'Hear no evil' . Paisley Abbey gargoyle, via Wikimedia 

Everyone notices that the culture is drenched in sex.  What not many notice is that many of the people in the ocean are hypersensitive about reference to the water.

Although they are immersed in it, they can’t bear hearing it mentioned in certain ways.

I first noticed this in my classes.  We were talking one semester about natural teleology — the fact that certain purposes and meanings are built into us.  Though I hadn’t mentioned sex, a student asked how natural teleology related to a particular sexual behaviour.  Briefly, I explained that according to the classical tradition, every use of the sexual powers must respect both their procreative and unitive purposes.  But saying so was sexual content.  Someone complained.

On another occasion, in another class, we were talking about the First Amendment free speech jurisprudence.  Contrasting the Founders’ views with the views of some judges, I mentioned that by “speech,” the Founders did not mean every sort of “expression.”  For example, they wouldn’t have considered strip shows as speech, much less protected speech.  But saying so was sexual content.  Someone complained.

Then there was the day when students asked about the Obergefeld Supreme Court decision, which held that same-sex unions are marriages.  Briefly, I explained why thinkers in the classical natural law tradition would have disagreed.  But saying so was sexual content.  Someone complained.

Silly me, I used to think the complaints were coming from religious kids who thought sex should never be mentioned.  Though for myself I wouldn’t say “never,” modesty I get.  Some things shouldn’t be mentioned without strong necessity, for example the need to think clearly about a massive cultural change.  As St. Paul wrote, “it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”

But the sorts of objections I’ve mentioned are not based on modesty.  Complaints spring from seven causes.

  1. Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though what anyone does might matter.
  2. Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though the issue concerns sex, not equality.
  3. Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though there might be reasons for thinking one thing about it rather than another.
  4. Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though the traditional views about it may have merit.
  5. Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though it may be connected with procreation.
  6. Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though certain attitudes and behaviors about it may promote marital instability.
  7. Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though certain attitudes and behaviors about it may encourage abortion.

We are as prudish as a colony of Puritans, but our prudery is sham.  It is not for the sake of purity that we hold our hands to our ears.

J. Budziszewski is a Professor in the Departments of Government and Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin. This article has been republished  with permission from his blog, The Underground Thomist.  See also his new book on virtue ethics.

J. Budziszewski

Dr J Budziszewski is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin, where he also teaches courses in the law school and the religious studies department.  He specializes...