Anti-sex rhetoric is hardly new to the Republican Party, of course, which has routinely campaigned to increase the dangers and consequences of sex by restricting access to contraceptives and abortion. But the GOP war on sex also comes at a time when the party’s presidential candidates have perhaps never been more out of step with the sexual beliefs and practices of most Americans.
“The private sexual behavior of all ages, of all political persuasions is getting more liberal,” says Marty Klein, a sex therapist and author of “America’s War on Sex.” “It’s going toward more variety, more partners, more kinky sex, more experimentation and, as the age of first marriage goes up, by definition the amount of premarital sex is going up.” Indeed, “the vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage,” according to a Guttmacher study, and most believe that out-of-wedlock nookie is morally a-OK.
We see the same story when we look at sex-related policy. The majority of Americans favor national recognize of same-sex marriage and most say same-sex relationships are morally acceptable, although there is a partisan divide, with only 23 percent of Republicans favoring legalized same-sex marriage. Santorum’s stance on birth control even conflicts with that of most Catholics.Dan Cox, director of research at the Public Religion Research Institute, tells me, “In our own polling we find close to 90 percent [of Catholic women] are in favor of expanding access to birth control for women who can’t afford it and this is true among most religious groups and political groups.”
What’s more, 99 percent of Americans who have ever had sex have used some sort of contraception. Nowadays, most Americans want abortion to be legal (while also harboring moral concerns about the practice).
All of this raises the question: Why are the GOP’s leading candidates becoming more sexually conservative as the rest of America heads in the opposite direction? How are the remaining prudes so good at filibustering the rest of us?
“For years we’ve been told ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ Iowa showed that ‘it’s the sex, stupid,’” says historian Nancy L. Cohen, author of the upcoming book, “Delirium: How the Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America.” “Iowa should put to rest the myth that social issues are unimportant. It’s easy for Republican voters to tell pollsters that the economy is their most important issue. But that’s only because every candidate has promised the radical anti-abortion and anti-gay activists the world.”
It isn’t just Iowa, though: Even as we increasingly disown notions of procreative marital sex as the only legitimate form of sexual experience, “the public policy around sexuality is getting more conservative, more draconian,” aside from tremendous progress within the gay rights movement, says Klein. “That schizophrenia has been in evidence since the day that George Bush took office — you could even say since the day that Bill Clinton was impeached.”