Sympathy for the prude

gabriel conroy

Gabriel Conroy [pseudonym] is an ex-graduate student. He is happily married with no children and has about a million nieces and nephews. The views expressed by Gabriel are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of his spouse or employer.

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69 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    Prudery could also be a natural adaptation of the fact that sexual attraction isn’t evenly distributed. If you keep hearing about how great sex is and are surrounded by people bragging about their sex lives, even if a good percentage of these brags are outright lies, but can’t get any, becoming anti-sex is something of a natural defense mechanism. Nobody likes to feel like they are excluded from the party, so you denounce the party.Report

  2. Marchmaine says:

    Its not a very good Motte.

    But then we shouldn’t encourage bad postmodern rhetorical devices, so I’ll leave it at that.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Marchmaine says:

      {edit to above} The second sentence reads more of a direct critique on Gabriel than I intend… feel free to delete. My apologies.Report

    • Out of curiosity, is it both mottes, or just one? If just one, which one?Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        Since you inquire. Both, but the first is more important to the rhetorical thrust.

        The Motte/Bailey device hinges upon a good Motte definition… the definition needs to be strong and difficult to assail, hence the namesake. The Bailey, then is where one attempts to extend the strong definition to the derivative argument… lending it the protection and retreatability of the Motte.

        The rhetorical difficulty here starts with your “pre-motte” which undermines the purpose of your motte; so in the pre-motte you define Prudery as *not-extreme-modesty* which opens the question if it is not that then why not just plain Modesty*? This is further reinforced in your actual baily with “Of course, “actions have consequences” is not really what anti-prudes object to. It doesn’t even fit my own definition above.” The bailey then doesn’t trust the motte… so rhetorically you don’t have either a motte or a bailey. Or, analogically your bailey is still trying to build the motte’s defenses so it isn’t doing the work of the bailey… and will soon be overrun.

        Back to problems in Motteville: Prudery an extended form of Modesty… but one can be Modest and not a Prude; technically Prudery is the vicious form of Modesty used by Modest people… and this extends to your Bailey as well, because I don’t really think you’re committed to defending Prudery. Prudery is what Modesty is when Modesty goes awry.

        So rhetorically, what I think you are working towards is a Motte that is based on (Prudential) Modesty – which properly framed, “not even anti-prudes object to” – and your bailey would be extending modesty into public spheres, which might more conventionally (and these days controversially) be called Decency**. So you sally forth from prudential decisions that no-one really objects to into reasoning that maybe we should embrace them as public norms… called, say, Decency… and that’s why you need a stronger Motte, becuase your controversial argument is about extending private virtues into the public sphere.

        Of course, these days penning an article on the benefits of Modesty and Public Decency have all the earmarks of a loon… so I don’t know why anyone would sign up for that 🙂

        That’s why I wrote that I think you need a better Motte, because I think you’re making some good observations… just not as effectively as perhaps you could.

        And… while we’re clearing the air… my comment about postmodern uses applies to the abuse of the technique where the arguments of the Motte are substituted for the Bailey when the arguments in the Bailey start to falter… this can lead to rhetorical difficulties where one party isn’t being honest about their substitution. I don’t think you’re doing that at all here (but it remains a danger of the Motte/Bailey technique).

        * I recognize that Modesty has new “baggage” that maybe you don’t want to associate with so perhaps you might prefer a different term… but that term has to have the unassailable qualities of a thing no one objects to…that *is* the purpose of the Motte. And “Prudery” isn’t even close.

        ** See above. Maybe “Safe Spaces” could work as a modern equivalent… you’re arguing for public Safe Spaces of Modesty (or adjacent term).Report

        • Thanks so much for taking the time to write that. You’ve put much more thought into the motte and bailey trope than I did. (And I agree that postmodernists (and, in my experience, Marxists and sometimes libertarianish people like me) are very guilty of motte and baileying.)

          I was probably thinking of the trope more as a cute way to express objections to what I’m saying, but I can see that I didn’t put much thought to it, and in framing my argument with that trope, my argument seems to have lacked clarity and led you (and others here) astray.

          I’m not so much arguing, here, for modesty and decency, although I do believe those are virtues. (But in moderation…..I like your framing of “prudery” as a form of modesty so extreme it’s vicious.)

          Rather, I’m trying to say something like this: Let’s assume a vicious behavior or state. What sympathy can we/ought we extend to a person who does that behavior or is in that state? Maybe sympathy is the wrong word? Maybe empathy? Maybe compassion? Maybe “meeting people halfway”? Maybe charity? And along with charity and perhaps tied up closely with it (in its purportedly Christian connotation)–refraining from making ultimate judgments and recognizing our own viciousness when encountering others’?

          I admit my “what I’m really arguing” is probably something I’ve been able to formulate only now, after reading your and others’ comments here.

          At any rate, thanks for answering my question and thanks for reading my post!Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    If you want a stable society, you want a prudish society. You want a lot of norms and you want them pretty strongly enforced.

    If you want a dynamic society, you want one with loose norms that are quickly and easily abandoned.

