In a previous post, I discussed how to build a democratic hedonism through sex education that was inspired by Joseph Fischel’s book Screw Consent. I discussed that a revamped sex education is a way to do it and that one route is to work on our emotions by bringing in guest speakers. Bringing in guest speakers is helpful so that students can actually engage with another rather than thinking about the issue abstractly. In this post, I’ll be looking at a second way to do build a democratic hedonism and that is through a discourse of erotics.
Educator Louisa Allen calls for a “discourse of erotics” in sex education, which is to open up possibilities for young people “to experience themselves as sexual subjects in positive and self-determining ways” and to see and treat others as sexual subjects in positive and self-determining ways.
A discourse of erotics consists of understanding other points of view and seeing why other people have different beliefs, preferences, and values. Interacting with others who are different and learning about their values is one element to combat heteronormativity—or any normative prejudice about sexuality—and is en route to developing a loving attitude, and to understand that sexual expressions are not universal.
The discourse of erotics can bridge the gap between different epistemologies of people with varying sexual values and sexual assumptions. Here are three ways a discourse of erotics could help people understand their own sexuality and help others understand other sexual desires and gender expressions: the erotics of women, the erotics of men, and the erotics of those in the LGBTQIA community.
- A discourse of erotics can focus on the erotics of young women (something that has been ignored in sex education). For example, the traditional discourse implies that women are passive and that their pleasures are more difficult to obtain. Female sexuality in our common discourse has been mainly reduced to reproduction, which means that women’s pleasures are ignored. Discussions of pleasure in the curriculum may help not only undermine the stereotypes of women being sexually passive, but it may also encourage young women to understand how to receive pleasure and even demand pleasure in precise ways. Women are taught to be sexual gatekeepers. To undermine this narrative, a starting point would be to note what sort of sexual pleasures she has for her sake rather than as a means for men’s sake. In a way, pleasure can be an equalizing force. In a classroom setting, the educator could teach both sexes about the orgasm gap and suggest that this fact leads to pleasure inequality. The men would learn that this inequality is unfair, and women would learn that they deserve their pleasures.
- Current sex education programs also constitute young mens’ sexuality as pure desire, which constitutes them as predatory. Indeed, part of the current discourse teaches men that it is normal and natural for men to be promiscuous, and that if they are not or do not desire to be promiscuous, then they are not normal. Because young men are expected to fit into the heteronormative masculine framework, young men may have a hard time saying “no” to sexual advances. Men are also considered the active pursuers (aggressors) and women are the passive pursued (avoiders). There is hardly any positive representations of male sexuality. This asymmetric frames men as sex-crazed beings and women as objects of pleasure for men. All men need to do find the right “combination” to get to the pleasure. To avoid this, Allen has done interviews and open discussions, but other forms of having a discourse of erotics could include journal writing, community boards, anonymous questions, and discussions with health educators. The discourse of erotics can help undermined men’s expectations about how they ought to behave and express their sexuality.
- Finally, the current discourse in the USA also assumes a heteronormative framework: by focusing on women as sexual gatekeepers, it silences the experiences of lesbians. Do both of them remain gatekeepers assuming heteronormativity? Can one be a gatekeeper and still initiate sexual activity? On the other hand, there are studies that suggest that lesbian couples usually fall into traditional gender roles where one partner adopted the roles of the other gender.
Moreover, heteronormative discourse does not engage with the experiences of those in the gay community. For example, there are terms in the gay community known as being a “top” or a “bottom.” Do the notions of “top” and “bottom” follow the gender roles in our heteronormative society? Or are they simply descriptions of what various roles those in the gay community prefer?
This is a complicated topic, a discourse of erotics can help students gain some insight not only those in the gay community, but also raise questions about various gender roles by noting how gender can be played out. Moreover, a discourse of erotics could be expanded to those who are transgender, intersex, attracted to those of the same-sex, asexual, and those who have different dating/relationship styles such as polyamory, aromantics, and demisexuals. By having a discussion and normalizing the different ways sexuality, gender, and relationships can be expressed, sex education may formulate a pattern in students’ minds to not only accept others, but also to develop an attitude to work on accepting others by conversing with others and trying to understand and possibly learn from others.
The Dutch sexuality education program has a Beat the Macho campaign. Since young men are pressured to follow hypermasculine norms, it is helpful for the young men to be vulnerable and talk about masculinity and macho behavior. By opening up in a small group, the young men can discuss the various attitudes, feelings, and thoughts regarding masculine behavior.
Moreover, the Netherlands has a major program that the majority of sex educators use: Lang leve de liefde, translated as Long Live Love. It is designed to not only help students prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs, but also to provide students with communication and negotiation skills for safe sex practices. It also takes into account the diversity of students including different cultures, value systems, ways of starting (sexual) relationships, and differences between boys and girls. Moreover, the sex education program offers a magazine for students that comes with a supplemental website that has the style of “choose your own adventure” scenarios where students determine what should happen next in various sexual encounters.
What other ways could the discourse of erotics bring? How else can it bring forth a democratic hedonism?
In my next and last post, I’ll discuss a third way to build a democratic hedonism through soma esthetics.