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Sexual Politics

In the weeks since Supreme Court Grand Inquisitor Justice Samuel Alito’s anti-choice screed was disclosed, amidst all of the mass protests, speechifying, pontificating, punditry, etc., I noticed that something essential to the abortion brouhaha was completely missing from what passes for public discourse in this country: That sexual intercourse for pleasure and intimacy is under attack.

In our age of artificial insemination, etc., male/female copulation is still the main source of unwanted pregnancies. Abortion has, among other things, served as a backup, a sort of court of last resort to prevent the birth of unplanned babies. In essence, what all angry pro-abortion female protesters are saying is: “We want to enjoy sexual intercourse without the fear and/or consequences of getting ‘knocked up.’” Birth control, including abortion, are ways individuals accept responsibility for and consciously acknowledge that they are sexual beings – and good for them, they shouldn’t be slut-shamed for owning their sensuality, which is their right. To paraphrase the immortal words of Cyndi Lauper: Girls – and boys – just want to have fun.

The fanatics pushing to limit and eliminate abortion want to restrict sexual intercourse except for the sole purpose of reproduction. For instance, on May 17, 2022, Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents Georgia’s 14th congressional district and is one of America’s most prominent spewers of reactionary conspiracy theories, said: “Women need to make better choices. If we want to be women who make choices, here’s one thing you can choose. If you don’t want to become pregnant right now, choose to not have sex. You can always abstain.” (See here.)

Of course, bearing and raising children, with all of the sacrifices and demands that entails, is generally the last thing most male and female partners have on their minds when engaging in consensual lovemaking, fulfilling their desires. Fear of unwanted pregnancy, carrying a baby to term and child rearing is a colossal turnoff, a major reason why women in particular may abstain from intercourse, or lovers may use forms of birth control that lessen and inhibit gratification and closeness, such as condoms. Anxiety often causes sexual dysfunction.

And this is precisely what most adherents of anti-abortion politics want, because as Wilhelm Reich, a leading observer of the relationship between authoritarianism and sexuality, noted: “The basic religious idea in all patriarchal religions is the negation of the sexual needs… The very existence of woman as a sexual being would threaten authoritarian ideology; her recognition and social affirmation would mean its collapse.”

After all, these zealots usually come from states with the stingiest social programs and benefits that would help support single moms and their unplanned-for offspring. “Pro-life” Puritans are more likely to be anti-gun control, pro-capital punishment, pro-militarism and anti-vax. Texas’ government makes it easier carry out executions and to acquire guns, including automatic weapons, even as it makes obtaining abortions more difficult. “My Body, My Choice” only extends as far as these ideologues’ pandemic masks – not to uteruses, even though pregnancy is not contagious and far more personal. Defenders of the sanctity of the fetus, they have no compunction over invading a woman’s privacy and agency. “Life” is really not what they care about; these inquisitors have no interest in preserving and protecting children and their well-being once they’ve emerged from the womb. From that moment on, it’s hasta la vista, baby!

Coercing women to give birth to and raise children they don’t want or aren’t able to at that time strips females of their bodily autonomy. But preventing women from planning their families not only enslaves them to the Comstockery of the patriarchy. As Reich, a psychoanalyst who was an eyewitness of the rise of Nazism in Germany, wrote in his seminal 1933 book The Mass Psychology of Fascism:

“More than economic dependency of the wife and children on the husband and father is needed to preserve the institution of the authoritarian family [and its support of the authoritarian state]. For the suppressed classes, this dependency is endurable only on condition that the consciousness of being a sexual being is suspended as completely as possible in women and in children. The wife must not figure as a sexual being, but solely as a child-bearer. Essentially, the idealization and deification of motherhood, which are so flagrantly at variance with the brutality with which the mothers of the toiling masses are actually treated, serve as means of preventing women from gaining a sexual consciousness, of preventing the imposed sexual repression from breaking through and of preventing sexual anxiety and sexual guilt-feelings from losing their hold. Sexually awakened women, affirmed and recognized as such, would mean the complete collapse of the authoritarian ideology. Conservative sexual reform has always made the mistake of merely making a slogan of ‘the right of woman to her own body,’ and not clearly and unmistakably regarding and defending woman as a sexual being, at least as much as it regards and defends her as a mother. Furthermore, conservative sexual reform based its sexual policies predominantly on the function of procreation, instead of undermining the reactionary view that equates sexuality and procreation.”

Giving motherhood a bad name, as ultra-MAGA Congresswoman Greene squeals: “Let me tell you what a woman’s choice is: To be a mother. That is the greatest choice a woman can ever make.”

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What these prigs are really terrified about is that somewhere someone is having an orgasm for the sheer joy and togetherness of the act, not in order to reproduce the species. For purposes of bonding and recreation, not procreation. The extremists’ real impetus is not love of the fetus but an animus towards and fear of sex. Notice that these prudes never publicly advocate for alternative forms of sexual activity, such as oral, anal, same sex, etc., acts as ways for consenting couples to relieve tension and fulfill their desires while avoiding pregnancy. The alienated and inhibited want to impose their dysfunction on those who have the temerity to enjoy their bodies. These bluenoses are also usually hysterically opposed to porn and family planning, various forms of contraception and sex education, because sexuality itself (except when it leads to childbirth in a nuclear family sanctified by church and state) is their enemy. Why?