    Then, when you have the culture you want, you need to re-introduce norms REALLY FAST AND ENFORCE THE HELL OUT OF THEM.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

      I think you’re going by the definition of “prudery” that most of the online definitions I looked up gave. I’m trying to be a bit narrower in my definition, but maybe too narrow?

      At any rate, both dynamism and stability can be overrated, in my opinion. However, I haven’t given much thought to that aspect of it.Report

  4. Maribou says:

    This is perhaps tangential, perhaps not, but what I’ve been thinking about since I first read your post in draft stage a few days ago is my mum.

    More specifically, she and I had a conversation last year in which I had the sudden and shocking realization, “Mom! You’re a prude!”

    She said, “ExCUSE me???”

    I said, “No, it’s a good thing. All this time, you know how you’ve been kind of uncomfortable about how you love lots of gay people and want them to be happy, and you love hearing about their lives with their partners / whatever else in general, but don’t want them to do PDAs and want to hear nothing about them smooching?”




    “That’s a good thing! You’re not prejudiced, you’re just a prude about it everywhere and that’s ok.”

    “Oh my goodness. You’re right! *long discussion ensues about all the things she would rather not hear about from anybody irl and that stuff should be kept strictly to the pages of historical novels where she can skip over it if she wants to which she usually does*

    It might sound trivial, but given that her initial reaction to me coming out as a teen was to talk about how much she loves me and everything is okay but how gross and unsettling it is to think about the actual acts of people DOING certain things…..

    Realizing that she just hates thinking about or hearing about that stuff no matter who it is was a big relief for both of us.

    So I guess that’s not me defending prudery, but just saying it’s not the WORST thing …


    In general I think that this essay is very compelling because it puts things in such stark contrast and that’s an interesting way to think about the question; but I also think that in real life, as you sort of acknowledge (?), most people are pretty darn gifted at navigating different levels of disclosure in different contexts, and at objecting when other people either overdisclose, or try to narrow previously acceptable levels of disclosure.

    I mean, we do hear about the Big Drama when this process goes poorly, but most people navigate life appropriately without any big drama. Fodder for work is different from fodder for hanging with ones’ closest friends is different from fodder for Thanksgiving dinner… people sort this out.

    In my direct experience, the only time there are serious problems around this caused by prudes (rather than people’s total lack of filter, which I think happens more often, and I say that as someone who is fairly unfiltered) – is when people develop “prude-esque” norms / fences around things that aren’t really about prudery, but just things they don’t want to admit are part of other people’s lived experiences, no matter how non-sexually-explicit the description of those things are. Which isn’t really prudery, so I suppose I shouldn’t blame it on prudes – but the people in question seem to be jerks in prudes’ clothing, so blaming it on prudes is exactly what they’re doing.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Maribou says:

      My mom and I are also really uncomfortable with seeing PDA from anybody in public or wild displays of behavior in public. Saul is also like that. We see it as turning yourself into a show and showing how awesome you are because you have this passionate relationship. I think I’m not that up for temporary releases from decorum like carnival. People should control and grey themselves in public out of respect for the body politic and other people. PDA are exclusionary.Report

      • Maribou in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq FWIW, my mom doesn’t even, in her heart of hearts, like people holding hands or hugging if they might be coupled, so I think “prude” is pretty accurate. And I say that with love. (She also sees it as her own issue rather than something other people should change their behavior to accommodate unless they’re directly interacting with her, for what that’s worth.)

        I find the idea that PDA are exclusionary kind of strange given how many cultures are far more physically intimate than that of mainstream US culture. I mean, not even subcultures, or non-Western nations, but literally even Montreal is not like this. People greet each other with cheek kisses there, even for new acquaintances (if they’re properly introduced or have met a few times before), or sometimes real kisses if they are friends. (Not sloppy kisses, but lip to lip.) And it’s pretty broad across different subcultures there – I mean, I have observed this from Orthodox or Hasidic Jewish people and fairly religious Muslim people as well, they just sex-segregate it. Most other folks, regardless of creed, are just like that with everyone. Casual touching of shoulders, arm around same, poking of arms, etc., is also far more prevalent – but it’s not the crossing-the-line kind at all. (And yes, they are palpably (sorry couldn’t resist the pun) different.)

        What makes me sad is that public affection is so dangerous for most people these days, so fraught. I’m actually hopeful that a better climate around sexual harassment (workplace or otherwise) may *in the quite long run like at least twenty years* lessen this danger, rather than increase it. But that may be the contrarian Pollyanna in me.

        Still I see pictures like the ones in my link below and I think, “Yeah, maybe this cultural shift away from physical affection DOES have something to do with increased loneliness…” Some cultures have kept physical affection, either same sex only or in broadening it out to everyone they care about regardless of gender, others have not.

