At the risk of sounding erotophobic....

Yes, let me start by admitting to my own erotophobia. My fear of sex does not manifest itself as fear of people having sex, but rather it's the fear of discussing it. I don't like to write about sex too much, because it's contentious, and it's very easy to be misunderstood. Talking about sex is like talking about politics or religion, except the penalties are worse. For starters, my blog can get blocked if I get too graphic. Because I know that my sexual opinions don't suit the tastes of some of the readers, I figure, why bother stirring stuff up? Plus, I'm kind of a fanatic about privacy, and I consider sex to be a very private thing. So I tend to leave my discussions of sex at the theoretical level. I'm not interested in turning my readers on or off, and this is not a sex blog. I'm not especially interested in reading about other people's sex lives, and I'm really not interested in having people read about mine. It's undignified, and at heart I'm kind of prudish. But that's just me, and has nothing to do with my belief in maximum sexual freedom. (Similarly, I'm 100% in favor of relegalizing all drugs, but I don't take any drugs; not even pot. If I did, I would consider it similarly irrelevant.)

Susie Bright and Jessica Cutler are sexually very outspoken people, who take pride in celebrating their sexual freedom, in a public manner. Why they are on the left, I am not entirely sure. I would like to think that people who support socialism and nanny state politics do so because they truly believe in these things and not because of emotional responses to perceived "erotophobia" on the right. But I think it's a topic which needs discussing.

This morning, Glenn Reynolds linked a fascinating interview of Jessica Cutler by Susie Bright. I wanted to focus in on their discussion of one of the most extreme expressions of sexual freedom, which is having sex in exchange for money:

SB: I want to know what your own response is to that [charge of being a sex worker without the paycheck, party girl "whether it meant drugs, dancing, great sex, bad sex, crazy adventures"], Jessica. Because I've also been characterized as a full-time pro. And I have not run my life as a prostitution business. Not because I think it's wrong, but it's just not my life story.

So I find when I get that sort of attitude from someone, I get kind of feisty. In many respects, I identify with whores. If I'm around other whores, I feel like part of the crew. Because we'd have some things in common, in terms of our life experience, in the way people perceive us. And I can identify with a lot of their values - their sense of the reality of what really goes on with sex that people don't like to talk about. I wonder if you feel the same way, or if you just want to be as far as possible from anyone thinking you have anything to do with it.

JC: The latter is totally not the case. When I start to feel defensive, my attitude is sort of like, if people are calling me a whore, "Well, what's wrong with being a whore?" You know? I mean, I think girls who are sex workers -- and men, all sex workers -- they see another side of humanity and sexuality. People who've never worked in the sex industry -- people who've never done it -- don't know the half of it.

I've heard girls I know who escort say, "I think every woman should do this, because you find out a lot. You learn a lot about men." They tell me, "You don't even know. You wrote a book and even you don't know the half of it." And I'm like... "Yes, I want to know all about it..."

I really don't know what the hang-up is about that. I don't know why people really seem to dislike prostitutes. I don't understand that attitude at all.

(Emphasis added.)

I don't understand that attitude at all.

How many times I have said similar things to myself! Seriously, it does not bother me that someone would have sex in exchange for money. Why would I care?

Well, I do care that people care, and because I try to understand these things, I'll try to take this a step further. I think what Bright and Cutler are talking about involves not so much a failure of understanding so much as a failure to empathize. Fear of sex is like fear of snakes; you either have it or you don't. While those who are horrified by prostitution are not necessarily afraid of prostitutes in the normal sense of the word "fear," the strong moral disapproval involved usually stems not from disagreement, but a feeling. In the case of prostitute haters (or disapprovers) and prostitute lovers (or approvers), there is a mutual inability to feel the disgust (or approval) that the other side feels.

