The Ironies of Sex

quillette.com
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In "The Problem with Being Cool About Sex," the Atlantic's Helen Lewis meditates on [https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/10/feminism-sex-clark-flory-srinivasan-angel/619822/?utm_term=2021-09-03T11%253A00%253A56&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=the-atlantic&utm_content=edit-promo&utm_source=twitter] the many contradictions inherent in the sexual experience. Among others, Lewis contrasts the victories of women's sexual liberation to the costs of being objectified and oversexualized,
In "The Problem with Being Cool About Sex," the Atlantic's Helen Lewis meditates on the many contradictions inherent in the sexual experience. Among others, Lewis contrasts the victories of women's sexual liberation to the costs of being objectified and oversexualized, the ongoing friction between our societal condemnation of coercion in all its forms and some women's desire for sexual domination, and the incompatibility of personal sexual preferences based on race, disability, and biological sex with the egalitarian goal to democratize sexual access for everyone. Lewis assumes that sexuality is largely shaped by societal and cultural forces, whether sexual double standards or pornography. But, in a welcome—if somewhat brief—aside, she questions the malleability of sexual desire in light of its "evolutionary purpose." Ideological and intellectual commitments notwithstanding, Lewis's article taps into the reality that sex rests on a bed of contradictions and that our experience of it is inescapably ambivalent.

In previous essays for Quillette, I discussed the evolutionary antecedents of sadomasochism and the relationship between sexual dominance and politics. In what follows, I want to show that sexual contradictions are inevitable because sexual taboos are a necessary component of human sexuality and sexual restraint is inextricable from the pleasures of sex.

Although my argument is compatible with the conservative or religious case for keeping sexuality private, it is also entirely secular. I am not the first to have observed that sexual reticence is as much about protecting sexuality from society as society from sexuality. I do not claim that the enhancement of sexual pleasure is the only function of sexual taboos. Nor am I alone in having made this connection (George Bataille, Michel Foucault, and others have come to similar conclusions). But the need to understand sexuality as an undulating world of hidden desires and repressed passions serves a function…
Gregory Gorelik
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