2012-10-29

Sexuality

I feel like in a lot of ways, America is rather twisted up when it comes to sexuality. I think this drives a lot of wedges between people, has a lot to do with the sexism we're still battling, and creates (or helps to create) a lot of strange and dangerous viewpoints in people. The stuff I'm going to talk about here is of course general, and there are many exceptions, but I do feel there is an overarching view towards sexuality in America that is rather backwards and very unhealthy. This is also really just the beginning of my trying to put these thoughts into words, so please bear with me if there are incomplete thoughts or not everything fits together perfectly.

To begin with, the human body, and especially the female body, is too often sexualized. In the minds of many Americans, the human body simply exists as a sexual object. Sometimes it is also something else (usually a tool for productivity: that is, work; or physical achievement, such as sports), but it is always a sexual object. Therefore, it is morally wrong to display it (because somehow sex is also morally wrong), and if it is displayed, it must be a sexual provocation (because it is a sexual object, what other reason would you have for displaying it?), and a moral degredation.

I've seen this latter viewpoint in action firsthand, in a mild way. Taken to the extreme, it would be pretty frightening. I believe this is the precursor to the "she wouldn't wear that skirt if she didn't want it" type of thoughts. The objectification of the body to such a level that the only purpose for it is sex.

This also applies to depictions of the human body in advertising, and in public in general. For instance, when we lived in Lithuania, we noticed in the grocery store one time that there was a bottle of cellulite cream, and it had a picture of a naked woman on it, rubbing the cream on her leg. It was obvious that this was not a sexual provocation, it was not meant to arouse you sexually when looking at the bottle, but was simply a photo displaying the use of the cream in the bottle. It's pretty hard to demonstrate applying a cream to your leg if you've got trousers on. However, this would not fly in the U.S., because that depiction of a woman would be seen as sexual provocation. In terms of art, as well, we tend to see any kind of nudity as sexual provocation, because once again, the body exists as a sexual object and the display of it therefore is sexual provocation.

As with many things, this is skewed towards the female body. For instance - why is displaying a female nipple so much worse than displaying a male nipple? Because there is a breast attached? Why is a female breast so much more inappropriate than a male chest? Why is it that if a woman's blouse is low-cut or her skirt too short (and by whose standards?), she's asking to be raped, but if a man wanders around with their shirt off, or even naked, there is no such reaction (there may be a different reaction, such as mental derangement, but not that the man was asking to be raped)? Why is it that a woman's body is inherently a sexual object any more than a man's?

To compound things, not only are we twisting our views of sexuality, but by being so repressive - by pushing the human body into that 'bad' moral category, and trying to hide it away, we are both unnecessarily titillating and repressing ourselves at the same time. This has much the same effect as a drunk man at a strip club who is not allowed to touch the girls, but is getting really turned on for some period of time. We build up the body as a sexual object to such an extent, and forbid it to such an extent, that we can kind of whip ourselves into a frenzy. Some people can keep this up for a very long time, but just like bottling up anger and frustration in a relationship, it doesn't just go away if you ignore it, and eventually it all comes pouring out.

What I think is a more healthy perspective is this. We are everything that makes us up. We are a body, emotions, mind, a spirit - however you want to call all those things. They are not separate, they are different facets of the being that each of us is. In the same way that your mind and emotions can, but are not always, used to connect and be intimate with another person, your body can be, but is not always used for this purpose. In the same way we use poetry, prose, music and other forms of expression to expose, but not completely expose, and to adorn our mind and spirit, we use cloth, metal, leather, paint, etc to expose, but not completely expose, and to adorn our bodies.

We do this, because we want to know and be known. We do it because we appreciate beauty, and humans are beautiful. The human body, in the same way as the human mind and spirit, should be appreciated as a facet of a person. In much the same way we read a very personal poem by a talented author, and feel a sense of awe and admiration and even personal connection, so we can see a person who has artfully displayed their body with a similar sense of awe and admiration and personal connection - they are able to take the being that is themselves, and express what they see fit of it to the rest of the world in a creative, beautiful manner. Sometimes we interact with what they are expressing, and it resonates with us.

This relegation of the body as a sexual object also, I believe, contributes to the creation of a personal divide in our culture. We lack companionship and an ability to fully relate to each other, partly because of this view of the body as a sexual object. We are afraid to appreciate each others' bodies, we are afraid to touch each other, we are afraid to be physically affectionate, because we feel like these things all imply sexual attraction. And, sadly, due to the aforementioned titillation and repression going on for many people, this becomes the case after time, and it takes some real work to come back to a more healthy perspective on this.

It also conditions us to fashion ourselves as sexual objects, to represent ourselves in such a way as to get sex, because we believe that is the fulfillment of the body, its purpose.

Despite all of this, I'm not trying to de-sexualize humans, either. Of course, amongst all of the other things we are, we are sexual, and we desire that level of physical intimacy. However, just like you don't sit down with every other human being and pour out your whole soul to them over coffee (if you do, you may have some boundary issues), you also don't engage in sex with every human you come in contact with. Just as, after reading one of Wendell Berry's poems, you are not entitled to know everything about him and his life - so after seeing a beautiful person walk by, you are not entitled to have sex with them. Just as you may, at some point in your life, share too much of your thoughts and emotions with the wrong person and regret it afterwards, you may share too much of your body with someone and later regret it.

What I'm getting at here, is that our sexuality is simply a part of all that makes up who we are, and that a body simply serves as the physical piece of what a human is. If we look at things a bit more holistically, I think we come to a better understanding of how to treat each other, and are able to more fully interact with each other, with less room for misunderstanding and abuse.

Anyway, that's about all for now. I'd love to have a conversation about this as long as it stays respectful, honest, and constructive.

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