Tag Archives: sex and love

Religious Dogma, Sexual Repression, And How They Foster (Horrendous) Abuse

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By now, most people have heard the news surrounding the latest round of scandals involving the Catholic Church. Once again, it involves the systematic abuse of children, the elaborate efforts to cover it up, and the religious dogma that is used to protect such behavior. It’s certainly not the first time the Catholic Church has been embroiled in such a scandal, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing.

There’s a lot I can say about the Catholic Church and how badly they’ve handled this issue. There’s even more I can say about how this famous institution’s policies have caused genuine harm in societies that remain devoted to Catholic traditions. However, I would only be repeating what others have already pointed out and I’d rather not do that.

Some have already done it better than I ever will.

For me, personally, these scandals cut deep because I have family who identify as devout Catholics. They see these same scandals too and I can confirm that it hurts them on a personal level. Whenever someone brings it up, they don’t make excuses. They despise those priests for what they did and those who covered it up. It doesn’t shake their faith, though. To some extent, I admire that.

At the same time, however, I often wonder whether they see the same flaws in that dogmatic theology that I see. I try not to bring it up with family members, out of respect for their faith. I still believe that even they are bothered by those flaws. When children are being sexually abused, how could it not?

There are a lot of factors in play with this latest scandal, from the nature of religious dogma to the corruption of powerful institutions. The one that few want to confront, though, involves the cumulative impact of sexual repression with rigid theology.

There’s no way around it. Religious dogma and sexual repression often go together. The Catholic Church is hardly the only institution that encourages strict repression of sexual behavior. Anyone living in Saudi Arabia or Iran can attest to that. With a billion adherents and nearly 2,000 years of history, though, the Catholic Church is one of the largest and most vocal proponents of this dogma.

The reasons for that are many and I don’t want to get into all the issues surrounding its effects. Instead, I want to focus solely on the celibacy of the priests. That practice represents a true extreme of sexual repression. It’s one thing to champion monogamy to the point of murdering adulterers. It’s quite another to have an entire class of people who have to completely repress their basic urges.

It’s not like trying to quit smoking, which is hard enough. This involves denying a basic, fundamental drive that is hardwired into people at birth. Trying to turn that off is like trying make sugar taste bad. It goes against fundamental biological wiring. The idea that someone can repress those force without incurring psychological damage is flawed, at best.

To get an idea of why, think about a time when you were really hungry. Maybe you were sick for a while, trapped on a long road trip, or went on a crash diet. That feeling of intense hunger is not something you can turn off. It’s uncomfortable for a reason. Your body isn’t getting something it’s been hardwired to seek. It’s going to make you feel uncomfortable until you do something about it.

The human sex drive is not like hunger, but it’s similar in that it’s a biological drive. For every living thing, be it a human or an insect, sustenance and reproduction are the two most basic drives. It is possible to survive without reproducing, but the fundamental forces of nature are going to push you to try.

When you push back too hard, it’s like trying to patch a faulty dam with scotch tape and chewing gum. From a psychological standpoint, your brain and your body are deprived. As a result, it’s going to do whatever it can to alleviate this deprivation.

It doesn’t matter if that act is extreme. It doesn’t matter if it’s illogical, illegal, or outright immoral. Your brain and your body will find a way to justify it if it ends the deprivation. For most, it’s just a never-ending battle that requires an individual to fill that missing need with something, which in this case is religious fervor.

It’s debatable as to how much this fills that fundamental need, but a lot of that assumes that celibate priests don’t do something in their private time to relieve the tension. Historically speaking, many in the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions were pretty blatant about how they circumvented the issues of celibacy.

Some priests had lovers on the side. Some employed prostitutes and concubines, but still claimed to be “celibate” because they weren’t married. More often than not, priests were only celibate in the most technical sense and the church often tolerated this. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man not known for liberal attitudes, even acknowledged the futility of suppressing the human sex drive when he said this about prostitution.

“If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.”

