September 2019

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority country. And it is on the verge of passing laws which would criminalize sex outside of marriage. Which is not unexpected because, although the ruling class promotes the country as tolerant, the powers that be are aggressively conservative. And conservatives enjoy nothing more than writing rules about who you can f*ck, in which position, under what circumstances, and when.

In America, Evangelicals preach about ‘saving yourself for marriage’ (if you are a girl), but they aren’t proposing criminalizing sex before or outside of marriage. Not because of a sense of proportion but because they would soon run afoul of their own laws.

There are some in the US who think the Supreme Court’s decision overturning state laws banning sodomy and other ‘unnatural’ sex acts was ill-considered. But most Americans – including many evangelicals – have moved on.

But Muslim countries are still in the thrall of superstition and remain convinced that God is little more than an outraged moralist peeping through bedroom curtains tut-tutting when original sin is enjoyed by the wrong people.

And God’s earthly moral police, eager to make his unstated wish their command, are ready to sexually constrain the population to the point of creating suicide bombers.

Sex has been problematic for the Abrahamic religions. Leviticus has a chapter about all the forbidden relationships (chapter 18) – and then, in case you didn’t get the point, reiterates the list, with punishments, two chapters later (chapter 20).

The Catholic Church has the absurd policy of mandating celibacy in priests – a position not demanded by the Bible – which has led to well-documented abuse and coverups. And for those who are permitted emotion in motion, contraception bans lead to unaffordable families, poverty and squalor.

Some Muslim women, who on the one hand want to have fun, but on the other want to honor their cultural traditions, have anal sex so they can maintain they are technically ‘virgins’ on their wedding night. Others have surgeries to reconstruct a state of innocence.

People of the same gender who want to share a little intimate happiness are threatened with imprisonment because the religious authorities are squeamish at the thought of two men having sex. I suggest that they stop fantasizing about it and put away the stones. And I suspect that thoughts of two women getting it on don’t lead to the same sense of revulsion.

Sex is a paradox. We are all here because of it – and yet for much of humanity, it is a behavior that must be hidden, controlled, legislated, moralized, and condemned. Why? It can only be that the stigmatization of procreative acts allows one group of people to control another.

Otherwise, who cares? What two consenting adults – or sixteen, for that matter – do in their spare time on private property is hardly the concern of the general population.

Concern for others’ physical activities should extend only to sex with a minor, forced sex and adultery. It is perverse that in some societies it is just fine to marry 12-year-old girls to middle-aged men, but two men in their thirties fooling around is a crime.

In the US, it wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was criminalized in all states. Some states still treat wife rape differently from other rapes. In South Carolina, extra-marital rape has a maximum sentence of 30 years, while the law caps marital rape sentences at ten years.

In much of Europe, sex is addressed in a reasonable, frank, and explicit manner – in much the same way that teenagers have driving lessons. In America, we are so afraid of sex that a large number of adults think sex ed should consist solely of telling teens not to do it until they are married.

It is absurd. These moralists expect the youth of America to have an impulse control that many adults – even religious leaders and sanctimonious politicians – cannot muster.

People have sex. All the laws in the world won’t change that. Criminalizing it outside of wedlock serves what purpose? It removes autonomy from the individual without adding one iota of ‘improvement’ to the lawmaker. It reduces half the population to chattel for the sole purpose of delivering virgins to the marriage bed.

But even Islam is not blind to the realities of the world. Shia Muslims can practice nikah mut’ah or temporary marriage. In the Western world, this allows men and women to be in a relationship as a way to kick the tires if you will. However, if the woman has never been married, she needs her father’s permission.

In the rest of the Muslim world, the mut’ah is an arrangement that allows a man to engage a prostitute without contravening God’s law. What a fudge. Who do they think they are fooling?

Sex. Your parents had it. Chances are you’ve had it. And the odds are your children have had or will have it. We shouldn’t criminalize it. We should learn and teach the young how to do it well, safely, and with respect. 

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