Sex and Death
I found this essay very interesting and wanted to share it. Copywright and author unknown unfortunatly, Maybe someone knows the origin?
One of the most problematic pornographic associations of all is the persistent linking of sex with death and the increasingly common linking of sex to killing.
Some language scholars say the root of the old English word for orgasm is the same as that for death; the Oxford dictionary connects orgasm with rage. In French, the psychoanalytic term for orgasm (la petite mort) means “the little death.” In Sanskrit, nirvana means annihilation, to be “blown away”.
Poets of both genders throughout the ages have suggested a connection between the two themes. Psychiatrists and psychologists have long argued that fear of sexuality is simply a disguised version of a universal human fear of death. Anthropologists assert that sexual taboos, institutionalized through religion, are but another effort to keep death at bay. They fail not because people are immoral but because death persists.
Death should be erotic
A person doesn’t need to be a social scientist or language scholar to have some basic body knowledge that this assumed connection is a valid one. Sex is about physicality and physicality is inseparable from the fact of death. If erotic means “in touch with the physical,” then being reminded of death should be erotic for most of us. We should get moist and hot and hard at
the thought of it.
What is orgasm other than to be swallowed up in a blackness so deep that distinction, thought and separate physical consciousness dissolve? All experiences of ecstasy, but most especially sexual orgasm, are experiences of being swept away. They are about losing - if only for an instant - whatever awareness binds us to time and space.
One has only to take a small further step to recognize that this transcendence of time and space is a form of psychic death. To be swallowed up by blackness is an exquisite pleasure. It is to know ecstasy, but it is also to die.
Our great death, for all its liberating wonder, holds also a moment of terror. It is the door to nirvana, but it necessarily passes through annihilation as well. Our “little deaths” simulate this journey, finding ecstasy along a path which requires our physical and psychological selves
to be blown away.
It scares us
Annihilation frightens us. It frightens men, women and children, though not all of us equally. Rather than giving ourselves up to that fear and passing through it, our collective response has been to try to manage annihilation and bring both sex and death under control.
There are cultural reasons why the “out-of-controlness” of both sex and death is more problematic for men than for women. In a sentence, to be male in a patriarchal culture is by definition to have power, to be in control; but to be sexual - at least to be orgasmic - is to lose control; and to be human is to be powerless in the face of death. Thus both in terms of death
and of sex, there is a fundamental contradiction between the demands of biology - and basic psychology - and the demands of culture as they impose themselves on the male psyche.
Lots of energy goes into controlling death
Seen in this light, it should not be surprising that huge amounts of energy, worldwide, go into managing annihilation. Human beings seem bent on controlling the context and details of death - perhaps because we cannot control its fact.
* The military expends most of its energy planning when death will arrive, by what coach, at what house, and for what reason.
* The medical establishment develops machines to thwart death’s timing and defy its reason.
* Religious leaders treat death like a petty thief and project on it a violence which is human in source - the final division of the world into saved and damned.
Sexual imagery reflects preoccupation with controlling death
Cultural imagery reflects the magnitude and intensity of these efforts. The pornography industry exploits our nearly obsessive efforts to control both death and sex and to solve the cultural/biological puzzle presented by the relationship between sex and death, especially for men.
Pornographic films and magazines, even those that do not deal directly with death, routinely turn living subjects into inanimate objects, allowing men - and increasingly women as well - to place their sexuality in a fantasy world where they can ejaculate - without ever losing control.
It’s hard to imagine a sexual situation more responsive to this need than that in which the object of lust - not subject of desire - is already dead.
Necrophilia - weird stuff
Necrophilia (an erotic attraction to corpses) at first seems to be a tiny genre of the porn market. It’s kinky in the extreme, the stuff of horror movies, but generally repulsive to normal men and women, regardless of what other marginal sexual practices they may engage in. Few of us can even imagine what impulses run through the undertaker gone haywire who has sex with the dead, before or after embalming them.
