Saturday, June 10, 2006

Public Sex, Privacy and Shame

The Volokh Conspiracy has an interesting series of posts on whether public sex and nudity should be legal. Assuming that no real harm is done, it's hard to see why not, unless you consider "yuck!" (or "I'm offended!") a legitimate reason for restricting others' liberty. I'm inclined to think that such matters should instead be regulated by informal social norms. But that's not really what I'm interested in here. Given the prevailing attitudes, having sex in public is extremely rude and inconsiderate, whether or not you consider that a criminal offense. What I'm wondering is: are the prevailing attitudes reasonable ones? Should we find public sex offensive? Is it wrong for reasons apart from any arbitrary offense it may cause?

An appeal to cultural liberalism could justify a general policy of reticence. As Nagel writes (HT: Velleman):
[B]oundaries between what is publicly exposed and what is not exist for a reason. We will never reach a point at which nothing that anyone does disgusts anyone else. We can expect to remain a sexual world deeply divided by various lines of imaginative incomprehension and disapproval. So conventions of reticence and privacy serve a valuable function in keeping us out of each other's faces.

Such compromise is pragmatically sensible. But, politics aside, it leaves open my questions about which stance is the ideally rational one. (The whole point of cultural liberalism is that we should tolerate potential irrationality through tactful non-acknowledgment, rather than violating others' privacy in attempts to enforce conformity to our own conception of perfection.) To draw any stronger conclusions, we will need to look more closely at the nature of privacy and shame.

The right to privacy is of monumental importance, for reasons explained in the latter half of my post 'Living as Storytelling' (with further reference to Nagel). The flourishing autonomous individual must not be constantly burdened with the weight of the public's gaze. He has a right to be free of it. But what if he (incomprehensibly, to me) chooses such exposure? Our rights are granted for our own sakes, and we may refrain from exercising them if we so please. A right to privacy in one's sex life does not by itself entail a duty to refrain from sex in public. So what must be established here is no mere right to privacy, but the more dubious claim that we have a duty to keep our business private. Where would such a duty come from?

Laurence Thomas writes:
Privacy is about two things that operate in tandem: what others have access to without seeking permission and what people can offer to others without seeking permission... Self-disclosure is not appropriate merely because a person want[s] to do so.

Presumably this is due to consideration for the listener, and particularly the desire to avoid causing offence. If both speaker and audience welcomed such disclosure, then it's surely unobjectionable. So this brings us back to my original question: are there any good reasons why we should be offended by another's self-disclosure? Or are our feelings here fairly arbitrary, and hence the need to respect them (i.e. the "duty of privacy") correspondingly contingent?

What of shame? Drawing on Velleman, my earlier post suggested that feelings of shame derive from awareness of one's failings as a self-presenting agent, due to unintentional self-disclosure. But if the disclosure is voluntary and intentional (cf. porn stars), then no shame results. We might say such people are "shameless". We feel that they shouldn't be so keen to expose themselves. But why not? That's the crucial question I haven't seen anyone address yet.

The closest is Laurence Thomas' claim that "a very clear indication that a person does not take himself sufficiently seriously is just the fact that the individual discloses way too much about himself." Is that true though? Why should such openness indicate a lack of self-respect (rather than, say, abundant self-confidence)? Perhaps the idea is that we need to have a restricted public persona, while holding something back, in order to be fully human. But again, it's easier to offer such proposals than to justify them. Perhaps excessive public openness precludes private intimacy: there's just nothing special left to share. Shamelessness might then be seen as a crime against one's intimates, or even against one's own humanity.

But all that sounds a little flimsy to me. Does anyone have any better ideas? In the absence of such, I have trouble seeing any wrongmaking features intrinsic to shamelessness. Perhaps the only real problem with it is the extrinsic worry about needlessly causing offence to others. (What do you think? Comments welcome.)

There are special cases, of course. In response to Sage's post on public masturbation, one person commented:
a person who is masturbating in public while looking at another person is making that person a part of their sex act, often without the other person's consent. that's why public masturbation makes me angry - if someone is watching me while they jack off, they're making me a sex object and they're including me in something sexual without my permission.

