Q: Is ‘fornication’ destructive?
A: No. It’s not.
If you’re phrasing it that way then it’s safe to say you already hold certain biases about sex which if removed would simply allow this question to answer itself.
‘Fornication’ specifically describes sex that is ‘taboo’, being pre or extra martial. It’s so important to remember to be holistic in an analysis like this, and maintain that marriage itself is a social construct that not everyone or every culture subscribes to. This means that for ‘fornication’ to take place, the social and ethical norms of whoever is labeling the given sex act are based on a monogamy-centric ideology, and that means it is the product of an inherent bias. I take this to mean that the social truth about sex remains situational, and that making assumptions or wishes appear as fact is detrimental to proper exploration of the topic in an anthropological light.
Sex within itself, and removed from any cultural or religious dogmas is simply a biological and social necessity. Sex is literally the way families are made, but maybe that goes without saying. Aside from that, sexual experiences, or lack thereof, in adolescence are vastly important to superego and personality development in each of us. Sex positive or educational sexual experiences are an integral part of both social development and character development, while more negative or absurdly restrictive experiences can be socially and personally detrimental.
At the same time, sex is generally considered something of a vice or socially acceptable vessel of hedonistic expression when engaged in outside of family making. By itself, casual or extra marital sex is neither wrong or right, it simply is what it is, but within a dogmatized group or individual, it is either celebrated, condemned, or, sometimes and more rarely, unimportant, undualized altogether, but within dogma it is almost always considered a vice. Like all vices, it can be used responsibly or irresponsibly, and it can be either extremely socially and personally rewarding or extremely detrimental; the possibility of addiction is also present, and negative consequences like STDs and unexpected pregnancies can also be unforeseen and devastating. These issues, including potential for addiction, can be expected and planned for, however, and this starts with having a healthy understanding of what sex is and what preventative measures (emotional, metal and contraceptive) you can take for yourself and your potential partners. Having a healthy relationship with the idea and act of sex means doing what is right for you based on your own personal experiential evidence, and not based on religious dogma or fear of abstract negative consequences. In the same way as sex, alcohol can very easily become an addiction and ruin someone’s life in the same way sex can, but not if the risks are understood and addressed and it is used responsibly. Being aware of how you act when drunk, where your cut off point is, and having the control to stop drinking alcohol if it becomes problematic are all ways to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. (Replace “drinking alcohol” with “having sex” and “drunk” with “horny”, the same idea applies).
From an ethical standpoint, I cannot condone extramarital engagements if the relationship is monogamous. However, me and many people I know are in happy, sex positive polyamorous relationships, and plenty more who practice all types of religions and faiths that teach varying attitudes toward sex. The concept of “fornication” is so drenched in outdated dogma that I do not even consider it as a negative thing. Sex is sex, and sex is fun if you are responsible and have a healthy understanding of the risks. Your soul will not be damned for enjoying carnal things excessively, and if you have your ducks in a row, so to speak, your social and family life will not be negatively effected by an increase in relative sexual depravity either.
Re: Your idea that sex can be used merely as a tool for pleasure does not reduce the effects of sex outside of marriage, or when used as a drug. Like any potential drug, there is a cost to having sex outside the normal boundaries of furthering the generation and by enjoying it with your spouse- and not outside the boundaries of marriage.
Have you ever heard the chemicals ‘oxytocin’? It is a bonding chemical within the brain that is released in two instances – after a child is born and during sex. It is the chemical that causes bonding with a baby or a partner. If you play with this oxytocin, you much around with the body’s natural chemical that helps you to maintain a long term relationship with both your baby, and a spouse. This means that a couple who have never had sex before they are married together are more likely to remain together for a lifetime, rather than divorce. Divorce affects children, spouses, and creates mistrust and issues with loyalty.
One author suggests that when you play around with oxytocin, it affects women more than men. So casual sex could play with female limbic systems, which sets the emotional tone of your mind, your ability to sleep and your ability to develop appetite.
Hence, like any drug, used outside its context, you will destroy your ability to maintain long term relationships, you are tampering with your brain and using sex as a means to pleasure alone – which ultimately will REDUCE its ability to give what you want from it. And jeopardize the future of your own marriage when you want to settle down, together with the possible emotional stability of your children – should you have them.
A: I think this is an interesting counterpoint that raises many interesting concerns.
I have had a fair amount of experiential and situational exposure to the reality of chemical dependency, and I have been around and studied the behavior of addicts since I was a child. By this perspective measure, addicts exhibit certain uniform similarities, sure, like for example, I’ve never met an honest or truly reliable addict; plenty who claim they to be, mind you, but none who actually are. I in no way disagree with various canonical studies that measure and compare brain chemistry to behavior; in fact I find the majority of them informative, fascinating, and effective spring boards for further discussion on the matter. A point I often have about these strictly scientific studies, as an anthropologist, is that they are not and ought not to be considered as universally accurate reflections of reality.
