The Sociology of Sex

Eros

Eros

The Sociology of Sex

Mark Wegierski makes some timely suggestions

The critique of contemporary dualism, with the concomitant hope of living a more holistic, balanced life, is an important aspect of the over-all critique of late-modern society. One of the facets of this critique is the triumph, on the one hand, of excessive rationality (as in the economic and technological spheres) and, on the other, of excessive irrationality (for example, in terms of certain elements of personal lifestyle, in the extreme aspects of some contemporary popular music, and in the burgeoning acceptance of various “occult” beliefs). Both these trends seem to increasingly expand at the expense of what was once the rooted ideational center of society. This distinction is similar to Daniel Bell’s perception of a rational, economic sphere of society, which is at odds with the antinomian, cultural sphere, as described in his book on “post-industrial” society, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. It is also reflected in one of the catchwords of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: that its denizens should be “adults at work; infants at play”.

Another interesting aspect of this critique is the increasing disappearance of a properly-balanced psychological identity among men, vis-à-vis sexual relations with women. On the one hand, one sees the ravenous, hyper-sexual “stud”; and, on the other, the cerebral and introverted “square” or “geek”. What was once the basic traditional male identity in this regard (which might be loosely described as “the hero or knight-errant questing for his lady” — or the ideal-type of the “gentleman”) has come under fire from both radical feminists and “sex-educators”, who seek to disenchant traditional gender identities and relations. The balance of strength and sensitivity seems to have split (or been forced to split) into these two oppositions.

It could also be argued that the over-all, heightened sexual obsession of society — for example, especially in “porn” — but also in much of rock and rap music, TV, video, advertising, and film — is a social excess existing parallel to that of the antisexual (or antiheterosexual) type of radical feminism, both of which feed off of each other at the expense of the rooted ideational center.

The emerging problem in male-female relationships, for most young women, is that the “stud” is exciting but often too cruel; the “geek” is decent enough but unexciting. Two popular movies which showed “masterful” men with a sadistic streak were Nine-and-a-Half Weeks (with Mickey Rourke) and Wall Street (with Michael Douglas). And now there is The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and its various imitators, including Bared to You: A Crossfire Novel. The phenomena of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatrical-operatic interpretation of The Phantom of the Opera; the new Batman epics; The Beauty and the Beast television series (1987-1990); as well as the good knight dressed in black in the 1980s movie Ladyhawke (who fights an evil, heretical bishop dressed in white) could be explained psychologically as representing some of the attempts for “the whole man” to re-emerge, in a world dominated by various contemporary correctitudes.

In a similar but somewhat less-positive vein, there is as well today the popular obsession with male as well as female vampire-figures, currently typified by Twilight. Nevertheless, the books and movie series were widely interpreted as in fact being about the importance of abstinence, about the need to control one’s possibly destructive sexual appetites.

Female psychological identity itself (apropos sexual relations with men) seems to have sharply fragmented into at least three different aspects (although some of these divides were present, to some extent, in many traditional societies) — the faithful but unexciting wife or companion (or nice but not very sexual friend); the sexual temptress; and the completely independent woman. The synthesis of the positive elements of all three of these aspects seems to occur ever more infrequently. But it might also be pointed out that many women considered highly sexual often fail to achieve (in the real world) what is normally considered the natural result of sexual relations between men and women. They are certainly sexual but not fecund.

Another interesting phenomenon is that typified in many young adult females, who tend towards intense obsessions with idealized “teen idols”, who are very sexual figures to them, and create too high expectations for the future. Some years down the road, the more average men who are sexually available often become perceived as either too rough or too weak, and generally inadequate. Some males are also obviously prone to highly exaggerated expectations in women’s looks and sexual activities as a result of the continual media imagery of very sexualized and ultra-glamorous females.

There are clearly then today several areas where the critique of excessive, opposing extremes, as in personal psychology, social issues, politics, and culture, can be instructive.

Narcissus, Caravaggio

Narcissus, Caravaggio

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher

 

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