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Sexual intimacy as a Canadian election issue.

ipoliticsPierre Trudeau defined one of the great beliefs in being Canadian when he stated emphatically that “the state has no business in the bedroom of the nation.” Canadians across the country nodded their heads in agreement. I would argue that like socialized medicine and hockey playoffs, this phrase of tolerance and acceptance is at the very heart of Canadians. But I also think we can be hypocritical in owning our legacy of personal intimacy and sexual tolerance. With the threat of the next election (at any level of government) always hanging over our heads, and politics in general at the forefront of every news cast, is the issue of how we define ourselves with respect to our families and our sexual expression an important topic for the general public and political parties? Are we concerned about where the candidates stand on those personal issues like sexual expression, legalized prostitution, family law and reproductive rights? One could argue that these issues impact the very core as how we define ourselves. Clearly it’s fair to be worried about the economy, the environment and global safety. Most platforms are based on these issues. And frankly, government policy and programs have always been focused on these issues. There is no getting around the importance of day to day managing the country’s affairs. And if these operational issues are all that concerns you, so be it, if not then it’s time to ask your candidates and representatives some hard questions.
We as Canadians generally believe that we are accepting of our similarities and our differences. Do you believe that our sexuality is open and tolerated by most of the country? But before answering whether or not you think that intimacy is a political issue there are some questions that we should be considering. Do we want a government that bases its policy on Christian values (or more specifically, ideals taken from a 2,000 year old book) or bases its policy on current Canadian values? As a country we are less involved in religion than ever before. Mainstream religion for the most part preaches monogamy, pro life, anti-gay policy and criminalized prostitution. It is a very much a one man and one woman married till-death-do-us-part philosophy. The irony is that we actively oppose some societies where religion dictates policy. This is not the definition of family in Canada anymore. How do we want to define ourselves as a nation?

Before Jian Ghomesh was outed as a sexual predator last fall, Elizabeth May waded in saying that BDSM play should have no impact on anyone’s employment status. She was the only political leader who came out with a position on alternative sexuality. In February with the launch of the 50 Shades of Grey movie all the morning show hosts I listened to were labeling anyone who wanted to play in the area of domination and submission as “freakish”. If you want to tie up your consenting partner is that anyone else’s business? Given the number of copies 50 Shades of Grey sold in Canada it turns out that a great many of us may be freakish. You may argue that we currently have gay marriage, abortion (in some of our provinces), are working on right to die policy and (up until recently) prostitution was allowed but these key defining values were Supreme Court decisions based on the Charter of Rights. The government we elected to make policy did not bring these issues forth. Does the government represent our values? Is anyone really asking us what we think? This is not a partisan discussion targeting the Conservatives. Historically the Liberals have avoided these issues as well. And certainly, the other parties have not made these core defining issues major planks in their platforms.

As a sex therapist I am often asked about the question of morality. I have a client whose wife has a debilitating disease and who is not able to have sex in any way. He is asking me what is possible, socially acceptable, legal, and reasonable to engage in to get his sexual needs met? What about couples who want to expand their sexuality with an uncoerced, happy, paid sex worker? Religious leaders and feminist groups would say that there are no such prostitutes. I would vehemently disagree, as I know a number of them. Also, let’s not confuse consenting, ethical adults (the Canadian standard we all agree to) with sexual slavery, child prostitution or drug addled individuals without the capacity to consent. Once again it came down to the Supreme Court which ruled nearly a decade ago that couples who want to engage in extracurricular sexual activities are allowed. Sex and swing member clubs are legal in Canada. And there has been a proliferation of these clubs and a growing number of Canadians questioning whether monogamy works in a country with a 51% divorce rate. I know another couple in a polyamorous relationship where all four people live together, raise children together and jointly own the matrimonial home. Tax and family law is not able to keep up with a growing number of re-defined families such as these.

My practice is full of couples who are struggling with all of these questions. Even ultra right wing couples who rarely tolerate deviations from their perception of the traditional norm want to know about all of the options that will spice up their marriage. As a generality, all parties seem to be squeamish about these questions and hide behind old school Christian rhetoric. I think Canadians want and need to discuss these topics. Parties will stand up for the environment, civil rights and all things they believe to be in the best interests of Canadians and mankind in general. But they won’t talk about human sexuality and definitions of intimacy.

As a happily married couple with an active sex life you may feel like these issues don’t matter to you. You may also say the same thing about assisted suicide or abortion. But someday these issues might be paramount to you or someone around you and your MP (or MPP) who you have access to (or at least you should have access to) doesn’t want to discuss or contend with your issue. You are left with the courts to decide and once again the average Canadian has no say. Appointed judges are actually governing our country when it comes to our most personal issues. I spend a great deal of my year traveling outside of the country. Internationally Canadians are perceived as a polite, placid, and understated people. But most of the world has no idea as to how we define ourselves. We refuse to address any issues that matters intimately to families. We are political dishwater.

Future elections will be fought over pipelines, jobs and debt. All very important issues. But I would argue that who we are as Canadians when we climb into bed at night is equally important.