I read recently that Christian speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber’s next book is about sex. The article noted the controversy around some comments that she made about the consumption of ethical porn, an inflammatory remark no doubt riling both conservatives and liberals for entirely different reasons. Then yesterday I saw a thing on Instagram that offered people a ‘certificate’ signed by the same author if they sent in their purity ring so that it could be melted down with all the others to make a sculpture of a vagina, in service of the author’s ‘shameless’ sex mission. Apparently those who turn in their rings will get a ‘shameless’ ring in return.
This book is part of what I see as an on-going attempt by a number of Christians of all stripes at reclaiming human sexuality from the clutches of a particular kind of moralism and biblical interpretation that has turned sex into a quagmire for many people. I cannot count the number of people I have spoken with over the years whose sex lives were a mess, who felt dis-empowered, shamed, confused and generally ‘fucked-up’ by their struggle to fit a particular understanding about sex into their world with little to no success, forced into games of pretense, and essentially to live double-lives when it came to their sexuality.
Sex in America, exists like many other things in a conflicted landscape where religious moralism meets hyper-sexualized commercialization and seldom is that equation addressed in the religious environs in which many try and live out their lives.
There is a notion that says that all sexuality is pornographic, meaning that if you were to strip away all the fantasies surrounding sex, from the romantic to the fetish, it would not be possible to reduce sex to mere biology, it would simply disappear. Human sexuality is dependent upon the supplemental if you will. You can detect hints of this idea played out in films like Vertigo, Crash and Eyes Wide Shut, where the main characters process their desire in various ways, be it through eroticized car crashes, or by chasing a vision of a woman ala Lacan’s petit object a, or by using other people’s sexual games to stimulate a stilted marriage.
The Moebius Strip of Sexual Contracts is an interesting essay by Slavoj Žižek that addresses what he sees as the dilemma in human sexual relations, essentially they resist regulation. His argument is that sexual pleasure and intimate relationships based on love and devotion cannot be effectively regulated, neither by individual contract (the consent model) nor by social regulation (cultural scripts for monogamy etc). The question for Žižek is not how should they be regulated, but rather how we deal with the fact that sexuality resists any attempt to regulate them. As Oscar Wilde noted, “Everything in life is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” My worry in all the re-thinking and re-invention around sex and sexuality is that the power component is inadequately reflected upon. Power is often the elusive and seductive snake in situations, the hidden issue.
I don’t think we don’t need a sexual revolution, we need a sexual insurrection. A revolution is a tired metaphor and one that I think is not up to the present task, an insurrection is a disentanglement from the dominant paradigms, the carving of a new and different space where things can find other ways to manifest and blossom.