Saturday, January 11, 2014

We Are All Unnatural Animals

I’m currently reading Jesse Bering’s hilarious and insightful Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. And, while not terribly far into it, I must say that I’m quite enjoying it. It takes a very honest and matter-of-fact look at what the world considers sexual deviancy.

In chapter one, “We’re All Perverts”—any wonder why I’m liking this book?—he presents the idea that so often sexual deviancy—from homosexuality to BDSM to kink to poly—so often is railed against because it’s seen as “unnatural.” After all, if a holy Creator created us to be the pinnacle of the natural world, how could we possibly exhibit behaviors more prurient than our lesser animal brethren? I mean, if the humblest wild beast knows better than to engage in those activities, shouldn’t we?

This argument has so very many flaws, it’s hard to imagine that it’s lasted as long as it has with the fervor it has.

First off, most of the kinks and deviancies this argument seeks to shame—homosexuality, BDSM, poly—all these exist, in some form or another, in the animal kingdom. DNA testing is proving that none of the animals we were previously sure were monogamous actually are. We’ve documented animals engaging in homosexual acts and pairings for quite some time now. And many animal mating habits are grounded in showings of sexual dominance and aggression. Even if one does believe that humans hold some moral high ground over the rest of the animal kingdom, surely we can’t say that any of these so-called deviant acts are “unnatural.” Nature, in all its perverted glory, is no stranger to the sexually strange.

But often those who hold this belief claim that we’re the best that the natural world has to offer, right? We ought to be above all that baser nonsense. We should be able to suppress the more animalistic and savage parts of ourselves, right? As if the denial of or deviance from what comes naturally to the rest of the animal world is somehow humanity’s natural state and proof of our superiority? 

Though, to be fair, there are a great many things that many animal species do that we do not—to humanity’s credit, I believe.  We don’t walk on all fours, we don’t scavenge rotted food, we don’t keep quite the proximity to our poo that much of the animal kingdom seems content to. All good things that evolution and human progress has afforded us. But, in terms of this argument, wouldn’t this in fact make us intrinsically and unnaturally deviant to the animal world in most ways, not just sexually but in a lot of everyday mundane ways? 

And, the fact that we would take things that already exist within nature—walking, homosexual pairings, scavenging, sexual dominance displays—and put rather uniquely human spins on them—upright bipedal gaits, intimate and social homosexual relationships, grocery stores, kink—should be not only seen as expected but completely natural evolutions of human progress then, according to this logic. These sexual deviances, by this logic, are then the most natural things in the world.

And even if that idea doesn’t fit your definition of “natural,” what exactly is the morality of natural versus unnatural. Sure, most of the animal kingdom doesn’t copulate unless it’s intending to procreate, but most of the animal kingdom doesn’t use cell phones or drive cars either. So unless you’re willing to give up all the things we as humans do that other animals don’t in the name of natural morality, what makes the crazy, kinky sex stuff so different than all the other pleasurable advances humans have made throughout our history? We don’t question the morality of most of our evolutionary advances. Why do we do this with some and not others? What exactly makes BDSM so much more unnatural, more wrong, than going to a grocery store or using indoor plumbing?

So, really, the “don’t do it because it’s not natural” argument is pretty lame and breaks down almost laughably fast. And that’s because, when a person invokes that argument, that’s not what they really mean. What a person really means when they say “it’s not natural” is “I think it’s icky.” Bering calls this the “disgust factor.” What’s interesting about the disgust factor is that, more than pain, more than fear, more than anger or any other emotion or sensation, disgust is the thing that shuts down libido the most efficiently. 

In kinkland, we know this phenomenon as being “squicked out.” Your kink is your kink and that’s okay but, if it squicks me out, there is next to nothing you can do to get me to want to have anything to do with it. Personally, I have a thing about blood. Can’t do it. If I see it, I smell it, I feel it, whatever, and I’m done. My libido is shut off and all I want to do is sanitize myself clean and bandage myself up. It is the germaphobe inside of me that wants all the stuff inside me to stay inside me and all the microbial, viral whatnot outside to keep the hell out. While I’m all for people being into what they’re into, I couldn’t even watch someone do a blood play scene, much less ever participate in one. It’s just one of those things that squicks the shit out of me.

Which kinda sounds judge-y, right? Except it’s not. When I say that something squicks me, what I’m really saying is that it’s not my thing. Which allows me to not have to do anything I don’t want to, while still allowing other people to do what they want without guilt or shame. It’s removing the stamp of overall, absolute value from the act. It’s no longer a question of social morality, but just one of personal taste.

And that’s the real difference between these two statements. While they look very similar, the difference between the “it’s unnatural” argument and the “it squicks me” stance is all about passing judgement. When one says something is unnatural, they’re passing a value judgement on that act, and thus the people who do that act. They’re saying that no one should do it or, if you do, you are not natural, not normal, not right. It becomes a blanket prescription to the whole of the population. And allows the policing, penalization, and punishment of individuals in favor of the protection of the whole.

But when one says that they’re squicked by something, it’s less a judgment on the act as it is a statement about themselves. The act itself becomes much less important as the focus shifts to the people involved. You do what you do, but I’m squicked so I’m out. It’s not that I’m going to stop you or shame you or shun you, I’m just going to step out of the room, remove myself from the situation, till you’re done. The action shifts from “I think this is wrong, so you should stop” to “this isn’t my thing, so I’m going to go.”

Because for most sexual deviants, it’s less a question about what’s natural or not, less about what’s wrong and what’s right. But rather it’s about whether it’s harmful or not. If whatever you’re into doesn’t harm anyone—doesn’t act without basic caution or consent to all involved—then I don't see a problem. So long as everyone involved gives knowledgable and informed consent, what right does anyone else outside that scene have to say about what they do?

After all, think about it, you may think someone else’s kink is weird, but chances are there’s someone out there who thinks yours—spanking, bondage, cunnilingus, missionary, procreative sex, whatever—is too. 

Do you really want their personal judgements determining what you get to do?

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