Sex is a problem because it would seem that in that act there is complete absence of the self. In that moment you are happy because there is the cessation of self-consciousness, of the ‘me’; and desiring more of it – more of the abnegation of the self in which there is complete happiness, without the past or the future, demanding that complete happiness through full fusion, integration – naturally it becomes all-important. Isn’t that so? Because it is something that gives me unadulterated joy, complete self-forgetfulness, I want more and more of it. Now, why do I want more of it? Because, everywhere else I am in conflict, everywhere else, at all the different levels of existence, there is the strengthening of the self. Economically, socially, religiously, there is the constant thickening of self-consciousness, which is conflict. After all, you are self-conscious only when there is conflict. Self-consciousness is in its very nature the result of conflict. So, everywhere else we are in conflict. In all our relationships with property, with people, and with ideas there is conflict, pain, struggle, misery; but in this one act there is complete cessation of all that. Naturally you want more of it because it gives you happiness, while all the rest leads you to misery, turmoil, conflict, confusion, antagonism, worry, destruction; therefore, the sexual act becomes all-significant, all-important. Jiddu Krishnamurti
Well, that certainly is an eloquent analysis of sex in emphatically spiritual terms. Imagine propositioning your partner with a seductive “fancy a little abnegation of the self this evening, darling?” Or try the more urgent “my self-consciousness is thickening, how about some complete self-forgetfulness?” It would be a change from the charmless “fancy a shag?” or Ron Burgundy’s unfiltered “I want to be on you.” But let’s face it, we don’t really talk about sex in Krishnamurti’s poetic and philosophical terms – that would be far too reflective and considered and wouldn’t that risk taking all the fun out of it? Maybe, maybe not; I guess it depends on what turns you on.
Some believe that sexual attitudes are informed by the differences in genital anatomy of men and women i.e. the male focus is on the external, the visible, the displayed, the unmistakably present, whereas the female sexual sensibility is located in something unseen, mysterious, invisible and perhaps unfathomable. This may also account for the way many men talk about sex and about women in general – not a lot is left to the imagination. And this is where we get into uncomfortable territory. There is a profound problem in male discourse if sexual attraction and lust, or lack thereof, cannot be separated from any appraisal of the opposite sex. But changing the parameters of that conversation will only happen when men acknowledge it is a genuine problem and further accept that it is one that has potentially dire implications for every woman in our lives.
Misogyny has been in the headlines a lot recently with the Elliot Rodger murders in America, with the beating to death of a pregnant woman in Pakistan, with a Sudanese woman being sentenced to 100 lashes and hanging for perceived apostasy and an Australian woman writing about running the daily gauntlet of sexual harassment in New York. Elsewhere we are encouraged to make light of Robin Thicke’s controversial hit, Blurred Lines and think nothing of Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the English Premier League, being involved in an email exchange in which women were referred to as ‘gash’. In shows like Mad Men we have been invited to scoff at the values of the unreconstructed male of the 1960s as if that reality is nothing more than trendy nostalgia but it would surely be disingenuous to pretend that the aforementioned misogyny and its close cousins, sexism and chauvinism, aren’t alive and well in 2014. Why is this the case? Where are the dissenting male voices?
It is ironic in the extreme that if you are a man who would defend the honour of a woman (or women in general) in her absence that you might be asked by the offending parties if you like women at all. The inference being that to ‘like’ women is to subjugate them, to ‘trash-talk’ them, to objectify them and to rate them on a f***ability scale. And this for me gets to the heart of the problem. Is it not possible to like women, to be attracted to them, to desire them and yet still, horror of horrors, respect them? And how do we define respect? I don’t know. But I am sure it involves having a more nuanced approach to sexual desire and the primacy it is ascribed in our every interaction with members of the opposite sex who awaken in us that impulse to show our virility. Is it naive to suggest that sex doesn’t always have to be on the table, so to speak?
Men have often been accused of having sex, and little else, on the brain. The exact location of their thinking and reasoning matter has also been called into question. I think some men have embraced this reductive notion with a dubious wantonness. Basically they embrace the idea of their ‘sex switch’ being stuck in the permanently ‘on’ position so they can justify their overflowing libido as being an unstoppable force, an objective, natural state. If women come near, watch out! We won’t be held responsible for that over which we have no control. This allows them to further indulge the grey area, the blurred lines referred to in the Robin Thicke song, as if they don’t know exactly where the line is.
I don’t buy it for a second.
We all know where the line is. We all know what is appropriate and what is offensive. It’s a choice. But there is an orthodoxy of behaviour and sensibility amongst men when they are alone that has always been wide open for lazy, unthinking sexism at the lower end of the scale and vindictive, resentful misogyny at the other end. It’s the domain of the clique, the club, the herd – a safe place in other words. We all need those, right? A place to vent. A place to get it off your chest. It’s not that typical for men to have a cry and be hugged by their mates while being reassured of their worth. Jokey swagger and bluff machismo is much more de rigeur in the group setting. Here’s the rub – peer approval here must pertinently be equated with the absence of peer disapproval. And where there’s no disapproval of undesirable behaviour, where is the incentive for that behaviour to be brought to an end?
I wrote earlier of ‘dire consequences’ for the women in our lives. A bit melodramatic? A touch over the top? If you are a man reading this ask yourself when you last felt humiliated. Add to that embarrassed. Throw in ashamed. Powerless. Maybe a blend of furious and uncertain. Then ask yourself what you were doing when you felt that way. Maybe try and recall what clothes you were wearing. See if you can recollect exactly what you were doing that seemed to invite the insult or degradation that came your way. Surely you couldn’t have been just minding your own business? Maybe you were simply getting through the day when a stranger came up and grabbed you between the legs. Perhaps you were being stared at in a way that made your skin crawl. Or someone may have grunted a sexual proposition at you as you walked along the street. When it happened you probably wondered why or how you could have let it happen. Why did you not stick up for yourself? Why did no one else stick up for you? Who allowed the perpetrator believe such behaviour was acceptable?
Has all that unpleasantness sunk in? I’m sorry if going with that forced you to revisit something you’d rather forget but now consider that those experiences are commonplace for many women. And now think of the women and girls you know and care about and ask yourself on what level is it acceptable that they might be made feel like that on a regular basis. On what level is it not contemptible that they should be made feel that way by a society that tolerates their humiliation and objectification? Are you going to be the man that said you thought it was acceptable for your daughter/wife/niece/mother/aunt/girlfriend to be treated that way?
“After all, you are self-conscious only when there is conflict. Self-consciousness is in its very nature the result of conflict.” So says Krishnamurti above. Is misogyny then a by-product of male self-consciousness? I think that would be too simplistic an extrapolation of his thesis but I think a lot of us could get our heads around the idea that sexual frustration, resentment and thwarted entitlement are key factors in misogyny and those factors are hugely informed by major influences in modern society such as internet pornography, big business advertising and marketing, certain sections of the music industry and popular media in general.
It’s time to cut the crap and object to what is objectionable. Time to stop hiding behind faux immaturity and disingenuous naivety. It’s time to take the sex test. It’s a simple test of only two questions. The first: where does sex belong? The second: More importantly, where does sex not belong?
How’s your sex life? ‘Complete self-forgetfulness’ going well?
p.s. I found the Krishnamurti quote and 68 others about sex, here.