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Sex Makes the World Go Round

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It is well known that Freud laid great emphasis on sexual matters. In the years that followed, a distinction was drawn between sex and gender, and the idea of gender identity was introduced. Human beings do not spend every minute of their lives copulating, but at every minute of their lives their gender identity is present. Sex Makes the World Go Round implies that sex is everywhere, provided that we take into account both sexuality and gender identity. This book continues to develop Colette Chiland's work concerning sexuality and gender identity. There are two main themes which run through the whole of this book. The first is the distinction, established by Freud and based on clinical data, between the two currents of sexuality: tenderness and sensuality. The other is that women have always been treated as inferior beings. They have always lost out whenever sexual wanderings have been uppermost.

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1: The heart of the matter

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As I write these lines in the year of grace 1998, no one can doubt that sex makes the world go round, for it is allpervasive in the press, the broadcast media, and the Internet. One of the planet's leading politicians, President Bill Clinton of the United States, risked his public career for the sake of a private sexual affair. The barrier between the private and public domains has crumbled under the onslaught of a moralism that barely conceals the political interests lying behind it. The sexual antics of the great and famous as a rule occupy the minds only of “little people”, who momentarily assume princely status by identifying with their joys and sorrows as reported in a sensationalist media that brings tears to the eyes of consumers of romantic pulp novelettes. This time, fact and fiction came together. The historical event mentioned above shows that the sexual appetite for seduction makes men throw caution and discretion to the winds. However, the subject-matter of my book transcends this consideration and concerns the personal life of every individual.

 

2: Freud and the importance of sexuality

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Queen Victoria, whose name will always be evocative of an 1 J era of prudishness,1 was still on the throne when, at the close of the 19th Century, Freud began treating patients and listening to what they had to say. Just a few years after she died (in 1901), Freud published his seminal work, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d)2, which marked a turning point in his ideas on sexuality.

Freud had dreamt of a research career in neurophysiology, but at the time circumstances in Vienna made that option quite impossible. As a clinician, he would listen to his patients in a particularly attentive manner. Between 1890 and 1900, he published clinical papers that clearly show how his thinking was developing. The neurotic patients who came to him for treatment were suffering from a psychic conflict, and Freud gradually became convinced that sexuality was necessarily one of the poles of that conflict, whether it be the patient's actual or infantile sexuality. When he published his magnum opus, Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams) in 1900, Freud still believed that only neurotics have an infantile sexual life characterized by its precocity. However, in 1905, in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, he argued that infantile sexuality was in fact universal (manifestations of sexuality do not wait for puberty; as soon as they are born, children have a sexual life characterized by certain specific parameters), and he established a connection between infantile sexuality and perverse sexuality (the sexual life of children is not genital in nature, they do not have intercourse; their satisfaction is linked to other pleasurable zones [mouth, anus] that, in adults, are treated as pleasures preliminary to actual sexual union—or, if they are inflexibly and exclusively the focus of all their sexual activity, are called perverse).

 

3: Gender identity

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Every society draws a distinction between men and women, and sometimes also between other, minority, categories. Each of us has the intimate feeling of being either a man or a woman; some feel themselves to be in an ambiguous situation. That feeling was for long known as one's “sexual identity”, but nowadays that term is more often used to refer to one's erotic inclination—homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. Then the idea of “gender” appeared, followed by that of “gender identity”.

In grammar, of course, the concept of gender is by no means recent. Masculine, feminine and neuter dictate the rules of grammatical agreement between different parts of speech.

Gender is not a universal grammatical category (Corbett, 1991). To assume that it is is an ethnocentric illusion held by Indo-Europeans, all of whose languages have two or three genders. There are, however, many languages—notably Chinese—which do not have that notion; this does not prevent those who speak a genderless language from drawing a distinction between men and women. Linguistic gender does not create sex.