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Sexual Repression and Totalitarianism

Of course, this sexual hysteria is largely due to an unnatural religious indoctrination that’s at the root of America’s puritanical heritage. Instilling guilt, shame and prohibiting natural bodily urges plus the human desire for closeness makes it easier to control people in hierarchical societies. In the 1930s Wilhelm Reich analyzed the relationship between Nazism and sexuality. He theorized that repression of eroticism is essential to and a cornerstone of fascism, asserting “clearly the social function of sexual suppression, the intimate connection between sexual repression and political reactionary views.” In The Mass Psychology of Fascism (all of this essay’s Reichian quotes are from this book, which the Nazis banned) the revolutionary Austrian psychoanalyst wrote:

“Thus we arrive at the problem of the relation of religion to the negation of sexual desire. Sexual debility results in a lowering of self-confidence. In one case it is compensated by the brutalization of sexuality, to maintain sexual repression, in the other by rigid character traits. The compulsion to control one’s sexuality, to maintain sexual repression, leads to the development of pathologic, emotionally tinged notions of honor and duty, bravery and self-control. But the pathology and emotionality of these psychic attitudes are strongly at variance with the reality of one’s personal behavior… The man whose genitals are weakened, whose sexual structure is full of contradictions, must continually remind himself to control his sexuality, to preserve his sexual dignity, to be brave in the face of temptation, etc. …All the elements of the reactionary man’s structure are developed in this struggle. It is in the lower middle classes that this structure is reinforced most strongly and embedded most deeply. Every form of mysticism derives its most active energy and, in part, also its content from this compulsory suppression of sexuality.”

For Reich, a keen eyewitness observer of Hitler’s rise, “sexual repression strengthens political reaction and makes the individual in the masses passive and non-political; it creates a secondary force in man’s structure - an artificial interest, which actively supports the authoritarian order. When sexuality is prevented from attaining natural gratification, owing to the process of sexual repression, what happens is that it seeks various kinds of substitute gratifications. Thus, for instance, natural aggression is distorted into brutal sadism, which constitutes an essential part of the mass-psychological basis of those imperialistic wars that are instigated by a few… severe sexual conflicts (in the broadest sense of the word), whether conscious or unconscious, inhibit rational thinking and the development of social responsibility. They make a person afraid and force him into a shell.”

America’s Sexual Hysteria

From a psychological point of view the essence of the anti-choice movement is an irrational sexual hysteria. Pedophilia is at the core of the QAnon conspiracy lunacy. The conservative anxiety that males are losing their “manly essence” and “precious bodily fluids” has long been central to rightwing ideology. In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Cold War comedy Dr. Strangelove, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper asks: “Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water? … Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.” This is because, the mad General insists, the Reds use fluoridated water “to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.” In Kubrick’s satire the lunatic General Ripper, of course, triggers World War III (in a delicious bit of film history irony, he was portrayed by Sterling Hayden, an actor who’d joined the Communist Party USA and then became an informer during the Hollywood Blacklist). (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKR32ImWYzw.)

More recently delusional rightwingers have subjected us to Tucker’s tanning testicles, as well as the cause he and other conservatives, including the neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us!” at Charlottesville and mass murdering maniacs from Charleston to Buffalo have embraced: “Replacement Theory,” the paranoid ideology that due to an “elite” conspiracy, nonwhites and non-Christians will edge out Caucasian Christians as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, etc., become the majority of the population in what had been intended to be a white man’s Republic, turning Christian Caucasians into a minority.

Beneath the surface of the demographic nightmare of nonwhites ascending in America’s power politics to take over is sexual hysteria, that white males’ sperm count and potency is declining, while the less civilized, less sexually inhibited “inferior races” are procreating at a higher fertility rate than displaced, emasculated Caucasian men. In the grand finale of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Civil War/Reconstruction era epic The Birth of a Nation the Ku Klux Klan literally rides to the rescue of blonde Lillian Gish’s hymen, threatened by emancipated Blacks and “half-breeds.” I kid thee not.

It doesn’t seem to occur to adherents of such insanity that it’s their repressive ideology that is causing their sexual dysfunction and angst – blame it on nonwhites instead. Reich observed, “The socially irresponsible man is the man absorbed in sexual conflicts,” and “Ungratified sexuality is readily transformed into rage.” The ruling class taps into this seething cauldron of fury in order to divide and manipulate the masses with bogus “culture wars,” such as the assault on abortion rights, with – who knows – Supreme Court rollbacks of same sex marriage, contraception access, mixed marriage and LGBTQ rights to come?

Reich wrote, “Sadistic brutality and mystical feeling go always hand in hand when the normal capacity for orgiastic experience is lacking. This was as true of the inquisitors of the medieval church, of the cruel and mystical Philip II of Spain, as it is of any modern mass murderer” – including members of today’s MAGA hordes, whipped up into racial and immigration frenzies.

In the face of the fascist onslaught, Wilhelm Reich managed to remain hopeful, contending “masses of people are indeed incapable of freedom, but it does not – as racial mysticism does –look upon this incapacity as absolute, innate, and eternal. It regards this incapacity as the result of former social conditions of life and, therefore, as changeable.” And sexual liberation is a key to this change: “The man who attains genital satisfaction, is honorable, responsible, brave, and controlled, without making much of a fuss about it. These attitudes are an organic part of his personality.” Naturally, the same can be said for women, and the mass protests against Gauleiter Alito’s pending Supreme Court ruling expected on abortion are reasons for hope.

If you enjoy making love, tell those who want to restrict abortion rights to go screw themselves.