Building a Democratic Hedonism Part Three

In part one, I discussed how to build a democratic hedonism through sex education that was inspired by Joseph Fischel’s book Screw Consent. The first post focused on developing our sexual emotions and I offered that one route to do that is by bringing in guest speakers.

In part two, I applied educator Louisa Allen’s notion of “discourse of erotics” to help develop our sexual mind. The discourse of erotics is meant for people to understand each other’s perspectives and hopefully develop a loving attitude.

In this final post, I’ll be looking at ways to develop the sexual body by applying Philosopher Richard Schusterman’s notion of somaesthetics since our bodies have also been influenced by culture and social norms.

So what is somaesthetics? Somaesthetics is also meant to correct our bodily performances by improving certain directions of our body. One can see this in various movements such as dancing or zazen sitting. Shusterman also uses the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique as examples of involving different ways to perform the body in order to correct bodily performance so that one can live life more functionally and pain-free. We must condition our body, or sometimes we must pay attention to what the body really wants and go with the flow with the body. We have to bodily condition ourselves, and correct ourselves to get rid of our bodily bad habits and use the body as a site for bodily awareness, and not simply go through an unconscious trial and error to correct ourselves.By focusing on our intellectual bodily consciousnesses, our knowledge and performance improves what we are doing.

Challenging the oppressive nature of the body involves a somaesthetic diagnosis of the body as well as the feelings associated with the bodily habits. The diagnosis also includes ways and techniques that limits the body from institutional backgrounds which can formulate various methods inculcating them so that these oppressive measures can be overcome. The body is shaped through institutional powers, such as norms of bodily health, beauty, ways of movement, and even our categories of sex and gender are constructed in a way to reflect and sustain social forces.

How various influences around us inform our bodily habits

The example Shusterman gives is how women have been normalized to eat, speak, sit, walk, and copulate in a certain way that could “both reflect and reinforce such gender oppression.” Yet, challenging these norms are difficult because the body has been habituated to these motions. However, “[a]ny successful challenge of oppression should thus involve somaesthetic diagnosis of the bodily habits and feelings that express the domination as well as the subtle institutional rules and methods of inculcating them, so that they, along with the oppressive social conditions that generate them, can be overcome.” These bodily habits are so ingrained that we may display prejudices toward different races, genders, or ethnic groups even if we can rationally argue for tolerance, the visceral grip of the prejudices are strong even if we deny we have them. For example, many people may logically realize that being a racist is a vice. Yet, people may unconsciously show signs of apprehension or anxiety when they are around people of color in the United States. These feelings can go beneath our explicit consciousness, but they resist correction because while we can call racism wrong through argumentation, we forget to correct bodily expressions which have been ingrained with habituation. Often, we deny we have racial prejudices because we do not realize we feel them. Thus, not only is argumentation against the unjust social institutions needed, but so is a method to develop a way to control or expunge these bodily feelings. Being more aware of one’s bodily relations toward others can help ameliorate the conflicts between others and improve one’s behavior toward others in much wider social and political contexts.

Apply somaesthetics to sex. The partners involved experience their own interests and pleasures and maneuver their own bodies so that they increase pleasures as well. For example, by having a good body image, one will be more comfortable with the sexual act, and thereby gain more pleasure. Being present at the moment during the sexual act is a way of getting lost in the moment. If people are worried about the body, then they are not “in the moment” and the experience is ruined or blunted. If this is repeated, they may avoid sexual activities or sexual experiences altogether.

Good sex education will give students the opportunity to “work on themselves” by investigating the power relations in society regarding the sexual body. Dominant social norms can bring about somatic social norms such that people perform bodily habits but can actually be oppressive which could inform our sexual scripts. So how do we correct our bodily sexual habits?

