The Politics of Lust
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The Politics of Lust is a book written by John Ince that argues that irrational sexual fear or “erotophobia” is pervasive in our culture[which?], that it is largely unrecognized, and that it affects our political orientation. Sexually repressive cultures produce rigid, authoritarian political systems.
The book explores the three distinct forces that Ince believes fuel erotophobia: "antisexualism," an irrational negative response to harmless sexual expression; "nasty sex," which includes rape and violent pornography; and "rigidity," the inability to enjoy "playful and spontaneous" sex. Ince argues that, while we are drawn to sex, in our civilisation it also secretly disturbs us. He claims that powerful anxieties lurk in our attitudes to every type of erotic expression, and that these negative attitudes affect our lives by stunting sexual passion, inhibiting frank and honest talk about sex, and generating shame about sexual organs. Ince believes that our attitudes to sex also influence the non-sexual parts of our lives, such as political affiliations.
Chapter list & summary
- Introduction: Ince lays out a definition of 'erotophobia' which he goes on to use throughout the book: a culturally conditioned, secret fear of our own sexuality and that of other people. He believes that this condition has deep roots in western, particularly English-speaking culture, and goes on to cite the Biblical story of Adam and Eve as an example of fears of genital exposure. Ince believes that, while most are unaware of it, erotophobia powerfully affects many aspects of our lives, including how we vote.
- Chapters 1 (Solitary Fig-leafing), 2 (Social Fig-leafing), and 3 (Genital Purdah): The first four chapters examine attitudes toward genitals. Ince says that like Adam and Eve, many people in the modern era are averse to seeing their own genitals. They “fig-leaf” themselves even when they are alone. Example: women who fear inspecting their own genitals with a mirror. A specific type of erotophobia, “genital phobia” motivates this compulsive fig-leafing. Ince claims that an unconscious learning process imprints genital phobia and all other types of erotophobia. This chapter examines his ideas on this process, including “fear conditioning” and “rationalizing.”
Ince claims that genital phobia also inspires the fear of nudity in social situations. He gives the examples of parents who avoid family nudity, and people who avoid nude beaches. Ince states his belief, in strong language, that genital phobia is contagious, describing it as a "virus" and an “infection system”; a malignant force spreading a variety of phobic sexual attitudes into the minds of almost everyone. His own belief is that public sexual expression and nudity is harmless and should be encouraged. He compares prohibitions on such activity to the institution of purdah.
Ince goes on to discuss how the media treats images of nudity. He compares the censorship of pictures to 'defacing' images, and says this action violates basic journalistic ethics, yet is so routine that it is taken for granted. Ince thinks that the media believe they are acting in the public interest but are actually harming society by spreading phobic attitudes about normal body parts.
- Chapters 5 (Lust Phobia), 6 (The Enemies of Playful Sex), 7 (Attacking Youthful Lust), 8 (Mandatory Monogamy), 9 (The Sexual Hush), 10 (Porn War), 11 (Secluding Sex), 12 (Prostitution Prohibitions), and 13 (Homo Hatred): Chapter 5 introduces a new concept, “lust phobia” - irrational fears about the experience of sex, consisting of aversions to erotic sensations, and delusions about lustful behavior (such as the myth that sexuality is overpowering and uncontrollable, or that sex is somehow “dirty”.) Each of the next eight chapters illustrate specific types of antisexual action that help cause lust phobia.
Ince examines social intolerance towards: non-marital sex, contraception, masturbation, oral sex, and anal sex. He uses religious injunctions against “living in sin” and laws that prohibit “fornication” and the sale of vibrators as examples. He goes on to say that lust phobia motivates enormous hostility toward youthful sexuality. He gives the examples of parents who disallow teens the right to have a “sleep-over” with their lover and U.S. federal funding for “abstinence education”. Ince's belief is that society should not stigmatize youthful sexuality, but rather encourage its development through a process of “sexual gradualism,” the same way we encourage our youth to learn to drive, ski, and do other risky activities by gradually building up proficiency and confidence.
Ince goes on to discuss monogamy, claiming it is too 'rigid', and that negative attitudes toward non-exclusive sexual conduct breeds various types of erotophobia.
Ince then claims that most people are sexually tongue-tied, and that many couples never have honest conversations about sex. He also says 'few parents can communicate intelligently to their children about sex'. Even though the media discusses sex sometimes, Ince says this does not mean western culture is sexually open enough. Ince believes that sexual silence is driven by erotophobia.
Ince looks at the use of pornorgraphy and its controversial status in western culture. Though much of the censorship of the past has gone, porn is still segregated outside the social mainstream. Ince claims that society's intolerance toward all porn leads to violent, anti-social porn and such 'nasty' material in turn generates negative attitudes toward all explicit imagery.
Though most people seek sexual privacy, some wish to behave sexually in public. Ince explores the attitudes of our society towards visible live sex, such as a child masturbating in a living room or a couple having sex in a car. He claims that family and legal prohibitions directed at the visibility of live sex are motivated by erotophobia, and that public sex is 'harmless'.
In Ince's own words, "a professional masseur offends no law or social sensibility by stroking a client’s arms... But the moment the genitals are included the service attracts enormous social wrath. Such negativity is irrational, driven by erotophobia.' He believes that blanket social discrimination against all sex workers not socially responsible or equitable. Ince says that this helps generate phobic attitudes toward both sex work and sex itself.
Ince explores homophobia, 'the best recognized type of erotophobia'. Because homophobia is already so well documented this chapter only briefly examines it. The attitudes of families, churches, and the government toward gays and lesbians are explored.
- Chapter 14 (Nasty Sex): Ince claims exposures to 'nasty' sexual experience such as sexual assault, sexual disease, or violent porn all help cause erotophobia. For example, victims of sexual assault are prone to a host of phobic sexual aversions. Anxiety about getting pregnant or becoming infected with a sexual disease also helps generate aversions to sex. His conclusion is that because 'nasty' sex is common in our society, so is erotophobia.
- Chapter 15 (Rigid People Fear Sex): In one of the most controversial chapters of the book, Ince claims sexual fears and inhibitions are a by-product of common personality traits, characterized by dogmatism, physical tension, and emotional inhibition. He says such traits can be acquired entirely outside the sexual domain of life, and that they are more common in members of police and military organizations, fundamentalist religions, and social elites.
- Chapter 16 (The Politics of Lust): Ince posits that the ultimate cause of erotophobia is social inequality. He says that overly hierarchical social relationships in families and social institutions encourage the key causes of erotophobia: antisexual behavior, nasty sex, and rigid personalities. Ince's final conclusion: that only when our society overcomes irrational sexual fears can it achieve true social equality.