Last time we visited with World Congress Of Families board member Janice Shaw Crouse, we were learning about her thoughts on the necessity of long, sexually fulfilling marriages. Of course, these are really only for conservative heterosexual Republicans, but as usual, I pointed out that when Janice’s advice is good, it’s equally applicable to married gays and lesbians. We also spent a little time addressing that boogeyman, “porn addiction,” which seems to only afflict conservative heterosexual Republicans. That piece also prominently featured the idea of “Judeo-Christian Supremacy,” a worldview pitifully lacking in that its adherents believe that their way is the only way, and that all other competing information (often known by the educated as “science”) or lived experience must be either liberal lies or the active shenanigans of the Dark Lord himself.
As we were discussing marriage in the last piece, that means that, while monogamy pay be the best path for some married couples, other couples may find that “monogamish” is better. In a reality-based world that respects individuals’ autonomy, we don’t have a problem with that. In Janice’s Judeo-Christian Supremacist world, that “monogamish” couple is either lying about their happiness, depraved/sexually addicted, or destined to fail, and if failure happens, they told you so, they told you so, they told you so. If they succeed, well, they live in Seattle and Janice probably doesn’t have to worry about her average reader running into them at the Big Lots.
Likewise with conservative proclamations about the supposed sinfulness, depravity and evil that come with being gay, marrying while gay and raising children while gay. Anyone who knows gay couples raising kids knows that everything that comes out of the collective religious right hive “mind” on the subject of homosexuality is simply hateful fearmongering from folks who can’t stand watching as their discredited worldview goes the way of the dinosaurs (who were totally on Noah’s Ark, by the way, and if they hadn’t spent so much of their time in there smoking reefer and having free love, they might still be with us today). As for Janice’s readers coming to realize that they’re being lied to about gay and lesbian couples, that’s happening faster than she’d like to believe. Whereas gay couples used to be known for living in gentrified neighborhoods in urban cores, increasingly they (especially the ones with kids) are buying McMansions in the suburbs next door to Southern Baptists. Hey, they’re looking for the best schools, just like everybody else.
But let’s go back to the thing about dinosaurs and free love, because today’s chapter of Janice’s book Marriage Matters: Perspectives On The Private And Public Importance Of Marriage is about the flip-side of the coin. Rather than monogamous marriage, we’re going to talk about casual sex, and how, in Janice’s view, any bad statistic that applies to any person who has had casual sex can automatically be blamed on the sex. Why? Because, in her restricted worldview, casual sex is only and always bad, and therefore must only and always lead to bad consequences.
First, she has to set up the strawman-boogeyman, because if you don’t create the myth, then what are you fighting against? Indeed, Janice believes (or wants her readers to believe) that feminists, public schools, Planned Parenthood, the government, and others are all encouraging kids to have all kinds of sex, with as many people as possible, for any reason. Here, play Wingnut Bingo:
…[T]he media has saturated our culture with the feminist myth of sexual freedom, and the public schools, along with Planned Parenthood and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), have implicitly condoned, if not promoted, sexual permissiveness via so-called “comprehensive” sex education which sells the ideal that causal [sic], recreational sex is acceptable for singles as long as the persons involved are “responsible” and use a condom.
See, in the real world, we advocate for things like comprehensive sex education, because we know that ever since humans evolved, they’ve been having sex, and that they are going to keep having it. Comprehensive sex education (which has been proven most effective) doesn’t “confuse” kids as wingnuts believe it does. Rather, it simply provides all the information because we understand that, no matter how much we encourage abstinence, some of them are going to have sex. It’s a pretty consistent number, too. Though Janice and her cohort believe that “hooking up” is just spreading like wildfire, the latest numbers show that they’re really not having any more sex than their parents did when they were their age.
But like I said, if Janice doesn’t invent a problem to rail against, then she can’t really finish this chapter.
She bemoans the rise of STDs in young people — which are a lot easier to avoid if said young people have the correct information at their fingertips, but then goes on to paint a picture of how sex just ruins everything for everyone. If something bad happens to you and you also have sex with people that are not your heterosexual spouse, blame the sex, basically.
Only one-third of girls who had early sexual activity describe themselves as “happy” as compared with over half of those who waited.
Blame the sex! I wonder if there are any other mitigating factors, like sexual abuse. And what’s wrong with those girls who waited who aren’t happy? Oh, no matter.
Sexually active teens are more likely to attempt suicide; girls are three times more likely, and boys are eight times more likely.