This bears clarification, however, for it risks implying "thoughtcrime". The problem cannot simply be that they've made you their "intentional object" (i.e. the object of their thoughts) -- I assume there's nothing wrong with sexual fantasy. One needn't ask another's permission merely to think about them, even in a sexual way. Rather, the problem here must involve the blatant disclosure of such thoughts. And this case plausibly goes beyond the mere risk of causing offense. Rather, the action seems to have overtones of aggression or disrespect. One supposes that the twisted individual's intention is not merely to enjoy the thought of you (which is surely innocent enough on its own), but rather to demean you, to announce to the world that he only cares about you as an instrument to achieving his own ends. One supposes that he might just as well spit on you when he's done.

The suppositions might not always apply, but they certainly indicate a class of public sexual activity that would be grievously immoral. The problem there derives not from general concerns about excessive self-disclosure, nor sexual prudishness specifically, but rather the vicious and degrading intentions that were expressed in that particular case. Being dependent on this social communication, I suspect that the moral status of public masturbation is highly dependent on social context. The case described above depends heavily on the backdrop of a misogynistic culture, for instance. Without that cultural background, the intentions communicated by the action might be very different indeed, and perhaps entirely innocent. (We might imagine a culture where such behaviour was interpreted as a polite compliment on one's appearance, for instance!)

For a rather different case, we might also imagine a shameful creature so overcome by desire at seeing a topless woman walking down the street that he simply cannot restrain himself. If we stipulate that he feels no ill will towards those exposed to his self-gratification, then he seems more deserving of pity than moral outrage. The earlier discussion implies that he will feel great shame for his lack of self-control. The rest of us may disapprove of his sub-human failure, but in a very different way from the previous case. This guy's pitiful behaviour communicates his powerlessness before the Other. The earlier case involved deliberate action meant to communicate the actor's power over the Other. ("I can do what I want with you, and there's nothing you can do about it." -- I think Sage metaphorically dubbed this "rape at a distance" in her comment thread.) So, some important differences there, I think.

Right, I'm all thought out, curious though these issues are. Your turn...

27 comments:

  1. I really really like this post. I've always thought what you have written here, about the arbitrary nature of societal disapproval of public sex acts et cetera, but I have never had the ability to express it or elucidate the way that you have...

    ReplyDelete
  2. But, if everyone is doing it in public, then doing it in public would not be as exciting as it is now!

    Our society (any society really, but ours is pretty far behind) has such powerful hangups about sex in all domains. It will take a long time before sex is seen as normal, natural part of life. What will people do once tha perfect state is attained? I don't know, but having sex in public will not be scandalous, just uncomfortable.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Richard,

    Some nit-picking, you've misspelled Prof. Thomas' first name; it should read "Laurence"; additionally, at one point you speak of "private intimacy," doesn't intimacy already indicate that it is private? Maybe you're indicating an intimate moment that is in private?

    This is an interesting post. Thomas' orginal post inspiried some thoughts on the matter. I have since been engaged in a readings concerning: indivudal will and its interface between "normal", defined or delimited by norms, behavior, and the idea of indulgence.

    My suspicion is that we are ourselves not (always) fully aware of or don't understanding the kinds of obligations, implied and explicit, that "norms" can place on us. Additionally, these norms are not constructed in any systematic or intelligible way that indicates their combined "authority." Accordingly, we are not always successful in navigating them or prepared for the resulting shame or disapprobation.

    You might say that the "norms" are defined such that we don't even need to understand them, but given some "normed" domain, there are built-in paramenters that allow legitimate actions, so that if an action is legitimate it isn't censured. Though, then the question becomes: how the norms evolved in the first place? And, how if they are only regulative of extremal behavior or action, how do we recognize the transition if they are not (always) fully understood or recognized? (As an aside, I think this point is interesting. Since, if everyone (always) understood the interaction and scope of "norms" then what would be the task of philosophers and intellectuals whom clarify these issues?)

    Anyway, these are some thoughts, and I apologize if they aren't entirely coherent. What I had aimed to do was to point out the misspelled name, but not wanting to appear petty, I offered some hasty thoughts on the post. I may come back later and revise them.

