Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On Sex and Perversions

I want to revisit one of Freud's ideas further in light of a few news articles from yesterday's paper.  He said,
"The demand for a uniform sexual life for all, which is proclaimed in all these prohibitions, disregards all the disparities, innate and acquired, in the sexual constitution of human beings, thereby depriving fairly large numbers of sexual enjoyment and becoming a source of grave injustice" (C&D 53).
He goes on to discuss not just S&M and, what's old hat now, LGBTQ and "non-genital" sexual experiences, but also our practice of monogamy.  He opens the question of why civilization, it seems, necessarily restricts sexual practices in a way that doesn't happen with most other mammals, but he's at a loss to answer it.  In a previous post, I suggested the following:

I think we are more jealous than other creatures in such a way that if we have open sex it causes animosity that doesn’t exist in the rest of the animal kingdom, and it works against community to have a web of sexual relationships, so we like people to pair up. If people are non-monogamous, then instead of seeing the bounty available to us all, we see that our favourite partner is getting with someone else tonight - or has the potential to, -  and we want to kill them both because of it. An unpartnered woman is a threat to this stability, able to destroy family cohesiveness, so she must be persuaded or coerced to partner up, or else is ostracized. And I don't think our possessiveness over one another is going anywhere soon. It's too useful to us even though it unnecessarily restricts us. And I think it's partially because we know that if everyone is free to have sex with whomever they like all the time, it doesn't mean that anyone will want to have sex with me (or you). So, because of the reality that some people will get left out of the game, and it might be us, we're more certain of rewards (sex) if we latch on to one person for the duration and do what it takes to keep them loyal to us. But, really, that's not working either.
It reminds me of the day, back in 1993, when I  signed my permanent teaching contract and discovered I was pregnant.  I was so pleased that everything was fitting together perfectly.  Except I was single.  It wasn't a problem for me as much as it was for some colleagues who thought it something that student shouldn't be exposed to because, really, then they'll know I had sex outside of marriage.  And I asked, "Who doesn't have sex outside of marriage?"

Yes, I know there are people who take pains to follow that tradition, but my point is, there's a disturbing split between what we do and what we want to believe we do - still, half a century after Kinsey told us what we actually do.

There's a Manitoba judge who might lose her job because her ex took nudie photos of her and posted them on-line.  The question on the table is whether or not she can be viewed as a respectable person capable of delivering judgment on others after people see these photos - will it undermine the public's confidence in her.  And the catch is, in some of the photos she's tied up.  This is something some people do that causes no harm to anyone, but it's still somehow seen as indicative of moral debasement.

In what way does it help society or the individual to foster denial or fabricate blinders around sexuality?

One traditional reason we subtly praise the sexually restrained human being is to try to prove that we're better than animals - that we're more than a bunch of instincts and drives because we're in control of ourselves.  Except that we are animals, and, although our brain is larger and more complex, we're still instinctive creatures whose passions win over reason much of the time.  If we're going to put energy into restraint, I'd suggest restraining our aggressive drives instead.  

Part of it might be a sorting mechanism to suggest who's good and bad.  While we have a surface desire to be good, it's enticing to be bad - which makes it all the more important to ensure that good prevails.  Where this might take shape is with a portion of the population who don't feel comfortable doing anything more than what's necessary, so, to keep a loyal partner within a "vanilla" context, it's perceived to become imperative to demonize anything "extra."    

And this might happen because another stigma exists around being non-sexual.  If you're not feeling it, you're prescribed drugs instead of being told just to do something else.  But there's a freedom in being non-sexual that isn't much advertised.  Remember being eight and nine and just playing and laughing with friends all day?  Part of this stigma helps provoke people to stay in the game, but it's a nasty bit of coersion that has people feeling guilty or incomplete.