For a select few, though, that effort to maintain celibacy manifests in a truly horrific way. I think it’s safe to conclude that the priests who abused these children were not mentally well. Many might have been unwell before they entered the priesthood, but celibacy certainly didn’t help. Repression, especially the kind that’s taboo to even talk about, tends to make things worse.

That’s how people end up with mentalities that are poorly equipped to handle basic urges. Instead of a healthy expression of sexual desire, someone may react with anger or self-hate. When people are angry and hateful, they tend to take it out on someone. It’s not always sexual, but when someone has all their sexual desires pent up over the years, sometimes it seeps in.

That’s how simple desire becomes disturbing fetishes, including those that harm children. That’s how unthinkable behaviors are rationalized. When religious dogma tells someone they face divine retribution for feeling these intrinsic desires, that’s causes serious distress and efforts to mitigate it can make for some pretty unholy behaviors

While it’s hard to study the sex lives of celibate priests, the occurrence of these scandals along with the historical documentation of other lurid scandals reveal plenty about the effects of celibacy. When there’s no outlet for sexual expression, other emotions get caught up in the efforts to cope with that fundamental drive. Add religiously-motivated guilt to the mix and the impact only compounds over time.

None of this is an excuse for what those priests did to these children. They still committed an atrocity and no amount of divine excuses can mitigate the suffering of the victims. The Vatican will do what it has to do in order to maintain its power and influence. However, the reconsideration of extreme practices celibacy is unlikely.

Some media figures will mention it, but never to the point of encouraging serious reforms. That’s a dirty word in both the Catholic Church and any other religious institution. Historically speaking, the rate at which major religion institutions undergo sweeping reforms is nothing short of glacial.

I sincerely hope this latest scandal gives those in the Vatican serious pause, but I have a feeling that even this won’t do it. Religious dogma is notoriously uncompromising. People, especially within powerful institutions, make any excuse to avoid changing it. While the Vatican has made some strides, the fundamental issue remains. As long as basic human nature is suppressed, more will suffer and not in a holy sort of way.

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Why Linking Human Trafficking And Prostitution Hurts Efforts To Deal With Both

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As a quick thought experiment, take a moment to picture the appearance and circumstances of a typical plumber. Chances are you’re imagining a big-bellied, greasy-haired, middle-aged man who prides himself on wearing old jeans that expose his butt crack. As stereotypes come, it’s fairly crude, but harmless for the most part.

Now, take a moment to picture a typical victim of human trafficking. Chances are the images you conjure are a lot more distressing. Depending on how much you’ve read into the issue, you can picture a scared young woman from a foreign country huddled in a corner, traumatized and broken after being exploited by her ruthless captors.

Chances are, those ruthless captors conjure some nasty images as well. You imagine they’re sadistic, deviant men who smile at the sight of a scared young woman, having to sell herself sexually in order to pay off a debt that she didn’t even ask for. Such men are the closest thing we have to real-world super-villains.

In terms of terrible crimes, human trafficking ranks near the top in terms of things that offend every sense of decency, humanity, and justice. It’s one of those crimes that’s so horrific that it’s almost impossible to scrutinize without a sense of outrage clouding our judgment. Any effort to do so is usually overshadowed by the horrors of the crime itself.

Despite those obstacles, it’s still an issue worth discussing. If anything, the fact that human trafficking is such an egregious crime makes it that much more relevant. When there’s something that’s so objectively evil, people tend to line up in droves to play the role of a hero. It’s not quite like virtue signaling because this is an actual crime with actual victims.

However, and this is where I’m sure I’ll lose some people, the assumptions surrounding human trafficking and the efforts to combat it aren’t as clear cut. That image of a typical human trafficking victim that I described earlier is, like the plumber, a popular perception that doesn’t quite reflect reality.

Now, none of that is to say that human trafficking isn’t a terrible crime and a serious problem. I want to make that abundantly clear before moving forward. The point I want to make here has more to do with our attitudes towards this crime, its association with prostitution, and how it reflects certain gender dynamics.