        PS I suppose the other reason I don’t see such displays as exclusionary, tbh, is that from my own personal perspective (not saying anyone else should feel like this) – they’re not excluding me, they’re SHARING something with me. Sure it’s a look but not touch something, but I enjoy (emotionally, very occasionally even sexually) having them share it. For me, personally, it’s always been the case that PDAs make me see people as friendlier, not more closed off. Even when in practice that is definitely NOT what’s actually going on.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Maribou says:

          America and other Anglophone countries seem less prone to non-romantic physical affection than most other cultures. It’s kind of interesting watch people from more physically affectionate counties come to the United States. Many hate the lack of touching but others love it because they don’t have to engage in something that made them uncomfortable.Report

        • gabriel conroy in reply to Maribou says:

          I mean, not even subcultures, or non-Western nations, but literally even Montreal is not like this. People greet each other with cheek kisses there, even for new acquaintances (if they’re properly introduced or have met a few times before), or sometimes real kisses if they are friends.

          To me, though, that’s not a PDA in the sense that most people who object to PDA’s mean. It’s “affection,” but a type of affection that’s comparable to shaking hands, not to holding intimate relationships.Report

        • veronica d in reply to Maribou says:

          We really need to narrow down what we mean by “PDA” and in what context. For example, does holding hands count? Arm over the shoulder? Light kissing? Or do we mean contact with the genitals (through clothes)? Grinding? Fondling the breasts or the buttocks?

          These things are different, and what is appropriate on the subway is different from what is appropriate at a dance club on goth night.

          And honestly, seeing these things as an “affront,” or somehow aggressive, is a kind of low-key narcissism. In the end, it’s not about you (generic you). Some people engage in PDAs for no reason outside their own relationship. For some people, touch is their primary “love language.” Some feel comforted by their partner’s embrace. Some crave reassurance in the form of direct physical intimacy. This is normal.Report

          • That’s an important, and in my opinion true, point about low-key narcissism. There were times in my life where on a very visceral level, I believed many, many forms of PDA that even most “prudes” would accept were affronts to me, even though intellectually I knew the PDA’ers had no such intention and even though I knew I wasn’t that important.

            Actually, there was a time where even “intellectually” I didn’t fully “know” that. I’m glad that through grace, or personal choices, or old(er) age, or maturity, or dumb luck, I’ve mostly moved beyond that. But there was a time when I was so narcissistic I wasn’t always able to tell the difference between what I felt at a visceral level and what I “knew” “intellectually.”

            So….that brings me to a point about narcissism. I think my own narcissism was largely a choice, but there was a sense in which it was not, in which it was kind of an affliction of sorts, not an affliction that I believe (now, and probably mostly believed then) puts any obligations on others not to PDA, but an affliction nevertheless. It’s darned hard to sort this out sometimes.

            Probably an overshare on my part–and probably a tangent to your point–but I offer it because your very well-put comment reminded me of how I was then.Report

      • gabriel conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I’ve had….complex associations with PDA over the year. At one time, my reaction was probably congruent with the “prudishness” you describe in your first comment above: I thought the couples were “rubbing it in” that I did not have what they had. On a rational level, I knew they weren’t doing that. But on an emotional level, I believed/felt/sensed/suspected that that’s what they were doing.

        Now, that I’m fortunate enough to be in a relationship (I’m married) and we do probably PDA more than others in our circle, I have a somewhat different view. I’m still wary of it (it seems to me like a quasi-aggressive way of “marking ownership” of one’s partner), but the emotional resonances aren’t there. Or aren’t there as much. I remember how it feels to be in a customer service job and having to deal with couples who were PDA’ing while I was just trying to take their order. And I also remember the weird emotional feelings about others “rubbing it in” that I didn’t have a relationship, too. But it’s not all as stark as all that anymore, at least for me.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to Maribou says:

      Thanks for your comment. I like that story of your discussion with your mother.

      I should say you indirectly inspired this post. There have been times in the past where you’ve said something to the effect of “I’m sex positive and when I’m around someone else who’s sex positive, I’ll talk with them about x, y, and z.” To me, that showed a strong respect on your part for people who might not be “sex positive.”

      I mean, we do hear about the Big Drama when this process goes poorly, but most people navigate life appropriately without any big drama. Fodder for work is different from fodder for hanging with ones’ closest friends is different from fodder for Thanksgiving dinner… people sort this out.

      I think that’s a very good point. And while this isn’t exactly the same thing, it reminds me of a roommate I had once in grad school. He was always very open about talking about sex and “the body” etc., etc–he was what some people might call a “bro dude.” But one afternoon, when I was watching a rerun of an SNL skit on some cable channel (Comedy Channel?) that talked about masturbation (in a jokey kind of way), he said, unironically (and I paraphrase), “man, I’d hate for a little kid to see this.”

      I do think “prude-esque” (read: jerks in prude clothing) vs. “prude” is a thing, but….it’s usually, in my view, never completely one thing or the other. The prude-esque person is indeed often (usually? always?) making a power play in a way that only an insensitive jerk would do. But….also in my experience, such prude-esque people are, or see themselves as, surrounded by people who have very different values from them and feel as if their (the prude-esque persons’) values aren’t respected, or are under siege…..

