Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why sex is dirty.

I have a pair of stuffed animals, a little horse and cow, that I've had since I was born and they're extremely special to me; they sleep in my bed every night and ride in my bag everywhere I travel. They're worn threadbare from twenty-four years of hugging and they're filled with as much love as a human can pour into an object.

And long ago I decided that they could never see me have sex. If I have a boy over, or if I'm going to masturbate, Horsie and Cowie have to go under the pillow. Their little eyes have to be shielded. Partly because they represent my childhood, but mostly because they're... special. They're innocent. And much as I protest that sex is innocent and carries no inherent "dirt," in this one area I cannot practice what I preach.


The local fetish club (ahem, sex-positive community center, it's a very cool organization but it's a fetish club and doesn't need to kid itself) sends out a weekly mailer with their activities and I was surprised to see they had events on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It seems sad somehow. I know not everyone can or wants to be with family on Christmas, lots of people don't celebrate it at all, but... it's Christmas, man. I'm Jewish and the thought of spending Christmas at a fetish club strikes me as unbearably depressing.


There's a deeply ingrained hatred for the simple pleasures of the flesh in our culture. We hate the slut, the glutton, the layabout, the drunk, not just for the consequences of their actions but for the cheap dirty pleasure they're giving themselves. They didn't earn that! The only guiltless joys are hard-won. (Maybe this is why an "easy" woman is looked down on.) Pleasure without accomplishment feels secretly immoral.

It goes against sex-positivity and the general semi-hippie social mores of the Internet, but this anti-pleasure sentiment isn't all bad. The nagging sense that the pleasure of orgasm isn't as "real" as the pleasure of climbing a mountain is what drives people to achieve, rather than simply enjoy. If everything I need to be happy is right between my legs, why bother being human? Why learn, why explore, why create?

I think this is the origin of sex-negativity, of much-maligned concepts like Protestant work ethic and Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt. It's the root of slut-shaming and homophobia and Promise Rings. It's why monks and priests are celibate and why Americans can't go to the beach naked. And it's also, kinda, the basis of humanity.

Pleasure-negativity sucks balls when you're trying to have a fun night out or a funner night in. But pleasure-negativity is also what gets you out of bed in the morning. The ability to think beyond your next fuck or next meal separates humans from animals. It's a shame that we get all down on fucking and eating, since they're fine and joyous pastimes, but I think we have to hold a little prejudice against earthly pleasures to drive us to greater things.

I hate feeling guilty about fucking, but I need to feel guilty about not going to work, and I think the two are inextricably tied.

Promise Rings are still pretty stupid though.


  1. This is such an amazing concept! Thank you so much for sharing this interesting perspective.

  2. I don't think that I can agree with you at all.

    Accomplishment is pleasurable. Achievement is pleasurable. All kinds of things are pleasurable, including but not limited to the pleasures of the body.

    And, y'know, I can't find everything I need to be happy between my legs. I'm a writer, a mother, a theologian, a wife; I need all these things to be happy. I'm going to go bake a cake sometime in the next few days, and that will be conducive of my happiness too.

    If all my worldly needs were addressed such that I could do whatever I wanted at any given moment, without having to worry about matters of practicality, I would not spend all that time having sex. I would likely spend more of it having sex than I do at the moment, sure, but I would also spend more of it writing, eating spectacular food, gardening, reading books on interesting subjects, and playing computer games.

    Possibly also sleeping. Though one of the husbands gave me a nap for Christmas, so I'm feeling less frazzled than I was.... But what gets me out of bed is, well, boredom.

    (Or, lately, the baby being loud and perky and wanting cuddles.)

  3. Dw3t-Hthr - I agree completely, bodily pleasure isn't all there is to life. But why do we feel this way, why are we not satisfied with bodily pleasure? I think a part--and only a part, and it doesn't justify anywhere near the amount of pleasure-negativity our culture currently has--is because we are wired and culture to be unjustifiably dissatisfied with pleasure that comes too easily.

