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Eroticizing Sex September 2, 2012

Posted by FCM in authors picks, books!, liberal dickwads, porn, rape.
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this is actor/comedian julia sweeney giving a TED talk on how she introduced her 8-year old daughter to internet porn.  har!  you see, it all began innocently enough: she was answering the girl’s questions about animals, reproducing.  for illustrative purposes, sweeney turned to the internet, and showed her daughter videos of animals, mating.  the daughter of course asked if there were videos on the internet of humans, mating.  sweeney replied that there were not.  the audience laughs, because porn, and because porn + 8-year-old girls = FUNNY!  oh, liberal dickwads, you all FUCKING SUCK so much!  fuck you!  but i digress.

now, in case anyone doesnt know this, animals, mating can be nasty and brutish and often is.  ducks might be some of the worst?  they are known to mate in the water, where the female is pushed under and can drown — an unreasonably dangerous activity, and likely to end in death for the female (but not the male).  and male ducks appear to be exceedingly rapey — moreso than other male animals — and are often the subject of scientific study.  of duck-rape.  in this article, “rape” is in not-really-rape quotes, and in that form is used interchangeably with “unwanted mating attempts.”  because “unwanted mating attempts” are only really-rape when human males practice this behavior on human-females, i guess?  clearly, these similar behaviors are routinely framed as being distinct and different, but why?

cutting to the chase, i think something very serious happened when humans first eroticized mating.  because the thing with mating is that its going to keep happening, whether the females want it or not — it just is.  there is nothing inherently erotic about it — its nasty and brutish, and as inherently erotic as anything else — that is to say, its not.  it is difficult to even imagine anything being inherently erotic, actually, considering that what is “erotic” is highly dependent on cultural mores.  we know this.  in fact, eroticization of intercourse has been criticized as being heterosexist — insofar as elite, straight males have linked (equated) intercourse to sexual desire or romantic love, it clearly *is* heterosexist, as even the pomos and queers point out.  they would never go so far as to point out the misogyny of it, or the ways intercourse supports male power of course.

and vaginal-penile penetration specifically is not any more inherently erotic than any other penetration or even vaginal penetration, such as acupuncture, or gynecological examinations, or torture, is it?  sure, there are some people who have managed to eroticize those things, but thats not because these things are inherently erotic — if anyone has managed to eroticize acupuncture, for example, and im sure its been done, it was deliberate, and probably took some work.  or, perhaps some individual kinkster had a kink for needles, in true individualist fashion, or conceivably, “other” penetrations are modeled and eroticized after the primary one — intercourse.  but many women dont even like intercourse, and many who do, now, didnt initially and had to train themselves over time.  does this sound like anything resembling “inherent” to you?

in reality, the only thing i can reasonably think of that might be inherently erotic is genital friction, applied to the penis in males and to the clitoris in females, in that it is likely to induce sexual arousal across time and place, and with little room for variation among individuals.  this has nothing, of course, to do with intercourse.  especially not for women, but not really for men, either.

so regarding the eroticization of intercourse, what does it mean to have eroticized something thats nasty, brutish and often dangerous to the female — and something thats going to happen anyway, whether women want it to or not?  if all women suddenly and collectively refused to consent to intercourse, are we to believe that no more instances of intercourse would take place, even to the point of population decline or extinction?  i think we all know the answer to that.  notably, joanna russ explores this in her book “we who are about to” where space-travelers in a future, post-patriarchal world crash-land on an uninhabited planet and patriarchy returns to the unintentional colonists’ unintentional society within two days, rape included.  because propagation of the species.

so it is from here that we must examine the eroticization of intercourse, because we have, in fact, managed to eroticize inevitable intercourse — intercourse which cannot be avoided and which will occur regardless of consent.  which is, by the way, rape.



1. MarySunshine - September 2, 2012

My problem with the word “erotic” is that it comes from the name of a male god, Eros. It leaves me wondering where female experience, feeling, and desire were supposed to figure into it. Maybe the point is that they don’t. Maybe the word is just another trap for us, as female beings.

