Tag Archives: sex

Contemplating Promiscuity

We’ve been taught that promiscuity is bad – especially for women. Men might be able to be dashing and exciting while putting it about, but anyone female-seeming who is sexually available and enthusiastic can find themselves slut shamed. They can find that if they are raped, people will say they were asking for it. Is there anything inherent to promiscuous behaviour that justifies this?

Obviously the more sexual partners you have, the higher the apparent risk of getting and spreading an std. However, unsafe sex in fairly committed relationships can also do that. People who aren’t sexually responsible don’t need to have a lot of partners to harm themselves or others by spreading disease. Only having a few partners does not guarantee your safety. Disease is not an inevitable consequence of promiscuity.

Promiscuous people might be seen as greedy, but so what if they are? Financial greed is killing the planet, sexual greediness actually won’t do that. The desire for pleasure isn’t harming anyone.

It’s not really the case that promiscuity will destroy society, even though that’s often the fear. Small family units are not the only way of having a stable society. The idea that small family units are the basis of society does a lot of harm to LGBTQ folk. It excludes anyone not breeding. There is a relationship between breeding and capitalism, and people who have sex for fun may not be busily making extra workers, or extra believers for your religion. The failure of people who have sex for fun – especially queer sex – to breed workers and believers is why capitalism and religion alike tend to frown on this.

Promiscuity is only a moral failing if you believe that monogamy is a moral virtue. There’s nothing inherent in either state that makes them good, unless you are obsessed with making ‘stable’ units for baby raising. See above. A promiscuous person can be honest, and honourable. They can enter into sex with clarity about their intentions and are not necessarily going to hurt anyone.

What promiscuity does, without a doubt is to undermine the idea that the goal of our lives, is a faithful one man one woman baby making unit. If there are people who seek sex for fun, no strings attached, it makes it harder to convince people that they should stay in unhappy and unsatisfying situations. Queer sex and acceptable promiscuity might have women questioning whether being units of production for capitalism and/or religion is really the point of their lives. Destroying the underpinnings of capitalism, patriarchy and religion would not actually destroy society, it would just requite us to cooperate with each other on different terms.

Sex is always about power. It’s about how much power your state has to dictate who you can have sex with and on what terms. There is power intrinsic to how much say your culture has over whether you are allowed to be comfortable with your own impulses. It shows us whether we live in freedom, or whether we live in the shadow of imaginary evils that have been pinned to activities that don’t actually hurt or harm people.

Promiscuity is morally neutral. So is monogamy, and polyamoury, and chastity and being non-sexual. These are not morally informed states of being, they’re just different ways of being in the world. The only moral bit in all of this is how we treat each other, and that includes whether we shame and hassle people for being different.

Being honest about sex

I know I’m not alone in finding that speaking openly and honestly about sex gets some weird and unhelpful responses. For me, this was most relevant during my time as an erotica author, and I’ve seen it happen for other erotica authors too. It happens for activists whose area of activism has a sexual aspect. It happens for people who are honest about being kinsters, fetishists and so forth.

What happens, simply, is that a significant number of people assume that because of the above, you are promiscuous. You will shag anything. You want to be sent photos of them, and their girlfriends, you want to hear what they have in mind to do with you. For a minority, your sexual honesty will lead to verbal abuse, based on their assumptions and accusing you of whatever it is they imagine you do. Sometimes it’s all about projection.

However, a lot of this hangs of some basic assumptions about human sexuality. The habit of dividing women into angels and whores, the prudish and the promiscuous is at least a few hundred years old. Apparently that idea can be rolled out to embrace anyone else who dares to be open. If you are pro-sex, if you are keen, if you make visible your enthusiasm, then you can only be an object for use. In truth, the most enthusiastically promiscuous of us have standards and boundaries. Wanting a lot of sex, even a lot of sex with a lot of people still doesn’t mean being up for anything with anyone. We all have boundaries, but ignoring those boundaries makes it much easier to use and abuse.

I find this odd, in terms of the logic. Quantity and quality are two very different issues. To be pro sex is generally to be looking for high quality sex, and for that you need people you can communicate with. Ideally people who know and understand you. Unless your kink is sex with strangers, then most kink is better served by established connections. Not necessarily a traditionally shaped romantic relationship, but something with duration. Random pick-ups are not (despite what books and films alike try to tell us) good for kinky sex.