Again, no mention of mitigating factors. It’s supposed to be self-evident to the reader — and I suppose it is, if you’re a wingnut — that having sex immediately leads to thoughts of suicide among teenage boys.
Teenage boy: “Man, I was doing great yesterday, but then I had to go and get laid.”
His friend: “Put the gun DOWN, Hunter!”
Now, since we in the real world are not the strawman that Janice is fighting, we’re not saying that we think kids should be taught that sex comes consequence-free. Far from it! It takes a lot of self-care and responsibility and really, if you can’t handle the consequences of it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. I’ve always said, if a teenage boy isn’t mature enough to procure condoms his damn self, he has no business having sex. But see, the difference is that those who advocate for comprehensive sex education — I like to call it “real talk” — are actually engaging with teens where they are. Something that we understand that Janice and all who advocate abstinence-only do not is that teens know when you’re bullshitting them. Just as they laugh (rightfully) when prudish adults claim that smoking pot leads teen boys to become violent and commit rape and assault, they know they’re missing a lot of the story when those same prudish adults tell them that sex outside of marriage leads to suicide. I mean, come ON.
But for Janice, this isn’t just a horror story for teens. It’s also for adults. Here comes a wingnut anecdote about a couple Janice saw in the airport. She does not know this couple or their circumstances, but she’s pretty sure she figured them out:
On a recent plane trip, I watched a real-life Sex In The City vignette unfold in front of me. While I was waiting in a gate area of a Florida airport, a very confident, well-dressed and handsome forty-something “Mr. Big” entered and sat near me. His expensive country-club clothing and self-assurance set him apart from the other travelers — many of them waiting in jeans and t-shirts. Shortly, he was joined by a lovely, equally elegant woman around his age.
She was not a jaded sophisticate; nor was she an angry, hard woman.
Janice knows this because she saw her at the airport for a minute.
Instead, her demeanor was diffident and uncertain. I watched as he looked everywhere but at her; aloof and detached, he never even glanced in her direction. She, on the other hand, would glance at him and then look away. She would lean toward him and make a hesitant, brief comment with a slight, tentative smile. He would nod, but never did he even turn in her direction or make eye contact.
Intrigued by the different in their self-confidence and the lack of “connection” between them, I noticed that neither was wearing a wedding ring. They were obviously returning from a vacation together. Equally apparent was the fact that the man held all the cards in their relationship.
Watching their pas de deux, it all seemed so dismally predictable to anyone with an ounce of real-world experience, not indoctrinated by the faux cheer of a Friends storyline.
We have changed the channel apparently.
She appeared insecure and uncertain about her role in the life of a man she loved. Was she worried about their future as a couple after their tryst at the beach? He appeared to be giving her ample reason for concern.
She had traveled a boulevard of sexual freedom to a relationship cul-de-sac…
Oh for heaven’s sake, let’s stop right there. Maybe they had just had a fight. Maybe they’re having an affair and she’s the other woman, in which case her poor choices — not simply having sex, but doing so with a married man — are to blame. Maybe he was exhausted. Maybe Janice misinterpreted the whole thing and he just gets really one-track at airports. Maybe they don’t exist and Janice made them up.
Well, two can play at this game, and instead of playing the game (common in airports) of seeing strangers and inventing back stories for them for fun, I actually know the adult couple I’m about to describe. They met in December and quickly were inseparable. Both had recently come out of long, not-so-good relationships and neither was planning on meeting anyone new that soon. But life is funny sometimes! They are unmarried (so far), they have a sex life with each other (as couples do), and nine months later, everyone who knows them feels like those two have been together since the beginning of time. They are the couple that many aspire to emulate.
So, my couple and Janice’s airport couple are both having sex (presumably — Janice assumes that they are, but again, she doesn’t know them), but yet my couple is happy and fulfilled and Janice’s is all down-in-the-dumps. My goodness, come to think of it, I know married couples like that! And I know married couples who are ecstatically married to each other. And I know gay couples who are in grumpy, crappy relationships and I know gay couples who are like peas-and-carrots. It almost seems to me like Janice’s “reasoning,” if one could call it that, is extraordinarily reductive and juvenile.
But the Judeo-Christian Supremacist worldview is inherently reductive and juvenile. Its “my way or the highway” structure doesn’t recognize the extraordinary gray areas in life — why sex for one unmarried couple could be a damaging force, whereas for another, it’s beautiful, healthy and fun — that contribute to why things are how they are.
Correlation does not equal causation. You can’t blame all unmarried sex for every ill.
