Sex and the Off-Label Use of Our Bodies

Design-of-everyday-things
What are our bodies meant for?

One of the most common condemnations of non-standard sex — from homosexuality to masturbation — is “that’s not what those body parts were meant for.” Genitals and sexual desire were supposedly designed for reproduction, and reproduction alone: by God (as the argument most commonly goes), or by evolution (as the argument occasionally gets made). To use these parts/ desires for any other purpose is dangerous at best and sinful at worst.

Okay. Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether there even is a God, much less one who purposely designed the human body to fulfill his divine plan. The most common counter to this accusation is that it doesn’t get applied consistently. Not even by people who do believe in a God who created our bodies. As Dan Savage once pointed out: Our noses weren’t “designed” for us to rest our glasses on — and nobody gets their knickers in a twist over that. Off-label uses of our bodies are ridiculously common. I could come up with them all day. Our feet weren’t “meant” for us to operate the pedals of a car. Our mouths weren’t “meant” for us to play the harmonica. Our heads weren’t “meant” for us to display giant novelty foam-rubber cheese wedges and other oversized signals of allegiance to sports teams. Our hands weren’t “meant” for us to type on computer keyboards. (Boy howdy, were they ever not. My recent tendinitis flare-up is evidence enough of that.) And that doesn’t stop anyone from doing these things.

So why should sex be an exception? No, our mouths and assholes weren’t “designed” for sex, by God or by evolution. So what? We use our bodies in lots of ways and for lots of purposes that they weren’t “designed” for… and nobody considers that immoral. Computers and harmonicas and giant novelty cheese wedges are seen as acceptable and even positively neat. Why is anal sex somehow a perversion of the natural order?

A good argument. And one I frequently make myself.

But today, I’m going to take it a step further.

Off-label uses of body parts and biological functions aren’t just acceptable and morally neutral. They are some of the most beautiful, honorable, and deeply treasured parts of the human experience.

*

Thus begins my new piece on the Blowfish Blog, Sex and the Off-Label Use of Our Bodies. To read more — and to find out why I think off-label uses of our bodies isn’t just morally neutral but a positive and valuable good thing, read the rest of the piece. (And if you’re inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

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Sex and the Off-Label Use of Our Bodies
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8 thoughts on “Sex and the Off-Label Use of Our Bodies

  1. 1

    I posted this comment over on Blowfish, too, as you asked: Not all religions worry about “misusing” body parts- one of the most revered texts of my faith says, “Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.”

  2. 2

    [For some reason I wasn’t able to leave this comment at Blowfish, so I’ll post it here.]
    I’ve argued elsewhere that “what is this thing for?” is not as interesting a question as “what can I do with this thing?”. A sparrow’s wing is excellent at flying, so it’s tempting to say that it’s “for” flight. But that doesn’t make it somehow unnatural or wrong to use it for showing off mating colors, or protecting eggs.
    I often wonder about the people who make the “that’s not what those body parts are for” argument. That seems to be a sign of a mind that wants a lot of structure and organization, and is uncomfortable when rules and conventions are broken.
    A lot of the dietary and sexual rules in the Bible fit this pattern: animals have four legs and walk on land; fish have fins and scales; creatures that don’t fit this pattern, like shrimp, are abhorrent. Men fight wars, wear tunics, and are the active participant in sex; women take care of children, wear dresses, and are the recipients of sex. A man who wears a dress or raises the kids doesn’t fit that pattern, and is therefore abhorrent.

  3. 3

    I’m trying not to hold your love of King Lear against you. Ah well, exception proves the rule, right?
    I had never thought of the incredible variety of off-label uses for our bodies before. Thank you.

  4. 4

    Greta, great essay, but @arensb: Wow! Amazing observation. Yes, there are sensible questions that could be asked about intelligent design, and ID proponents are indeed not doing it.
    Because it’s not entirely obvious what conclusions would be reached.
    It would actually be interesting research, but I can understand a legitimate researcher’s apprehension at being associated with the IDiots.

  5. 5

    So, exactly where does one find these labels. I know my anus doesn’t come with a pre-printed exit only sign.
    And if you go allllllll the way back to the Devonian period, when we were all fish, we used to do it by squirting the egg and sperm onto the bottom of the ocean, no penetration required. Does that mean that the first male reptile that fertilized the first female reptile internally was using his body unnaturally?

  6. 6

    Great post, as always! Your point is one I’ve never really articulated before, but it makes so much sense. I am going to use this argument from now on.
    On an unrelated topic- I also have really bad tendinitis and I am worried about your hands! Because of work and general stupidity I kept on typing even though I was hurt. Now it is so bad that I can’t type at all. I have to use speech recognition software. If your hands are bothering you I would really recommend getting Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software sooner rather than later to give your hands chance to properly heal.
    (I swear I don’t work for Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I am just a concerned citizen 🙂

  7. 7

    Your article points out a wonderful refutation of the religious contentions regarding evolution, for if no creature ever had to do something “unnatural” then no adaptive changes would ever be possible, maybe leading to the demise of the species.
    A recent discovery in China of an ancient early species of fish showed that they had developed internal incubation, indicating that they had sex as we now understand it. It had to have been an adaptation to conditions, an act which the authorities of the time might well have condemned as “unnatural”.
    I’ve been pondering of late how people are going to balance personal sexual needs with planetary reproductive needs. This is to say that if we are to avoid reproducing ourselves into extinction from using up Earth’s resources like the religious-based paleocons are bent on doing, we are going to have to accept certain practices that are now frowned upon by the holier-than-thou crowd.
    An example of this, I once read, had to do with the Middle Ages, when uncontrolled reproduction could mean disaster for a family. Some heeded the religious authorities and abstained, but others adopted oral and anal sex practices as a suitable alternative. I would suspect that, like many of today’s self-appointed saints, most claimed the former while doing the latter when out of sight.
    We need sex on so many levels that it isn’t wise to do without completely. Thus, situational ethics may again become the bugaboo of the religious authorities who want to take us over both temporally as well as spiritually as we find ways to take care of our needs whether or not they are approved by the holy.
    Cross posted at Blowfish.

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