One of the side effects of spending many years as an erotica author, was the number of unsolicited stories I heard about what people like to do, and want to do. Most people, I think, are far more sexual and far more sexually keen than they present in public. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a very private, personal thing after all, no one should feel obliged to wear their hearts, or their genitals on their sleeve. A percentage of humans are not sexual, but a larger percentage likes to shag, kinky or otherwise.

So, why this collective response to the people who are a bit more honest about it? Is it just a habit of thinking passed down from previous generations? Is it a matter of collective shame, a feeling that we should be ashamed of our sexual appetites, so anyone who isn’t must be… well, whatever you want them to be? Is it all about projection, of putting onto the person who is open all the things the person being weird about it would do if only they felt brave enough? Is it a lack of education that leads some people to feel that anyone honestly sexually active must be other things as well?

We have a lot of taboos around sex, and one of the most problematic ones has to do with communication. We don’t talk about it enough, and when we do, it’s seldom in useful ways. We’ll objectify each other’s bodies and project onto them, but we don’t hear each other. People who can speak honestly to each other about what they want and do not want are in a much better position when following through on that. People who can hear what other people want, people who can both give and withhold consent, and who can work with the consent or refusal of others have happier, healthier, safer lives. Shaming people who talk about sex by treating them as though they have no boundaries, is a way of silencing them. Silence creates misunderstandings, facilitates abusers,and reduces creativity and expression. We need to talk more.

Sex, Death and Blame

Trigger warnings – nothing graphic but the territory is unpleasant.

The idea that it might be appropriate to kill someone because of their sexual activities, or imagined sexual activities, has been with us for a long time. It may be one of humanity’s fundamental problems, that all too often we are happier to deal with violence and murder, than we are to let people get on with shagging people in the manner of their choosing. The control of female sexuality, and the eradicating of any LGBTQ expressions tend to be at the heart of this.

The need to respond to sex with death tends not to be a reaction to rapists, or child molesters (people talk about it, I grant you, but it tends to be all noise). So there’s no grounds here for suggesting that this sort of violence is born of moral outrage, there’s nothing logical or natural about it. Where adultery is more offensive than rape, where consenting adult sex is more offensive than child abuse, we’ve got something seriously wrong. This is not about disgust, clearly.

My theory is this. People who kill in response to other people’s sex lives, may be doing it as an act of control and keeping power over others. Another possible explanation is that some repressed urge is being projected outwards. How often do apparently homophobic politicians get caught with rent boys? It’s become a cliché. If we think about what other people do, and feel things that we can’t deal with, blaming the person who ‘caused’ that feeling is a way of not dealing with desire, or fear of the power of the other. People perhaps kill not to eradicate the other, but to try and eradicate the feelings in themselves that they are unable to own. And when you get down to it, that’s pretty fucking tragic.

For a long time now, many of us have been saying that a person’s body, their clothing, how they dance, how they walk – these are not invitations to sex. We need to get clearer that a person’s sex life is not an invitation to violence and death. It doesn’t matter how promiscuous and unfaithful a person is, there is no justification in this in killing them. Dump them if you need to, but that’s all the entitlement there is. It doesn’t matter who a person is shagging, who you think they shag, or what you think that means. It is not a motive. We have to do away with the idea that a ‘crime of passion’ is in any way a thing.

We have to name these hate crimes for what they are. It was painfully obvious around the Orlando shootings of 2016 that many people didn’t want to deal with this as a hate crime against gay men. So many people were so quick to talk about how mentally ill the killer was. If we don’t name these acts as what they are – acts of violence carried out by people who think that sex justifies death – there’s a kind of complicity. It’s a silence that enables. We’re going to have to keep saying this one: What people do consentingly with other people’s genitals is not a justification for violence at all ever under any circumstances. What people do unconsentingly to others with their genitals, or to the genitals of others is not justified, or acceptable, ever, at all, under any circumstances.

