Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sympathy for the Prude

"These are continent, to be sure: but doggish lust looketh enviously out of all that they do." Friedrich Nietzsche 'Thus
Spoke Zarathustra'.

Having just finished reading The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, it is easy to see prudes as being at the root of a great deal of unhappiness. They're easy to hate for their parsimonious ways and the desires they repress with something approaching fetishistic glee. One only has to be a member of the cognoscenti at a Tea Party convention to know just how awash in sub-textual kink the whole thing is.

Of all the natural human drives we have managed to enmesh and confuse with moral abstractions, sex may be one of the strangest. After all, we're animals. We have a drive to procreate and the physiognomy to do so with much more frequency than other species. We mate even when we're, by virtue of menses or menopause, not fertile. Our bodies have evolved to enjoy sex in a very unique way. And with equal uniqueness, our cultures have evolved amazingly complex taboos surrounding the behavior.

There have been many theories proposed as to why we have grown into the creatures we are and why eroticism plays such a large part in our psyche. What is even odder is that, it arguably takes up far more space in the psyche of a prude than of a person who is relatively free of many of the social and religious constraints surround sex.

In trying to come to grips with the absolute irrationality with which Western Europe viewed sex, Nietzsche said "...chastity is a virtue with some, but with many almost a vice." In fact, despite all his silliness, it was Nietzsche who most eloquently addressed the way in which we seem to obsess most deeply over those things we slavishly deny ourselves.

Georges Bataille, on the other hand, suggested that the root of our inability to see sex in any balanced way stems from our capacity for it in excess of our needs as a species. In 'The Accursed Share', his extremely odd but interesting economic theory of the world, he theorizes that all excess energies must be turned into sacred ritual in order to deal with the socio-economically destabilizing aspect 'waste'. Hence eroticism is really a mystification of sex. So why should we be surprised that it attracts religious trappings and the rules of ritual?

Our modern representations of sexual desire are utterly disproportionate with our other drives. We paint ourselves dying of desire, killing for it, sacrificing decades of happiness for it. It would not be nearly the dramatic subject that erotic writers toil over were it not for the way we have cloaked it in prohibition.

So, please have some sympathy for the prudes amongst us. Without them, there would be no dirty, no nasty, no sinful, no obscenity. And if sex was seen as the natural, healthy, and utterly normal thing it truly is, where would we be as erotic writers? We'd we nothing more than the critics of an alternate gastronomy, or reviewers of plumbing standards. Who, after all, writes about sleep as eloquently as we write about sex?

And spare a little pity for the prudes of the world. If we, the enlightened, burn with lust, they spend their lives in a permanent state of auto-cremation for never having satisfied theirs.


  1. Welcome back to OGG RG.

    I'm still trying to figure out Georges bataille. I read one of his short stories in an anthology I have at home something about the Virgin Mary in a bar and it kind of went over my head. I get what you;re saying about prudes though. I think inside of every prude is a very sexual person trying to get out.
    Jesus said we hsould love others as we love ourselves, but if we turn tha taround it means if we don;t love ourselves its hard to love anybody else. I think that's what's at the bottom of a lot of this repressive social engineering out there.


  2. RG, you are a philosopher queen. :) I'm so glad you agreed to be our guest-blogger this week. Carol Queen said something similar about prudes in a book of sexual non-fiction, but I think you say it with more style. Be warned: the next time it's my turn to find a guest-blogger, I'll ask you.

  3. I have a setting waiting for a story someday, in which society is constructed with taboos and prohibitions which exist solely for the purpose of enhancing the pleasure of those who break them.

  4. Welcome back to the Grip, RG,

    It's always such a pleasure to read you!

    "So, please have some sympathy for the prudes amongst us. Without them, there would be no dirty, no nasty, no sinful, no obscenity."

    I wonder about the truth of this. I think that personally, I'd still want to write and celebrate the erotic even if it were not viewed as forbidden and obscene. There's something overwhelming about the experience of desire, even when there are no societal obstacles, that makes it a worthy subject for fiction.

    You're right to question the evolutionary importance of this intensity. I like to think that maybe evolution can't quite explain it, that despite the physical substrate of sexuality it has a - dare I say? - spiritual or non-material dimension that augments its power over our lives.

  5. Hello, Lisabet: I think you probably have a much healthier point of view about it than I do. But I have found a way to turn my ambivalence of eroticism to a purpose. :P We each employ the tools we have.

  6. Hello Garce: I think you may be right. Nonetheless, the deed is done. The seeds of self-hatred for both the flesh and the spirit of what we are was sown long ago and it's a stubborn stain we still bear, regardless of all the superficial 'celebration' of self that goes on in modern society. I'm not a chronicler of what should be or what might be, but only an observer of what is. And the worst of what is, at that. hehe.

  7. Hello Jean Roberta: I so loved your post on this subject. There is no changing history, but we can see it from different angles, and reinterpret, and rewrite it. That I think is the blessing of our age.


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