For better or for worse, human trafficking is linked to prostitution. It’s major component of the popular perceptions surrounding the crime. As such, a great deal of opposition to the legalization of prostitution comes from the idea that it will increase human trafficking. The veracity of that claim does have some data behind it, but even the most comprehensive studies concede that the link is inconclusive at best.

It’s that link though, however true it might be, that gives human trafficking its insidious reputation. It’s why it is often cited by feminists, human rights advocates, and moral crusaders as an issue worthy of outrage. Battling human trafficking means battling exploitation, sexual promiscuity, and exploited women all at once. That appeals to a lot of people, but it also obscures the true nature of the crime.

That nature is not entirely dependent on sex or prostitution. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately 22 percent of estimated 20.9 million human trafficking victims are exploited for forced sexual labor. That’s still way too many people being exploited, but what about that other 78 percent?

That portion of human trafficking victims are primarily forced into labor of a non-sexual nature. That labor includes work in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing. That kind of exploitation affects victims of any gender, as well. While women make up about 55 percent of the victims, that still leaves 45 men and young boys, who can also be sexually exploited as well.

The hard data alone undermines the popular perceptions surrounding human trafficking, but it gets even more complicated than that. Since human trafficking is a criminal enterprise that’s exceedingly difficult to prosecute, it’s hard to get accurate data on the scope and scale of the issue.

Back in 2001, a terrifying report from the University of Pennsylvania made headlines by claiming that approximately 300,000 children, mostly young girls, were being sexually exploited. Understandably, this caused a lot of outrage and horror among politicians and activists.

That claim was not accurate, by the way. The report, which was based on outdated data from the 1990s, only covered children “at risk” of being sexually exploited. It didn’t refer to actual victims. That data is harder to come by, but most figures are nowhere near that egregious number. In addition, the methodology for gathering such data is both incomplete in some areas and flawed in others.

Even with those flaws, though, the perceptions surrounding human trafficking and the mental images it conjures are more than sufficient for people with agendas to garner support. Unfortunately, it’s not the forced labor or the 45 percent of victims who are male that get the attention. It’s the women and the sex that gets the emphasis.

As a result, policies and legislation intended to combat this issue tend to focus primarily on that component. Earlier this year, a couple of major laws were passed with the stated intent of combating human trafficking. However, the primary impact is being felt by sex workers, as a whole.

These laws explicitly mentioned sex trafficking. It said nothing about forced labor, which makes up the bulk of human trafficking victims if the data from the ILO is accurate. That’s akin to passing a bill that punishes the maker of ski masks rather than focusing on those who actually use them to commit crimes.

That’s not to say efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of young women aren’t justified. However, why does that particular variation of a crime warrant more laws and resources than another? Why is sexual exploitation the main focus and not the forced labor that is more likely to impact men and boys?

It says something about both our priorities and our attitudes when the exploited sexuality of women is given a greater priority than the enslavement of men. It sends the message that the pain of a sexually exploited woman is somehow greater than that of an exploited man. Pain is still pain, last I checked. When you prioritize one, you undermine the other, by default.

Moreover, those noble efforts to combat human trafficking may end up making the situation worse by coupling it with anti-prostitution efforts. Like the war on drugs, making prostitution illegal does nothing to mitigate the demand for prostitution, nor does it make things easier for those who are prostitutes. It just puts the industry in the hands of criminals.

In recent years, it has become popular in some countries to pass laws that prohibit the buying of sex, but not the selling of sex. It’s an approach that still criminalizes part of an act and, according to a 2012 report by the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, it has not achieved the desired effect of reducing prostitution or human trafficking.

It’s because of these shortcomings in combating both prostitution and human trafficking that organizations like Amnesty International now favor the full decriminalization of prostitution and stricter laws against forced labor. To date, no country has attempted to enact such a policy.

That’s not to say that Amnesty International’s measure will eliminate all instances of human trafficking or forced prostitution. Like any imperfect society, there will be cases of injustice and exploitation. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to have reasonable policies that emphasize the full spectrum of an issue.