Anyone who has had long term exposure or relationships to a fair amount of addicts and addictive personalities, whether they be sober, recovered, or just a non-addict, knows one thing to be evident beyond any psychological or theoretical, trend based study: addiction manifests in different ways for different people. There is certainly a reliable index of signs and behavioral trends that reflect ultra high tolerance/dependencies or addiction chemical realities, but the overall experience of dependency or addiction is entirely unique to an individual and is still based largely on the personality of the individual in question, and also on their drug of choice. For example, your alcoholic grandmother, or your chain smoking friend are not the same as a meth fiend selling themselves on the corner, or heroin fan being reduced to living in their car. All are addicts, they’re all suffering from a similar affliction, but specific relationships effected and substances preferred make for unique manifestations of addiction in everyone. Sex, especially hardcore or frequent extra marital sex, is certainly a drug in its way, and the same spectral of potential for addiction and therefore identification of addiction, applies to sex the same as it does with drugs and other such vices.
Some people do not have addictive tendencies at all, and they can engage in personally restricted or contextually responsible ‘intentional oxytocin release’ or ‘intentional dopamine release’ in the form of drink, drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, or whatever have you in large quantities without allowing it to effect them adversely. For many people, moderation is a learning curve, and each person falls into personally and circumstantially appropriate patterns and habits surrounding intoxication and manipulation of brain chemistry as they grow up. When it comes to addiction and brain chemistry, there is a large margin for situational variables. Manipulate does not always equal destroy, it simply means change, which is neither good or bad.
Personally, I believe monogamy is simply one of many religious and cultural biases. I also believe it is perfectly ethically acceptable to practice a traditional monogamous lifestyle ( being with a spouse and kids), but it is also perfectly ethically acceptable to lead a polyamorous or childless lifestyle, or any combination of these, for any number of reasons. Life is what you make it. When someone earnestly prioritizes their own definition of fulfillment, life fills in the gaps in accordance, and in the same way, when someone earnestly prioritizes dogma, life fills in the gaps in accordance.
I come from a blended family myself. Even with divorce and remarriage in my childhood, I had a happy and loving family with minimal drama. I also learned a fair amount about the way I wanted to live my life going forward by learning from the mistakes of my parents, which I found to be altogether more valuable than being separated or protected from harsh realities. It is more realistic to understand at an early age that, as human beings, we make mistakes. We rarely make the first shot we take in any practice, and this definitely applies to sex and relationships too. Expecting any one variable, such as abstinence, to be the single thing that allows you to end up in fully satisfying long term relationship on your first attempt is not always effective. It definitely works out for some people and that is fine, but it’s not the reality for many people. For many, a monogamous family lifestyle fits their goals and desires, and that is wonderful.
For others though, a more alternative lifestyle is what is desired- cynics, hedonists, secularists, artists, and all miscellaneous free spirits are well within their rights to practice any form of love they choose, and should also be free to have and raise children in any environment that is ultimately safe and responsible, whether it be polyamorous or not, without judgement from others. The amount of oxytocin or the ways in which an individual might fluctuate in this respect, does not impede that right to live a lifestyle that makes an individual feel fulfilled.
There is certainly something to be said for the ways in which studies of oxytocin and dopamine can inform us about our activities, weaknesses, and dependencies. However, it is beyond limiting to say these studies are anything more than trends and connections. Believing a single or handful of psychological studies to be the end all be all of human behavior and lifestyle leaves much to be desired and much unaccounted for; it also removes human beings from the power many of us have to be effectively self critical, discerning, reasonable about our engagements and behavior. People all over the world have been tampering with their brains and brain chemistry via sex, psychoactive substances, and other such chemically altering rituals for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s true that some people do get carried away and cannot control themselves in the face of these things and have suffered for it, but at the same time many successful and powerful people, people with great loves, people with happy families and legacies lead hedonistic lifestyles as well.
One more thing- I have to plead that the ‘desired result’ of sexual activity is highly subjective and likewise tailored uniquely to all individuals. What about sex workers? What if oxytocin overdose is someone’s goal? Not everyone has the same sexual patterns and proclivities, or even agrees on whether sex ought to romanticized, commoditized, or otherwise defined. Not everyone has the same idea of what constitutes a good life. Some people would love nothing more than to retire with a big, happy, and healthy family. At the exact same time though, some people dream of retiring in a swingers community, or being in an extreme consensual-non-consent lifestyle, and of course people desire the realities in between. As long as a given sexual lifestyle is practiced with consent, respect, and reason there is nothing wrong with any of it.