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Sexual Orientation, Philosophy, & Evidence (Friday, July 24th, 2020)

The Role of Philosophy in Forming Certain Sexual Thoughts, Feelings, Desires, and Speculations

One reason it’s so hard for some of us to think about and discuss sex openly and comfortably, I suspect (and I emphasize the word “suspect”; just like the cops identify someone as a suspect but can’t yet compile quite enough EVIDENCE to make the arrest 1)where all the more EVIDENCE must be explored and vetted in a court of law)—can be attributed to a troubling gap in much of public education—specifically, the lack of required course-work in the crucial basics of philosophy.

By the way, fortunately, philosophy need not even be as intimidating as some may deem it. (I myself, up to my sophomore year, feared the concept, mostly because never, in my K-12 education, were any basics of philosophy ever explained or even mentioned or acknowledged).

Interestingly, TV has caught on to this. Ironic as it might seem, if you succeed at putting the massive overflowing piles of prospective TV shows to watch in a decent enough strainer as to let all the mind-numbing bullshit spill out into the sink and down the drain, there are shows leading the way when it comes to PRACTICAL APPLICATION especially of ethics. (The best example I’ve seen of this, to date, is the Spanish 2)as in from Spain television show Merli.

( https://theeurotvplace.com/2017/10/euro-tv-to-watch-fabulos-catalan-language-dramedy-merli/)

Merli is a FANTASTIC model for the world to contemplate not only how philosophy can be taught to high school students in a way that doesn’t intimidate, overwhelm, or reduce itself to mere masturbatory intellectual exercise. Watching Merli, one can observe how clearly philosophy APPLIES and not just to ivory tower theorists writing very expensive textbooks. We see how philosophy APPLIES TO TEENAGERS!  The show is about an unconventional high school philosophy teacher who is so passionate about teaching it that he tells his students he wants it to “turn you on.”

Maybe you’ve also seen The Good Place or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? These shows also do some exploration into how to talk philosophy in a resonant way.

To be clear, first of all, I don’t mean to suggest the indoctrination or inculcation of a given set of beliefs.

(Anyway, we can’t help but implicitly drip a little bias here and there. The mere teaching of science suggests that at least to some extent, empiricism and logic matter when engaged in critical thought. The mere existence of schools, subjects students are required to learn, correct answers versus wrong answers, et cetera… these all imply value judgements. 3)I suspect that the best we can do to account for this inevitability is to teach students to “question everything” and play the Devil’s Advocate as to imagine how things might appear to align with or contradict each other if that which they were presented with were spun into its opposite claim, and so on…

A second point: my exposure to public education is limited to my experiences as a student from preschool and into Graduate School, and my experiences with students from a variety of socio-economic, ideological, educational, geographic/national/ethnic and sexual orientation/identity backgrounds—particularly students on their way to college or making their way through it. What I have discovered, thus, is perhaps analogous to a small, very de-facto, loose, qualitative, informal survey sample size.

In other words, contrary to my tendency before I managed to stick with college, when I made wide-sweeping generalizations based purely on idealism and rusty attempts at logical reasoning, and all-the-while utterly lacked even a remotely sufficient  accumulation of academic/experiential/instruction-training based knowledge—this time around I can at least replay fragments of memories from a wide-range of students to inform my suspicions.   

When, as teenagers, we first gain awareness of our sexuality, just how are we to think of it? What are we to make of it? How do we want to talk about it? And…based on what standard?

True, they talk to us a little bit about sex in health class, starting in middle school, and then again in high school. That’s a good thing. A question I wish to pose in that light is this: how well do these classes integrate philosophical thought into processing one’s own unique sexuality? What do I mean by philosophical in this case, anyway?

The golden rule of consent, I think most of us hope, is clearly fundamental.

But how do we reconcile whatever small peek into sexuality we get in a health class with the contradicting array of attitudes, beliefs, claims, et cetera, in our culture?

