The recent tragedy in Santa Barbara reveals an inverse relationship between sex and violence. A 22-year-old college student who felt rejected by women and bullied in his youth grew to hate all women, which resulted in a murderous rage.
According to a self-made video rant, Elliot Rodger was a virgin because women were not attracted to him. Lonely and angry, Rodger armed himself with a knife and guns to carry out his penchant for revenge against all women. His mental health had been in question most of his life. His parents’ divorce and an apparent lack of meaningful relationships fueled his isolation and rage.
When I was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of New Hampshire, my research focused on the correlation between sexual issues and violence. I analyzed data with college students in five cultures, including American culture and Sweden. My research colleague, Dr. Murray Straus, and I found an inverse relationship between sex and violence in all of the cultures studied. The more a culture represses and censors natural sexual desire and behavior, the more the potential for aggression and violence.
The inverse relationship illustrates a major reason why Sweden is less violent than America: sex is not repressed in Sweden like it is here. Whether from religious puritanism, parental edicts, the virtual lack of comprehensive sex education in the schools or media sensationalism without sound thinking, violence continues to rear its ugly head in daily headlines. More sexual freedom in America would mean less murder, massacres, and domestic violence.
It is obvious that we need sex-positive sex education, a more reliable mental health system and a mass media which gets beyond glorifying sex with a lack of responsible insight. If the latter were in place, Rodger would not have been able to legally purchase guns. The gun laws need to be tightened to discourage guns getting in the wrong hands. An emotionally crippled person should not have to be institutionalized for gun shops to be legally bound not to sell guns to such a person.
Mental health does not garner enough support and organization to prevent violent tragedies. Government has to take a more responsible role in developing and funding a mental health delivery system that works. Teachers, parents and school counselors need to be more aware of those with severe mental health issues, so those with problems are integrated in the mental health system more quickly and more effectively.
Rodgers’ father had warned authorities about his son’s proclivity for violence to no avail. A more in tune mental health system might have taken such warnings seriously enough to help Rodgers with his loneliness and frustration.
When sex is used as a carrot to offer or withdraw by women with men, men become frustrated at their lack of sexual and emotional connection and release. Women suffer too. They fail to enjoy sex as a great pleasure when they withhold sex as an inappropriate currency to spend or save.
Virginity is valued more for women than for men, but our puritan culture is becoming less repressed about remaining a virgin. Virginity is not something to save. Saving sex is like waiting for Godot. Sex should be enjoyed as a healthy expression of affection and intense pleasure. “Losing” virginity is really a gain of pleasure, freedom and autonomy from repressive “thou shalt not’s” and sexual taboos.
In my book, The Naked Truth About Sex, I included my reanalysis of a Zogby poll of 56,000 Americans. I found that in the youngest age cohort, only .5% of never-married women and 1% of never-married men had not had sexual relations. So much for virginity! Unfortunately, a few frustrated virgins can cause a lot of (violent) trouble.
Dr. Albert Ellis was one of my mentors. In his classic book, The American Sexual Tragedy, he astutely observed that the sex tease of courtship and dating discourages healthy sexual satisfaction for both sexes. Our system does not work for anyone. It needs to be changed so both sexes will be informed and accepting of basic sexual expression.
Similarly, in his equally classic book, The Pursuit of Loneliness, Philip Slater argued that our culture fails to deal effectively with social problems because we do not address hot button issues head on. Instead, we decrease the visibility of critical problems by avoiding them. It is beyond comprehension why politicians, educators and mental health counselors have not collaborated to end the violence.
Our society values technology and materialism more than intimate connections. As I pointed out in an earlier blog, materialism interferes with intimacy. It is not surprising that Elliot Rodgers was driving an expensive BMW from his family. Where did materialism get Rodgers? Now he is dead along with several strangers whom he murdered on his madman violent spree.
Sexual happiness requires that we educate without being bridled by rigid teachings from religion, teachers and parents. Wilhelm Reich was absolutely correct in his writings in the 1930’s, where he observed that “natural sexuality is the arch enemy of mystical religion.” Any attempt to view sex as sin or as a behavior to be highly regulated sets the stage for frustration, aggression and violence.
Sex should not be a limited currency that is withheld in the name of morality and love. To the contrary, we would be a more healthy society if we encouraged sexual freedom with responsibility and mutuality. This is commonsense. It would encourage equalitarian relationships where mutual caring and sexual satisfaction would replace the current tension and lack of trust between potential and actual lovers.
Many of my sex therapy clients have sexual and relationship problems because of a lack of sex education. Some repress or fail to develop normal sexual desires because of silence or admonitions about sex from their parents and from religious figures. I have to help them undo the unhealthy messages they were indoctrinated with by misguided and sometimes malicious adults in their lives.
For an appointment in Seattle or Poulsbo, Wa, contact Dr. Libby at 206-244-8788 or drop me a note.