Sex in Paganism

Sex is life. It’s a simple truth that came up in a conversation recently. We are here because of sex, for many it’s a powerful, magical thing to hold sacred. Many of our deities, especially the female ones, are depicted in distinctly sexy ways, and the wheel of the year is often expressed as a narrative of reproduction.

I tend to resist all of this. Not least because sexual expression amongst humans is a lot broader than reproduction. Some of us are celibate, or unhappily single, some of us are non-sexual, and some of us have histories that make the celebration of sex pretty much impossible. How a person feels about their own body, their own desire, what scope they have for expression and acceptance – is all part of this mix. Some desires should not be expressed or accepted; anything that involves the non-consent of a participant.

Fertility is a tricky issue too. We could do with a collective slow down on human fertility. In many parts of the world, we’re living longer, child mortality is down, and our populations are expanding. Human fertility puts enormous pressure on the planet. We manipulate and control the fertility of other creatures – largely the mammals we eat – to work for our benefit, and we’ve changed wheat to the degree that it cannot naturally self seed – it cannot reproduce without our participation. Sex can be both one of the most natural, and one of the least natural things we get involved with.

Sex can be power – if you think about who is allowed to have sex, and who is allowed to enjoy it, the issues of power balance are considerable. For a lot of history, sex has been a part of male power over women, with ignorance and shaming reducing the scope for women to enjoy it. The ‘lie back and think of England’ advice from Queen Victoria offers us sex as something women must endure, not enjoy. Sex is incredibly political, and it’s only relatively recently that the law recognised that rape in marriage was even possible. A wedding ring, we’ve finally decided, is not consent to anything at any time forever. What does it say about us that for so much of human history we’ve been happy to make rape part of the institution of marriage while being horrified by women who express and enjoy their sexuality? And there are plenty of places in the world where that’s still happening.

Sex is a big concern for religions. Who is allowed to do it, and under what circumstances. If you look at religious laws, what it often comes down to is a way of controlling women’s sexual activities so that men can be confident about who the father is. Any religion that encourages people to deny the flesh for the sake of the afterlife tends not to be very keen on sex at all, and will tolerate it only between man and wife for the purposes of producing children. The pleasures of the flesh are often represented as being at odds with spirituality, so in a fair few traditions, dedicating to a spiritual life means celibacy.

The theme here for me, is allowing some people to dictate to other people what their relationship with sex ought to be. Whether it’s ‘you have to have sex to be initiated’ or ‘you cannot have the sex you want and be acceptable to god’ there are issues of control. We don’t have to have sex at Beltain. As Pagans, we should not feel obliged to do anything sexual, nor obliged not to. Consent is everything. If we’re not harming, or abusing someone else, then what we do, or don’t do, should be our own business. We can honour the energies of life without having to enact them. We can enact on our own terms should we choose to.

If sex is not celebratory and magical for you, then you need to start from where you are. Feeling pressured to react in a certain way is no kind of liberation, and if Paganism means to hold its head up as a sex-positive spirituality, we must also have room for those who say no.

Sexual Initiation

I’m hearing rumours of a man who takes young women out into the woods having convinced them that sexual initiation is a good way to go. Of course it isn’t, because like any shortcut to magical insight, spiritual understanding and personal growth, it doesn’t work. Short cuts don’t work, and anyone offering them is mostly interested in something else – sex and money being high on the list.

That said, sex has huge potential to be magical and transformative, intensely spiritual and sacred. It’s important to talk about when to say ‘yes’ to such an experience not least because this also makes the ‘no’ situations easier to recognise.

The reason that people use sex for magic, is the energy involved, and the openness. That energy depends on lust. You’re looking for something hot, intense and with enough trust to allow you to be open so that the second source of magical energy – pleasure- is also available to you. Without desire, a sexual encounter can feel sordid and mechanistic, and that will not deliver you any kind of transformative experience that you want to have. It will instead rob you of joy and dignity. Passion can have all kinds of interesting effects, but anyone who claims their genitals have special magic powers should be treated sceptically.

In a one off sexual encounter with someone you barely know and do not desire, you are not going to achieve the trust, intensity and depth of connection necessary for anything that could be of value to you, to happen. There is no Pagan path that requires you to have lacklustre sex with a stranger to get started. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply looking to get laid and no matter what mystic nonsense they claim, there is nothing of value in the mix for someone new to their path and seeking an awakening.

