Article from The Book of Life: Sexual Non-Liberation

From the Book of Life:

We are repeatedly given messages that we live in sexually enlightened times, that we belong to a liberated age. And therefore the implication is that we ought by now to be finding sex a straightforward and untroubling matter. We are not – after all – Victorians or prudes.

The standard narrative of our release from past inhibitions goes something like this: for thousands of years across the globe, due to a devilish combination of religious bigotry and pedantic social custom, people were afflicted by a gratuitous sense of confusion and guilt around sex. They thought their hands would fall off if they masturbated. They believed they might be burned in a vat of oil because they had ogled someone’s ankle. They had no clue about erections or clitorises. They were ridiculous.

Then, sometime between the First World War and the launch of Sputnik 1, things changed for the better. Finally, people started wearing bikinis, admitted to masturbating, grew able to mention cunnilingus in social contexts, started to watch porn films and became deeply comfortable with a topic which had, almost unaccountably, been the source of needless neurotic frustration for most of human history. It seemed almost inconceivable how hung up our ancestors had been. Sex came to be perceived as a useful, refreshing and physically reviving pastime, a little like tennis and one that could sit perfectly well within the context of bourgeois family life, once the kids were in bed.

This narrative of enlightenment and progress, however flattering it may be to the modern age, conveniently skirts an unbudging fact: we remain hugely conflicted, embarrassed, ashamed and odd about sex.

 

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