    Cheers,

    Erik

    ReplyDelete
  4. In an ideal world not only might you be protected from the weight of the public's gaze - but the public's gaze would have no weight. (ie it would not be a burden for the public to see what you do - if anything it would be to your benefit)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Courtnix:

    Making bowel movements and urinating are natural parts of life, but we don't do them publically.

    ReplyDelete
  6. But the question remains: why not? I guess it's smelly and unhygenic. But suppose those contingent aspects were removed. Then we're simply left with the "yuck factor" -- the brute (arbitrary, non-rational) fact that we find it disgusting. There doesn't seem any good reason why would should have such a reaction. There's nothing intrinsically disgusting about such acts. (Cf. chocolate-flavoured poo.) It's just our arbitrary prejudice. We might just as well take an entirely different attitude here.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Not "needlessly causing offense" seems like a pretty good reason, to me. Let's assume that the only thing wrong with public sex is that a lot of people find it "yucky." This seems like as good a reason as any for people to not have sex in Times Square or on a bus. Food analogies seem apt in this case. If my actions can cause others to react in disgust, then we could compare this to a cook whose food causes others to react in disgust. If I am to be a good cook, I should be aware of what foods my restaraunt patrons find particularly disgusting and avoid using those foods in my dishes. I suppose a cook could try to find ways to prepare the disgusting foods in order to make them appealing, but if he is unable to do so and they still think his food tastes yucky, the reasonable thing to do would be to stop serving the yucky foods.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lots of things remain unclear in these examples

    1) e.g. what is poo? (if it is not the smelly unhygenic thing that we leave behind after eating)
    2) what is "a good reason" (if not the satisfaction of preferences [not to see naked people], or the happiness of the majority or the instructions of religion)
    I would tend to agree with you in both areas (ie poo is not bad in itself and neither is nakedness) but it seems your tools to prove these things are ones with wider implications that you may or may not want to go with.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You seem to be tackling two different questions in your post here. One is whether we should be offended by seeing people having sex in public, and the other is whether one should feel shame for performing such an act.

    In regards to the former, I think there are many reasons for people to be offended by public sex acts. First, there are the purely visceral reasons, such as being forced to listen to rude noises and see two, most likely less than attractive, people having sex in a public space.

    Secondly, there are the thoughts and emotions that such an act is likely to elicit in the viewer. Jealousy, arousal, and desire are three such emotions, and while some of these can be pleasurable and even desired when sought after intentionally, they can also be very uncomfortable feelings to experience, and one should not be forced to be subjected to them just for traversing a public space.

    In a similar vein, watching other people have sex can even cause shame in the viewer because it reminds them of the animal side of them that they cannot control. To use the storytelling analogy, it brings to mind a part of their lives that does not nearly fit into their ideal narrative of their conception of themselves.

    To address the second question you raise, of whether one should feel shame for performing sexual acts in public, I think you touch upon the answer when you write that the shame is derived from "one's failings as a self-presenting agent" who engages in "unintentional self-disclosure." Even though the choice of having sex in public may be intentional, the act of sex itself is contrary to being a self-presenting agent because it requires one to lose control of oneself, and give in to one's animal urges. Because such an act reveals that one is not in full control of one's own self, it is cause for embarrassment, in much the same way that farting in public is.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think, too, that we need to distinguish between two aspects of each of the questions oibalf distinguishes (seeing and performing): the anthropological and the legal. From the perspective of the legal side of the question it is no more (and no less) arbitrary and non-rational that we have 'yuck' factor with regard to certain things than that gravity exists: it's just one type of fact that society has to take into account. It's possible to say that there is no good reason for our having 'yuck' reactions to public sex but that it is eminently rational for society to take this 'yuck' factor into account in its laws (e.g., in order to help society be less violent). So we need to distinguish whether there is good reason for us to be built the way we are (the anthropological side) and whether there is good reason for there to be laws against things like public sex (the legal side). And this seems to be a useful distinction to make for both seeing and performing.

