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Stanton Peele

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Why Sex Scandals Matter

Posted: 04/07/10 09:48 AM ET

As Tiger Woods returns to the PGA tour at Augusta, as Jesse James engages (or did he?) in treatment for his sexual addiction, and as the Vatican contests calls for further clarification of its attitudes towards priests molesting children and Church cover-ups, we may wonder, "Why bother about all these sordid matters? Isn't it better to ignore the underside of life?"

No, we're not better off ignoring these things. Western civilization -- and the United States in particular -- has an elaborate set of Christian sexual rules that we attempt to teach children. (Not that the Jewish or Muslim sexual codes are better or less duplicitous.) There are increasing signs that we are failing to convince the young to adopt traditional sexual mores, as the age for first intercourse trends earlier and earlier in adolescence.

What do our mores comprise? Are they the usual behavior for adults? Or are they standard behavior except for people with the resources to violate them at will? We may go further and ask whether these standards are unrealistic, perhaps even unhealthy. Demanding that people follow rules they don't seem to be able to comport their behavior with is dangerous to their mental health and to society.

It is hard to have lived through the never-ending sexual escapades of politicians -- particularly conservative, moralistic ones like David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, John Ensign -- and cultural icons like Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock, and Bruce Springsteen (yes, even the Boss!) while avoiding the insight that prominent people just don't follow the scripts the rest of us are taught.

Who made these scripts up, anyway? Did God really decide that men should rule the world and that sex was only for procreation? Or did some men come up with that -- and decide to ignore among their own the rules they promulgate and enforce for others? Examining the sexual exploits of so many priests - perverted and predatory as these often are - along with the nonchalance with which the Catholic hierarchy treated them might convince us the latter is true.

The history of sex and Christianity has a special chapter in America. This is Mormon polygamy, practiced primarily by priests. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church, commanded polygamy as a requirement for salvation. Smith had multiple partners, and took a 14-year-old wife, but he kept the practice secret. His successor Brigham Young had 56 wives and 56 children. This tradition is carried on by the likes of Warren Jeffs and while illegal, it is in fact rarely prosecuted.

Do Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock and David Vitter and Larry Craig and John Ensign and Bruce Springsteen promote their virtuousness and the faithfulness of their marriages as a shuck, one believed by only the naive and stupid -- like you and me? And is our goal to make sure that our children buy this claptrap just like we did?

It could be that I am simply taking this whole moral code thing too seriously. The goal of teachings about sex may be nothing more than a way to provide content for Sunday School text books, or whatever they use to brainwash kids nowadays. Perhaps only the horribly out-of-touch imagine this rigmarole is to be taken seriously. But, in that case, it is our obligation to protect the innocent by eliminating the charade.

P.S.: Question I most would have liked to hear asked at Tiger Woods' Augusta press conference: "Tiger, if you've really changed, do you regret being so cheap with your mistresses?"

 
 
 

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