Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I understand there is a new movie out, "Kinsey", starring Liam Neeson as the legendary man who was the first to wade bravely, or perhaps brazenly, into sexual attitudes and practices in the United States. While I am not familiar with Kinsey or his work, other than reading a few articles here and there, I think the sexual mores of American citizens could use a great deal more examination.

I say this because I was not the least bit horrified by the sight of Janet Jackson's breast, and while I am not a fan of Nicollete Sheridan's, because to me, she seems a bit coarse, I wasn't shocked by the commercial she made with the black football player.

It isn't that I have become immune to indignation at displays of sexual behavior, or so immersed in it that I have become emotionally disassociated. It is simply the inconsistency of it all that leaves me nonplussed and rather bewildered by all the fuss.

I think that perhaps Americans simply cannot figure out what is wrong and what is right. We enjoy many displays of sexual freedom. Certainly Mae West, flagrantly imitating a blowzy blonde, became famous and well loved. Certainly Marilyn Monroe became what is known as a "sex goddess", and who could forget that little orphan girl with her feathery voice and voluptuous body? And, on the male side, there has been one sex symbol after another, with girls drooling and fainting on the sidelines. My own idol, after I outgrew Clark Gable and realized he was just an old man with false teeth, was Frank Sinatra. How I lusted after that skinny soul with the big, romantic voice!

As I grew older, I began to realize that life in the "Rat Pack" was probably not as much fun as it seemed. Constant cameraderie with liquor as a stimulant leads to drinking problems and tumultous personal lives. Great fun to watch at a Vegas show, but not so much fun to watch as Dean Martin tumbled into lonely despair and Sinatra turned Republican to retain his political clout, a rather harsh, bitter man. It was a little like watching John Lennon and Yoko become a business empire after years of being rebellious free thinkers. How the mighty can fall!

When it comes to sex, America has to make up its mind. Either sex is going to have to come out of the closet and become a part of everyone's life, talked about unashamedly and openly, or we are going to have to smother it and stuff it away like an old baseball glove, recognizing its existence but ignoring its usefulness. The current trend is the latter course of behavior, with some folks, mainly the Christian Right, maintaining that America is going to Hell in a handbasket and must change. Not that I have ever known what a handbasket may be, but you get the idea.

People talk a lot about teen pregnancy and sexual promiscuity among our young. Yet we fail to recognize that this is not aberrant behavior. The teen years are when the body awakens and interest in all things sexual and connected to the opposite sex...or the same sex, if you are so inclined...is at its peak! Our bodies, one might say, have attained adulthood long before our minds and reasoning powers catch up.

The same people who moan about pregnancies and promiscuity among the young seem to disapprove of sexual education in schools. Rather, they seem to believe that the Ten Commandments hanging on the walls will sufficiently inform our youngsters on how to behave, and that Abstinence is the only way to combat these problems.

But I have always believed in Education as the answer to just about everything. It seems to me that the more teenagers know and understand their bodies, the more prepared they will be to handle their emotions. I am not against hanging the Ten Commandments on the walls of schools, nor do I think Abstinence is a bad idea. I simply believe that, just in case our children do not understand these things, they need a basic education in sexual matters, in birth control, in sexual diseases, in what to expect from promiscuous conduct.

As I said, all young people have heroes and claiming that many younger people ever idolized folks like John Glenn and Winston Churchill is simply not true. They have always been and probably always will be attracted to Beautiful People. This is why John Kennedy became the darling of the young, that sheer beauty, the golden, glowing physical force of that man. He attracted the young in droves, and inspired them to greater things, even though, Heaven knows, Abstinence did not seem to be his way of life.

But, you may argue, look at today's teen idols. Look at the rap artists. They are not Beautiful People. Ah, but they are! They have an abandon, a carelessness, a charisma that appeals to youth. They reflect the raw honesty of rebellion, the same attraction given the flower children in the Viet Nam years. Then, it was a stand against authority and war. Today, it is a stand against authority and long-standing mores. In other words, to hell with apple pie and motherhood!

There's no doubt about it. If Abstinence is to become a way of life for youth, and I have grave doubts about that, it is simply going to have to be presented in a more attractive package. At my advanced age, when I listen to these people who favor sexual repression, I think of Cotton Mather and the letter "A's" branded on the foreheads of adulterous women. I think of the days when illegitimate children were labeled as "bastards" and the label followed them throughout their lives, was even imprinted on their birth certificates, children "nice women" didn't allow their own kids to play with, lest they be tainted and contaminated.

Do we really want to go back to all this? Is this our goal? People who think of the "good old days" never seem to remember things like this, but picture instead some idealistic world where teens will be on Honor Rolls and save themselves for "The Ones". The trouble with "The One" is that he or she frequently does not live up to the position and soon there is a Two and maybe even a Three or more.

Americans have the strangest habit of honoring those who have stayed married the longest. We've all been at those parties...."Charlie and Joan, married fifty-eight years and still a loving couple. Let's all drink a toast to them"! We don't know if Charlie and Joan have carried on a prizefight in the kitchen every morning throughout those years, or if they have deteriorated into silent enemies facing each other across the dining room table. Sheer longevity seems to be the primary concern. We might as well say, "Let's toast Charlie and Joan, who have somehow managed to put up with each other all those years.". It would probably be closer to the truth!

I think Americans these days are simply promoting the safety and financial security of marriage. Single mothers often end up on public assistance, which is dwindling these days. They are frequently unable to get the best jobs, and end up with the grunt positions, which are low paid and tedious. Some remarry, some don't. But the sanctity of marriage removes the burden from the public conscience. But only one male and one female, thank you, for gay marriage is considered an abomination. Cotton Mather again! It might be said that we never learn, that progression is a myth, and that Kinsey left out an important area of research.

We need another Kinsey to untangle the sexual inconsistencies of today's world, a world where Janet Jackson's breast, covered with a pasty, causes a network to have to pay a stupendous fine, but where people in Iraq are being blown to smithereens without an instant's pause and where a president states, "It is a better world". In my estimation, if given a choice, I would rather stay out of unnecessary war and let Janet Jackson parade naked daily down Fifth Avenue, with television cameras filming her every step. But maybe that's just me.