    It's also important to note that it isn't merely disgust that's operative here. Most of us would feel sorry for someone who was suddenly exposed to an orgy in a public park, even if we wouldn't feel any particular disgust at it ourselves. And that's as much worth reflecting on as disgust is.

    ReplyDelete
  11. It also just occurred to me, Richard, that there's an act that would probably be useful for conveying a great deal of your point: public breastfeeding. It's something that admits of a lot of variation across even very similar societies, people tend to be much more evenly divided about whether it should be allowed than they are about whether public sex should be allowed, etc. So the same questions you ask arise for it, but it's easier for people to see the points on all sides of the issue. And for those people who are inclined to think that public breastfeeding should be allowed but public nudity in general should not be (my own feelings tend that way), the question is what is it about the cases that makes such a difference.

    ReplyDelete
  12. What makes the difference for you brandon?

    ReplyDelete
  13. That's a good question; I'm not sure I do have any good reason, beyond the fact that I'm not made uncomfortable by public breastfeeding, and have no sympathy for those who are, and that I am made uncomfortable by public sex, and am sympathetic with others who are. But if I were to try to formulate a reason, it would likely be that motherhood and the activities naturally associated with it take precedence, and should take precedence, over conventions about what should be public and what shouldn't. In other words, there is more going on in the breastfeeding case than merely showing skin; there's also an important social role -- one of the most important, in fact, -- being exercised. Even if breastfeeding is kept private, motherhood can't reasonably be; and I would say that because of these things mothers should be allowed discretion about what should be private and what should be public, in cases where there aren't very clear, strong arguments for not allowing them discretion. There doesn't seem to be anything analogous to this in public nudity and public sex, so social conventions (and the fact that people get very upset by their violation) set up a presumption in the opposite direction: they shouldn't be allowed unless we have clear reason to allow them.

    But that's very rough, and I'm sure it raises all sorts of questions that would need answering.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I think there were good points made in the previous comments, but for my own clarity I will sum up the points that I think are worthwhile. I think that Sex in a public space should be a private affair because if it were allowed to be a public nature then this would unreasonabley expose people to "jealousy, arousal, and desire" among other feelings such an act would evoke. And I also agree that public is not permissible due to the obvious visceral reasons previously mentioned, such not wanting to see less attractive people have sex and beening forced to listen to it. But I believe that these visceral reasons are built on other reasons, some of which might be rationale and some irrationale. The rationale component would be that public sex does not serve a function in society much like the previous example of breastfeeding. I thought it was interesting the way the arguement went that breastfeeding was part of mothering and therefore important to society. Public sex, on the other hand, would if anything inhibit society from functioning in a normal state (at least western cultures, this might not include some exception in a different, particular culture). But there is also the irrationale aspect that another individual touched on and that was the animal aspect. I also think (this is where I get controversial) that this is where an arguement about morality might be made, because when a person is exposed to these type of actions he tends to lose control of his own rationality and can break down into a lustful sexual animal. A rather graphic example would be an orgy in a mall (I think orgies were previously mentioned). I think this is an "appropriate" example because it is sex in a public domain, and yet appealing to the visceral senses there might be something morally wrong with that, even if there was no "yuck" factor. Please let me know if my comments were off base and let me know what you think.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Some good discussion here. I hope my introduction made clear that I am certainly not encouraging public sex! I simply wanted to focus on what Brandon calls the "anthropological" rather than "legal" question. (I would call it the first- rather than third-personal question: we should be considerate of others' reactions, of course, but I'm instead wanting to explore what reactions we ourselves should have.)

    Breastfeeding is an interesting analogy. Like Brandon, I'm much more accepting of this than I would be of public sex. The default presumption does seem to differ across the two cases: I accept public breastfeeding because there's no reason why not, and yet I'd frown on public sex because I can't imagine any good reason for people to have sex in public rather than private. (They're just being needlessly offensive.) But why the different standards? I'm not sure what to make of Brandon's answer about the importance of motherhood, though it might be the best hope of justification here. Perhaps it just comes down to the brute arational difference in my visceral reactions, that makes the one act seem "offensive" but not the other. In any case, I agree that breastfeeding makes a great case study for critical consideration of the public/private distinction (and where to draw the line).

