I remember seeing this video on Facebook a little while ago, where Slavoj Žižek, a philosopher and and sociologist, discusses the problems of talking about sex in the context of improving our health and well-being. Because where's the pleasure in that? I'm not a big Žižek fan, but I must admit: he has a point. Plus, he isn't the first one to point out this shift in the way we talk and think about sex.
At the time, I wanted to write a scathing response to her essay. How dare she call sex boring? Yet, with a little hindsight, a little time to think, and after listening to Žižek again, I understand what she's saying.
Sex has become another data point in our lives, a thing to quantify and compare, another line on a checklist of "things that make us happy/healthy, according to science." As a result, it has become less about some other things, like pleasure for pleasure's sake, being in the moment and pursuing our passions.
The depressing thing about always seeing sex through the lens of science is that it has become just another utility, just another road to self-improvement. Must everything we do be about self-improvement? What about just fucking enjoying ourselves because we can?
The problem is that by focusing so much on how sex is useful, it's easy to lose sight of the pleasure in doing it. This utilitarian approach turns our bodies into objects. Do you like to be objectified? I certainly don't. Yet, we do it willingly, to ourselves, when our concept of sex is to see it as just another tool for being healthier or less stressed.
Even Catholic Pope John Paul II argues this about utilitarianism: "Utilitarianism," he wrote, "is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of things and not of persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used."
I mean, sure, it's great that sex has all these benefits, but does it really matter? When it comes down to it, shouldn't sex be about the connection between people, about how it links us to the sacred, about how it gets us out of ourselves?
In the utilitarian view of sex, pleasure is secondary to the anti-stress, anti-aging, anti-depression, anti-whatever-ailment-stops-us-from-working-longer-and-harder benefits of sexual activity. Hell, by the looks of how the corporate world has co-opted meditation for its productivity benefits, it won't be long before it offers sex workshops to its employees, to "improve their mental and physical health." (Hey, it could happen!)
Let's Bring Pleasure Back
I love what Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy write in "Radical Ecstasy:"
Your authors believe that one of the things that feels so very good about orgasm is that it's most people's easiest pathway to something that feels like oneness-with-the-universe: when you're busy coming, you're too damn busy to worry about where you end and everything else begins, so for just those few seconds or minutes you get to float ... in place outside of space and time and boundaries.
When I have sex, I don't want to think of it in terms of calories burned, of happy neurotransmitters going around in my brain, or in the extra minutes or hours of life I'll be getting. I don't want my sexual activity to be one more thing that's measured to verify my compliance with social prescriptions of how much sex I should be getting, of what kind of sex I should be having, or how many orgasms are "ideal" to maintain my physical and mental health.
That's also why I practice BDSM. The beauty of BDSM, for me, is that it ultimately defies attempts at measuring its benefits for those who practice it. Sure, there are theories and some research that looks at the mental health of BDSM practitioners, about the endorphin rush and the meditative qualities, and all that stuff. In the end, though, when I offer my body to the flogger, when I give up my power to my partner, it is the last place in my life where I can say, "I do this because I enjoy it."
It's become almost taboo to talk about sex as a thing that we enjoy for its own sake. There's always some kind of health angle (and that's an issue with sex research as well). Somehow we need to justify our interest in sex as a thing that benefits us in the productive areas of our life, rather than the pleasurable ones. Frankly, it kinda kills the vibe.
Sex for Pleasure Is Radical
With my sexuality, I resist the utilitarian, capitalist system that would circumscribe and quantify it, and use it to its advantage. With my sexuality, I enjoy my body not as an object, but as a pathway to the divine. With my sexuality, I take full ownership of myself and reclaim my right to pleasure - a pleasure that isn't condoned or controlled, that isn't measured or exploited for profit.
My sex life is for me. It is for my pleasure. Shouldn't your sex life be about yours?