My first example is simply interacting with others who are sexual minorities. People may be repulsed with transgender people, those who are same-sex oriented, or polyamorous people. People can react against them where the result is ostracization, harm, or death of the sexual minority. Even if people, in their mind, have no problem with sexual minorities, people may have a somatic reaction that is harder to control. Their body may react with contempt, disgust, or even some fetishized fascination. I do not have a notion of what sort of somatic corrective there can be. I leave that up to psychosomatic professionals. What I want to propose is simply being aware of what other people’s bodies are doing, which can be really challenging since they may not notice their own bodily reactions. Bodily habits could be ingrained and we consider those bodily movements as normal. It is not until we reach a point where someone points this out to us or we feel uncomfortable with our bodily movement where we recognize a problem. Again, like before, I am not offering any corrective; I want to acknowledge the problem and hope that others will recognize the issue. The corrective can come from psychosomatic therapists which can then inform sex educators.

My second example has to do with interacting with others via sexual pleasure. Many adult American women lack sexual knowledge and subsequently are fully aware neither of their sexual needs nor of how to fulfill them. Because most women learn about sexuality from peers and the media, they have already learned and incorporated many myths, stereotypes, and false information before they become sexually active. Many women prefer more sexual knowledge and they felt that their sexual education was lacking. Women in particular tolerate feeling uncomfortable in situations where they are forced to acquiesce to men. Society has taught us that from a young age, men’s needs, desires, and wants overrule women’s.

Discussion should not just talk about a generic body, meaning a body that is only looked at from a scientific or medical point of view. Rather, the body is sensual. If young people are assumed to be abstinent and simply learn refusal skills rather than positive affirmations, then it leaves young people, especially young women, without the tools needed to identify their sexual desires. They may feel uncomfortable to say “yes” to any sexual advances or to initiate sexual advances. They may lack communication skills with their sexual partners which can increase their disembodied experience.

How does one offer guidance to receive sexual pleasure educationally? One route to do that is through the website OMGYes.com. The website is dedicated to different masturbatory styles of young women whereby the user can click on a different style and the model discusses what movements gives her pleasure which can vary between speed, pressure, and range of motion. Even though the images and discussions are explicit, the discussions are somewhat clinical, yet inviting. By clicking on these different styles, people will not only learn what different techniques there are to obtain sexual pleasure, but they will gain the know-how so that they can perform them on themselves or with a partner. On all of the styles, the user can download a computerized vulva and with the movements of the mouse, the user can imitate the style that the user just learned.

Finally, a third corrective is to develop the somatic awareness of our prejudices. To have a better attunement with their body is to know more about what the body likes and desires. When people’s feelings are in tune with their body, their experiences can be more enjoyable. If people do not know what their feelings are, they are disconnected from their body and habitually they will be at a loss in the relationship with themselves. When that happens, they can become vulnerable to outside forces and especially from other people. They may follow with what society says we ought to feel rather than listening to the body to see if those are the true feelings of what the body actually does feel.

We can see this specifically with the sexes where men are taught to take up physical space, and women are taught to take up as little space. One is example is “manspreading” where a man will typically use up space when he is (usually) sitting in a crowded bus or train to the point where he will not allow others to be near him, let alone sit beside him. Women are taught to be small and fragile. Women cannot travel and move as much as men can. Indeed, women have been habituated where they see their bodies as a threat whereby her body is seen volatile. Women are expected to keep a close vigilance on their bodies by restricting, policing, and hindering their movements just so that they can be safe. Any movement outside the expected gendered space is dangerous since it can produce assailants to approach her. Thus, she learns and maintains to keep a close vigilance of her body in order to limit those risks. This, thereby, limits her autonomy by living in a culture that presumes and sustains this threat, especially against women.

These bodily comportments can consist of certain poses, gait, body language, and appearance. Using somaesthetics as a tool can show us how bodily comportments gives clues as to how men and women endorse various gender stereotypes. “Manspreading” is one example. However, liberation is not simply changing individual or small group’s ideas and bodily disciplines; it can only be done by changing the larger situation that defines what the genders can be, which means that the social, political, and economic conditions must change for true liberation.

Three different ways improving somaesthetic habits

This is my humble start for a more democratic hedonism. What do you think? Is this a good start? Anything we can build from here? Anything I missed? Anything essential that is needed?

About shaunmiller

I am an assistant professor (LTR) at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Affirmative Consent, Books, Culture, Ethics, Relationships, Sex Education, Sexuality, Values and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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