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Jewish World Review /Jan. 22, 1999 /5 Shevat, 5759

Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura 'Consenting adults' don't always examine consequences

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) IN A RECENT NATIONALLY SYNDICATED COLUMN, a well-known writer touted Bob Dole, the poster boy for Viagra, as a new symbol to "remind us that sex is a mighty important part of what makes life worth living" during this "current puritanical mood." The author did concede that "everything in its proper place and time with full respect for the needs and rights of others ... are the boundaries for consenting adults to determine."

I agree with his position that sex isn't dirty; it's normal. I certainly agree that sex has its proper time and place, and folks must be considerate of each other. It's the consenting-adults criterion that disturbs me.

On the surface, it would seem obvious that in a free society, what two consenting adults do in their privacy ought to be their own business. In reality, this is a woefully inadequate determinant for a decision about sexual behavior. I know this to be true from the innumerable daily calls I get on my radio program from people who subscribed to that shallow definition.

Just yesterday a woman called about her consensual sexual relationship. She had been having sex with her married next-door neighbor. When she found out she was pregnant, he suddenly had a change of heart about his wife and family, and informed her that he was no longer interested in her and would not have anything to do with the child.

I have calls from children all the time whose mom or dad decided to have consensual sex with a third party, only to leave their home in the throes of this natural lust and passion, abandoning these children on the altar of their own private desires.

Then I have calls from loving, trusting wives with two or more minor children, wondering what to tell their children about Daddy's new baby from a consensual relationship with some other woman. "Do we have our children meet at all? If they do, do I have them play as friends, cousins or siblings?" they ask in trembling voices.

Just the other day a young man called wondering what to do with the letter from the man who had had consensual sex with his mother and left her when she became pregnant, never to see his child. This young man wondered if he owed his elderly bio-parent anything. His attitude was a mix of hurt, anger, curiosity and long-suffering need.

Then there are the calls from the folks who suffer over their spouse's consensual encounters with third parties. "(S)he says that it's only sex and doesn't mean anything to her (him). It's amazing how something that means so little to my spouse could hurt me so much. It's painful to know that she (he) would do something that supposedly means so little, knowing how much it means to me." It is very clear even from these few examples that "two consenting adults" is an insufficient criterion for determining the appropriateness of a sexual encounter. Sexuality is predictably connected to reproduction -- even with the best intents of birth control technology. Science is imperfect, and people often take risks out of momentary passionate fantasies that strive to connect physical closeness with some deeper meaning. That meaning may include proof of virility, longing for attachment or importance, or a magical transformation of orgasms into caring love.

If we were only "animals," all of those true stories wouldn't matter, or exist, because procreation and preservation of the species is the primary intent of sex in the animal kingdom. Human beings are capable of being more. In addition to the reality of passion, lust, libido and erotic desire, there is the sublime element of sexual intimacy. When we value intimacy, then the act and the person become special -- above and beyond, but still including, "fun." With intimacy comes a unique position of knowledge, acceptance, depth, caretaking, tenderness, protectiveness and safety. While you definitely can have sexual fun with innumerable people at almost any moment, sexual intimacy must be cultivated. And while at almost any moment, any of us can imagine enjoying unfettered sexual release, do we at all imagine this experience will make us feel better about ourselves an hour later?

There is a terrible price for that kind of freedom. One of the definitions for freedom in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is "the absence of or release from ties or obligations." Some baby boomers and teen-agers continue to yearn for that utopia, forgetting this means that ultimately no one is there for anyone. That kind of freedom does not provide the sustained mutuality that human beings ultimately crave.

The recent movie "Prince of Egypt" shows a people freed from slavery, but it isn't a story about getting folks away from the bad guys so they can do ... whatever. It's a story about people released from tyranny and given the blueprint (G-d's Commandments) for how to lead a life of integrity, justice, righteousness and compassion. Something noble must be done with freedom, or it collapses into yet another tyranny, the impetuous tugs of immediate gratification and selfishness, the tyranny of what is within us all and must be directed.


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01/08/99: Don't use others' misfortunes to build your self-image
12/31/98: Tracking HIV-infected people makes good sense
12/24/98: How can we teach ethics without defining morals?
12/18/98: Parents afraid of firm values leave their children adrift
12/11/98: Spread righteousness by refusing to accept the 'code'

©1998,Universal Press Syndicate