There's a Toronto woman who has a snuggle service - $90 for an hour and a half of just spooning - no forking.  The comments following the article are hilarious and a sign of our times - which are not nearly as liberated as we'd like to think.  Sexual liberation isn't just about being able to have sex when you want and how you want, but also about being comfortable saying "no thanks."  And lots of people want human contact without sex, but many of the commenters just can't believe that's the case.  Even though it seems completely innocent, people are snapping at her for being creepy and weird.  And it says a lot that she gets customers willing to pay money for that kind of contact.  We pay for sex, and for a massage, and for people to talk to when we're troubled, why is it so outrageous to pay for snuggles? We're dying for human contact, but if the only viable option is sexual, then some people can't play.

It's hard when a couple's drives don't match, and they rarely do perfectly, but maybe that wouldn't be a problem if sexual monogamy wasn't so deeply entrenched.  There may be two problems here:  that we want marriage to last forever, and that we want marriage to be exclusive.

Here's where Tom and Katie make an appearance.  Why do we media-stalk them as they endure the private trauma of splitting up?  Judith Timson explains,
But the grip of this story is powerful because we’ve been here before – it’s a narrative that never fails to interest, a reverse fairy tale, the princess fleeing the prince, leaving behind the palace and all its supposed splendours. Run, princess, run. The prince turned out to be a frog, or at least a weirdo.
We're at a point where some people need to be rescued from marriages.  Actually, that's always been the case, but what's new is that now we're beginning to openly celebrate it.  We recognize that forever can be way too long and we cheer for people getting out.  Yet we continue to make life-long commitments.  Curious.

Finally, John Irving gave an interview about his book which "explores issues of sexual identity through the eyes of a young bisexual man in love with a transgender woman."  I didn't much like the book, but the comments on the article are interesting.  Think Right remarked, "Essentially a long plea for the tolerance of sexual differences...  Does that include pedophilia, beastiality, polygamy? If not, why not???"  It's not entirely clear his/her stance on the issue (advocating no boundaries, or, more likely, illustrating a perceived slippery slope), but I think it's a good question.

Pedophilia and beastiality, if we're working on a harm model of morality, are no-goes because there can't be mutual informed consent between parties, so therefore it has the potential for harm.  But polygamy, between adult parties freely giving informed consent (far from the Bountiful situation), could be the answer to some dilemmas facing partners facing unequal desires.  I'm not sure we can go there because of our possessive nature.  And we'll likely try to stop it from becoming a reality to keep it off the table for those of us not interested.  If we don't want to go there, then we don't want others to go there for fear of being pressured to do it too. We have to make sure everyone thinks it's icky in order to protect our dominion over our exclusive deals.

It seems to me that what it all comes down to is iff we can raise the status of "no thanks," so it's always a viable option released from the negative stigma of the puritanical prude, then we can better open doors to anything that doesn't harm another by acknowledging what people do and accepting it as yet another option, and and thereby stop the grave injustice of depriving fairly large numbers of people of sexual enjoyment.  Easy, right?  I won't hold my breath.


Phil Allt said...

Good thoughts. I think your comments on the stability of the community are quite solid. I am not certain whether the comments on polygamy, bestiality and pedophilia are not a bit non sequester and should be better discussed individually as the comments tend to converge on one common solution to sexual needs. Furthermore, unless I missed reading it, which is likely because I don't have my glasses on, you don't discuss incest. Aside from harm to the community or perhaps the species, what is wrong with non procreative sex between close relatives? Not my cup of tea, but. . . . maybe someone's.

Marie Snyder said...

Yes, it's funny Freud doesn't mention that at all in the book even though he gets into everything else. I actually think if consenting adults want to get down to it, that should be allowed even if they're related. There's an ick factor there that bothers people, but there used to be one (and still is in places) around homosexuality too. The fact that it's kinda gross to me, isn't enough for me to suggest it shouldn't happen.

The main argument that will oppose that is that the offspring have a greater chance for genetic problems, but if two non-related people marry and they both carry a gene for something we wouldn't wish on a kid, we don't stop them from having sex.