Clarification

Two days ago on ADS-L, David A. Daniel responded to part of my saddlebacking posting (on this blog)

I am surprised that in your article you would categorize the association of heterosexual anal sex with “Christianity, premarital sex, and maintaining ‘virginity'” as recent or recently fashionable. Perhaps it is recent or recently fashionable (a) to discuss it in mainstream media and/or (b) as a virginity preserving practice in protestant America. But, point is, it has long been used by generations of Greeks, Italians, Arabs and a whole assortment of other folk, not just as a virginity preserver but as birth control as well. There is, in this grand, modern and enlightened year of 2009, a whole world out there of people who get anything from ostracized to sold into prostitution to stoned to beheaded if their pre-marital hymens are not intact. But they’re all just as horny as the more liberated folks, so… they go knockin’ on the back door.

Oh dear. Blogging has many pitfalls. One that afflicts me again and again arises from the optimistically naive idea that I have a topic I can blog about in half an hour or so (as against the hours, some times many hours, I spend on most postings); when you have hundreds of postings in the pipeline, already started, you pray for an easy one.

So I often fail to give the provisos, restrictions, background information, footnotes, explanatory parentheses, and the like that would make what I write clearer. As I did in this case.

The two important things here are (1) that I meant the four matters heterosexual anal sex, Christianity, premarital sex, and maintaining “virginity” to be seen as a cluster (that’s what the and was for, but I’m sure that was too indirect); and (2) that the label Christian was meant to be understood in the context of the material I was talking about, where it picks out a sliver of Protestant Christianity (excluding not only all varieties of Catholicism, but also most mainstream Protestant churches, for instance Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian Churches).

On the second point: Saddleback Church itself (in Lake Forest, Orange County, California, with further “campuses” in Corona, Irvine, Laguna Woods, and San Clemente, plus an “internet campus”) is just such a church; the Wikipedia page describes it as an “evangelical Christian megachurch”. In general, individual churches with a name of the form “X Christian Church” — Bethel Christian Church, Forest Hill Christian Church, Southland Christian Church, etc. — are churches of this sort (some associated with the Disciples of Christ, some not); but churches with other names are also “Christian” churches in this special sense. (Back in 2005-6, ADS-L had a series of postings on the baffling multiplicity in the uses of the word Christian, and the newsgroup soc.motss had an exchange on the topic earlier than this, in 2001. Let me ask readers not to start a new thread on this topic in the comments section for this posting. I hope to post separately on the topic, pulling together some of this earlier material.)

On the first point, I am of course aware of the use of anal sex as a way of preserving a woman’s hymen, in cultural settings where an intact hymen is crucial for prospective brides (and also as a mode of birth control). But that’s not what’s going on in the relatively recent “Christian” context, where what is crucial is not the hymen but not having “had sex”, on a narrow reading of “having [heterosexual] sex” (where anal, and also oral and manual sex and some other sexual practices, do not count, “technically”, for some people, as having had sex), and where penis-in-vagina sex does count as having sex, and affects both participants equally. (Again matters are complex, since there’s a wide range of opinion/belief as to what counts as not having sex, as virginity, or as “purity”. I’ve long had a posting in preparation on this question, and again ask readers not to start a thread on it in the comments section for this posting.)

That said, the recent availability of the verb saddleback to cover a very particular practice (in which the four considerations listed above, plus lack of protection, function as a cluster) has encouraged people to expand its meaning, by eliminating various of the features in the definition Dan Savage chose for saddlebacking, up to treating it, as several posters have put it, as “a new word for an old practice” — that is, as just meaning ‘engage in anal intercourse’ (in intransitive and transitive variants). You might have predicted this, since verbal expressions for this “old practice” are, variously, overlong, technical, euphemistic, potentially unclear in their denotation, conveying other (often unwanted) shades of meaning (sodomize is unsatisfactory on several counts), or crude. So saddleback in this generalized sense is an attractive innovation — until, of course, it’s contaminated by negative attitudes towards the act it refers to.

One Response to “Clarification”

  1. Jens Fiederer Says:

    As a potential general term for ass fucking, “saddleback” fails FAR more on the “potentially unclear” metric than “ass fucking” does on the crude (I’m not sure the latter even qualifies as crude any more, although it would have when I was young). But since the act itself is considered a bit dodgy in various circles (perhaps that is at least part of the appeal), I don’t think you can avoid some circumlocution (yes, give it five syllables like “anal intercourse” and it becomes palatable by some mysterious process) without risking some offense.

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