Republicans want to take all pleasure out of sex

The convergence of right-wing attacks on contraception and sexual education underscores conservatives’ ignorance about — and opposition to — sex for pleasure. 

It’s easy to get a sense of this online, where incels and their ilk regularly shame women for displaying any sexual agency whatsoever.

Sex for fun — especially unmarried women’s having sex for fun — is demonized in a large part the American discourse where conservative ideals dominate. And conservatives intend to turn that incredibly wack ideology into widespread policy. 

Bans on sexual education reinforce the bizarre stigma against premarital sex — as if that’s actually going to prevent most people from having it before their wedding nights. Restrictions on contraception reinforce the idea that sex without the intent to conceive — sex just for fun — is bad. And bans on abortion reinforce the mythical notion that pregnancy is preordained because women are meant to bear children.

All of this is patriarchal nonsense. And it harms everyone.  

Photo Illustration: A couple almost kisses
MSNBC / Getty Images

Policies designed to postpone sex until the consummation of marriage harm women because they contribute to the often misogynistic views many marriages rest upon. And they aim to cast all sex that happens outside the confines of the conservative movement’s ideals as sins — potentially even crimes. (Think I’m kidding? Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he would defend his state’s anti-sodomy law if the Supreme Court takes it up again.) 

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Some people actually enjoy sex. Not because it’s a means to make a baby, and not as a gift from God for decades of abstinence, but because it’s (and I want to be scientific here) freaking awesome. And today, we see liberating movements urging people to name and embrace their sexual pleasures after years of the systematized sex-shaming I described. 

We know prohibitions on sex (or de facto prohibition created through sex-shaming policies) only prevent people from having enjoyable sexual experiences — they don’t stop sex altogether. Bans on sex ed don’t stop sex — they prevent people from learning important lessons like what consent means and how to practice sexual hygiene. Bans on contraception don’t stop sex — they make sex less safe. And bans on abortion don’t stop sex or abortions — they just make both potentially more life-threatening. 

For good reason, I don’t know a single American who would look to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Rep. Matt Gaetz or Sen. Josh Hawley for input on what constitutes an ethical and enjoyable sexual experience. But these are all popular figures in a conservative movement that has become deeply obsessed with Americans’ sex lives and eager to pass laws to police them.