This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
Like a lot of sex-positive sex writers, I spend a lot of time ranting and venting about things in our sexual culture that I don’t like.
Today, I want to do something different. Instead of bitching about the sexual culture we have, I’d like to present my vision for the sexual culture I’d like to see.
And the best way I can say it is to put it in a metaphor.
I would like us to treat sexuality — and differences in sexualities — much the same way we treat music.
We have a basic acceptance of the idea that different people like different kinds of music. We may strongly dislike the music other people like. We may even make some unfair personal judgments about the kind of person who likes, say, opera, or country, or rap music, or Barry Manilow. But as long as people aren’t forcing their music on us, we accept — even if grudgingly — their basic right to listen to whatever music they like.
I’d like to see us do the same with different sexual tastes. If people are personally grossed out by homosexuality, or SM, or furries, or whatever, I certainly would recognize their right to their gross-out. I just want people to see their gross-outs as an aesthetic judgment and not a moral one.
We understand that some people don’t care about music very much… and that some people care about it a great deal. We understand that some people care about music so much that they make it a central aspect of their lives: collecting music, reading about music, writing about music, playing music, watching musical performances, seeing music as a central source of inspiration and consolation in their lives, forming friendships and relationships with other people that are focused on music… even, perhaps, making a living at it. And we understand that for some people, music is just not that big a deal: they enjoy it, but they don’t go out of their way to make a big place for it in their lives.
I’d like to see us have the same understanding about sex. I’d like to see us treat people who like sex a lot and are very interested in it as… well, as people who like sex a lot and are very interested in it. Not as moral degenerates, not as selfish indulgers of our own petty whims, not as dangerous or pathetic addicts unable to control our base impulses… but as people whose interest in this basic human activity happens to be greater than average. (And for all of us sex fiends: I’d like to see us have a similar understanding about people who aren’t as interested in sex as we are.)
We understand that people’s tastes in music change over time. We don’t expect people to like the same music they did when they were in high school or college; and while many people do stay mostly interested in the music of their youth, we understand that many other people continue to explore different kinds of music throughout their lives, and may even find their preferences changing entirely over time. And we understand that some people like a wide variety of musical styles… while other people’s tastes tend to stay within one genre.
I’d like to see us have the same understanding about sex. I’d like to see us recognize and accept that people’s desires, even our basic orientations, can change over time, and understand that not everyone stays slotted in the same sexual category for their entire lives. When gay or lesbian people decide they’re bi; when bi people decide they’re really more straight or gay; when vanilla folks decide they’d like to try spanking; when committed polyamorists decide they want to be monogamous for a while… I’d like us to recognize it as the natural changes people go through in life. (If it affects us personally — if it’s our lover or spouse who suddenly announces that they’re into men or spanking or monogamy — of course our reactions are going to be different. But if it doesn’t, I’d like us to see it as interesting, but also as basically none of our business.)
In relationships, we often see music as one of the main bonds between us. When we get involved with someone new, we get excited about sharing the music we know about with our new loved one, and about discovering the music they like that we don’t know about. We sometimes have conflicts with our honeys over differences in musical tastes, especially early in a relationship; but we talk about it, joke about it, rib each other about it, find ways to enjoy our differences as well as our common ground. And as our relationships grow, we often explore new music together.
I’d like us to see sex the same way. I’d like for sex to be something couples can comfortably talk about, and laugh about. I’d like for couples to be as curious about their sexual differences as they are comfortable with their sexual similarities… not just early on in relationships, but as things grow and change. I’d like for couples to see sex as something that matters, something that’s worth working on. And if a couple has differences in what kinds of sex they like, or how much they even care about sex, I’d like for their friends and support systems and society in general to see both partners’ tastes and desires as equally valid and important.
We understand — or at least, we’re beginning to understand — that music is a basic human activity, maybe even a basic human need. We understand that music exists in all human societies, and has existed in human society for tens of thousands of years. We understand — or we’re beginning to understand — that music is a fundamental part of how our brains and our minds operate. We see music as an activity that is both necessary and joyful, a vital social bond, something that connects us to our history and projects us into our future.
I’d like us to see sex the same way. I’d like us to see sex as something that we couldn’t possibly get rid of, and wouldn’t want to get rid of even if we could. I’d like us to recognize that sex is one of the most fundamental ways that our minds are wired, one of the chief lenses through which we view the world… and not only recognize this fact, but accept it, and even celebrate it. I’d like us to see sex as one of the great joys, inspirations, consolations, forms of communication, forms of connection, and just pure forms of entertainment that the human race has. I’d like us to remember that sex is a link that connects us to the chain of human history: the way we got into this world, and — for many of us, anyway — one of the chief ways that part of us of will live on after we die.
And I’d like us to give it some gol-darned respect.
I understand that this analogy isn’t perfect. (No analogy is. That’s sort of the nature of analogies: they compare things that are different.) Most notably, sex has more potential than music to cause harm: from sexually transmitted infections to unwanted pregnancies, from jealous rages to broken hearts. Except for deafness, irritated neighbors, advertising jingles, and neo-Nazi death metal or the like, music just doesn’t have the same power to fuck people up. And sex is a more primal desire than music: way more prominently positioned in our brains by evolution, and a whole lot older to boot. It’s probably always going to be more charged, more emotionally loaded, than music will ever be.
So it’s not a perfect analogy.
But it’s a start.