I’ve been reading here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eros

2. Recommended Reading « failure is impossible! - September 2, 2012

[…] that said, I really recommend femonade’s post “Eroticizing Sex:” cutting to the chase, i think something very serious happened when humans first eroticized […]

FCM - September 2, 2012

yes mary, the entire concept is problematic isnt it? i would like to know what precipitated and immediately followed the “eroticization” of intercourse, which is to say — isnt it? — the very concept of eroticism or eros itself. one day, humans were just mating, and the next day there was positive value attached to that tickle, build and release known as attraction, sex and orgasm — how and why did this value attach? this has to be a significant moment in our history. i should revisit brownmillers “against our will: men women and rape” at this point i suppose.

and yes, the whole thing is male-centric at its core. the (male) orgasm is more deadly to women than any weapon ever has been or ever will be. this is NOT a positive thing for women, on average, across time and place. womens lives would improve, on the whole, if we got rid of the whole damn thing, both male and female orgasms. that is true no matter how anyone feels about it. this is why “orgasm politics” is so fundamentally flawed and will never liberate women.

3. Mia XX - September 2, 2012

all my like I have heard the phrase “man is the only animal to commit rape”. And it’s not true, is it? Unless you say that because animals can’t really consent as we understand it, therefore they can’t decline either, therefore it’s not rape. Which as a position obviously leads to all sorts of problems.

I mean anyone who’s seen animals go at it can clearly see that animals can and do commit rape, so where does this phrase come from and why is it so popular and bandied around like so much conventional wisdom?

4. MarySunshine - September 2, 2012

OMG. This Shulamith Firestone thing has me remembering the year 1970 with tears in my eyes. She was born when I was three months old: January, 1945. In 1970 we even *looked* the same – owl eye glasses, long hippy-radical hair. She was in New York being a celibate radfem, writing the Dialectic of Sex. I was in San Francisco, in the Haight Ashbury being a hippy earth mother, living with my hippy husband.

I was having coffee with another hippy chick, the “old lady” of the hippy prick that my husband was fixing cars with. She was an artist. Rachel. She looked right at me and said, “I hate fucking”.

It sounded like the first real thing a woman had ever said to me. It all came rushing out. She had been to a Women’s Liberation meeting that week, ( the “small group” that the NY radical feminists pioneered), where women had been talking to each other about this. Hating fucking.

I said, Where??!! Where??!! … how do I get there? She told me where and when to get to the next Orientation meeting – the general committee was doing one per week – geez, I even remember it was a Wednesday – and within a week, I was in a WLM small group with another 7 women.

That started the communication process for me. Women being real with each other. Digging into the reality of our experiences.

Tell you what: there was a * mass exodus * from heterosexuality amongst feminists at that point. It was as if one year we were all married or shacked up, and the next year we were all exuberantly on our own, albeit dragging little kids around with us. The women with one or fewer kids made our escapes. The women with two kids, not so much.

Sorry if I’m topic-derailing here. But that’s where it ends up for women. On the ground, in our daily and nightly lives, with our hopes, desires, imaginations, courage, and the thin but awesomely strong thread of connection to other women’s shared consciousness, through personal revelation.

The poisoned bait: the “erotic”. The antidote: female truth-telling.

Shulamith. She was the firestorm that rocked the Second Wave from New York across to West coast. Not just the Dialectic of Sex, but also the NY Radical Women, Redstockings, all of it. Shulamith, you brought me home to the love of my life: female truth-telling, the sharing of our female selves with each other. Thank you.

We need a female language.

5. bliz - September 2, 2012

this is an interesting quote from john stoltenberg that i came across when reading “Refusing to Be a Man”:

“There comes a time in the course of the growth of his body when various conditions of risk, peril, hazard, and threat cause his penis to become erect— without his understanding why and without, as yet, any particular sexual content. (This much is not conjecture, it has been documented in interviews with prepubescent boys.) Among the events or experiences that boys report as being associated with erections are accidents, anger, being scared, being in danger, big fires, fast bicycle riding, fast sled riding, hearing a gunshot, playing or watching exciting games, boxing and wrestling, fear of punishment, being called on to recite in class, and so on.


Sometimes the mere regarding of another person’s body as an object is not enough; it does not satisfy a man’s habituated need to experience physical and emotional agitation sufficient to set off sensory feedback about his sexiness. At times like these, a man learns, he can reproduce the erectile result of feeling threat, terror, and danger as a child simply by being threatening, terrifying, and dangerous to his chosen sex object. It works even better now, because he is in control. He can successfully do this in his imagination, then in his life, then again in his memory, then again in his life. It works even better now: the more dread he produces, the more “desire” he can feel.”

erections, both male and female that is to say both penile and clitoral, i think are caused by fear. which means it’s a fear response to be erect or horny. both males and females need a certain degree of fear to feel like having sex. this revelation by stoltenberg leads me to wonder, “what if fear were not present? what would happen to sex?”

