November 23, 2009

Sex On The Brain 1- The Birth Of Shame & Secrets

In the countdown to World Aids Day on December 1st, I will be doing a thorough three part exploration of sex and sexuality, particularly in the Caribbean. Some of the questions I would like to investigate are: Where exactly did our prudery and hypocrisy come from? What are the elements of sexual attraction? What are the dynamics of gender and sexual orientation? Some of the resolutions I would to make are: Sexuality and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. Good sex is also safe sex. HIV/Aids is a viral representation of a deeper syndrome and its cure lies in a holistic approach to sexuality even it means the painful re-breaking and re-setting of a bone (no pun intended) that was badly cast for a very long time.

So let’s being with the first exploration: Where did all the shame and secrets come from?

How Did We Learn About Sex?

You may not remember it now because when it happened you were no older than two or three years old. Your parent caught you innocently playing with “those parts”, “down there”. At that tender age, you had not a single “dirty” thought in your head. You were doing it out of the most innocent of motivations… it simply felt nice. As new sonogram technology is revealing you had been doing it even when you were in your mother’s womb. It was only natural to you. It was comforting stress easing and it often soothed you to sleep, much like sucking your finger or tugging at the end of your favourite blanky.

New sonogram technology reveals masturbation begins in the womb. According to Dr. Daphne Miller of WebMD: “By the age of five, most children deliberately play with their genitals to experience pleasure.”

If your parent was a New Age or enlightened sexually liberated person they would most likely treat the situation nonchalantly when they caught you playing with your own private bit of heaven. If you were doing it at an inappropriate time, like at the dinner table or in front of guests, then, the enlightened parent would calmly without shock or disapproval, find a way to distract you. As you got older, your New Age parent would have helped you to grasp the concept of “privacy” and there is a special time and place for “private activities”.

Unfortunately, for those of us thirty and older, our poor parents had long been corrupted by their own notions of sexuality and for them, the sight of their cutie-pie choonkalonks enjoying the sensations caused by rubbing their naughty bits sent them into a tailspin of guilt and horror.


“Nasty! Don’t touch down there!”

And that right there was the moment they transferred their legacy of shame unto you. Thus began your conflicting sexual feelings.

Something about those “unmentionable parts” (many of us would later learn after much crude misnomers are called a penis, testicles, clitoris, vulva and vagina), was shameful and dirty. The conflict for us was these parts were also addictively delightful to touch or have stimulated and what ensued was a foggy landscape of confusion. Who taught our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents and their ancestors to be that way about sex? When did that first slap happen? Who was the very first prude, hypocrite and liar about sex?

A Long, Long Time Ago…

Ancient dildos, along with thousands of artifacts from around the world show there was actually a time when we celebrated sex, physically, culturally and spiritually.

Long ago, when from Africa to India to Asia to Europe shamanic based religion was the norm, there were rites of passage for birth, puberty, partnering, pregnancy and entry into elder phase of life. These rituals were done with shame-free explicitness that celebrated the pleasure, power and physicality of sex. Older women, mothers, aunties and grandmothers gathered with the young women from their tribes and villages and showed them in graphic detail what sex was and how to experience pleasure and give pleasure. Older men taught the male youths in graphic detail the joys and responsibilities of both penetration and providing for the tribe. Teenaged lovers coupled under the full moon and polyarmorous affairs were the norm.

When it came to sex our ancestors discovered balance was best. So, for example, having too many children was not good as it impacted on the tribe’s resources and the environment’s ability to sustain their population. So, the wise women discovered which herbs prevented pregnancies and ended pregnancies if the time was not right. Their wisdom can still be seen in Amazonian tribes that use the passion flower as birth control.

Shame was not part of the equation for our ancestors lived in close quarters. The night would be filled with sounds of lovemaking from nearby huts or within the same cave or tent. We bathed together and the only reason to cover the naked human body was for protection from the elements, not out of embarrassment. Human sexuality was treated with acceptance and all aspects of sexuality were seen as having some purpose in life’s creative and spiritual functions. The sexual freedom of the ancient civilizations sounds like a hedonistic free for all doesn’t it?

Well, it was not. There were rules for this just as there was for who hunted, who got what part of the kill etc. The difference was these rules were not based on shame or suppression of pleasure to please God. As far as anthropologists can tell, they were based in what achieved balance and benefited the tribe. Humans have built-in, natural bio-feedback mechanisms to regulate our actions. We are learning beings and throughout our evolution, trial and error helped us to formulate rules guiding our behavior. The very first rules were devised from whatever promoted survival and the overall well being of everyone concerned. Our first concerns were eliminating jealousy, promoting tribal harmony and regulating our population.

