What a Pervert!
Before all the theists get their undies in a knot (or knickers in a twist, if you’re British), let me say that I am talking about consenting adults in honest relationships engaging in activities which are legal wherever they happen to be. Everyone is assumed to be acting in the way that they are because they freely choose to do so. Also, I am not talking about inter-species sex (not even with our closest relative the chimpanzee); only humans. So, with that out of the way, on to the good stuff.
1. Masturbation is Fun and Good for You
It is quite surprising how many religions frown upon this most natural of acts. In most cases the prohibition is not in the mainstream literature, but has grown up around the religious practice. It’s not mentioned in the Koran, but Shiites consider it haram (sinful) and Sunnis think it’s ok sometimes and not others. Hebrews thought that YHWH actually killed a man because he pulled out during intercourse and “spilled his seed” (Genesis 38: 8-10). The Jewish philosopher Maimonides considered masturbation a bad thing in and of itself, and it didn’t need a specific prohibition from YHWH. For Hindus and Buddhists it’s ok in moderation. Jesus doesn’t mention it, but all major Christian sects have found at one time or another some Biblical excuse to condemn it.
But for atheists, well, just enjoy it. It’s probably the world’s greatest indoor entertainment, next to computer games. It doesn’t make you go blind, it doesn’t lessen your qi (your inner strength, as some Chinese think), it’s not a crime, some god won’t kill or punish you for it, and it hurts no one. Toys, lubricants, pornography, inflatable dolls, dildos the size of donkey penises, whatever does it for you, just relax and enjoy. Medical studies show that it’s good for you and helps relieve stress (like I needed someone to tell me that…). The bad old days of being afraid that excessive masturbation could lead to insanity or blindness are just that, the bad old (and rather stupid) days.
2. Pornography Can Be Enjoyable
I am pretty sure that there is nothing written in any holy book about pornography—which just shows you how shortsighted God was when it came to predicting the future. But most religious followers really fight against it (even Buddhist Thailand and Hindu India have bans on pornography). I have never quite figured out why this is so. Tantric practices exist as disciplines in both Buddhist and Hindu religions. In any event, most religions consider it “wrong” because it leads to lustful thoughts (or maybe because we like it too much?)
I am always reminded of a school trip I took once to the local zoo (back in the late ‘60s, a horrid place of small enclosures and sad-looking animals) at around the 3rd or 4th grade. Now, I had spent a lot of time on my relatives’ farms, so I sort of knew how things worked with animals if you get my drift. While at the zoo, some monkeys got a little…shall we say, playful? And I will never forget my teacher exclaiming “Why do they have to do that in the open?” Being the precocious twit that I was (or maybe still am) I asked her “Should they go to a hotel?” And her response was, “They can do it at night when no one is looking.” We humans can be really strange about normal bodily functions sometimes.
But many people do like to watch it, or at least some of it. It’s varied enough for most people to find something that they enjoy. Why do people enjoy it so much? Ask a psychiatrist about that one, but in point of fact many people do enjoy it. For an atheist, it’s open season on what to read or watch, with never a worry that viewing “MILF Party Extraordinaire” or “Spanking Your Bad Boy” or “Sensual Massage Made Easy” or “New Variations on the Kama Sutra” is going to result in hellfire. Nor will you burn for reading any one of the many banned or forbidden books that included sexuality (“Lady Chatterleys Lover,” “Ulysses, ” “Myra Breckinridge” and “Human Sexuality” come to mind, but there are many others). Just be sure that whatever you are viewing is in compliance with local laws, and enjoy it alone or with a friend (or two) perhaps while engaging in activity #1.
3. Prostitution is Like Paying for a Massage, With Extras
Ah yes, the world’s oldest profession. I am sure it predated agriculture (“Share some mammoth steaks with me, big boy, and I’ll show you a real good time…”). But most cultures have made it illegal, largely on religious grounds. There is not much in the mainstream religious teachings on this, and religious philosophers have to stretch the texts to come up with some reason why it’s wrong, although in most cases God never comes out and explicitly says it is. Again, if God didn’t like prostitutes, why didn’t he/she/it come out and say so directly? Maybe the writers of the holy works didn’t mind a little something on the side, like many of America’s TV evangelists…
Muslims think it’s bad because any sex outside of your marriage or with your concubines or slaves (if you’re lucky and rich enough to have some of either) is considered sinful, and the guilty are to be flogged 100 times (Koran 24:2-3). But in Shia Islam there is the option of mot’aa, a temporary marriage, whereby men actually marry the prostitute and then divorce her after a couple of days. (You can check out the BBC “Prostitution Behind the Veil” below for more about this).
