Abstinence, Aggression and the Bush White House
by Heather Wokusch
October 27, 2003
The Bush Administration's sexual prudishness is no secret - and neither is its love of war. Could the two be connected?
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 , 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 "" 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 and 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 torturing enemies.
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 terms.
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 small village:
"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? . 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 violence.
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 with a background in clinical psychology. Her work as been featured in publications and websites internationally. She can be reached via her website: www.heatherwokusch.com.