Female sexuality used to be celebrated and worshipped.

Basic observation of our behavior and those of the creatures around us showed that although it was natural to form a strong bond with one person, we still liked sexual variety. So we devised pragmatic ways to allow for both. The Hudough Dance of the Native Americans is one of many ancient rites where couples can have sexual freedom with any tribe member free of jealousy or disapproval. We still got most of our cues from nature and it had not escaped our notice that among mammals living in larger social groups, there was same-sex behaviour. So it was no big scandal to our ancestors when men and women began to be born with atypical gender preferences. We had already figured out there was no sun without a moon; no heat without cold, no masculine without feminine, no God without a Goddess.

The hermaphroditic form of God Shiva and Goddess Shakti in one body.

The hermaphrodites and homosexuals in our midst were seen as the epitome of balance, possessing both male and female energies in one body, mind and soul and since many of the Gods and Goddess we worshipped were also transcendent of gender, we tended to revere rather than revile these members of our tribes. From Western Africa to China to India to Greece to Europe to the Fertile Crescent they were usually specially selected as our shamans, seers, priests and priestesses.

Whether we knew it or not, we had back then a far more advanced and sophisticated idea of what elements comprised our sexuality. We somehow figured out there was more to this pleasurable, powerful urge than just making babies. There was something else, something spiritual and creative about it that connected us to something much greater than ourselves. We figured out there was magic there to be used. But in other parts of the world, certain tribes and nations were having a very different experience with sex.

Procreation Trumps Pleasure

Communities of people began to arise and their mission was empire, among these the Hebrews and Moslems who would later influence the cultures of Egypt and Ethiopia. Their spirituality recognized either a male God only or ranked their male Gods higher than their Goddesses. It was among these peoples, strange new practices began to occur, like genital mutilation and complete suppression of the feminine Divine and along with that female sexuality.

In the 15th century Jacopo Berengario da Carpi an Italian anatomist, identifies the foreskin as the most sensitive part of the penis, more sensitive than the glands. Later in the 16th century, Gabriele Falloppio describes function of the foreskin to provide lubrication and increase pleasure during sex.

The medical and scientific community has long debated on whether there is any hygiene justification for circumcision and the verdict is now that there simply isn’t one. It is a practice rooted in religious control of human sexuality. This was powerfully confirmed during the First and Second World Wars when uncircumcised European troops were stationed in the Arabian and Saharan desserts among the circumcised natives. Those with foreskins were told by those without, that the heat, dessert climate and sand dictated circumcision just as much their religious reasons. Yet, the Germans, Italians, Scandinavians and French and experienced none of the so called hygiene or “sand in the foreskin” issues used to justify the practice.

Whether you believe there is a Divine purpose to our development on earth or our present anatomy evolved sans Divine guidance, the foreskin obviously serves a function. In the 15th century Jacopo Berengario da Carpi an Italian anatomist, identifies it as the most sensitive part of the penis, more sensitive than the glands. Later in the 16th century, Gabriele Falloppio describes function of the foreskin to provide lubrication and increase pleasure during sex, similar to what the mucosal skin cells in a woman’s labia minora does when she is aroused. Aristotle’s Master-piece, a popular sex manual throughout the eighteenth century, states that the main source of male sexual pleasure arises from the friction of the foreskin moving back and forth over the glans. Without that delightful, built-in friction, the man is now totally dependent on achieving friction from vigorous penetration, placing unnecessary discomfort on the woman. The “not quite” satisfied feeling results in needing frequent coitus to make up for quality of orgasm with quantity.

Old anti-masturbatory device. The Abrahamic religions and later the Roman Catholic Church will go to extreme measures to ensure the non-procreative sex was eliminated.

Why would certain tribes agree to rid themselves of a natural and purposeful piece of skin? The justifications vary as do the type of circumcision practiced. For the Egyptians and some aboriginal peoples in Australia and Africa, circumcision was done as a boy’s rite of passage. In these rites, the entire foreskin was not removed. It was just spread to allow easier protrusion of the glands. Mummies have been found that show a tiny slit in the upper side of the foreskin, or dorsal slit. This is a very different practice than the one in Abrahamic-rooted societies. The Hebrews and Moslems demonstrated their covenant with their male deity Yahweh and Allah by completely removing the foreskin. In some cases, radically as described in the Mishnah (commentary on Torah) which gives details of periah, or radical circumcision, involving tearing back the foreskin and ripping it from the glans, (*OUCH*) not just cutting off the tip, as done previously.

