Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Towards a Sex-Positive Utopia

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  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Just... you... shush.

    Yeah this isn't Trade chat! Next you'll be suggesting Chuck Norris jokes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3414 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Yeah this isn't Trade chat!

    Rough trade chat?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Nik C,

    Firstly, I would like a nominate Craig's "Verdant quim" for best phrase of the thread, although given the context, that's probably inappropriate.

    And Second, I would like to put forth the idea that sex ed communicates that A) masturbation is fun and will not cause your naughty bits to fall off and b) sex is fun and is supposed to feel nice. Because that, more than Catholicism or internalized homophobia curtailed having a functional sex life for quite some time. As a teenager I was taught that sex was this terrible *thing* that you should do when you turned 18, like voting and getting your full driver's license. It was all "Make sure you have a deep relationship with this BOY because if you DON'T it will RUIN your life forever and you may as well go sit in a fridge, slag" also, duct tape analogy and here are some awful pictures of STDs.

    Hopefully, in Emma's sexual utopia, there will be some emphasis on it feeling good. And a point that, you don't have to love the person, as long as you stick to SSSC, it's all good?

    Since Aug 2009 • 11 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Nik C,

    And Second, I would like to put forth the idea that sex ed communicates that A) masturbation is fun and will not cause your naughty bits to fall off

    About the only thing that my school sex ed (delivered two years after I started having sex) got right was this.

    "Make sure you have a deep relationship with this BOY because if you DON'T it will RUIN your life forever and you may as well go sit in a fridge, slag"

    Had almost all of my teen sex in relationships. Terrible, fucked-up relationships.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Nik C,

    And Second, I would like to put forth the idea that sex ed communicates that A) masturbation is fun and will not cause your naughty bits to fall off

    Joycelyn Elders had it right. The only thing she was guilty of was being a little too honest.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4351 posts Report Reply

  • peterpeasant,

    Your final paragraph describes heaven.. I wish. Sigh.

    new zealand • Since Oct 2010 • 39 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    Perhaps it's time for the Sluts Unite oath:

    I believe that sex represents more than just the creation of children.

    I believe it is an enjoyable, healthy and a profound part of the human experience.

    I also believe that the responsible use of birth control is an essential component of a mature, civilized society.

    And if these beliefs make me a slut in some people's eyes, then so be it.

    I will stand united with my fellow sluts, now and always.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    A slightly tangential but still relevant quote from this essay by Marilynne Robinson:

    There is a tendency, considered highly rational, to reason from a narrow set of interests, say survival and procreation, which are supposed to govern our lives, and then to treat everything that does not fit this model as anomalous clutter, extraneous to what we are and probably best done without. But all we really know about what we are is what we do. There is a tendency to fit a tight and awkward carapace of definition over humankind, and to try to trim the living creature to fit the dead shell.

    Robinson is talking about her approach to writing fiction, but I think it can be applied to the matter in hand.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12031 posts Report Reply

  • Roger, in reply to Lilith __,

    And in other news, look forward to the sex-bot utopia!!!!

    Or Cherry 2000?

    Auckland • Since Jun 2007 • 175 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Sacha,

    what would erotic material for asexual people be like?

    Eroticism (from the Greek ἔρως, eros—"desire”)

    Car magazines and Cookery books,
    Architectural Journals and picture hooks…
    Whatever your heart desires.
    And there’s the point, desire.
    If sex became as socially acceptable as shaking hands then the desire would disappear, it is the “Naughtiness”, the forbidden fruit, the unavailability.
    Constant availability makes one a grubby individual and that draught up the raincoat can be uncomfortable in winter.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4869 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    If sex became as socially acceptable as shaking hands then the desire would disappear, it is the “Naughtiness”, the forbidden fruit, the unavailability.

    Yes Steve, before sex was taboo nobody had any. That's why we're extinct.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Roger,

    Or Cherry 2000?

    As long as they get the water-proofing right...

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2142 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    If sex became as socially acceptable as shaking hands then the desire would disappear, it is the “Naughtiness”, the forbidden fruit, the unavailability.

