Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sex is Violent: Why the F-Word is Taboo

Romantic love is frequently touted as the chief politically correct prerequisite for being happy in secular society. But because the causal relationship between finding a life partner and being happy is politically correct, you can be sure that the idea of this relationship is metaphysically, naturally, and in all other ways that matter to those who care about knowledge, wrong. Politically correct notions are propaganda signals that beam back and forth between social interest groups to maintain power imbalances; these notions are tools of social manipulation, not propositions backed up by critical thinking, scientific investigation, or artistic vision. A connoisseur of human folly evaluates mainly the aesthetics of politically correct blather, appreciating the efficiency with which PC notions distort reality sometimes in the service of human vice. (See Political Correctness.)

That the idea that romantic love makes you happy is merely politically correct, and thus substantively erroneous, is apparent from the attendant language game. Of course, romantic love culminates in the sex act, and yet the double standard in our treatment of words that refer to sex is most curious. The clinical word “sex” is perfectly acceptable in the mass media, but the F-word is taboo even while superficially those two words are synonymous. The trick is that their connotations differ. “Sex” calls to mind the biological process of having sex, as in “sexual intercourse” or “copulation.” The F-word, however, has metaphysical rather than mere scientific force, calling to mind the sex act’s deeper meaning. What is this deeper meaning? Well, the F-word gives away the game in its nonsexual uses, as in “Fuck him up,” “Fuck off!” or “He’s fucked.” In these uses, the F-word refers to violence or ruination. You might be wondering what violence has to do with the sex act, with the consummation of romantic love which is supposed to elevate us like nothing else, according to the PC happy-talk.

Clearly, the reason the F-word is usually censored in the media is that this word calls to mind facts about sex which undermine PC propaganda. After all, sex is obviously violent (to paraphrase the Jane’s Addiction song). Not only is sex violent, but symbols emerge from the biological process of sex which threaten PC fantasies about equality between men and women and about human nobility. Spelling out these symbols is probably unnecessary, since they’re so obvious that to appreciate them you merely have to think about sex as would a child, casting off the feel-good obfuscations. But I’ll spell them out anyway. As everyone knows, the penis is symbolically a weapon, often compared to a sword, spear, or gun. Less fortunately, the vagina represents a gaping wound, since that’s what the female sex organ looks like, especially when paired with the male organ. And the symbol of the penis-as-weapon comes first, which is to say that the sex symbolism is phallocentric, because the male's sex organ is external and much more prominent than the female's, so there's more of a pressing literary need or opportunity to mythologize the penis. Thus, when the male penetrates the female in the sex act, the very reproduction of human life looks aesthetically or metaphysically like a negation of life, as in an act of murder. The male stabs the female and slays her, leaving her for dead afterward or cuddling to symbolically resurrect her. This is to say only that the biological accident of the sexual process inevitably strikes the minds of symbol-using creatures such as us as horribly ironic, mixing up our ideas of life and death, of love and murder, and of immortality through reproduction and mortality through killing. From these primordial symbols issue rationalizations of patriarchy, such as the myths of female masochism or of the woman’s secret attraction to the tough guy. These myths are so well-established, buttressed as they are by the most na├»ve symbolic interpretation of the universal sex act, that many women find themselves playing their assigned roles.

So sex has its ugly side and yet sex is at the heart of romantic love even while love is supposedly the most beautiful good. Any reference to sex which naughtily threatens the PC myths is therefore anathema. Hollywood provides many of the fantasies of romantic love, proliferating dramas that depict the fun and frolic of falling in love, the emotional ups and downs which supposedly are hallmarks of mature adult life, as well as the sappy New Age obfuscations of the natural, sociopolitical, and aesthetic reality of sexual love. And yet these fantasies are so vulnerable and otherworldly that the mere utterance of the F-word is apparently feared for its power to magically counteract Hollywood’s whole wizard’s spell-book of enchantments.

The myth-maker’s goal is to regulate social relationships with conventions that maintain an inevitably-unjust social order. Were you resident in a perfectly just society, you’d have no need for myths or apologies; you’d simply point to heaven without uttering a word and get on with the thrill of participating in a utopia. In nature utopia is impossible, so white lies and other techniques of social engineering are needed to maintain social orders that offer stability and other compromises as well as absurdities and tragedies. The roots of all human societies are the biological facts of reproduction and childbirth. Societies are needed in the first place to care for helpless infants, and to perpetuate our species and more specifically our genetic code. However, those abstract and biochemical ends are perfectly insignificant as far as people are concerned. And so we need to be manipulated to play our natural roles as hosts of replicators. That manipulation begins with such measures as the evolutionary designs of a baby’s cuteness and of the adult’s innate approval of that cuteness. The manipulation continues socially with mainstream myths. But we have the power to see through the myths and to confront the horrible truth.