The necrophiliac is fascinated by death but motivated by control. His temptation to force death to submit to him is recognized as potentially intoxicating, perhaps overwhelming, but ultimately bizarre.
But closer to us than we like to admit
Yet on another level almost all mainstream pornography appeals to a form of necrophilia. The images of women (and men in gay porn) which are presented as a turn on, are nearly universally deprived of life. Sexual objects, not subjects, they have had the breath sucked out of them. If these objects had a personal history - foibles, accomplishments, affections, failures - it is now behind them. At best it has been appropriated into a common mythology; worse and more frequently, it has been eliminated completely.
Bodies with the souls gone: that’s plain old porn
What we see in much of porn is simply bodies after the soul has left them - anonymous as cadavers, without even a piece of clothing to suggest preference, difference, personality, will. It is easy to say that these frozen objects might only tempt an aberrant taste, but they have become the large scale focus and context for expressing a mainstream, if problematic sexuality.
Trend toward “amateur sex” on Internet and video may be healthy one
The burgeoning interest in home grown sexual imagery, featuring real people, with real names, histories, lives and families having real sex and exhibiting their experience publicly, may reflect a healthy attempt to put sex back in the land of the living. While it clearly goes outside
acceptable bounds of privacy for some people, for others it may be a much needed reminder of the human element in human sexuality. In fact, a case could be made that there is less to object to in most home-video porn, than in there is some high fashion images.
The process of de-animating the sexual and sexualizing the inanimate is not relegated to formal pornography. It enters mainstream culture through high fashion, where women are considered beautiful to the degree they can resemble a lifeless mannequin. Any unchoreographed smile or burp or snarl or sneer - anything that might suggest a life or mind of her own - would quickly have the would be cultural model dismissed. Only pure soullessness can be trusted as a model for the sexually and socially desirable.
It may not be surprising that the women who best manage to hide, disguise or eliminate soul, do it only at the price of forfeiting their body life as well. For in fact, body and soul will twine themselves together as long as there still is breath.
The haunted look which is prized by fashion makers, does not come without starving the body as well as curbing the soul. The cessation of menstruation, a consequence of anorexia, is only one of the occupational hazards of a “deathly sexiness,”
The Stepford Wives
The average woman, neither porn star nor fashion model, nevertheless, will measure herself and be measured by these standards. Ironically, it’s not the liberated feminist but the most traditional wife who may find herself closest to porn star, fashion model - and corpse.
From one perspective, the tradition of the passive wife seems like nothing so much as a camp horror series, featuring women as the living dead. Decked out, painted and displayed as in a funeral parlor viewing room, “the beloved wife” is eulogized if she is as will-less in life as she would be after death. Her body is considered attractive if it puts no demands on either her own will or the sex of her husband, remaining instead as unassertive as any corpse. She is thought trustworthy and attractive when nothing dirty or even unplanned can any longer issue from her - when no blood, sweat, mucous, tear, tantrum, or inappropriate guffaw can find its
way forth. This model of wife as the true living dead was made famous in the Hollywood film, The Stepford Wives. It is in many ways, the model we continue to have of the most ideal wife of all, the First Lady.
Backlash to feminism
If this seems like ancient history, a model of women which has itself long since died and grown cold, consider the spate of books in the last decade counseling women to put away the urge toward will that has begun to reanimate them.
Despite the inroads of feminism - or perhaps because of them - women are being reminded that will and ambition are not only sexually and socially unattractive, they are the source of suffering. Only selfless service to others can “heal the wound of feminism” and bring true peace and happiness. But what is a body without self interest? What is a human being without the capacity to suffer? It is a corpse.
A passion for killing
There is another genre of sex and death imagery which makes mere necrophilia seem tame by comparison. It goes back to that connection between orgasm and rage. For lack of a better word, it could be called “homicidiphilia” - a passion for killing. Rather than being a tiny niche
within a niche of the porn market, it is like smog, insidious, deadly and so pervasive a phenomenon as to almost make itself invisible.
