I’m sure all of you are familiar with the origin story of Spider-Man. In whatever form it takes, the essentials are the same. Young Peter Parker, having been gifted with incredible power by a radioactive spider bite, initially tries to use his powers for personal gain. Then he sees a thug running off with stolen cash (often stolen from a guy who has just cheated him), but decides it’s not his problem. Not long after, his beloved Uncle Ben is murdered by the very same thug, forcing Peter to learn the lesson Uncle Ben had been trying to teach him; that with great power comes great responsibility.
It’s a classic story and has been re-told many times. The essential lesson Peter needs to learn is that he can’t shut out the world. His actions have incalculable consequences, consequences that have been magnified tenfold now that he has been gifted with these amazing powers. He needs to be responsible and sacrifice his own wants and desires for the good of others.
Why do I bring it up? Well, the theme of power and responsibility, that no man is an island and that we need to consider much more than our own wishes has a lot to do with what I want to talk about today.
Most people agree with all the above; power must come with responsibility, that our personal wishes must often give way if they might be detrimental to others, and that we are all much more connected than we usually think. That is, most of us admit this in general terms. Applying it is usually much harder, and there is one area of life in which we really like to forget it.
The general rule about sexuality is that, as long as it’s between consenting adults, there can’t be anything wrong with it. It’s all about the self (or the selves) involved; self-expression, self-discovery, self-actualization, and all sorts of other ‘self’ things.
Here’s the problem: if there is one aspect of the human experience in which the phrase “this is not all about you” applies with particular force, it’s the issue of sex.
“But it’s my body!” you might be pleading “It doesn’t affect anyone else! It’s no one else’s business what I do in my bedroom!”
Well, as the Israelites said when they were brought to Babylon…
Take a step back from your feminist literature and hip sitcoms and consider just what sex is. It’s the gateway to life. It’s the foundation of society. It’s the next generation in the making. In short, sex means babies, which means children, which means future citizens.
“Aha!” You say, “we’ve beaten you there! You see, we have contraception now; sex doesn’t necessarily mean babies anymore!”
Like the dying swordsman, you missed the point.
It’s the same point which we have tried very hard to forget in today’s world: the only way the next generation can come into existence is through sex. Our attitude, our behavior in this regard must affect the next generation whether we like it or not, just like our behavior towards our children affects how they will grow up whether we like it or not. The existence of effective contraception does nothing to change that fact: it’s simply another factor that influences the consequences (and usually not in a good way, which I’ll get to in a minute). If we treat sex as a self-centered act, then we will be self-centered towards our children and teach them to be self-centered as well. Poison the seed and the tree will grow sick, if it grows at all.
That, you see, is why every previous society has imposed rules and regulations on sexual behavior: because the sexual activities of its citizens determine how, or even if that society will be passed on. Children born into stable, healthy relationships from healthy, self-controlled adults generally become better citizens than children born out of wedlock or into broken, unstable homes with feckless, irresponsible parents. Not to say that the latter can’t become good citizens of course (or that single parents can’t be good parents), only that the former have a much better chance to, and since a society is only as good as its citizens, it is in society’s best interest to promote anything that will give the next generation the best possible chance of becoming good citizens (if you don’t care about society, feel free to substitute ‘people’ for ‘citizens.’ It’s true either way. If you don’t care about society or people in general, but only your own precious self, then you’re cordially invited to go jump in a lake).
In other words, yes, it is my business what you do in your bedroom, because what you do in your bedroom affects who is going to be running my community, teaching my children, protecting my country, and managing my businesses twenty or thirty years down the road!
“But I’m not having children! I use contraception!”
Well, to put it bluntly, so what?
Even if Contraception were 100% effective (which it isn’t in any form) this still would affect me too, both in the way outlined above and in another way. You see, as every other society in history understood, purposefully reducing your own population and encouraging sterility is a very. Bad. Idea! This is true for any number of reasons. For instance, think about it economically: less people = less commerce = less jobs = less prosperity = lower quality of life. Or socially: if one group doesn’t want to have children, another group will eagerly pick up the slack, which means your particular culture and way of life goes bye-bye. It’s simple mathematics; the culture that has more children wins. If one culture purposefully decreases, another will be happy to increase. We can see this happening already: Europe, which was saved by the blood of Crusaders, is being overrun by Islam largely because Muslims are having children and the Europeans aren’t. Japan, where the government spent decades promoting contraception, is on the fast-road to extinction, wiping out a millennia-old civilization in the process (in other words, a culture that survived nuclear weapons is being destroyed by contraception). Contraception, as anyone who bothered to think things through could have told us (*cough* Humanae Vitae), is simply the surest way to cultural suicide.
So, your decision to use contraception so you can have sterile sex puts my society, my culture, and my quality of life in jeopardy. That sounds like my business.
“Oh, come on!” you might be saying. “My choosing to use contraception or to sleep around isn’t enough to endanger our culture and way of life!”
Okay, go watch A Bug’s Life. Now pay close attention to the scene where Hopper demonstrates how dangerous the ants actually are by brutally murdering the guys who dismissed them as ‘puny.’
Here’s the clip:
Damn, Kevin Spacey makes a great villain!
No, one individual who misuses sex won’t destroy our society. A whole country of people misusing it, on the other hand, is a different story. Right now, the whole of Western Civilization is in the process of being crushed by thousands and thousands of pieces of grain, all stamped with “it doesn’t affect anyone else.”
It’s similar to the bystander effect: the more people who say “someone else will take care of this,” the more certain it is that no one will take care of it. The more widespread the “it doesn’t affect anyone else” attitude becomes, the more certain it is that it will affect everyone else.
