The Heterodox Liberal

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An Entitlement to Sex?


There's more discussion on Hugo's blog in a follow-up to my previous post. I'd like to highlight one particularly interesting comment, from evil fizz, which reads in its entirety (in response to the closing "getting laid" question of the last post) as follows:

Well, you can start with the presumption that just because you want to have sex doesn't mean you're entitled to it...


Well, I'm not so sure.

Wait! Before you click the comment button with howls of rage, let me bracket that. People who think they are entitled to sex from a particular person are known as rapists, and they should be punished with all the vigor that the criminal justice system can invoke.

However, it seems to me that emotional and intimacy is a basic human need (see Maslow, above), and that sexual activity of all kinds is a basic evolutionary desire for all species of animal, including the human animal. While it is certainly possible to live, and to live a full life, without those things (consider Catholic clergy... oh, wait...), such a life is unquestionably less satisfying.

While there's no even minimally sane way to recognize sex as a legal right (how on earth could we redistribute that resource?), we ought to recognize that people are entitled to be sexual beings, and to want sex, and to engage in non-oppressive behaviors to try and get it. That recognition drives my objection to many of Hugo's arguments: absent a real reason to believe that, e.g. Younger Woman/Older Man = Oppressive, it's unfair to both parties for anyone (be it the parties or society) to artifically/dishonestly repress whatever mutual attraction they feel out of a baseless objection to the fact of the age difference.

There's also a pragmatic component to the question I asked at the end of my last post. I seriously want to open a discussion on how to avoid objectification, sexual misuse of power, etc. without making a serious dent in the net incidence of consensual, mutually pleasurable, sex. If we artifically limit the pool of sex partners or limit sex-seeking behavior (e.g. compliments), it follows from simple economic principles that the cost of getting sex (time, probability of success) for both men and women will rise. And that's bad.

(Also, in response to sophonisaba, I addressed the reward/punishment thing in the comments to my previous post. As for Bad Old Man and Young Woman's missing his Badness -- I didn't say he was generally bad, just that his behavior -- dating a younger woman -- was hypothetically classified as bad for purposes of the argument. Note to Mr. Bad: "manipulation" ain't the issue. People punish/reward each other all the time. I "manipulate" my boss into giving me bonuses by doing good work, and "manipulate" a woman into being attracted to me by buying flowers. See previous post re: people doing things that other people want. It is not wrong for a woman to provide you with sexual attention, which you want, in order to get something from you that she wants. Unless society has convinced her that sexual attention is her only currency, that "manipulation" is eminently fair.)

6 Comments:

  • artifically/dishonestly repress whatever mutual attraction they feel out of a baseless objection to the fact of the age difference.


    I don't think anybody suggested artificially/dishonestly repressing the urge to come on to somebody to whom a come-on is inappropriate by whatever measure. The idea is to just not do it. What is dishonest here? Nobody is being asked to repress their desires, only to control their actions.

    The main part of your post, I don't really get. You're not entitled to have sex, period. But nobody's said you're not entitled to want to have sex, or that not having sex might not make you unhappy. But you're not entitled not to be unhappy, either.

    If you don't believe that my right to common courtesy outweighs your right to have sex, and vice versa (in reference to the compliment issue - not that I believe self-serving "compliments" are likely to lead to much sex, but regardless) there's not much I can say. It is not realistic to insist that no social rules ever impinge on the likelihood of somebody getting laid, because sometimes they will. And they should Because the human need for respect, courtesy, and safety really is greater than our need for as much sex as possible at all times. This is not an unreasonable set of priorities.

    By Anonymous sophonisba, at 4:37 PM  

  • we ought to recognize that people are entitled to be sexual beings, and to want sex, and to engage in non-oppressive behaviors to try and get it.

    I don't think Hugo was failing to recognize this so much as arguing that such behaviors were oppressive. (I disagree with respect to the age gaps he was talking about, but the argument is that the real oppression in his examples came from the fact that the older partner was in a position of power over the younger, something I believe Hugo later acknowledged.)

    From a feminist perspective, try comparing how much men are entitled to be sexual beings, want sex, etc. with how much women are. (Inadmissible answer: women are sexual beings when men desire them.)

    By Anonymous Jeff, at 10:17 PM  

  • "While there's no even minimally sane way to recognize sex as a legal right (how on earth could we redistribute that resource?),"

    I was going to write something about the language of commodity after your last post, and I thought I'd wait and see if you showed some signs of getting what it was you said that upset people. having evidenced clearly that you don't get what people are upset about, I'll clue you in:

    Using the language of "resources" incorporates the notion that sex is a product or service; essentially a commodity. That's just wrong. You can't buy pussy futures on the NYMEX. Sex is not a commodity, and talking about it like it is a commodity is just short of saying that women ore objects useful primarily because the commodity can be extracted from them. (Hint: that's what the rape culture tells us. That's not the feminist position. That's no any feminist's position.)

    Sex is not a resource or commodity, or even a service. It's an interaction, like dancing or music. One dances with a dance _partner_.

    If you're really wedded to the language of business, then sex is a joint venture, not a transaction. All the participants ought to get their needs met out of the deal, and if one partner ends up feeling used then the whole thing threatens the other partner's prospects for other partnerships.

    The way you said, "how would we distribute the resource?" was perhaps an attempt to be funny, but it went over for me like a lead zeppelin (yes, that expression is where the band's name comes from). Literally, what you wrote implies that it would be fine to distribute access to sex as a commodity if it were practicable, and we merely have a practical problem that prevents us from doing that. Bad approach.

    Now, I agree that everyone has the right to sex, and to be a sexual being. Most of us are able-bodies and we can have non-partnered sex any time we want. We can fantasize and masturbate, and we can talk with others about our sexuality. But nobody has a right to a sex partner.

    Hugo has a restrictive view of sex, because he's both a feminist and a Christian evangelical. And perhaps he's more restrictive in how he view age differences than I or some other feminist. But I don't think it's asking too much to limit one's search for sex partners by not taking advantage of an imbalance of power.

    Thomas

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:14 AM  

  • Oh my god, I can't believe you dissected Hugo's response and raised secular criticisms to it without once mentioning that he's a huge christian and that dominates his perspective.

    By Blogger Rousseau, at 11:27 AM  

  • I don't know what's more transgressive here, the suzy bright links or reference to the hierarchy of needs, but I'm impressed by both. The blogosohere could use more Maslow, which, being about individualism, could be troubling. But best wishes in opening up these cans of worms...

    By Anonymous flaweplan, at 12:27 AM  

  • "I seriously want to open a discussion on how to avoid objectification, sexual misuse of power, etc. without making a serious dent in the net incidence of consensual, mutually pleasurable, sex"

    Hi there!
    I am so pleased I stumbled across you blog. This is something that is of a bit of an ongoing passion for me.
    I have a few comments to make but I first want to have more of a read of Hugo's blog that you have made numerous references to. I just wanted to quickly say RE: your quote above - I will be watching your posts and very interested in the discussions.

    I think that sexual objectification is at an all time high in our society and I think this is very dangerous for numerous reasons...I would say that we, in general as a society and as individuals have an unhealthy relationship with sex and sexuality, and thus ourselves and others. But I agree - how do we gain, -(in my semantics) a healthy relationship with sex and sexuality with ourselves and others? I don't believe in telling people how they should and should not identify with their sexuality - thats up to the individual. So I do ponder such things as you do. ANyway - thats a few of my thoughts! I look forward to further discussions.

    By Blogger ACUMEN, at 10:45 PM  

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