There’s been a lot of talk lately about Sex and Power or Sex and Control. Okay, maybe there’s just a lot of talk about sex again. Much of this seems to be due to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I can’t seem to go anywhere without this story being discussed in some way. In the bookstore, online with Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, at the grocery store, on the radio, in the news. I must confess, I have not read much of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, so I cannot really provide a compelling review of it, nor do I want to. I did pick up the book in Barnes & Noble and read a few pages, which really was enough for me (and no, not because I was on the verge of orgasm). I found it to be poorly written, lacking substance, and even the sex wasn’t that good. But I’ll get back to Fifty Shades of Grey in a bit.
Sex and Power. Sex and Control. Humans have been talking about these for a very long time. What I am surprised by is that the conversations really haven’t changed much. Last weekend I saw the movie Hysteria, a cheeky look at the invention of the vibrator, which was developed in the 19th century. Yes, the 1800s. The vibrator was invented, in part, to relieve physicians of the tedious task of bringing women to ‘paroxysm‘ to cure hysteria. Hysteria was, in essence, a means of classifying women’s desire for sexual pleasure as a pathology. Diagnoses of hysteria increased during the 19th century during the same time that women’s sexuality was being greatly repressed. During this time, women were not supposed to have pleasure from sex, so this medical treatment of massaging the clitoris had nothing to do with providing women pleasure in a sexual way and was merely a medical treatment. Thus, women’s sexual needs (and wants) were symptoms of an illness. Soon a home version of the vibrator was available and advertised in catalogs, but it was not advertised as sexual device, so women who were using them in that way, were doing so in veiled secrecy. During the early part of 1900s, these advertisements disappeared, in part because early pornographic films depicted the vibrator as a sex tool. Egads, we can’t have that. Sex and Power. Sex and Control.
What about sexual education? Education and knowledge empowers people, therefore sex education should empower people in matters of their own sexuality. In many studies, proper sex education is often cited as an effective means of understanding sexual and reproductive health, reducing unwanted pregnancies, preventing STDs, improving self esteem, etc. Even though the evidence supports that talking about sexuality helps improve various aspects of sexuality, the very word tends to cause negative reactions in people. For example, if we provide sex education and make people more knowledgeable and comfortable with their own sexuality, it would lead to people having more sex. Egads, we can’t have that. Sex and Power. Sex and Control.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexuality as follows:
Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.
That last sentence is certainly where sexuality can get very tricky. It is where much of these shades of grey occurs when we look at Sex and Power, Sex and Control.
In recent political activity and news, much is being done again to repress sexuality and not just for women. There are ongoing debates over: gay marriage, abortion, funding for Planned Parenthood, abstinence-only sex education (or any sex education), ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, sexual orientation, sexual preference, what one can or cannot do in the bedroom, whether sexual health and/or reproductive health should be included in healthcare coverage (i.e. the Viagra versus contraceptives debate), or saying ‘vagina’ during legislative debates. These are all more about Power and Control than they are about Sex, but in all these cases, it is about exerting Power or Control over one’s Sex or one’s Sexuality. Power and Sex. Control and Sex.
And yes, even poorly written erotica is in this mix as well. Much is being said about the lure of BDSM and what this means for today’s woman. Women have been fighting for equality all this time and now it would appear, we don’t want it after all, but would rather submit ourselves to the power of another. Submission and domination by definition are, after all, about power and control, so therefore, that conclusion should logically follow. Yet, true BDSM relationships are just like other good sexual relationships in that they are all about equality. And trust. And communication. Things that are often very much out of balance with relationships based on Power and Control. Additionally, in BDSM, these are sexual roles that people assume and are not their permanent states of being. Sex and Power. Sex and Control.
Perhaps what is really behind this latest uproar is the fact that women are yet again trying to exert control over their sexuality. They are enjoying pornography (not only in reading fan fiction gone wild, but also viewing it online according to Internet statistics). They are being more open about wanting to explore their sexuality and their sexual needs and wants. People are wondering, debating, and are concerned about why women are suddenly turning to this ‘mommy porn’ for some sexual exploration and understanding. These discussions are no different than the discussions that occurred when men were obsessed with Playboy or watching videos of other men getting blowjobs. Oh wait…those discussions didn’t really happen because men are supposed to enjoy sex and appreciate their own sexuality. Let’s look again at part of the WHO definition of sexuality: “Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed.” Even though women are no longer being diagnosed with hysteria, people are going hysterical because women are yet again trying to experience or express their sexuality. Egads, we can’t have that. Sex and Power. Sex and Control.
Now, it would be easily understood if it were only a matter of female sexuality versus male sexuality, but it isn’t. Granted, men have done their fair share of repressing female sexuality, but women aren’t completely innocent either. Several women who are now obsessed with and absolutely love these Fifty Shades stories are also the same women who would judge or cast a disdainful look at a woman who has shared she owns a vibrator or enjoys bondage or likes rough sex now and then. Both sexes have long accepted that men enjoy sex, have sexual fantasies, and sometimes act on those fantasies, but both sexes have also shown some discomfort with women feeling and doing the same.
Only when women truly appreciate and own their female sexuality AND when there is total acceptance of everyone’s sexuality will there be true sexual equality. Until then, there will be questions of as well as confusion over Sex and Power and Sex and Control. Fortunately, until we have true sexual equality, we can still escape into our stories, our pictures, our videos, our fantasies.