      ….by all that, what I mean is, the prude-esque person is in the wrong (usually) but not wholly so. That person, even the jerk, has something to offer the discussion. Unfortunately, they choose a means of silencing others, many of whom are in more marginalized circumstances than they (the prude-esque persons) are. (I hope that’s clear?)Report

      • Maribou in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        @gabriel-conroy I don’t think it is, but perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. I wasn’t thinking of the folks who really are NOT that interested in other people’s pets, or bowel illnesses. The ‘prude-esque’ people I’m thinking of tend to be upset that gay people are married, or that people are in interracial relationships, or that people don’t hide their mental illnesses, or their disabilities, or had an abortion once (even the medically necessary ones) – or that people don’t cover over their experiences of having been poor, or their history of having been abused. Or their grief at a recent loss of a partner or child. Or, for crying out loud, their enthusiasm for LEARNING ANOTHER LANGUAGE, as I have seen happen. These prude-esque folks are not simply overwhelmed by people talking about those things too much or too loudly or in too much detail or with too much of a hammering approach. They are unhappy, they reach for control, and they attempt to socially shame people for talking about those things *at all* without euphemizing them or better yet just never acknowledging such things at all. For not accepting the stigma that society (aka this segment of people) has placed on them, that says these things should remain hidden, if they must be tolerated at all.

        And they want those objections – not their discomfort – but their *objections* to people not making spaces for them through self-censorship of those facts, to be treated with the same level of tolerance and understanding and “everybody has different comfort levels” that society (imo reasonably) extends to people who are comfortable with more sexual privacy than the surrounding culture.

        I mean, I guess, sure, as human beings they have things to contribute to the conversation the same as any human being does. And certainly in other areas they may have things to contribute, I’m not calling for shunning at all.

        But claiming the cover of privacy to demand that people hide the bare facts of their own lives is… something very different than prudery. Something that I *have* seen plenty of people do, and expect to be treated merely as a prude for doing. And really unfair to actual prudes, IMO.Report

        • gabriel conroy in reply to Maribou says:

          I perhaps erred in distinguishing between “prudes” and “prude-esque persons.” What your describing in your comment is both worthy of the criticisms you’re lodging and, probably, part of what counts as prudery proper. (Me using “prude-esque” tends to “no true Scotsman” the prudes, which is what I claim in the OP I’m not doing.)

          ETA: I guess, then, I think I see “prudery” as actually something potentially more insidious than you do, at least in the last paragraph of your comment. I’m still hopeful for finding common down and ratcheting down conflict. But I acknowledge that if doing so comes at the price of compelling people “hide the bare facts of their own lives is” is unfair, wrong, and unjust.Report

  5. LeeEsq says:

    Anti-prudes, I talked about this on a Rufus thread on his worst winter but it bears revisiting. There really is a type of pleasure seeker that wants to live life intensely. Good for the, but they often become overbearing to people who can not and will not live that way because they might see self-discipline as important or see the relentless pursuit of pleasure as unethical.They actively mock them. Naturally, people don’t like this and turn against the hedonists.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I remember that I didn’t get a chance to read that post (or the thread). I had some block against reading it, but I’m not sure what it is (and I mean no offense to Rufus, by the way, but I just couldn’t do it for some reason).

      But even so, I think I agree with the gist of your comment there (although I haven’t read it).Report

  6. Damon says:

    My safe space is in my house. There I control most everything. That’s all the safe space you’re entitled to. You can’t have a safe space if you’re interacting with others. That being said…

    I don’t give a rats ass what other people think, except those people I care about. However, I do understand the value of discretion. A while back, the GF had given me a gift of a serving tray with the image of a naked woman bound and gagged, done in ink on clay. It was a joke gift as she was trying to shock me. Before a recent dinner party, I threatened to use that serving dish for the sushi I had made. One of the guests I delight in shocking. She’s not so much a prude, but more naive. However, common sense required that I not. There was no need to risk offending anyone and ruining a dinner party I had worked hard to pull off.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Damon says:

      “There was no need to risk offending anyone and ruining a dinner party I had worked hard to pull off.”

      Yeah, this sense of prudence, rather than prudery, is what I was trying to get at in a much more wordy way. Most people are just *practical* about this stuff.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to Damon says:

      My safe space is in my house. There I control most everything. That’s all the safe space you’re entitled to. You can’t have a safe space if you’re interacting with others.

      I realize you follow that (quote by me) statement with an example that qualifies it. I do hasten to point out, however, that I’m not so much arguing that one is “entitled” to have a safe space (however and even so: not all people have a “home space” they can control in that way). Rather I’m arguing that we can at least sometimes do better to respect where others are coming from. (And as Maribou points out in a couple of comments here, as a rule, we generally do do better in practice.)Report

      • Damon in reply to gabriel conroy says:


        Yeah, I wasn’t asserting that you are saying folks are entitled to anything.–just that my safe space or refuge, is my home. I usually am the one to encounter folks who don’t think like I do and assume I’m like them. They tend to be surprise. Since I live in a liberal left state, and I voice similar but different positions, it’s assumed I’m “on the team”. My opinion of others is not determined by who they vote for or what political positions they hold, but their individual characteristics. Something more people should learn to embrace.Report

        • gabriel conroy in reply to Damon says:

          My opinion of others is not determined by who they vote for or what political positions they hold, but their individual characteristics. Something more people should learn to embrace.