Why? To sacrifice pleasure for procreation, so that the seed of Abraham should multiply according to the Covenant, “as the grains of sand on the earth.”

A 2003 Australian study found that men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer. Regularly flushing your system, so to speak, keeps your semen healthy and prevents the build up of cancer-causing chemicals.

In the 17th century, William Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, found that circumcised men have less pleasure in sex. His research revealed the proponents of circumcision named among their justifications, dampening men's amorous propensities and most importantly facilitating conception. In order to ensure fruitful coitus a long foreskin must be removed as it hinders transference of all the seminal fluid. The bloodthirsty aggression of the ancient Hebrews and Arabs as they tried to conquer occupied lands which they believed to be their birthright, required keeping massive armies and enough citizens to subdue the large expanses of land. They began to revere semen (not realizing of course that the woman contributed the other 50% of genetic material) as the very essence of complete living souls. As the morality tale of Onan in Genesis illustrates, there was an abhorrence for any wastage in non-procreative sexual activities.

Philo (c.15 BCE to c.50 CE), a Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, defends circumcision on the ground that it is a valuable curb on sexual indulgence: "The legislators thought good to dock the organ which ministers to such intercourse, thus making circumcision the symbol of excision of excessive and superfluous pleasure."

Most uncircumcised boys discover the joys of masturbation because their first erections require them to manipulate the glands out of the foreskin to experience relief. On the other hand, a boy circumcised from infancy will never have to jostle with a tight foreskin and learn that he can experience solitary pleasure. Within the Jewish/Arab and later Judeo/Christian/Moselm Abrahamic triad, to waste one’s seed was evil and unclean. The Roman Catholic Church under St. Augustine’s doctrinal admonishments would also become a fierce opposer of all forms of non-procreative sex as it pushed towards replenishing armies and building empire in the wake of defeat in the Holy Land. Indeed, when Christianity took (despite Paul’s letters stating the Old Law on such matters was fulfilled in Christ) a decidedly Puritan and legalistic turn in Europe, Victorian doctors became very keen to introduce circumcision to curb masturbation.

Did you know it was only just before the twentieth century that the British medical profession unanimously rejected and effectively banned clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris)because it is an irreversible mutilation and often performed without informed consent.

In the 1860s circumcision as means of curing or preventing masturbation in boys becomes widespread medical dogma in Britain. For the next 100 years (and in the USA 150 years) doctors insist it is a scientifically proven medical fact that the foreskin is harmful to the physical and moral health males and must be surgically removed before they even become conscious that it was ever there.

In 1865, William Acton, in the many editions of “Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs”, condemns foreskin as "source of serious mischief" because of its sensitivity and responsiveness to touch.

Around this same time, women were also being targeted by the esteemed Puritan police of sexuality and reproductive function. Their clitorises were being removed to treat “hysteria”. The practice of female genital mutilation was of course, already an old one. Early Arabian writers mention infibulation (sewing or pinning up the labia) and clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris), it seems likely that the practice originated in southern Arabia and from there spread to Africa, spreading along well-established trade routes. Once more we ask, why tamper with something that serves a purpose?

Elaborate dress that hinder movement and deny easy access to the vulva; constant chaperoning even for activities like dressing, reducing the need to cleanse the genitals by mutilation of the mucosal membranes and removal of the clitoris are all tactics used to control females from discovering their superior sexual prowess.

The same excuses of hygiene are given but the truth is that infibulation makes personal hygiene more difficult. Cosmetic reasons can be discounted since the operation does nothing to increase the attractiveness of the pudendal region. It does nothing to aid childbirth, except to make it extremely painful. The operation is in fact nothing but an attempt to rob a woman’s autonomous sexual pleasure, turning her into a mere childbearing vessel. It is extremely punitive in nature.

The removal of this lascivious tissue was not the only way to turn women away from pleasure and place their focus on procreation. As Europe became more Christianized and less pagan, clothing evolved to be increasingly impractical and layered to restrict her movement, keep her easily contained and make access to her genitalia very difficult. Females were allowed less and less alone time and placed in situations where they would be supervised at all times, even while bathing and dressing.