Sex magic and sexual initiation in the context of an established relationship can be powerful, magical acts. Love is a form of magic in its own right, with incredible power to open, inspire and transform, regardless of whether you end up shagging the object of your affections. If you want to say yes to sexual initiation, sex magic, physical intimacy for ritual purpose or anything of that shape with someone you know and love, that’s no one’s business but your own and the odds are good things will come of it. The only reason to say yes to sexual initiation from a stranger is because, having seen them in person, you fancy the pants off them such that rolling about in the woods seems very attractive indeed, with any other aspects of that experience coming a happy second.

No lust, no magic.

Doing things naturally (sex and paganism)

There’s a great deal we do fairly naturally – walking, talking, singing, swimming, making love, and a whole array of other things. So long as your body is equal to the task, there are many things humans do that come reasonably naturally. Most of us get at least some of them. However, having been through the learning process with these, and helped others learn, there’s a lot of distance between ‘natural to us’ and ‘automatic’. There is a lot of learning to do, even when the scope for that learning is pretty much hard wired.

I struggled with walking – born with my feet crushed against my shins, it was hard for me, and my ankles remain a tad wonky and unreliable. Afraid of water, I had a tough time learning to swim and the less said about bicycles the better. Skipping did not come naturally to me, nor did throwing and catching balls. Everyone’s list will be different, but all of us struggle with something.

I’ve taught people to sing, and I’ve written erotica, which is a genre in part for exchanging knowledge and insight about sex. I learned a great deal from reading erotica, too. Things I might never have figured out by exploration. Perhaps most usefully, I learned about the sheer diversity of human feeling and experience, the breadth of desire, the commonality. I learned it is best not to assume too much about what anyone else wants, and a damn sight more productive to ask well ahead of time. From erotica, I learned to talk about sex as a way of finding out whether I wanted to get someone into bed in the first place. I suspect this spared me a lot of heartache and disappointment.

Much the same can be said of Paganism. A big part of what makes Paganism itself is that it is about our natural responses to our natural experiences. You shouldn’t need books, or a priesthood or a set of instructions, you should be able to just get out there and do it. Except, very little works that way for humans. Most of us have to learn how to even breathe well.

I’m not keen on situations where people tell me what to do, how to think and what to feel – sex and Paganism are much alike in that regard, for me. However, with both, I gain a great deal from hearing other people’s insights. I get ideas, find things I want to try, recognise things I need to stay the hell away from, and generally save myself a lot of time. I get to make new and different mistakes rather than the ones other people have already tried and tested. I also get the reassurance of something to help me place my wider experience in a useful context.

I’ve mentored Pagans and Druids for many years, and the most commonly occurring theme is the need to know whether what your doing would make any sense to anyone else. Is this Paganism? Am I a Druid? The desire to do it right, do it well, and in a way other people would recognise and respect, also seems to come naturally to us, and without the sharing of experiences, it’s hard to tell. Am I any good in bed? Are my desires normal? Am I any good in ritual? Is my poetry a bit shit? (Rhetorical questions, I’m not looking for answers!)

So, when I hear that Paganism should come naturally and that we should not need books, courses, teachers, experts… I remember that walking did not come naturally to me. I remember all the people I’ve worked with who were sure they could not sing. Just because we can work it all out from scratch doesn’t mean we should be obliged to, and for me, the essence of community comes in

Sacred Sexuality

In many religions, sex is a dirty word. Sexual activity is only tolerated in carefully defined relationships (ie heterosexual marriage) and for the purposes of reproduction. I can’t begin to imagine what this does to a person who buys into it. The human body, in its capacity for sensuality, affection, physical love and pleasure is a thing of wonder. It must be awful to live in a body that you think is shameful and dirty, with urges your religion tells you are sinful.

Mainstream culture seems to have come up with a backlash to repressive attitudes, which consists of turning sex into yet another cheap commodity. It’s still sordid, still filthy. The way adverts sexualise everything, the availability of images of all kinds, the exposed breasts that feature on page three… this doesn’t feel like a healthy and empowering attitude to sex either. It’s just another thing you can get with enough money and the right consumer goods, to be thrown away afterwards like the other disposable commodities in your life.

