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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Screwing Abstinence?

So it turns out that the Washington branch of NARAL is hosting a "Screw Abstinence" party. And predictably, conservative critics are having a field day with it.

It's moments like this that make me cringe. Is this what liberalism has come to? The heir of Brown, of MLK, of freedom riders, is . . . a "screw abstinence" party? Stop this train, I think we took a wrong turn somewhere back there.

It's one thing to note the real deficiencies in abstinence-only sex education. It's another thing altogether to put on inflammatory events that will only serve to fuel the damning critique that liberal opposition to regulations on sex (including sex ed, abortion, gay rights, and so on) stems entirely from the out-of-control libidos of liberal advocates. (See also this critique by The Stranger).

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on July 13, 2005 at 05:20 PM in Kaimi Wenger, Law and Politics | Permalink

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And what if you take the position that "out-of-control-libido" is an incoherent concept (provided all concerned consent)? Why shouldn't opposition to regulations on sex be based on the desire for sex? After all, conservative opposition to regulations on business is based on the desire for money, and at least acquisition of sex, rather than money, is mutually beneficial for all concerned...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 13, 2005 5:46:54 PM

That liberals' views on "sex ed, abortion, gay rights and so on" are caused by their "out-of-control libidoes" is a "damning critique"? I would have said it was a ludicrous ad hominem smear. It is not a "critique" of any kind.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 13, 2005 5:57:29 PM

I object on an idealistic level and on a pragmatic level.

As a card-carrying liberal, I resent the idea that liberal values are all about sex. My opposition to certain regulations (including regulations on sex) stems from deeper values such as respect for privacy and bodily integrity. These -- not sex -- are bedrock liberal ideals. (Everyone wants to have sex -- you can't get much normative mileage out of a desire for sex). Other values include respect for human rights and for the rule of law, and tolerance for others.

Liberal values aren't about "screwing abstinence." They're about respecting others' privacy and choices and tolerating others' sexual choices -- whether those choices be sexual activity or abstinence, heterosexuality or homosexuality.

On the pragmatic level, I don't like the casually equation of liberal values with sex because it facilitates the quick dismissal of serious liberal ideas by middle America. Why set up a caricature of the left, which is going to alienate a large swath of the populace? For better or worse, many Americans believe that a sexually conservative approach -- that is, sex only within long-term committed relationship -- is a good idea.

So why tell those people, in effect, that they can go fuck off? If NARAL doesn't want people in its tent unless they believe in screwing abstinence, it's needlessly excluding a lot of people who might otherwise support its cause.

Posted by: Kaimi | Jul 13, 2005 10:57:36 PM

Liberals spend too much time worrying about what conservatives will think of them, and your concern about "fueling" the "critique" you mention is a strong example of this. Conservatives do not worry that liberals will think their views on sex ed, abortion, gay rights and so on are caused by conservative advocates' impotence and frigidity, for example. They are right not to, for obvious reasons. We should have no parallel worries. If Naral Washington can raise money by scorning a silly and delusional approach to preventing teenage sexual activity, more power to them.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 14, 2005 1:05:31 AM

Liberals spend too much time worrying about what conservatives will think of them, and your concern about "fueling" the "critique" you mention is a strong example of this. Conservatives do not worry that liberals will think their views on sex ed, abortion, gay rights and so on are caused by conservative advocates' impotence and frigidity, for example. They are right not to, for obvious reasons. We should have no parallel worries. If Naral Washington can raise money by scorning a silly and delusional approach to preventing teenage sexual activity, more power to them.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 14, 2005 1:06:25 AM

I take it Kaimi's point is not necessarily that liberals should care what conservatives think, but that they should care what other liberals think. (Indeed, any group vying for political power should probably care what people generally think of it; this is helpful to acquiring political power in our system. But note that caring is not the same as conceding...)

Posted by: Will Baude | Jul 14, 2005 8:56:04 AM

But, truth be told, isn't it obvious why NARAL would want to "screw abstinence"? Most people are, at best, uncomfortable with abortion, and certainly aren't interested in NARAL's mission (i.e., agitating for constitutional protection for unlimited abortion-on-demand). But there is one group of people (including men) who would be especially driven to support NARAL's mission: People who "screw abstinence," and who are driven to support abortion simply out of personal self-interest. E.g., the guy who thinks, "My goodness, I have to keep abortion legal at all costs, or else what will I do if my mistress becomes pregnant!"

In other words, the more that NARAL can persuade people to "screw abstinence," the more it will increase its natural base of support. Not a smart move for the wider Democratic Party, but it's logical from NARAL's point of view.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jul 14, 2005 10:56:37 AM

Kaimi, you are right on the principle, and NARAL is demonstrating (once again) that it has a tin-ear. I'm sure this was thought up by a just-graduated college student, who remembers back to his or her "screw" parties ("screw your roomate" being the classic) from undergraduate days. (Or maybe, looking at Google, it is only Yalies who did this?)

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Jul 15, 2005 8:26:49 AM

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