"NATURAL" - "UNNATURAL"
Where the violation of sexual norms is defined as a religious or ethical problem, sexual conformity and sexual deviance are seen as righteousness and sin. Conforming sexual behavior is described as "proper", "moral", and "natural". Deviant behavior is called "improper", "immoral", and "unnatural".
Especially the words "natural" and "unnatural" have always been very popular with moralists, because the invocation of nature is much more effective than an appeal to mere propriety or even morality. Nature does not seem to be subject to human whim and caprice. Therefore it can be presented as an objective, truly impartial authority, an infallible final arbiter in questions of right and wrong. A natural morality can claim to be unchangeable, eternal, and universally valid. By the same token, those who base their moral judgments on nature can imagine themselves to be free of personal bias. In their view, nature itself embodies the rules by which we should live. The intentions of nature can be found with the help of right reason, and once we have found them, we are also obliged to follow them. Only natural actions are moral.
However, this argument rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of both nature and morality. Nature has no intentions, and there is no morality in denying that we are personally responsible for our values. Man is the master of nature and molds it according to his own shifting self-interest. Thus, he encourages or prevents natural occurrences as he sees fit and constantly uses one law of nature to defy another. Indeed, his very life depends on his refusal to let nature take its course. If human beings accepted only that which "comes naturally", they would all end up like a certain eccentric saint, Simeon Stylites, who rejected soap and water and finally had his entire body covered with festering sores. When some of the maggots which fed in these sores fell to the ground, Simeon picked them up and replaced them saying: "Eat what God has given you!"
Fortunately, most people have sense enough not to follow this pious example. They know that human progress has always depended on human disregard for nature "as it is". The history of man is the history of the transformation of nature. In short, insofar as man is a civilized creature, he lives in a world of his own making.
An important part of this man-made world is the system of moral values which determine human behavior. This becomes particularly obvious when we examine the various old and new sexual moralities. As we all know, our Judeo-Christian culture has long believed that the "nature" of sex is reproduction and that any sexual act that does not further this goal is therefore "unnatural". Religious dogmas, popular myths, customs and attitudes, civil and criminal laws, indeed our very language still reflect this belief. For example, when we refer to the human sex organs as "genitals" (Latin: organs of generation) or "the reproductive system" we thereby imply that their "natural" function is that of procreation. However, this is a very selective view, because the sex organs also have many other functions. (See "The Male Sex Organs" and "The Female Sex Organs.") Scientists are, of course, well aware of this fact and do not take the old terms literally. Still, even today nonscientists sometimes persist in trying to derive the "proper" function of these organs from their name. According to this philosophy, God, nature, and logic forbid that the "organs of reproduction" should be used for any other purpose. However, it would make just as much sense to describe the mouth, teeth, tongue, and throat collectively as "nutritionals" or "the feeding system" and then forbid people to speak, sing, whistle, or kiss.
Intellectual honesty requires that we free ourselves from such preconceived, inflexible, and simplistic notions. Instead, we have to recognize that it is never "nature" which decides how the human body is to be used, but always the human will. Man uses his mouth to eat, but also to speak, sing, kiss, smoke, and play the trumpet. He uses his legs to walk and run, but also to jump rope, walk a highwire, play hopscotch, and dance the tango. He uses his sex organs to reproduce, but also to experience pleasure and to give pleasure to his sexual partner.
Any of these uses is as "natural" or "unnatural" as the other. The freedom to modify and improve upon nature is part of the human condition. It is also the very foundation of culture. People today do not simply let their hair and nails grow "naturally", but cut and color them according to fashion. They do not eat their food "naturally" raw, but cook, broil, and bake it. They do not endure "natural" pain, but take pain-killing drugs. They are not content with the "natural" variety of plants and animals, but create new kinds of fruits and breed new kinds of cattle. "Nature" did not intend people to fly and therefore did not provide them with wings. However, very "naturally" they overcame their "natural" handicap and invented the balloon, dirigible, airplane, rocket, and spaceship.
In sum, man alone decides what is "natural" for him, and he alone establishes his moral values. He then projects these moral values into the natural world around him which has no morality of its own. Nature as such is value-free. It has no preferences, no direction, no ultimate goal. Growth as well as decay, health as well as disease, life as well as death are natural. Nature provides both sunshine and rain, heat and cold, edible and inedible plants, fertility drugs and contraceptives. It is the human mind which chooses between them and thus creates the various moralities and ethical systems by which human beings live. Until now these systems have usually been presented as implicit in nature, and therefore they seemed endowed with an objectivity which they did not possess. Today, however, this strategy is no longer acceptable. The time has come to face the sobering truth: We are all responsible for our beliefs and for what we do in their name to our fellow human beings.