What both approaches have in common is a total lack of respect: For the self, the other, and for sex. I’ve had far too much first-hand experience of this one. There are too many people out there for whom another human being is just a warm means to gratification. Something to use and discard. A way to scratch an itch. The desire to get a physical release without having to be vulnerable, emotionally engaged and therefore able to be hurt, is a terrible thing. The desire not to know what the other person feels or needs, tuning that out to make selfish wants the only consideration, is in itself a denigration of sex.

We might talk about consent, but based on personal experience I think a lot of people don’t really know what that means. I didn’t. Coercion is not consent. Fear and bribery do not lead to consent. Ignorance of intention, intoxication or unconsciousness are not consent. How unconnected with a person do we have to be, not to know, confidently, whether they want this or not? But if we don’t talk about it, or don’t want to be told to stop, we won’t know. One in three women will be raped, at some time in their lives, and most likely by someone they knew.

We tend to still think of sex as something a man does to a woman, missing out all the other available combinations, and assuming a one sided balance of power. How many songs and quotes go ‘make love to you’ and how many say ‘make love with you’? Or similar. It is a world of difference. Whether you get to be a passive receiver of someone else’s frustrations, or actively engaged in a process between two (or possibly more) people makes a lot of odds. Whether you can speak about feelings, needs and responses, or have your behaviour constrained in some way. Whether you come to sex as an equal, or as a commodity.

Sacred sensuality begins with respect. It embraces vulnerability. A person not willing to get their soul naked really should think twice about taking their pants off. If all you want is a quick physical release, no strings attached, there are ways of sorting that out by yourself without inflicting it on someone else. If you enter a situation with another person, it should be all about the sharing, of whatever you end up doing between you.

Druids talk a lot about relationship. We talk about honour. We’re pro freedom of expression, and diversity. These are ideas that need to be in the world, to counter the long history of sexual repression and to counter the equally destructive mainstream response. Too often still, our culture treats women purely as sexual objects, with our sexual attractiveness the only thing granted any importance. We do it to our sporting heroines, our female politicians, actresses… anyone in the public eye. It’s not enough that a woman be good, clever or talented, she must also present as sexually appealing. I’m very tired of it. Until we stop assuming that women should be viewed as sex objects, that statistical probability of rape will stay with us. There needs to be change.

Bleeding Nuisance

Of course I’m breaking a bit of a taboo by even mentioning this, but yes. I’m bleeding. Last time I put up a blog post someone who claimed to be Pagan piled in to say that bleeding is private and to suggest I shouldn’t be talking about it. I’ve been told off for being honest with my son from an early age about menstruation. (The net result is a well adjusted young man with a non-squeamish and compassionate attitude to the process, so sue me!) I’ve seen graffiti scrawled onto Mooncup adverts about how gross a moon cup must be. There, on our screens ‘sanitary products’ demonstrate their ability to soak up a blue chemical. No, we must not talk about blood. Unless it’s spurting in some violent arc in a movie scene.

I shall persist in being a bleeding nuisance on this topic, and I have no qualms about offending people. Not only is bleeding natural for a lot of us, it’s essential to the on-going existence of humanity. No blood, no babies. Rejecting the blood is one of the many ways in which our culture tries to deny what is animal about us. The human animal bleeds, shits, farts and pisses. Every time we try to pretend that isn’t so, we deny that we are a part of nature. We are messy, visceral beings. Our natural bodies produce smells which we teach each other to hide with chemicals. As though smelling of fakeness, of laboratory product is more attractive than smelling of skin and sweat.

Menstruation effects women in all kinds of ways, but we are wary of talking about it. PMT, the sometimes (but not always) debilitating effects of cramps have been used against us for far too long. We are told these things make us unstable, unreliable, unsuitable for that working world of men and power and importance. We lie. We hide it. We deny one of the most basic aspects of our femininity in our (theoretically) breeding years so that no one will treat us as inferior. Frankly, that sucks. I bleed. Frequently I hurt, often it makes me cry. It does another thing, too. It makes me honest. Most of the month I might be able to tolerate the bullshit, the stupid, the useless and put a brave face on. Bleeding makes me intolerant of all that stuff. It’s not a crazy time, and in my past it was often the one fleeting bit of sanity when I could be honest with myself about what was wrong. Somehow, the hormones give me permission to cry and generally I find that hard.

How much easier would life be if the blood wasn’t embarrassing or shameful? How much difference would it make if acknowledging the cycle did not run the risk of inviting neo-Victorian attitudes? What would it be like to live in a culture where being female was not something you had to hide and apologise for on a monthly basis? But no, we have to put on a brave face and keep going as normal. I honestly think that if men had something comparable going on as well, the collective attitude would be totally different. Instead, bleeding is ‘unclean’, it needs sanitising with sanitary products. We aren’t supposed to talk about it, because it’s ‘gross’ we’re just supposed to pretend it isn’t happening and carry on as normal.

I’ve encountered men, (plural) for whom vaginal sex during menstruation is distasteful, and others who find partners aren’t interested when bleeding, but who expect to get laid anyway, and think rear entry should be on offer to tide them over. That this whole attitude casts the female body as so much orifice for gratification, doesn’t seem to matter to them. And here’s a thing, think about it. Blood is distasteful, but bottoms…. Hmm. What interesting double standards we have as a species! I’m very glad to say I don’t have that kind of stupid in my life any more, beyond the occasional, infuriating anecdote.

Bleeding. Proud to bleed. Grateful to be able to bleed, to be fertile, and female and alive. Unashamedly a bleeding nuisance.

What nature does

In the comments recently, Alex observed that nature is sex, violence and death and went on to make some suggestions about how we might relate to it, ourselves and the fluffy safety of facebook, off the back of that. I’ve pondered this at length. I took that ponder down the towpath last night, and saw a fox in a field of lambs. I stopped to watch. The lambs were really curious about the fox, two of them started trotting about after it. The fox moved away from them. Nobody died. Of course ultimately everything dies, and things are dying all the time, and eating each other, and breeding. But this is a fragment of the story.

I’ve watched swans mating. The seconds of that were far shorter than the strange, almost courtly dance that came afterwards, and are nothing compared to the long weeks of sitting on eggs that will follow, and the months of teaching cygnets how to be swans. Trees spend quite a lot of time having sex – and usually attempt to get it on with my nasal passages for good measure. They have their cycles of dying back and growing, but what trees seem to spend most of their time doing, is sunbathing.

I spend a lot of time outdoors and have direct contact with wild and natural things on pretty much a daily basis. Nature sleeps when it can, and a lot of it sunbathes. I see social interactions, and yes, I see fish die in the beaks of cormorants, and small birds hunting for insects. I saw the pigeon the otters got, or at least, what was left of it and I saw a gull take a baby coot. Comparing the moments of drama, violence, sex and death to the hours of very little happening leads me to believe that while sex, death and violence are part of nature, there’s a lot of other stuff going on too.

One of those things, is play. I’ve watched the buzzards riding the thermals, drifting up into the sky until they are almost invisible flecks. They can’t hunt from up there. It serves no practical purpose. I listen to the dawn chorus most mornings, to the blackbirds singing at sunset and the settling sounds from the rookery at night. Communication, expression – there may be things about group bonding and territory there, but it’s a big part of their lives. Maybe it ultimately serves the sex and death agenda. Or maybe what the sex and death get us, is opportunities to sunbathe, sing, and ride the winds. I’ve watched the gulls ride on the wave behind the Severn bore, and get airbourn in high winds apparently for the express purpose of being blown about. I’ve watched the huge flocks of starlings wheel across the sky at twilight, and the water voles diving exuberantly into the canal because they could, not because it was practical.

Reducing the world down to the basic mechanics of the selfish gene busily reproducing itself and ousting competitors misses a lot of what nature does. Some of nature is co-operative. Some of it is playful. Most of it likes to lounge about doing very little, when it can. Spending a lot of time with the wild things, sex, death and violence look like a tiny part of the whole, and aren’t always the most important bits. I say this because I believe that whatever you are doing right now has to count as one of the most important bits. However, nature programs, with their emphasis on drama and desire for narrative are terribly prone to giving misleading shows of sex, death and violence. I can see how watching a lot of nature on the TV might leave a person with a distorted sense of what ‘nature’ actually means. We need to get away from the human storytelling with its tabloid obsessions, and get out amongst the trees, where the birds are singing, things are growing, and there is life being lived, not just the bits that go at either end of life.

