Sexuality and society


Why have we made a fetish of sex? Despite the fact that people speak more freely about sex today, such talk is still accompanied by laughter and joking. It is still not fully regarded as natural. And the excitement that surrounds it comes from its status as forbidden fruit.   Ever since the earliest humans, represented by the mythological Adam and Eve, sex has been somewhat of a taboo subject. Adam and Eve had cavorted quite happily in the Garden of Eden until they ate of the forbidden fruit. The apple gave them knowledge of sex but why was that knowledge accompanied by embarrassment i.e. the fig leaf? They had been naked up to that time and had seen each other’s genitals. Why had knowledge of sex been forbidden them?  

Recently, a primitive African tribe, called the Jarawa (meaning foreign, hostile people in an Andaman language) made contact sometime in the 1990s with Andaman Indians.  These people, there are approximately 400 of them, look as though they are from the Garden of Eden, sweet, innocent and completely naked. They obviously had no Adam and Eve myth to shame them into an unnatural awareness of their bodies. Perhaps as they become more “advanced’ and ‘civilized’ they will begin to adopt a suitable shame. At present, they are a tourist attraction and made to dance for the visitors. They wear skirts, a variation on the fig leaf, which I assume have been provided by tour operators to protect the ‘sensibilities’ of the tourists, mainly Indians. Through contact with the ‘civilized’ world they have lost their independence and now beg for food and money from tourists who also provide them with liquor and tobacco and other ‘civilizing’ commodities.

A woman tourist commenting on the Jarawa called them ‘uncivilized.’ One wonders what civilization means when the so-called civilized treat these innocent Jarawa like monkeys in a zoo, exploit them and violate their way of life.

I think that to the Jarawa, sex is a natural function of life so they are not afraid to be naked. The Adam and Eve myth seems to indicate that when sex becomes an element of consciousness, it is sinful and one must cover up.   Even today, reference to sexual organs is regarded as inappropriate. Brett Murray’s painting, The Spear, for example, was vilified because of its open reference to genitals, and the meaning of the painting was ignored.

Through Adam and Eve, the Abrahamic religions have perpetuated the view that knowledge of sex must remain hidden. But why is such knowledge a sin? Being an atheist, I look at social taboos as the early human being’s means of creating and consolidating community.   Anything that threatened to weaken the community was proscribed. But I do not understand why consciousness of sex is a threat to society? Why did Adam and Eve suddenly become ashamed? Why did they not celebrate the discovery that they were procreators? After all they had been told to go forth and multiply which they had not done while they were unaware of their ability to do so.

Somewhere along the line, desire and pleasure became sinful.

Searching the Internet I found reference to Johann Jakob Bachofen whose theory of matriarchy indicated that all societies began as matriarchies. There was no marriage, women held power and mated with many men so the only parent that was known was the mother. That gave her power. With the rise of patriarchy came monogamy and the deposition of women from power. This is the closest explanation that I have discovered for why restrictions were placed on sex. It suggests that it was the pursuit of power that put an end to sexual freedom and confined it to marriage.

This would also explain why all other forms of sexuality were considered abnormal.

Since women’s liberation, the notion of patriarchy has come under critical scrutiny and with gay liberation we are beginning to understand that sexuality is natural – all forms of sexuality. Heterosexuality, being necessary to patriarchy as it consolidates male power and authority, became normal, i.e. what was acceptable in a male dominated society.

Homosexuality was not acceptable as it is a threat to patriarchy and therefore had to be restricted. Where it was practised in the ancient world, it was the privilege of powerful males who surrounded themselves with young boys.