          I almost 100% agree with that.Report

  7. pillsy says:

    While it’s probably usually better to have our views and comfort levels challenged, there’s often a real value to being safe from challenge, or being able to titrate the challenges into manageable bits. If we can recognize the prudes’ need for safe spaces, maybe we can also convince them to recognize others’ need for safe spaces.

    I think that’s got to start with substantial number of prudes recognizing their own need for safe spaces. Even if we stop short of “imposition” as in anti-prude arrow #2, it’s still remarkably common for prudes to frame their objections in terms of moral imperatives non-prudes reject, or allegedly factual claims that are (often) profoundly dubious.

    On the other hand, in support of your thesis:

    I don’t know how seriously you take the stuff that Jonathan Haidt et al. have done [1], but if you do take it seriously, well, you have prudery being a tribal marker that’s associated with perhaps the most salient division in contemporary America, that is the split between Team Red and Team Blue. If so, this tends to support your contention that anti-prudes take prudery as an indication that someone is part of the out-group, which is really all you’d need to explain a significant degree of hostility on the part of the anti-prudes, as well as their experience of a substantial degree of hostility coming from the prudes.

    [1] In terms of “purity” being a moral principle that the Right mostly holds and the Left mostly rejects, and also probably liberalism being associated with openness to experience in the Big Five.Report

    • Murali in reply to pillsy says:

      Trump and Roy Moore seem to muddy that distinction. Bristol Palin got pregnant as a teen. It’s unclear to what extent team red actually endorses prudery.Report

      • Pillsy in reply to Murali says:

        If it’s true, it’s true in terms of correlation, like owning a handgun. Or a Prius.[1]

        And in the cases of both Moore and Trump, there has been quite a bit of ink spilled on handwringing and rationalization of supper for the two of them. And partisans of all stripes have an unfortunate tendency to hold their party leadership to a very low standard of personal conduct.

        [1] Every once in a while, I’ll think back and smile at a Prius I saw in Boston which had an “I AM NOT A LIBERAL” bumper sticker.Report

        • pillsy in reply to Pillsy says:

          supper for the two of them

          I meant to type support for the two of them, especially since the rationalizations are often of the form, “Just because you wouldn’t invite them over for dinner doesn’t mean you can’t vote for them.”Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to pillsy says:

      On your introductory point (prudes framing “their objections in terms of moral imperatives non-prudes reject, or allegedly factual claims that are (often) profoundly dubious”) and the quote to which your point was a (qualified) counter, I’m inclined to say yes, you’re right. I’m hopeful, though, that the prude can, by analogy or compassion perhaps?, extend the courtesy of a (sometime) safe space to others?

      On Haidt: I read whatever book he wrote recently that talks about what you’re talking about (I forget its title offhand, but I read it on, I think, Aaron David’s recommendation here). I don’t know how seriously I take it. I agree that those things which are conventionally called prudery and those things which anti-prudes claim is a counter to prudery are indeed tribal markers. But….I think Haidt is mistaken. He seems to claim (if I recall correctly) that conservatives care more about “purity” and liberals care more about “justice.” But maybe they both care about “purity” and “justice,” but only have different yard sticks for how they measure both? (I don’t know. It’s been at about 3 years since I’ve read it and maybe I have Haidt’s argument wrong.)Report

      • pillsy in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        Yeah, that’s why I qualified my appeal to Haidt. If you look at the way the Left often views environmental and consumer protection issues, there’s a strong impulse towards purity, one which the Right often dismisses. It’s easiest to identify this out when it seems to be running amok, like with environmentalists’ overwhelming rejection of nuclear power, or the weird anti-GMO stuff.

        So the difference is really in what kind of purity people get riled up aboutReport

        • gabriel conroy in reply to pillsy says:

          Yes, that’s how I see it, too.

          I also think certain things that on the surface seem more “justice-y” raise something like….not “purity” but “disgust”….concerns (and I believe Haidt refers to disgust in his book). Someone might be “disgusted” at the way a worker is treated by the system, and that “disgust” may not be only a synonym for “I don’t like this unjust thing” but also the kind of thing that makes one figuratively but almost literally sick to one’s stomach. I know in other contexts, I have been accused (not by you) of being okay with some treatment of people that really does disgust me on that level.Report

  8. dragonfrog says:

    I don’t know if I’m a prude or an anti-prude, myself.

    I’m glad that there are people (including my dear wife) who are very comfortable talking about sex because I’ll be visibly squirmy answering the kids’ sex questions. I’m glad there is reasonable sex education available in schools, because so many kids don’t get at home any really useful information they need to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

    So is that prudery or anti-prudery?

    When people bathe naked in the river at the various festivals we go to, it doesn’t bother me, but I generally leave my own trunks on.

    But as far as who’s doing the most harm – when a private rental of a city swimming pool for a nude swim event results in bomb threats, when folks are fighting tooth and nail against other people’s kids getting to hear about effective STI prevention, when girls are sent home from school for wearing clothes that are appropriate for the weather, when a fully publicly funded school board in my own city fights against having to teach that consent is a big deal – I know I’m anti-that-degree-of-prudery.

    When Muslim organizations rent city swimming pools so they can swim without the presence of men, if there are any threats of violence against them (and I sincerely hope there aren’t), you know it’s not nudists doing the threatening because they’re outraged someone else might have a different modesty standard than them. Because they get that. They get the need for safe spaces.

    So I guess put me in the anti-prudes camp. Does this put me in with the “I wouldn’t be racist if the liberals weren’t so smug” folks? I dunno…Report

    • Murali in reply to dragonfrog says:

      Does this put me in with the “I wouldn’t be racist if the liberals weren’t so smug” folks? I dunno…

      I’ve never seen this articulated in quite this way and now that I’ve seen it, the comparison seems to be apt.Report

    • I don’t know, either. It’s probably the case that (as you seem to suggest, if I’m reading you right) prudery (or what we choose to call prudery) causes more harm than anti-prudery, or at least more harm than the targets of prudery (the targets of prudery not being necessarily the anti-prudes, but some other group(s)).

      I am saying, though, that in some circumstances, there is a case to be made for the prude, or for the person who is labeled as such. (Maybe I should have titled this post, “Against anti-prudery”?)Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        Bring prudish in one’s personal life is fine and dandy – every bit as valid as being open and free in one’s sexuality. It’s the demanding other people conform to one’s own standards. Bad mouthing mothers who nurse their kids in public is another example of that…

        I guess it’s, as you put it, the folks who try to make the whole world their safe space, who are the problem.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to dragonfrog says:

          To an extent yes. There is an argument to be made that a functioning common, public area requires a certain sense of agreed decorum and behavior. Nursing mothers are one thing but there are lots of people that believe they can be overbearing and loud in public as they like the showtime dancers on trains or the people who play their music on a portable stereo on public transit rather than listening through head phones. Since these people are being overbearing in a non-sexual way, I’m not sure if prudery is a right word but they wouldn’t take kindly to the suggestion that they should carry themselves quieter in public.Report

          • gabriel conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

            What you describe doesn’t match my (and probably your) definition of prude, but it seems to match most of the definitions I found online, which include an element of “concerned about propriety.”

            Speaking only for myself, I admit I’m uncomfortable when women nurse in public without covering up. That’s my problem, though, not theirs.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

            “There is an argument to be made that a functioning common, public area requires a certain sense of agreed decorum and behavior.”


            Now the question is… what certain sense of agreed decorum and behavior?

            The presumption that there is some inherently right decorum is what bugs me most.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

              Now the question is… what certain sense of agreed decorum and behavior?

              How much of a hedge do you want around the universally agreed-upon indecorous?

              I think that everybody agrees with Carlin’s bit on drivers here… specifically everybody who drives slower than you is an idiot and everybody who drives faster is a maniac… what would indecorousness be compared to, here… a speed limit?

              Everybody who wants something more with more decorum than you is a prude and everybody who wants less decorum is a libertine.

              But if we want a system that has a common area with decorum, it’ll be like driving downtown. Very low speed limits. Even lower when you’re near schools.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Obviously the limits for PDA have to be slower for couples that are especially likely to offend: same-sex, mixed-race, or unattractive.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                In 2012, San Francisco finally passed an ordinance that required a police-issued parade permit for people who wanted to march down the street butt naked.

                Before that, public nudity was unrestricted.

                (This next link is NSFW so don’t click on it unless you know the IT lead and she’s cool.)
                I am not making this up.

                The point is that we’re never going to come up with a system that fails to offend anybody’s sensibilities nor are we going to come up with a system that gets everyone on board with how common sense it is.

                That said, the sweet spot is probably going to be somewhere that have more people saying “that’s a little overboard, don’t you think?” than people saying “that requires an additional law!”

                A hedge, if you will.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Jaybird says:

                But the low speed limits downtown are because that’s where the risk of injury and death is, yeah? And (aside from those aforementioned bomb threats and similar), the possibility of injury and death isn’t really what rules for decorum is about.

                If we’re going to have ’em, wouldn’t the solution be to handle it how they handle speed limits? Have a carefully created system to determine what the appropriate rules are in a particular situation, backed by decades of research and crafted with the assumption that most people behave appropriately most of the time but is also informed by the surrounding environment, the people in it, and the use they put it too, and then have those guidelines overruled by the town council because some White soccer-mom is upset?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Alan Scott says:

                the possibility of injury and death isn’t really what rules for decorum is about.

                It’s not about the possibility of injury and death.

                It’s about the possibility of causing offense.

                The wacky thing is that there are quite a few people who are really good at driving and could handle downtown speed limits of 40 (or even 50!) mph. They’re really good drivers!

                But there are also quite a few people who cannot. Like, it’s probably a bad idea to have the speed limit as high as 30 for these people.

                Because, in the public square, the goal isn’t getting from here to there quickly it’s about getting from here to there *SAFELY*.

                What’s the goal? If it’s to have as few collisions as possible in the public square, you want low, low speed limits EVEN IF THEY’RE SLOWER THAN YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH.

                Now if we want to agree that this sort of thing is bullshit, then I’m down with that too.

                But if your argument amounts to different people disagreeing with where the line is drawn… well. We’re always going to have different people disagreeing with where the line is drawn.

                That doesn’t mean that heaps don’t exist at all.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


                I don’t disagree with the general statement: ““There is an argument to be made that a functioning common, public area requires a certain sense of agreed decorum and behavior.””

