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Author Topic: Sexuality in America  (Read 2041 times)
Frodo
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« on: July 04, 2012, 11:37:25 pm »
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I deleted my original post because it might derail the thread it was posted on, so here is my question:

Given the increasingly liberal attitudes toward sexuality in the United States in recent decades, do you think that we are gradually transitioning away from the original Judeo-Christian conception of sexuality that we grew up with to a more Greco-Roman approach? With obvious 21st century modifications, of course.  
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The Mikado
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« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2012, 12:02:46 am »
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Michel Foucault does a really good job in History of Sexuality Part II of demolishing this idea.  The Greco-Roman idea about sexuality simply did not take gender attraction into account as the primary determining factor of sexuality, while that's all that 21st century sexuality can think about.  As in, there was a complex system of sexual morality in ancient Greece, but it was based on things like the Aristotelian idea of moderation and the Golden Mean: having too much sex, regardless of the type, would make you "debauched."  Furthermore, there was an extensive bias against sexual relations between a pair of adult men, due to the idea that it was shameful or degrading to put oneself in that submissive position.  Foucault argues that the ideas of flirtatious couqettishness and sexuality as a sort of commercial relationship where a powerful man would offer a boy a relationship in return for all sorts of social goods was merely transformed in later eras to a similar attitude for young women: in ancient Greece, for a boy to be "eager" or not "hard to get" was incredibly socially harmful to his career. 

The main thrust in the 21st century seems to be against shame or "repression," (a trend he tackles in the first chapter of History of Sexuality Part I, the famed "We Other Victorians"), and the Greek model, which is just as much built on shame and repression as the Christian model, is not parallel to what people are trying to build.  Furthermore, the 19th-century hangover of obsessive classification of sexuality in type is about as far from Greek mores as one could get.
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« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2012, 02:22:08 pm »
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We should be so lucky, Frodo.  But presumably a prude like you would not be pleased by such a recurrence.
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« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2012, 02:39:11 pm »

Michel Foucault does a really good job in History of Sexuality Part II of demolishing this idea.  The Greco-Roman idea about sexuality simply did not take gender attraction into account as the primary determining factor of sexuality, while that's all that 21st century sexuality can think about.  As in, there was a complex system of sexual morality in ancient Greece, but it was based on things like the Aristotelian idea of moderation and the Golden Mean: having too much sex, regardless of the type, would make you "debauched."  Furthermore, there was an extensive bias against sexual relations between a pair of adult men, due to the idea that it was shameful or degrading to put oneself in that submissive position.  Foucault argues that the ideas of flirtatious couqettishness and sexuality as a sort of commercial relationship where a powerful man would offer a boy a relationship in return for all sorts of social goods was merely transformed in later eras to a similar attitude for young women: in ancient Greece, for a boy to be "eager" or not "hard to get" was incredibly socially harmful to his career. 

The main thrust in the 21st century seems to be against shame or "repression," (a trend he tackles in the first chapter of History of Sexuality Part I, the famed "We Other Victorians"), and the Greek model, which is just as much built on shame and repression as the Christian model, is not parallel to what people are trying to build.  Furthermore, the 19th-century hangover of obsessive classification of sexuality in type is about as far from Greek mores as one could get.

Why are you so smart?
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« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2012, 02:41:15 pm »
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Michel Foucault does a really good job in History of Sexuality Part II of demolishing this idea.  The Greco-Roman idea about sexuality simply did not take gender attraction into account as the primary determining factor of sexuality, while that's all that 21st century sexuality can think about.  As in, there was a complex system of sexual morality in ancient Greece, but it was based on things like the Aristotelian idea of moderation and the Golden Mean: having too much sex, regardless of the type, would make you "debauched."  Furthermore, there was an extensive bias against sexual relations between a pair of adult men, due to the idea that it was shameful or degrading to put oneself in that submissive position.  Foucault argues that the ideas of flirtatious couqettishness and sexuality as a sort of commercial relationship where a powerful man would offer a boy a relationship in return for all sorts of social goods was merely transformed in later eras to a similar attitude for young women: in ancient Greece, for a boy to be "eager" or not "hard to get" was incredibly socially harmful to his career. 

The main thrust in the 21st century seems to be against shame or "repression," (a trend he tackles in the first chapter of History of Sexuality Part I, the famed "We Other Victorians"), and the Greek model, which is just as much built on shame and repression as the Christian model, is not parallel to what people are trying to build.  Furthermore, the 19th-century hangover of obsessive classification of sexuality in type is about as far from Greek mores as one could get.

Why are you so smart?

Is...this sarcasm?