The Hebrews were the biggest hypocrites, though. YHWH never says “no prostitution,” but he does say that priests’ daughters who become prostitutes are to be burned to death (Leviticus 21:9). People that YHWH doesn’t like get branded as “prostitutes” (this prejudice was carried on by the Christians—think of the “whore of Babylon” in Revelations), and YHWH doesn’t want money from prostitutes (Deuteronomy 23:18), but it seems to be ok to have them around as long as they are not your own daughters (Leviticus 19:29). You can have whores, as long as they are not from good family Hebrews. It’s sort of like calling a girl a slut, but lusting after her all the same.
Christians have the famous “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone,” which was about stoning an adulteress (John 8:7), and was probably not part of the original text anyway as it only occurs in later versions of John. (I like to think of the scribe somewhere who took it upon himself to add this tidbit as a humanist stuck in a bad job.) But this admonition of mercy was lost on Christian communities throughout the ages, as they tended to follow the far less tolerant and more judgmental (some would say misogynistic) Hebrew treatment of prostitutes, as dictated in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. But despite over 2,000 years of disapproval, the profession is still going strong.
This is also a case where the rich got away with it all the time. It was called having a mistress (nope, can’t find an example of any noble being jailed for this, nor any Pope for that matter). Concubines, harems, slaves, the Upstairs Maid, the list goes on and on of the relationships that the rich were able to legally enjoy, while the middle class and the poor had to make do with prostitutes and the risk of legal prosecution. Just remember who had to wear the red “A” in the scarlet letter.
But for atheists, as long as it’s legal, just enjoy. The “red light district” of Amsterdam and the brothels of Nevada are not forbidden fruit. Two (or more) consenting adults, one getting the personal service they want and the other getting cash is just fine. Hire that gentleman for the evening, take that girl out for a night on the town (or on the bed), and feel good about helping the local economy. Sex without strings… just a bill at the end. What is there not to enjoy? (Don’t forget the condom though…)
Here, I must acknowledge that I doubt that much prostitution would exist if we lived in a fairer economic environment, but since that particular rant of mine is outside the scope of an atheist blog, I will just mention it in passing. But people who engage in prostitution should be legally protected, as they are still one of societies’ most abused victims. Only legalization will change this.
4. Virginity Is No Big Deal
A lot of religions are concerned about virginity, or at least a woman's virginity. Probably the most famous requirement is from the Hebrews who said in their Scriptures (Deuteronomy 22:13-12) that a husband might later claim that his wife was not a virgin on their wedding night, and if the wife’s father can’t prove that she was, then she will be stoned to death. (You won’t find this quote on many Jewish web sites, however, and even Wikipedia’s entry on “virginity” reflects current political correctness. You always have to wonder who is doing the Wikipedia entries, especially for religious issues, as believers have a vested interest in how their religion is portrayed.)
One of Rome’s oldest and most sacred religious tenets was that of the Vestal Virgins, who were deemed to be essential to Rome’s continuance and as an institution were considered to have been established during the time of Rome’s semi-mythical early years. They were considered to be imbued with magical powers. They served for 30 years and breaking the vow of chastity would lead to death by being buried alive.
Of course, when the Christians took control, they got rid of them, and Rome was duly sacked by invaders (390 AD by the Gauls, 410 AD by the Visigoths, etc.) prompting St. Augustine to write some of the most worthless apologetic drivel ever to befoul the human intellect. And by the way, for all you Christians out there who take great pleasure in calling Mohammad a pedophile: St. Augustine, the promoter of the doctrine of original sin and most of what now passes for mainstream Christian dogma, also was engaged to a child (he didn’t marry her, and may not have consummated the relationship however).
Why this fascination by so many religions and cultures with a woman’s (and, less often, a man’s) first sexual experience? There are scores of books out there pondering this conundrum, many of which focus on the issue of the breaking of the hymen and the fascination with and ignorance about the process of procreation. Personally, I think it was partly an issue of the woman’s inferior status in most societies; she was chattel. She was the virtual property of her father, then of her husband, and in her later years maybe her son. But to me, these explanations of past beliefs don’t matter at all.
A virgin is just someone who lacks a certain form of experience. I suppose you could say I am a “virgin” when it comes to skydiving—that is to say, I have no experience of it. So, what do you do when something is reportedly enjoyable and you lack experience in it? Get some experience, of course! Read about it, watch films about it, ask other people about it, Google it, search for it on YouTube, and find a partner that you trust who can teach you about it. Easy enough. It’s no big deal, there is nothing magical or mystical or particularly special about your first sex or your first orgasm, other than the fact that it was the first one (hopefully in a long line of future enjoyments). If you stop to think about it, your first tooth filling should probably be more memorable—another person is violating your “inner space”, there is significant pain (no pleasure here), and it probably lasts longer than your first sexual encounter. But most people don’t remember it, because it’s not fun and better forgotten. People talk about their “first time” for sex (in my experience, with much embellishments and sometimes factual errors in biology, but hey, I am a literalist), but I have never, ever, heard anyone talk about their first tooth cavity filling.