  4. I'm going to have to disagree there too. Let's ignore for the moment that I don't feel guilt, or even understand that concept on an emotional level. Regret, yes, if something didn't go well, but it appears that one doesn't need guilt to have a sense of responsibility or dedication. If I could freely have sex all day long, forever, I wouldn't do it. Okay, I'd have it way more than I do now, which is almost never. But doing anything all the time, no matter how much I might like it, would get boring fast.

    Maybe some people could and would just get by on a handful of base pleasures if it were possible to do so, but definitely not everyone. And for the vast majority of people, it's not really possible anyway, because life dictates that you have to do other stuff if you want to continue living.

    Also, I wouldn't bother to hide my stuffed animals (and I have several, and some of them I got as gifts long after I was a child) during sex because, well, they're stuffed animals. They're not going to be offended, or even notice really. I'm not really an exhibitionist or anything, but I don't care who sees me naked and/or having sex as long as they're not likely to cause trouble or fetch the police. (And, unfortunately, my mother lives with me, because she's got too many problems to function on her own, and she definitely would cause trouble. Blegh.)

  5. My previous post was written before Holly's last message appeared on the site, so... okay that makes a little more sense then. But then again, I've always seen that attitude as insane and don't really understand it either. I've seen people self-destruct their own lives just because they can't relax or enjoy the little "instant" pleasures now and then. Also, the saying "never take the easy way out" is flat-out wrong, if only because people usually take it way too literally. It should be more like "never take the easy way just *because* it's the easy way". Taking the hard way just because it's hard is usually worse.

  6. Why not satisfied with bodily pleasure?

    Because limiting ourselves to bodily pleasures is cutting ourselves off from the huge range of hedonisms that operate primarily in other fields!

    I mean, I love me some good steak. Hell, I had leftover roast for dinner. But I'm not going to say that because I think beef is fantastic that that is enough to satisfy me; I want wine and hot and sour soup and cake and roasted potatoes and good cheese and limeade and sweet oatmeal with sausages and sourdough bread and Cheetos. No matter how fantastic the beef is, I cannot be satisfied foodwise with just meat (even if I have a much higher appetite for it than many people); the world of pleasures is much wider than that.

    I'm not going to be happy in a world with no steak in it, but I'm also not going to be happy in a world where there is nothing but steak.

    I mean, that's a very limited example of a pleasure, but the principle still holds. I'm not going to be satisfied with sex because I live in a world with music and logic puzzles and things to learn and matters to piece together and the satisfaction of craftwork well done and tea and snuggling the cat and playing with my daughter and setting things on fire and running and perfume and...

    ... and, well, steak.

    I can conceive of all of these things, and I am a greedy sunnuvabitch and want it all.

    On the subject of pleasure that comes too easily, I seem to recall something about the rat studies where the rats kept pushing the button to get another dose of heroin or opium or whatever drug they were getting from pushing the lever? Where the rats drugged themselves into a stupor, pushing the drugs lever rather than the food lever even until they died?

    The thing is, I gather they redid the tests with rats who had other things to do, as opposed to rats who were stuck in little cages with nothing to do but pick a lever for 'food' and one for 'drugs'. Rats with other things to do? Did other things, too. And didn't drug themselves to death.

    (Hm, found a link on it; for once my google-fu pulls up something on-topic. Looks like the drug was cocaine. )

    Satisfaction comes from variety and options, even for rats. People have so many more complicated ways to fuck ourselves up or give ourselves pleasure; why would we be satisfied with less than rats?

  7. That's interesting about the rats. I've observed the opposite in my pet guinea pigs; they're physically able to escape their cage, but they never try to, because their food and water and bed are right there. Still, they do seek some mental stimulation playing with toys and socializing with each other, they don't just eat and sleep.

    As for the rest, I think I phrased myself poorly, and I have to think for a bit how to say what I want to say--which is to explain pleasure-negativity more than to justify it. I think pleasure-negativity stems from the fear that hedonists lose the drive to do greater things, but I think I overstated how legitimate that fear is.

