Sex and Counter-Intuitive Indecency

Kyle (last names would be appreciated here, people) wrote about the religious right’s request that Obama pick a Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) justice to replace Justice John Paul Stevens. The religious right leaders demand Obama pick someone “who will support the right of the government to maintain a decent society and to protect children from indecent and other media content that is harmful to them.”

Kyle quotes Robert Peters from Christian News Wire who wrote:

In a letter sent yesterday to the president, the group said, "There are currently four cases pending in the lower federal courts in which the major broadcast TV networks are challenging FCC indecency rulings and the broadcast indecency law itself. What the networks ultimately want is an unrestricted ‘right’ to curse as much as they want and to depict as much nudity and sex as they want (presumably, short of obscenity), regardless of the impact of this programming on children, on unwilling adults who are assaulted by it in the privacy of their homes, and on the moral fabric of society."

Kyle found himself surprised to agree with the religious right in “calling for one who will protect children from indecent media.”

I don’t know Kyle but I think it’s safe to assume Kyle’s a bit liberal in general since he posted this on the People for the American Way website, a politically liberal advocacy group, and is surprised he agrees with the religious right on this issue. This, sadly, is wrongheaded—and ironic: the religious right is not at all conservative in their desire.

I’ve written about the effects of prohibition before here and here with a few mentions elsewhere. Prohibition has had many critics from both the left and the right but the best arguments against prohibition have come from those with Libertarian ideals. Kyle’s mistake is sadly rooted in the after-effects of prohibition.

Hear me out: much nudity on television is pornographic because we prohibit it. Much like marijuana prohibition, smoking marijuana became a measure of a person’s worth. It’s largely regarded among the general population that you’re a lazy, hippie bum if you smoke marijuana. Flash your nipple on tv, even by accident, and you’re the devil’s whore.

We forget that indecency is an illusion and completely subjective—and we make nudity into an obscene thing in general because a small group managed to convince the larger group that it is so. We are born naked and our parents instill in us that nudity is a bad thing. Of course, there’s merit to that in most situations but nudity is not indecent or offensive. Why would it be when it’s our most natural state? Do we ignore we have hair simply because we haven’t bothered washing it for a day or two and it’s become an obscene rat’s nest? No, of course not.

Perhaps there is a better way to explain it: The small group that wishes to prohibit nudity on television manages to make it so and, over time, the general public is convinced of the same. The same can be said of prohibition of sexual content on television. The act of making something indecent makes it attractive to people despite its morphing into an indecency. As a matter of fact, abolishment of prohibition can diminish the negative externalities of prohibition. If we, as a society, want to keep our kids from being over-sex due to television, then it would make sense to not make sex into such a taboo thing. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it? That’s because people don’t make rational sense.

The proof is there, though. Niklas Blanchard took on the task of breaking it down for his Cinco de Mayo post which he titled “The Semantics of Drug Prohibition.”

One of the more interesting points in the report is that drug prohibition creates a wall of mistrust between society and the state, and thus severely retards the state’s ability to reach out to those who are using drugs in a positive, supporting manner. As you can see from the chart above, in a short time, most adolescent drug use has fallen due to liberalization. Recidivism has also declined, as well as drug-related crime.

Nick points to a graph based on data gathered after Portugal “decriminalized all popular drugs and narcotic substances.”

The fact of the matter is that the indecency factor keeps teenagers from confronting the subject of sex as a fact of life and hide it from their parents. If parents wouldn’t make sex such a taboo subject, their kids would be more open to talk to them about sex—as a fact of life and a reality instead of a dark, seedy thing that should be kept from view.

Indecency laws are counter-intuitive themselves; it is not human beings that are counter-intuitive. The only thing that this religious right group would manage to do is to perpetuate the over-sexed culture we live in and this will hurt every child who is too afraid to talk to their parents about their natural sexual desires. The teenage girl that was too afraid to talk to her mother about her interest in having sex with her boyfriend is going to end up having sex in the back of her boyfriend’s car and will likely not wear protection and get pregnant. We can see it all the time: young girls getting pregnant before they’re anywhere close to being ready. Every 16 year old and 17 year old you see in the streets pushing a baby carriage and pregnant with a second is a victim of the religious right’s, and Kyle’s, prohibition. The parent of that 16 year old girl, if the girl wasn’t so ashamed of talking to her mother about it, could have heard her mother explain the dangers of having sex and possibly getting pregnant, could have heard her mother tell her that she doesn’t have to have sex with anyone right now, and could have heard her mother tell her daughter that she, too, experienced the peer pressure to have sex at her age.

If you want to do the right thing, Kyle, don’t fall for the fallacy of indecency and prohibition. It’s one of the greatest lies told by people who don’t understand human nature.

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