In many ways, it is like snake haters versus snake lovers. Neither can explain their hatred or their love, and even if they can verbalize it, the feelings are not shared. While it is often claimed that this is an inability to understand (I use the term myself), it's more complicated than that. I think the disapproval of homosexuality, while not identical to the disapproval of prostitution, can spring from a similar disgust over the fact that these are people who simply do not regard the sex act as.... well, in the same way that those who disapprove think they should. The horror over pornography is similar. Some people freak out, while others (myself included) have no emotional reaction whatsoever. Others are turned on. (Pictures just don't have that much of a sexual effect on me.)

While I think I've admitted my bias, I don't want to say that one side is right and the other side is wrong. I may be wrong, OK? Prostitutes may be very bad in ways beyond my understanding and emotional grasp. So might homosexuality. Now, I don't think so, but I'm not so arrogant as to refuse to admit the possibility that I might be wrong. My question is this:

How the hell did sex get put on the f---ing left?

Really, since when are centerfolds images of cultural and political leftism?

What is logical about doing that? How did it happen?

There was a time in this country when most cities had red light districts, and in many places prostitution was legal. In Alaska this past June, I visited Dolly's House, the last of Ketchikan's Creek Street brothels, before prostitution was made illegal in the late 1950s. That's not all that long ago; I was a kid. Brothels and prostitution are an American tradition. They are also a classical tradition; the Pompeiian brothels are a much bigger tourist attraction that Dolly's House. When something is both traditional and classical, it deserves a tad more respect than it gets from the people who attack it in the name of "tradition," but I don't want to seem argumentative, so I'll avoid the inflammatory word "values."

Anyway, while I recognize that people disapprove of prostitution and gay sex, I think it is a huge mistake to declare that this is modern political conservatism, and that the Republican Party stands for such disapproval. It's just plain bad political math, as all the Democrats have to do is nothing, and occasionally admit they're human if they get caught having sex. (The unnoticed irony is that the Democratic Party has plenty of people who are just as deserving of the "erotophobe" title as Republicans.)

To further illustrate, for the sake of argument, assume unorthodox sex is bad, and that prostitution and homosexuality are dangerous, risky behaviors. (I don't think they necessarily are, but of course they can be.) Returning to the snake analogy, let's liken sexual outliers to keepers of venomous snakes. Trust me, they can be kept in captivity, but if you kid around like this idiot did, terrible consequences can follow.

It might surprise readers, but at a leading venomous snake aficionado web site, a political poll was recently conducted. Can anyone guess which party drew the most support?


I can't hear you.

OK, I won't play the "keep scrolling" game.

It was the Republicans! I kid you not:

Here are the results, from

Democrat 20% (30)
Republican 45% (67)
Libertarian 9% (13)
Green Party 3% (5)
Other 10% (15)
I don't vote 12% (18)
Now, the keeping of venomous snakes, while it might be a dangerous activity, is hardly a moral issue per se. The venomous snake owners doubtless realize that while most people wouldn't approve of them, the big government nanny state types are by far the greater threat. But let's suppose that a group of angry ophidophobes got together and pushed relentlessly to make sure venomous snakes were declared "family unfriendly" and worked (aided by a pliant media) to ensure that the Republican Party would be seen as the anti-snake party. And the Democratic Party would be.... (dare I say it?)

A den of vipers!

There's no reason why right wing activists would do this, as this is a tiny fringe issue affecting very few voters, but if they did, the consequences would be predictable. But what has the keeping of venomous snakes to do with Republicanism or conservative principles? The GOP's traditional smaller government philosophy, and belief in individuality and in risk-taking would seem to militate against it, and it is reflected in the above poll.

Nevertheless, people who are sexual risk takers have been conditioned to believe that not only are they hated by "bigoted" and "hypocritical" Republicans, but the Democratic Party has their best interests at heart. I don't think it is rational for Republicans to declare war on sex and to appear to embrace erotophobia, because of their traditional "leave people alone" philosophy, but there's not a damned thing I can do about it except write posts like this. As to the Democrats, they see sex not as a form of freedom to be embraced, but as something to be manipulated to gain power. What is being forgotten is that neither party is monolithic, and that there is nothing intrinsically liberal or conservative about sex.