The raunchiest “snuff” movies have gone back underground, though snippets of them are beginning to resurface on the Internet. Their conceptual base has not been removed. Rather the psychological dynamics of snuff films have been absorbed into mainstream culture. Not only pornography but music television, feature films, made-for-t.v. movies, detective magazines, even family-viewing murder shows continually connect sex with killing. Why are we surprised when computer culture follows suit?
Women are chained, bound, gagged, beaten, bludgeoned, shot, strangled, suffocated and stabbed as punishment for sexual misconduct or simply as the price of being sexually attractive. Men are killed for being “good,” “bad,” anything except indifferent; in short for being alive. And all of it is one big cultural turn on.
This graphic linking of sex with killing is not simply a matter of fantasy. Psychosexual murder is a growing social reality that haunts our collective mind and fills our newspapers.
* Young women are raped, then killed and left by the side of the road in dozens of cities.
* Children are raped then sexually mutilated and killed more frequently than they die of many diseases.
* Ritualized sexual murder is a part of cult practices that extend beyond national or cultural boundaries.
* Political murders in countries throughout the world are accompanied by sexual torture and mutilation more often than not.
* Rape and killing have been inextricably linked in wars throughout history. Sexual obsession has been placed by many analysts at the root of Hitler’s need to impose death on a whole race of people.
It is not just the deviant sexual aggressor who finds killing sexy either. Research studies have shown that a substantial number of “normal” American men find televised images of killing a turn on. This is not allegorical language; they get an erection watching it.
While they “prefer” male killing of women, it appears that any killing will do. If we accept the sexual pull of death at all, it is only a short step to accepting the sexual attraction of killing as well, for we are used to thinking of death in terms of “a kill or be killed” phenomenon.
A men’s thing?
Many liberal thinkers, feminists especially, assert that the connection between sex and death, or at least sex and violence is one forged only by patriarchal culture. They note that the violence component of sex-and-violence is preponderantly a male phenomenon, and is most often directed against women. They say it is a connection intentionally construed by men to keep women in a perpetual state of terror and social submission. They point to who owns sexual image making: organized crime, Madison Avenue and the religious right.
How, feminists ask, could our popular perception of sex be otherwise than colored by masculine violence? Isn’t male violence at least as much a social/political phenomenon as a biological one? A magazine cover featuring a male nude body being put through a meat grinder (as was once the cover of a popular men’s porn magazine) is unthinkable. The thought of a female raping and strangling a series of men is nearly unimaginable. The idea of women becoming hot and wet at the sight of murder is mostly laughable.
Women like their sex without violence
These female analysts hail back to a civilization dominated by goddess worship, and find no evidence of sexualized violence there. They note that as women have become a larger part of the market for sexually oriented materials, pornographic magazines have reduced the emphasis on violence to reflect women’s taste.
Female readers and viewers generally like their sex with romance rather than violence, though some measure of threat or danger to women is part of the formula of the hugely popular, gothic romance novels.
It’s a convincing argument but there are some stress points.
Or do they?
A growing body of socio-psychological literature would suggest that both women and men depend upon men playing out sexual aggression and women restraining it. When women do not have men to act out their shared human aggression, women’s participation in interpersonal violence directed against their own sex appears to increase. While exact numbers are hard to come by, it does not appear that - on a percentage basis - spouse battering among lesbian couples is substantially less than among heterosexual couples.
On the other hand, when men do not have women to act out the vulnerability and sheer kindness that is also a human instinct, they frequently take on those roles themselves. A deep tenderness toward other men appears to be as widespread among gay men as among any group of women in mixed relationships. Yet instruments of violence and torture are also so much a part of gay male paraphernalia that they have become a cultural cliche, and segregation of men into prisons appears to result in wholesale cruelty far more than in kindness.