Not so long ago, when I was in high school (20 years ago I was a high school Freshman…longer ago than it FEELS sometimes), the stigma of saying one is a homosexual or bisexual was still so intense (not that it’s quite gone away now. Some people still say it is a “sin”; thankfully at least we have seen increased awareness and improved treatment) that we had a “day of silence” protest where, in rejecting how non-heterosexuals were treated, we refused to utter a word throughout the entire day in class and I’m not sure just how overwhelmingly popular it was to participate. The point here being that as culture evolves it often grows increasingly clear how biased, prejudiced, hasty, and ignorant many of us have been.

My Confession and Apology to Transgender Individuals and Those Who Do Not Identify as Heterosexuals

I don’t want to be a hypocrite so I will confess to you, I have said things I regret. Never in the spirit of bigotry but, alas, in the spirit of not knowing what the hell I was talking about!

For example, up to some point in my mid twenties (ish…?) I speculated that while neither homosexuality nor bisexuality should be considered “immoral” or “unethical” I nonetheless on occasion spouted the nonsense that the heterosexual experience was obviously the most spiritually fulfilling… the “best” sexual experience one could have. My reasoning—men and women are so different that they, as heterosexuals, embrace the mysticism of one’s another’s auras as they become “one.”

Even worse and more embarrassing was my biased assumptions about trans-gender people. (Ah… please don’t hate me. Feel free to chastise how stupid I was but please forgive me as I am now for I am trying to come clean and atone by taking responsibility) I told co-workers of mine, when discussing views on this and that, how I believed transgender people were simply confused and that therapy would help them come to terms with the genitals they were born with.

My thinking came down to the superficiality of genitalia/genitals. If someone claimed an “identity” which appeared to blatantly contradict the proof between their legs regarding what they were, wasn’t that just denial?

One person told me that he knew he was “biologically” a “she” but “psychologically” a “he.” To me, that was further evidence that there was some lingering psychological distress causing her and those like her to view themselves as something other than they were as to…perhaps…experience a new reality that could take them away from the awful reality they’ve grown disgusted with, terrified with, hurt by, those kinds of things.

But…. HOW COULD I POSSIBLY KNOW THAT?

Even supposing one is simply “speculating”—even speculation requires evidence. Strong evidence. For example, I speculate there is some deity like force because, to quote Ayn Rand (who would think I’m bastardizing and abusing her axiom by associating it with a reason to speculate in favor of a deity possibly existing)—“existence exists.”

Whatever we make of the nature of our universe…the universe is…and it changes, it transforms, things are “created” like stars, planets, space in of itself via expansion, and so on. Concretely we can point directly to blatant happenings. The exact source of those “happenings” we have no clue. Much of what we can “speculate” I don’t think is based on claiming a capacity for EXPLAINING this theoretical deity. By the way, I am actually agnostic and never go further than saying I HOPE A DEITY exists. A mix of inherent agnosticism and granting a thing to be possible enough that hoping is not in vain.

Speculating on the NATURE of something… let alone a unique human’s unique sexuality, biology, and psychology, et cetera…. Yes, I was an idiot there. And I want to be clear that I am sorry for making such disrespectful assumptions.

THIS is what brings to my mind two key thoughts: 1) the philosophical/epistemological idea of noting the empirical before jumping to conclusions about how it may or may not be morally/ethically appraised;  2) permitting the empirical to testify for itself and specifically in terms of sexuality, does this not suggest a heavy amount of emphasis on the idea of “SEXUAL ORIENTATION”–? And sexual orientation as something much more complex than simply “gay” “straight” “bi” et cetera. The Kinsey Scale may suggest this, for example.

These two key thoughts played a central role in my personal thinking about my distress over how baffling my sexuality seemed to me and how uneasy I felt in wondering if there was something  possibly “wrong” with me psychologically and/or if by permitting myself to “accept” the sexual thoughts, feelings, and desires I had, I was inching towards the unethical and immoral.

What Does The Research/Evidence Say and Suggest About Sexual Orientation

My two hypotheses were: 1) monogamy will be proven by the research to be superior to polyamory and the knowledge will suggest highly that “polyamory” is absolutely NOT an orientation;  2) we are all inherently polyamorous. Some are simply in denial because they’re insecure, afraid, and so on.

