This week the American media announced the possibility of a major national security breach which I’m guessing that most people would have ignored all together except that it was connected to a sex scandal. In the U.S., sex sells news. The American people are obsessed with sex scandals but in truth Americans are obsessed with sex. My French learners frequently make the observation that Americans are much too concerned with what is happening in the bedrooms of others, I tend to think that it’s just that American adults just aren’t getting “any”.
I sometimes ask my learners to describe what they believe is different culturally concerning how Americans regard sex. Most will say that it is rooted in our puritanical history. Tom Jacobs wrote an article published by Pacific Standard that indicates that the Puritan value system is still embedded in our brains. His supporting information however, was based on a study led by Luis Eric Uhlman by the Paris School of Management. I see a trend here. The French think we are prude.
When I thought about it, I thought that it made sense. There is something irresistible about the forbidden. I somehow imagined poor William Bradford anguished by the sight of his young wife Dorothy May’s exposed neck, turning away with disgrace when he actually wanted to stare unperturbed by shame, drinking in the soft, white, youthful skin. I imagined that he might simply long to walk to her and tenderly stroke a wisp of golden hair peeking out from beneath her bonnet, take her in his arms and have her in the New World. But I soon learned that she fell off the Mayflower and drowned in the Cape Cod Harbor during his first expedition ashore. That’ll teach him to go out exploring with the guys and leave her on the ship to mend the laundry.
The more that I read the more confused I became by the correlation between Puritan values and America’s prudish reputation. The Puritans did not in fact teach that sex was evil. In fact the Puritans viewed sex in marriage as the “crown of all bliss”. The Westminster Theological Journal published an article written by Daniel Doriani titled, Puritans, Sex and Pleasure. Doriani wrote that “Sex was not only legitimate in the Puritan view; it was meant to be exuberant”. He said that the Puritans believed that Sex was good, created by God for human welfare and even pleasure, and the Puritans were not squeamish about it. Okay, so much for that theory..
The truth remains that Americans are not as liberated sexually as our European neighbors. Strangely, based on a 2006 study, out of 1000 teenagers 3.8 will become pregnant in The Netherlands and while France will have 7.8, the United States will have 41.9. These numbers increase in the U.S. yearly. Clearly we are not only prude in the U.S. we are afraid to give our own children the information they need to protect themselves from pregnancy. The philosophy seems to be, “I’m not comfortable with my own sexuality and I certainly can’t talk to my children about theirs nor, do I want my children to receive the information that they need from school, maybe we will all just get lucky.” By empowering our children with information, we will empower them to make educated choices and good investments in their own future. By hiding behind shame, we are failing them.
Sex between consenting adults is natural. It is not shameful or dirty. The human body is miraculous and beautiful. I can admire the muscularity of a man’s body beneath a crisp cotton shirt and imagine what lies beneath and still know without a doubt that no one can make me feel the way that my husband does. My friend in France goes to libertine clubs and has safe sex with strangers with her husband’s knowledge. I can still admire her intelligence and talent and still consider her gracious. It has nothing to do with me. It does not erode at my marriage nor does it pollute my mind. When we are truly respectful of ourselves, when we are truly respectful of the privacy of others, when we regard sex between consenting adults as natural and normal, we are far less frivolous with the attention we pay to the sex lives of others and we can give our attention to what is really important.
This Thanksgiving I am going sit across the table from my significant other and give thanks to his great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather William Bradford for marrying his second wife Alice Southworth and legitimizing his marriage by having exuberant Puritan sex. I am going to look at him and admire the hands that after 25 years instinctively touch me, I’m going to think about how his breathe feels on my skin. I’m going to admire the width of his shoulders and the confidence in his walk and then go home and fall asleep waiting for our nine year old to brush his teeth and go to bed.