Title: "Fornication" and Modern Sexual Ethics Credit: Craig Young Comment Sunday 14th May 2006 - 12:00pm1147564800 Article: 1236 Rights
Why does the Christian Right obsess about sex so much, whether lesbian, gay or non-reproductive recreational straight sex? Can new historical research enlighten us? According to the late French (gay) social theorist Michel Foucault, Ancient Greece and Rome had different ideas about the ethical conduct of sexuality than the rest of us. I'm not talking about their attitudes toward male same-sex liaisons, but their general approach to regulating sexualities, which was largely through DIY philosophical tomes about what constituted ethical behaviour toward one's sexual partners. One chose a philosophical school and reflected on its application to their everyday lives. There was no such thing as 'legislation' against particular sexual practices or social identities, in the modern sense of the word. To be sure, Plato condemned 'excess' and urged 'moderation' within his Symposium, but turned heterosexist in his later Laws. However, if one takes his earlier writing, there is general concern about eating, drinking and having sex 'excessively,' to the exclusion of one's other social roles and responsibilities. There's merit in this approach, and while Ancient Greece had highly restricted social roles for women outside the sex industry (hetairae), Ancient Rome allowed elite Roman women more social freedom, and although denied the franchise or right to stand for elected office, there were many strong Roman matrons who had considerable influence over civic and imperial life. While Rome did have anti-adultery legislation, it was regularly flouted and disobeyed. Evern the Emperor Augustus couldn't control Julia, his wild daughter, when she did so. Can we learn from this? In contemporary western societies, decriminalisation of male homosexuality and abortion law reform have led to recognition that legislation and enforced alien moral codes that compulsorily ban gay sex or restrict women's reproductive choices are unsustainable. Feminists have produced religious and secular models of what feminist ethical reproductive decision making for continued pregnancy or choosing abortion might be like. In the case of the gay male community, our chief ethical focus is on safe sex. Much like Ancient Greeks, we have particular models for ethical conduct in bed, such as avoiding risk through responsible use of condoms to avoid exposure to HIV or STIs. Although we might not think it through, our safe sexual behaviour refects certain values about ourselves and our partner. It says that we're responsible, mature people who are willing to act ethically to avoid exposure to life-threatening or painful disease risks. No-one legislated that, it's the product of our own DIY gay community ethics. As in Ancient Greece, thoughtful and conscientous ethical behaviour pays dividends. If you're careful and responsible, then safe sex is hot sex, and getting wasted or drunk is not okay. Remember, all things in moderation? Unfortunately, this democratic model of sexual ethics was later subverted. Under later Roman stoicism, there was an increasing focus on the need to encourage reproductive heterosexuality to the exclusion of all else. When the Apostle Paul and Emperor Constantine came along, so did legislative compulsion. The stage was set for official penalties against consensual adult sex and women's reproductive choice. All non-reproductive and non-heterosexual sex was labelled 'fornication' and so began ongoing battles against this unrealistic blanket ban, which later incorporated a scotch-taped map of particular preconceptions about gay male sex (bestiality and straight sex with contraception), labelled 'sodomy.' So much for Christian Right ravings about alleged sexual anarchy and social disorder. Neither women or gay men need unrealistic prescriptive legal limits. Women are quite able to ethically choose when faced with problem pregnancies, and we are able to make effective ethical choices to have safe sex and protect ourselves and our sexual partner. State-enforced 'morality' doesn't deserve to be called that if it obstructs real ethical maturity. Recommended: Catherine Edwards: The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1993. Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality 2: The Uses of Pleasure: London: Penguin: 1984. Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality 3: Care of the Self: London: Penguin: 1986. Kathy Gaca: The Making of "Fornication": Berkeley: University of California Press: 2003. Craig Young - 14th May 2006    
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