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Sexual taboos or privacy: which came first?

  1. Jun 15, 2010 #1
    I've been playing with this idea that the culture of secrecy/privacy is related to sexual taboos, but maybe in ways more complex than generally thought. Obviously, if sexuality is taboo then people will either avoid it or keep it a secret. Since it is such a strong drive, however, it seems more likely to me that the taboo creates a culture of secrecy/privacy more so than it prevents actual behaviors.

    Now my question is whether the culture of secrecy/privacy, which involves such things as unspoken agreement not to ask or tell about sexual activities, etc. has evolved purely to protect sexuality from public scrutiny and social control OR whether sex has evolved as an impetus for creating and maintaining such a culture by increasing desire for privacy/secrecy. In other words, is sex used to eroticize privacy and secrets, and are privacy and secrecy themselves actually in service of other forms of power?

    The question then becomes, what other forms of power benefit from privacy and secrecy? My guess would be that to maintain arbitrary social power that relies on avoiding contestations of authority, a culture of privacy/secrecy helps insofar as open democratic challenges to power will be avoided or ignored with the idea that real power only takes place covertly. In fact, this seems more to be a complete disarming of democratic means of contesting power, since it is unlikely that any effective social-political discourse can occur in private settings with an emphasis on secrecy.

    So I don't think that the culture evolved to get people to keep quiet about sex but rather to use sexuality to get people to keep quiet. It is political repression that takes you, literally, "by the balls."
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2010 #2
    Are you implying a conspiracy where people are enforcing their secret by taking the inherent secrecy of sex and using it to make secrets sexy? Doesn't that seem a little far fetched?
  4. Jun 15, 2010 #3
    I highly doubt that it would be the result of a planned conspiracy. More likely it would be the result of a natural evolutionary process of culture. It's not that secrets are sexy so much that secrecy and privacy are associated with sex and therefore eroticized. The question is why sexuality has remained "in the closet" for the most part, even to the high degree it is talked about in a general sense. There is a preservation of shame for being caught or just having intimate details about your personal sexuality known publicly. Then this is coupled with a more general taboo against public openness regarding airing proverbial "dirty laundry."

    The distinction between public/private and the premium on secret-keeping are generally known. The question to me is whether sex is just coincidentally part of a more general culture or whether it plays a formative role in establishing and maintaining the culture. Clearly, managing pleasure and shame are part of the culture, and structuring who says what to whom under what circumstances is the other part. I'm just not sure about the details.
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