How the Religious Right has co-opted the debate on American sexuality.
The current anxiety Americans feel about sex emanates from a pernicious script promulgated by religious conservatives such as President Bush and evangelical Christians, argues Herzog (History/CUNY Graduate Center; Intimacy and Exclusion: Religious Politics in Pre-Revolutionary Baden, 2005, etc.). The discovery of Viagra in 1998 and the rise of Internet pornography have “caused confusion about the nature of desire.” Both men and women seem less interested in sex overall, focusing on its perils rather than its joys, displaying a sense of inadequacy about their bodies and shame about pleasure. Where did the love go? Herzog dutifully reads and watches mainstream media, in which she finds “a deliberate promotion of paranoia” about sexuality: reports on the latest technology for spying on wayward spouses, disapproving analysis of “emotional infidelity,” dire warnings about sexually transmitted diseases. This climate has been fostered by an ideological assault, led by evangelical authors such as Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, that “play[s] on the imperfections and emotional confusion that so often accompany sex.” The messages are ringing: anti-masturbation, pro-abstinence, anti-homosexuality. (Contrary to popular belief, the author notes, the Religious Right is pro-sex, as long as it’s within the sanctions of marriage.) Herzog tracks the aggressive, increased federal funding for premarital abstinence programs, which focus on the “potential deadliness of sex,” and the U.S. government’s global export of abstinence and fidelity programs (at the expense of condom distribution) to countries dependent on American funding to fight HIV/AIDS. “Repression has been repackaged as promotion of mental health,” she warns, and it threatens to undo many important achievements of the Sexual Revolution.
Somewhat fevered in tone and eager to leap precipitously to conclusions, but Herzog champions essential moral concepts of self-determination and consent.