Many politically correct feminists aggressively dismiss Freud and psychoanalysis in general as outdated. I myself was recently attacked in Austria as an old white man who hasn’t read a book for 30 years. What they are effectively doing is repressing Freud’s basic insight, that of a split or divided subject and of the unconscious — the fact that people in general don’t know what they want and don’t want what they desire.
This is why explicit free consent of both partners in a sexual act is not enough to preclude violence. Even if a written contract or a selfie of both partners is not required, the minimum that those who worry about violence in sex demand is explicit verbal consent, as is required by a new law proposed in New South Wales. What this vision ignores is violence immanent to sex; sex ‘in itself’ is not a domain of joyful pleasures distorted from outside by relations of domination and violence, the sadomasochist component is constitutive of it.
In an interesting comment on the role of consent in sexual relations, Eva Wiseman refers to ‘a moment in The Butterfly Effect, Jon Ronson’s podcast series about the aftershocks of internet porn. On the set of a porn film an actor lost his erection mid-scene — to coax it back, he turned away from the woman, naked below him, grabbed his phone and searched Pornhub. Which struck me as vaguely apocalyptic’ — and, she concludes: ‘Something is rotten in the state of sex.’
I agree, but I would add the lesson of psychoanalysis: something is constitutively rotten in the state of sex, human sexuality is in itself perverted, exposed to sadomasochist reversals and, specifically, to the mixture of reality and fantasy. Even when I am alone with my partner, my (sexual) interaction with him / her is inextricably intertwined with my fantasies, i.e., every sexual interaction is potentially structured like ‘masturbation with a real partner’, I use the flesh and body of my partner as a prop to enact my fantasies. We cannot reduce this gap between the bodily reality of my partner and the universe of fantasies to a distortion opened up by patriarchy and social domination or exploitation — the gap is here from the very beginning.
So I quite understand the actor who, in order to regain erection, searched Pornhub — he was looking for phantasmatic support of his performance. It is for this same reason that, as part of the sexual intercourse, one partner asks the other to go on talking, usually narrating something ‘dirty’ — even when you hold in your hands the ‘thing itself’ (the beloved partner’s naked body), this presence has to be supplemented by verbal fantasizing.
So, back to Wiseman, who concludes her comment: ‘By attempting to understand the shadowed new landscapes of porn, we may come closer to a healthy relationship with our own sexuality.’ But what if sexuality is in itself not quite healthy, what if the shadowy aspects of porn do not just disturb from outside healthy sexuality but are rendered possible by its unhealthy aspect?
In December 2016, upon learning of the sudden death of Carrie Fisher, Steve Martin tweeted: ‘When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well.’ There was an immediate backlash — Martin was accused of ‘objectifying’ Fisher, of focusing on her physicality instead of her talents or her impact — one user on Twitter replied: ‘I think she aspired to be something higher than just being pretty. How do you want to be remembered?’ So Martin deleted his tweet. The accusation seems to me ridiculous since Martin clearly locates his fascination with Fisher’s beauty into first encounters, and then immediately moves in ‘witty and bright’ — the whole point of his tweet is that she was MORE than just beautiful. However, more important is that in our (and in all) societies there are historically-specific prevalent notions of beauty, and that is a woman (or a man!) outstandingly fits these criteria, s/he is noted as beautiful or (which is not always the same, of course) sexually attractive.
To prohibit talking about this, noticing it, means suspending not just ‘objectification’ but sexuality as such. The sad trauma of those who are ‘ugly’ and find it difficult to get attractive sexual partners is thus not only not resolved but just ignored and in this way continues its subterranean work, leading to possible explosions of envy, frustration, etc. Incels are here much more honest: they openly admit their ugliness and try to enact it playfully as a positive feature.
This article was originally published on Spectator Life.