Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sex and Politics

I wanted to point to this great article in Psychology Today, "What Rick Santorum Doesn't Know about Sex," by Christopher Ryan. (Ryan is the author of Sex at Dawn.) I think Ryan makes great points that are applicable not just to Santorum, but to politicians in general who speak about regulating and legislating sexual morality.

A teaser quote:
For Homo sapiens, sex is primarily about establishing and maintaining relationships—relationships often characterized by love, or at least affection. Reproduction is a by-product of human sexual behavior, not its primary purpose.


I am a big fan of Ryan's work, and I think he's dead-on here. But I also think it is extremely important to recognize that, when it comes to sex and politics, this is just half of the story. Imagine that Rick Santorum wrote a response to Ryan's piece entitled "What Christopher Ryan Doesn't Know about Politics." The salient pieces of such a piece would certainly be that issues of "family values" have been historic drivers for right-wing candidates for decades, and right-wing politicians can drum up support for their campaigns by bringing out these iseeus. In fact, I think it is interesting to note that LBGTQ equality, abortion rights, and religious tolerance are brought up as political issues by those candidates that oppose them far more frequently than by those candidates that support them.

There is something in that, I think, that is relevant to mental health. Two very cynical possibilities emerge: Either the candidates are bringing these issues out just because they are vote-getters, or the candidates who are getting votes are the ones that bring these issues up. The end result is the same--The candidates selected are frequently those who stand opposed to LGBTQ equality and abortion rights. (Of course, there are other family value issues beyond these, but for simplicity's sake, let's leave it here.) So, what Christopher Ryan doesn't know about politics is this: History has shown that us-vs-them thinking and moral superiority are effective in getting out votes, and will likely remain a part of the political system. It has, unfortunately, nothing to do with the reality of how sexuality functions in humans, and everything to do with how humans consolidate political power.

(Apologies to Christopher Ryan, who I suspect actually does understand how politics work, despite my rhetorical device. As a sign of my contrition, I recommend you all go purchase a copy of Sex at Dawn, which is a fantastic book.)

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