Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cancer and Conservative Sexual Morality

Cancer is a sexually transmitted disease.

Well, not entirely, but much, and perhaps most cancer, it seems, is a symptom of sexually transmitted disease.

We know this is true of cervical cancer. We even have a vaccine against the virus that leads to (the vast majority of cases) of cervical cancer.

But not just cervical cancer. The same virus that causes cervical cancer is also suspect to being responsible for many cases of throat and stomach cancer (through oral sex), and some cases of breast cancer.

What happens is that a virus enters a healthy cell. This is a virus that has found a way to divide by causing the cell it infects to divide and to then divide with the host cell. It does this by altering the genes of the cell it infects to create a string of mutations that lead to unrestrained cell division – thus, to cancer.

I learned about these facts in watching an episode of a series of lectures from Stanford University on Darwin's Legacy. (See: Darwin's Legacy: Lecture 8.

One of the speakers was Dr. Paul Ewald. He argued in his presentation that 20% of known cancers are caused by sexually transmitted viruses. Much (most? all?) of the remaining 80% are also caused by viruses – we simply do not know yet. We have no better explanation as to how a cell can undergo the specific set of changes responsible for becoming a cancer without undergoing other changes that would be fatal (though lung cancer from cigarette cancer and radiation-induced cancers suggest it is possible).

Still, we have reason to believe that many if not most people who get cancer has acquired a sexually transmitted disease that has the capacity to mutate cells to bring about unrestrained replication.

I wrote in my last post that it is possible to make a conservative argument without being either a half-wit or a self-serving demagogue. This fact about cancer (added to facts about other sexually transmitted diseases) suggests a line of reasoning that can be used to defend a conservative position on issues of sexual morality.

One of the ways to prevent the spread of a disease is to cause people to have an aversion to those activities that lead to the spread of the disease. We use our tools of praise and condemnation to get people to wash their hands and to take other precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. If there are activities going on in society that lead to the spread of those diseases, the government steps in. It closes schools and mass transit systems, closes the bath houses in San Francisco. It requires that certain health standards be met and closes down any business that is conducted in a way that contributes to the spread of the disease.

The worse the disease, the stronger the steps that are taken, both in terms of government action and in terms of moral condemnation, to inhibit behavior that leads to the spread of the disease.

One class of behavior that contributes to the spread of some of worst diseases is sexual behavior. The cancer research above tells us that it contributes to the spread of even more and more dangerous diseases than we thought. So, it follows that there is legitimate reason to use moral condemnation and legal sanction against activities that tend to promote the spread of disease. This would include prostitution, pornography, adultery, and promiscuity.

The sexual drive is a primal drive – there is no chance that we can eliminate it. However, we can mold it by encasing it in a larger web of desires that can affect how people act on their sexual desires. If we hold monogamous lifelong relationships up to be the ideal – praising those who enter into those relationships and condemning those who do not – then one effect of this will be to do a better job of containing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including cancer.

On this matter, it is possible to criticize liberal views and the types of activities that liberals tend to allow for sending a mixed message to children. If children heard a consistent message of condemnation of prostitution, pornography, adultery, and promiscuity, then they would adopt stronger aversions to it. Every time a child encounters a message of moral acceptance for these activities, he acquires less of an aversion. This means a greater chance of engaging in these types of activities and a greater chance of contributing to the health problems that arise from these activities.

I do not know how far it is possible to carry this argument. However, it is not relevant to the point that I make here. I would like to hear competent and honest conservatives advance this argument as a way of contributing to the public debate. There is a position here that ought not to be ignored. Even if it is wrong, it is not obviously wrong. It is not a view of half-wits and self-promoting demagogues.

However, modern-day Republicans have shown such a massive disregard for truth, honest, and intellectual integrity that they have simply destroyed their credibility. They no longer have the ability to carry these arguments very far because their tolerance of everything from outright deception to torture shows that they do not have enough moral character to be trusted.

The result is that we are not debating issues that actually deserve some serious social debate.


Mike said...

I question your suggestion of a typical liberal perspective on sexuality. From my experience, liberals, the well-read, well meaning, concerted parental kind, have the same views of sexuality as your theoretically thoughtful and deliberative conservative you are proposing in this series.

