The recent events with former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after it became known he had hired a prostitute, represents a common occurrence. People generally seem to have an obsession with stories of sexual scandal and tragicy. Even reliably innocuous acts, such as hiring an expensive hooker, get turned into huge scandals by a general public that likes to indulge in feelings of horror and disgust at sexual acts.
I have no problem with the downfall of hypocrites like Eliot Spitzer, Ted Haggard, and Jim Bakker. But the stories of those hypocritical men's downfalls would not have gained so much intensity without people's obsession with stories about sexual scandal-an obsession which apparently comes from people's fear and hatred of sex.
Throughout history, most societies have developed a predominant fear and hatred of sex. They make sexuality into a taboo, including sexual acts such as masturbation, nudity, prostitution, homosexuality, and almost any other sexual act not occurring between married people for the purpose of procreation.
But why do the people in our society tend to have such negative feelings towards sexuality? Why do so many cultures through the globe fear and hate sex?
The commonness of erotophobia (the fear of sexuality) seems counter-intuitive because humans have such a natural desire for sex. Thanks to evolution, humans naturally find sex pleasurable. Sex is fun, pleasurable, and stress-relieving.
So why all the fear and hatred? Let me posit a few possible explanations.
Political Power – Through most of human civilization, small groups of men have an obvious economic incentive to dominate other people. Simply put, exploitation is profitable. The political establishment in most societies may have found it difficult to dominate free-spirited people who joyfully engage in natural, powerful pleasures such as sex and playfulness. In a manner of speaking, the strength of sex competed with the power of those who wished to control society. That also may explain why so many religious organizations originally incorporated erotophobia into their dogma.
Psychological Projection – Projection may also help explain why many people get so worked up over consenting adults having sex. Many people, especially those with perversions, may think of their own sexual desires as harmful or shameful. As a result, they will often suppress the desires, deny the desires, and then project the desires onto others. This could also be described as a method of taking suppressed feelings of self-disgust and releasing them into hatred and disgust for others. For example, consider the correlation between homophobia and homosexuality – famously exemplified by Ted Haggard who publicly condemned homosexuality while secretly having it. Also, it stands to reason that projection would have a mutually relationship relationship with erotophobia. In other words, when social norms make people feel ashamed and disgusted by their own sexual emotions, then those people may transfer their feelings of disgust towards other people's sexuality, which in turn will lead to more erotophobia and create a vicious cycle.
Insecurity and Patriarchy – The historical pervasiveness of patriarchy may have also contributed to the taboo of sex. In their attempts to dominate women, men probably feared the sexual power that women had. Men have also behaved in a notorious insecure way, and their insecure can become amplified when rejected by women. Some powerful men's insecurities over their own sexuality may have led to antipathy towards their own sexuality which may have led to antipathy towards sexuality in general.
Fear of the Dangers – Erotophobia may come from a fear of the dangers of sexuality. For one, people may fear becoming the victim of sexual crime, or of just being used or objectified by someone else. Additionally, people may fear the personal dangers of indulging in sex, such as STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and addiction. Practicing safe sex has mostly made the issues of STDs and unwanted pregnancies moot. (Ironically, erotophobia makes it more difficult to promote the use of safer sex.) Fear of addiction may help explain why people still fear sexuality. This fear makes the most sense. People can become addicted by indulging too much in any pleasant activity, especially intimate activities conducive to overindulgence such as sex, gambling, unhealthy eating, playing video games and so on and so forth. (It seems misguided to me to fear the activity out of fear of addiction.) It is immoderation that leads to addiction, not the pleasurable activity. stemming from a reasonable fear of addiction, helps cause erotophobia.
Whatever the reason, our society fears and hates sexuality. Ironically, erotophobia probably exacerbates any perceived problem with sexuality.
Even with so much erotophobia, sex still happens and is very likable, but we can only imagine how much more sex could offer in a world that did not treat it like such a horrible evil.
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