This issue is becoming less and less pleasant for me to write about. Emotions related to sexual politicization are higher than ever before. Not only have the GOP sex scandals not helped, they may have thrown fuel on the fire, and I think the fire is headed for a powder keg.

As I say, I have come to dread talking about this, because it's gotten so damned contentious. I think that the anti-sex wing of the GOP is colluding with the Democrats to make other Republicans afraid. Not merely afraid of sex, but afraid to talk about sex unless they condemn it.

My biggest fear is that this is going to hurt the Republicans. They should remember that they're running against a woman who's been around the block, and who knows how to play Republican sexual fear like a violin. Her husband cheated on her, and she forgave him. Never mind that she knew all about Bill and his philandering ways for years, and that the forgiveness act may have been completely phony; to ordinary people (you know, the kind who have occasional sexual and marital difficulties) it came across as healthy realism, and counterbalanced Bill's lies. For that alone they'd have been reelected had they been able to run again. Now they can.

The irony is that this time, the Republicans have candidates who can also be seen as real people who have had occasional marital difficulties. The left would have ordinary voters see them as "hypocrites." I hope it doesn't work. I'd hate to see things reach the point where Democratic and Republican activists reach agreement that the GOP is and should be fighting a war on sex, because it's a war the Republican Party is going to lose.

My biggest fear is that the anti-sex wing of the Republican Party wouldn't mind that one bit.

UPDATE: Thank you, Glenn Reynolds for the link. I do appreciate all comments.

posted by Eric on 09.19.07 at 07:00 PM


Disapproval of prostitution has nothing to do with "fear of sex." This is an ad hominem attack by people like Ms. Cutler against anyone who dares indicate that they don't approve of her 100%.

And just because brothels and hookers were an "American tradition" doesn't mean that prostitution was ever approved of. People joke about "the oldest profession" but prostitution has always been looked askance at, and always will be. That's the way human society is made.

By the way, "empathy" is the wrong word. "Empathy" implies that you share some sort of experience with the person you are empathizing with. I've never wanted to sleep with lots of different men for money and power, so I can't empathize with Ms. Cutler. And as she's apparently never wanted to live a chaste life, she obviously can't empathize with me. The word that should be used is "sympathize." I can certainly sympathize -- as in, imagine how someone might feel and think about something in a way different from myself. But that word has connotations of pity and judgmentalism -- everyone likes to say they are "different" but having someone else telling them they are is something... different. Sympathy isn't popular for that reason, and also for the reason that you can't wallow in shared emotion the way you can when you're busy empathizing -- "She's just like me! I'm just like her!" A sympathizer might very well think "Poor thing, she must be suffering." Or an idiot.

Andrea Harris   ·  September 19, 2007 9:27 PM

One more thing: your dislike about talking about sex doesn't sound like you're afraid of it. You just have a normal disinclination to talk about personal things to complete strangers. Don't be fooled by others trying to psych you with the "We should feel free to talk about sex whenever and wherever we please!" That usually just means they want to talk about their sex lives all the time. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Andrea Harris   ·  September 19, 2007 9:31 PM

Funny think is, that the Republicans could conceivably claim to be the "queer" party, what with Larry Craig, and (allegedly) Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham in the Senate. Plus Ken Mehlman as ex-RNC chairman.

DaveC   ·  September 19, 2007 10:06 PM

Disapproval of prostitution has nothing to do with "fear of sex." This is an ad hominem attack....

The same way "General Petreaus is Bush's stooge" isn't anti-military.

Let me say it, Andrea: you're a dope. And offer the author a perfect example why not to even broach the subject.

