The Bush Administration's sexual prudishness is no
secret - and neither is its love of war. Could the two
The freewheeling "Oral Office" Clinton years came to an
abrupt halt when Bush took over. Suddenly, abstinence
became the White House mantra, and men whose
religiosity seemed to preclude doing the nasty occupied
the highest offices in the land.
There's Attorney General John Ashcroft, who opposes
drinking, smoking - even dancing - on moral grounds,
and who ordered the "Spirit of Justice" statue covered
up because he couldn't handle the sight of her naked
marble breasts. There's David Hager, an OB/GYN who refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women (and believes the Bible is an antidote for premenstrual syndrome), as one of three religious conservatives Bush appointed to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs.
Then there's the "no sex is safe sex" youth campaign, backed up by "virgin pledge" programs for high schools. Reminiscent of Nancy Reagan's "just say no" approach to drug education, abstinence-only programs have seen their budgets explode in recent years, as Bush keeps an election promise to his conservative Christian backers. Similarly, funding for sex education courses has been cut, along with medical services providing contraceptives to teenagers.
Not everyone is pleased with this new push to stifle
open discussion about sex. The Institute of Medicine
has called abstinence-only programs "poor fiscal and
health policy," and former US Surgeon General David
Satcher has argued that teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cannot be fought without sex education classes which openly discuss contraceptives and other forms of self-protection.
The Bush Administration's emphasis on abstinence has
also made it something of a sexual pariah abroad.
Citing objections about health workers being allowed to
discuss condom use, last year the US voted against a
United Nations resolution to fund global AIDS education
prevention. Intriguingly, the only others voting with the States against the UN resolution were Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Syria and the Vatican.
Numerous studies have documented that "no sex"
societies are often plagued by acts of rage. A
cross-cultural investigation by American psychologist
J.M. Prescott, for example, found that societies which
punished premarital sex tended to have higher rates of
crime and violence. Prescott also linked sexual
repression to aggression, insensitivity, criminal
behavior, and a greater likelihood of killing and
Of course, just as sexual repression can lead to
aggression, a culture of war can equate intimacy with
violence. So these days, it comes as no surprise that
lethal weapons are often described in loving, phallic
Case in point: a recent exhibition in San Francisco,
entitled "The Gun Show (Girls + Guns = Sex),"
celebrated weapons as erotic art; a review of the
exhibition said, "... as a nation, we have fulfilled
the very definition of fetishism: we have transposed
genital sexuality onto a non-sexual object-the gun.
Obviously, there's a phallic element here somewhere,
it's not exactly a giant leap for mankind to figure out
what that shiny, steel shaft is supposed to be."
When a macho view of weaponry and war becomes the norm, however, women often become "the enemy," with dehumanization and sexual abuse following close behind.
The chilling recollection of a US service member who
witnessed a gang rape during the Vietnam War is
indicative. Marine sergeant Michael McCusker described
what happened after a squad of nine Americans entered a
"They were supposed to go after what they called a Viet
Cong whore. They went into her village and instead of
capturing her, they raped her -- every man raped her.
As a matter of fact, one man said to me later that it
was the first time he had ever made love to a woman
with his boots on. The man who led the platoon, or the
squad, was actually a private. The squad leader was a
sergeant but he was a useless person and he let the
private take over his squad. Later he said he took no
part in the raid. It was against his morals. So instead
of telling his squad not to do it, because they
wouldn't listen to him anyway, the sergeant went into
another side of the village and just sat and stared
bleakly at the ground, feeling sorry for himself. But
at any rate, they raped the girl, and then, the last
man to make love to her, shot her in the head."
A brutal gang rape ending with murder is described as
making "love." The line between sex and rage is blurred
until it disappears entirely.
In today's White House, that same line is being tested.
Top administration strategist Karl Rove was caught at
his ballistic best awhile back, making plans for a
minor political operative who had displeased him: "We
will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We
will ruin him. text Like no one has ever fucked him!"
Apparently for Rove "fuck" and "ruin" are synonymous;
the implications speak for themselves.
How does all of this bode for our future?
When Bush was running for president, he promised to
"build a culture that respects life." Of course, he was referring to fighting abortion rather than ending capital punishment or stopping war. Similarly, while the Bush White House has delivered impassioned speeches on the need to combat sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, it has also deleted information regarding condoms from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site. More worryingly, AIDS programs supported by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been singled out for funding review, and criticized if their content is too sexually explicit. No wonder Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson was booed and heckled when he spoke at the World AIDS Conference in South Africa last year.
Unfortunately for Ashcroft and the rest, sexuality
today is not as easy to cover up and deny as the
"Spirit of Justice" statue's breasts. Not everyone who
has sex is straight and/or married. STDs are rampant;
AIDS has ravaged entire nations. Young and old alike
are numbed 24/7 by images of gratuitous sex and
What's needed is a good long look at sexuality today -
with all of its pleasures, diversities and dangers.
Young people must receive information about
self-protection in addition to abstinence.
Contraceptives must be freely available. The societal
line between sex and rage must be drawn firm and clear.
Maybe then weapons wouldn't be idolized and women
dehumanized. Maybe then governmental funding for
creative, life-affirming programs would outpace that
for weaponry and war.
Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer. She can be
contacted via her web site www.heatherwokusch.com. This
article is featured in the premiere issue of Stella