Unless you’re living outside the USA, you have by now been treated to countless stories of Eddie Long’s “alleged” sexual predatory behavior. He is a major religious figure, known for his staunch, homophobic views and conservative, “family values” stance. the accusations leveled against him have rocked Christianity and the Black Church in particular, with many expressing shock, denial, and anger at his actions. This post is not about Eddie Long specifically. It is, however, an attempt to understand the roots of sexual repression, it’s consequences, and why it’s always bound to fail.
First, let me point out that individuals who score highly on psychological metrics measuring homophobia, often demonstrate an attraction to homosexual acts. A university study seems to confirm the belief that most homophobic men have repressed homosexual desires.
The study showed that the men who scored highest on a homophobic measure, were most sexually aroused by gay porn. when confronted with the evidence, the test subjects vehemently denied being sexually attracted to gay porn. (An alternative, but much less likely, explanation is that the homophobic men’s erections were caused by anxiety during the experiment.) I believe that any attempt to repress Eros (which is part of natural make-up) relegates it to the dark recesses of our collective psyche where it becomes warped and controls our behaviors.
From birth we are taught to be ashamed of and fearful of sex — all of us to some degree are repressed muthafuckas. Even those of us who claim to be sexually “free” oftentimes use language to describe that experience that leaves me wondering. In many cases it’s a past in which remorse and “youthful indiscretion” plays a prominent role. This isn’t the language of sexual freedom, it’s repression personified. People mistakenly link sexual repression with lack of sexual activity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Repression is a defense mechanism we use to push things out of our conscious awareness where they often gain total subconscious control over our actions.
I have traveled to many places and I have never come up against the sheer depth of sexual hang-ups that I confront with in this society. We fear, loathe, and at the same time crave sex. We are outraged if, god forbid, a child sees a nipple (though there is no evidence nudity is harmful to children), but have nothing to say when we willingly allow our children to be subjected to literally tens of thousands of violent images and marketing strategies aimed at making them mindless consumers (see the most recent example of the Katy Perry Sesame St. flap).
I have written previously about the two-thousand year Christian campaign against sex. Add to that three centuries of Puritanism and… welcome to sex in America.
Eroticism is considered an outlaw energy in this culture. I don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it’s because it’s a reminder of taboo Goddess worship, or because of the sheer power of sexual energy, or because limitations on sexual behavior made sense thousands of years ago. Whatever the reason, Eros is a forbidden fruit and our society spends huge sums of its precious resources every minute of every day to undermine, co-opt, channel, manipulate, ridicule, and distort it.
And we all pay a price for this.
When religion fails to recognize our basic human need for pleasure and uses its power to influence what is considered normal in order to repress our God-given right for nurturing and sensual and erotic pleasure, the consequences are violence and predatory behavior. When we debase sex to its lowest form and ignore the vital spirituality we can draw from the sexual rainbow of playful, loving, and intimate union, we distort our human nature.
Numerous studies of child abuse, for example, indicate that parents who abuse their children were often deprived of physical affection during childhood, and as adults experience extremely unsatisfying sexual relationships. Studies of child-rearing practices across cultures, and evidence of neurological damage in anti social humans demonstrate that deprivation of bodily pleasure during infancy and adolescence and the repression of pleasure promote adult violence. A case in point is the U.S. Compared to other industrialized democracies, The United States has some of the most repressive legal sanctions against sexuality, and yet we have the highest sexual crime rates. That’s a fact, not a belief.
Patriarchal religions (i.e., Christianity, Judaism, and Muslim) that emphasize a high God who actively punish deviations in human behavior commonly endorse anti-women, anti-sex and anti-pleasure value systems. As part of their anti-sexual values, these religions promote negative attitudes about the physical nurture of infants and children. They also severely punish adolescents and adults who engage in erotic pleasures considered outside the norm.
Deprivation of body pleasure throughout life — but especially during the formative periods of infancy, childhood, and adolescence — is very closely related to the amount of warfare and violence in a society. Conversely, societies that promote nurturing in child-rearing, that are comfortable with the body, and with sexuality and pleasure, produce adults who have less sexual dysfunction, who promote gender and social equality, and a society that does not glorify slavery or war.
There is a strong argument for the notion that failure to celebrate the pleasures of the Divine presence in our erotic lives creates the compulsion to conquer and achieve pleasure elsewhere. One can see a clear causal link between patriarchal (Father-like) religions that deny the nurturance we draw from erotic pleasure and the anti-sex, anti-pleasure belief systems of religious fundamentalism and fascism.
Religious fundamentalism of any type relies on literal and patriarchal interpretations of texts that determine what rules guide human behavior and spell out punishments for those who deviate from those rules. Fundamentalism thrives when individuals become terrified of thinking outside cultural norms. For me, fundamentalism is patriarchy gone mad, fascism is the ultimate expression of father-dominance. Within this framework, moralizing and condemnation become more important than celebration and play. Self-centeredness and a preoccupation with power and laws that maintain it become a substitute for adventure, pleasure, wonder, and a living, spiritual ritual.
One only has to look at the Christian rationalization of slavery — of how Christians used the bible to justify slavery, for example. Or look at the early Christian support for Hitler which agreed on his attacks on contraception, pornography, and sexual permissiveness. More recently, Christians have supported neo-fascist attacks on gay marriage, sex education, and abortion clinics.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. We’re in the midst of a tidal change that is terrifying to many people around the world. There are fundamentalist forces clamoring for a return to the “good old times.” There are forces calling for a return to their ways (their “country”). You know, the good old times: the times when women were little better than property, where people of color “knew their place,” and gays were kept in the closet.
There is a culture war in full effect in these United States and there are those who want to drag us back to the Dark Ages where dialogues about sexual identity and alternatives to sexual monogamy didn’t exist. Fortunately, we can’t go back — as much as these ignoramuses would like. We are in what the anthropologist Margaret Meade called a prefigurative stage. The myths and symbols that gave meaning and direction to our culture have lost much of their significance (and with good reason), and we are only beginning to create a new cosmology, a culture that respects sex, pleasure, and sensuality; new myths and icons that provide relevant models for a new consciousness of ourselves and of the earth.
The other option, to cling to an outmoded book full of outdated myths, is to choose to destroy ourselves. If you want a glimpse of what that destruction looks like — look to the personified destructiveness in the Eddie Longs, the Taggarts, and Swaggarts of the world…