The argument of procreation: also pretty problematic

In my last post I pointed out an oft-unnoticed flaw in one of the arguments Christians sometimes use to support the belief that homosexual sex is sinful. While I’m at it, here’s another argument Christians sometimes use to the same end, and a reason that argument is also highly suspect.

The argument in question today runs roughly as follows:
1. God’s primary–or perhaps only–intended purpose for human sexual activity is procreation.
2. Therefore the only acceptable forms of sexual activity are those that can potentially result in the fertilization of an egg by a sperm.
3. Therefore the only acceptable sexual activity is between one woman and one man. If two women have sex, there are eggs but no sperm, and if two men have sex, there are sperm but no eggs, so in either case procreation cannot happen.

This argument comes up especially frequently in debates over same-sex marriage, and is generally cited by those who want to argue that marriage should be restricted to couples who are capable of having children (or who would be capable of having children if all their procreative organs were functioning properly; advocates for this position usually ignore the plight of couples wherein one or both partners is infertile). But quite apart from any other reasons you or I may have for disagreeing with this argument, it holds a few implications that many people, even those who believe homosexual sex is wrong, would still find untenable.

By the logic of this argument, if the only acceptable forms of sexual activity are those that can potentially lead to the procreation of children, then not only homosexual sex but also all of the following are also inherently sinful:
— Heterosexual sex that does not include coitus
— Heterosexual sex in which the woman is past menopause
— Heterosexual sex in which either partner is known to be infertile
— Heterosexual sex at any stage in the woman’s menstrual cycle at which conception is impossible
— Heterosexual sex with birth-control pills, condoms, or other contraceptives

At this point, some Christians might sputter in protest and point out that heterosexual sex in which the woman is past menopause is clearly not sinful, if the example of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 is any indication. Fair enough–but God specifically told them that he was going to give them descendants, which is not something he says to the vast majority of post-menopausal women; Abraham and Sarah are a special exception to the norm. Logic demands that a post-menopausal woman remain celibate (unless God specifically tells her otherwise), or else that the sex-is-only-for-procreation argument is rubbish.

Along similar lines, Christians will sometimes use the story of Onan in Genesis 38:8-10 to argue against masturbation and other non-coital forms of sexual activity. Onan’s brother Er had died without a son, so Onan’s responsibility was to have sex with Er’s widow Tamar so that the firstborn son could be an heir for Er. Onan had sex with Tamar but pulled out, in order that a child would not be conceived, and as punishment God struck Onan dead.

But the use of this story to argue against non-coital forms of sexual activity overlooks the reason Onan was supposed to have sex with Tamar in the first place, which was to conceive a child who could be Er’s heir. Onan knew full well that, legally, the child would not be his–and he also knew that Er’s property would revert to him (that is, to Onan himself) if Er didn’t have a son. Thus the reason Onan incurred God’s wrath was not that he engaged in an unacceptable form of sexual activity but that, for selfish reasons, he refused to fulfill his legal and moral obligation to his deceased brother. Christians who think masturbation, oral sex, or other non-coital forms of sexual activity are sinful may still be able to build a case, but they’ll have to look elsewhere for their arguments; the story of Onan presents a pretty flimsy one.

As for the two arguments against homosexual activity that I’ve discussed in yesterday’s and today’s posts, the position those arguments are meant to support may be right or it may be wrong–and there are plenty of people, even Christians, on either side–but those arguments are too severely flawed to keep using. Let’s all agree to knock it off, shall we?

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