Why are some acts (like sex or killing) considered by others as clean and by some as unclean?

Based on human history, it can be observed that sex and aggression have become very normal part of human life. Procreation involves sex with the objective of creating another life and to continue the existence of men (Casad 1). It is also seen as an act of pleasure and a way of showing affection. However, the sexual act done within particular context will be considered unacceptable or even unclean. Based on the theories of Sigmund Freud, sex and aggression is embedded in the nature of man (Stafford-Clark 1973). In this manner, the notion of killing also becomes a vital part of human nature.

Although we are aware that death is the ultimate end of the physical body, death because of killing stirs up moral issues. In these regard, it is very important to ponder on the true nature of sex and aggression. Prostitution is considered one of the longest running professions in the world (Liberator 2005). However, it is also considered one of the main problems of society wherein people of both sexes and all ages are involved and exploited. The fact that these people are exploited and exposed in different kinds of diseases and other problems causes it to be considered unclean.

Mary Douglas (1966) also points out the exchange of sexual fluid during intercourse wherein she says “each sex is a danger to the other through contact with sexual fluids”. In this regard, we are aware that direct sexual contact may pose great harm to the health through sexually transmitted diseases, making it what Douglas calls bodily pollution. In the context of prostitution, sex is also considered unclean because there are no emotional ties between the sex provider and the patron. Also in this case, sex becomes the service being traded for money.

Based on the question raised regarding cleanliness, it is said that there is still the clean notion of sex. This is if sexual acts are done within the bond of matrimony or other emotional commitment. In this context, there is the involvement of love and the goal of procreation which makes the act clean. Because the sexual union of male and female becomes a “collaboration and distinctiveness of social units” the act becomes cleaner. Also, this suggests that physical sex is considered less clean than emotional sex or sex done for procreation.

Deviation from the normal notion of sex is also considered unclean like people vowed to celibacy suddenly involves in a sexual act or people having extramarital affairs. Animals are known to kill for survival while man also kills for fun (Kemp 1997). Aggression as a part of human nature is also considered a mode for survival. Killing for survival has been a source of the notion of uncleanness. Douglas (1966, 16) quotes “the ideas of survivals are used to account for irrational rules of uncleanness”.

This suggests that other than the fact that killing is morally unclean the savage use of killing for survival is also considered unclean. In the primitive context, Douglas notes that there is “no clear distinction between sanctity and uncleanness” (Douglas 1966, 9). This is true for other later acts of killing for sacrifices or other divine purposes. In the present context, although there are still some isolated cases of killing for sacrificial offerings for their divine Gods, killing is just considered immoral and unclean.

At this point, it can be considered that there is a clear realization of the disparity between holiness and impurity. This is also considered true because the primitive purpose of killing for religion is slowly fading. Usual reasons for killing and aggression have been rooted on man’s self-centeredness, personal objectives and goals. The two sections on sex and aggression show the other half of Douglas compounding of dirt “care for hygiene and respect for conventions” (Douglas 1966, 8). Although not explicitly stated in the text, there is always the inclusion of the issue of morality especially if seen in today’s context.