Thursday, December 11, 2008

the hot stress injection

I think the idea that social or cultural conservatives are generally people who are afraid of sex is little more than a gross caricature. As I've tried to demonstrate, I equally think a lot of self-professed "sexually liberated" people are, in fact, the ones most likely to feel actual fear for sex, because their attempts to make sex mundane are usually about removing the danger, immediacy and emotionality of sex-- that is, the things that make sex so special in the first place. When I hear someone talking about a naked party, sometimes, they may just think that's a way to have a good time, although frankly I think the average naked human, even a particularly attractive one, isn't something you'd like to look at in most social contexts. Very often, though, I think people who are interested in naked parties or the like are people who are paradoxically terrified of sex. They're attempting to de-eroticize shared nakedness. That's not liberating sex from anything, it's robbing sex of its power.

I do think, however, that conservatives allow general unease and fear about sex to carry a lot of rhetorical water for them. It seems to me that often enough, conservatives can just sort of invoke sexual ephemera and conjure emotional reactions, out of proportion with what they've actually proved logically. We're evolutionarily and culturally cued to react to invocations of sex, and I wouldn't want to change that. But I think conservatives, when agitating against this or that current sexual practice, use that general sense of heightened emotionality or stress to rhetorical advantage in a way that doesn't actually benefit the conversation.

I'm not quite accusing James Polous of doing this here. My assumption is just that James is hearkening to previous posts where he's already laid the groundwork of why bisexuality is bad. James certainly isn't one to not do the necessary intellectual homework. But I would have appreciated a link to get at his actual arguments, here. Invoking the painfully obvious does us little good. James has a pretty strong case for the origins of bisexual affect, although I can't accept it on the grounds that I don't believe in one person or another judging the internal sexual and emotional content of another. More to the point, though, that doesn't get us anywhere about why this is all to our detriment as a society.

Of note here is probably my philosophical stance that the best, most humane and liberating framework for understanding human sexuality is to think in terms of sexual behaviors and not sexual orientations.

Update: Just about everyone in comments, or near enough, is telling my I'm a moron for this post. I don't know, I think I'm on to something here. Look I'm not saying "don't go to naked parties, it's immoral." I'm saying "I won't go to a naked party, because I don't think the people involved are accomplishing what they think they're accomplishing; and anyway, I want to keep shared nudity for sex, because I value sex."

42 comments:

ryan said...

I largely agree with you, and where I differ isn't so much disagreement as maybe a different way of understanding what you're talking about. I wouldn't change a word in your first paragraph, but I think the second maybe misses something important.

I think you've hit on the fact that conservatives, broadly speaking, take seriously the intensity, uniqueness, "sacredness" if you will, of sexuality, and as with many things which are extraordinarily powerful, sexuality is dangerous. That doesn't make it bad though. The sun, when you think about it, is incredibly dangerous, even from 1 AU out.

What a lot of conservatives are missing is this last part: that dangerousness and goodness can go together. I'd argue that my suspicion here is born out in the way most American Christians deal with God: He's good, therefore He can't possibly be dangerous, right? And we get shitloads of absolute dreck in the way of religious trinketry, based upon the concept of a completely unthreatening God. And on the flipside, we know sex is dangerous, so therefore it must be bad, right? And we've gotten centuries of Cautionary Tales to the point that if you wandered in to any evangelical youth group, you'd likely come away with the idea that having sex before marriage is just about the worst thing you can possibly do. It isn't, but that's what's essentially taught.

So you've got "sexually liberated" people attempting to remove all of the dangerousness from sex, when it's that very danger that makes it special to begin with. And on the other hand you've got your stereotypical religious conservative who is so caught up with the real dangers that sexuality's fundamental goodness is left out.

Neither of these is healthy, but I think I can make an argument that the stereotypical conservative position is the least bad of the two. The conservative position may, as you say, "use that general sense of heightened emotionality... in a way that doesn't actually benefit the conversation," but it leaves intact the possibility for sex to be something special, because it preserves the magnitude of what's going on. The sexually liberated version, on the other hand, essentially eliminates the possibility of sexuality being special at all, as its very program is, as you've said, the "de-eroticization" of sexuality. Take away that and there isn't much left.

Freddie said...

Very well put ryan.

Anonymous said...

