Monday, October 13, 2014

What’s procreation got to do with sex?

Have you seen this child lately?

Ask a Stupid Question

I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe me. I neglected to save the link, so I can’t prove it happened; I can’t even remember which blog it happened on (either Creative Minority Report or The American Conservative … I think). But, in the midst of a discussion a few years ago — was it about gay marriage? abortion? — an apparently intelligent and educated woman asked, in all seriousness, “Who said reproduction has anything to do with sex?”

I know — “You honestly expect us to believe that? Seriously? No one’s that dumb!”

Truly, most people, when they’re thinking about it, know that you don’t get pregnant from germs spread around the office, or from a bad batch of chicken or kale you bought at Walmart. Parents who don’t stop having children, like Damien and Simcha Fisher, can testify to this common knowledge from the many stale repetitions they get of the fake-hearty jab whenever a new baby is on the way: “You do know what causes that, don’t you?”. And God knows how many times I’ve heard other people jovially refer to the act as “making babies”, even when creation of a newborn was the last thing the participants wanted.

And yet ….

If you really pay attention to arguments concerning abortion, contraception, gay marriage and other pelvic issues, you do get the sense that many people believe reproduction to be incidental to sex, even accidental, rather than its biological raison d’être. You ever notice how many times they refer to penises and vaginas as if they were the only sexually distinct organs, as if testes and uteri had no known function to fill? And that they mention ovaries only to rhyme with “rosaries”?

In less than one hundred years, we have gone from accepting pregnancy as the natural consequence of sex to regarding ourselves entitled to sex without consequences … at least, those we don’t want just right now. So powerful is this sense of entitlement that we’re driven to treat reproduction as an unnatural “occasional side effect” of sex, or even as a disease. Reality must not be allowed to intrude upon our human right to get our freak on.

Reproduction is a Design Feature

But if it weren’t for the biological need of the species to procreate, most likely we wouldn’t be capable of sex in any meaningful sense or manner. If we didn’t procreate in the manner we do, we wouldn’t have the kind of sexual organs we have. (My tribute to the late Robin Williams: “If you were an amoeba, you’d split in two and say, ‘Was it good for me? Who knows?’”)

Even the pleasure and pair-bonding that we derive from sex aren’t biological “freebies”. Rather, the pleasure serves to encourage us to increase our chances of reproducing by copulating more often, while the pair-bonding helps to form stable nuclear families in which children can grow.

In turn, the human body is bifurcated into two sexes, and only two sexes, because two are all that are required to create the different combinations of gametes that make evolution possible. Alternate “genders” find no biological anchor for their ascribed existence save in the phenomenon of intersex disorders … which are in truth not “alternate sexualities”, but rather human reproduction frustrated by genetic malformation.

Testes, ovaries and uteri aren’t abnormal excrescences. Nor are they mere space-fillers and ballast, as useless as appendices (which, as it turns out, aren’t completely useless). Reproduction isn’t a disease in need of treatment or cure; it’s a natural and necessary process deserving thoughtful respect.

What You Want vs. What Your Body Wants

It’s usually at this point that the people I talk with about this get pokered up and say primly, even distastefully, “People have sex for other reasons, y’know.”

To which the only reasonable answer is: So what?

Nature doesn’t give a rat’s patoot why you’ve decided to go to bed with each other. From her perspective, it’s a mere rationalization; what Sigmund Freud chose to call the sex drive is in truth better called the procreative drive. That feeling you get when you’re strongly attracted to someone else comes from the oldest, most primitive part of your brain prompting you to make copies of yourself. From the standpoint of biology, all other “reasons” merely serve to get the procreative process in motion.

Is it not an optimal time for you to have children? Your body doesn’t care whether it is or not, just as it doesn’t care whether 11:30 at night is a good time to eat, or whether your office is an appropriate place to have gas. Again, procreation is the goal towards which your sexuality is driving; as far as your body is concerned, what you want out of sex can go fly a kite.

Ironically, chemicals and gadgets don’t free us from our bodies. Quite the contrary: they promise us zero to minimal repercussions from our voluntary enslavement … a promise on which, more often than you think, they renege. The effectiveness of artificial birth control has been oversold; just ask the 52% of Planned Parenthood’s customers who were on some kind of prophylaxis when they got pregnant.

“But I don’t want sex to be about having kids!” you wail. However, that misses the point. The point is that technology did not make reproduction irrelevant to sex; if anything, the technology acknowledges the primacy of procreation, if in a backhanded way. The estrogen-progestogen pill, the condom and the IUD are oddities in our pharmaceutical armory in that they exist to stop our bodies from doing what they’re designed to do.

Gender Insanity

Procreation is so obviously fundamental to sex and human sexuality that it’s hard to believe intelligent people will waste enough breath to deny it. And yet, some hours after I started this post, I learned from National Review Online that teachers in Lincoln, Nebraska — a mere sixty miles from my hometown of Omaha — are being advised to use “gender-inclusive” expressions such as “purple penguins” to call their students, and given handouts by the laughably-named Center for Gender Sanity “which explains to them that ‘Gender identity ... can’t be observed or measured, only reported by the individual.’”

Of course, nothing you can find on the Internet is so absurd that it can’t be exaggerated. But LPS’ curious way of refuting the NRO story was to pretend that there's a substantial difference between a requirement to use specific ridiculous expressions and a requirement to observe absurd general guidelines. Either way, the net result is the same: teachers bending over backwards to avoid calling boys and girls “boys” and “girls”. Oh, and parents and students weren’t supposed to know, because LPS doesn’t get involved in politics.

(By the way, Snopes.com loses some credibility as a myth-busting site for participating in this spin-fest.)

Having “divorced” sex from reproduction, we’re now on the path to “separating” sexuality from any physical reality. The key is the word “gender”, smuggled in from language studies to bolster the fantasy that sexual identity is purely subjective.

The error, however, lies in supposing that maleness and femaleness are rooted in cultural stereotypes rather than in physical realities. We do not form our organs according to some cultural imperative, but rather according to the combinations and operations of our genes. A man remains a man whether or not he conforms to his society’s expectations of males.

We aren’t “free” to ignore our physical realities. The various ways in which we misuse our bodies carry with them consequences, even penalties, that technology can at best only ameliorate and at worst compound. Linguistic gymnastics may change our perception of reality, but not the underlying fact of it; no amount of social-constructionist blather will dismiss the hypertension brought on by obesity, the mental damage done by drugs, or the emotional trauma brought on by abortion. So it is with reproduction and sexuality.

In a homily delivered at Oriole Park in 1995, St. John Paul II said, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” It’s only when we pursue the true and the good that we find authentic freedom, rather than when we engage in narcissistic self-indulgence and vain pretense.

… [W]e are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
—George Orwell, “In Front of Your Nose”, Tribune (22 March 1946), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (1968)