Anyway, I've had Foucault drilled into my brain, repeatedly and totally, throughout grad school.  If I saw a topic like this and didn't reflexively write a post like that, I'd probably have cause to demand a refund.
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« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2012, 02:58:00 pm »

No, it's honestly the first thing that came to mind after reading those two paragraphs. Smiley
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« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2012, 04:12:25 pm »
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Anyway, I've had Foucault drilled into my brain, repeatedly and totally, throughout grad school.

You have my deepest sympathies.
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« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2012, 04:21:13 pm »
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Michel Foucault does a really good job in History of Sexuality Part II of demolishing this idea.  The Greco-Roman idea about sexuality simply did not take gender attraction into account as the primary determining factor of sexuality, while that's all that 21st century sexuality can think about.  As in, there was a complex system of sexual morality in ancient Greece, but it was based on things like the Aristotelian idea of moderation and the Golden Mean: having too much sex, regardless of the type, would make you "debauched."  Furthermore, there was an extensive bias against sexual relations between a pair of adult men, due to the idea that it was shameful or degrading to put oneself in that submissive position.  Foucault argues that the ideas of flirtatious couqettishness and sexuality as a sort of commercial relationship where a powerful man would offer a boy a relationship in return for all sorts of social goods was merely transformed in later eras to a similar attitude for young women: in ancient Greece, for a boy to be "eager" or not "hard to get" was incredibly socially harmful to his career. 

The main thrust in the 21st century seems to be against shame or "repression," (a trend he tackles in the first chapter of History of Sexuality Part I, the famed "We Other Victorians"), and the Greek model, which is just as much built on shame and repression as the Christian model, is not parallel to what people are trying to build.  Furthermore, the 19th-century hangover of obsessive classification of sexuality in type is about as far from Greek mores as one could get.

This is a very good explanation.
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« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2012, 05:17:23 pm »
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Slightly off-topic, but Michel Foucault talks an awful lot of nothing in my opinion.
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« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2012, 11:13:46 pm »
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Frankly, the Greco-Roman model was in some ways better than what some of us seem to want to head into (and in some ways, such as the obsession with civilized/barbaric and free/slave dichotomies, either more similar than we'd like to admit or a lot worse). Shame and repression exist in sexuality for entirely legitimate reasons; they're ways of managing expectations and the effect that one's sexuality has on the people around one. In the past this has been used in obviously awful ways, such as to erect horrible double-binds for classes of people disfavored in whatever society's sexual regulatory regime was at any given moment, mostly women or people oriented to a greater or lesser extent towards their own or 'non-opposite'* genders. But at this point I would go so far as to say that society would greatly benefit from revisiting the idea of trying to suppress certain things. My close friends, a disproportionate number of whom are rather timid lesbians, may for example find their lives a lot more pleasant if we repressed the [Inks] out of certain expressions of male heterosexuality.

The absolute right to sexual expression within bounds of consent and sanity is a nice idea but it's inherently difficult to keep sexuality private. Really the most unjustly repressive aspect of it in the current state of civilization is the set of expectations surrounding gender, which ought to be if not necessarily done away with then at least made distinctly more voluntary in nature; I'm more or less fine with the idea of keeping or even strengthening everything else, for both moral and sociological reasons, particularly the connection to family or the ideal theoreticity of family.

(Disclaimer: This is coming from someone who likes his family and doesn't like sex.)

I can go on about this if someone such as Mikado would like clarification or elaboration on any of it.


*'opposite' in this context is a crock of sh**t but whatever.
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The Mikado
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« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2012, 11:46:41 pm »
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I appreciate Nathan's input, and would like to say that I wasn't alleging that the "new" (a problematic concept by itself, as it is in a way the result of a strong trend that can be traced back to 1890 at least) sexuality model is superior to others.  Neither, for that matter, was Foucault, whom I was drawing on, who disagreed with the modern sexual model in two major ways:

A. people tend to fool themselves into viewing sexual expression as an act of rebellion and liberation when they are, in fact, playing into the "rebellion" dialectic and actually further ensnaring themselves.  By thinking of frank discussion of sex as a rebellion, they actually reinforce its status as a taboo.  By transgressively "breaking the taboo" they are in fact reinvigorating its existence.  

B.  By obsessively classifying people based on their sexual tastes, it transforms that into an immutable part of someone's identity.  The label "homosexual" becomes an inescapable prison in a way the Medieval sodomite never was: "sodomy" is an act one does, and one could (and did) abandon the label by ceasing the act.  A "homosexual" isn't defined by what he or she does, but by what he or she is, and it limits their courses of action.  Similarly for a heterosexual, the sheer act of definition based on sexual tastes ends up forcing one into a limitation of attraction to  50% of the population.  This concept, that one should only be attracted to one of the two sexes, was unknown in the Greek world, and Foucault (and, frankly, I) think that the latter attitude is preferable to the modern liberal attitude of "It's OK to be gay/whatever."  Gay rights as it was framed ends up leading to imprisoning people with a label that reduces them to only having access to lovers of one sex, whether the same or the opposite, and actually increased boundaries between the two: "gay" and "straight" become non-overlapping categories.  It's the reason why Foucault himself never considered himself gay and fiercely opposed the word in general, despite his love of many men.



