Monday, September 3, 2012

Why don't we do it in the Road: Restraints on Sexual Expression

Women's dress and fashion of the Victorian era
Victorian Woman

It is rather ironic (but not surprising) that it was during the iron grip of the Victorian age that Sigmund Freud uncovered his psychoanalytic theory to his sexually repressed (and oppressed) audience. Sex had been completely swept under the carpet and even women's fashion became so heavily and carefully layered so as not to stimulate (not even accidentally) the perturbed minds of the opposite sex.

What is not seen will remain out of sight was the theory of the day, and Freud proved them dead wrong. The practices of the morally inspired Victorians backfired by actually funneling sexual desire, which kept smouldering, unfulfilled and unsatisfied, in the dark recesses of the id. In fact, it was a ticking time bomb that had the potential of erupting anytime and anywhere.

Although Freud's theory may have placed too much emphasis on sex, sexual desire is undeniably a force to be reckoned with. Supposed tools, such as repression, abstinence or censorship will not work, as it is a deep-seated and coded drive of our most rudimentary instincts. You might as well ask people to stop eating or breathing.

In various parts of today's world, we are free to express our sexuality, yet the puritanical ashes of the past still hamper and make us blush. We rarely talk about it (remember the Salt-n-Pepa song from the 90s?) in an honest and upfront manner. When we do so as men, it is used as a form of bragging or it is anecdotal; in other cases, the lack or nonexistence of sexual activity may zap the energy and confidence out of an otherwise healthy adult. 

Sex, in that respect, has the power to infer social status and standing on men by eliciting a certain kind of "respect" from social circles, while in true double-standard fashion women suffer for it and instead of being considered sexually experienced, other "loose" derogatory terms are used. Imagine the female equivalent of Hugh Hefner and your reactions to such an idea; that shows how ingrained the puritanical aspects really are. 

Furthermore, sexual talk is often avoided like the plague by parents who somehow mirror Victorian attitudes, especially in regards to their offspring. They think that if children are left ignorant, these minors will not engage in sexual activities. Parents may then put all their chips on sex education, which, more often than not, provides too little information and is often greeted by nervous giggles from most of its counterparts.

Some parents prefer to postpone or even avoid the obligatory talk about the birds and the bees and would rather have them learn from other sources; yet they seem to turn a blind eye to the fact that, particularly in the age of the Internet, pornography is not too difficult to come by. And the problem with pornography is that in terms of sex, it is a far cry from reality. Its graphic depiction of always sexually responsive, not to say horny, women at the beck and call of men is not only demeaning to women, but simply untrue and unrealistic.

The parents' lack of ease or honesty toward their children may influence the attitudes of the next generation. Media at the same time, and I am speaking mostly from a North American context, seems to shy away from a true and unflinching look at sex. Whether it is under the banner of decency or morality, free sexual expression tends to be flagged by the authorities.

It is this lack of openness mixed with a steadily burning obsession that makes us, the media as well as its consumers, hungry for any type of sexual scandal. As a result, we prick our ears when there are any juicy bits of news about the sexual escapades by a talented golf-player or the recreational activities on the side by a “bad boy” prince.

We may have had a sexual revolution, but like pretty much any revolution, it has ended up under firm institutional control or it simply made matters worse, like the bloody after-taste of the French Revolution. There is a strong bias in favor of violence, which seems more accepted and acceptable than sexual expression. 

A naked woman is censored and the film is rated R but beating someone to a pulp passes as "harmless" teenage entertainment, i.e. The Hunger Games which blew my mind in terms of senseless violence of and for adolescents.

Just think of video games, for example. Ask yourself the following question and give an honest response (You do not have to be a parent to answer the question, but it helps): Would you prefer your child to play video games of violence or of a sexual nature if given a choice?

As we can see here, there are still visible restraints or shackles both internally and externally on our sexual expression. How an (accidentally?) exposed nipple on national television or a breastfeeding mother on social media can cause such a furor and uproar among the public remains a mystery to me.

The hippies believed in free love (whatever that means) and wished to democratize sex by taking it out of the confines of the bed(room) with their make love anywhere you please slogan; yet they have, for better or worse, died out and become an artifact of the past. 

On the contrary, the Victorian worldview has made somewhat of a comeback it seems. Although we do not dress like them, some of their thinking continues to affect and color our attitudes about matters of sexual nature, and we have become, paradoxically, both a sexually hungry and deprived culture.

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