Procreation, and Natural Non-procreation.

Clifford Longley’s Tablet column on Archbishop Nichols’ thoughts on the need to “explore” afresh issues of sexuality and homosexuality is to be heartily welcomed. However, as we consider the lessons (if any) from the “broad book of nature”, it is really important that we consider the broad book as found in empirical evidence, not the narrow book of theological imaginations. In his own reflection, Longley repeats the claim that “alone of mammals, humans engage in sexual intercourse irrespective of whether the female is fertile or not?”. This claim, that other mammals only engage in sexual intercourse when the female is fertile, is often made. It is however, entirely without foundation. This assertion is beloved of moralists, but it is as false as the other often made claim that homosexual activity is unique to humans.

Bruce Bagemihl, in Biological Exuberance, provides details of many hundreds of animal species, from all branches of the animal kingdom, which are recorded in the scientific literature as demonstrating some form of homosexual activity. For many of these, he also describes examples of non-procreative heterosexual intercourse.

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Our Queer Primate Cousins

A favourite argument used by the religious right against homoerotic relationships, and by the Vatican theologians against any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and not open to making babies, is that such sexual activities are “against nature”, and that the “purpose” of sex is procreation.

Well, the people making these claims have never considered the actual evidence from , well, you know, – “Nature” itself, which shows the exact opposite. (But then, when did the Vatican, or the wingnuts, ever consider the trifling matter of evidence to interfere with their convictions?)

In the lively comments thread after an earlier post in this series, reader CS in AZ reminded me of a famous exchange with Anita Bryant:

This reminds me of Anita Bryant, back when she was on her anti-homosexul crusade … she said that homosexuality was unnatural and so repulsive that “even barn yard animals don’t do it” — then someone pointed out to her that barnyard animals in fact DO do that, with some frequency, as anyone who grew up around farm animals knows very well! LOL…
well, she was only momentarily flustered, then she just pivoted 180 degrees and said, “well, that doesn’t make it right!”

Well no, but it sure as hell don’t make it wrong, either. On the subject of sexual ethics, “Nature” is entirely neutral. However, as so many self-righteous bigots attempt to introduce nature into ethical and political discussions, it is worth knowing just what “natural” sex really is (it’s also just fun to know.)

 

 

Bonobo females, with onlookers

 

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Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

The more I explore the nature of sexuality in the animal world, the more amazed I am at the extraordinary number of ways in which animals show all the diversity of human sexuality, and more. Male dolphins and whales have an extra orifice to penetrate (their partners’ blowholes); some primate male couples can indulge in “penis fencing” while hanging from a tree branch (I bet you’ve never tried that); and female spotted hyenas have a pseudo- phallus that they can (and do) use for penetration. More familiar activities are the usual mounting and penetration, either vaginal or anal, usually from the rear but sometimes from the front, or even the side; masturbation, using hands if they have them, but also flippers or just the ground; oral sex – forms of both fellatio and cunnilingus are known; and just plain cuddling and caressing.

Squirrel Threesome

Relationships are equally diverse, including long term pair bonds, in both between-sex and same-sex couples, one-off copulation, strictly monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, polygamy, polyandry and group orgies. Read the rest of this entry »

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros

To look at them, bighorn rams are the very image of hypermasculinity. They live on the rugged mountain slopes of Montana and Canada, in an environment that demands strengh, athleticism and stamina. Their appearance is impressive, with large thick horns curling back behind the ear, and they’re big, weighing up to 300 pounds. They exude so much machismo, that their image has been appropriated by numerous as a symbol for many  male athletic teams. And they like their sex – with other males. Those few who don’t, are described by researchers as “effeminate” .

Lovers, maybe?

For bighorn sheep (and also for thinhorns), “natural” sex is same-sex, including elaborate courtship rituals, genital licking, and anal penetration. (Many rams also find a way to “masturbate” – not with their hooves, but by rubbing on the ground.)  In this “homosexual society”, almost all rams routinely participate year-round in sexual activity with each other, but heterosexual intercourse is limiting to the rutting season. Even then, not all rams, especially the younger ones, get to participate.