What the research IN FACT suggests is that both my guesses were, as they say, “full of it.”

There’s a very interesting article in Psychology Today about sexual orientation that compelled me to open my mind. The article is titled “Is Polyamory a Form of Sexual Orientation?” and is written by Dr. Elizabeth A. Sheff.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-polyamorists-next-door/201610/is-polyamory-form-sexual-orientation#:~:text=Legally%2C%20polyamory%20is%20not%20considered,sex%2C%20sexuality%2C%20or%20gender.

Published on October 4th, 2016. Dr. Sheff writes:  

“The idea of sexual orientation as defined only by the gender of the partner desired is fairly new, at least in such a narrow scope. Historically, sex was a series of acts that people did, not something that defined them as a specific type of person. Since the sexologists of the mid to late 1800s invented the idea of sexual orientation, it has relied primarily upon the sex of the desired partner.[i] People who wanted someone of a different sex became defined as heterosexual, those who wanted a partner of the same sex were deemed homosexual, and folks who desired partners of “both”[ii] sexes were labeled bisexual.

“While the gender of a partner remains the primary legal standard for sexual orientation, such a simplistic view of sexuality fails to adequately encompass the enormous range of sexual and gender diversity that exists today. Contemporary sexual orientation includes a far wider array of factors, including (but not limited to): type of sex,[iii] presence or absence of desire for sex,[iv] and relational configuration.

Dr. Sheff writes also that she’s studied polyamorous families for twenty years (so by now, 2020, almost 25 years!) and found some recurring claims by those who describe themselves as polyamorous. For example, she writes:

“People who experience polyamory as a sexual orientation often describe themselves as being “wired that way” and report that they could not choose to be different even if they tried (and some have tried doggedly).”

Interestingly, it’s also not that “simple” as she notes some people feel polyamorous by orientation while others simply view this identity as simply a choice they make.

She also offers some interesting observations about monogamy as a sexual orientation, writing in her even more recent article (just four months ago—March 13th, 2020) “Monogamous by Orientation” (again for Psychology Today):

“Once they are pair-bonded, people who are monogamous by orientation have no problem whatsoever remaining sexually exclusive with their partners. Some of these monogamous folks were virgins when they married and have only ever had sex with their spouse. Others played the field before settling down and becoming monogamous. Either way, these deeply monogamous folks not only agree to sexual exclusivity with their partners, they actually follow through with it for decades. They simply do not hunger for other partners.

“Generally, a person who is monogamous by orientation does not really notice other people as attractive. In much the same way that a vegetarian barely registers the meat entrees on the menu, monogamous folks are just not on the level of noticing others’ attractiveness. They literally only have eyes for their partner. While they can recognize when someone is conventionally attractive, that attraction does not translate any further than an abstract idea.

“Sometimes even the abstract idea of others is simply not interesting, and some deeply monogamous folks are not interested in pornography or even thinking about others when they masturbate. For these folks, all of their lustiness — every drop of desire — is poured into their relationship with their mate. They do not have other partners, even in fantasy.”

 What struck me most of all about this passage is that I’ve heard people who identify with monogamy say almost exactly that. When they told me this I didn’t believe them. I thought: how could you NOT think about a lot of people you’re attracted to when you masturbate?

Granted, these are just observations, and at that, they’re observations of one psychologist. But it is also consistent with the implications of the Kinsey Scale or let us say, how highly unique our sexual wiring perhaps is. Moreover, it resonates with a number of other sources I’ve conferred with in the midst of my research on this topic. I’ve also learned to better suspend judgement and put more of my “thought-time” into dealing directly with what the evidence is.    

References   [ + ]

1. where all the more EVIDENCE must be explored and vetted in a court of law
2. as in from Spain
3. I suspect that the best we can do to account for this inevitability is to teach students to “question everything” and play the Devil’s Advocate as to imagine how things might appear to align with or contradict each other if that which they were presented with were spun into its opposite claim, and so on…

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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