Wednesday, January 15, 2014


On the subject of sex, beginning with the phenomenon of meiosis, which is a molecular process that enables cells -- and therefore the creatures they constitute -- to create new life forms, and then moving “up” the evolutionary sequences through the past until we get to modern humans with fully functioning prefrontal cortexes that support ethics and empathy, what is worth reflection?  We get into so much trouble, but we love sex so much.  It saves us.

In such a potentially disconcerting context, I would hope to achieve a stance as a “consistent individuated person offering an non-anxious presence” * without passing judgment or making absolute rules.  The ethic here will be one of compassion and outcome, but as frank and oddball as I can get it.  The only outcome that counts is survival and I mean by that physical survival in this world, not some other.  Sometimes it is more compassionate to end survival, and that is an essential contradiction.  “Ethics” are meant to provide counsel in such a case.  Ethics also play a role in the reconciliation of essential differences between the individual and the group.

Fighting roosters

But at what point do such values become necessary?  Mammals?  Does an echidna or platypus have erotic thoughts?  What about birds?  Clearly they do, if one counts song, dance, and combat.  So the roots of sexual instincts must go back to before both birds and mammals branched off.  They are very old, basic -- driving survival.


I’ll start with Neanderthals because it appears that’s when art began and I’m going to assume art and eroticism are so closely related as to be nearly identical -- certainly overlapping.  But I’ll have to stipulate that jealousy, ownership, and sneaking around are present in chimpanzees.  Not bonobos.

Species are shaped by environments, behaviors of species are shaped by society.  Species characteristics and behaviors can produce misery without death or can produce pleasures that do lead to death.  Some parts of this puzzle are universal and some parts are specific to smaller locations.  Behavior that is normal in a small town will get you killed in some big cities.  A topless female on a French beach is fine; the same in Valier will get you in trouble.

I’m going to concentrate on sex as a social and psychological matter rather than as physical acts.  The law, even religious law, concentrates on actual observable actions because states of mind and intentions are hard to detect, much less define.  They make bad law.  Things like contact, penetration, force, and choice of “other” are concrete, perceivable.  The gray areas that persist are because emotion is both physical and mental, maybe observable in the physical world but mostly only available by introspection, empathy and implication.  

It may be that we will be able to perceive ideas on some calibrator some day, but for now I don’t care whether a person gets off on wiggling their big toe in someone’s armpit or licking Jello out of someone’s belly button.  I’m interested in the emotional content of the acts.  I will want to know what flavor of Jello that was and whether the armpit was shaved, because that’s what a writer wants to know.  Because the next step is what that flavor of Jello or state of armpit means to both participants.  Sexual acts are never meaningless.

I have very little experience with physical acts except conventionally and within marriage or from movies.  But part of the reason for that is that I find my emotional skills overwhelmed when it comes to acts of sex.   I care too much.  I wrestle with attachment, bonding, fusion, and notions of identity, partly because of my own individual development and partly because of moving among different cultural contexts, including those represented in books, movies, and the theatre.  I can control my behavior effectively and conservatively, but not my feelings.  This is partly what qualifies me for writing on the subject.  That’s what this blog is: not any one academic department, not any one cultural point of view, but rather writing of all sorts.  Often experimental.  Not always “in good taste.”

For instance, I would suggest that the sexual free spirits of the world (I'm discarding the alphabet categories as too compartmentalized and therefore prescriptive) are (at least in America) occupying the same societal and psychological niche that was once occupied by the autochthonous (native) tribes who seemed so free on the land -- that is, symbols of unfettered desires, acting out, self-funding in forbidden ways.  

So those in the typical culture both desire that that role and fear it to the point of attacking it, trying to criminalize it.  Anyone sexually atypical is either ennobled or degraded, depending on how the cultures and individuals play out against each other.  Some people seek the unknown ambiguous: other people are threatened and cope through rejection, destruction.  The reasons for the difference are worth investigating.

I'm also thinking about the idea that some have gone beyond the desire for intimacy to an ambivalent but obsessive desire for fusion.  Not just obligation or dependence, but loss of identity to the point of a kind of death -- zombiedom.  Or maybe childhood.  Infancy.  Making other people responsible for us, letting them control us.  And there are people willing to do that.  They say there is a growing preference for security over freedom.  It's always a trade-off.

Pornography is an experience rather than an object (certain representations or toys) and that’s why it can’t be pinned down.  What is a turn-on to one person is a shrug to another.  Likewise, its creation can be hot or cold.  To a Victorian a well-turned piano leg may be erotic, let alone a human foot, properly shod.  Pornography may be written in a state of feverish tumescence or not, but the response is always in the brain of the beholder.  The skill of the pornographer (those that ARE skilled) is understanding what the particular trigger is and how to switch it on.

The overbearing relationship of capitalism to sexuality is everywhere in all aspects from the arts of cosmetic enhancement, to the shaping of desire, to the ownership of people used in sexual ways against their will, to the surgical businesses of gender conversion or virginity restoration -- and then, flipping all that over, the well-being of families. 

We must always provide the survival shaping of children’s identities and relationships through their sensoriums, their management of food and sleep, their clothing, the provision of safety or risk, the music they hear, their bedtime stories -- all crucial and we are right to protect it. Survival is not just a matter of employability, but also a matter of sustaining families, however defined.

Disease.  The inability to eliminate AIDS (or any other pervasive disease like TB or Hep C or cancer or other sexually transmitted diseases) may NOT due to any lack of medicine (at least not that alone) but because even with a silver bullet med, there are always social, cultural and psychological structures that prevent access, compliance, or even knowledge that a cure exists.  A killer disease like diabetes is easily prevented by individuals changing their diets, treatable with careful use of meds.  Yet the rate of compliance is about 30%, the rate of testing is low, and stigma is still attached to being fat -- let alone the threat of blindness and amputation -- so diabetes persists.  Public meals are still unadapted, candy dishes are still on desks, even churches that host Weight Watchers meetings also serve pie after services.

What about the deep relationship between war and sex?  It deserves some thought.

 *  phrase from Edwin Friedman [Rabbi and Psychologist--"Generation to Generation" his most quoted book].  He said in counseling, "remain a non-anxious presence who always self-differentiates and stays connected."  Courtesy of Mark Miller.

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