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Why Do We Police Sexuality?

A recent article in The Atlantic discussing the censorship of sexual health content on Twitter and other social media sites got me thinking about we police sexuality. We live in a sex-saturated culture where mainstream heterosexual sex permeates the very pores of our visual cortex. It’s impossible to turn on a TV, computer, radio, or drive down the road without encountering sexually themed content in one fashion or another. We are either selling a completely unrelated product with sex, or watching grown and presumably mature adults dance around the topic via comic interludes and cheeky grins. This extreme dichotomy has resulted in a complete lack of grounding when it comes to having a healthy, mature conversation about anything sex-related. How is it that we can flock to a movie like 50 Shades of Gray but cringe when someone dares to offer advice on how to put on a condom?

The Middle Ground is Threatening

The ends of the sexual content spectrum are easy to discuss, and easy to pass judgement on, either in favor of or against. They fit nicely into the misguided ideological labels of “liberal” and “conservative”, whereby one has come to mean complete sexual freedom and liberation, and the other a complete lack of sexuality for fear of offending our uninformed notions of religious doctrine. Scholars such as Sharon Lamb have attempted to make the argument that sexuality and sex-education debates have gone afoul because comprehensive advocates ceded the moral argument to conservatives, less there be more than one definition of morality. The same is true in a broader sense of the entire “Sex Wars” debate that has been raging for more than 30 years. “Morality” has become the sole purview of religious conservatives when discussions of sexuality (education, health, reproduction, behavior) emerge, and it’s been a brilliant ploy. How do you really argue with someone’s beliefs? Everyone is entitled to believe what they want, regardless of the facts. The response has been a constant stream of statistics, health warnings, and legal arguments, but at the end of the day, none of that matters to the middle ground of America. We vote with our hearts, not our minds. We commit to an ideological perspective and feel compelled to hold onto those beliefs no matter what evidence seems to interrupt it. Why else would we still be talking about the global warming “debate”, the evolution “debate”, or insisting that dinosaurs roamed the Earth with humans. Seriously, people, these are not debates. The science is pretty clear. There is always room for more discovery, which is why research continues, but we’ve more than reached “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

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The Middle Ground is Unclaimed Territory

The result of committing so vehemently to one side of a topic or the other is a vast undiscovered territory. The middle ground of sexuality discussions and conversation is akin to international waters controversies. Everyone can lay claim to it, but right now nobody is fighting all that hard to stake that claim. There have been folks that have attempted to bridge the gap in this discussion, such as C. Everett Koop, but they often set foot into a black hole of ideological banter and find themselves falling victim in one way or another to the overwhelming gravity of a minority of voices. The future of our collective sexual health and understanding of sexuality doesn’t rest with artificially elevated icons like Ben Carson (seriously, did anyone really know who this guy was before he opened his mouth and immediately found a size 12 sneaker hovering outside it?). The future of this movement, and of our sexual identity as a society rests on forcing discussion in the middle ground. Sexuality is not a simple topic to discuss and we do everyone a disservice by simplifying it or watering it down. We need to spend the time lingering in the middle. We need to share information about sexual health, provide alternative models for sexual morality and sexual values, flood social media, mainstream media, and print media with nuanced discussions of sexuality that replace the caricatured portraits we are forced to choose from now. It’s ok to be comfortable with discomfort. We need to dispel the myth  that being “liberal”, “conservative”, “Christian”, or “feminist” must be only one set of things. Our identities are our own and we are free to make those choices every day, and change our minds every day. It’s certainly more work than listening to the talking heads on MSNBC or Fox News, but it means we can own it, invest in it, and spread out to inhabit that middle ground. There’s plenty of room, folks.

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