For Bighorn and Thinhorn Sheep, heterosexuality is emphatically not “normal”.

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Coming Out as Spiritual Experience (Re-post)

Over 40 years since Stonewall, it has become commonplace to recognise the value of coming out as a growth experience, bringing benefits to mental health, self-esteem and personal integrity. Less widely recognised is the value of coming out as spiritual growth. This idea, which well deserves to be better known, gets extensive treatment in Daniel Helminiak’s book, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

 

(Helminiak is an openly gay Catholic priest with doctorates in both spirituality and psychology, who teaches spirituality in a faculty of psychology – so he is eminently well qualified to write on the subject. For more  on Daniel Helminiak, see his own website, “Visions of Daniel)

Sex and Sacred

In his preface, Helminiak notes that the arguments in the early days of the gay liberation movement were purely reactive & defensive, making the case that homosexuality is NOT a sin, NOT a sickness, and NOT a mental disorder. Read the rest of this entry »

Natural Law, Natural Families: Acquiring Manly Virtue

Gay men in the modern Western world are accustomed to accusations a homoerotic orientation is seen as effeminate, sissyish. This is a complete myth, as is easily shown by the many counterexamples from the butch, bear and leather-oriented sub-groups that co-exist with the more camp and drag groups. The words “gay male” cover an astonishing degree of diversity. Still, stereotypes persist. Sometimes, though, they are not what we would expect.

In classical Greece and in Tokugawa Japan, same sex lovers were especially associated with courage and with military prowess. Elsewhere, the important virtues of “courage, proficiency in hunting, and the ability to dominate women” were so closely identified with masculinity that they were routinely passed on to young boys in the most direct way possible – by direct transfer from older males to younger in pure male essence – in semen, by anal or oral sexual intercourse.

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Towards a Sound Sexual Ethic

In several recent contributions to the Open Tabernacle comments threads, reader David Ludescher has made the very sound observation that if we reject the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics, what are we to put in its place?  I agreed with him that an alternative, positive view of sexuality is desperately overdue (several senior priests and theologians I know have told me precisely the same thing).  My own history has led me to discard the standard teaching piece by piece, forcing me (in the absence of useful guidance from the Church) to attempt to piece together an ethical framework for myself, based on my own reading, prayerful reflection and spiritual direction. I still have a long way to go, but I do have some sound principles that I work with.

For a long time I have been wanting to share with my readers some of the contributions that I have found useful elsewhere, but like many of the projects that I would like to tackle, this is one I have not yet  begun.  Now, goaded by David’s important observation on the importance of the task, I would like to make at least a start. This is in no way intended to be a formally reasoned exposition, but just a mere listing of some starting principles, together with some preliminary links to outside thoughts. A more coherent presentation will come later.

Given that it is just a set of initial thoughts, I would welcome similar contributions from others. If you disagree with my ideas, please say so – and add your own guiding principles. I do ask, though, that given the purpose of this exercise, you steer away from simply regurgitating the catechism.  For the purposes of this discussion, let us leave aside church teaching entirely, for better or for worse, and concentrate on identifying the moral guidelines for sexual life that you would accept and apply in your own life – not because the Church says so, but because reason or experience have convinced you.

Sexuality – what is it?

I want to begin by making it clear that by “sexuality” I do not mean merely a set of genital acts, with or without another person.  It is a far broader concept, including other forms of touching, non-tactile aspects of our relationships, and awareness of ourselves as bodily beings.  Most of the ethical issues meant by “sexuality”  area bout physical elements, but we should not forget that there are also other dimensions.

Sexuality is good.

Sexuality is given by God, and is inherently good.  In Genesis 2 (the earlier creation story), we read that God said it is not good for man to be alone, and so he created for him a companion. Science has shown that a sound sexual life contributes greatly to both physical and mental health. I take it as fundamental that sound, intimate relationships are given to us for our benefit, and should be seen as positive.  They should emphatically not be seen as somehow second best to a state of celibacy. Read the rest of this entry »