    Another interesting issue arises from Oibalf's point about the intrusive thoughts and feelings that would assail the unwilling observers of public sex acts. I have some sympathy for the idea that our public spaces should ideally allow passersby to be free of such intrusions (insofar as practically possible). But the same point would seem to apply, albeit in weakened form, to a far broader range of activities. In particular, it might imply a weak moral obligation to dress modestly. (An attractive woman's revealing attire might have a similar effect to the above, after all.) Is this plausible -- is it inconsiderate for people to publicly flaunt their sexuality in such a way?

    ReplyDelete
  16. I would agree that I have more sympathy towards breast feeding than public nudity, but again that is largely just social convention. I might say that breast feeding is instigated by a person who doesn’t have the capacity to absorb the socialization not to do it in public.
    But I think there should be no such socialization and thus I have a degree of sympathy for nudists also.

    So, on one level I would have respect for the preferences of individuals but I would also in the long term want to work to changing those preferences. In terms of breast feeding I would consider that more urgent an issue with less costs than lets say "public sex" but not different in nature.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I still have a problem. I'm sure I was not presenting my view with perfect clarity. I disagree with "genius"'s claim that it is "just social convention" that people in general sympathize with breastfeeders and not with people who perform public sexual acts. And I also disagree with "genius" when he might say "breastfeeding is instigated by a person who doesn't have the capacity to absorb the socialization not to do it in public." I think that is not JUST social convention that people in general allow breast feeding, but rather it is logical social convention because it helps with the mothering of children to help perpetuate social stability, while public sex would have the opposite effected: causing chaotic disturbances that feed off the animalistic side of people's nature. And therefore I think many women CHOOSE to breastfeed openly, because it makes sense for them to do so and not because they are failing to meet social norms (even if these social norms are optimal or not optimal). I also there is logic to the social norm of not allowing public sex, because it unfairly exposes people to events that inevitabley will disturb there live to the point where they would have to join or fight the public displays (because if one couple can, why not two?), thus a person must be involved in anothers sexual act even if its in a postive (joining) or negative (fighting) sense.

    And to address the provacitive dress question. I think this is an entirely different issue because it is one thing to engage in sexual activities and it is another to SUGGEST sexuality.

    ReplyDelete
  18. “Anonymous”,

    My claim was that MY attitude is "social convention" however I do also think that most people’s direct reason is also social convention (that says nothing about why that is the social convention - that could be a logical or non logical reason, but if the reason changed that doesn’t mean the attitude would).

    > And I also disagree with "genius" when he might say "breastfeeding is instigated by a person who doesn't have the capacity to absorb the socialization not to do it in public."

    Do you think the baby doesn't instigate it? Or that that has no relevance?

    As to provocative dress - you seem to be saying that engaging in sex suggests sexual activities in the minds of observers so your distinction is not clear. Also are you accepting nudity is OK here?

    As to your main argument one could ask
    1) is there a requirement for breast feeding to be done in public? as opposed to in private in most situations? (or at all?)
    2) why is the animalistic side of human nature to be a bad thing?
    3) Why not consider your disgust at nudity (sex aside) to be the problem as opposed to the nudity itself just like one does with the nudity involved in breast feeding?

