Christine O’Donnell, the newly anointed Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, wants to save our country from socialism. She opposes socialism because she believes in the individual. In her view, you should be free to live your own life, unencumbered by others. Except when it comes to touching your genitals.
O’Donnell expressed her views on socialism clearly in a speech last year. “There is a fundamental flaw with socialism that makes it never work,” she explained. “And the fundamental flaw in socialism is that it reduces the human being to a cog in the wheel. … Under a socialist economy, the people exist to empower the government. It should be the other way around: A government should exist to empower and protect the people.”
O’Donnell recalled a TV panelist who thought the government should have taken over more of General Motors. “At least this socialist has the guts to come out of the closet,” she joked. But perhaps O’Donnell should come out of the closet herself. In fact, all of us should come out of the closet, since, in her view, none of us should come in the closet. That act—masturbation—would be a sin by the individual against society.
It’s well known that O’Donnell, in her previous job as president and founder of the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth, preached the evils of masturbation. What’s less understood is her rationale for doing so. In a 1996 program on MTV, she and her SALT colleagues explained their philosophy. “Masturbation is a selfish act,” said the group’s marketing director. O’Donnell cautioned that anyone who masturbates is “toying with his sexuality.” She concluded: “You’re going to be pleasing each other. And if he already knows what pleases him, and he can please himself, then why am I in the picture?”
O’Donnell didn’t invent this objection. It’s the official doctrine of her Catholic faith, ignored by many Catholics but not by O’Donnell. Under “Offenses against chastity,” the church’s Catechism says this:
By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”
The church’s Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics adds that
masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act. The main reason is that, whatever the motive for acting this way, the deliberate use of the sexual faculty outside normal conjugal relations essentially contradicts the finality of the faculty. For it lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely the relationship which realizes “the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” All deliberate exercise of sexuality must be reserved to this regular relationship.
In other words, masturbation is wrong because you do it alone, outside the “moral order” of social relations in which you’re supposed to perform your proper function. It’s something you do for yourself instead of “giving” yourself to the larger purpose of human procreation. You’re just a cog in the wheel. You exist to serve the community.
O’Donnell’s version of this critique is more explicitly socialist: If he already knows what pleases him, and he can please himself, then why am I in the picture? The guy is taking care of his own business, and O’Donnell is upset because this makes him less dependent on others.
Is O’Donnell going to outlaw masturbation? Of course not. No government could enforce such a law. But that doesn’t lessen her antipathy to non-procreative sexuality, even when it’s protected by private industry. In 1995, when Coors offered health benefits to partners of its gay employees, O’Donnell said that her organization, Concerned Women for America, opposed the company’s policy because “it legitimizes the homosexual lifestyle.” In Catholic doctrine, masturbation and homosexuality are wrong for the same reason: They don’t serve the kind of conjugal union that can lead to procreation.
The next time you hear O’Donnell decry socialism, remember how little she respects the individual in the most private of matters. Your wallet doesn’t belong to society. Neither does what’s under it. Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. William Saletan’s latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: