I know a young God-fearing man who waited until marriage to have sex. He was still in college and decided to propose to his girlfriend after less than a year. They fast-tracked the wedding and set the date for January… in Alaska. Nine or ten months after the sub-zero ceremony, they had their first child. Another came not too long afterwards—and the wife started an affair. The couple is still suffering a long and bitter divorce.
How common is this experience? How often does a pious religious couple wait until marriage to relieve the most primal of human urges? And how many of these young men and women—hormones raging—make a lifelong commitment just so they can finally have sex?
One of the most damaging forces in American culture is its continued puritanism. The rigid anti-sex and anti-drug undercurrents of our society are making people repressed, guilt-ridden, and judgmental of others.
Let’s start with sexuality. Dating to our 17th century Protestant roots, men are assumed to be unchaste sinners by nature. Similar to the conservative branches of Islam and Orthodox Judaism, men simply cannot be trusted to control themselves and it falls to the women—ironically, the “original sinners”—to not tempt them. (Isn’t it strange how women get all of the blame but none of the leeway when it comes to sins? And don’t get me started on how women’s superpower, the ability to create other humans, was hijacked by male “creators” in the Bible. )
Conservative Christian women are told that their virginity is their virtue and their future currency in marriage. Their chastity must be protected with the utmost vigilance because only “bad women” have sex before marriage. I mean, come on: conservatives can’t even admit that Mary fucked Joseph! And sexual pleasure? That’s completely absent from the traditional narrative of relationships.
The pervasive American shame surrounding sexuality produces elevated rates of teenage pregnancy, as well as rampant STDs and anti-LGBTQ views.
Is it any surprise that the top five states for teenage pregnancy—Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Kentucky—are among the most religious? And rather than addressing the issue and giving young people access to contraception and safe abortions, God-blinded legislators are launching an all-out assault on Roe vs. Wade and closing healthcare clinics across the country. Furthermore, there’s a bill working its way through the Pennsylvania legislature—similar to a fucked-up bill in Mike Pence’s Indiana—which would mandate funeral services for miscarried fetuses. To put that into perspective, religious lunatics want women to pay for funerals commemorating non-viable human tissue even though there’s no law requiring funerals for dead full-grown human beings.
Also, in 2019, there have been 115,000 cases of syphilis, 580,000 cases of gonorrhea, and 1.7 million cases of chlamydia—a combined record high in our country. I blame abstinence-only education which does not respect our physiological reality: we are sexual creatures and should be taught about the human body and safe sex.
Another dangerous strain of American puritanism is its anti-drug mindset. Like sex, drugs and alcohol should not be treated as forbidden fruit in our culture—that only enhances their appeal and pushes their expression into a dangerous underground. I’d argue that with sex, repressed urges and ignorance can manifest as pedophilia, sex trafficking, and rape. And with drugs, that underground produces binge drinkers, addicts, and widespread deaths of despair. Let’s bring the conversation to the surface where people’s desires and curiosity can be explored in an informed way and in a safe environment.
To do this, we need to move beyond the assumption that all drugs are bad and talk about responsible use at an appropriate age. With more information about the actual effects of drugs, people can make decisions for themselves. Like having a martini, sometimes it’s fun for an adult to enjoy an altered state through the responsible consumption of cannabis, psilocybin, or LSD.
For these three substances in particular, the evidence is mounting that they can even have beneficial effects. It’s no secret that cannabis is slowly becoming legal for recreational consumption, state by state. It has been used to treat varied medical conditions for decades. Also, microdoses of psychedelics such as mushrooms and acid are being used to combat depression and PTSD.
What bothers me is that just as puritan anti-sex views have been used to target women and the LGBTQ community, anti-drug views have been used to oppress the poor and people of color. African Americans are incarcerated at much higher rates for the same non-violent “crimes” of substance use and distribution. And look at how differently Americans view the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s compared to the opioid crisis of today. It’s only considered a disease or misfortune when whites are most affected; otherwise, it’s considered a scourge.
In short, American puritanism is used to uphold the power of men, whites, and Christian conservatives. It applies rules disproportionately:
- It views gay sex as sinful.
- It considers women children who are unable to make decisions about their own bodies.
- It assumes that people of color should be incarcerated for drug use while heroin-addicted whites in West Virginia deserve sympathy and treatment for their disease.
American puritanism is the scourge—the noxious lens through which the same behaviors are viewed differently depending on the actor. And even the most privileged people in this system are denying basic aspects of their humanity: the mental and physical delight of new experiences.
Why are Americans allergic to discussions of sexual or drug-related pleasure? In this public discourse, it’s assumed that our only indulgence can come from food—and look where that’s gotten us: we’re one of the fattest sickest countries in the world and spend ludicrous sums of money on healthcare.
We need to amend these ancient currents of fanatical self-reproach and stupidity. If someone doesn’t want to have sex before marriage or experiment with drugs, that’s fine, but we shouldn’t yuck other people’s yums with a stodgy finger-wag—especially when the rules aren’t applied equally. It’s totally ok to:
- Wait until sex and love to have a marriage.
- Responsibly experiment with cannabis and psychedelics as an adult.
- Stop judging and censoring people’s sensual gratification.
American zealots don’t have a monopoly on what’s moral and what’s good. Dusty black and white codes of conduct may be easier to teach for the church, but in many cases, the tight-laced rigidity is dividing us and denying us our very human need to explore.
So throw off that heavy prudish yoke and live in the gray area! There’s no shame in consensual curiosity.