While girls in the Eastern and pagan cultures were taught intimate knowledge of the secrets to pleasure and sex and female genitalia continued to be presented as beautiful, a flower or garden of delights the girls in places touched by Jewish, Arabic or Christian sentiments were having a completely different expereince. They ceased to be educated about that part of their body. They were told shameful lies instead that it was ugly, cursed, incomplete or designed purely for a man’s satisfaction. They were taught that men were the ones who gave them pleasure and controlled their ability to experience that pleasure. They were told that procreation was their sole function as a living, breathing being and any seeking of pleasure branded them a witch in consort with evil spirits of lust and degradation.

Spreading The Shame Worldwide

When they encountered the temples of India, Victorian British were scandalized by the progressive sexuality of a civilization far older, wiser and more enlightened than they were.

What happens when prudish societies conquer sexually progressive ones? Just read the Old Testament, read how the Hebrews reacted to the sex worshipping Canaanites. Read how the British reacted to the erotic temples in India, their gender-bending deities and Rajas with hundreds of concubines. Read the shock of the Dutch as they reacted to the Edo era Japanese and their geishas and homosexual samauri. Read of the outrage of the Portugese as they invaded the Africa’s Cape and found near naked, beautiful black people moving their hips and engaged in the kind of free sexual congress these close-minded Europeans could only envy and condemn.

Sexuality is often the first aspect of a nation’s culture to be attacked by an invader or colonial power because it is the most vulnerable and power hungry nations are well aware it is the fastest way of unraveling the fabric of a society. In response to foreign interference, people under siege hide or suppress their indigenous sexual practices in order to protect sacred traditions for which the invaders have no respect. This is exactly how our African, Indian and Asian ancestors responded to invading European and Arab nations. They also became equally or more reserved and regulatory of their sexuality in order to avoid any excuse for foreign interference.

The severity with which they do this depends on how oppressive the colonial conqueror was and in the case of the European and Arab colonists, they too came from a legacy of oppression. They had long abandoned their shamanic roots and the more liberal sexuality of their Norse, Celtic and Pre-Islamic cultures.
Today, African nations conquered first by Arab slavers, then by the highly prudish European powers still cling to their foreign laws on sexuality for dear life and have completely given up their pagan sexual birthright, as have their Diaspora in the Caribbean and Americas. On the bright side, India is finally reversing sexual laws imposed upon them by British colonists and Japan is returning to its Edo-era sexuality.

Many who remark at the rampant sexuality in modern Japan today as a decline in traditional morals are wrong. The nation only became prudish after being exposed to Christian/Western inspired shame. Sexuality is often the first aspect of a nation’s culture to be attacked by an invader or colonial power because it is the most vulnerable. Today, Japan is actually returning to its traditional Edo-era morals by embracing sexual openness and homosexuality.

Guilt and shame are not only powerful. They have built-in perpetuation mechanisms. Take a group of people brimming with remorse and feelings of undeservedness for any pleasure they experience because they believe they have committed crimes against God and inherited a “sin” nature. Part of resolving this “sin nature” is denying themselves of the gifts of pleasure given to us, especially sex. Now, expose them to another group of people with the completely opposite view! You are bound to have friction between the two groups and not the pleasant kind.

The response the religiously prudish have to those whose approach to sex is free from censure save the regulation to "harm none", is similar to what people on a strict diet feel when they encounter a slim person who can eat what they want and never gain weight.

Prudes cannot stand to allow others to enjoy what they have decided to deprive themselves. They must resort to, “I am better than you for depriving myself and if I must sacrifice then so must you!”, further validates their sacrifice and boosts their self-esteem.

The person on the diet experiences self-doubt and envy. This is often converted to condemnation and then over justification of their diet and exercise regime as “morally superior”. In other words,
“How dare you experience such bliss when I do not deserve such freedom and joy! No! If I don’t then nobody does! ”

You see, it is not enough for the prudish to deprive themselves as their personal, private decision and be content with that. They want everyone to know what a big effort they are making and how special that makes them. They want brownie points for choosing not to do something that is natural and that everyone is perfectly free to do. Most of all, they secretly want those who invoke that envy in them, punished…severely! Those who indulge must suffer for them to feel content with their deprivation. It comes across as sanctimonious and their confidence in their moral superiority can be very convincing. However, there is a side you do not see. There is a state of torture, self-doubt while their minds see sexual temptation around every corner, in every song, movie, dress, smile, dance.