Getting to Nathan's point, I agree that shame does, in fact, have a real place in sexual discourse, and one that has too often been denigrated by people that worship the discourse of sexual liberation.    Sexuality, when it becomes too loud or too boisterous, can become an actively harmful habit.  How many people dismissed the allegations against Dominique Strauss-Khan by saying things along the lines of "that's just how the French are, they have more sophisticated notions of sexuality" etc.?  People did, in fact, try to defend alleged rape (that particular case, of course, didn't happen the way originally portrayed, but remember that this is before we knew that) as somehow akin to Mitterand's affairs and whatnot.  People defend the systematic misogyny prevalent in, say, the attitudes of a Berlusconi as an example of virile womanizing, then condemn the same tawdry conduct in Egypt.

My main point is that one of the biggest problems regarding sexual discourse is the liberation trap.  People who think that they are flouting a societal taboo by talking about sex and do so for the racy thrill of transgression are themselves constructing said taboo every second.  The attempts to "shock" and declare proud opposition to cultural taboos are like a fly in a spiderweb: by struggling, you only get yourself more and more trapped.  There is no such thing as "liberation," sexual or otherwise.  This is by far the most valuable lesson in Foucault, IMO, and one of the reasons he ended up becoming such an enthusiastic supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini in the end...so many people dismiss that chapter in his life as out of place with his message when it really is the culmination of his message.  Stop struggling against "repressive" discourse and settle down and the cessation of struggle will help free you.

Granted, I wouldn't advise going that far.  Tongue
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« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2012, 12:00:41 am »
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I would add that the limitation implied by 'picking' a sexual identity or orientation can be helpful or useful for some people (like the lesbians I mentioned, who are greatly and manifestly helped in their lives by identifying as such but most of whom certainly don't expect everybody else to), but that isn't necessarily a reason to make talking in those terms entirely normative in the culture. Mark D. Jordan, who I think I mentioned to Mikado in a recent PM, has a wonderful essay all about this issue in a lovely little collection called Feminism, Sexuality, and the Return of Religion. Jordan teaches at Harvard Divinity School and he's written, if I recall correctly, quite a bit on the experiences of 'gay' (scare quotes because of the exact issue we're discussing) Christian men.
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« Reply #12 on: July 06, 2012, 01:17:32 pm »
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My biggest issue with sex in America is that we push girls younger and younger to be sexy and at the same time tell them to avoid sex until a more appropriate time.  13 year old girls shouldn't dress like whores.

(and I'm not even going to get into the Toddlers in Tiaras thing...I'm pretty sure most of society knows it's wrong but instead of confronting the parents about it we just roll our eyes and ignore it)
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« Reply #13 on: July 06, 2012, 01:23:11 pm »
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There's an internal contradiction in America, between the country's Puritan-influenced cultural repression of sexuality and the fact that, in America's modern consumer capitalist economy, sex sells.
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« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2012, 01:46:32 pm »
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Puritan-influenced cultural repression of sexuality

That, at least, is patently false.
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« Reply #15 on: July 06, 2012, 04:13:10 pm »
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Puritan-influenced cultural repression of sexuality

That, at least, is patently false.

Ok...
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« Reply #16 on: July 06, 2012, 06:05:02 pm »
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13 year old girls shouldn't dress like whores.

As a 14-year-old I can assure you it's really too late by then.
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« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2012, 07:17:26 pm »
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Puritan-influenced cultural repression of sexuality

That, at least, is patently false.

Please feel free to elaborate. 
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« Reply #18 on: July 06, 2012, 07:29:25 pm »
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I dislike the liberalization of sexuality. I mean I don't think people are bad because they engage in it, even if common, as long as it is all consensual, but I think people are better off not doing so. I think commonly engaging it will just increase likelihood of disease, unwanted pregnancies, desire to cheat on your spouse, lack of trust among couples, etc.

I think it is perfectly fine if the people are in love, but I think it is most optimal post marriage. I also strongly dislike divorce and think marriage should be life long.

That all said, I of course oppose laws mandating any of these types of things. People should live as they want as long as no one is harmed, however I think we can still set good examples and show people what is the best path and why it is the best path. I think purity in this manner will ultimately result in a greater long term happiness, even if it means a current denial of pleasure seeking.

