Calgary Herald

Inhibitions make us easily cowed

Trina Read

Thursday, November 6, 2003

Are Canadians sexual prudes? Yes, according to John Ince, author of The Politics of Lust. Luckily, it is not our fault.

Society tries to control itself by controlling sexuality, according to Ince.

"Controlling private sexual acts is an important type of psychological domination that enhances the authority of the power elite," Ince writes.

Our sexual oppression is pervasive and everywhere: politics, law, religion and the media, just to name a few. Let me give some examples.

When Ronald Reagan ran for political office, millions of right-wing Christian voters agreed to support Reagan if he brought, among other things, abstinence-only sex education into the school system.

In 1982, the Reagan-appointed Meese Commission on Obsession and Pornography took a hatchet to all comprehensive sex education in public schools and replaced it with abstinence education. In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush continued the trend and budgeted $135 million US for abstinence education.

How many Americans are saying no to sex until they marry? America has the highest level of teenage pregnancy in a developed country. One in four American teenagers will contract a sexually transmitted disease. Every hour, two people between the ages of 13 and 25 will contract HIV in the U.S.

Teaching teenagers a sex-positive comprehensive education in America can mean losing your job, your career and, in some, cases going to jail.

Reagan made a deal with an influential voting population to get elected. The effect has trickled down and created a nation grappling with sexual ignorance.

Closer to home, I have learned being honest about sex with Canada Post is not my best option. When asked for a description of a package's contents I (stupidly) put, "Sexually Explicit Material." I had Lou Paget's How to Be a Great Lover inside and did not want to shock the receiving company's receptionist. The package did not arrive at its intended destination.

This is why discreet brown paper packaging was invented; so everyone can pretend sexually explicit things do not get shipped via Canada Post.

In another arena, parents look to authorities such as the late Dr. Benjamin Spock or Ann Landers to understand what is appropriate conduct when it comes to being nude in front of their children. Both authorities adamantly opposed nudity in front of children, saying it would create inappropriate erotic feelings toward the parent.

Debunking this theory, Ince writes, "Several empirical studies have been conducted to determine the effects of nudity on children, in 1966, 1979 and 1988. A 1995 review of all three concludes that none of the data supports the child-harm hypothesis." Yet, many good people still do not feel comfortable being naked in front of their children.

Ironically, the social norm of wanting to hide body parts creates an erotic obsession for those hidden parts. For example, North Americans are preoccupied with female breasts, as well as the male and female crotch. Fantasy overrides sensibility as these body parts are exposed only behind closed bedroom doors.

Ince makes a correlation with our nude-unfriendly culture and how it inhibits our ability to truly experience the erotic pleasures of sex. Most of us are programmed by society to experience a sense of shame along with sensual pleasure. Sex, then, becomes a balancing act of not feeling too much pleasure in order to not experience too much shame.

Ince believes this is a major reason so many couples quickly find sex boring and routine. There is a limited sexual repertoire in marriage; to go outside that repertoire, the couple must endure the uncomfortable feeling of society casting judgment.

Many of us are conditioned to feel shame when trying to communicate around our sexuality. Ince calls it "the sexual hush."

"We learn that in the realm of sex, sealing our lips is the best policy."

Surveys indicate lovers cannot communicate honestly in the bedroom. Around kids, many progressive parents become tongue-tied. For example, by age two, kids can identify body parts like eyes and ears. However, many refer to their privates as wee-wee, instead of vulva or penis.

Throughout his book, Ince takes on politically incorrect sexual issues such as masturbation, pornography, media censorship, swingers and homophobia. He makes a convincing argument that society maintains unrealistic belief systems to keep us all uptight around our sexuality. The result is we turn into easy-to-govern, docile citizens.

Finally, an academic adviser gave me some sage advice about becoming a doctor of sexuality.

He said, "Always tell the truth. Do not back down when people start opposing your truth."

Ince has spoken his truth. People who grew up with sex-negative messaging may think his book too radical. I hope Ince does not back down.

Trina Read is a motivational speaker and writer, who is completing a doctorate of human sexuality.

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