                In fact, I’d say that few people argue AGAINST that. But what I will push back on is that seems like a baked in, unspoken addition to statement consisting of: “… and it should be the one that closely aligns with my preferences.”

                Imagine 10 people trying to decide where to goto dinner, with a range of opinions on the best restaurant. Someone chiming in with, “A successful dinner requires agreement on cuisine.” That person is either stating the obvious — in which case their comment is of little value — or presuming that their preference is the one others ought to agree with — at which point they should focus more on making that case than on stating the obvious.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                I like that last paragraph you’ve got there.

                I’m saying that such a situation will result in everybody deciding on something bland.

                Chili’s and Applebee’s if you want high-end.

                McDonald’s for low-end.

                Denny’s if you’re somewhere between the two.

                This is not a system where anybody gets their first choice.
                This is not a system where a chunk of people even get their second choice.
                This is a system where most people get their third or fourth choices because the goal is to avoid controversy.

                “But this little place just off of the main drag that specializes in tapas and lavender gin drinks is simply divine!”

                “Yes. My argument is not that such places are bad.”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                And to make perfectly clear:

                This is not about 10 people who know each other, hang out all the time, and have established relationships with each other. It’s pretty easy to get those people to all agree that, maybe, we should try Moroccan tonight. If it’s Saturday, they’ll have some of the students from the belly dancing class show up!

                This is about 10 complete strangers agreeing on where to eat.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Heh… I’m about to embark on an international work trip with 4 others. While discussing “travel personalities”, I mentioned that I’m not afraid to say, “EVERYONE IS GETTING THEIR SECOND CHOICE FOR DINNER BECAUSE THEN WE ALL AGREE!” I was told that was very “parental” of me (I’m the only parent on the trip) and was reminded why I’ve been tapped as “Trip Dad”.

                But that is when 5 people are forced to eat together and avoid tension or controversy.

                What would be our approach if we didn’t have to dine together? I’d leave others to their Denny’s and go off for the tapas.

                So we should see public common areas as something we’re forced to be in together with minimal controversy? Ought minimal controversy be the goal?

                Perhaps this is the libertine in me, but I skew towards greater permissiveness. If the rule is, “No going topless,” you are now controlling people’s behavior and potentially punishing them for non-compliance.

                If the rule is, “Go as you will,” than no one’s behavior is controlled and no one is formally punished. Might some be offended? Sure. But is there a right to freedom from offense? You’re not mandating their behavior which is not the case in the former.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Perhaps this is the libertine in me, but I skew towards greater permissiveness. If the rule is, “No going topless,” you are now controlling people’s behavior and potentially punishing them for non-compliance.

                If the rule is, “Go as you will,” than no one’s behavior is controlled and no one is formally punished. Might some be offended? Sure. But is there a right to freedom from offense? You’re not mandating their behavior which is not the case in the former.

                From what I understand, this is one of the arguments used by the privileged.

                Here is a story called “Of Dogs and Lizards“. (Read the whole post, I’m just going to tell the story about the dog and the lizard.)

                Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.

                The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time – this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.

                The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature – she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her – she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.

                Now, remember, she’s never known anything else. This is just how the world is – cold and painful and unhealthy for her, even dangerous, and she copes as she knows how. But maybe some small part of her thinks, “hey, it shouldn’t be like this,” some tiny growing seed of rebellion that says who she is right next to a lamp is who she should be all the time. And she and the dog are partners, in a sense, right? They live in this house together, they affect each other, all they’ve got is each other. So one day, she sees the dog messing with the A/C again, and she says, “hey. Dog. Listen, it makes me really cold when you do that.”

                The dog kind of looks at her, and shrugs, and keeps turning the dial.

                This is not because the dog is a jerk.

                This is because the dog has no fucking clue what the lizard even just said.

                Consider: he’s a nordic dog in a temperate climate. The word “cold” is completely meaningless to him. He’s never been cold in his entire life. He lives in an environment that is perfectly suited to him, completely aligned with his comfort level, a world he grew up with the tools to survive and control, built right in to the way he was born.

                So the lizard tries to explain it to him. She says, “well, hey, how would you like it if I turned the temperature down on you?”

                The dog goes, “uh… sounds good to me.”

                What she really means, of course, is “how would you like it if I made you cold.” But she can’t make him cold. She doesn’t have the tools, or the power, their shared world is not built in a way that allows it – she simply is not physically capable of doing the same harm to him that he’s doing to her. She could make him feel pain, probably, I’m sure she could stab him with a toothpick or put something nasty in his food or something, but this specific form of pain, he will never, ever understand – it’s not something that can be inflicted on him, given the nature of the world they live in and the way it’s slanted in his favor in this instance. So he doesn’t get what she’s saying to him, and keeps hurting her.

                Most privilege is like this.

                For what it’s worth: I’m a dog.

                Going by little more than my own observations, I am someone who is more difficult to offend rather than someone who is exceptionally quick to offense.

                Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s *IMPOSSIBLE* to offend me… just that if you’re going to offend me, you’re going to be offending a lot of other people at the exact same time (or, I suppose, you’re going to have to deliberately craft your offensiveness to be maximally effective).