How these liberals different from actual conservatives, is that they admit the nature of sexual desire and prescribe a more robust set of attitudes and responsibilities regarding sexuality. Just as your imaginary fact-oriented conservative, they promote a preference for abstinence in youth and monogamy for adults. However, they also accept as fact that sexual desires will override these prescriptions in enough instances, and so actively promote sanitary contraception as an alternative.

What I am suggesting is that modern conservatives who are not half-witted, self serving demagogues must accept to some degree the liberal view, that the promotion of sanitary contraception is an essential component of sexual education in modern society. Additionally, I think that they will find sufficient consensus from the non-half-witted liberals, that this need not be done at the expense of promoting abstinence in youth and monogamy for adults.

It is only the half-witted, self promoting 'liberals' of the entertainment industry that promote the irresponsible and dangerous sexual attitudes that concern both well-meaning Liberals and Conservatives alike.

Eneasz said...

One also needs to consider the negative effects that sexual repression has on a society. Rather than promoting abolition, it would be much wiser to promote responsibility. This is actually true of most issues, not just sex. Promoting responsible drinking is much more effective than abolition was. Promoting responsible gun ownership is more effective than banning them altogether. Etc.

sims said...

It was very interesting to read your post. I'm not an American and don't live there. I don't even know what liberal and conservative mean. However, in this overly conservative country I live in, the subject of sex has become a comparatively casual activity.

Rather than get political about it, I would suggest parents be parents and teach their children these things. Why do parents have such an aversion to training their children these days?

Finally, I how meaningless relationships and family units become with free attitude towards sexual activity. The family unit is the most basic unit of society. If this is corrupted, society will decay.

Monogamy promotes the family unit. Perhaps a solution would be to teach monogamy, and therefore responsibility, but also teach sexual education and emotional education.

Sick humans pass those sickness on to their offspring.

Sexual activity is part of the human. However, it has it's place in a heterosexual monogamous relationship. Before entering into such a relationship, one must be mentally and emotionally stable and balanced. Otherwise the relationship is bound to collapse. This is the real issue. Not sexual repression. Sexual activity in it proper place should be praised not condemned.

Religious factions have condemned even decent sexual activity leading to a complete strangulation of emotion. This is repression. Parents should instruct their children in these matters. It's not the governments responsibility. Why would I trust someone I don't know to solve my family's problems? Well, I don't have one yet. Hopefully parents around the world will take a more active role in teaching their children.

Tshepang Lekhonkhobe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tshepang Lekhonkhobe said...

What I gather from reading your post is that the one reason for promoting aversion to such things as porn prostitution is the risk of spreading disease. To clarify, does this imply that if we get to the age where such diseases could be easily cured (or genetically prevented, for EG), that there's no reason to promote such an aversion any more?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Well, "no reason to promote" is probably a bit excessive.

However, "less of a reason to promote" would certainly be true where, it is possible that the reasons to promote such an aversion would not be worth the effort.

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Kristopher said...

diseases spread primarily at schools but we dont stop sending our children. instead we create medicine and antibacterial hand wipes...

due to vigerous testing the pornography industry has very little HIV occurances and the consumers don't tend to have partners but the other targets are legitimate

there is a connection between radiation and cancer so i wouldn't say the other 80% is probably infectious

if 20% of cancer comes from an infectios diseas and it is theorized that there are more diseases that cuase cancer. why is it assumed that these diseases are sexually transmitted and not airborn or water born?

i think we should stick to the 20% its a little early to say "most"

furthermore unwanted pregnancy is a pretty good reason to get praise for abstinance. but it needs to go hand in hand with contraception for those that fail.

abstinance is a good way to prevent the spread of deadly diseases but it needs to go hand in hand with medical testing and prevention for those that fail.

i think the above two rules is the progressive platform the current conservatives want to ignore the things that need to go hand in hand with praise for abstinance.

i haven't seen progressives unveil the pro promiscous adulterer platform. like Mike said. I think what you are saying republicans should be advocating is what progressives are currently advocating.