But as I’ve said before in this series, for folks like Janice, if it doesn’t fit into their worldview, it doesn’t exist. Even though my couple is living, breathing and I know their story, and even though Janice’s couple’s circumstances were imagined by, ahem, Janice, fundamentalist conservatives are more likely to believe Janice’s story. Oh, that sad unmarried couple. If only they hadn’t had sex before marriage, maybe he would look at her in the airport! In Janice’s telling, she saw them later at the baggage claim and the guy was being very naughty, groping his woman friend a bit. She says that she couldn’t see the woman’s facial expression, but that she “stiffened” when he did something. She could have been getting excited, going “Oh, you stop!” playfully, or she might have been uncomfortable with his advances. Janice of course picks the last option.
What’s fun about this section is that Janice actually, in trying to convince us that unmarried sex always leads to dire consequences, illustrates just how much gray area can exist in the world, in essence disproving her own point without even knowing it. To describe the consequences, she uses the death of Heath Ledger as an example. Seriously. Watch her unravel her own argument:
The life of actor Heath Ledger illustrates the male side of heartbreak. Reports about Heath’s tragic death include remarks by friends concerning his reaction to the recent breakup of his relationship (accounts differ on whether or not they were married) with Michelle Williams, the mother of their two-year-old daughter, Matilda. One source said, “Heath was shattered by his split from Michelle. He became a recluse. He barely slept; he was dealing with terrible mood swings.” Friends say that he became an introvert, “hardly venturing out anymore,” “barely slept,” and was obviously “headed in a downward spiral.” One analyst said that “a picture is fast emerging” from friends’ discussions: “he’s been battling some pretty serious demons,” “he lost his grip on life” — both personally and professionally, and he has behaved increasingly in an “unhinged” way. One of his friends saw him at a party after the estrangement from Michelle and said, “It was obvious something awful had happened to him.” The host of a recent party said that he arrived at the event “looking like a homeless” vagrant.
No one can know what was really going on in Heath’s life, and his tragic untimely death was likely due to an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. He is known to have had pneumonia and to have been treated for substance-abuse problems, including heroin addiction. All of those physical and emotional factors, including a reliance on sleeping pills, would make an accidental overdose plausible. He told friends that he was sleeping only two or three hours a night. He admitted that the psychological demands of his new role as the Joker in the Batman film, The Dark Knight, were exhausting. He said that he could not get his mind to turn off the intensity of his role as a “murderous psychopath.” A critic praising his role in Brokeback Mountain commented that he got into the character so deeply that it was hard to imagine how he would be able to get back out. Heath, however, claimed that after a scene was filmed, “I just walk out the door, and I’m back into my regular life.” Critics have compared the “intense, brooding actor” to a young Marlon Brando and James Dean. He seemed headed for stardom.
But, in a culture where recreational sex…
I skipped nothing in that block quote. I want the reader to see how quickly Janice pivots back to having sex before marriage, what an insane non sequitur it is. Continuing:
is fast becoming the norm for young adults, tragic deaths like Heath’s (even when the cause is murky) should be a wake-up call.
What?! Janice, you just discussed all the myriad factors that may have contributed to Heath Ledger’s death, and then you pivoted directly back to “if only they hadn’t been having sex” and then told everyone to get off your lawn. This is absurd. Heath Ledger did not die because he had sex with Michelle Williams. Indeed, Janice continues to describe other factors, like his parents’ divorce, that may have led to depression and substance abuse in Heath Ledger’s life — things that make the story even more murky, if you will — and attempts to tie it all together with a bow by saying, essentially, “well, whatever else happened, sex is bad and so is divorce.” So reductive and simplistic, this is.
I’m listening to Jeff Buckley right now, who also tragically died young, in a spot in the Wolf River just around the corner from where I used to live. If only he hadn’t had sex with a woman. Pity.
Next will look at the next section of this chapter, where Janice lays out some real, hard statistics about STIs, unwanted pregnancies and the like. She argues that this information is being kept from the people who need it most — i.e. sexually active teens and young adults — and she may be right. I am always an advocate for people having the very best information at their fingertips, so that they may protect themselves and their partners. The problem, of course, is that Janice’s answer, as it is with the rest of those who hold her worldview, is simply to obey them and never have sex. For some people that might be a great answer, and more power to them. But as I said above, it’s not reality.
People have sex. They will always have sex. I’d much rather work for policies that protect real people, as opposed to pining for an abstinent population that does not exist, has not ever existed and will never exist. Stay tuned for the next piece! I’ll even make sure to quote Janice’s statistics to help spread the word.
If you’ve missed earlier pieces in this series, here’s your chance to catch up: