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Let me explain what sex is

I give up. I have to comment on the Foley business because so many people seem to be totally confused about sex.

On the left and the right, every scandal that involved private parts has been enumerated, going back for decades right to Gary Hart and his Monkey Business. The implication is that they’re all more or less the same. They are not.

This really isn’t difficult. Sex is enjoyment, preferably between people, but not unknown as a solitary activity. That’s it. That’s all anyone needs to know. If anyone involved isn’t enjoying the situation, then it’s not sex.

If anyone involved is creeped out, then it’s harassment. If anyone involved doesn’t have the power or the knowledge to say no, then it’s exploitation in the same sense that slavery is exploitation. If anyone involved is saying no, then it’s rape. These are crimes. CRIMES. They are not sex, even if there is an erection going on somewhere.

There’s one reason why it’s essential to keep the difference between sex and crime clear. Sex is nobody else’s business. Crimes are everybody’s business and have to be stopped immediately.

Some examples, just to make the distinction clear. Barney Frank and Mark Foley were elected to Congress and are both gay. So far, so good. Their gayness is nobody’s business but their own and their partners’. Barney Frank does not proposition pages. That is also good. Foley propositions people young enough to be his grandchildren, AND OVER WHOM HE HAS POWER. That is a crime. It would have been bad enough if he’d been streetwalking in DC looking for nineteen year-olds. But he had to go harass lowly clerical staff who are hoping to make a career in his business. That makes his crime that much worse.

Or, take another pair of examples. Clinton having sex in the Oval Office. This was a poor choice of venue and one taxpayers can justly complain about. Dignity of the office and all that. But the sex itself is nobody’s business (except Hillary’s). Alternatively, there’s the current Gubernator of California, who apparently has a decades-long history of groping women. He said he was “just playing.” The narrative when this first became public (2003) was, really, what did anyone expect, we’re surrounded by sex scandals, and anyway, look at Clinton. Boys will be boys.

Which is nonsense. Hundreds of millions of boys with plenty of testosterone manage to get through life without harassing women. It’s got nothing to do with boys or sex or hormones. It has to do with the sense of power that twisted people get from humiliating another person. Doing that by assaulting a person and grabbing her breasts is not sex. It is a crime. (And one which the Gropinator has kept out of the news by using the power of the Governor’s office to investigate the victims.)

There are vital implications from the fact that sex is private, but crimes are public.

One is that the media and the politicians need to get out of everyone else’s underwear. Leave people’s sex lives alone. Enough already. Publicly messing about in people’s private affairs always ends in disaster. In the case of sex, the end result is something like Saudi Arabia, with morality police roaming the streets and masses of the men with erectile dysfunction (Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, 2005; no direct link, unfortunately. Also, U. Chicago study (pdf [1]) based on the GSSAB.). In the case of religion, the result is endless war. (I don’t really need to give references for that, do I?) Sex and state need to be separated at least as much as church and state. And although a politician’s attitudes to sex, race, or religion may need to be discussed if they are likely to affect voters, there is never any need to gossip about his or her Catholicism, hairstyle, or bed partners. Gossip may whip up the voters, but it’s a drug which is killing our ability to have an intelligent public conversation, and since democracy is founded on informed voters, this is not trivial.

On the other hand, crimes must be discussed, made public, and prevented, or, failing that, punished. The media and the poltiicians, and all the rest of us, need to stop confusing crimes and sex, need to stop lumping sex in with crimes, and need to stop pretending crimes are caused by wanting sex. Human beings are unique in having opposable thumbs, which gives us ways of dealing with irrepressible sex all by ourselves. Humans are also unique in having a mass of brain, which gives us ways of understanding how other people feel. So if we’re hurting someone, we bloody well know it, which is the very definition of a crime.

We have to keep the distinction between sex and crime straight because when we don’t sex can be called a crime, which makes the whole thing ridiculous, and crimes can be called sex, which, among other things, lets congressmen harass pages for years while everyone looks the other way.

Update, Oct. 14th, 2006
Holy crap. I knew that Those People were confused, but even I had no idea it was this bad: “Shays: Abu Ghraib abuses were sex ring [2]” (Chris Shays, for those who’d like footnotes, is a Republican representative from Connecticut.)

Technorati tags: Foley, Mark Foley, politics, harassment, Congress

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "Let me explain what sex is"

#1 Comment By PMS_Chicago On 07 Oct, 2006 @ 09:29

This is a great post. My only concern is that people could probably point to Monica Lewinsky the same way you point to the pages:

Foley propositions people young enough to be his grandchildren, AND OVER WHOM HE HAS POWER. That is a crime. It would have been bad enough if he’d been streetwalking in DC looking for nineteen year-olds. But he had to go harass lowly clerical staff who are hoping to make a career in his business.

They could say that Lewinsky, too, was lowly clerical staff hoping to make a career in politics. So, that too could be a crime. no?

However, there’s the matter of consent and coercion. Did Monica Lewinsky feel coerced? Did she give consent?

Personally, I was never convinced that Lewinsky felt coerced or that she didn’t consent to the relations. Rather, I think she was delighted to be at the center of things, and altogether too happy about it.

Foley’s pages, by contrast, often weren’t old enough to legally give consent in their home states. (The age of consent is 16 in Washington, D.C. *shudder*) Furthermore, if you speak even the slightest bit of teenager, their hesitance and discomfort with humoring Foley’s come-ons is VERY obvious.

Again, excellent post (as usual), and great food for thought.

#2 Comment By quixote On 07 Oct, 2006 @ 17:03

I gather Lewinsky “started it,” as it were, and Clinton was all-too-willing. So there were no issues of harassment. Nor, given her age (22) of consent.

There is the issue of totally dubious workplace ethics on Clinton’s part. I was a college prof for the longest time, and the equivalent–screwing around with students in one of your own classes–could get you fired even if you had tenure. It doesn’t matter if the student lies down naked in front of you, it is simply Not Done. I’d think exactly the same holds true for the President and the interns, and I’m also sure Clinton knew it and just figured he could get away with it.

The difference, though, is that Clinton committed totally inappropriate behavior, not a crime. He wasn’t actually harming anyone, except Hillary. You don’t go to jail for adultery, at least not in any civilized country. Harassment, on the other hand, hurts everyone who’s a target, and what Foley did was major harassment.

One of the saddest comments, among many sad comments coming out of the Grand Old Perverts about this, was that those emails would have been unremarkable if directed to a woman. Gives all of us some idea of how they view harassment of female staf.