    ReplyDelete
  19. I want to emphasise an aspect of the debate that I think deserves more emphasis. Richard has already pointed towards this aspect, in the original post, when he suggested that public nudity was wrong because it "precludes private intimacy: there's just nothing special left to share." I agree with that, but I do not agree that this reason for opposing public nudity is “a little flimsy”. I also want to challenge the view that the offence that some people take at public nudity is just a “yuk” reaction, a mere conventional disgust. To do these things I want to draw some analogies that have not been considered yet, firstly the analogy between communication by action and communication by natural language. Actions, like words, are things that people use to convey their feelings to other people, and it is extremely important to many people that their language is able to express many nuances of meaning over a wide range of meanings, and especially that it is able to distinguish clearly between expressions of trivial or mild or temporary emotions, and truly deep and lasting ones. And very often that distinction relies for its clarity on a certain amount of coyness and restraint in using the expression corresponding to the deep and lasting motions. To take trivial example: when people keep saying that some one or some thing is "great" or "unique", when they are just mediocre or only unusually good, it is hard to convey one's feeling properly towards people who are truly great and truly unique; also, a writer who uses exclamation marks all the time soon weakens the force of the device. It is misleading to say that these forms of expression are “mere conventions”. The signs that we use to express the feelings are conventional, to be sure, but the feelings themselves, and our need to express them clearly and properly, are very far from conventional; accordingly, people who threaten our ability to express these feelings do not just offend against an arbitrary social custom, but against one of the most important goods a society can have: the capacity of its members to form meaningful relationships with eachother. The offence may be small, perhaps negligible, when committed in the domain of language (although George Orwell might disagree), but it can be morally significant when committed in the domain of action. Performing the haka too often, for example, devalues the act, making it less forceful when it is really meant to be forceful, and less of a privilege for those people who are allowed to perform it as a privilege. The same applies to the custom of marriage, a custom that people perform in order to express a very deep and lasting commitment, an expression whose integrity is compromised when the custom is performed gratuitously or insincerely. On such occasions people sometimes say that the custom has been “desecrated”, that a “sacred” act has been violated, and I am sure that this feeling is closely related to more overtly religious kinds of outrage eg. The outrage that occurs when some sacred figure is portrayed gratuitously or insincerely, or when some sacred figure is simply portrayed. And of course it is closely related to the disgust that people feel when they see naked people when they do not wish to. The act of standing naked before some other person, and of engaging them in intimate carnal relations, is for many people one of the most profound and honest and definitive ways they have of articulating, and of proving, their feelings towards some other person; and to have that form of expression debased by gratuitous nudity would be, for those people, a great and genuine loss, and a much greater loss than the trivial loss we imply when we suggest that public nudity is just an affront to conventional mores, or that it just strikes people as “yukky”, in the way that public defecation is yukky. I suppose that society could produce some new customary act, a new form of meaning, to replace a lost one, and that individuals can devise new ones between themselves; but it would be a lot harder to develop a substitute for the expressive power of sex than it is to develop a substitute for the expressive power of an exclamation mark, or of the word “unique.”

    Clearly the tendency towards suppressing abuses of society’s conventional forms of meaning, society’s “language”, runs against the tendency towards securing the freedom of speech and action. The latter are valuable, but I think that they are often overvalued, and that this is partly due to the normal associations of the term “freedom.” Usually when we think of “freedom”, we think in terms of physical and anthropomorphic metaphors, we think of the cramped, restrictive jails or cramped, restricted wells, and contrast them in our minds with happy extroverted people and glorious wide-open-spaces and powerful beasts running across endless fields in a magnificently liberated fashion; and when we conceive of freedom in that way it is hard not to value it greatly. To counteract that tendency, it is worthwhile to sometimes think of freedom in terms of literary metaphors, in terms of meanings and stanzas and rhyming structures, because then it is easier to see how freedom works best when it is employed along with restraint and delicacy and obedience and good taste, and how the latter are worthy of our consideration. Should governments act through their legal institutions to punish and restrict acts that debase widely valued forms of expression? I think it should, provided (as with freedoms) the offence is great enough; in the case of public nudity, I think that it is.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I remember years ago reading Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen. He describes his travels in Borneo and how he had to learn to defecate side by side with his local companions to save his life. When he went out into the forest alone and came back, they thought he was the devil because they believed only the devil could exist solo in the forest and they were ready to kill him. So he would squat within eyesight, then closer, until he could squat right next to the locals.

    We can make it any way we want.

    I'm uncomfortable that so many of us are uncomfortable in our bodies. If someone can keep me from walking naked because they'd be uncomfortable to see me naked, why can't I walk around naked because I'm so uncomfortable seeing all the fake people walking around? (I haven't had any lipo.) What if we just had one hour of one special day each year where anyone who wanted to walk around naked would be permitted that? Would that be ok?

