Monday, May 25, 2009

The curious case of male sexuality and religion

Before I talk about any empirical evidence, indulge me in an anecdote, would you?

For about four years of my college career, I belonged to an all-male pop a capella group by the name of Higher Ground. Beyond any doubt, what held the group together was music, but I was always a bit of an odd duck. When I first joined the group, the core of it was from nearby Hickory, and most of the guys were fans of country music. Mainly country boys, but by the time I left, the founding old guard had all gone, and it had shifted from that to the more generic brand, the kind of fella who thinks about joining a fraternity.

Pigeonhole and stereotype away if you like. There were some interesting characters, some of which I liked and some of which I didn't, but the end result is that Higher Ground was the most "conservative" group I belonged to on campus, and also one of the more religious, at least nominally, and I learned a few interesting things.

One was that Campus Crusade for Christ meetings were apparently one of the best places to score. That was a surprise to me; less surprising was the constant locker-room talk. A very few were genuinely intensely religious, more interested in theology, and those few were willing to put sex aside until marriage. The rest? Conservative or not, religious or not, college was all about getting laid. Expressly and explicitly.

And it's from that experience, and the experience of liberal students who were very cautious about sex, that I started to wonder what exactly is going on here. There's no question in my mind that being told not to have sex until marriage over and over again should reduce sexual activity, but why is it that only some men (far fewer than women, it seems, and now I've gone and introduced empirical evidence) respond to this message, while others come out of the Southern Baptist church thinking that sex before marriage is sinful yet pursuing promiscuity as if it were the path into heaven?

Some of it surely is the traditional myth of hyperactive male sexuality, propagated in some abstinence-only programs and passed on unthinkingly by those who do not critically examine sexuality; but I cannot help but think that something else is involved. And what stands out is that in this day and age, more than ever, conservative young males fear being labeled as homosexual - and nothing is as effective at silencing locker-room backstabbers' quiet implications of homosexuality than having sex with a woman.

So now, whenever people jabber about men being unable to control their desires, I think about homophobia, and how it helps keep alive the idea that sex is some commodity that men demand and women supply.

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