Sex, politics and religion

Sexual activity is about as private and personal as it gets. Yet, when you think about it, this is also the area of our lives religions are most keen to interfere with. The rhetoric of no sex outside marriage, no gay sex, no contraception, no sex for fun only for procreation, lust as sin, and so forth has a huge impact on countless lives around the world. The same monotheistically derived ideas underpin a lot of ostensibly secular laws as well. Who you can marry, whether you can access contraception and abortions, what happens if you have a child out of wedlock, whether rape can be legally deemed to occur inside marriage. If you live in a country where rape victims are punished as adulterous… you don’t have much ownership of your own body.

Underpinning this is a fear. You can hear its echoes in every right wing rant about ‘family values’ and the pretty irrational belief that somehow it is family units that make a state viable. The fear is that if we could all have sex with whoever we pleased, we’d run amok. Women especially. We’d be doing it in the streets, for Heaven’s sake. Anything short of a clampdown, is an invitation to licentiousness, orgy and depravity, according to some people. And they say it as though they think depravity is a bad thing. Which is ironic when you consider how often such vocal figures are caught out by their own hypocrisy, practicing what they preach against.

Sex is natural. It underpins nature, in fact. Very little would happen without reproduction. Yet as a species we’ve evolved in some interesting ways. We have far higher sexual drives than we have reproductive capacity, which suggests we’ve evolved a sexuality that is all about pair bonding, not reproduction. It could be argued our sexuality exist for social bonding. It takes a long time to raise a human child, and the pair bonding aspect of sex is an important contributor to that process.
Out there in the rest of nature, many models for sexual behaviour exist, and most of them find human parallels. The harem is much like the herd. Swans are monogamous, robins are adulterous, some creatures mate with whoever happens to be convenient at the time. Some males impregnate and depart, some stick around and help. Nature has no one right answer to sex and relationship. Human nature is the same.

Why are we so afraid that sexual freedom would equate to the breakdown of civilised society? Well, it undermines patriarchy, for a start. The ownership of women, control of fertility and thus traceability of male lines of descent is all very key here. Back before DNA testing, controlling your women was the only way to be sure whose offspring you were rearing. Listen to the right wing folk and you’ll think they imagine that, if our young people were allowed to find out about gay sex, they’d be so delighted by the wonders of it that they’d give up on being heterosexuals and the species would come to an end. I have to wonder what goes on inside some people’s heads.

Does all moral behaviour depend on carefully restricted and socially controlled sexual behaviour? I don’t think that for a moment. How many people you have sex with is far less a measure of your moral character than is how you have treated those people. How enthusiastic you are about sex is not a measure of depravity, just an aspect of your nature. Some of us are innately more enthusiastic than others, and none of the differences deserve to be stigmatised.

As a Druid it makes me really sad, listening to the new archbishop of Canterbury saying its ok to be gay so long as you don’t act on it. We need to get the politics out of sex, for a start. Anything that happens between consenting adults, is no one else’s business. Only when consent is compromised or harm done does the rest of society have a duty to intercede. We need to let go of these ideas about harming your soul, and sin. Fine if you want to apply it to yourself, that’s your own, private business. It is not an unassailable truth you have a right to force upon others.

Religions are as obsessed with controlling and regulating sexual behaviour as governments seem to be. And yet, none of these manifestations of power has managed to stamp out rape, or child abuse, or prostitution, or sexually transmitted diseases, or any of the other genuine ills that go alongside irresponsible and criminal sexual behaviour. Oh no. Internationally, religion seems more interested in stopping willing gay people from shagging each other than it is in stopping adults from abusing children, or women from being forced into sexual subservience. That’s so wrong.

There’s a power aspect to sex. Who has the right to do what, to whom, is a political issue and a power issue. Of course there’s religion muddled up in it. The whole thing needs a radical rethink, with the crimes that cause harm being taken a lot more seriously, and the ‘sins’ that arguably harm no one getting a lot less time and attention.