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Girls Gone Wild vs. Virgins Till Marriage: Why Is Sexual Life in America So Schizoid?

America, "Land of the Free", continues to swing between smut and sanctimony.
 
 
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The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book, Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Human Sexuality, published by McGraw-Hill.

“You would watch the girls give each other oral sex, do themselves with dildos, place cigars in their vaginas and rectums, suck on each others’ breasts, and lick freshly poured beer off of one another’s vulvas while their legs were tucked behind their necks.” Often one fellow would get to have sex with one of the three performers directly before leering and cheering men.

No, this is not another spring break outrage making the latest round on cable news, but business as usual back in the good ol’ days when live sex shows were easier to find than now. And I don’t mean the 50s glory days of traditional values when “Ozzie and Harriet” reigned and the U.S. teen pregnancy rate hit an historic high, but in the prostitution heyday of the 1800s when feminists and medical experts warned against women riding bicycles lest the seat stir “libidinousness and immorality.”

In the latest hot and seminal Guide to Getting It On, author Paul Joannides’ longest chapter, “Sex in the 1800s,” reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. He compares the sexual contradictions of then “hardcore live sex shows and concerns about bicycle seats for adult women” to now “abstinence-only sex education and porn-filled Websites on the Internet.” As today’s technology flings sex front and center, in your face, round the clock, no escape, get me off of this XXX merry-go-round spinning ever faster into an erotic yawn of Girls Gone Wild, prostitots, MILFs, Bang Bus, Carl’s Jr. ads and endless multimedia overexposures, America “Land of the Free” remains stuck in a sexual schizophrenia of smut and sanctimony.

My first mental flash when reading about the famous centuries-ago sex show was VH1’s latest season premiere of “Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels,” where Pamela Anderson wannabes vie for the lead singer of 80s hair band Poison. When one drunken contestant takes a vagina shot of booze from another, even a nonbeliever can fear the Apocalypse is near. Minus historical context and nuanced reasoning, I feel the appeal of Chicken Little conservatives crying the decline of Western civilization due to the sexual revolution and liberal moral relativism.

It’s cheap and easy to dump hypersexualized floaties from our unfettered free market society on those who reject retro reactions to today’s growing sexual, reproductive, gender, relationship and family complexities. But could our nation’s unmatched trouble with sex—runaway rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy, single parenthood, abortion, HIV and STDs, sexual “addiction,” alienation and desire discrepancies, divorce—really be a black-and-white case of purity or promiscuity? How to reach the glorious human heights of pleasure—sacred to silly—when laden by potent conflicting forces intent on commercializing and politicizing sex?

Our dominantly Christian nation’s schizophrenic approach to sex has deep roots. Likely former Governor Elliot Spitzer wouldn’t have been so disgraced for feeding his costly call girl fetish in 1870 when New York City’s second-largest economy was commercial sex. Yet America’s prostitution-powered era wouldn’t have tolerated a women’s studies graduate auctioning off her virginity to finance her master’s in family and marriage therapy, a la Natalie Dylan. Women weren’t allowed the same transgressions as men. Of course women weren’t allowed the same opportunities. Traditionalists argued that the intellectual rigors of higher education would shrink female reproductive organs and deny a real woman’s one true calling: motherhood.

The God-fearing Victorian era of presumed moral restraint was nearly as sex segregated as Afghanistan today. Hooking up isn’t so easy when you don’t school, work or socialize together. Young men routinely staved off masturbation at brothels where prepubescent virgins were in high demand. Women were deemed unnatural if they displayed sexual desire, though ads for birth control abounded. Gender and sexuality has evolved along with technologies like automobiles, birth control and the Internet, economic shifts and social equality. America, grounded in equality and plurality, rises from the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our national stability and family honor doesn’t rest on hypocritical sexual traditions like enforcing female virtue.

 
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