Having your first sexual experience doesn’t mean you are going to proceed towards being promiscuous. It is your choice to have as many or as few sexual partners in your life (even none if you want). You have lots of “firsts” in your life, like the first time you drove a car, rode in an airplane, competed in a sporting event, played your first computer game, etc. Your first time having sex is just one first out of many. Atheists don’t need to worry about it. I always remember a play I saw once, where a young girl whose mind is filled with dreams of romantic exuberance, of cascades of rose petals, of the “earth moving,” is asking her mom about her mother’s first sexual experience in one of those touching mother-daughter scenes. “Well,” said the mother, “it was sort of like riding a bicycle…but without the seat.”
5. Homosexuality is a Variant, Like Having Sour Cream or Butter or Both on Your Baked Potato
A lot of religions don’t like homosexuals. The Koran doesn’t like effeminate men (Sahih Bukhari 7:72:774)—maybe that’s another reason for beards to be so popular?—and the Torah doesn’t like masculine women or effeminate men (Deuteronomy 22:5). The holy books don’t talk about transgender people, again because God seemed to have missed this point about future medical developments when gazing into the future. But the Hebrew Torah does talk about the exclusion of castrated men from the community (Deuteronomy 23:1) and from access to the temple (Leviticus 21:16-24). Men with breast implants are apparently ok for both…
Hebrews and Muslims (in the Hadith, but not in the Koran) both prescribe death as the penalty for homosexual men (it’s questionable whether the verses are supposed to apply to women too). It’s sort of odd that the principal source in the Koran about this prohibition is in reference to a Hebrew myth about Lot and Sodom. In the Torah, it’s made clear in a number of places, with the most often quoted being Leviticus 20:13. However, I do ascribe to the interpretation of 1 and 2 Samuel that David (YHWH’s favorite son) is described as having a less-than-fully-platonic relationship with Jonathan (1 Samuel 18-23, and 2 Samuel 1:26)—but then David gets away with murder multiple times, plus adultery, lying, being a traitor, etc. Quite a role model for a religion’s founding hero.
Most interpretations of Hinduism do not have any prohibition on homosexuality, and neither do most Buddhist teachings. But in neither is it condoned in practice, although a lot of Buddhist teachings really don’t care. Christians don’t have any attributed words of Jesus denigrating homosexuals, but Paul does it a couple of times (Romans 1:26-28 and Corinthians 6:9-10) and Christians usually follow the Hebrew line in these matters.
For Atheists? Well, it’s a case of whatever legal activity rings your bell, or floats your boat, or raises your flagpole. Homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, one at a time or in multiples…it doesn’t really matter. If you are curious about something, go ahead and try it out. If you like it, great, and if not then don’t do it again. But there are no eternal consequences one way or another. You will not spend sleepless nights contemplating ultimate damnation in your final years agonizing over a single homoerotic encounter in your teens. Have fun, and see if it works for you. Who knows? You might find a new hobby.
And In Conclusion
What I am about to say is going to be wrong. The reason is that, of course, I do not speak for all atheists. I am sure that there are many atheists who will disagree with what I have said, because sexual mores are cultural as well as religious in nature. But I hold to my premise, that these five items should be acceptable to atheists, because they do not constitute an instance of someone being harmed. For me, that is the core of humanist morality: no victim, no crime.
What all this is about is really two very simple things. First, being atheist means not having guilt about sex coming from any religious teachings about an essential biological function. You have to obey the laws that apply where you live or happen to be at the time, but otherwise you are free to enjoy your own sexuality without guilt. You still have the humanistic values that apply to those relationships: namely, you don’t harm others, you are honest with people, you don’t exploit people, etc. But within those moral precepts, you are free to enjoy yourself in whatever way is best for you.
The second is about how you treat others, based on their sexual preferences. Atheists don’t usually judge others on their preferences in these matters. And theists, I remind you again—I am not talking about illegal and humanistically immoral things here like pedophilia, or bestiality, or necrophilia, all of which involve unwilling participants or those deemed unable to make a mature decision. If there is nothing morally wrong with homosexuality, then why look down on someone who practices it? If someone enjoys sex and loses their virginity and has many partners, why call them a slut (or whatever the male equivalent is…stud maybe)? If someone works as a prostitute, how is that different from being a dentist or mechanic or chiropractor? And if someone just loves to constantly masturbate while watching Internet porn? Well, just be sure that they keep the door closed….