Ask Anything, Tell All
(Page 6 of 7)
All the same, behind Savage’s pragmatism stand some fairly strong claims about how sex relates to selfhood. Whatever else he ends up advising a correspondent to do, Savage tends to insist that sexual inclinations—from high libido and a desire for multiple partners to very rare kinks and fetishes—are immutable and even dominant characteristics of any personality. Some desires may be impossible to fulfill, others are flagrantly immoral, and most any can be destructive when they are pursued without regard for the kinds of ethical guidelines Savage lays out. But for Savage, no matter how we direct its expression, our sexual self is our truest self.
In recent years Savage’s moral elevation of sexual fulfillment has been bolstered by his embrace of popularized accounts of evolutionary biology, which purport to find our true human nature in our evolutionary cousins, the randy bonobos and aggressive chimpanzees. Last year Savage cowrote one week’s column with the authors of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, calling their book “the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey.” In a follow-up column, Savage continued, “What the authors of Sex at Dawn believe—and what I think they prove—is that we are a naturally nonmonogamous species, despite what we’ve been told for millennia by preachers and for centuries by scientists.”
Culture—represented here by hectoring, fanatical preachers and hectoring, misguided scientists—is a long postscript, an imposition on our true selves. People should live up to their monogamous commitments, which, after all, have the form of a mutually negotiated contract. But they should not expect anything unrealistic from themselves or each other, since such agreements, however binding, are unnatural. Sex will have its way with us one way or another—either by shaping our commitments or by making us miserable. For Aristotle, we are what we repeatedly do. For Dan Savage, we are what we enduringly desire.
It may be the case, as Savage likes to argue, that humans are not by nature sexually monogamous. The great apes aren’t, after all. But of course, neither are the great apes especially interested in negotiating power exchange agreements, engaging in long conversations about the contours of open relationships, or, for that matter, answering the anguished letters of anonymous strangers.
Benjamin J. Dueholm is a writer and Lutheran pastor working in Chicago. Excerpted from Washington Monthly, an independent magazine dedicated to uncovering what really matters in our nation’s capital.www.washingtonmonthly.com
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