Sex and Politics are Linked
One macro social force lurks behind the three causes of erotophobia: hierarchy, a power structure based on a pecking order of status divisions. It is found both in personal relationships and social organizations. The final chapter examines the fascinating coexistence of hierarchy and erotophobia.
For example, in a patriarchal family where a man dominates a wife and children, the incidence of sexual abuse is higher than in a family of equals. Similarly, in a culture where women are legally denied equality with men, or where masters dominate slaves, many privileged men abuse their power by sexually victimizing their subordinates. In contrast, in a family or culture of equals, sexual predators are more likely to encounter organized resistance, as in laws that ban marital rape and allow children to testify against adults, which reduce the prevalence of sexual assault and, in turn, erotophobia.
Pecking orders also tend to breed a special type of antisexualism motivated not by sexual fear but by opportunism. For instance, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church discovered long ago that sexual prohibitions help segregate a society into separate groups, which in turn enhances authoritarian rule. Thus the rule requiring Roman Catholic priests to be celibate helps elevate them above the copulating masses. Similarly, people who favor family relationships based on strict boundaries between men, women, and children, tend to favor a range of sexual prohibitions as a way to maintain patriarchal roles. Further, denying children sexual information helps render them obedient to adult commands. The more hierarchic any social organization, the more likely it will engage in antisexual conduct and produce more erotophobia.
Hierarchic culture is also conducive to rigid personality traits that also cause erotophobia. Pecking orders create tension, anxiety, and the need for compulsive self control, all of which breed the fear of sexual pleasure.
What causes social hierarchy? Pecking orders are the result of many diverse forces, such as war and environmental stress, but as I shall show, erotophobia also plays a role. The final chapter shows that the more powerful our sexual fears, the more likely we will favor hierarchic relationships in our family, religion, or government.
For example, we cannot feel good about ourselves when we fear our own sexuality. In the grip of such insecurity we are less confident and more dependent, and that makes us more open to the control of others.[i] Erotophobia engenders obedience to the authority of parents, spouses, religions, government, and the media. Damaged self-esteem also breeds the need to stigmatize social minorities, and engenders an attraction for narrowly defined family and gender roles. (Islamic terrorists exhibit the classic indicators of erotophobia!)
Because social inequality and erotophobia are so intimately related, we can predict the existence of one where we find the other. Thus if you grew up in or are now a member of a patriarchal family, or a fundamentalist religion, or the police, the military, or a hierarchic corporate bureaucracy, you are more likely to be gripped with greater erotophobia than people inhabiting more egalitarian social environments. Reciprocally, if you harbor many and powerful erotophobic attitudes, chances are high that you also favor hierarchic relations: such as rigid gender roles, racial segregation, authoritarian leaders, and the strict discipline of children. The prevalence of erotophobia in modern culture is a sign that our authoritarian roots run deep.
Overcoming erotophobia is an important step on the road to a truly democratic society. Sexual fear is a barrier to social equality. That is why I am so concerned to advance the rights of nudists or sexual entertainers; why I believe so strongly in sex education, or the right of consenting adults to engage in whatever type of sex they choose. While such rights most immediately serve the interests of a relatively few sexually adventurous people, such rights also ultimately serve a much bigger agenda, making our society more rational and humane and the relationships between all people more healthy. As sexual historian David Allyn aptly says: “Our willingness to examine our sexual attitudes — or our determined refusal to do so — will always remain a useful measure of our commitment to a truly enlightened society.”[ii]
The Message of the Fig Leaf
I believe an influential authority endorses the gist of these ideas. The Book of Genesis in the Old Testament distills into a few pithy paragraphs thousands of years of insight into the human condition. An important message of this mythic tale involves one of the key types of erotophobia, phobic attitudes towards nudity and genitals. The mere fact that an aspect of erotophobia should appear in this story is powerful evidence of the significance of the condition.
The very first reference in the Bible to human psychology, to our emotional life, involves the reaction of Adam and Eve to the sight of each other’s genitals: “Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, but had no feeling of shame towards one another.”[iii] The Scriptures could have examined many other features about the human psyche in Eden, such as how Adam and Eve felt about God, or the beauty of the Garden. Instead, in a critically important passage the Bible focuses on negative attitudes towards genitals and tells us that in paradise such anxiety is unknown.
Erotophobia figures prominently a few lines later, in the dramatic events involving the serpent and the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and acquire a new consciousness: “The eyes of both of them were opened.”[iv] What did they see? “They discovered that they were naked.”[v] Their world was full of fascinating things to attract their notice, but instead the Bible informs us that their attention was pulled immediately to their erotic organs. Adam and Eve now feel shame and hide their genitals behind fig leaves.
Genital fear thus appears twice in the western world’s creation story. The Bible consumes precious mythological resources to prominently emphasize only one aspect of the human psyche: its attitude toward sex organs. This focus of the creation myth of western civilization is no poetic accident. The repeated reference to negative feelings about genitals conveys a clear message: that such attitudes are profoundly important.
Yet this message has been largely ignored. While Genesis has been exhaustively studied and re-studied for centuries, the fact that it repeatedly focuses on attitudes toward erotic organs and pays no similar attention to any other feature of human psychology or anatomy has been almost overlooked. Bibliographies of books and periodical articles dealing with the story of Adam and Eve contain hundreds of publications. I have sampled fifty of these works but found not one that explores why the Bible’s creation story should give such key attention to genital shame, and not to love or hope or aesthetic beauty.
Not only does the Bible express the idea that attitudes to genitals are profoundly important, it goes further and suggests why. The Bible shows that while genital shame is unknown in paradise, it does occur in an environment of conflict and fear. Its cryptic language tells us that inner erotic attitudes correlate with specific external conditions. The harmony of Eden is associated with the absence of shame and no urge to don fig leaves. The hierarchic world of conflict, of disobedience and punishment, pain and anxiety, is associated with the existence of erotophobia and the impulse to hide pubic organs.
Biblical commentators have also overlooked this message about the correlation of specific erotic attitudes with specific external conditions. Genesis hails our attention and points us in a direction that few have chosen to travel. This book follows that road less traveled. It shows that the biblical correlation is amazingly accurate. Erotophobia tends to be absent from social environments that are harmonious and peaceful, and tends to afflict cultures that are conflicted and authoritarian.
The Path Ahead
The next thirteen chapters examine the main cause — and effect — of erotophobia: antisexualism. Such negative conduct comes in many different varieties, which I identify and discuss. The first of these, fig-leafing, consists of deliberately concealing one’s own genitals, and is the subject of the next two chapters. Chapter 1 examines solitary fig-leafing, hiding the pubic region even when completely alone. Chapter 2 examines social fig-leafing, genital concealment when other people are present.
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[i] J. Brockner, “Low Self-Esteem And Behavioral Plasticity: Some Implications For Personality And Social Psychology,” in L. Wheeler (ed.), Review Of Personality And Social Psychology, vol. 4 (Beverly Hills, CA, Sage, 1984) 287.
[ii] David Allyn, Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution, An Unfettered History (Boston, Little, Brown, 2000) 300.
[iii] 2 Genesis 25, New English Bible.
[iv] 3 Genesis 7.
ALL CONTENTS OF THIS SECTION ARE COPYRIGHT © 2003 John G. Ince