The progressive war on sex

New norms around “consent” are aimed at destroying the miracle of intimacy

Artillery Row

Sex has always held the vital potential for igniting human creativity. Across the centuries the yearning of lust that culminated in sexual union has inspired poets, philosophers, artists and others who viewed it as the primordial archetype of all human intimacy. 

The frenzy of erotic desire can intimate eternity

The existential angst that can make one feel marooned from other people, where you feel alienated even from your own self can only be alleviated through human touch. As counterintuitive as it may sound, I believe that sex — in its most genuine form — is probably one of the activities that can revive and sustain faith in the Divine spirit that dwells within ourselves. The frenzy of erotic desire can provide an intimation of eternity and a true understanding of who we are. 

Nevertheless, we have recently witnessed what I would call a drastic degradation of the once sublime status and nature of sex. This can be seen in the general decline of people actually having sex, the transactional milieu now associated with sex, and the homogenization of increasingly fetishized desire. 

One major issue that has paved the way for this phenomenon is the modern insistence on a separation of mind and body. This divorce of spirit and flesh is indoctrinated very early on as the only politically correct understanding of the body. Material existence, symbolized by the physicality of the body, is perceived as an imposition on the wandering mind that cannot find repose in its shackled state. 

The ancient mind/body problem that pre modern philosophers tried to tackle through a holistic approach has been discarded because the body is no longer considered relevant. The body symbolizes a base and animalistic existence that can be circumvented through the supremacy of the mind. Yet, I am reminded of the words of the twelfth century Sufi writer Ibn ‘Arabi when he said:

They declare themselves beyond it [animalistic desire and sex], even though they name it with the noblest names, that is, ‘animal’ [ḥayawānī]. In other words, it is one of the characteristics of the living being [ḥayawān] (Ibn ‘Arabi, The Bezels of Wisdom).

Using etymology, Ibn ‘Arabi analyses the word animality which in Arabic means ḥayawānī, the usual stigma which is attributed to bodily desires, is actually derived from the word ḥaya, which means life. Thus, for him what people shun as beneath humanity is that which is pervaded by life and life giving. The nobility of life and of animality derives from the nobility of one of God’s most beautiful names Al-Ḥay, the Living One. In other words, what many perceived as beneath humanity actually derives from the Divine characteristic of life.

The phenomenon of aspirational disembodiment which finds articulation in gender-fluid discourse and its opposition to the perceived oppression of biology has naturally impacted the sexual landscape. 

Our passive acceptance of the priority of the mind over the body has led to a priority of discursive sexuality over the act of sex itself. The predominant vehicle of sex became buffered through the ideologically baptised screen that can indulge voyeuristic tendencies without the archaic interaction of human beings that once constituted sexual intercourse. 

Porn has always existed of course. However, in the past one could claim that it had a preparatory function to those who were unable to access the sexual economy for better or for worse. Now porn, with its various manifestations, has become a primary substitution designed to extinguish libidinal desires that fail to accord with the new disembodied sexual norms. 

For the adventurous types who can still muster up the courage to actually engage with another human being in sex, there are new and unnatural standards. 

They must adhere to a relentlessly prescribed dialectic whereby desire must be constantly vocalised, and both parties are perpetually reassured that their sexual actions aren’t violations of individual agency. 

We are being told that sex should be individual and politically complacent

Sexual partners are expected under this paradigm to ensure “ongoing consent” by regurgitating mundane questions such as “Can I touch you here?”, “Do you want to do that?”, “Are you comfortable when I do this?” or “Do you like it when I do this?”

A mode of communication that used to be considered conversational has somehow found its way into a space that was once claimed by the ineffable moans and groans of lovers. Sex once submerged the lovers into a primitive, pre-linguistic state that allowed us to embrace our animalistic side, but has now been reduced to mere banter. This metamorphosis is hailed as progress. An antidote, we are told, to the old sexual climate that catered to cis-heterosexuality. 

Michel Focault in his History of Sexuality argued that sexuality in the seventeenth century wasn’t actually repressed. Rather sex was being discussed quite prevalently inside confessional chambers, where people were being encouraged to redeem themselves from sinful acts and desires through discourse. It is difficult not to think of his words today, when sex is being mitigated and heavily policed through social discourse that has effectively transported it from the realm of action to the realm of theory. One could further claim that the secular forces that brandish the ideals of sexual liberation and freedom of choice have succeeded where the theological forces have failed.

The old stigma of sin so often placed on those who engage in sexual activity, never seemed to stop people in practice. But the hyper-liberal climate that supposedly espouses openness and acceptance for all has been extremely efficient in enforcing abstinence. Unlike the church that once punished “lewd” behaviour, the new establishment penalizes thought not action. Under this regime sexual interaction must be governed by a set of explicit contractual statements no matter how much it damages the experience. 

Sexual union should be the overcoming of the solipsistic existence that defines most of our lives. It is a violent breach of the individual carapace that we shield ourselves within. Yet, we are being told that sex should be individual and politically complacent. I say that if if you haven’t been violated by the face of the other, if you haven’t felt the pangs of yearning, if you haven’t been shattered by the thrust of pleasure only to be redeemed by the recollection of the most primordial unity, then perhaps you have never experienced sex.

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