  8. *delurks again!*

    I find it interesting that quite a few people replied to this post saying, "I'm not hedonistic. I don't just live for sex! I have other pleasures: good food, computer games, etc." Err...that's still hedonism, really. You're still doing the things that make you happy.

    It all boils down to the same thing though, doesn't it? Society may not come down *quite* as hard on people who live for food or for computer games (compared to living for sex), but none of those are really considered worthwhile things to live for by society at large.

    It's all fine and dandy to say, "If I had a ton of free time, I wouldn't just have sex. I'd travel! I'd educate myself! I'd read books for pleasure!" but that's not going to help the world at large. What would help is if you said, I don't know, "If I had a ton of free time, I'd become a firefighters. Even if it took me five years of working out day and night to pass the physical exams, I'd do it, because the world needs firefighters." Or "If I had a ton of free time, I'd sell all my posessions and move to Africa to build houses for impoverished children, because the world needs that." The world doesn't need people reading for pleasure, as wonderful as that may be.

    So I think the answers other people have given illustrate Holly's point! Left to our own devices without the influence of pleasure-negativity, we'd devolve into hedonism. It mightn't be sexual hedonism. It might be intellectual hedonism or culinary hedonism, but all the same...


  9. Oh, and on the subject of stuffed animals...they watch me masturbate *shrugs*

    But sometimes I cover their ears when I'm talking dirty and my hands are free :) Their ears are too floppy and cute for such things.

  10. Even if any or all of Anonymous's statements are true, just because pleasure-negativity can be useful doesn't necessarily mean that it's the only (or even the best) way to accomplish much the same thing. For example, one could go with its opposite, duty-positivity, instead. Humans need to do their parts to make everything work, or they start having survival problems. This could be emphasized instead, with duty-avoidant people being socially shamed, or even cut off in ways where they have to work harder anyway doing everything themselves if they want to stay alive.

    Note also that I'm not saying that this would necessarily be better either; I can think of some neuroses which might become more prevalent under such a scenario, and it could potentially empower some petty tyrants. But at least it wouldn't fuck with people's ability to enjoy themselves when they were capable of doing so. If there's a "best way" it probably needs to be nuanced.

  11. I find it interesting that I've been accused of denying being a hedonist right after explicitly saying that body-pleasure is such a limited and constrictive form of hedonism. Mmm, the reading for content, it is so yummy.

    Personally, I'm extremely duty-positive. I mean, I've written a theological essay on the importance of putting one's shopping cart in the shopping cart return, level of duty-positive. The trick is getting duty without, hrm. A narrow and conformist vision of what one's duty is? At least that's one of the fail states - the Company Man type, all greyface-does-the-job - when duty encompasses not merely work and care for family and the world and putting away the damn shopping carts, but also self-care. (Which, I would point out, includes an adequate supply of pleasure.)

    And here's a thing: people (I think especially but not exclusively women) are not raised to be concerned with self-care, and are particularly taught that pleasures are frivolous unless they can be parlayed into Good Things For The World. I mean, witness Anonymous above deriding people simply discussing pleasure without making off-topic side forays into what they have done to Save The World recently.

    A topic of meditation: consider a society in which the phrase "guilty pleasure" was not immediately understood.

  12. Delaying gratification and thinking ahead are both part of that icky being-a-grownup thing. I still think of my self as 10 years old, but I'll be 60 soon, and still haven't got the grownup thing right down.

    Something I read in Tom Wolfe's novel, "The Right Stuff", may be helpful. He wrote of the aviators speaking of "maintaining an even strain", that is, rationing their fun times and their duty times so that if they were to die tomorrow, they would have had some good fun and also done their duty in due proportion, instead of either being total fun-having wastrels, or total slaves to duty.

  13. Human happiness is based on a combination of bodily pleasure, high challenge, and drama. That's basically why we write difficult stories and why 'wireheads' (the ttranshumanist term for continuously drugged people) are so pathetic.