    Lolwut? That maybe how your boat floats, Steve, but it's a bit presumptuous of you to speak for everyone.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2142 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    If sex became as socially acceptable as shaking hands then the desire would disappear, it is the “Naughtiness”, the forbidden fruit, the unavailability.

    Um, while naughtiness can add a certain frisson, there's also the fact that sex is considerably more fun than shaking hands. If not, you're doing it wrong.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Emma Hart,

    That’s why we’re extinct.

    I knew there was something funny going on.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4869 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    That maybe how your boat floats, Steve, but it’s a bit presumptuous of you to speak for everyone.

    I was speaking for myself but I can see how you could think otherwise.

    there’s also the fact that sex is considerably more fun than shaking hands. If not, you’re doing it wrong.

    You must let me show you how I shake hands sometime. ;-)
    Apparently we are all extinct so the point is moot.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4869 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    I was speaking for myself but I can see how you could think otherwise.

    Like, because all the phrasing you used was general, and the lack of the word "I"?

    On an individual level, I've already addressed this point twice, once in the original post, so I'm just going to assume Steve is having himself a little troll.

    You must let me show you how I shake hands sometime. ;-)

    Right. And then Tom can show you... I'm going to step out now.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    You must let me show you how I shake hands sometime. ;-)
    Apparently we are all extinct so the point is moot.

    I appreciate that you said that "the desire would disappear," rather than that sex would disappear, and it's true that there always has been a lot of sex without desire. But I don't think that naughtiness is the only source of desire, so I don't think that desire would disappear either.

    Think of the world of sex as a city (yeah, I know - it's my go-to metaphor). Some people are quite happy settling down in one place, making their home there and never venturing beyond that one street. That's fine for them, and you might even say that they desire to make their home better as they get to know it over the years.

    Others would rather wander around, and get a thrill from discovering the unique delights of every new street they encounter. Some districts of the city might be considered dangerous, and the adventurous erotoflâneur might gain an additional thrill from exploring those mean streets. In some cities, whole neighbourhoods might be fenced off and ferociously guarded, and many citizens would go to great lengths to illicitly cross those borders because they feel that their true home is on the other side. Was homosexual law reform the sexual equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall?

    Removing those fences and prohibitions might take away some of the forbidden thrill for some people, but that would be more than made up for by the sense of liberation that comes from living in a free city. The dodgy parts of town might still have some shock value for those who seek that, since the good burghers of Churton Park would still raise their eyebrows at those of us who prefer hanging out in Newtown (so to speak). But you wouldn't lose your job for moving there, or get told by the police "What did you expect? You should have stayed at home" if you do happen to get assualted there.

    A free city won't turn into a bland shopping mall, as it will still have its share of randomness, dark alleys and secret histories. But it will be free.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    the desire would disappear

    it's not called a *drive* for nothing

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16741 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    If sex became as socially acceptable as shaking hands then the desire would disappear

    This is probably my only real concern about laying down what a sexual utopia would be like, wherein shame isn't so deeply built in at a social level. One society that is, by accounts, one of the more sexually adventurous, a place where people would seldom be surprised to hear about practically any kind of "perversion" on the part of people they know, is Japan. And it would be hard to find a place in which public guilt and shame figure so highly. Makes me wonder that if the shame was taken away, whether it might actually trend far more towards plain vanilla.

    The utopia Emma describes struck me a much like how things were on the "anarchy" planet Annares in Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed. The sexual elements of the story were fascinating, particularly since they are thrown into relief every odd chapter, which describes Shevek's adventure on Urras, a planet which is basically very much like what ours is.

    The anarchists are liberal in every way imaginable, from our current viewpoint, although as the story unfolds, LeGuin's vision of what that really means is quite illuminating. Sexually, they have no apparent inhibition at all, and sexual life begins very young. Everyone tries anything and everything, as their nature dictates. There are no formalized living arrangements whatsoever, so monogamy is a choice undertaken only by people who want it, and there are no official consequences for any choices made. The only consequences of practically any and every action are varying levels of social approval. The main character chooses monogamy at one point in the story, although it would seem that cheating is such a foreign concept that it doesn't cause anyone concern if it happens - I recall Shevek hanging out with one of his old male friends and them having sex at some point, mainly because the friend wants it and Shevek is obliging, rather than because he is bisexual - the idea really has little meaning. Everyone is probably bisexual, somewhere on many spectrums of sexual preference at once. Shevek would seem to be mostly heterosexual, certainly the partners he chooses for himself are all women.

