What is sex even for?
Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power. – Oscar Wilde
Sex is a social obsession. The pursuit of it, the commercialisation of it, the regulation of it. Wherever we turn someone is telling us how to get it, how to do it, who to do it with, etc…
Cultural expectations and norms change from generation to generation, providing each argued agenda with a mythical past to call back to as the standard by which we should judge the attitudes of today. The idea of Victorian family values, the liberation of greek society, the nuclear family, the debauchery of the regency period, all ideas that exist more firmly in the mind than in the actuality of history.
So let us explore our current cultural domination and how it can benefit us in the kink community.
I hope it is not a generalisation to say that I believe the majority of those who will read this live in a country with a capitalist economy. While capitalism is an economic model it can also be explored from a sociological perspective. The manner in which we engage with the economy has become the manner by which our value is judged. How can this be to our advantage?
Make them work for it
Let us look at the steps of sexual liberation as they have happened under the currently dominant economic system.
“Sexual expression had increasingly entered the realm of choice. Our culture has developed a notion of sexuality linked to reproduction and genitality and to “deviations” from these, which have denied us the full enjoyment of the bodily pleasures that are potentially available to us.” (Weeks, J. 1980)
Children and childbearing use to be required as part of the self-sufficient household economy of the American colonial era. During the industrial revolution of the Victorian era entire families would need to work to sustain themselves. Children served as indentured workers for the parents as well as the only sort of insurance against age or injury. The family was a single, self contained economic unit.
Capitalism has led to the separation of sexuality from procreation. Human sexual desire need no longer be harnessed to reproductive imperatives. Scientific advances allow procration to be more and more of a choice, divorcing it from the tyranny of heteronormativity, chance and time under which it has suffered for thousands of years.
This role of social security has now been taken on, to a greater or lesser degree depending on yours country of residence, by the state.
As capitalism expanded it allowed us to move away from reproductive sex as a economic necessity to sex as a pleasurable past time activity. The space for sexual identity can only be formed in an environment when procreation as an economic necessity is no longer a matter of personal survival, in the same way that gardening became a hobby only once it was no longer a necessity.
Only as an individual economic unit rather than a familial economic unit is there space for the exploration for individual sexual identity rather than have it be subservient to the need for survival as part of a unit. This should in no way be seen as a deletion of alternative sexual identities from history but rather as a critical examination of how it has been difficult for sex itself, in any form, to be a leasure activity let alone be a part of a complete identity. Historically non familial sexual identities have had to exist in a parallel social space, perhaps the best known being the greek concept of pederasty. (Hubbard, Thomas K. 2003.) Sex could occure outside of a breeding pair for purely pleasurable reasons, but only if the society was still able to sustain a minimum level of reproduction.
Capitalism contains a fundamental paradox at its heart. While it weakens the imperative for the individual becoming a reproducing unit, it also needs reproducing pairs to provide the next generation of workers. It praises the power of the individual while trying to incentivising the forming of reproducing pairs. This urgency has been eased by the advances in biological sciences that expand the option of parenthood far beyond a single mating pair.
While there may no longer be the economic need to direct sexual expression to reproduction as its only justification there is a still a lingering stigma around the idea of sex being a possesed activity of personal enjoyment. Societal acceptance and the hollow cries of morality trails behind the almighty power of the dollar. Infallible, eternal morality has a strange habit of bending to economic demands eventually.
I believe the historical sanctification of reproduction for economic reasons is why it is one of the most contentious areas of debate. As there is no longer a reasonable economic argument it has transitioned into the ethereal realm of spiritual and moralistic argument.
Kink does not face the same inherent contradiction in full. It challenges society only with its sexual divergence from necessity to pleasure, from reproduction to indulgence. The ability to control reproduction and relegate to an option rather than a risk allows us to explore our sexuality without “purpose”. With no need to justify our sexual desires we become less bound to the control of others. Contraceptives have liberated women in ways we could never have imagined (Pierre‐André Chiappori and Sonia Oreffice, 2008).
We have a number of advantages over other sexual identities. We can largely blend in without compromising our sense of self. Our communities have access to far greater anonymous social networking. An expanded social vocabulary of sexual identity hard won by those who have not been able to, or have not wanted, to hide their divergence from the expressed social norms of the time.
However, this can work against us. As we are not forced to publicly declare our sexual identities simply by existing we can hide in plain sight. By not being identifiable we may escape the prejudices of the moment but we suffer disenfranchisement, especially from the economic rights granted to identifiable demographics.
Greed is good
Kink is not cheap, for many it is not only our sexual identity but also our hobby and social life. We invest vast amounts of time and funds into the development of skills and items wholly dedicated towards our own sexual exploration.
“Most lesbian and gay men in the 1960’s first discovered their homosexual desires in isolation, unaware of others, and without any resources for the naming and understanding what they felt.” (Hansen, K V. 1998)
While the first step in our empowerment might be our self identifying as part of a homogeneous group, our true strength lies in the unification of our economic identity. Where once we had to order our fetish wear through strange magazines we can now support physical stores. Sex shops now exist on Oxford street selling floggers and latex hoods.
Capitalism serves those groups who are able to wield the power of mass, we must always strive to be identified, to infiltrate the social consciousness so that more might identify with us. There is a tipping point to be reached, that which propels the unnoticed, uncared for, into the heady heights of economic engagement.
This is where the second part of the argument comes to a head. By becoming a recognised, marketable demographic we can be engaged with economically. This is the true measure of acceptance by a capitalist society, can we be sold to and can we produce things of value? Meet those criteria and while social acceptance may take a while, economic acceptance is far quicker. Moralising often takes a back seat to economic gain.
The greater our representation in the mainstream the better. While it may be clumsy at first it should be taken as a positive step. Netflix shows that just miss the point, books which lack even a basic understanding of consent, fashion houses failing to credit the designers from whom they draw inspiration. All of these are imperfect ways that our community has been represented, but rather than rejecting them I suggest we embrace them. Take the flawed representations, encourage the discourse and buy the product. Reward those who try, and embrace those who succeed.
We have, and shall continue to, suffer the prejudices of sanctimonious outrage and accusations of moral corruption, but these are the hollow arguments of those rendered otherwise impotent by the inevitable march of a new, marketable demographic. Does the pub that you rent for a munch care that you wear latex underwear? No, they only care that they get paid. Does the leather supplier care what you use that hide for? No, they only care that they get paid.
Capitalist acceptance is decided on the grounds of monetary democracy. At the end of the day you add up the dollars and whichever trend, event or product has the most is valuable. We must enter into commerce with the community, this is our willing Toleranzgebuhrer (Leo W. Schwarz, 1963), our tolerance tax which we pay to wider society. Let them identify us, let them factor us into their marketing plans, let them think about our wallets with lust.
We are the leather dollar, sell to us, embrace our subculture, whisper sweet nothings into our ears as we fuck on a bed of newly discovered economic viability.
Weeks, J. Capitalism and the organisation of sex, Homosexuality: Power and Politics [Gay Left Collective], 1980.
Hubbard, Thomas K., ed. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. California: University of California Press, 2003.
Hansen, K V. Families in the US, Philadelphia, Temple University press, 1998.
Leo W. Schwarz, Memoirs of My People, Schoken Books, New York, 1963.
Pierre‐André Chiappori and Sonia Oreffice, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 116, No. 1, February 2008
About the Author
Will Hunt has been involved in the UK kink scene for the last 10 years; running clubs, teaching workshops, performing and generally encouraging naughty behavior wherever possible.