The fact that 38 million married people are registered on the recently hacked cheating website, Ashley Madison, has come as a shock to many, but not necessarily a real disappointment. There have been plenty of recent articles claiming the situation a mere natural consequence of an unnatural expectation. They point to evidence that humans are probably not biologically predisposed to monogamy.
Now, if biology always knows best then, yes, perhaps unrestricted sexual freedom would be good for society. But I’m not sure biology always knows best. After all, there is also good evidence that we may be biologically predisposed to eat each other, and I think most people would agree that cannibilism would not be good for society.
But we don’t even need such extreme examples to prove that biology doesn’t always know best. Most people, even the most ardent promoters of unrestricted sexual freedom, do believe in the concept of curbing personal desires and urges — they believe in resisting biology. The hippie movement, with all its talk of sexual freedom, is deeply rooted in concepts of discipline and self-denial. Eating healthy, practicing yoga, fighting for world peace — all of these things are completely contrary to biology. Our early ancestors were probably way too busy killing each other to have time for sun salutations or deep breathing exercises. Like sexual restriction, many of these popular ideals require virtue. They require asceticism. Though they may be on completely different sides of the political spectrum, aside from sex, the free-love-hippie and the celibate monk have much more in common than meets the eye.
Of course, you can’t just take out the issue of sex. Sex is a pretty big issue. But philosophically, the sexual urge should be treated no differently from all of our other natural urges. We should be able to have conversations about sex like we have about Coca-Cola or violent video games. We should be able to recognize that, like everything else sensual, like everything else stemming from a human biological desire, sex can be good and it can be bad; it can be engaged in out of love and it can be abused; it can heal and it can wound.
Why can’t we have those conversations? Why is a person considered enlightened, modern, and prudent for moderating/restricting his sugar intake but then that same person would be considered backwards, prudish, and bigoted for moderating/restricting his sexuality? Why can we all agree that it’s probably bad for teenagers to grow up on Big Macs but it’s taboo to question whether teenagers should grow up on porn? Why do we talk so much about conscious spending, conscious eating, conscious use of the environment — we are expected to really think about what we do and use — just not when it comes to sex? The cultural mantra for sex is essentially, “do what you want with whomever you want as long as both people agree.” There is no place for philosophical, spiritual, or moral questioning as to what all these decisions do for us. I’m not even claiming the point at which such questioning should lead us– I’m just wondering why we can’t even ask the questions.
In the end, there is one thing we know for sure about human biology. It does not act in the best interest of each of us, individually. Biology is cruel and rough and insensitive and utilitarian. Biology works towards the survival of the species, not of the individual. Biology does not care about society or community. It does not care about enlightenment. It does not care about spirituality. It does not care about romance. It does not care about the things that make us different from other animals. It does not care about the things that make our lives meaningful. We are the ones who have to tame biology. We have to tame it and restrict it and redirect it to benefit the individual, and, in turn, society.
Of course, we can choose not to tame biology. We can choose to follow our urges wherever they lead us. But let’s at least be honest about that choice. I could exist on a diet of chocolate cake but I would have to be honest about what kind of life and death that would eventually lead me to. So what about a diet of promiscuous, unrestrained sex? Why can’t we be honest about what kind of life (or death) that leads to?