    The really big question the book raises is about whether such a utopia can really be self-consistent. In order to maintain a total absence of official control - there are no police, courts, because there are no laws at all - the level of social engineering has to be very, very pervasive. People are taught from the very youngest of ages how to safely and happily co-exist, and that involves an extraordinary amount of social cohesion, brought about through constant training, social modeling, and social contact, constant discussion of what is or is not appropriate.

    So actually, in the end, guilt is an enormous factor in these people's lives, since it is the only kind of social control they have at all The protagonist moving from the utopia to something closer to what we have and reflecting on his own society from there is most insightful about many of the traps involved in utopian thought. He does not turn his back on his society - he can never escape the extremely deep level at which it molded his personality, but he does have his own preconceptions profoundly challenged about whether Urras really is a bad place. In the end, it's complex. Urras is, after all, the first place in which he is able to be totally and utterly selfishly himself, talking physics and not the least concerned about what other people are doing, and of course he loves that.

    LeGuin's vision is that the utopian women's lack of inhibition also leads them to being rather slack about their physical appearance, and this is brought about by effectively slut-shaming the society to which they are reacting, Urras (from which they came), with endless documentaries being shown to them about the immoral ways of the "propertarian" society, the disgusting tarting up of the women, etc, etc. Shevek is the first Annaresti to actually have anything to do with an Urrasti woman, and is rather surprised to find himself highly attracted to one of them, despite all of the propaganda in his life telling him he shouldn't.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8584 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    I do like that the Ancient Greeks had a bunch of words for different kinds of love: Not only eros (sexual love), but also storge (family love), philia (friendly affection or commonality), and agape (compassion).

    I think we could probably add a few more. We need more words, not fewer!

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3466 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    ...continued.

    Obviously this was a work of fiction, but it's an interesting thought experiment, well worth a read. I came away from reading it thinking "yes, there's some good and bad things about utopias, aren't there?". It's actually pretty hard to conceptualize being attracted to something that you aren't attracted to already.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8584 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    The social control in The Dispossesed is extraordinary. One character (I can’t recall his name, I’m sorry) puts in for a job reassignment, and the only one that is offered is some position doing manual work for which he is completely unsuited, and yet he takes it, because no one ever refuses a job allocation. And Shevek causes tumult by daring to do something different (going off planet) even though Annares is supposed to be a free society.

    I dunno. I think that even in a sexual utopia, there would still be people who can’t access sex, and there will still be sexual jealousy. I suspect, ’though I don’t know for sure, that there are at least some people who enjoy the whole process of being jealous, a bit like some people seem to thrive on a cycle of conflict and reconciliation.

    ETA. I used to recommend The Dispossessed to my political theory students, when they we wondering what an anarchic socie might look like.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1323 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Deborah,

    I dunno. I think that even in a sexual utopia, there would still be people who can’t access sex, and there will still be sexual jealousy.

    Sure – becuase as the subtitle of The Dispossessed reminds us all utopias with real people in them are ambiguous ones. You can’t take sheer human bloody-mindedness out of the equation but, yeah, I’m pretty happy to be a gay man in a society that’s a lot more open than it used to be. Doesn't mean New Zealand is a place without homo-hating but when you have the possibility of walking though an open door instead of having to force a window in the middle of the night, it helps.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12031 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Meanwhile, Jezebel reminds us to stand strong against robosexuality.

    Robosexuality is a choice. No one is just "built that way," no matter what Lady Goto10 sings. The sooner the robodomites stop playing with each others' dipswitches, toggles, and ports and accept the programming of Robot Jesus, the sooner they will be autosaved.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

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