What often sends that deck of cards crashing down is when a difficult challenge in their life reveals they are not more “special” or “blessed” than anyone else for sticking to a harsh, unnatural, sexual regime. Nothing upsets a sanctimonious person more than to see the ones they label as “sinner” or “deviant” having a better go at life, love and material success than they are. Reminds me of an incident in Globe, long before Movietowne took over and you had to mingle with low class patrons who gave running commentary on the movie. Some man sitting in the back of me started steupsing and cursing because there was a gay character in the movie. When it was revealed that the said character was also rich and successful, the homophobe griped aloud,

“All dem f***ing battymen always have all de money! Fire had better bun dem oui!”

Judging from the movie-goer's appearance, manner and vocabulary, the poor guy was probably totally confounded as to why he was struggling to feed his pickny and satisfy his quarrelling baby mothers when Jah supposed to be blessing him for being heterosexual.

The most outspoken on sexual purity according to their religion, are often made to face the reality of their own hypocrisy on the subject. Even while they preach, their own marriages fail, they engage in adultery, film sex tapes, have secret gay affairs and solicit prostitutes.

It is often hard to see when outrage and condemnation is envy and deprivation in disguise. I challenge you to pick any preacher who makes sexual matters his or her personal crusade. Take some time to truly listen to them and also observe them in day to day life. I remember preachers in my church who would go into graphic detail of the lust, the fornication and inflamed desires, blindly exaggerating the negative aspects of sexual freedom. I can swear after a while, it started to sound like when jealous girls bitch about the popular chic in school. I guarantee you will pick up the underlying resentment and their sexual frustration. It is no wonder these types are always the ones humiliated by the collapse of their own ideal as their marriage ends in infidelity or some other hidden sexual scandal is revealed as was the case with Anita Bryant, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart and so many others.

What can we resolve from this exploration so far? We now know that this current double standard, hypocritical, fearful, condemnatory approach to sex was not always the “traditional way” as touted by certain people. You know that there was a time when sex was treated in a much more holistic, pragmatic fashion. You also know that we have tampered with the pleasure and procreation scale, tipping it in favour of procreation in order to build patriarchal inspired religious empires. You probably are also beginning to see this was not a good thing to do. It most likely upset the delicate balance of spiritual and physical elements that holds our sexuality in harmony with the Universal ideal. This means that many of our present attitudes towards sex probably does not reflect not an authentic, natural and purely Universal approach. It came from man-made, cultural and religious rationales, some of which are not even in harmony with our biological make-up.

So the question is, how can we go back to an authentic, natural and purely Universal sexuality? Were our pagan ancestors really closer to it than we are presently? In the next installment I will delve even deeper into what the spiritual and physical elements of sexuality are; how they influence sexual attraction, orientation, gender and even creativity and pleasure. Then we shall take a very unflinching look at what happens when shame and guilt reeks havoc with those elements. Stay tuned!

Further reading:
Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh, "To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah: Legitimization of Male and Female Circumcision", Medicine and Law, Vol. 13, Nos. 7-8 (July), 1994, pp. 575-622

You can learn about the roots of circumcision here.


Restoring Tally said...

Great read. This is the most thorough treatment I have seen. I was circumcised at birth and have since learned a lot about circumcision and sexual repression. As I restore my foreskin, I am also restoring my life to try to throw off the shackles of my puritanical life.

roger desmoulins said...

Just why the English speaking peoples became enamored with the circumcised penis during the latter 19th century, is an unsolved problem in the history of sexuality. By 1910, circumcision was common among the urban middle class in the UK and USA. Between 1920 and 1930, circumcision spread like wildfire in Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian maternity wards. By 1950, the vast majority of boys born to mainstream parents in urban hospitals in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA and UK, were circumcised within 2-3 days of birth.

Circumcision never caught on among the humbler British. In 1950, the NHS stopped reimbursing it. By 1965, RIC had vanished from the UK. New Zealand stopped paying for it in 1969, and RIC vanished there too. Between 1970 and 2000, Australian states and Canadian provinces stopped paying for it. Today, the rate in Australia is 10-15%, and about 30% in Canada.

The American RIC rate was at least 90% in the 1970s, the first decade when Medicaid coverage of childbirth was freely available. California stopped paying for RIC in 1982, and 17 other states have followed suit. While about 80% of American adult men are circumcised today, the rate among boys born in USA maternity wards is 50-55%. Americans parents circumcise their baby boys ONLY because they fear that an intact son will be a social failure: the object of ridicule at the hands of fellow boys in the locker room, and of disgust at the hands of women in the bedroom.