Human trafficking is a terrible crime. Forced labor, be it sexual or otherwise, is just as terrible. There’s no denying that, regardless of how uncertain we may be of its prevalence. By focusing only on its links to prostitution, though, we don’t just undermine the full scope of the crime. We do a disservice to all victims, regardless of gender.

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On Nihilism And Love (And How Nihilism Enhances Love)

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Whenever I talk about nihilism, it’s usually in the context of how it could effect an emerging generation or as an excuse to talk about one of my favorite cartoons. I try not to incorporate it into too many discussions, mostly because nihilism has some pretty sullen connotations. Whether you believe it or not as a philosophical principle, discussions about it can get pretty depressing.

Considering the underlying premise of nihilism, which is that life and existence has no inherent meaning, that’s somewhat unavoidable. At the same time, though, nihilism can provide a revealing context. Due to its inherently harsh nature, it can cut through the empty rhetoric and needless complications that overly complicate a subject. That can be exceptionally useful for a concept as broad and powerful as love.

Yes, I am going to talk about love and nihilism. I promise it’s not going to get as depressing as you expect. If anything, I believe that love and nihilism are a potent mixture that, when framed properly, can actually enhance both concepts.

Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m an unapologetic about my fondness of romance. I like to think I’ve made that abundantly clear. However, the more I write about love, the more I notice how often love gets twisted and contorted into something that undercuts its fundamental value.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional fairy tale romance that makes love seem like this unstoppable force that is ordained by angles and guided by unicorn magic. That sort of thing has its place alongside stories of giant robots and superhero movies. In the real world, though, pursing that kind of love is like pursuing actual fairy dust. It’s woefully unrealistic and potentially damaging to someone’s psyche.

That’s where nihilism can provide an important filter, of sorts. At its core, nihilism strips away the magical thinking people ascribe to certain phenomena, be it love, honor, friendship, or happiness. From a purely nihilistic point of view, love is just another manifestation of brain chemistry within a larger manifestation of social dynamics.

On paper, that’s pretty cold. If it were incorporated into a fairy tale or an erotica/romance novel, it wouldn’t come off as very romantic. If you take a step back and go beyond what’s on paper, though, that nihilistic insight actually reveals the larger complexities of love.

To illustrate, think back to some of the most iconic love stories of all time, both classical and contemporary. Look at the epic love of Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose from “Titanic,” or Superman and Lois Lane. These are all held up as romantic ideals, the kind that make real world love seem inane by comparison.

However, applying a little nihilism to these narratives and something happens to these ideals. The strength of all these epic love stories is how passionate the characters feel for one another and all the obstacles they overcome to be together, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. That makes for an epic tale, but nihilism exposes a major oversight.

If we’re going to look at love as just a series of chemical reactions in the brain between two people, then we cannot overlook the other reactions surrounding it. To do so would mean ignoring real, tangible manifestations of reality. Since that’s the only manifestation that nihilism acknowledges, it has to accommodate those other feelings alongside love.

This is important, in terms of expanding love, because it establishes that it’s just one of many potential feelings that may manifest within the brains of two individuals. The mechanisms are the same. It’s just brain matter interacting with other brain matter. Sure, that reduces the biology of love to brain chemicals, like any other emotion, but at the same time it incorporates into all the other emotions in play.

In the cold, unfeeling world of nihilism, the mechanisms of love don’t carry any greater weight than the mechanisms of hate, happiness, sadness, and annoyance. While that’s bad news for fairy tales, it’s good news for love in a real world where love spells don’t exist and true romance rarely forms from a single kiss at the gate of an airport.

In that world, the basic brain chemistry of love can’t be enough. It’s necessary for two people to also get along in the sense that they can relate to one another, interact with one another, and deal with one another on a day-to-day basis. Those mundane, unromantic factors are rarely part of an epic love story, but an important part of a healthy romance.

When we conflate the meaning of love to the level of an old Beatles song, we undercut those less fanciful aspects of love. We focus only on those moments of intense passion that find their way into romance movies. Some, like my favorite romance movie, do a better job exploring other moments. Most though, along with music that blurs the line between love and obsession, don’t send that message.

