It seems that whenever I post a particularly controversial topic I end up getting compared to Matt Walsh by people who don’t like what I’m writing. I can see the comparison: Matt Walsh is a social conservative who tackles controversial issues head-on. His approach is more combative than mine and I don’t always agree with that or with his arguments, but as a general rule I admire his writing. And I’d like to show you why. In a typical incendiary post called I will not teach my kids about safe sex because there is no such thing he includes this, I think, moving and beautiful account of human sexuality.
[N]o sex is safe. Sex is not supposed to be safe. Sex isn’t supposed to be physically perilous… but it is supposed to be an act of great depth and consequence. Sex is meant to be open and exposed. It’s meant to bring out scary and mysterious feelings of desire and devotion. Call that whatever you like, but you can’t call it safe.
Sex itself isn’t safe. On the other hand, committed relationships, fortified by the vows of marriage and reaffirmed daily by both spouses, are safe — and it is only in this context that the inherent vulnerability of sex can be made secure and comfortable.
I’ve done some chopping (not the brackets and ellipses) to remove some of the partisan barbs and get to the essence of his point.1
So two things. One, as I said, I really do like this model of human sexuality where sex is viewed with something like awe and committed relationships become the safe environment for the raw and mysterious experience. Second thing: I think it’s always best to try and be charitable when reading folks who might have an ax to grind. I once had a professor (philosophy) who taught us that we should always read everything twice. Once, with maximum skepticism to refute everything wrong. And a second time, with maximum charity, to glean every drop of wisdom we could from it. I like that, and I think it’s something we can all strive for.
2 thoughts on “No Such Thing as Safe Sex”
Nice extract and it lets me continue avoiding Matt Walsh.
But to the point of charitable reading — Sometimes a call (your call) for charitable reading sounds like asking me to make it up, to infer intent and understanding and arguments that are not there. We see this when a writer (including you) responds to criticism with “but I meant”, “of course I understood”, “this is only part of a larger argument” and so on. Was I supposed to intuit all of that?
To take the “safe sex” discussion (without reading Matt Walsh but only you), the background debate or discussion is one in which there are (simplifying, of course) two speeches, the abstinence speech (“Don’t”) and the safe sex speech (“but if you do anyway”). The quote you extract belongs (in my opinion) in the abstinence speech and I really like it there. Even as a way to say “safe sex” is a misnomer, that there isn’t such a thing.
If reading charitably means extracting that nugget, then yes, I agree. Hurrah!
But there’s still the “safe sex” speech to deal with. It could be that the argument being made is the almost trivial “the phrase ‘safe sex’ is a misnomer”. But that’s such a small point, not really different than “the dangers of shrinking a complex subject down to a two word slogan” or “headlines are misleading”.
So what about the second speech itself (call it the “second best” or “in the alternative” or “I don’t like to talk about it but” or “if you do anyway, use a condom” speech). Whatever you call it, the question I think worth discussing is whether you or I or my son’s public school teacher or my daughter’s minister/priest/bishop is going to give the second speech?
In my opinion it is irresponsible for a parent or teacher NOT to give that second speech. If you (or Walsh) are arguing to the contrary, tell me about it. But if “reading charitably” calls for me to make up the argument, deriving or inferring it somehow out of an (excellent) addition to the first speech . . . I think that’s asking a bit too much.
This is what I was going for:
Obviously we only have finite time to spend reading stuff, and so we should spend time reading mostly the things we think will enlighten and entertain us. So, mostly stuff we probably agree with, at least to some degree.
I just think we should also occasionally read some stuff that we know will challenge us, and that we should pick the best there is out there when we do, and that we should be on the lookout for things we can admire and appreciate even if we continue to find the overall viewpoint in error.
Comments are closed.