We live in an era of unprecedented access to information about sex, imagery of sex and health care related to sex. Internet porn is ubiquitous. Sexual health information, though not always easily accessible, is more accessible online, in mainstream publications (hello Cosmo) and at doctor’s offices than ever before. Frank discussion of sexual pleasure is standard on television and in movies. There are entire university departments dedicated to the study of human sexuality. That’s all good, and we have early sexual pioneers and researchers to thank for it. But we still have quite a long way to go. I’d love to see us embrace a vision of sexuality that isn’t transactional or gendered or capitalist:
In a better reality, sexuality would be understood as a fundamental part of human existence, its good inherent and not dependent on how it can be leveraged. Why? Because pleasure is a good thing. We should all feel more of it when we can. And sex, for many people, is a source of a uniquely wonderful range of pleasurable feelings – physical, emotional and spiritual.
It’s a simple concept, but in a society so disordered and divided when it comes to sex, it’s a radical one. Sex should feel good. Maybe that means candles and a rose-petal-filled bathtub. Maybe it means restraints and role-play. Maybe it means feeling gorgeous when you live in a body that advertisers tell you is ugly or wrong. Maybe it means having sex with someone of the same gender. Maybe it means feeling great about not having sex at all.
Pleasure-centered sexuality means that sex doesn’t have to come with self-loathing or anxiety; sex doesn’t have to be performative or even “normal”.
Getting there doesn’t just require more discussion and imagery of sex. It requires a fuller, more diverse and more thoughtful way of imagining sex, and a recognition that better sex will only come with increased equality across the board. Sex isn’t its own thing, totally divorced from the rest of our society and culture. A cursory look through mainstream internet porn sites makes clear that how we image sex when we’re expressly seeking to titillate is like a magnifying glass for some of our ugliest social problems – misogyny, racism, fetishization, objectification, violence. We can recognize that and still feel unashamed that for many (most?) of us, at least some of those attempts at titillation work.
We’re animals who like sex. We like pictures and videos of other people having sex. We like talking and thinking about sex. The particular aspects or practices we like (or don’t) can feel inexplicable, but are at least partly informed and shaped by the culture we live in – which is misogynist, racist, fetishizing, objectifying, violent. And also increasingly liberal, egalitarian, accepting and diverse.
We’ll have a less fraught sexual culture when we have less fraught gender relations. And we’ll have less fraught gender relations when we quit positioning sex as oppositional, shameful and transactional.
The full piece is here.