What Is Sex For?

What is the purpose of sex? Who should be able to have it, and at what cost? 

Apparently, that was on many minds on Valentine's Day. That's when the Prospect's indefatigable Abby Rapoport told us that the Virginia House just voted to go full-steam ahead on a personhood bill, which will define life as beginning from the very second that a sperm bashes its head into an ovum.

Yesterday, too, in the state of Washington, opponents of same-sex marriage launched their effort to repeal the state's newly signed marriage-equality law. Washington's gender-neutral marriages won't begin, at the earliest, until June 7, after a "standard enactment period" that puts new laws on hold for a bit. According to the Chicago Tribune,

Opponents were led by Roman Catholic bishops and other religious conservatives. 
"Marriage is society's way of bringing men and women together so that children can be raised by, and cared for by, their mother and father," said Joseph Backholm, head of the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

And Tobias Wolff reports that yesterday, the Virginia legislature also passed " a bill that will force women seeking an abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound." He's more than a little appalled at what he sees as a kind of medical rape, since a vaginal ultrasound is at best unpleasant. Here's how he explains it: 

Try to envision the mindset of a legislator who would enact a bill the sole purpose of which is to mandate the forcible, medically unnecessary invasion of a woman's vagina as the price -- the attempt at forced shame -- for terminating a pregnancy. Whatever a person's views on abortion might be, this is an assault of a different order. It is one thing to believe that abortion should be restricted; it is quite another to use the law to impose humiliation and invasion upon women who seek out the procedure.

What unites all these actions? The idea that we all should be punished for having sex for any purpose other than making babies. (See also: Catholic Bishops' opposition to offering insurance—even to nonreligious employees of its secular operations like hospitals and universities—that might cover contraception.)

Yesterday, too, Rick Santorum helpfully clarified that intellectual connection. (I know, you didn't expect ever to see "Santorum" and "intellectual" in the same sentence.) Mr. Rick picked Valentine's Day to tell us that, as president, he will use the bully pulpit to say that sex should be "special." No, seriously:

One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea... It's not okay because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal... but also procreative. 

That's the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. 

That's the idea behind the opposition to contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage: That our bodies' sexual desires exist only to make babies. Last week, Salon ran an important profile of Maggie Gallagher, arguably the top opponent of marriage equality, that laid out the history of her passion for codifying this link in every possible statute. The article linked the fact that Gallagher got pregnant while a Yale undergraduate and had the baby alone--and became passionate about ensuring that everyone in the country keeps in mind that sex leads to babies, and therefore should be undertaken only with that in mind. the author, Mark Oppenheimer, quotes her forthcoming book here: 

Since I was a girl, in the middle of a sexual revolution, I was repeatedly taught that we had separated sex from reproduction … Under the influence of this teaching, whole generations of formerly young women of my age grew up shocked, shocked to discover they are pregnant, and the men who impregnate them feel minimal responsibility. They had consented to sex, not to babies, and what did sex have to do with babies? … Same-sex marriage is the end point, the ultimate institutionalization of this view of sex, gender and marriage, and it is false. Sex between men and women is freighted with the reality that this is the act that creates new human life, even if in any particular instance, new life never takes place … That ‘sexual union of male and female’ points to a real union of the flesh in the child, is the reality we are suppressing, the only perspective from which it makes sense to regard a union of two men as anything like the unions that reaches across the challenging gender divide in the service of new life.

Is sex only for making babies? Or is it also for making love and pleasure? We report, you decide.

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