Where sexual taboos and legal system clash

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Through the course of history, the media, government, religious authorities and other factors have been convincing North America its outlook on sexual practice is not only the will of the divine, but also the natural order of the world. However, many societies around the world would say otherwise.

There have been many studies on controversial sexual practices in foreign countries such as the procedure of female circumcision, but even within our society there are inconsistencies between what is considered normal.

Acceptance of prostitution, for example, varies even from one developed nation to another.

“Prostitution is legal on a county-option basis through Nevada,” Bob Coffin, senator for Nevada said. “If you feel that all this is heading for legalization I would urge you to think of it in terms of decriminalization.”

Nevada is one of two American states that allows brothels to operate legally. Contrary to popular belief, however, prostitution is only legal in Nevada counties with a population less than 400,000 " therefore, Las Vegas and Reno are excluded.

While it is illegal to solicit sex for money in most of North America, prostitution is considered a legitimate profession in Dutch culture.

“Part of the difference is this very different world view and outlook on the realities of the body,” Tim Blackmore, media, information and technoculture professor, said. “Sometimes it’s better to be able to pay then have people get raped, so then you have a government that says, ‘Let’s accept it’ instead of fight it.”

According to Blackmore, societies must accept or repress the sexual desires of its people, and where North America denies the acceptance of certain sexual practices, Europe would rather let things slide in a controlled manner.

“The European way is just saying ‘we accept it,’ and the North American way to deal with things is to repress it " that’s more of the Victorian style,” Blackmore continued. “Canadians were Victorians, same is true in America " they disavowed the monarchy but they were still Victorian. Instead of accepting prostitution and making regulations " recovery programs, regulated testing, mandatory protection and additional health care " we bury our heads in the sand.”

By legalizing the sex trade, Holland has allowed for a wider acceptance of prostitution as a profession.

“Holland knows the sex trade will happen, so they give it some dignity and make sure it’s clean,” Alison Hearn, media, information and technoculture professor, said. “It’s often considered unclean [in North America] because the women who are subjected to it are perceived as being criminals and are given no protection.”

Aside from the sex trade, there are also many inconsistencies within the Western world’s outlook on homosexuality.

“Prior to legislating homosexual behavior and making it a crime, it was kind of accepted in earlier centuries,” Hearn said. “People didn’t talk about it " it just happened, until the Victorian time where it became an issue for the culture.”

“It’s very interesting to look at Denmark, where homosexuality has been legal since the 1930s, and Holland which has allowed same sex marriage for a long time,” Susan Knabe, women’s studies and media, information and technoculture professor, explained.

“In the U.S. people were still arrested for sodomy 40 years out of sync with the rest of Western society. In Canada and the U.K. those laws were repealed in the 50s and 60s and I think that has a big effect on how sexuality " and homosexuality particularly " are represented in the media,” she concluded.

While many Western societies are quick to decide which sexual practices are normal and enforcing such ideologies on their legal system accordingly, many of these nations cannot come to a consensus on where taboo and the law meet.

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