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Why are we afraid of sex or rather,
why is it that the sight of genitals, nudity and sexuality is subject to legal
and other limitations in many societies? This is the main question at the heart
of John Ince's book The Politics of Lust which aims to take a close look
at various socially ingrained forms of sexual repression, their cause and their
consequences. Censorship and discretion have become such prevailing modes of
thinking about sexuality that the author's question first appears to be very
naïve. But it still has the benefit of leading the reader to reconsider social
taboos that are otherwise rarely examined. Sex is more often than not
considered to be private and consensual, when it's not it generates fears, it
is believed to be psychologically or physically damaging.
The author makes a good case of
demonstrating that these anxieties might stem from a form of inhibited attitude
that he coins "fig-leafing". These phobic attitudes towards sex are generated
principally, he argues, by a mix of the desire to conform socially, ignorance
and rigidity of social structures and/or character. If sex is seen as bad and
shameful, people who engage in sexual behavior are likely to feel shame with
regards to their actions and to either repress or hide their desires. The
author suggests that this starts very early in life as parents who have been
raised in a climate of sexual repression discipline their children. It then
goes on to pervade all areas of society from language to law and censorship in
and out of the media.
Trained as a lawyer, Ince knows how
to articulate a convincing argument, but the writing comes across as rather
clumsy, not to mention that the author stretches the boundaries of rhetoric
when he tries to assimilate all reticence towards various forms of sexual behavior
to a form of racism. This opens a potential debate as to the intentionality of
sexual behavior: are we programmed as human beings to have certain sexual conducts
that can not be controlled, whether they're considered socially acceptable in
certain circumstances or not? For instance, it seems perhaps a little far
fetched to say that someone who takes pleasure out of public nudity but isn't
allowed to indulge in this practice because of certain laws is discriminated
against on the same basis as someone who is being ostracized because of the color
of his skin. It comes as no surprise that Ince never really engages with these
questions and maintains that, since we are essentially sexual beings, any form
of repression is an attack against our true nature.
Ince acknowledges that rape,
genital mutilation and violent pornography -- which he gathers under the rather
puerile euphemism of "nasty sex" -- might contribute to a fear of
certain sexual practices and sometimes of sex altogether, but he is obviously defending
more tolerance towards consenting and harmless sex. As a lawyer specialized in
laws pertaining to sexuality, he has been involved for years in what could only
be called a crusade against prudes and this book, along with his Vancouver
based sex shop The Art of Loving, his legal practice and the controversial
theatrical performances he has produced, can easily be perceived as yet another
attempt to rally other people to his cause. Seen as a self-standing piece of
research, the book doesn't put forth anything new but it can still be read as
an interesting list of ways in which sex, in theory and in practice, can be such
an important part of our private lives, yet still be such a source of
controversy when it steps out of the bedroom.
© 2006 Martine
Rouleau is Tate Fellow at the London Consortium (Birkbeck College, University of London) where she is currently a PhD candidate. She obtained a Masters in
Communication from the Université du Québec à Montréal in 2002.
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