Women capable of violence
Women’s capacity for institutionalized violence is irrefutable. Women, about equally with men, support the death penalty. Women, as well as men, support economic structures which require that some people go hungry so that others may have the option to glut themselves. Women, as well as men, participate in institutions which objectify whole races and classes of human beings. Women, on behalf of men, are frequently the enforcers of the very sex role limitations which bind them. Women, as well as men, have made good nazis. The feminist movement has had to confront fascist tendencies within its own ranks.
Different conditioning or testosterone?
Having said all that, female violence does not appear to have the explicitly sexual appeal which male violence frequently does. Yet the latest research points out that it is estrogen, not testosterone, which is linked to male aggression. This suggests that gender differences in violence exist, not because women and men are fundamentally different at the level of biology, but because they have fundamentally different identities at the level of culture.
Physical differences with orgasm
It is also possible that the physical experience of orgasm is a qualitatively different one for women than for men. Women spend themselves in sex, but it is not a physically depleting experience and they are quickly ready to lose themselves again. Women know the feel of post-coital emptiness, but they are not in danger of the spirit resurrecting (re-erecting) before the body does, a source of anxiety to some men, especially as the aging process slows their rebound time. So what finally is the connection between sex and death? Is it inherent in some deep design of nature or entirely shaped by culture? Is it a matter of fearful projection or authentic recognition?
Equation valid but turned around?
Perhaps the sex/death connection is a valid one but the equation has gotten turned around. Maybe it’s not that sex is like death, so we need to control it; but that death is like sex, so we can cease to be afraid.
Life and death, not life or death
Death does not need to have anything to do with killing, but we have created a culture in which we cannot know the name of death separate from a word for murder. In our minds, if our physical or psychic existence is at stake, it is necessarily a life or death situation, not a life and death one. Most sexual violence and the pornographic treatment of all the themes we have treated so far, hinge on this deeply dualistic consciousness.
When death is denied, life is denied
As long as death is denied, life will be denied as well. As long as death is denied, sexual imagery will be dominated by corpses and sexual exploration will consist of mechanical fumblings and violent ravings.
Until we are comfortable with the overall fact of death, we cannot be truly at home in our skin. In fact, it’s likely that until we are genuinely excited not only by the fact of death in general, but by the inevitable approach of our own, personal death, we cannot fully know the physical
ecstasy which is available to us.
Far from being a patriarchal plot, the linking of orgasmic sex with death seems an inspired human intuition. It does not need to suggest some cosmic cruelty but may reflect an unfathomable kindness at the core of the universe.
Orgasm is about death, but that death is not - or does not need to be - the result of psychic murder, nor ego suicide, nor interpersonal violence, nor anything in the realm of cruelty. It holds the possibility of both annihilating and completely transforming us; yet it is not something we can or need to protect ourselves against at all.
Sex is how body finds it’s link to soul
Sex can be a means through which the body presses past ego to find its soul. Yet in our culture, sexual ecstasy has become largely associated with the failure of spiritual longing and integrity rather than their natural expression. Religious leaders go to great lengths to convince their
followers (and themselves) that flesh is a punishment for life rather than its gift. They cite the AIDS epidemic as some cosmic proof of their argument.
Perhaps this is because they have also decided that death is the enemy of life, rather than its most faithful companion and only mode of existence.
Death hands us sex as its child
Death circles life and overwhelms us with a presence so infinitely vast that it is almost impossible to consider on its own terms. Perhaps that is why it hands us its child, which is sex, to teach us this mysterious way.
Death, like sex, is without finality
Sex is frightening, exhilarating, liberating but ultimately without finality. No matter how long we wish to postpone or prolong our orgasm, it ends almost as soon as we surrender ourselves to it. Could this not be true of death as well? We fool ours selves by thinking death is final, simply because we are changed by it.
Sex is a chance to practice our deaths
Orgasmic sex offers a chance to test this hypothesis and to practice our death. It invites us to “conquer” the enemy by befriending and forgiving him. It allows us to reverse the poem, “do not go gentle into that good night” and to walk with confidence and gratitude into the deaths which beckons us.
Orgasm, that “little death” is not a threat but a promise; it is our assurance that all is well in the universe.