In 1994, 40,000 U.S. residents died of AIDS. The epidemic was at its peak domestically and accounted for a third of deaths among American women aged 24-44 that year. It was then the first African-American Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, attended the United Nations World AIDS Day Conference.
The first question directed to Dr. Elders was: “…if masturbation might be taught as a way to prevent AIDS?” Joycelyn Elders infamously replied: “Masturbation is something that is a part of human sexuality, and is a part of something that perhaps should be taught.”
Elders was personally against abortion but believed that comprehensive sex education should be taught as soon as kindergarten.
The right-wing flipped its proverbial lid. This daughter of sharecroppers was already a liberal lightning rod. But saying the word “masturbation” in 1994 was too much for even moderates (they used to exist) to defend. Yes, in the wake of skyrocketing teenage pregnancy and devastating autoimmune deficiency plague, what sent Republicans to their collective fainting couch was a Clinton appointee suggesting solo sex could improve public health.
She was asked to resign.
“We are extremely pleased,” said Tom Kilgannon of the Christian Action Network as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This woman from day one has insulted traditional values and insulted the Christian community. She was a symbol of extremely liberal policies of the Clinton administration, and more often than not she was an embarrassment.”
Then only on his second wife, incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: “It’s good for the country and good for the President that she’s departed.”
Think of Elders as a precursor to Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod and Susan Rice. Too “outspoken.”
Elders’ blackness and gender weren’t the lone offenders in these transitional fossils’ eyes. She wasn’t anti-sex enough for their taste.
Masturbation would pop up in the political theater again in 2010 when perennial candidate Christine O’Donnell was running in Delaware for Joe Biden’s former Senate seat.
A 1990 MTV documentary surfaced where she stated: “The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can’t masturbate without lust.” She was immediately dubbed the anti-masturbation candidate and parodied hilariously by Kristin Wiig in an SNL sketch. O’Donnell was a Palin-endorsed tea party Christian conservative who was apparently also publicly against private practices.
This “wide stance” against sex had been very clear and explains why Republicans are against contraception, abortion and gay rights. These things, many have observed, at their core involve sex for sex’s sake instead of sex for procreation within the bonds of marriage. Republicans are against recreational sex. Sex should have consequences. Severe consequences. Otherwise we have no values, according to Republican lawmakers.
Then this week, something odd happened in the annals of Grand Old Party mentions of self-pollution. During a House Rules Committee debate on the GOP’s latest attempt to troll the Supreme Court into re-visiting Roe v. Wade. Texas representative Michael Burgess and former OB/GYN offered, “Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” said Burgess. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”
So Republicans are still rabidly anti-legal-abortion. They’ve been gleefully trivializing rape to make their case. But now, at least one is warming up to masturbation (even if his claim is junk science on its most credible day). Yes, Burgess is claiming fetuses do the thing Republicans usually regard as a mortal sin to try to nationalize women’s bodies and take women’s rights back a century or so.
We’ll call it “grasping at straws.”
But just think, 20 years ago, providing Burgess were black, female and liberal, saying something so pro-masturbation would have meant he’d have to resign.
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Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer and the editor-in-chief of TheContributor.com. Tina can be reached at email@example.com.