"...their attempts to make sex mundane are usually about removing the danger, immediacy and emotionality of sex-- that is, the things that make sex so special in the first place."

I agree, Freddie. You have an Obamaian ability to say "I have understood you" to conservatives. ;-) -K.

Freddie said...

Haha that's kind of my brand, K. ....

Anonymous said...

I think the average naked human, even a particularly attractive one, isn't something you'd like to look at in most social contexts.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. The nude has been an incredibly common and important part of art history since we were cavemen. Do you mean to say that the nude body can't be beautiful unless it's in a painting or a sculpture or other work of art? I find that hard to believe. Are you saying we only like to look at nude bodies in a non-social setting? There are museums full of naked people, not to mention strip clubs and stuff.

I think I just must not be quite getting what you mean.

Freddie said...

I mean that looking at the average person naked while they're sitting on the couch or eating peanuts or playing Wii isn't something that I'd want to particularly see, and anyway, I want to keep shared nudity for the sexual act.

http://lhote.blogspot.com/2008/07/coed-naked-yoga-not-just-for-t-shirts.html

BP said...

You can't be right. Swingers terrified of sex? Evidence!

Freddie said...

Not terrified of the physical act of sex. Afraid of the aspects of sex that are most worth savoring-- intimacy, emotionality, danger.

BP said...

I don't mean 'wrong about Poulos', mind, who is foolish here.

Freddie said...

I don't mean to be saying this is without exception, and of course this is sort of an intuitive idea more than a truth claim. It just seems to me that the attempt to make sex mundane is a mistake; I don't want sex to be mundane. Making sex mundane, robbing it of immediacy and power, is the last thing people who actually value sex would want to do. But it's a subtle thing, for sure.

BP said...

Freddie that's an hazy intuition you have given no evidence for. Were I to say people who 'don't believe in one person or another judging the internal sexual and emotional content of another' are afraid of the danger of sexual and emotional content it would be as well supported.

Freddie said...

It's not conjecture. It's a statement of effects. I'm not arguing that anyone feels a certain way or not. I'm arguing about the natural and inevitable effects of making sex into yet another emotionless and mundane activity.

BP said...

Didn't see your reply before I posted mine.

But to respond to this -- why not both/and? Why not mundane sex with many, satisfying one urge, and intimate sex with one, satisfying another? Perhaps there are certain people for whom these behaviours don't cancel each other, or for whom swingsex is hardwired as gayness. After all, if we recognise homosexuality as genetically-determined, many smaller idiosyncrasies of sexual behaviour start to look less 'decided'. (This gets scary though because it can permit excusemaking for criminality if you aren't strict about the distinction between choosing to be and choosing to act.) Have you looked into the psychology of swinging, if there is one? Perhaps you're acquainted with a few practitioners.

Which is to say I think your first paragraph is o'er-hasty. Politics of love? Politics of loving, not judging, those who swing.

(Louis Theroux has a good documentary on this. It's sort of hands-on, till he chickens out of the random fucking part.)

Ps. I have sloppily equated 'naked parties' with swinging here because I've no idea what the former are.

Pps. Merry Chrimbo.

Freddie said...

Swinging and naked parties are actually very different. Most of the people who try to sell you on naked parties talk explicitly about de-eroticizing shared nakedness. And, you know, if you're into that, enjoy-- I just would like to keep shared nakedness erotic.

As far as swinging goes, hey, by all means, go at it in any and all combinations you feel like. Personally, I find that robs sex of a little of its mystery, of its hidden depths. But that's just a statement of my perspective, not a judgment, really.

"Love the swinger, hate the swing", haha.

Freddie said...

And happy horrordays to you.

Cascadian said...

Freddie, you sound like sour grapes that didn't get invited to the party. Yes, SoCons believe that if people are allowed to diddle willy nilly all of society will crumble. Heck, "every sperm is sacred" and all that.

Claiming that sexually progressive people are trying to kill the magic of sex makes as much sense as to say that people who like Mexican food are trying to belittle the subtlety of really good bangers and mash.

On the opposite side, are naturalists that try to demystify nudity to better expose the emotional foundation really wrong?

My favorite part is when you posit that some people should cover up. Quite apart from pissing off every liberal chick you'd ever hope to date, no one else is going to want to get in the buff with you either.

You end with a link to a piece that seems to understand the importance of choice. I don't see how you square the two seemingly contradictory positions.