Orson   ·  September 19, 2007 10:15 PM

Yes, DaveC, and the Democrats could be seen as the "homophobic" party, given how many of them use "queer" as an insult and engage in "gay McCarthyism" seeking to "out" gay Republicans.

Random Numbers   ·  September 19, 2007 10:30 PM

One can disapprove of prostitution without believing that it should be against the law. I believe that sex should be an expression of love, not a business transaction; but I also believe that to ban it as a business transaction is a violation of rights, as well as a completely fruitless endeavor. There seem to be twin principles operating in tandem on the left and right: 1) if it is legal, it cannot be morally condemned; and 2) if it is morally wrong, it cannot be legal. In matters of personal ethics, individuals should be able to make their own moral choices, but they should be prepared to have those choices condemned by those who disagree with them.

Ardsgaine   ·  September 19, 2007 10:32 PM

I'm in an invidious position. I feel exactly the same as you do. Talking about Sex is... uncomfortable. It should be private.

Unfortunately, I have to, much as I don't want to. I'm Intersexed, meaning neither completely male nor female. Worse, I'm one of the very few - though it's 1 in 90 in the Dominican Republic - who are "serial hermaphrodites". Born looking (mostly) like one sex, then some time in later life, changing so they look (mostly) like the opposite.

Their psychology - either M or F - doesn't change, so it can either be a miracle, or a nightmare, depending. I was one of the lucky ones.

In order to claim human rights - things like the right not to be beaten to a pulp out of homophobia, or to get a passport that won't guarantee full body cavity searches and being detained at borders - I have to talk about very private and personal affairs. No legal system in the world is set up for us, neither is it set up for "normally" intersexed people, including transsexuals, those whose intersex is neurological (male-identifying brain in female body, or the reverse).

Just my existence makes people uncomfortable - including me. Many deny the medical evidence, insisting that we cannot exist. Some believe we should be euthenased, or at least exiled "for the sake of a healthy society". Yet others believe we are the Spawn of Satan. It would be a joke, except that so many of us end up dead on a roadside. These people are deadly serious, and sometimes act on their beliefs.

So I post in the comments section of blogs like this, to let people know the situation. Even though I just would like a normal, quiet, unpublicised life.

Zoe Brain   ·  September 19, 2007 10:44 PM

The problem with sex, is that it tastes like chicken. And so many other things do as well. It's like, why not just have chicken?

Oh wait, did you say SEX? I thought you meant frog's legs.

Kevin   ·  September 20, 2007 12:12 AM

This discussion is about twenty-five years too late. At this point, the core of your party is comprised of people who vote by phobia, not reason. These folks do not make a rational calculus as to whether prostitution is worse than "the nanny state" (whatever that means, I'm not totally up on your right-wing catch phrases). They don't seriously analyze or attempt to empathize with people who take a different view. They have been told by their authoritarian church and community leaders that they must hate gays and sex out of wedlock and they must love little fetuses and so they do. This is why my Senator, Larry Craig, was dead meat when people detected the stench of gayness about him. It was so sad to see -- I think he thought that his career as a staunch conservative would mean something when people reflected on him after the arrest became public. But there was no reflection, no weighing. That isn't what republicans do, for the most part. Your party made a Faustian bargain when it decided to join forces with the Fallwells and Vigueries of the world. It will be fun to watch what happens now.

sophie brown   ·  September 20, 2007 10:10 AM

As Ardsgaine says, it seems like legal is being equated to moral, which it shouldn't be. Both Left and Right need to stop putting politics in morality and morality in politics. I am for the legalization of drugs and prostitution, but I disapprove of both. Politicians (and a lot of voters, it seems) have trouble with leaving something that is immoral or that they disapprove of as legal.

I believe that some of the "fear of sex" is more like a fear of temptation. People who believe that something is wrong, yet want to do it, will often condemn it in others as a way to help resist their own temptation and/or as a way to absolve themselves of their own guilt. The ones who are most strident in their opposition are probably the ones who are most tempted...

