“Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink,” so the saying goes. One could, if feeling particularly feisty, shift this to “sex, sex, everywhere and not a meaningful connection to be had.” The ubiquity of sexual expression in American culture is met only by an equal and contrary denial of it. Children appear in make-up and skimpy outfits in various beauty pageants and parental instigators are aghast at how anyone could think there was anything sexual about it. Teens involve themselves in ever-increasing behaviors of sexual expression like sexting and yet there continues to be a push in some social quarters for “abstinence-only” education. Adults consume enormous amounts of porn and yet shrilly proclaim the lascivious quality of advertisements. If it’s possible for societies to have a mental illness, then the American one is bipolar.
Let’s be truly liberating, declaring loudly, “yes, it’s about the sex!” Say it loud, say it clearly, say it in ever-expanding ways of enjoyable perversity. This in no way dismisses discussions of social relationship dynamics or anything else related to a particular social movement; in fact, it liberates everyone to have honest dialogue now that nobody is hiding from underlying desires. Yes, it’s about sex. Yes, it’s about being able to discuss one’s sexuality and accompanying feelings without committing to any particular form sexuality may take. Yes, it’s about being able to sexually express oneself as often as desired without being called slut or whore. Yes, it’s about being able to have sex with any gender without being called an abomination or having your children taken. Yes, it’s about sex, in a consensual and healthy manner that is of benefit to all involved.
Yes, it’s about sex, and being ok with that may indeed be the most revolutionary thing of all.
How I got there…
From potential social upheaval to isolated pet issues, the trajectory of the sexual revolution is anything but impressive, however much progress in some quarters has been made. Currently, it struggles to maintain any sense of purpose outside of single-issue political protests. Gay marriage? Yes! The continued denial of healthcare to individuals outside of a governmentally prescribed social institution like marriage? Silence. The creation of legislation making crimes against a particular group somehow inherently worthy of worse penalization? Yes! The systematic incarceration of minorities and the broader culture of violence that breeds acting out against isolated groups? Too complicated. While certainly there can be a mistake made in losing sight of the trees when focused so strongly on the forest, the reverse is equally problematic. In the case of the sexual revolution and liberation, the core problem seems to be a tacit acceptance that sex is too difficult for society to deal with. Instead, sex should be ignored in favor of discussing anything but.
This is frankly understandable. From that first fulfillment of a crush to dating and partner-hood and marriage, the phrase “in a relationship” embodies desire, hope, pride, and a fair share of social acceptance. Little wonder then that a focus on the socially relational side is easier to find group solidarity with, it’s something that everyone shares regardless of form. Unfortunately, it’s the form that starts tripping people up.
Every counter-culture, whether it be gays, swingers, feminists, or any other, has their own version of denying sex in pursuit of being more socially amenable. I’ll offer an example from poly simply because I’m most familiar and it has come up more than once.
Sex and Alternative Lifestyles
There’s a consistent message that it’s a lifestyle embodied in multiple concurrent relationships, with the act of sex simply being a byproduct or secondary focus. That this is often disingenuous is ruefully discussed in chat forums and the causal gossip of social groups. Regardless, even taken at face value, if the potential of merely having multiple relationships was the issue, there’d be no need for an alternative lifestyle. Everyone already does it. Unless a person lives on an island with only one other, everyone has multiples upon multiples of relational connections. Even multiple emotionally intimate connections is not outside the norm for many, as close families, the multiplicity of girl-friends and bros can attest. What’s at issue here is the form a relationship takes. The multitude of emotionally intimate relational connections, when placed within a counter-cultural message, includes the addition of a sexual component or at least a potentially sexual one.
Let’s be clear, polyamory or any other sexual counter-culture is not solely about sex, but it also is not separated from it. The addition of sex is what makes it counter-cultural. Ignoring or downplaying the underlying focus on sex diminishes the capacity for potentially revolutionary groups to be, in fact, revolutionary. One, opposing groups who point out the sexual foundation will rightly point to levels of deception being committed. Two, those in the group face increasing problems as difficulties arise in their personal relationships concerning sex. Further, with the real issue being ignored, the difficulties are attempted to be met by increasingly facetious layers of demagoguery (irrational protests of the personal meaning), making situations worse than they need to be.
Having crossed through the religious plateau of abstinence-only and its accompanying sexual self-hatred, dipped my toe in the counter-culture sexual movements of polyamory and BDSM, I’ve found a remarkable number of similarities. While both are committed to discussing the form that sex and sexual behavior takes, nobody is overly concerned with talking about sex itself, particularly the emotional and intellectual requirements to any form of exploration. While all sides of this sexual polyhedron attempt to make headway in being socially acceptable, the common every-day sexual lives of people get ignored. No revolution or even an increase in the maturity of our sexual choices will occur if sex itself is not first and foremost lovingly and loudly accepted as being a wholesome and inevitable avenue of human expression. Whatever form sexuality may take, it is sexuality itself that must be embraced first.
Yes, it’s about the sex and being ok with that may indeed be the most revolutionary thing of all.