Freddie said...

You know, constantly telling me that I think something because I didn't get invited to the party, or whatever, isn't much of an argument. And the entire fucking point is that I do get invited.

If this level of reading comprehension is the best I can hope for, I don't know....

Anonymous said...

For those of you unaware of this rather ridiculous phenomenon, here's an article on naked parties. -K.

Cascadian said...

Well, then what is it? In the first paragraph you pass judgement on what you understand one particular peer group as embodying. Of course, based on personal experience, I take it that your speaking of close acquaintances. However, at the end you state "I can't accept it on the grounds that I don't believe in one person or another judging the internal sexual and emotional content of another." I find tension between the positions, correct me.

Freddie said...

I don't think that what they are attempting will ultimately satisfy them in the way they imagine. Telling the man trying to open a can with a rock that he's engaged in a self-defeating enterprise isn't judging him for wanting to eat the fruit inside. It's attempting to help him understand that his efforts are bringing him no closer to the satisfaction he seeks.

Cascadian said...

Anonymous: That is truly pathetic. Cultural norms.... my school regularly fielded naked blue people at intramural events. Sunbathing naked on the front of the school lawn didn't even raise eyebrows.

Freddie said...

Cultural norms.... my school regularly fielded naked blue people at intramural events. Sunbathing naked on the front of the school lawn didn't even raise eyebrows.

I bet they occasionally even convinced themselves they were having a good time.

Hey look at me! I'm wacky college guy! I'm so extreme.

Cascadian said...

Freddie, you're in a dillema. What horn are you going to take? A tin can and a rock won't get you between them.

Cascadian said...

Naw, it's an old Tradition. You know... the basis of morality. We did have one guy that had a moral objection to wearing clothes to class. I think that he eventually went off to counselling. It really just wasn't that big of a deal. If anyone would have proposed a party along the lines of the one recently posted they would have been laughed off campus. We had coed dorms and showers, what's a little nudity?

ryan said...

Freddie, it seems to me that most of your interlocutors here are actually proving your point in their constant "It's no big deal" mantra.

Ironic, that.

James said...

My take on the matter can be found here: http://www.scriboergosum.org.uk/revamp/1908

I should add that Poulus is clearly an imbecile of the highest order.

James said...

On the opposite side, are naturalists that try to demystify nudity to better expose the emotional foundation really wrong?

I suspect that you just might mean naturists...

Cascadian said...

So, are naturists unable to experience eroticism. Is their experience of sex less thrilling? If we follow this line of reasoning, shouldn't we expect that the people who have the best sex are those that only do it when there's a good chance they will procreate? Doesn't that best preserve the danger and mystery of the activity?

I don't buy this argument. I think different people find different things important in sex. The Libertine can find meaning in her search for exotic fare. The Naturist may seek to dispel the taboo of social nudity to better connect with others on a deeper level. And yes, clueless college students will from time time stumble about trying to find meaning and sexual charge that has thus far eluded them.

There's nothing wrong with Freddie being attracted to traditional sex. He does err in creating straw men that he attributes to others without considering the different ends they may be seeking.

ryan said...

On the other hand, they may be on to something too: how does your emphasis on self-determination square with what seems to be an argument based on an essential characteristic of sexuality? I certainly have the framework to account for such a characteristic, but do you?

Alixtii said...

I'd agree with wanting, on a personal level, to keep intimacy, nakedness, and sex connected. I'm not convinced that on a societal level that impulse isn't actively damaging, though.

Is there any rational, non-aesthetic, non-socially conservative argument for keeping intimacy wielded to sex? Otherwise, it reeks of superstition to me.

Anonymous said...

Freddie,
I think you're onto something.
This is where gay marriage advocates and their opposites are not understanding one another.
For example: I was very moved by the November 15 demonstrations. At the same time, I was incredibly turned off by those demonstrators who carried suggestive signs that both mocked the intimacy of sex (homosexual or otherwise) and made crude suggestions to the people they are trying to convince to support them.
I guess my point is: the struggle for gay marriage would be so much easier without the kind of overly hedonistic sexual character that gay culture has somewhat unwittingly enmeshed itself in - as the colonial writer Albert Memmi would explain it, there's a time in the revolutionary process to be juvenile and insulting. But the maturation of the movement is essential.
It's why I think Dan Savage is so ineffectual as an advocate. I cringed when he made some sarcastic comments about black men and homosexuality. If he could simply present the case earnestly, it would work.

