Can Americans ever be this free? -- Picture courtesy Wikipedia
Why are Americans so prudish? There are many reasons to wonder. Europeans are more relaxed in every respect with regard to body image. They have topless beaches and the European men are much more inclined to wear skimpy Speedos, regardless of body shape. When I was in Europe, I watched a bit of "Euro TV" in various hotels -- sometimes late at night, or during the day between museum forays. I was amazed that they showed what we would consider R-rated movies for general audiences after 10:30PM. Even the daytime TV commercials showed more than Americans see at a peep show. The same relaxed attitude also extends to print media, where Europeans flaunt what they have in weekly news magazines aimed at the general public. In Amsterdam, one of the nicest most historic canal streets is in the "red light" district. They don't see a need to set aside any other area for “the world’s oldest profession”.
Americans are prudes by any measure. American men wear boxy, down-to-the-knee swim suits. Women have even flirted with a return to one-piece suits -- Hello Miss America 1923. We fastidiously put V-chips in every TV and have several agencies that enforce censorship and movie ratings. America has a few nude and topless beaches, but they're more the subject of silly jokes than serious sunbathing. Magazines with adult content are in wrappers or covers partially concealed and proof of age is required to buy one. Red light districts are usually in a bad, physically remote part of town -- somewhere near docks or warehouses.
That people might "have needs" is seen as a heinous evil that should only ever be met with monogamous, marital coupling and prayer sessions if needed. Particularly the American South (the "Bible Belt") has a problem with things like sexually oriented businesses, massage parlors and condom stores. Mind you, the presence or need of such things hasn't gone away -- America simply chooses to indulge its appetites privately, furtively, under the cloak of darkness. A part of the American psyche says, "It's not a sin if I don't get caught". The very concept of "getting caught", that sex is a crime -- is American as Apple pie. When you think about it, we’re not much better than the Communist Chinese, who claim to have eradicated all sexual promiscuity in their country with Socialist ideals. We’ve just done it with Jesus (and as effectively, which is to say not at all).
How did we get to be this way? We were founded by an assortment of chaste religions -- Puritans, Amish, Shakers and Quakers. The irony is that our nation was founded on secular principles but the secularity was more to protect religions from each other than to banish them per se. We were and still are an amalgam of strongly-felt religions, where Europeans are becoming bored and blasé with their own monolithic and traditional religions. In America, Christian soldiers have forged onward with crazed determination while in Europe, sophisticates have become cynical and agnostic; they give alms and say prayers more to satisfy cultural expectations than to satisfy a burning spiritual need.
Will America ever be less uptight about sex? Can we ever “get real” about human nature and the human condition? It may well come to pass, but we will probably have to be as old as Europe and as burned by religion as they have been. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Church of Rome did not lose its glorious patina all in a day. Can sex and spirituality coexist in the same philosophical plane? I think so, but Americans will have to learn to “think different” to borrow from an Apple commercial.
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