As for why sexual prudishness is more of a Republican thing, I guess that it is because the more conservative Christians feel more comfortable with general Republican values and so bring the sexual baggage with them. Unfortunately, the idea of small government seems to be dying out completely.


Earnest Iconoclast   ·  September 20, 2007 10:12 AM

"The irony is that this time, the Republicans have candidates who can also be seen as real people who have had occasional marital difficulties. The left would have ordinary voters see them as "hypocrites." I hope it doesn't work."

I don't think the reason ordinary voters see republicans as hypocrites is because the left wants it that way. I think the reason ordinary voters see them as hypocrites is because they are hypocrites. Larry Craig made many moves in his career against the gay community, and then he gets caught trolling for gay sex (allegedly.) What else do we call that?

If the republicans weren't so bent on appeasing their funamentalist overlords and instead promoted open dialogue and acceptance about human sexuality then I don't think anyone would say the word hypocrite when they got caught doing something mildly naughty. Then it would just be a little scandalous, not proof that they do not practice what they preach.

Shinobi   ·  September 20, 2007 10:29 AM

First of all, I want to strongly second the previous comment:

**There seem to be twin principles operating in tandem on the left and right: 1) if it is legal, it cannot be morally condemned; and 2) if it is morally wrong, it cannot be legal. **

Secondly, I would like to point out to Eric that he is missing the biggest reason for morally condemning (not legally prohibiting) prostitution: it is spiritually damaging, because it removes the transcendental component from our sexuality. Now, Eric may well disagree completely with this view, and many people who approve of prostitution regard this view as incoherent because they are materialists who deny spirituality altogether; but Eric is not even disagreeing with the view, he is ignoring it.

I am reminded of the tremendous difficulty many modern liberals have comprehending how powerful religious motivations can be, which causes them to completely misunderstand certain enemies of our civilization. This is a much milder instance of the same phenomenon.

Joseph   ·  September 20, 2007 12:49 PM

As far as I can tell the official public policy postion of the Republican Party is that sex should only occur between a heterosexual married couple. Period. And that the government should actively encourage this view. That is the sophisticated position of a major political party in the 21st century.

For most of us, this is an absurd position, and one which we well realize most Republicans don't even attempt to actually embrace in their lives. But this is why we, on the left, point out and delight in the many examples of Republicans not living up to their "creed" so to speak. We view you as a party of malicious busy bodies who don't play by the rules that you would like to impose on the rest of us.

Sex should not logically break down along a left right divide, but when the right embraces a religiously inspired authoritarian poltics, by default it seems, sex goes to the left. And I think it's a long term winner for us, so by all means, embrace the chastity. And keep getting caught with your metaphorical and literal pants down.

Klein's Tiny Left Nut   ·  September 20, 2007 1:34 PM

"As far as I can tell the official public policy postion of the Republican Party is that sex should only occur between a heterosexual married couple."

Google it and get back to us.

doug   ·  September 20, 2007 5:09 PM


Are you seriously denying it? Check out all of the abstinence only crap. Look at what HHS was contemplating doing in spreading the campaign to people in their twenties. Look at public statements of your candidates to young people -- it is consistently that sex should be confined to marriage and that marriage should be confined to heterosexuals.

I understand being embarrassed to be associated with such silliness, but don't pretend it isn't the case.

Klein's Tiny Left Nut   ·  September 20, 2007 5:51 PM

Random Numbers: which Dems are using "queer" as a insult?

doug: Google it I shall. From the 2004 Republican party platform:

"We support the emphasis on prevention in the President’s Emergency Plan for
HIV/AIDS relief and endorse its embrace of the successful Ugandan model promoting
the “ABC” approach to prevention that encourages abstinence and being faithful to one
lifetime partner, along with other behavioral changes intended to eliminate or reduce
exposure risk.....We also support the President’s efforts to
double the amount spent on abstinence-only education and to promote healthy

Sounds like they like the A and B, but the C just doesn't sound good to them.

"We support the President’s welfare reform proposals that promote child wellbeing
and stronger marriages. We recognize the importance of having in the home a
father and a mother who are married. The two-parent family still provides the best
environment of stability, discipline, responsibility, and character"

Yeah, people who love people the same sex as them just don't have character.


"Each year more than three million American teenagers contract sexually
transmitted diseases, causing emotional harm and serious health consequences, even
death. We support efforts to educate teens and parents about the health risks associated
with early sexual activity and provide the tools needed to help teens make healthy
choices. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent
effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including
sexually transmitted HIV/AIDS. Therefore, we support doubling abstinence education
funding. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related
services for contraception and abortion."

So the only healthy choice is no fucking.

That's not anti-sex? For someone who's 18 years old?

"We strongly support President Bush’s call for a Constitutional amendment that
fully protects marriage, and we believe that neither federal nor state judges nor
bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to
marriage. We believe, and the social science confirms, that the well-being of children is
best accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and father
anchored by the bonds of marriage. We further believe that legal recognition and the
accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special
union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage.
After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human
experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most
fundamental institution of civilization, the union of a man and a woman in marriage."

Joseph was talking about a transcendental quality of sex. Is this something that only happens during heterosexual sex?

"As a country, we must keep our pledge to the first guarantee of the Declaration of
Independence. That is why we say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to
life which cannot be infringed."

Which to a lot of the religious wingnuts means no contraception.

"We support a human life amendment to the Constitution
and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections
apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that
right against those who perform abortions. We oppose using public revenues for abortion
and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges
who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life."

Traditional family values. Like not fucking before you're married, or at least engaged.

JoAnne   ·  September 22, 2007 9:05 PM

It is true that the Republican Party has made a Faustian bargin with religious nuts.

It is also true that Marxists are as prudish as it comes. How come the Left cheers the tyrants like Fidel (Lenin, Stalin etc) who cracked down on Gays? What was the punishment for homosexuality? During 1960s and 1970s in Cuba it was “rehabilitation” in a labor camp. The camps subjected prisoners to hard labor, meager food rations, and violent gangs that physically and sexually attacked other prisoners.

As I see it the right has made a huge mistake in being at the forefront of what the left will mandate.

gord   ·  September 23, 2007 4:40 PM

Once upon a time I took a class in microbiology. The professor noted that by the end of the course, anyone who was paying attention would no longer be tempted to touch either day-old potato salad or prostitutes. He was right.

There are sound, material reasons why promiscuity is a bad idea. The recent furore over Gardasil merely highlights another one: strains of HPV now have been found to cause not just cancer of the cervix, but also several oral cancers, and the probability of contracting one or more of those cancers increases with every different sexual contact. The number of contacts doesn't have to get too high before the risk of oral cancer exceeds that of a heavy tobacco user. HPV also clearly causes anal cancers, mainly in gay men. Promiscuity has a price, period.

Men can wear all the condoms they want, they can still catch HPV and pass it on to other people, who themselves are then at a higher risk for cancer, such as a faithful wife. It also won't be a surprise (to me, anyway) when research in the future discovers a link between prostate cancer and HPV; the tissues aren't all that different from the others (throat, larynx, cervix, anus) that we know to be affected.

It wasn't that long ago that we were told confidently by medical professionals that circumcized men were less likely to somehow cause their wives to contract cervical cancer. Turns out that was yet another case of labcoats confusing correlation with causation. I wonder from time to time what other diseases are being passed around between the promiscuous that we just don't know about, yet?

So tell me, is it a violation of the nonaggression principle to go out and get an incurable disease that is likely to give you cancer, and pass it on to unsuspecting members of your family? If so, maybe libertarians should think harder about promiscuity as a passtime and prostitution.

disease   ·  October 9, 2007 4:28 PM

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