, we recognise that very few sexual acts are specifically to create a child. Most people do not have sex to have children - most times they would be appalled to think that they would conceive. And in many sexual acts pregnancy is impossible...
Sex is essential for procreation, as fingers and thumbs are essential in enabling us to
6.4d Control yourselves!
Against this reality of a complex psychosocial phenomenon comes the myth, propagated by religious leaders and repeated by the ignorant, that sex is simple and can be easily controlled. That we can decide when to be sexually aroused and that we can resist arousal when told to do so.
The simple fact is that we cannot control our sexual desires. And the harder we try to push sex into a narrow little box, the more it fights back and wants out. That is why the preacher who shouts against sin is found in a motel bedroom with the sex worker and the drugs. It is why the senator who lives an unblemished family life picks up men in airport restrooms.
If we fight against sex, we fight against ourselves - in doing so we will always make ourselves and others miserable and we will always lose...
That does not mean that sex should be untrammeled and we can have any form of sex with anyone or anything in any place at any time. Sex needs rules, but the rules of sexual morality are no different from the morality that applies to any other human activity.
Sexual acts should cause no harm.
In Section 6 we will see how that rule applies to sex. Before then, however, let's consider religious attitudes to sex and sexuality.
Chapter Six: Section 5 God and sex
Are atheists immoral?
Religion makes a strong claim to morality - only God and faith,
apparently, keep us moral.
It's a nice idea, but it's false. Religious morality is frequently harmful; only humanist values
guarantee a truly ethical approach to life.
What's good for us?
6.2: God's morals
... leave much to be desired
6.3: Morals and ethics
From the abstract to the actual
6.4: Sex: what is it good for?
Whatever you want it to be
6.5: God and sex
Confusion and control
6.6: Sex: a broad spectrum
6.7: Sex: Tell the children
Educate and protect
An ethical approach
6.9: Humane justice
The death penalty is immoral
6.10: Suicide and euthanasia
Dying with dignity
6.11: Recreational drugs
A moral issue?
6.12: Do good...
... for goodness' sake
How do you live when you realize that religion is false?
Do you descend into despair? Lead a life of crime and
The opposite, actually. Atheists appear more likely to live
moral, happy lives than those who are stuck in superstition.