When I wrote this post, I claimed that my orientation does not invalidate my right to a voice in the particular context discussed. Obviously, in other contexts, such as those involving a discussion of same-gender attraction, it would be fair to say that my input has less weight and relevance due to the particulars of my identity. However, the discussions under review in that post did not frame crux of exclusion as as a matter of LGB vs. not-LGB. The logic used by the silencing allos in those two examples is a logic that would only make sense in a world which asexual people are oppressors or have a particular kind of asexual privilege.
That’s the idea I intend to unpack some of in this post — the idea of the oppressive prude.
CW: sex and oppression talk, so the subject of rape does come up in this post
Without a doubt, there are oppressive ways of shaming sexual attraction and restricting the expression of sexuality. I have no intention of claiming otherwise. The thing is: being allosexual, liking sex, and being sexual are not themselves stigmatized.
They’re stigmatized along other axes of oppression, as part of an overarcing denial of agency and legitimacy of demographics who are pushed to the margin — i.e. they’re stigmatized in conjunction with being of color, with being lgbt, with being a woman, etc. “Sexuality” (as a scale from more-to-less “sexual”) is not an axis of oppression in its own right — or, if it is, then being more sexual than not isn’t the oppressed pole. Yet attacking sex is a hallmark of the classic literary dystopia.
A long time back, I was talking to Sciatrix and recommended she read Isaac Asimov’s scathing review of 1984 as a way to help cheer her up, since his particular brand of snark never fails to brighten my day. But as I got to thinking more about Orwell’s famous novel, I belatedly remembered the Junior Anti-Sex League and their red sashes, and then the Party’s disdain for sex being written in as one of its methods of control, and then Winston’s laments that the Party’s brainwashing made his wife impossible to enjoy sex with.
It’s such a straight white man’s view of oppression.
You want to talk about sexuality and oppression? Sure. There’s a lot that goes on in the intersection of the two, and our past and present have demonstrated numerous means of controlling and weaponizing sexuality to oppress. And yet, in Orwell’s nightmare world, we hear so little of rape and sexual assault that you’d think draining the appeal out of consensual sex is the more heinous crime in his eyes.
[<more serious rape tw>After writing most of this post, I just did a quick search to make sure I wasn’t forgetting something, and as it turns out, I had forgotten about Winston fantasizing about raping and murdering the woman he was attracted to. Winston is the book’s protagonist. I am without words. My hypothesis looks more correct than I ever wanted it to be.</tw>]
There’s a part where the narration explains that Mrs. Smith has been so taken in by anti-sex propaganda, Winston is reluctant to have sex with her anymore because she’s so passionless and mechanical about it. The only reason they haven’t stopped altogether is because she believes it’s their duty to the Party to conceive a child, but neither of them is able to really enjoy it anymore.
When I first read this book, what I remember feeling during the segment was not indignant dismay that the Party could damage people’s lives to that extent, or indignant dismay that Orwell showed pathetic little imagination or knowledge of the world in the way he wrote oppressive forces in the realm of sexuality, or even indignant dismay that once again someone was villainizing the sex-haters. I read about the protagonist dreading and abhorring sex with his wife, and I felt a strange kind of… relief. That’s the only word I can find for it. I empathized, though clearly not in the way Orwell intended. It felt like a burden had temporarily been lifted. I was so starved for acknowledgement that sex can be awful and unwanted, I was relieved to find it even in a dystopia novel where sex aversion is explicitly stated to be a product of evil propaganda.
So given my experiences like that, it was particularly jarring for me when I saw a commercial for PBS’ Poirot that included a clip of a character asking, “Why is everyone so afraid of sex?”
Setting aside the question of whether or not “everyone” actually is “so afraid of sex”, we might as well ask the question: why would anyone be afraid of sex? Could it be that, for some, sex itself is akin to body horror? Could it be past traumatic experiences? Could it be anticipation of sensory overload? Could it be well-founded anxiety about the possibility of mishap or embarrassment?
“Why”, indeed. A total mystery.
But back to the original quote, who is this “everyone” she speaks of? And what behaviors does she have in mind when she deems them “so afraid of sex”? I’ve investigated the context, and it appears she was reacting to her daughter’s disapproval of her for saying lewd things in public. In other words, she’s like one of those sex-positive feminists that thinks it’s rude for you to want out of a sexual discussion you didn’t ask to be part of. So with this particular character, it seemed like she was just whining about someone not consenting to be put in sexual situations according to her whims. I haven’t watched the episode, so I may be off in my conjecture. But that’s beside the point. The point is, people like this exist. I know some of them in person. They speak and act with a genuine belief in ideas like this — that any aversion to sex is a character flaw, a thing to be pitied and laughed at, and that anyone who doesn’t join in to sex talk at the drop of a hat is a bigot who must be shamed into compliance.
And the fact that they treat fear of sex like a ruling ideology — where does that come from?
Sometimes, the conversations around this subject look to me like a conga line. Sex-positive nonreligious folk say, “We actually like sex, unlike those religious people,” to which Pagans say, “We actually like sex, unlike those Christians,” to which Christians say, “We actually like sex, unlike those Puritans,” and Puritans say, “We actually like sex, unlike those Catholics,” to which Catholics say, “Wait, no, we’re not like that anymore.”
Perhaps a better question than “Why is everyone so afraid of sex?” would be: Why is everyone so afraid of seeming afraid of sex?
There’s nothing wrong with being afraid of something scary. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid of something that involves a lot of nerve-endings, or that hurts you, or that puts you at risk, or that could have consequences that you don’t want. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid of something where you know your behavior will be scrutinized. Just like it’s okay to be afraid of roller coasters and spiders and public speaking, it’s okay to be afraid of sex.
And seriously, nobody’s oppressing anyone by personally not wanting to have it or talk about it.