That kind of love gives the impression that it’s the most meaningful experience anyone could have. It becomes the primary goal of every individual, seeking that special love that somehow makes them feel complete and content. To not have it is to be denied your very reason for being. It’s something you should dedicate every ounce of energy to, even at the expense of every other pursuit.

That romantic ideal shatters under the weight of nihilism because in that worldview, nothing matters to that degree. The very notion that anything would matter that much requires self-delusion to an egregious extent. Again, it’s a cold way of looking at the world, but it reveals the true tenants of a healthy, fulfilling love.

By mixing love and nihilism, love can no longer be that one feeling that gives someone a sense of purpose. That’s because, in the world of nihilism, nothing gives anything or anyone inherent purpose. Everything is just there by the random chaos and exists only temporarily, only to eventually perish at the eventual heat death of the universe.

Sure, that means that love can no longer be eternal or everlasting like a typical Disney movie, but that’s actually a good thing if love is to have any value. By rendering love a finite, temporary feeling, it becomes more precious on the basis of its rarity. The fact that it is so temporary is what makes it a powerful feeling to those who experience it.

It also leaves room for all the other feelings that go into a strong, healthy romance. Things like growing together, learning from one another, and complementing each other become part of an ongoing process that two people experience. For some, it can last a lifetime. For some, it can barely last a day.

In the long run, they don’t have inherent meaning in a nihilistic world. Whatever meaning love ultimately has is dependent on those who experience it. That means people can’t just rely on the fact that they’re in love and expect it to solve their problems. It means they actually have to work on preserving that meaning they’ve created in a cold, unfeeling world.

To some extent, that gives love true value and not just the inflated value portrayed in movies. By looking at love through the lens of nihilism, it’s possible to understand it for what it truly is, in relation to other experiences that sentient beings share. It’s no fairy tale, but it’s real in that we feel it and because we feel it, we give it meaning.

As a lover of romance and telling sexy stories, I find that uniquely inspiring. We can’t rely on an unfeeling, uncaring universe to give meaning to our love lives. We, as finite and fragile beings, have to do that ourselves. Those willing to take love as it is and not what we wish it were are better able to craft that meaning. If we can make it sexy along the way, then that’s just a nice bonus.

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Do Soul Mates Actually Mates Exist?

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When it comes to love, romance, and whatever else manifests in every song a boy band ever sang, the ultimate manifestation of this beautifully sentimental phenomenon is the soul mate. We’ve probably all heard about it in some form. Some are even lucky enough to be with someone that they consider to be their soul mate. Regardless of whether or not you care for the concept, we envy those people.

As a long-time romance fan and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, the ideal of the soul mate is the alpha and omega of the concept. It is to romance what Superman is to modern superheroes. It is the ideal to which we aspire. It embodies the ultimate example of what true love is and what we want it to be.

I’m not going to lie. That sort of thing makes parts of me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, among other things. Most people who enjoy romance to some degree probably feel the same way. The idea that two people have a love so strong that it’s practically interwoven into the fabric of time, space, and the basic laws of reality just feels so special.

It makes for both a great fantasy, full of more romance and passion than most can ever manage without seeing “Titanic” fifteen times in a row. It’s the kind of love that makes romances like Jack and Rose, Romeo and Juliet, and even Superman and Lois Lane seem ordained by destiny.

Now, here’s where I kind of have to put a dent in the time-honored fantasy. I know that’s kind of dangerous for a self-proclaimed romance fan, but I’m going to do it anyway because I think it’s a discussion worth having. It’s a discussion based on a simple question.

Do soul mates actually exist?

I know that me asking that after I just said it makes parts of me gush sounds like an about-face. I promise there’s a context to it and one that ties directly into how we go about answering this question. Whether or not you’re a romance fan, the ideal of the soul mate and our inherent drive to seek love makes it an important question to ask.

