I’m pretty sure this is the first presidential debate in which the sentence “sexuality is sacred” has been uttered. It came during the abortion discussion, when Barack Obama said, “We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity.” I actually think it was one of the most important lines of the evening.
Before I unpack why, I must start with a word of thanks to Obama for not feeling the need to illustrate this point via one of those anecdotes about a Real American. I’m not sure our fragile financial system could have withstood discussion of the sacredness of Joe the Plumber’s piping.
Here’s why it’s important. Obama showed himself to have a culturally conservative streak. The classic conservative wrap on liberalism is that sexual permissiveness led to numerous social problems including teen pregnancy and abortion. Obama declared, in effect, that he agreed with that critique. “Cavalier” sex, he said, cost society.
He appealed to pro-lifers, suspicious that liberal drives toward expanding birth control would increase premarital sex and further destigmatize teen promiscuity. He indicated that he’d be sensitive to that risk.
He appealed to parents, and showed himself to be a conscientious one. Every parent struggles with how to describe sex as being beautiful yet discouraged. (If it’s so beautiful why not do it all the time, as early in life as you can? Well, because its beauty is enhanced when it’s part of a deep connection between people and maybe even fits some greater purpose.)
He appealed to traditional religious believers who have been trying for years to convey the idea that free love is destructive and who more recently have argued that sex in the context of marriage or committed relationships can be Godly. One book promoted -Christ-like Sex; while a Jewish one advocated Kosher Adultery. (in Jewish tradition, sex as part of marriage is a mitzvah, a good deed.) Obama’s comments might even earn Obama friends in the chastity movement.
Remarkably, while appealing to the traditionally religious, Obama’s phrasing also may appeal to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. These voters are likely more in synch with the idea that sex can actually be a sort of spiritual experience, or a pathway to the divine. I’m not saying Obama was subliminally promising them an increase in Tantric sex It’s just that by using the word “sexuality” — the preferred terminology of the left — rather than “sex,” he signals that he’s spiritual without being prudish.