One of the beautiful aspects of Marge Piercy’s utopia in Woman on the edge of time is the natural process through which people explore sex. Unlike current society, sex is seen as exploration – children discover it through growing up, and it is seen as something that is human rather than political.
Sex, in current western culture, is about power. Society structures itself around the desire for sex – if you’re not doing it then something must be wrong with you. Sex has become a commodity, an answer to misery and loneliness, and the ultimate form of social power. If TV and adverts aren’t enough evidence of that, a light read of Nabokov’s Lolita is. And if that’s still not enough, porn certainly is.
Definitive to the argument is gender politics. Sex as a commodity, shrouded in guilt and secrecy, can easily be seen as the reason behind women’s oppression. It ensures that a woman is defined by her function in a bedroom rather than her humanity. She is objectified – a thing which sex is done to, rather than with. Being the feminine in sex is the oppressed in language of power. To rape a man, in the art of war, is to humiliate him into taking a feminine role. He is feminised, while his rapist is seen as more masculine, more “macho” for his capability to subjugate another man.
Unequal sexual power can only be abated through the process of transforming sex into a process of being. In other words, sexuality needs to be sensual – it needs to be part of a healthy and natural education where stigma has no place. The emphasis needs to change from fulfilling desire to exploring the beauty of being human. Desire should not be the motive behind “performing” sex, but instead a reason to see sex as perfectly natural. We need to turn sex into a two-way conversation, where those taking part are interactively seeking each others pleasure.
Gender plurality is more than just biological functions. Sex is similar. It is more than just intercourse, it is the connection between people, it is about personality and behaviour. It doesn’t have to mean a lifelong commitment, nor does it have to be anything more than a chemical connection. However, it does need to be accepted as a process rather than a right. Our relationships are so much more than sex; they are about warmth, security, excitement, connectedness, intimacy and vulnerability. And until we realise that, we are going to continue to have female oppression.
Whatever capitalism has taught us, we can’t “buy” sex, we can explore it as a connection with another person. Real sex isn’t about power, it’s a natural form of human communication. Gender roles will never be equal until our behaviour in the bedroom has been addressed.