Before I give my answer, I need to add a few caveats to my fondness for the concept. Yes, it does resonate with me, somewhat, as an overall romance fan. However, as a fan of compelling stories and an aspiring writer, I actually don’t really care for stories built around the idea of soul mates.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think it’s a sweet concept. When I was younger and just starting to explore romance, I really liked those stories. As I got older, though, and my tastes in stories evolved, that appeal quickly waned. Whenever I read a book or saw a movie that ran with the concept of soul mates, it became somewhat of a turn-off.

That’s because from a narrative perspective, soul mates make for bland and shallow stories. If a couple are established as soul mates, then that basically renders any need to work or nurture their love moot. They don’t have to put in the time, work, or effort to become a great couple. Destiny and whatever supernatural forces behind their bond do that for them.

This is why I don’t care much for “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s established from the beginning that they’re “star-crossed lovers,” which is basically a more Shakespearean way of fate had ordained for these two to fall in love and there’s nothing anyone or anything can do to prevent it. Sure, it’s sweet and dramatic, but it’s a very limited story.

Those same limits that undermine a story are a major factor in answering the question. For someone like me, who follows romantic plots and sub-plots way closer than most straight men will ever admit, it shapes my perspective on what makes a great love story and what makes a real or fictional relationship strong.

Within that context, I’ll give my answer to the question. I don’t claim that this answer is definitive. This is just my opinion, having formed it from years and years of both consuming and crafting all things romance.

No. I don’t believe that soul mates are real.

I’m sure that’s tantamount to blasphemy for other romance fans out there. I understand that sentiment and I gladly accept the scorn that comes with that answer. However, I am willing to justify my answer.

It’s not just because I regularly write about the inherent flaws in the human brain, which make the prospect of achieving any ideal, be it perfect love or perfect justice, impossible by default. I think the concept, as a whole, does not fit with the whole process of love, at least as I see it.

Whether it’s love in the real world or love in sexy novels, falling in love and being in love is an ongoing phenomenon. It takes many forms and plays out in many ways, sometimes chaotically and sometimes dramatically. That’s part of what makes it such an appealing narrative.

Some of the best manifestations of that process, which I’ve gone out of my way to highlight, occur when two people work together to build and strengthen their love. They work together. They fight together. Sometimes they even clash, along the way. There’s never an endgame in mind. Their love is something that builds and evolves day-by-day.

In the real world, we see that play out in the work people put into their relationships. Whether it’s scheduling a sex night or going on some romantic getaway to Fiji, people in love put work into that love. It’s not something that just happens. For that feeling to remain strong, it takes time, effort, and understanding.

With soul mates, there’s no process to love. It just happens. The universe basically commands it. There’s no reason to put any work into it because those involved are so made for each other that they couldn’t drive each other apart if they tried. That kind of love doesn’t just rely on supernatural forces. It relies on two people’s thoughts, feelings, and desires being perfectly compatible every second of every day until the end of time.

Given the chaotic nature of the human mind, that’s just not realistic. It’s not even that romantic, when you think about it. I don’t deny that there are particular moments, such as a wedding day or the first time a couple makes love, where they’ll feel in that moment that they are soul mates. I don’t deny that feeling exists. As for the larger concept, as a whole, I think that’s about as real as Superman holding a black hole in his hand.

So I guess my answer does have a bit of a caveat. I do believe there are moments when two people are so in sync, emotionally and romantically, that they fit the mold of soul mates. Those same people can go onto break up, get divorced, or cheat on each other. That’s just the chaotic, unceasing nature of human passions.

Again, my answer to this question is anything but definitive. Perhaps there are other romance fans out there who believe I’m dead wrong and that soul mates do exist. If you feel that way, I’d be happy to discuss that issue in greater detail. For now, I simply ask that all those reading this contemplate that question and answer it for themselves.

Even if you’re not big on romance, it’s a question worth answering. It reflects both our sentiments and our aspirations when it comes to seeking love. As someone who is currently single, writes sexy stories, hopes to fall in love one day, I imagine I’ll continue contemplating this question for years to come.

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