I read that members of the aboriginal Arunta tribe in central Australia claim that they do not associate sex with pregnancy. They say that pregnancy results from a woman’s contact with a nature spirit.
I can think of four possibilities:
1. I was mistaken or forgot what I read.
2. The Arunta believe in the literal, biological truth or this assertion.
3. The Arunta are having a little quiet fun at the expense of the anthropologists.
4. The Arunta know that sex is a necessary for pregnancy but believe it is not sufficient. This position is similar to the one held by many, if not most, modern Americans. Many Americans believe that God creates people. Without God’s intervention in this important matter, children could not be created.
It occurs to me that the Arunta belief could fill an important function in their society. In case you hadn’t noticed, raising children is work and people like to be paid for work. Some people derive an ego gratification from their children. Personally, I have long since abandoned the idea that my genes are so superior that they ought to be duplicated and passed on. Some people regard children as a gift (or responsibility) from God. In either case, children need parents to raise them. Suppose that an Arunta child was the result of infidelity. In Arunta terms, that child would still be the natural child and responsibility of the husband. By uncoupling sex from pregnancy, the Arunta encourage paternal involvement in a child’s life no matter what the circumstances of its conception.
I believe that children are hardly ever forgotten in the pre-civilized world. There may be some infanticide, but hunters and gathers and nomadic people simply can not escape their social responsibilities toward their children. This is not the case in much of the civilized world where large numbers of children are neglected and abused.
The Polynesian people were noted for their free and easy attitudes toward sex. That is not to say that they had such a loose attitude toward everything. In fact, pre-civilized people are so restricted by religious and social laws and their customs that modern Americans would classify them as neurotic or obsessive compulsive. Nevertheless, Polynesians were much freer about sex than 19th and 20th century Americans. I would guess that the rest of their social structure was so confining and they were so isolated that they simply could not escape from their duty to raise their children. Since their children would be raised no matter what their parentage, the Polynesians could afford to be freer about their sexual activity. It would not fundamentally affect the way their children were raised.
Americans have reacted to Polynesian morality in two opposite ways. The 19th century missionaries condemned the Polynesians and tried to impose Victorian morality on them. Twentieth century anthropologists have idealized them. This attitude has triumphed in the late 20th century and culminated in the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s.
The sexual revolutionaries attacked the missionaries for insensitivity to the culture they were changing. It seems to me that these same people are essentially sexual missionaries to America and that they (like the other missionaries) have no appreciation for the society that they are trying to change.
With the advent of psychology, we have seen a change in the vocabulary (if not the substance) of morality. What was once called “evil” is now called “sick.” The language of morality was replaced with the vocabulary of mental “health.” I advise you to remember something: Intellectuals and politicians do not want you to be free in any sense. Intellectuals use words and politicians use taxes and prisons; but their aim is to make you conform to their ideas of what you should be. If they seem to be removing restrictions from you, it is only in preparation to imposing new restrictions on you--their restrictions.
This brings us to some hard questions. Let’s take America as being representative of those Western nations with the highest material well-being. Why did America develop such strict sexual ideals? Why did America develop a double standard in which it was the woman’s role to uphold morality? Did the moral standards help create the wealth? Did the wealth contribute to the moral standards?
I’m no sociologist but I’d like to toss out some guesses for sociologists to consider. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber tries to prove that our modern wealth has its roots in Puritanism. There must be some sort of relationship between these two contemporaneous changes but his work has many critics. I’m only asking how strict morality fits in with increasing freedom and wealth.
America’s freedom and wealth has given men the power to leave their children and find work away from their family responsibilities. This freedom for men makes women and their children more vulnerable to poverty. It seems only natural that women would try to avoid pregnancy unless they were fairly sure that they could give their children a secure future The only sure say of avoiding pregnancy is abstinence from sexual intercourse. Society in general would support women in this abstinence. The parents of girls would be particularly careful to inculcate values that would lead to the well-being of their children and potential grandchildren.
This analysis suggests an hypothesis and an experiment. If the main aim of sexual abstinence is avoiding pregnancy, then sexual activity that does not lead to pregnancy (even if it might be classified as “perverse”) should be better tolerated than standard sexual intercourse. I know that religious and moral folk do not hold this view, but I don’t really know the feelings of the average American on this point. I suppose I should do some research.
The double standard is usually viewed as an unfair burden on women. If we look at the history of marriage, it might seem a little different. As arranged marriages fell out of favor, the double standard and the idealization of women transferred the control of sexual behavior to females. In this area, women’s control over sexual morality increased their power to shape their own destinies and the forms of social interaction.
The sexual revolution of the last 30 years has encouraged women in particular to “loosen up.” The results of this loosening process have not been very rosy for women. There have been enormous increases in unwanted pregnancies, abortions, one parent households, and female poverty. Anger at men and even children has become standard TV fare whether dished out by talk show guests or intellectuals on educational programming. There is a constant cry for more and more public money to provide for these female victims.
In theory, we should not have any problems. People should be able to fulfill their sexual desires without pregnancy since birth control and abortion are universally available. Reality is never so simple. The people who are most affected by the social movement toward sexual freedom are those most likely to be affected by any trend or fad, that is to say, people without any hard core convictions or beliefs. These people tend to be the most irresponsible members of society, those least likely to avail themselves of birth control.
Completely free access to abortion is a litmus test issue in many quarters; and millions of abortions have been performed. Nevertheless, illegitimacy rates soar. Obviously, abortion is not an option for many women. Like the Arunta, some women seem unable to connect sex with pregnancy until the test comes back positive.
The sexual revolution is seen as something new and modern. The truth of the matter is that in most times and most places women were regarded as essentially immoral. They had to be guarded lest they follow their natural urges and upset society. No one was very concerned about the virtue of most women in medieval Europe. However, they were concerned with the virtue of noble and royal women because noble and royal children mattered. For a while, middle class people were concerned with the virtue of middle class women because middle class children mattered. It’s tempting to see the devaluation of female purity as a return to the good old days of feudalism.
The psychological community speaks of ridding us of repression. “Repression” is a made up word meaning the hiding of desires from the conscious mind. People may or may not have repressed desires; they certainly have suppressed desires. There’s nothing sick about suppressing a desire. It’s inevitable. Unless you have a lot of money, you are constantly suppressing your desire for certain material goods. Ninety nine percent of what is called sexual repression is plain old suppression, choosing consciously (for whatever reason) not to do something that you’d like to.
Has the sexual revolution resulted in better mental health? From everything I’ve seen and read, I doubt it. What has it done to traditional child rearing? In a variety of ways, pre-civilized child raising was socialized. Now we have a vast segment of society crying out for governmental socialization of child raising. Public schools are insufficient. We must have public day care. Aid to Dependent Children and welfare programs are insufficient to feed the children. We need school lunch programs to keep children from going hungry. Government is called upon to protect children from everything from tobacco to heroin through pornography to the internet. The liberal politicians are saying one thing, “Americans are incapable of raising children.”
The sexual revolution coupled with government childfare strike at the heart of any system based on individual responsibility. It leads to ever increasing socialization of the country. Those New England missionaries knew what they were doing: They were consciously trying to destroy the Polynesian social structure and substitute a Christian based system. What are we to make of the sexual missionaries to 20th century America? Are they stupid? Or is it their intention to impose socialism through society’s children?