6. karmarad - September 3, 2012

I’m not able to respond on the same level as others here, but I would suggest people read the first chapter of The Dialectic of Sex which is online: http://www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/firestone-shulamith/dialectic-sex.htm She says chillingly that the psychosexual root of male domination goes as deep as the animal world.

That leads me to remember a description of a female dog in heat who was attacked by a group of male dogs. Afterwards she was severely wounded and almost dead. It is indeed prevalent in nature.

But as Firestone, and de Beauvoir, say, we are no longer just animals. Firestone does go to the end of her thoughts, saying, let us quickly move to a reproduction in which neither intercourse nor gestation nor birth occur within the body of the woman.

At the time she wrote the Dialectic of Sex, 1970, her vision was bizarre and unattainable. What a futurist she was. Conception without intercourse is common in developed societies these days. It is simply not needed for pregnancy. Gestation currently requires the woman’s body, but I think that will change in a few decades. Kim Stanley Robinson has posited that in 2312 people will be long-lived and choose to be “wombmen” or women as they choose. In his vision, people will switch from sex to sex, raising children with creche-mates for a couple of decades and then moving into other creches or endeavors.

All of this recalls Firestone’s idea that we will abolish reproduction within the woman’s body to finally liberate women, though Robinson sees it as gestating in either sex’s body. The politics of such abolishment, whether gestating a child becomes state-regulated, forbidden, or encouraged in either sex, or optional, are mind-boggling, once it becomes technically possible. Certainly many people will want to keep the current reproductive methods and others won’t.

Anyway, if reproduction no longer requires intercourse or the dependence of women as part of a mother-child dyad, yes, we can achieve something close to androgeny in that regard. It’s complicated, and I’m not at all sure about this direction. I also see parthogenesis and cloning as needing to be part of this future paradigm.

But these directions do not take into account male biology, only female biology. What the “erotic” consists of, once there is no longer the excuse of reproduction, is the question. Perhaps men will continue to highly eroticize the sex act, and disguise the power play as chivalry, and persuade women they must play that game, to keep it as a display of dominance and power. Perhaps it will become a nice thing that people do for casual pleasure (the obligation of producing heirs being strictly divorced from pleasure), without the Sturm und Drang, as Thomas Cahill suggests sex was for the privileged Greeks and Romans in his book Mysteries of the Middle Ages. Perhaps we will all have sex robots and not interact with other people for erotic pleasure.

I guess I’m saying is that I agree that the “erotic”, like everything else, is culturally-mediated so extensively that many people even currently don’t look to intercourse for their pleasure. However, the power/domination part of the equation is right underneath that, and not so malleable, not so amenable to change.

7. cherryblossomlife - September 3, 2012

Porn is sex/rape by rote because there isn’t any spontenaity or authentic feeling .

Clearly that’s the opposite of erotic.

The whole point of intercourse is to reassert the dom/sub dynamic between men and women, which is why “making love” side by side doesn’t quite cut it.. and the woman on top doesn’t reverse the situation because then that is eroticized to imply that the woman is serving the man sexually.
Intercourse is brutal, especially when a man orgasms because no matter how loving he was up until that point, when he cums, the woman is literally no longer there.. His eyes glaze over, and NOTHING is going to come between him and his orgasm. She just has to brace herself.

But if you take intercourse out of the equation even this sounds a bit sex-by-rote when it’s written down:

” genital friction, applied to the penis in males and to the clitoris in females”

Compare it to, say, the physical reaction a woman might get when she spies her love-object from afar.. That can be more overwhelming and more powerful than any physical effects brought about by rubbing the clitoris with the specific intention of creating an orgasm. The best orgasms are the ones that come about ACCIDENTALLY.

That’s the polar opposite of what regard as erotic, judging by the endless reams of repetitive, cookie-cutter porn out there. They also seem to think that the clitoris is some sort of magic button that must be pressed to ensure that the woman comes during every sexual experience with a man in order to to reafirm his masculinity.

