Why The Left Keeps Contradicting Itself About What Kind Of Sex Is ‘Natural’

Why The Left Keeps Contradicting Itself About What Kind Of Sex Is ‘Natural’

The left is simple: When nature is a barrier to total sexual gratification, then it is an obstacle to be conquered. But when nature enables gratification, then it must be sanctified and obeyed.
Adam Ellwanger
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Scarlett Johanssen, a staunch advocate of Me Too, announced in 2017 that she sees monogamy as unnatural. In the past five years, CNN online has published at least three articles that reject monogamy, asking “Could opening your relationship to others benefit you and your partner?” Needless to say, CNN also celebrates Me Too.

The left-wing opinion site Vox recently debuted a Netflix show entitled “Vox Explained.” The first episode? An explanation of why monogamy is unnatural. Despite the scientific veneer of these explanations, make no mistake: these are ethical claims masquerading as scientific ones. What they really say is that monogamy is bad, because it is “unnatural.”

These media releases are essentially advertisements for polygamy, which is curious: Why does CNN care about my sexual satisfaction? Why does Vox care how many people I am sleeping with?

This desire to return to a sexual state of nature is odd. Over the past 50 years, the cultural left has pursued what they call “sexual liberation,” and their biggest successes in this quest are rooted in the assumption that nature shouldn’t restrict the satisfaction of sexual desire. Birth control pills are one example of this victory over nature. Breast implants and Viagra are other examples. Gender reassignment surgery shows that even the medical industry is convinced that nature must be subordinated to the spiritual realm of feelings and sensibilities.

Why, then, do progressives call for us to affirm the natural order in other aspects of sex? Well, it’s because they really don’t care about nature one way or the other. When nature is a barrier to total sexual gratification, then it is an obstacle to be conquered. And when nature enables gratification, then it must be sanctified and obeyed. What really matters is that everyone gets off.

That’s all well and good. But it doesn’t make sense for advocates of Me Too to be calling for a return to the natural sexual ethic.  Me Too rightly affirms the central importance of consent in sex. It also demands a fairly strident level of decorum from men’s interactions with women.

For example, the myth that 20 percent of college women will be sexually assaulted in the course of their studies is based on Obama-era government research that classified an “unwanted kiss” (among other adolescent misunderstandings) as a “sexual assault.” Ironically, this demand for restraint from all men derives from a conservative position. But in contrast to their progressive counterparts, most conservatives understand that human nature isn’t so decorous or restrained.

The animal world gives us an often shocking and gory glimpse of sex in a state of nature. Those insisting that monogamy is unnatural while celebrating the puritanical sexual ethic of Me Too are calling for men to restrain themselves at the same time they are calling for lifting restraints on sexual desire. That’s a troubling contradiction.

A return to a sexual state of nature is a really terrible idea. If the left ever achieves total sexual liberation, I’m not sure that they will like what they see. A close observation of nature shows that it isn’t much concerned with consent.

So we have to ask: if we revised our sexual ethics in accord with the demands of nature, would those ethics conform to other progressive values? For example, in our natural state, we are particularly drawn to external beauty and strength. So it follows that under a natural sexual ethic, the beautiful and strong would have greater access to sexual gratification. By the logic of contemporary progressive politics, then, it seems that beauty and strength are forms of “unearned privilege.”

Do we really want a sexual ethic that legitimizes privilege? One of the great things about monogamy is that, in theory, there is a partner for everyone. A return to a sexual state of nature would ensure that some people have more partners than others. Put differently, normalized polygamy would violate another ideal that both conservatives and progressives hold dear: equality of access and opportunity.

Make no mistake: the push against monogamy is intended to lay the groundwork for another redefinition of marriage in Western society. The commitment of left-leaning media to the polyamorous project shows why CNN and Vox care about my sex life. As they did very effectively in the years leading up to the legalization of gay marriage, these outlets are working to change public opinion.

During the debates over gay marriage, advocates steadfastly avoided one of the most difficult philosophical questions related to the issue: If gender and sex are not valid restrictions for who can marry whom, why is number? Why can’t four consenting adults share one legally recognized marriage?

It is telling that major left-wing media outlets refrained from attacking monogamy until after Obergefell v. Hodges cemented the legal status of gay marriage. One wonders: if monogamy is unnatural, isn’t marriage unnatural? Even in its plural forms, marriage nearly always functions to impose limitations on the sexual availability of others.

In deciding Obergefell, the Supreme Court missed an opportunity to get government out of the marriage business for good, and by extension, to check state encroachment on what is historically a religious institution. The inexorable leftward march of American progressives is obvious in this irony: less than a decade after LGBT activists sought and won the ability to marry, progressives have moved on toward dismantling that victory via a broad attack on monogamy, and by extension, marriage itself.

Maybe monogamy is unnatural. I’m not a scientist. But what I do know as a student of human nature is that the true liberation of sexual desire through the abolition of all societal restrictions on sex wouldn’t give us a life of blissful fulfillment. It is more likely that it would be an unequal, violent, coercive mess of blood and other bodily fluids. So, I’m thankful for our monogamous norms. Even if they’re “unnatural.”

Adam Ellwanger is an associate professor of rhetoric at the University of Houston – Downtown. He plays guitar and is a member of Heterodox Academy.

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