Now, I mentioned earlier that, as a general rule, the only sexual activity we view as unacceptable are those committed without the other person’s consent (whether forcibly or because the person cannot reasonably give consent). In other words, they’re sins of injustice: violating another person’s rights. What I have attempted to do in this rambling essay of mine is to show that, actually, all sexual sins are sins of injustice to a greater or lesser extent. They are acts of injustice against the next generation and against society as a whole. Playing around with the means to create life has incalculable consequences for both any individual you happen to create and for whatever society you happen to be a part of, and that ought to be a sobering thought.
“But you can’t sin against the next generation!” you say. “It doesn’t exist yet!”
A few points you seem to have missed: first of all, barring the Apocalypse, it certainly will exist, so you can commit a wrong against it. It’s called “duty to posterity,” and it’s one of the basic moral laws of the human race. Two, you’re presenting that argument in favor of doing something that will ensure the next generation will get here. In effect, you’re trying to create the next generation while arguing that you have no duty towards it. Do you see the problem there?
But you’re not having children because you use contraception, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Leaving aside that those who have children would probably disagree with the idea that you don’t have to worry about what their life is going to be like, you’re still performing an act that, by definition, can create life. You can inject yourself with chemicals or set-up latex barriers all you like, but you’re still potentially creating a new human being every time you hop into bed while arguing that it’s fine because you’re not responsible towards that human being because you don’t intend to create it. You’re still up one human being that, judging by your attitude, you’re not ready to be responsible for. You’ve therefore taken something from him (the chance at a responsible and loving family) in the very act of creating him.
In other words, every time you have sex, contraception or no, you are volunteering to have a child. You are, in fact, telling your body that you want to have a child. Contraception reduces the likelihood that you will succeed but it doesn’t change the nature of what you are doing. Therefore, whenever you have sex, you are gambling with bringing another person into this world. You are, whether you like it or not, offering to take on the responsibility of someone's entire life and character.
This brings up another serious problem with the “it doesn’t affect anyone else” idea. Since sex, by its very nature, has the potential to create its own third party for the consequences to fall upon, it’s logically impossible to say for sure that it won’t affect anyone else until a few days after you’ve already done it. It’s like saying “I know that time bomb won’t hurt anyone because there was no one around when I set it.”
So, even on a purely individual level, your sexual decisions are not all about you. They are also about anyone who happens to be brought into existence through your actions. Like Dr. Frankenstein before you, you are responsible for your creation, whether it turns out the way you intended or not. Simply put: if you aren’t ready for children, you aren’t ready for sex.
There’s an episode of the show Burn Notice where, as part of his plot to integrate himself with a psychotic terrorist, ex-spy Michael Weston has to employ his best friend and partner, Sam, to steal several weeks’ worth of flight data, which Sam reluctantly does. While searching the data, Sam discovers the one flight plan the terrorist is after and tells Michael that it’s the only one they’ll give him. Michael objects that the terrorist requested all the plans and that they risk blowing the operation if they don’t go along with it. Sam, however, puts his foot down: they are not going to risk the lives of thousands of people by giving a month’s worth of flight plans to a known psychopath under any circumstances. Michael says that they’ll stop the guy before he causes any havoc. Sam says that, yes, they will, by not giving him the chance. Whereupon he gathers up all the data and walks out, refusing to give Michael anything until he agrees to do it Sam’s way.
Now, that scene could be considered a metaphor for extra-marital sex (uh, don’t read too much into that). There’s Michael, whose attitude is that it’s better to risk the consequences to achieve what he wants (pleasure, a strengthened relationship, self-expression, what have you) and to try later to ‘cut off’ the consequences before they can manifest (contraception), and there’s Sam, who sees that the potential worst case scenario (conceiving a child in an unstable environment) is far too serious to risk ‘trying later’ and won’t go along with the plan until they ensure that it won’t happen (by forming the stable, permanent relationship first before risking a new human being). Michael is being irresponsible to get what he wants; Sam is being responsible by thinking of the potential consequences of their actions and how they will affect other people.
Something else you might be saying: “BIGOT CHAUVANIST HATEFUL SEXIST PATRIARCH PRUDE HYPOCRITE!” But assuming you’re being rational and engaging the argument, you might be saying “okay, say I agree with you. But you said that, if only a few people disobey and sleep around and contracept and the rest it wouldn’t matter so much. Well, why shouldn’t I be one of the few and leave others to be responsible?”
The real question is, “who are you to be exempt?” What, exactly, lets you off following the rules that everyone else needs to follow, and which, by your own argument, you are depending on their following? As noted, the more people who adopt the “I don’t have to worry about this” attitude, the more certain it is that they’ll cause problems for everyone. Morality is not a volunteer position: you’re drafted from the moment you’re born. Just like in war, one man who shirks his duty weakens the whole line. It can survive two or three cowards and deserters, but not half the regiment. As for you, if you decide to desert, to just look out for number one and say the heck with everyone else, then you are weakening the whole. It may not be much, but it is a crime against your fellow men nonetheless.
No regiment worth its pay would tolerate even one coward or deserter. No more should we excuse even one person who declares “well, I don’t have to go along with that.”
The point of all this is that our attitude towards sex is simply irrational and dangerous for individuals and for our society. We can’t try to isolate ourselves in this issue, because it doesn’t allow for isolation. Society has a vested interest in promoting healthy, stable, exclusive sexual relations (i.e. marriage) to raise plenty of healthy, stable, mature citizens. Even if we were willing to ignore that for some strange reason, there' still the fact that sex is the only action in the world that has the potential to create a third party whose rights also must be considered. This means that, unfortunately, what you do in your own bedroom is not simply your own business. What you do in your bedroom, and what you encourage other people to do in their bedrooms, affects whoever is produced by those acts and the entire community in which you live. Sex is, we tend to forget, an immensely powerful act, one of the most powerful we can perform. And you know what comes with great power, don't you?