by Paul Gallant
Oct 16, 2003
Can sex be as uncomplicated as a lovely walk in the park? In his new book, The Politics of Lust, Vancouver writer John Ince argues that our culture fears sex because we put control ahead of pleasure. Ince, a lawyer, journalist and co-founder of the sex centre The Art of Loving, was behind the live sex show in Vancouver last summer that the police didn't stop. We asked him to explain how he thinks our society might overcome its erotic malaise.
XTRA: You arguer that people are ambivalent about sex, and shouldn't be so hung up. What if our natural feelings toward sex are indeed ambivalent?
INCE: You've heard the same arguments that we were meant to be heterosexual, and homosexuals are aberrations of nature. I don't agree that there's a natural sexuality. I believe that every person is an individual and there's no genetic reasons to imprint into the human brain an aversion to human nudity, for example. I think it's learnt. We have no aversion to sexual pleasure. There's a fair amount of evidence that orgasm is part of a relaxation response. Nature likes people having orgasms, not just procreative orgasms.
XTRA: You say that sex should be an integrated part of ordinary life, but sexual situations give us different feelings than, say, seeing a beautiful sunset. Don't we get a buzz because sex is kept out of sight most of the time?
INCE: In our culture, when being sexual is loaded with negativity, it doesn't stop people from being sexual. We eroticize negativity. Being transgressive in some way heightens the arousal. A lot of people are invested in shame and degradation and negativity as being an important ingredient of their turn-on cycle. I'm not judging that as negative or inferior, but I don't think there is anything inherent in transgressive sex turning us on more. In a sex-positive culture, sexuality would be as hot and passionate-but it would take other forms.
XTRA: Can we overcome our sex-negative programming?
INCE: If we want a truly democratic and egalitarian culture, my argument is that we have to start embracing sexuality and genitals. I would like to see much more sex education in schools. Today it's focused on disease prevention and pregnancy prevention. There's virtually nothing in schools on pleasure. I would like to see the mainstream media normalize sexuality and cover it. Why are there wine reporters, education reporters, and car reporters, but not a single sex reporter at any major Canadian daily?
XTRA: You write "Children are lustful creatures". That's a dicey statement nowadays.
INCE: No, it's not. Children learn from an early age that there's something really bad about them being exposed to sexual information. They don't get the same message that its bad to be exposed to brutality, pain, suffering or financial problems. But children are sexual. Adults want to hold on to the view that children are non-sexual beings because that's one of the ways we maintain status over them, to spank them or control them. A movement that sees children as sexless is fundamentally a selfish attitude.
XTRA: Gay and Lesbian rights used to be about winning the freedom to express our sexual desires, but now it seems to be about accessing the mainstream institutions like marriage. Is sexual freedom yesterdays news?
INCE: Why can't those in the gay community who favour a traditional relationship have it and why not have a vibrant gay hedonisticcompletely alternative culture? I don't see a lot of signs of that alternative culture diminishing. When I look at where things are going, our culture is getting more relaxed about sex. In the 1950's and 60's it was "don't do it". In the 80's and 90's it was "Do it in private." That's a very different message. I can see it when I talk to a 22-year old who comes into the store asking 'So this goes on my clit right?'"
XTRA: How many years will it take before Canadians are comfortable with having and seeing sex in public?
INCE: Having public sex in the parks- that's a long way off. But let's talk about nudity in a park. I am deeply offended that on a hot summer's day, I can't go into a quiet corner and take off my clothes. I see nudity activism as the next big wave.