by Nathan Dreicher
In her editorial “Let’s talk about sex, baby; let’s talk about slut shaming,” in the last issue of the Juniatian, Julia Wagner lamented the prevalence of slut shaming and that women are walking a tightrope between being a slut and being a prude. She argued we should endorse the entire the spectrum of sexuality. I want to add to her comments and offer a critique of the culture of sexual liberalism that contributes to our moral schizophrenia.
I don’t mean to suggest that slut shaming women and not men isn’t a double standard or suggest that we should return to the enlightened sexual ethics of the Puritans or the Duggar family; I would argue that our unqualified endorsement of bodily autonomy may lead to greater sexual fulfillment, but also to disappointment.
Of sex-positive people, most concede this unpleasant truth. Like your mom’s warning about how eating cookies before dinner will ruin your appetite, our rampant consumption of sex has ruined our possibility of actually enjoying the sweet stuff in life.
Regardless of the rhetoric from pop psychology gurus and the bastion of learned letters that is Kylie Jenner’s Instagram account, being an individual can be quite an agonizing experience of being “sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal,” as W.B. Yeats melodramatically put it.
Love has the capacity to break our isolated and physical cell-like condition into a great oceanic feeling of union toward the cosmos at large. To embrace and be embraced by the beautiful object of our desire gives us consolation from lumbering encounters that constitute the majority of our waking life.
When it comes to the domain of love from a modern standpoint, competitive Social Darwinism, which is generally condemned in the economic sphere, is quite acceptable.
In the same way that there are winners and losers in the free market, there are winners and losers in the marketplace of free love. Some are born with natural good looks, social capital and charisma which often entail a harem of sexual partners. Others miss out because of their own inherited circumstances and are left to live lonely lives, wallowing in self-gratification and frozen Indian food.
When comedian Amy Schumer or Charlie Sheen boast about the copious amount of people they have slept with, I don’t immediately think, “Gee, what empowered individuals.” Instead I am reminded of rich people on social media who flaunt their rank with photos of yachts and four-digit receipts.
In spite of its flaws, monogamy, like death, is a necessary evil as a kind of great equalizer in terms of sex ratios. The uneven returns of hookup culture, which will always favor extroverted alpha types, don’t even come close.
What consolation can we give to the neglected who are bombarded by sexual imagery in advertising and entertainment, giving them the constant expectation of pleasure? Our capitalist system is obsessed with titillating but never satisfying our desires and creating those unattainable ideals of bodily perfection and hedonistic consumerism that leave us all behind.
It is precisely those unattainable standards that are the source for profound unhappiness for men and women. As French writer and fellow cynic Michel Houellebecq puts it, the trajectory of our society is one of prioritizing and increasing our desires to an unbearable level while making the fulfillment of them more and more difficult.
This seems counterintuitive, yet in a world where every kink is a category on Redtube and the images of young naked bodies are plentiful on our flickering screens, the possibility for tenderness, connection and human warmth seems an ever more distant reality. When everything is profane, what happens to the sacred feeling of intimacy?
There is a lot of wiggle room between overt sexuality and chastity; by no means do I want us to regress back to a point in society where we gave unnatural attention to what occurs between two consenting adults behind closed doors. I suggest the “follow your heart” attitude is not the cure-all, but the fire of our passion should keep us going. We must learn to tend the flame without letting it burn us or others.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 10 Oped