We celebrate the experience of romantic love even while we’re horrified by that experience, sustained as it is by hormones and by our servitude to genes. That’s why secular myths are needed to hold together families, especially after the Scientific Revolution when theistic myths lost their hold of people’s imagination. Instead of glorifying sexual reproduction, the raising of a family, and the biologically-dictated perpetuation of our species, with myths of divine commandments, modern secularists appeal to the business-oriented agenda of seeking a “life partner” or to New Age pseudoscientific claptrap which whitewashes nature with excruciating sentimentality. In either case, the raw, politically incorrect power of sex becomes an embarrassing reminder that we so-called emotionally mature adults are only kidding ourselves with our euphemisms. We apologize for the sex act with feel-good egalitarian myths of romantic partnerships or soul mates, and we censor whistle-blowing labels like the F-word, because we’re ashamed of sex, and we’re ashamed because our most fitting reaction to our natural reality as alienated animals is to writhe in sheer angst. The primitive symbolism of the sex act is an unwelcome reminder that most of our myths are arbitrary and worthy of mockery in the alien face of the inhumane universe. Of course, no one is really killed in the functional sex act, but the symbols, of penis=weapon and vagina=mortal wound, nevertheless compel men to lord it over women and women to dehumanize themselves, because healthy adults are necessarily gullible, needing myths to retain our sanity. We’re eager to believe in one myth, delusion, or preposterous fantasy or another to escape the default reaction of horror when we philosophically understand our existential plight. (See Happiness.)

The violence of sex isn’t just symbolic, however. According to the big biological picture (and the Red Queen hypothesis), sexual reproduction is a genetic “strategy” in an arms race with parasites that prey on the macroscopic hosts of genes such as us. Mixing up the gene pool forces viruses and bacteria to mutate to overcome the animals’ evolving immune systems. But the adaptation of sexual reproduction was only haphazard since natural creativity is mindless, and so there has never been any guarantee of equality between the sexes or even of any dignity in sex. Just as a battlefield can unleash chaos, there are plenty of casualties on this frontline of the biological war between genes and asexual viruses. Putting aside STDs, there’s the design of the unequal sex organs and the biochemical parameters of the sex act, which degrade us on the symbolic level discussed above, but which also invade our privacy by imposing the requirement of penetration. On the one hand, the genes help build our higher brain functions which give us some degrees of autonomy and dignity, but on the other, the genes force us to disregard our higher nature and to copulate like animals. In the case of traumatic insemination in invertebrates such as bugs, the male sex organ literally pierces the female’s abdomen, creating its own hole, which is deleterious to the female. That’s the brutal essence of sexual reproduction: on the macro level, the male must invade the female’s body, sometimes causing her pain, just as on the micro level the male’s sperm must bypass the female’s biochemical defenses. This is because, like any genetically adapted design, the rigmarole of sex evolved partly by accident and with no sympathy for the host organisms in mind.

Whole cultures have sprung up to rationalize the need to objectify our sex partner even while we prize our sentience and intelligence which we think distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom. For example, instead of viewing sexual penetration as an act of necessary force (for the sake of conception), sex is deemed a test of intimacy, a matter of sharing or cooperation. The glaring biological inequality of sex is thus equalized with politically correct narratives. Indeed, fucking is commonly distinguished from making love. The latter is supposed to be sex without the violence, or at least sex with an emphasis on the emotional bond. Making love is slower and more intimate, whereas fucking is animalistic, instinctive, and might as well occur between strangers (as it often does, even among adolescents in countries like the US). But, to use the euphemisms, lovers in the act of making love are still penetrating or being penetrated; they’re merely so filled with love hormones or with memories of shared experiences, that they’re able to overlook the act’s humiliating biomechanics.

To be clear, almost everyone who has ever had sex has been ashamed of it, though few would ever admit as much; otherwise, sex would be much more public and people wouldn’t be offended were they asked merely to describe their sex life. Sure, popular Western cultures are filled with sex-related imagery, since sex sells, but not with images of sex itself. Porn is a booming business on the internet, but this is an exception that proves the rule since the internet facilitates the private consumption of porn. When we say that sex ought to be "private," we’re concealing our disgust with what sex demonstrates is our thoroughly animal and mortal nature. (See Sexual Ecstasy.)

