Nation of Prudes Meet Nation that Sexualizes Nearly Everything

I don’t doubt there are more prudish societies than America.   Indeed, there is probably, somewhere, a society that is so prudish, the people do not even talk about how prudish they are for fear of unduly exciting themselves.  At least in America we discuss our prudery.

But are we Americans really prudes?

Yes, Virginia, we are really prudes.  At least our society as a whole is.  And if you will not take my word for it, consider this:

Janet Jackson once exposed her nipple for less than two seconds on national television and caused a controversy lasting several days that at its peak swept aside major news stories.  A school teacher was reprimanded then fired for taking her children to a museum that displayed nude sculptures.  A grandmother was prosecuted for photographing her two partly-clothed granddaughters bouncing on her bed.  Here in Colorado Springs, a woman threatened to sue a drug store for “trauma” after she accidentally received images of a nude man from the store’s photo lab.  And a man in another state was once convicted of sex offender charges for walking about nude in his own home without closing his drapes.

The sad thing is, one could go on for page after page merely listing incidents of public prudery in America.

Yet, at the same time that we live in a prudish culture, we live in a immensely sexualized culture.   That’s what I don’t understand:  How a nation of prudes who cannot tolerate two seconds of Janet Jackson’s nipple without thinking their civilization will crash around them is also a nation of goofballs (for lack of a better word) who stick eight year old girls in thongs and fishnet stockings and then do not expect those girls to grow up with serious “issues”.  It was certainly a bright day when we came up with that one.

As near as I’ve ever come to figuring out the contradiction between our national fetish with prudery and our national lust to sexualize everything, is that it’s not the same people doing both.

But the older I get, the more I doubt that.

It’s just human nature — not even limited to uniquely American nature, but universal human nature — to dress your six year old in an inappropriately revealing swimsuit for a beauty contest  on Saturday and then write the FCC complaining about seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple on Monday.   At 30, I would have put that sort of hypocrisy past us.   At 54, I am an agnostic about whether it should be put past us.

I guess the one thing you can say about American attitudes towards sex and sexuality that is consistent across the board: American attitudes just don’t make sense.

Seriously, how do you account for the fact we are both a nation of prudes and a nation that sexualizes nearly everything?  I need some help understanding this one.

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11 thoughts on “Nation of Prudes Meet Nation that Sexualizes Nearly Everything

  1. I don’t claim to have the answer, but it’s an interesting question. I have a sketch of an answer: it starts with the way we cultivate prudishness — perhaps an inborn inclination that, through our society’s norms and discourses we actively enhance, increase, and inflame. That is, we constantly reinforce the idea that our bodies are nasty and sex is a hideous evil, and we especially but not only impose this idea on children as they’re learning about the world and when they’re maximally curious (therefore maximally receptive). We do this against another more strongly inborn inclination toward that same hideous evil, so consequently we walk around double-natured. The internal contradiction we carry around — sex is evil, sex is good — can come out in any number of ways. It can’t result in coherence on any level.

    At best, that’s a question-begging answer, I realize. As in: what drives us to cultivate prudishness in the first place? What impels us to cultivate it more strongly than other societies seem to do? Is it a natural inclination at all, or is it completely imposed from culture/society? I don’t think it’s purely social — I think it comes with the furniture — but that’s an educated guess.

    The pro-sex part of our nature seems to me undeniable. The prudishness is the side of the duality that requires explanation. And the prudishness is the side that varies from society to society.

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  2. I think the sexualization has come about from years of sexual suppression. Suppress your natural urges, because natural urges are a sin! I think it’s just coming back to bite us in the bud. But yeah, we’re at a moment in time where it does look very schizophrenic: a prudish, sexed-up society. 😛
    Someone wrote something like: What you resist, persists.
    Just my two cents.

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  3. The two situations are not in the least bit contradictory when looking with the humanity of it. We allegedly first realized that we were naked after eating the forbidden fruit from the the “Tree of Life”. We put on clothes due to our first taste of prudishness.

    Sexuality must be controlled for societies to exist without the type predatory mating we see in the wild. In the wild, only the best and most likely to succeed gets to mate. One of the things that separates humans from animals is that even the uglier or older get to mate based on other characteristics. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/26/hugh-hefner)

    Humans have natural desires to mate. Prudishness allows humans to regulate sexuality. The authorities say, “you can’t think about crass sexuality during the Superbowl because there are youth we must tease for 8 more years”, and thereby shore up the rational for not showing nipples on television.

    It is the most commonly seen nipple on Earth due to WIRE COMMUNICATIONS as defined in US Title 47 § 153 ¶52. See (http://images.google.com/images?q=Jannet+Jackson+nipple)

    Witches who were burned at the stake were not ugly. The early “witches” simply would not “put-out” and were teases. “Witches” perhaps got caught “putting-out” and had to be punished for asserting sexuality. Sexuality of society and profession of prudish appearances are not oxymoronic but are two sides of exactly the same coin.

    The most prudish people are the most controlling of sexual expressions but are the most “lust” filled people on Earth.

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  4. If we, as adults, are confused about how, when, where, and with who we are supposed to express ourselves sexually, can you imagine what it is like for children? They are simultaneously being believed to be so “pure,” and also pushed to be “sexy.”

    I think it is disturbing (and, honestly, I think it is partially due to patriarchal dominance and preferences – it’s that old story of the madonna and the whore).

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  5. Our general culture is prudish… but the best way to sell products is with sex and we love capitalism. So you end up with a truly neurotic culture, one that hates sexuality but can’t get enough of it.

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  6. I remember when I was learning to train my dog, and was advised that instead of telling her what not to do, I should tell her what she should do. For example, telling her “don’t jump” simply reminded her of jumping, whereas telling her to sit gave her something to do that was good.

    When you constantly tell people “don’t think about sex, don’t have sex, don’t read about sex, and don’t watch sex” what do you think they’re going to think about?

    Just a thought to add to the pile.

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  7. this might not be as paradoxical as it seems, paul. in the examples of prudishness (is that a word?) you provided, the prudes seem unable to seperate basic nudity from something pornographic, thus hyper-sexualizing the human form by viewing it as always lewd and always and solely erotic.

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  8. Hmmm. Freud’s notion of “the return of the repressed” might suggest that we have a hypersexualized society BECAUSE of the prudishness. It seems to me that those hypersexualized toddlers on Toddlers and Tiaras are largely drawn from the Bible Belt.

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  9. Wayland Young said it colorfully in 1960-something: “Post-Christian Western Man is a eunuch; pornography is his severed balls.” It’s the big bad Jungian shadow thing, more or less.

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  10. I don’t think we’re a nation of prudes really, I think its just the authority figures and a few nutjobs. Remember that the Janet Jackson incident happened in 2004 and since then, Britney and Paris have flashed their genitals in public, Miley Cyrus twerked on a guy’s dick, the music industry in general has become hyper-sexualized, gays are being far far more accepted now, we’ve had multiple states legalize marijuana, and an ever increasing number of commercials have sexual jokes, the percentage of people who described themselves as having no religion has jumped from 15% to 25%, along with numerous other changes. You really would be surprised at how much a culture can change in ten years.

    I think the younger generation of America is changing things for sure and is getting more influential in society. The more younger people that come into society, the more like Europe we become. Very happy about that to, we seriously need to fucking relax.

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