    We make decisions based on what we're feeling. Many of us can't tolerate looking at our own selves naked. (I've come from here.) Take, for example, the movie What the Bleep Do We Know? Or consider all the plastic surgery, hair dyeing, etc. But we act through these things – our bodies. To not know them and to not be comfortable in them makes them appear more as monsters than humans to me.

    I would love to see us all grow more comfortable with our bodies. Can we do it without getting out of control and doing something that's not of mutual consent? Gee, that's where I hope we would choose to head as humans.

    Love this article and all the comments!

    annamint[at]sbcglobal.net

    ReplyDelete
  21. While I am not sure about these philosophical concepts like "shame" or "not taking oneself seriously", it seems that there are perfectly good reasons to assume that the prevailing attitudes are either reasonable, or at the very least not arbitrary. Mind you, I couln't care less about who does what in front of me, though I am sure that there are some things that I would find offensive too.

    It seems that those who find public displays of sexuality offensive either do so because of biological reasons or because of social reasons (to be banal: nature or nuture). If it is biological, then there is just not much they can do, they are just wired to find certain things offensive, and as a society it is worth accommodating to some extent "the way people are made" and a taboo against public sexuality is non-arbitrary - it is rooted in biology. If it is social, we can assume that there is or was some advantage to it. Perhaps preserving the privacy and intimacy of the sex act led couples to have common shared private experiences and that led to stronger relationships which increased the likelihood that their offspring would survive. Perhaps privacy was a way for individuals remain in the dark (literally) about who was fathering and mothering which children, which also led to stronger familial ties by making sure that infidelity was hidden. . . Who knows what the real reason for the taboo is. But the bottom line is that it is there, and there is a non-circular way in which its presence indicates that there was probably a historical reason for it. A creative evolutionary biologicat can probably come up with a good story.

    Now, if there is a good story to be told, then again the taboo is non-arbitrary. If it is non-arbitrary, it does nmake some sense to allow communities to restrict them in more formal ways, perhaps even legal ones. Moreover, maybe it makes sense to take some offense - as part of training ourselves toward good habits like modesty which as we mentioned, may have some evolutionary advantages. And even if we don't believe it has evolutionary advantages for us, it may have for others. That is not to say that we should support these advantages legally, but to the extent that law is there to enfocre those things which we take to be common-sense-wrong - this certainly may fit the bill for some.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I'm sorry, but what people do not have an "animalistic side". People *are* animals. They always act like animals, because they always act like humans. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with behavior that is less typical of our species and more typical of land mammals or primates as a whole.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Sorry, delete "what" from my first sentence.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Just surfed by due to the topic "masturbation in public" which keeps me thinking since some days in a concrete way: Just been in a good english suburban pub to watch England-Sweden the other day. 2 other women with their partners somewhere at the bar, me the only female trying to enjoy the match and a pint, surrounded by ca. 20 guys in football-gear watching the match. The half of them - not joking - the whole time playing with their balls, talking to each other, sometimes starring around. Yesterday afternoon, walking through the streets, a couple of guys passing by, hands in their pants, masturbating.
    Today, I am opening the guardian, Sports, page 3, excellent shot by Eddie Keogh/Reuters of "Wayne Rooney showing Sven-Goran Eriksson the way yesterday": Left hand with index finger lifted up to the sky (like Augustus) right hand in the footballshorts, like masturbating in public, eyes fixed on his coach...
    My impression is very simple> This is nothing else than aggressive behaviour, a dominating, oppressive gesture - quite socially tolerated or even accepted.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I dont know about anyone else but I recon sometimes you get uncomfortable down there and need a little adjusting...

    heh

    One would hope noone was staring at that particular part of your body anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I think the argument needs to be taken back to the biological purpose of intercourse: reproduction. Given the importance of this outcome and the weight given to paternity, it's important to protect the exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. From this imperative comes the taboo against intercourse outside of an exclusive venue (i.e. in private). Without this social taboo we'd see a great deal more conflict. The taboo is enshrined in law as a matter of social contract. The law applies to everyone (even people who can't produce offspring e.g. homosexuals) for simplicity of enforcement.

    ReplyDelete

Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)