Prisoners of sex? – sex in society and the media

Prisoners of sex? – sex in society and the media – Column

Lee Ann Morgan

The civil-rights movement, the moon landing, Woodstock, Stonewall–there have been celebrations within the last several years marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of each of these events. But for me, it is Stonewall that may be the most far-reaching, for it speaks to all of us–gay or straight–about a very basic, universal human drive that is also extremely private and personal in nature. It is important, therefore, to mark such an event in time. Oppression is oppression, no matter what form it takes, and Stonewall was an event that rallied resistance against one form of sexual oppression. It needed to happen.

Yet something has been disturbing me for years, and that is the increasing focus that is being placed upon sexuality in society and in the media. When I glance at the covers of women’s magazines, I see a constant obsession with dissecting or improving one’s sex life. Current popular song lyrics and videos are explicit in their appeals to sex. I fear that, like many other things in modern life, sex may be losing its soul in direct proportion to its becoming a mass commodity. The images are powerful without an accompanying sense of respect or responsibility or proportion.

What I mean by soul is difficult to define, exactly, but for purposes here I would say that soul is not exclusively a religious concept; soul exists where there is a deep, abiding reverence for a thing’s innate power or essence. I don’t believe it is prudish or puritanical to say that some degree of soul has been disappearing from our treatment of sex.

It may be helpful to put sexuality, in general, into proper perspective. In comparison to the many other human impulses that we satisfy regularly, the actual time spent on the sex act itself occupies only a narrow band in the broad spectrum of time spent on social interaction in general. But in certain advertising and entertainment circles, there seems to be the fear that sex is being neglected and that some effort should be made to make it more of a priority to Americans. That sounds democratic and even altruistic. However, the result has been not an increased sense of wholeness and balance in our sex lives but an increased sense of insecurity–a sense that there is something wrong with us if we are not thinking about sex as often as the media seems to think we should.

Of course, I’m not blaming the media entirely for this nebulous apprehension of mine. Sex is vital, sex is fun, and sex is meaningful. And I would be the first to admit that, when I am not in a relationship, I am naturally more–well, randy. But it seems that our culture is becoming more and more obsessed and driven by the sex impulse. I wonder whether or not it has become a kind of mind control–something to keep us distracted, entranced, and therefore oppressed.

For it can, indeed, be called a kind of oppression (like the rampant materialism of the 1980s) when something has the effect of suppressing and devaluing other areas of life–our love of the intellect, for example, or of any form of relatedness to other human beings that is not sexual in nature. And if oppression is defined as control of the masses and the restriction of freedom, the sources and motives for such control must be examined. We must learn, in short, to understand and even to combat those powerful images and subliminal influences which the media exert over us.

Sexuality is pervasive, certainly, and should be given its rightful place in human life. A corollary to this is that gay liberation should and will assume its rightful place within the procession of human freedoms. Racial, religious, and gender based battles will be fought and won, and Stonewall–symbolizing the origin of the gay movement–has become an important milestone.

But still, there is so much more in the world for us to be interested in and concerned about, so much more to work for in terms of preserving humanity and the outright survival of the planet. I can’t help thinking that, while we are overdosing on our cultural obsession with sex, we are becoming increasingly malnourished–and slowly, vaguely, imperceptibly imprisoned.

I look forward to the day when our culture outgrows its juvenile, prurient obsession with sex and enters into those other, often neglected, places of humanity–those places of knowledge, kindness, activism, artistic creation, and leadership. Those are the other places–real ones–which also feed our vast human spirit. Lee Ann Morgan is an instructor of English composition and literature at Santa Barbara City College and a member of Open Minds, a media watchdog community group.

COPYRIGHT 1996 American Humanist Association

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