                If we’re in a public forum where everybody is mingling with everybody and everybody is milling around, it’s not likely to have a lot of the laser precision offensiveness.

                As such, I’m one of the privileged who will be walking around this public arena who is not easily offended.

                It is *EASY* for me to be a libertine.Report

  9. neal says:

    I always thought the middle ground betwixt the libertine and the purity could just be paying attention to the baseline of what the kids have to see.

    I guess that is old fashioned.

    Animal stuff.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to neal says:

      Could you flesh that out a bit?

      I ask because I’m not sure that what you say in your comment gets at the point I’m trying to make.

      To be sure, I do think (per my comment to Maribou above, about my former roommate) that “what kids have to see” is an important factor when it comes to defining what is and isn’t prudery and whether “prudery” should be criticized.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        Could you flesh that out a bit?


      • dragonfrog in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        Hm. That “what the kids are exposed to” can be a dangerous weapon, and has for a long time, against countless victims – in part because it can override our rationality.

        Should the kids be exposed to accurate sex education? (See e.g. the imprisonment of Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman)

        Should kids be exposed to the deviancy of homosexuality? Polyamory? Transgenderism? (See examples from all over the place, from as recently as probably ten minutes ago – children losing their living parents, the frigging bathroom panic seemingly gripping the US south…)

        The bomb threats against the nude swim in Calgary I linked to earlier were largely because parents were going to be able to bring their kids. I guess some prudes figured death threats would be better for children than seeing people swim with their jiggly bits out…Report

  10. North says:

    I can’t help but lean strongly towards the anti-prudery camp. Yes, it’s entirely possible to be excessively libertine but it’s not enormously difficult to find a relatively low impact level of decorum that the majority of folks can accept that balances the limited genuine dangers of libertinism (sex being inherently complicated and somewhat dangerous, kids probably being best raised in a non-sexualized environment). Prudism, on the other hand, has a deep and long history of devastating opression and misery that we have only barely emerged from. There are places where my Mother, sister, nieces and aunts would be considered indecent if they had so much as a speck of skin showing or even an iota of agency towards their bodies. WRT the vast majority of prudism I’m more inclined to say “Try and impose it and I’ll see you on the barricades”. That also, emphatically, applies to the more left wing versions of prudery.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to North says:

      I pretty much agree with what you’re saying about prudery’s long and deep history of oppression. (I also appreciate your bringing up left-wing prudery.) And I can’t honestly call what you’re talking about as “not really prudery” or “not the prudery I’m talking about.” What I’m talking about has indeed been the agent that which has been oppressive.

      So…..I see the need to be anti-prudery. I’m not as strongly in that camp as you are, but I also can’t blame you for seeing things as you do. And at any rate, I agree with your statement that “it’s not enormously difficult to find a relatively low impact level of decorum that the majority of folks can accept that balances the limited genuine dangers of libertinism.”Report

  11. Mike Schilling says:

    Two points:

    1. Prudes need better branding. The word sounds enough like “prune” to give an impression of being shriveled and dried up inside.

    2. My favorite example of prudery online is a website called Christian Spotlight on the Movies. It reviews movies, giving each one two separate scores: quality and offensiveness, where offensive can come from nudity, sex, bad language, sympathy to non-Christian world-views, etc. Some of what it has to say I find very sympathetic, but then there’s stuff like their objection to this joke from Cars:

    “I’m racing for the Piston Cup.”

    “He did what in his cup?”Report

    • For point no. 1: I don’t think prudes usually self-identify as “prude.” It’s a label used usually against them. So, maybe they need to own that word, sort of “Prude Power!”?

      For point no. 2: I’m not familiar with that site, but I remember encountering one like it, down to distinguishing between “is it any good” and “do you want to see it/do you want your kid to see it?” I remember that site (actually, maybe it was a different site) criticizing Iron Lady because it didn’t represent Thatcher’s “regal” qualities. I’m a bit amused that the leader of the House of Commons is expected to be “regal” at all.Report

  12. veronica d says:

    This topics is already well addressing by “consent culture” discourse and how it interact with asexuality. It’s pretty straightforward. Different people have different comfort levels, and different spaces will try to cater to those various levels. A queer dance party might try to make space for both libertines and sex-repulsed asexuals, but it’s a difficult thread to needle. That said, it happens. A sense of decorum tends to emerge. Different spaces end up with different cultural norms.

    For myself, I will behave quite differently at a “fetish night” dance event than I will at queer book club.

    In other words, this conversation is already happening. It is quite well along.Report

    • Maribou in reply to veronica d says:

      @veronica-d Yeah, but it was also well along in even the exceptionally prudish-in-popular-memory 19th century, in less-than-public shared spaces like the ones you describe. Probably long before that? It’s a hard thing to research since they didn’t used to write such things down regardless of their position on them.

      See my comments above. Finding a comfortable place where no one is miserable is, by my way of thinking, a fairly common collective human skill.

      It’s just that we notice the outliers (especially if said outliers get to be in charge of laws).Report

    • Well, it appears I have some catching up to do 🙂Report