Douglas Moran said...

All due respect, unless you can point to a study or recorded statistics or even interviews across a reasonably large and diverse group of people, all this boils down to, as you say, what you "think," i.e. believe is the case (based on your own observations, probably).

Unless you have some data to back you up, all this boils down to wordy versions of "I think." You've presented a hypothesis, but no supporting proof and no conclusion. Absent that, this comes across as (forgive me) nothing more than wordy blather.

Joel said...

In my single days, the idea of a naked party would have been exciting to me, so long as I got to have sex with all the attractive women and didn't have to be hassled by people who I did not find attractive.

Now, imagine a party filled with people like that, and it doesn't sound so appealing anymore (okay, its just a regular party of single people, except without clothes).

Freddie said...

I'm not making an empirical argument; what data could you come up with? You're going to chart "sexual intimacy"? Sexual danger? No. This isn't science. This is philosophy.

Tony Comstock said...

"Afraid of the aspects of sex that are most worth savoring-- intimacy, emotionality, danger."

Danger? Really? Hmm. I must not be doing it right.

Anonymous said...

"That's not liberating sex from anything, it's robbing sex of its power."

This doesn't support your argument. On the contrary, let's agree that sex is powerful, and we're all afraid of it. As defense mechanisms go, the above is less socially (and probably psychologically -- but frankly that's not my problem) destructive than repression followed by the projection outward of pain and fear onto other people, followed by anger at them.

Let me be as clear as possible: There is no question in my mind that if Starr had gotten blown once in a while the whole country could have been saved a lot of trouble. Too bad for him and us both. But I feel sorrier for us.

Sean said...

...What bothers me is that you make these statements, and yet overlook the fact that violence has been similarly desensitized to being a "fun activity." One could theorize that the people who fear violence the most are the ones who cling to their weapons, the ones who love gruesome horror movies and video games. You can get all Freudian about sexuality, but psychoanalysing our taboos on sex should not be done without looking at how we also love violence.

Josh Jasper said...

You've got a bad disconnect between stating what you want sex to be for yourself, and implying that people who do things like have naked parties are doing something that devalues sex for them, not just for you.

You're implying that the way you see sex is the only important and valid way. What you're saying is not new. People have been implying that non-standard types of sex "devalue" sex or ages. It's nothing but Miss Grundy-ism in a fancy suit of clothing.

The question you fail to address is *why*, if something devalues sex for you, it necessarily has to do so for other people?

If someone is insisting you have to go to bacchanals to get liberated, you can tell them to kiss off. But stop insisting that they're not getting liberated at them. It's petty. What makes sex special for you doesn't have to work that way for everyone. Insisting that it does is just as egocentric as people who insist that it has to for you.

Freddie said...

The question you fail to address is *why*, if something devalues sex for you, it necessarily has to do so for other people?

I could quote any number of people here, but this one will do: the lack of basic reading comprehension in this post is staggering. Staggering.

FORGET IT.

Dale said...

I think it's plausible to say conservatives (some conservatives in some contexts, that is) betray a fear of sex.

I think it's plausible to repeat all of that and replace "conservatives" with "liberals."

Sex is taboo-riddled. This is not news. It's not good news and it's not bad news -- it's a feature of life.

I don't see the cash value of arguing about which side of the red/blue right/left (what have you) divide is "really" or "more" spooked by sex insofar as it just sounds like cheap points-scoring against one side or the other. This post sounds like points-scoring against liberals -- liberals are really the ones scared of sex! ha! -- but there's certainly plenty of this sort of thing going the other way.

I think the more interesting and telling approach to this is captured in the typology of yourmorals.org.

Caio Camargo said...

Hey, just as someone who's been to a few naked parties, I'd like to tell you you're partly right. The ones that I've been to were indeed almost completely un-erotic. But the thing is, that's actually part of the point. It's about being comfortable in your own skin and having the courage to bare yourself to a room full of people. Nakedness isn't, and shouldn't necessarily be, always about sex.

mark said...

Nothing says you understand something like placing it on a pedestal and worshipping it haughtily from afar. Sure put me and my own pathetic attempts to make sex safer in our place.