Speaking my mind on a blog is proving unexpectedly difficult. Having been chided with a [non-existent] wish to impose censorship on commentators, I have been roundly ticked off by them for some of the views I have expressed. There is a well-known saying [which I disagree with] that the only three topics worth talking about are politics, religion, and sex. Having had my fingers burned over politics and religion, I suppose I had better fall back on sex.
Having spent many years addressing public and private issues around sex, I must confess to a certain weariness with the usually inane manner in which it is commonly discussed. Havelock Ellis said that in no other field of human activity is so vast an amount of strenuous didactic morality founded on so slender a basis of facts. Freud said that in Western culture, most feel unable to be candid about their sexual tastes and habits, which they conceal under a thick winter overcoat of hypocrisy. A highly experienced and competent teacher of sex educators I used to know said that you must begin by clearing morals, like clearing trumps in Bridge.
What my experience did teach me is that even in our supposedly enlightened and more open times, sex is an extremely painful subject for many people, and a good deal of the sexual boasting and bragging that goes on is just a façade. Also, the physical aspects of sex cause discomfort and distaste, especially to the religious folk who have complained down the ages that the heights of sexual bliss are located amidst the dungheap of excretory functions - presumably due to bad taste on God’s part.
We are inevitably trained as infants to regard some parts of the human body, and its secretions and excretions, as ‘dirty’. Without such taboos, toilet training and a modicum of hygiene would be impossible. In the era of hippies and flower-power, there was a deliberate attempt to overturn these taboos with the result that indiscriminate multiple sexual couplings led to outbreaks of disease. With the advent of AIDS, sex educators who had concentrated on encouraging their clients to be less guilt-ridden and more sexually outgoing were obliged to do an about turn and counsel a return to prudence and even abstinence. It was all very confusing.
My own view is that many of the moral objections to sex, though consciously derived from the Bible and other ‘sacred’ sources, are in fact primarily motivated by bodily prudishness. I once received a letter from a lady whom I shall call ‘Mrs Yuk’ asserting that most people are intolerant of male homosexuals ‘mainly because of shit’, since gay men do not share the majority’s instinctive disgust at buggery. I drafted, but did not publish, a reply to her in the form of an open letter which read, in part, as follows:
“Dear Mrs Yuk,
You tell me that, in order to be accepted, gay men must ‘explain to heterosexuals why they are not put off by the contact with faeces’.
This, you surely realize, is an impossible task. No-one can explain ‘why’ they have certain tastes and certain aversions, or why they lack them. If I were to tell you that buggery doesn’t turn all gay men on, would that really make them more acceptable to you? I doubt it – you would probably then wax eloquent over the iniquities of fellatio. If not, why not? Just a matter of preference, I suppose.
You see, I really don’t believe that the intimate details of my sexual desires and diversions [or yours, or anyone else’s] are any business whatsoever of anybody except ourselves and our willing sexual partners. If you cannot agree with me that this level of toleration for practices and beliefs [sexual or other] which we may ourselves abhor is an essential component of a decent, civilized society, you and I have very different notions of what such a society is.
We cannot allow irrational prejudices to dictate social policy. For everyone is in some respects a Yukker. The list of my own personal yuk targets is quite lengthy. Among the major items are ill-mannered small children and their feckless parents; the practice of abortion, and its false presentation as a fail-safe for birth control; tobacco smokers of any kind and pipe smokers in particular; pickled onion eaters; people of a good many political and religious persuasions; and bigots of every hue.
I say ‘Yuk’ to them all. I won’t have them in my house if I can jolly well help it. But they are free, so far as I am concerned, to pursue their malodorous behaviour and to peddle their daft ideas consentingly and in private: whatever they do is none of my business, unless they intrude upon my or your privacy and freedom. It is at that point that their obnoxious personal preferences become of legitimate public interest; and determining where that point lies is the most crucial and delicate decision of social politics.
Why are the likes of you so obsessed with, and revolted by, shit? Freud, I suppose, would put it down to over-strict potty-training; and I must say I think it is unhealthy to be either nauseated or fascinated by a substance which is a normal, healthy waste product of normal, healthy human bodies. I consider this constant harping on homosexuals’ attitudes to shit [ or piss, or cum, or whatever] is just naïve rationalization of dislike of the different: the basic reason why the majority dislike gay people is simply that we are different, and won’t conform, and the ‘yuk factor’ conveniently bolsters this prejudice and intolerance.
Frankly, Mrs Yuk, I am utterly choked off with your sort – constantly invoking your yukkiness as an excuse to abuse those you happen to dislike and to condone inhumane treatment of them, while at the same time parading a phony tolerance. I too say ‘yuk’ quite a lot; but thank goodness I am not a paid-up member of the loud-mouthed tribe of censorious Yukkers.”