 

4: From difference to equality

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The observable differences between the sexes, some of which are established by society, are all based on the sexual difference, i.e. on the difference between the genitals, bodily substances (blood, sperm, milk), the experience we have of our body, the psycho-sexual cycle, relative status in intercourse, and the role of each sex with respect to procreation. The sexual difference is in fact the only qualitative one—expressed as all or nothing with the exception of the intersexed, who are very few in number the remaining differences are quantitative—they are expressed in terms of more or less—and statistical. For example, men are, on average, taller than women, but some women are tall and some men are short—there is some overlap between the statistical distribution of height in men and in women. Even though a woman may be tall, she is no less a woman for that; and though a man may be short, he is no less a man for that. Deviation from the average may be diversely appreciated, but it does not alter one's identity. A woman may well be upset if she is “too” tall; yet she will not be admitted to the corps de ballet of the Paris Opera House if she is “not tall enough”. A man may have “no problem” with the fact that he is relatively short—or it may be the tragedy of his life.

 

5: Choice of partner

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There is no instance of a society not regulating the practice of sexuality, within marriage and outside of it, as if it were important never to let things go too far, writes Luc de Heusch (in de Lannoy &Feyereisen, 1996, p. 251). Loss of oestrus in the human female, thereby uncoupling sexual desire from the reproductive process, could have opened up the way to sexual freedom or, in Godelier's words, generalized sexual intercourse.

This, however, is not the case; sexuality in human beings is restricted by social constraints as well as by internal psychological ones. There is no instance of a society that has not laid down rules concerning marriage unions, and more often than not those rules apply also to pre-marital and extra-marital relationships. In addition, the manner in which sexual intercourse takes place, the time, the place, the customs that apply to sexuality—these too are the stuff of beliefs, rituals and taboos that individuals are of course tempted to infringe, although sometimes this is no easy matter (death may result from infringing a taboo, even without the involvement of any external sanction). Furthermore, individuals create neurotic prohibitions for themselves.

 

6: Sexual wanderings

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They say that happy people have a pretty uneventful history; T stories about happiness do not interest or excite people. What, then, does excite people? The sheer intensity of our instinctual drives, their “essential violence”? The erotic drive or the destructive one? One author who has written more than most about “sexual arousal”, Robert Stoller, says: “I do not know what libido is”, and claims that this is even more the case for the death instinct (Stoller, 1991a, p. 4). Yet he does say that hostility is part of arousal; perhaps that is another way of expressing the fact that some sort of balance has to be found between Eros and Thanatos. We are not governed by drives that head directly towards their aims. Now that it is dissociated from the aim of procreation, the sex drive wanders about restlessly but forcefully in search of satisfaction. It finds what it is looking for either with another person or in opposition to that other person.

For arousal, there are products (books and films) called erotic and others called pornographic. Where does the frontier between eroticism and pornography lie? It has been said that today's pornography is tomorrow's eroticism.

 

7: Love

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If sex makes the world go round, and love is the greatest thing in I life, in what way are love and sexuality connected? Nowadays we tend to call on three Greek words in order to express what we mean by love: Eros, Philia, and Agapè. Could this be an attempt to distinguish between three forms of love by opposing them, to look for a delicate balance between three sorts of demand, or to prepare a subtle elixir with three ingredients?

It is easy to see the link between Eros and sexuality, but less so a priori when it comes to Philia (friendship) and Agapè (Christian love). Yet the most sublime or sublimated forms of love have their roots in the flesh—every human being has to have a body, a history; everything begins with his or her conception and birth, and growth continues throughout childhood.

We could turn to literature and poetry, morality and ethics, philosophy and religion; but the starting-point I adopt here is that of clinical experience and the knowledge that underpins it. No human being is capable of love unless he or she has been loved. All love must integrate ambivalence.

 

8: Sex makes the world go round

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At every moment in life, each of us is either a man or a woman. We go beyond this division into two sexes only at the highest level of thinking, of reflection, of abstract thought. At the same time, the question of how we position ourselves with respect to others is constantly present, hence the challenge not only to our identity as such but also to our chances of being loved. Those who belong to the opposite sex are in a quite specific position in this respect.

At every moment in life, each of us is either a man or a woman. Is it right or wrong that everything should remind us of this? Our first (given) name, the clothes we wear, the tasks we undertake, our status in society? Ought we to emphasize these sex characteristics or attenuate them? Is it easier to obtain equality when the sex to which we belong is ignored or, on the contrary, emphasized? Every society reminds its members of the existence of the sexual difference, but in an arbitrary manner, by imposing attitudes and ways of doing things. Although we cannot erase that difference, we can fight against arbitrariness in the way society interprets it whenever this leads to deprivation of rights or of personal liberty.

 

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