In almost every area of modern life, we eagerly embrace a lifestyle that is far from “natural.” Whether you’re reading this column in print or online, you’re engaging in an “unnatural” activity––neither newspapers nor websites grow on trees. Our ability to engage in the unnatural is what allows us to creatively enrich our lives, yet with sex, the naturalistic fallacy is regularly used as a way to control and shame certain sexualities.
A few weeks ago I answered the following letter by talking about what makes “normal” a useless, possibly even dangerous standard when talking about sex:
I have not had sex ever. I like the idea of sex; I respect it. However, certain things such as blow jobs and miscellaneous practices that don’t involve vaginal penetration sound quite unnatural and even perverted to me. However, they seem to be frequently practiced. I guess my question is, in heterosexual sex, what is normal, and what isn’t? Is there even such thing as normal sex practices?
-Wondering What’s Weird
But there was another part of this letter that stuck out to me, and today, I want to look at what it means when we appeal to either “natural” or “unnatural” sex.
The argument that something is either good because it’s natural or bad because it isn’t is a logical error called the naturalistic fallacy. Like most logical fallacies, it’s a really easy logical lapse to make, particularly because it seems to make sense on the surface. But it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny: For instance, what we call “murder” is a regular occurrence in the natural world, but that doesn’t keep society from condemning it. Likewise, despite the difficulty of finding a naturally-occurring iPad, you hardly see anyone protesting the perversion of tablet computers.
But because the naturalistic fallacy resonates with us on such a primal level, its capacity to shame is deep. After all, like WWW indicated by asking their question, nobody wants to be unnatural. This fact is regularly exploited by anti-gay activists who claim homosexuality is an abominable perversion, and in doing so, suggest that its supposedly unnatural status makes it wrong. It’s not just the Westboro Baptist Church, though: With terms like “freak” and “pervert” written into our sexual vocabulary, it’s hard to think of sex without falling back on the fallacy.
Let’s move beyond this. From the alarm clocks that wake us in the morning to the beds we fall asleep on at night, our daily lives are filled with unnatural things that we hardly bat an eye at. In fact, our ability to mold the natural world into new forms is an expression of our creativity and part of what makes us human. It takes a degree of the unnatural to turn raw ingredients into gourmet meals. Concertos don’t spring up naturally from the earth, but we all recognize their value and beauty. Building upon the natural is one of the primary ways we enrich our lives.
Of course, your sexual tastes are all your own, and you have every right to find non-vaginal sex uninteresting, disgusting, scary or anything else. Like I said a month ago, if you want to limit your sex life to vaginal intercourse, then by all means, that’s your choice, and more power to you! I simply want to caution you against both thinking and talking about sex in terms of the “unnatural.” Some of our most powerful, important and appreciated pursuits are unnatural. Sex can be too.