I know in this I am way outside of mainstream. But I do think some of the ills of modern society would be solved if we have a more pure image of sexuality instead of such a liberal one. At the very least, it should be a private matter instead of being in every single aspect of our lives. Even if you try to avoid it, it is difficult. Basically there are only a handful of television programs or movies you can watch and well, you have to be incredibly careful on the internet if you wish to not expose yourself or others to such things that should stay private.
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« Reply #19 on: July 06, 2012, 08:35:12 pm »
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You might like Kajiura Yuki's music or Tsushima Yuuko's short fiction, where the sex acts are made up and gender doesn't matter.
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« Reply #20 on: July 06, 2012, 09:08:46 pm »
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13 year old girls shouldn't dress like whores.

I agree, but 13 year old girls want to dress like whores. It makes them feel grown up and it pisses off the parents. Two birds with one stone. It's not even about society. It's about parental control.
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« Reply #21 on: July 07, 2012, 12:16:32 am »
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Puritan-influenced cultural repression of sexuality

That, at least, is patently false.

Please feel free to elaborate. 
Restrained maybe, but not repressed. Within the bounds of marriage and religious devotion, the Puritans loved them some sex.
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« Reply #22 on: July 07, 2012, 12:52:57 am »
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13 year old girls shouldn't dress like whores.

I agree, but 13 year old girls want to dress like whores. It makes them feel grown up and it pisses off the parents. Two birds with one stone. It's not even about society. It's about parental control.
I'm a fairly liberal parent, but neither of my teenage girls (14 and 15) dress like whores.  Probably partly because I'm a fairly liberal parent.  I tell them dirty jokes (and I mean dirty jokes...like the following which is oddly on topic.....do you know the primary cause of pedophilia?  sexy kids), let them swear (within reason), let them watch anything they want to watch.  They don't do drugs or drink as they know there is a time and place for that and it's called college.

But I hear the stories from them about their classmates with drink and drugs and sex.  I see their classmates dressed like whores when I drop them off at school.  I feel for the parents, but I'm sure it's at least partly their own damn fault.
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« Reply #23 on: July 07, 2012, 02:04:51 am »
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I dislike the liberalization of sexuality. I mean I don't think people are bad because they engage in it, even if common, as long as it is all consensual, but I think people are better off not doing so. I think commonly engaging it will just increase likelihood of disease, unwanted pregnancies, desire to cheat on your spouse, lack of trust among couples, etc.

I think it is perfectly fine if the people are in love, but I think it is most optimal post marriage. I also strongly dislike divorce and think marriage should be life long.

That all said, I of course oppose laws mandating any of these types of things. People should live as they want as long as no one is harmed, however I think we can still set good examples and show people what is the best path and why it is the best path. I think purity in this manner will ultimately result in a greater long term happiness, even if it means a current denial of pleasure seeking.

I know in this I am way outside of mainstream. But I do think some of the ills of modern society would be solved if we have a more pure image of sexuality instead of such a liberal one. At the very least, it should be a private matter instead of being in every single aspect of our lives. Even if you try to avoid it, it is difficult. Basically there are only a handful of television programs or movies you can watch and well, you have to be incredibly careful on the internet if you wish to not expose yourself or others to such things that should stay private.

I respect that position, but completely disagree with the hypothesis.

I spoke to a friend who is a sexuality studies lecturer, and I think in many ways, the reason why there is a greater expression of sexuality and sexual confidence goes back to the repression of female sexual confidence as well as other sexual orientations.

The world hasn't gone to hell in a handbasket because of greater sexual liberation, there's no evidence to suggest that. What HAS happened is because women are more independent and sexually confident and people who identify away from the norm are more open and increasingly accepted (all good things in my book) - you have people selling to them.

People act like sex, adultery, rape, paedophila, etc etc never happened before the sexual revolution... but they most certainly were. Keeping things 'quiet' makes sedate and smug middle-class suburbanites happy... but there are worse consequences to forcing people with perfectly natural sexual expression into the shadows, than being open about sexual diversity.

The only reason there is even the concept of 'pure' sexuality, is because a bunch of kill-joys decided that such a concept made it much harder to control people. If you control people's most base-urges ... you control the society.

Also, something there is evidence for, is when people who are perfectly healthy in a psycho-sexual sense, are forced to repress those feelings are unable to express them in a perfectly healthy (and legal way)... they have a tendency to mutate into something ugly. Human beings are sexual creatures, just as most of our primate and mammalian cousins are too...

We don't need to treat sexuality as if it's the most interesting part of the human condition, because it's not... but to treat it as something shameful or unpleasant IS a dangerous thing to do.
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« Reply #24 on: July 07, 2012, 05:49:26 am »
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Restrained maybe, but not repressed. Within the bounds of marriage and religious devotion, the Puritans loved them some sex.

To the extent that some censorship was required for the benefit of readers in the 19th century when letters and so on from that period started getting published. Dirty stuff. Hey, English language culture in the 17th century: enough to unleash anyones inner Mary Whitehouse.
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"I have become entangled in my own data, and my conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the initial idea from which I started. Proceeding from unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that there can be no solution of the social formula except mine."
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