The GOP's Problem with Sex Could Cost Them in November

The social conservatives in the Republican Party have a problem with sex and it is going to cost the party dearly in November.

I don't mean they have a problem with contraception, although many do (conservative men, anyway). Nor am I saying that opposition to pornography is politically problematic, or the criticism of using sex in marketing will lose them votes, or denouncing the prevalence of sex and sexual imagery in music, TV, film, and art is necessarily wrong.

All of the above are used by social conservatives to mask the real problem: their outdated, even primitive, critique of human sexuality that denies both the science and the cultural importance of sex and the sex act. Their main target appears to be women, and women's sex lives, although the act of love itself is also to be placed in a strait jacket. No doubt the right will argue that their criticisms are only meant to help women, and nurture "healthy" attitudes toward sex. Nonsense. First of all, women don't need that kind of help. They are capable of making their own choices without a bunch of ignorant busybodies telling them how to govern the most intimate and personal aspects of their lives.

Secondly, there is inherent in this critique a 19th century -- or earlier -- view of sex that seeks to keep the act of love within the confines of the marriage bed, and believes that physical intimacy should be primarily for one reason, and one reason only: procreation. At the very least, sex outside of marriage should be severely proscribed and limited to those who plan a long term relationship or eventual matrimony. Having sex because it's fun, or because you're bored, or because you crave physical intimacy, or for any other reason beyond traditional notions of "love" is grounds for disapprobation.

Certainly religion has much to do with this assault on sex. And if the extent of their critique stayed in the pews and pulpits of conservative churches, there would be no problem whatsoever. Christian denominations can tell their adherents how to live their lives, citing chapter and verse from the Bible, and nobody would care.

But when Republican politicians, and others associated with conservatism or the Republican Party, start echoing the various criticisms of contraception, of casual sex, of sex outside of marriage, the perception cannot be dismissed that the imprimatur of the entire party -- and consequently, the government if they ever came to power -- has been granted and that somebody, somewhere, might want to do something about it. As a voter making a political calculus on how to mark one's ballot, the GOP is kidding itself if they don't think this affects the decisions of millions of citizens.

This is especially true of women, although there are plenty of younger Americans who are watching this debate on contraception unfold and no doubt wondering what all the hub-bub is about. According to a CDC study released in 2010, of 89 million American women between the ages of 15-44, 99% had used some form of contraception. That figure includes 82% of American women who used some form of oral contraceptive, Depo-Provera, injections, or the "ring" or the "patch" at some time in their lives.

That's an awful lot of voters to offend by hinting, as Rick Santorum did, that states should have the right to ban contraceptives. Or that oral contraceptives are more dangerous or harmful than most other drugs on the market. Trying to attach a stigmata to women who use birth control pills -- implying that being sexually active is the same as acting licentiously -- may fulfill some atavistic desire to apply an outdated code of conduct to women, but it is hardly good politics.

This is not a safety issue, or even a women's health issue. The issue is sex and the evolving cultural mandate that women should be able to enjoy the sex act as much as men without the fear of pregnancy. This is the real beef that the social conservatives have with the pill. It has revolutionized bedrooms in the U.S., while setting off a a massive change in the mores and morals of men and women.

No doubt some of this change has been harmful, even frightening. The sexualization of children is certainly one of those harmful consequences of freeing sex from the purely procreative. The explosion of teenage pregnancies, and teen sexual activity, is another untoward consequence of the pill. But change is the way of the human animal, and the technological revolution that created the pill 50 years ago couldn't have been stopped anymore than we could have halted the splitting of the atom, the invention of the integrated circuit, or the spread of the internet. In each case, technology answered a need in society, and if those wonders hadn't been invented then, they certainly would have been at some point shortly afterward.