Culture Warriors vs. Sex for Pleasure: Why the Right Wing is Wrong When it Comes to Sex
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From the beginning I knew I was being bad. Between mooning over Aquaman and fantasizing about stealing Speed Racer away from Trixie, new ways of coupling danced warm and fuzzy in my childhood head. When my dad would tuck me into the bunk bed I shared with my brother, he’d wish me sweet dreams of ice cream and Disneyland. I’d close my 7-year-old eyes, nod, and picture yummier treats of my latest crush. One high-mileage scenario involved me as the sexy space alien who Captain Kirk ultimately conquered. I’d vary skin colors, adornments of allure and spirited resistance, but always end up in the sweaty brutish embrace of the manliest man in the universe.
One night when a senior in high school, washing dishes with my mom, I asked her when it was okay to have sex. I had decided to never be a wife or mother, since from what I could see both meant the death of who you are and whatever dreams of becoming more. But the push and pull I played with boys at school had become more urgent, so I tried for parental guidance.
“When you get married,” said Mom, who had three kids by the age of 20. A virgin from a Mexican Catholic family, she fell for a cat whistle on a California beach by my Dad, a high school dropout who grew up in orphanages and reform school, and sported tattoos, such as skull and cross bones, and an electric chair.
“But what if I never get married?”
“Then you never have sex.”
We continued washing and drying in silence. End of conversation.
Like most Americans from strict traditional homes, I’d learn the hard way that having no framework other than “death do you part” for deciding when, how, if, and with whom to express your sexuality offers more pitfalls than protection.
The stories I’ve told myself about sex and self have shifted dramatically since I was kicked out of my house at 17. From being a born-again Christian taught that man was made for God and woman for man, Barbie the cheerleader whose primary survival tool was flirting, and Sergeant Riscol the tank mechanic who voted for President Reagan—to now feminist mom and sex journalist—I’ve traveled Star Trek planets to know the danger of absolutes, and the pleasure of moral agency and self-determination.
“The world is a different place now,” sighed my staunch Republican Christian mom over the phone recently after I hesitated to accept her Facebook friend request, knowing my daily riffs on sex and gender controversies counter her beliefs. Yes, times have changed! Turns out the sexiest man on the Enterprise isn’t Captain Kirk, but equality activist, Mr. Sulu, who married his boyfriend of 21 years and wields searing humor against institutionalized homophobia, including posting a YouTube “It Gets Better” video telling young queers, real or perceived, ignore the loser bullies and don’t kill yourself.
New media is revolutionizing the stories our nation tells itself about sex. The biggest difference since the Internet’s information explosion is we can see that there’s not just one way to love, desire or bond. Alas, it’s not just white men who can fuck for fun as in the Victorian era when horny women were diagnosed as hysterical and men brought home syphilis to their wives during prostitution’s heyday. And today’s tabloid microscope reveals how grim heteronormative fairy tales can be whether following America’s sweetheart Sandra Bullock, champion Tiger Woods, or Disney’s latest Princess Lolita pop star.
Now we see Doogie Howser’s studly Neil Patrick Harris all grown up and posing in bed with his jammy-clad husband and co-daddy, exploding the myth that only lipstick lesbians and the child-free are sexy. We see La Vida Loca’s Ricky Martin, come out not just as the hot hip swiveling gay everyone rumored him to be, but a Puerto Rican who defied his church and macho culture to give his twin boys the hope of a more authentic future. We see Sex in the City’s Cynthia Nixon, who fell in love with a woman after a lifetime of loving men, reluctantly come out as bisexual to push against labels and the premise that “born this way” alone determines sexual rights. We see Sonny and Cher’s baby doll, Chastity, costumed in blond curls and frilly dresses, now more happy and whole as a burly suited Chaz.