If Sex Is A Drug, What Isn't?
I've been too busy lately to post on topics when they might actually be fresh (novel concept, I know), but I really wanted to touch on the Pope Benedict soliloquy on sex. Having read Humanae Vitae myself, I am quite familiar with the subject at hand. The Catholic Church, while progressive in some areas, most notably science, still clings to these archaic beliefs about sex and birth control. I guess that's not surprising considering that sins "of the flesh" are considered to be more grave than others, but even within the bounds of marriage, birth control of any sort other than Natural Family Planning (which differs from the commonly known Rhythm Method and is more effective, but not by much). The HV also addresses euthanasia and abortion, rules for fair and justified war, and other issues that pertain to the creation or destruction of life.
Most interesting, though, was Pope Benedict's comment about sex "becoming like a drug" (link). There are people who deal with sex addiction, just as there are those with gambling or shopping addictions. What needs to be addressed here, though, is firstly, can a biological function become an addiction and should it be labeled as such, and secondly, the behavior of an addict is most often just the overt manifestation of a deeper issue. Often this may be a chemical imbalance in the brain, or it could also be a learned behavior primarily driven by the adrenaline rush. At any rate, if sex is a drug, then we have all the more reason to label religion as a drug as well.
Excluding those with eating disorders, which are problematic but not necessarily the result of our biological urge to eat as opposed to the ability to control oneself or self-esteem issues, is eating three meals a day a food addiction? Even compulsive overeaters can't necessarily be labeled as addicts because their issues are often much more complex as well.
Sex is a biological urge--something that we are literally driven to do, with a few rare exceptions. So, assuming that your sex life is normal and not problematic (ie not uncontrollable nymphomaniacs who can't stop themselves from having sex), how can we compare a normal bodily function to a drug to which we can become addicted? Is this just another scare tactic? The DARE program of sex ed? I guess the entire human race is addicted to shitting and sleeping as well.
Everything that a person experiences is the direct result of the release and uptake of neurotransmitters and neuronal impulses. A malfunction in that system, which is intricate and not well understood, could cause a cacophony of seemingly dysfunctional behaviors. The act of sex, or any physical contact, and orgasm in particular causes the release of oxytocin, which is a neurotransmitter that causes feelings of attachment and what we would call love. Childbirth and breastfeeding do as well. This is to facilitate the preservation of the family unit. Sex also causes serotonin and dopamine to be released in the brain, causing feelings of well-being and relaxation. In high concentrations, such as with the use of cocaine or amphetamines, it is dopamine that elicits the euphoric high. This cocktail of neurotransmitters is powerful--and necessary. Without it, who would really want to procreate? The fact that this has been selected for over millenia of evolution coupled with the success of the human race is an indicator of just how vital the pleasure associated with sex is.
A normal, healthy sex drive is not an addiction. One of the greatest sins of christianity, in my opinion, is the suppression of normal sexual behavior, which ironically tends to cause much more serious psychological problems than just admitting that human beings want to have sex.
Considering that the development of these responses is completely necessary for the propagation of the species, if Benedict considers sex a drug based on the neurochemical response, then he must also admit that religion is a drug. Religious practices cause stimulation of various parts of the brain, most notably the temporal lobes, and through repeated usage of those pathways, they become strengthened and the brain soon restructures itself to accomodate these neuronal connections, leaving one in a state in which they either cannot leave religion or just don't want to give it up. Going to church, reading the bible, and prayer could all be considered the "fix" craved by addicts of all sorts.
One of the most common excuses for the tolerance of religion in society is that it makes people happy or gives them comfort. Well, so does heroin, coke, or pot. As a matter of fact, if one takes it to that extreme, everything is a drug and we are all addicts. We're addicted to food, breathing, the beauty of nice spring days. The affection we have for our families is equally an addiction. Pope Ratzi can't just pick and choose activities of which he disapproves and label them as addictive drugs--to maintain his position, he must admit that everything is a drug, including his religion, and therefore the term drug is meaningless and obsolete.