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Is Value-Free Sex Talk Valuable? Bert Meisenbach MD



Student Health Center University of Texas , Austin, USA Published online: 09 Jul 2010.

To cite this article: Bert Meisenbach MD (1991) Is Value-Free Sex Talk Valuable?, Journal of American College Health, 40:2, 99-100, DOI: 10.1080/07448481.1991.9936263 To link to this article:

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Is ValueFree Sex Talk Vlaluable?

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Bert Meisenbach, MD

exual intercourse practiced with love and faithfulness has prevented more sexually transmitted diseases and insured more long-term, joyous, fear-free sexual expression than the liberal use of latex condoms and “limiting the number of one’s sexual partners” (whatever that means). Yet public affirmation of this simple preventive health fact is now considered taboo. Why this curious reversal of the Victorian double standard? In that era, chastity and fidelity were “in,” but frank discussion of sexuality was “out.” In postVictorian sex education presentations, coed classes in putting condoms on bananas are “in,” but discussing any possible need for life-long sexual fidelity (the new “f’ word) is “out.” Why are we so afraid to state the ideal? We do not limit our public criticism of apartheid, crime, poverty, date rape, child abuse, and other forms of destructive behavior simply because they are endemic problems, unlikely ever to be completely eradicated. One study showed that 25% of 15-year-oldsand 75% of 19-year-oldsin the United States are already sexually active. But sheer repetition of what is unwise and unloving and unfun (most sexually active teenage females are nonorgasmic) does not make it wise and loving and fun. Why are we so passive in our acceptance of sexually “average” behavior as both inevitable and, if not ideal, as morally neutral? I suspect that several factors enter into publicly treating love and faithfulness as the new “forbidden and unmentionable fruit.” The first is the personal inescapability of sexuality. Apartheid and child abuse are someone else’s bad deeds, but everybody is a sexual being. I cannot blame somebody else for my own sexual nature. The second reason is our national bias toward pragmatic and quick technologic fwes for what are often deeper personal and social conflicts. To my mind,

Bert Meisenbach is a stsff physician with the Student Health Center of the University of Texas at Austin. VOL 40, SEPTEMBER 1991

the third and most enervating assault on a f f e n g a morally reasonable public sexual ethic is our 20th century confusion between the public and private spheres of human existence. Freud, with his revelations of the seamy underbelly and latent violence of human sexuality, decimated the facade of public piety that had gone unchallenged in Victorian society, but he was unable to furnish us with any new, powerful, public myths or beliefs that could contain the amoral, ineluctable, ecstatic, yet potentially destructive, force of human sexuality. This has left us with a public moral vacuum. What has rushed to fill this void is not a restatement of the ancient need to affirm something higher than ourselves but, rather, the desire for instant gratification. What is private and should remain private has now become an ineffective substitute for the absent public ideal. It is as if everyone were walking around with enough plutonium under his or her belt to make a bomb, but whether or not individuals do so and blow themselves up is considered a private moral decision exempt from public comment. This reticence-this new “liberation” from communal values, this equation of judgment between right and wrong with tyranny-all this dictates that one’s professed ideals must coincide with current average behavior. This, allegedly, is supposed to free us from guilt or the need to examine our deeper motives. The fact that human ideals, even under the best of circumstances, are imperfectly adhered to is taken as prima-facie evidence of the worthlessness of their affirmation. Striving is out, reaching for something higher than one’s current self is pass& Virginity is snickered at. (Although it is worth noting that in the ecological movement the term “virgin wilderness” still connotes a natural purity as yet unspoiled by humanity’s naked desire for immediate gratification.) Such a sliding-scale moral yardstick is a desperate attempt to avoid the necessary tension between the real and the ideal while ensuring, in sexual relations, meaninglessness, despair, and permanently diseased genitals. Another price for this blurring of the necessary distinction between the actual and the 99

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ideal, the private and the public, is that now sexual intercourse, the most intimate of all human acts, must be invaded by the technology of protective layers of latex and lubricants to make it safe for human consumption. I submit that there are students who have thought this through and who seek a better way-who seek the boundary conditions of love and faithfulness as a precondition for sexual expression. For them, the price of the popular way, the average way, is too high. And I wish this thoughtful minority good fortune-you are not currently receiving any help from society at large. So what does all this have to do with preventive health? Well, there is peer pressure, a presumed unilateral and unopposable force before which we are all supposed to lie down. Except, of course, when we momentarily suspend this pessimism to pressure the noncondom-using sexually active into condom usage. But we quickly reconstruct this barrier to the affirmation of

ideals as soon as the moral aspect of sexuality rears its “ugly head.” We are profoundly influenced by what we hear and see in society around us. We are susceptible to manipulative advertising. But peer pressure can cut two ways. It is positive peer pressure, through the media, that made public the deleterious effects of nicotine, too much animal fat, lack of exercise, etc. And such pressure has lowered the rate of coronary artery disease. It is peer pressure that says that date rape is not cool. It is peer pressure that has increased the rate of condom usage. Such messages have made a difference in many people’s lives. This same kind of openness and pressure could affirm love and faithfulness as the best container for the force of human sexuality. This, in turn, might partially counteract the unremitting, negative pressure of mindless consumerism and self-exploitation that we are all too passive in accepting as the norm.

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Is value-free sex talk valuable?

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