Of course, any such disgust or embarrassment is routinely overcome by the pleasure of sex, which is why animals have so much sex despite the burdens. Most animal species lack the intelligence to understand irony and so they’re not faced with the existential predicament of being biologically driven to procreate even with an appreciation of sex’s total lack of dignity. Sexual pleasure is now well-understood as a hormonal carrot held out to us by the genes so that we fulfill our evolutionary “function.” Moreover, this pleasure is tainted by the context in which naked bodies are forced to interact to achieve it: the male is forced to repeatedly stab the female, which induces the pair to mentally associate our ultimate creative act (the conception of human life) with our ultimate destructive one (murder). Sexual pleasure can therefore never be innocent or harmless. Putting aside rape or any minor physical harm that may be incurred while performing the voluntary sex act, sex is always existentially traumatizing because it shatters our idealistic self-image with our animalistic reality. In fact, this is the heart of sex’s so-called naughtiness: sexual pleasure is the highest valued good, but it’s also accompanied by undertones of violence, aggression, abuse, and domination even if these undertones manifest only in fleeting images in our minds or in the choice of sexual position.

You might be wondering whether there’s any evidence of trauma caused by ordinary sexual intercourse; on the contrary, most people think, sex is normal and healthy. But the effects of trauma from the inequality built into sex are felt everywhere in society, ranging from patriarchy, to the battle between the sexes, to the mental compartmentalization needed to avoid angst, to the feminist’s over-reactive misandry. Sex is indeed normal, but social norms are seldom healthy. Luckily, our high intelligence is double-sided: we’re horrified by our mortality and our puppet-like nature, but we’re also able to ignore those sources of angst and to deal underhandedly with states of cognitive dissonance. Thus, we can enjoy sex even while sex’s shocking, quite politically incorrect reality inevitably distorts our relationships.

I questioned at the outset whether sexual love leads to happiness. Certainly, sex and intimate relationships are enjoyable, but far from being sources of happiness in the sense of contentment, they unsettle us with the threat of angst. This is why in our case the biological compulsion to procreate requires waves of politically correct defenses, because we’re conscious and intelligent enough to appreciate sex’s absurdity and to recoil from the prospect of being degraded as we perform our mammalian duty and invade our mate’s body or submit to such an invasion. Those who abstain from sex have even less of a chance at contentment, since they’re alienated from the highly sexual human world and must repress their sex drive. Whichever predicament you find yourself in, whether it’s hypocritically pretending to be a dignified, mature person in public while in private groping a naked body like the sort of wild beast you routinely consume for dinner, or whether it’s ascetically renouncing the force of cosmic creativity and abstaining from sex as an outcast, happiness is unbecoming. So the fragility of politically correct fantasies, such as those dispelled merely by uttering the F-word, is hardly lamentable.

2 comments:

  1. Not sure I agree with this. Intercourse can look like violence because of the type of movement involved. But by saying intercourse is inherently degrading because the penis penetrates the vagina is oversimplifying it. Sometimes humans are too symbolic. I don't thing nature made sex to be inherently degrading. That's a human invention, and it depends on how you look at it. Instead of seeing the penis as impaling the vagina, you could see it as the vagina as eating or welcoming the penis. It's all about perspective. But humans, seeing it as an act of violence, use it as an excuse for keeping men in control sometimes.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Britt Perkins. I don't think I say sex is inherently degrading. The symbolism is indeed only in our minds since there's no mind or intention behind the design of our sex organs. But I say "the biological accident of the sexual process inevitably strikes the minds of symbol-using creatures such as us as horribly ironic."

      And why is the most obvious symbolism or mythical impression of sex the asymmetric one that redounds to the male's benefit? Well, it seems I forgot to add this point to the article, but I've now added the following: "the symbol of the penis-as-weapon comes first, which is to say that the sex symbolism is phallocentric, because the male's is external and much more prominent than the female's, so there's more of a pressing literary need or opportunity to mythologize the penis."

      So I agree that we might compare the vagina to something like a shelter or a Venus Flytrap, but there's a reason we don't and it's not just that men are bigger and more aggressive and so they get their way. The penis-as-weapon is the central comparison, so that the extended metaphor must begin with that symbol, because the penis is much more prominent than the female's hidden sex organs. For example, the testicles are visible whereas the ovaries are not. The mythology surrounding sex tends to be phallocentric, because the penis is a more compelling starting point for us to spin our tales about the sex act.

      I agree that symbols are human inventions, but I don't think the sexist myth is arbitrary, as if we could just flip a coin and pick our myth. Some myths are more compelling than others--again, in literary terms. Have you ever taken an English class in which your teacher criticized one of your metaphors as unsuitable, because the comparison was weak? Well, the phallocentric comparison is stronger than the gynocentric one, if only because of the evolutionary accident that the man's sex organs dangle within view whereas the female's are mostly hidden. Once you're struck by the image of the penis as a sword, then, the vagina-as-wound symbol complements the extended metaphor. But what would the penis have to be compared with were we to think of the vagina instead as like a shelter or a flytrap? A gynocentric extended metaphor simply wouldn't be as compelling.

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