If I told you in 1979 that we’d be debating a woman’s right to birth control or abortion in 2012, you’d probably want my mental status examined. Well, it’s 2012 and we’ve arrived at that very result. If you are puzzled by the amazingly backwards thinking about sex that we’re seeing in state and national legislatures, to say nothing of the presidential election, you’ll find Dr. Marty Klein’s America’s War on Sex incredibly informative and challenging. No matter what your gender or sexuality, Klein shows beyond a doubt that your sexuality is being intentionally politicized. What you do in the bedroom is the government’s business, as far as the religious right is concerned. Unfortunately, this group has taken over many state legislatures in recent years and is now implementing its program of sexual repression. The process that Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority started in 1979 has been successful even beyond their hopes — and to our detriment.
America got in this crazy sexual position (pun intended) because we didn’t take the threat seriously. We totally underestimated the determination of the religious right to take over this country. As a result, your children and my grandchildren are in constant danger of having fundamentalist propaganda crammed down their throats in federally funded abstinence-only classes, or in federally funded “counseling” programs run by Baptists, Catholics, and other religious groups. A woman’s right to make her own medical decisions is now more influenced by Catholic bishops and religious governors (like Sam Brownback in my state of Kansas) than by a woman and her doctor. Recent Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was only the latest incarnation of religious opportunism. If elected he promised to ban not only abortion but birth control as well. And the presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s Mormon Church has been the elephant in the room with respect to ballot initiatives in California, which they seem to get away with influencing despite their tax-exempt status.
From pornography, kinky sex, and sex toys to masturbation and premarital sex, legislation has been introduced that attempts to define these as wrong, immoral, or unnatural. Yes, the legislation can be subtle and can carry a seemingly positive title, but its purpose is to restrict the sexual choices of consenting adults.
Your sexuality is something to be shamed and sanctioned by government agencies, says Klein. “If you can’t have the decency to feel guilty about your sexuality, you certainly don’t have to celebrate it, much less deliberately inflame your desire,” he says, paraphrasing the view of the religious right. In other words, if you don’t have the good sense to keep your sexuality in the closet, we will write legislation to restrict your sexual rights and put you back in it.
As America’s War on Sex makes clear, this goes much farther than abstinence-only education or zoning porn shops out of existence. Sexual legislation and infringement of reproductive rights is only a foot in the door to the ultimate domination of a single religious worldview. The proliferation of so-called “conscience laws” allows a pharmacist to impose his or her sexual values on you by refusing to fill a legal prescription or sell emergency contraception (Plan B). It allows publicly subsidized hospitals to impose their religious values on you with your tax dollars. And the threat is snowballing. What seemed a crazy aberration only a few years ago has now taken over dozens of State Legislatures and much of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Klein demonstrates how fundamentalist legislators have used the idea of protecting children as a catchall for intrusion into your bedroom and sexual choices. On the surface, protecting children seems a reasonable thing to do but, as Klein questions, what are we protecting them from, and do they really need protecting? If you define sex as always dangerous and withholding information from children as critical, then protection becomes a key idea. If, on the other hand, you believe that children should be educated with science-based information, given rational emotional education about sexuality, and you recognize that children and adolescents will eventually have sexual experiences, protection takes on a totally different meaning. Klein demonstrates that “protection” is simply a ruse to get in the door and restrict your right to buy sex toys, view or buy porn, marry who you wish or attend a swingers party. Yes, child protection requires all these to be criminalized using the religious right’s logic.
Dr. Klein traces much of this back to erotophobia (fear of or negative attitudes about sex). If I am afraid of my sexuality then I am also afraid of yours. Because I am uncomfortable with your sexuality, I have the right to legislate your sexuality to reduce my discomfort. It’s a great way to justify legislation: “The law must conform to my religious beliefs.” This justification is used in Iran and Saudi Arabia with great success and is what the Catholic Church and Focus on the Family seek to enforce in the United States.
I confess, I was not very familiar with Klein’s work when I learned he and I were speaking back to back at the recent American Atheist convention. I had read some of his columns for Psychology Today but nothing else. I immediately ordered and read America’s War on Sex and was surprised to see how compatible his message (conveyed too in his latest book, Sexual Intelligence, and his blog of the same name) was with my own work.
Reading America’s War on Sex, you may find that you’re actually buying in to the religious right’s strategies, enabling them to undermine your own sexual rights. If you don’t think this is important, remember 1979. None of us thought we’d be here today. Where might we be in another ten or twenty years of religious political domination? Will your grandchildren have the rights you had in 1979 or 2012, or will a pharmacist be able to deny them whatever he or she defines as immoral? Will a bishop be able to dictate what a counseling center can say to a client? Read this book and vote.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. is the author of The God Virus and Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. He is a psychologist and the founder and chairman of Recovering from Religion, an international organization dedicated to helping people recover from the social and psychological effects of religious indoctrination.