The problem is that men believe women have been put on this earth to serve them, which means that cannot conceive of the notion that women are their own, discrete, autonomous sexual beings. THey cannot conceive of the idea that women are not essentially sexually submissive and passive. THat is why they get it so terribly wrong all the time.

Alll of this points to one indeniable conclusion, one that women across geographical space and time can agree on, which is that:

*Men are crap in bed.*

8. cherryblossomlife - September 3, 2012

the polar opposite of what *men* regard as erotic

9. cherryblossomlife - September 3, 2012

INteresting about fear and sex, bliz. Men eroticize female fear, as we know. I’ve no doubt that many MANY cannot “get it up” if they are faced with a woman who is their social and intellectual equal. That’s why they perceive intelligent and strong women as ugly. This is their subjective conclusion.
“I can’t get it up, therefore this woman must be ugly.” when in fact female vulnerability is a prerequisite in order to become aroused (as FCM has pointed out before).

BUt there’s a bit more to it. I think that many men are inherently frightened of women. Think of the toothed vagina analogy for example, and the irrational paranoia that led them to kill millions of women they declred to be “witches”. Men actually believed “witches” would cast spells in order to shrink men’s penises, and that they would collect men’s penises as trophies.
These were not the pychotic ramblings of mental patients. This is what men as a class ACTUALLY believed.
So yes, I think that when a man comes across a woman who intimidates him (perhaps not intellectually but in other ways– through her charisma or looks) this fear turns into sexual arousal. That’s why men created this idea of the femme fatale.

10. MarySunshine - September 3, 2012

In before the door locks: there is nothing said here about lesbian attraction to other females, how we experience that, how we experienced it from our earliest childhood, or what words we use to speak about it to each other. Words that are already loaded with male meanings. Words that come from the MAN-datorily heterosocial culture.

FCM, your blog is a radfem blog, not a lesbian blog, and I respect that. Nevertheless, for the record, lesbians need our own language.

11. bliz - September 3, 2012

“So yes, I think that when a man comes across a woman who intimidates him (perhaps not intellectually but in other ways– through her charisma or looks) this fear turns into sexual arousal. That’s why men created this idea of the femme fatale.”

true. they’re afraid of nearly everything. they get hard all the time because they’re scared. how embarrassing!

12. cherryblossomlife - September 3, 2012

Well I wouldn’t say they “get hard all the time because they’re scared”, or that “they’re afraid of nearly everything”, but I would say that not being able to understand what makes women tick is a constant thorn in their side because it represents their lack of control.
Men, on the other hand, are an open book from a woman’s perspective.

13. cherryblossomlife - September 4, 2012

This is what I meant:

There’s a reason scary movies make for great dates other than the excuse to squeeze someone’s hand: Frightening experiences get your pulse racing, adrenaline flowing, your face flushed—and these physiological responses bear a striking resemblance to sexual arousal. “The mind mistakes any sort of arousal for sexual attraction, and will attribute this excitement to whomever you’re with,” says David Givens, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the Center for Nonverbal Studies. “In fact, in one study where men met women on a bridge high above rushing water, subjects were more attracted to each other than those who met elsewhere.” Not that we’re recommending you meet there exactly—roller-coaster rides or a hike up a steep woodland trail should do the trick.

14. bliz - September 4, 2012

true. i was focused on the harassers with that comment more than anyone else. need to work on that generalizing language

15. treepoet - September 6, 2012

What I associate with the word “erotic” is something never seen through my own eyes. It is part of a male-written script. It always caters to the male sensibility. Even if it involved a male tuning in to ways to turn me on, that too, is his own way to manipulate, to get his own pleasure, it is really just a fetish thing. I have never cared much for eroticism. Your post helped me reflect on why.

What is often not considered in the male narrative is how important intimacy is to many women. Intimacy that includes sexual connection may include arousal, but it is not erotic which is just a male BS script.

The trouble with intimacy between women and men is that it doesn’t work because of the caste system. For heterosexual women it is a trap, because women are trained to allow intimacy, to let down emotional boundaries and thus be vulnerable to someone (male) who subtly or overtly will do harm. Cannot avoid it given the caste system.

Women can be and are intimate with one another on an equal footing. That’s enough for many of us, sex or no sex.

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