Let’s talk about sex
A debate about sex has been reignited by what is being posited as a “clash of civilizations” or more accurately perceived as a clash of culture. This clash has been re-ignited and refueled by the “migrant crisis” which is, at this point, being blamed for an increase in sexual assaults in countries which have accepted a large number of migrants. Of course, these accusations are being driven mostly by a media frenzy over isolated events with little to no statistical evidence being used to justify a generalized argument.
Nevertheless, and irrespective of how disillusioned the source of this debate might be, it has given the rise to two lines of thought. One is about sexuality in the Arab and Muslim world, the other is related to the implications and ramifications this repression is having on the western world in the context of inclusion and integration.
Both these lines of inquiry do a great deal in revealing specificities of what is indeed two different cultures, however one crucial thing that they do not do is study the issue across its common demarcation line, gender.
For all the differences in culture, religion, and practice across the chasm the issues around sex that arise in either culture lend themselves to two archaic and unalienable hypotheses that societies everywhere have adopted as truths that shape the sexual psyche. These hypotheses exert themselves to different extents and in different ways across different cultures. However, any discussion of sex and the interaction between genders away from these two truths is furtive and one directional leading to nothing but alienation from the real issue at hand.
These two hypotheses are juxtaposed as such, sexual conquest as an inextricable element of manhood, and sexual restraint as an inextricable element of female morality.
With these two hypotheses it becomes easy to identify how, taken to their extremities and even in their more mild doses, they can lead to oppressive and controlling behaviour. In Christian and western cultures, the propagation of chastity rings and ceremonies are representative of this form of control. Even the continued provision of abstinence as a form of sexual education in schools undermines the empowerment of individuals with their own sexual understanding to drive their choices.
On the other hand the liberalism of western societies also gives way and reinforces the role of sexual conquest in manhood, giving rise to an ever increasing objectification of women, and in the worst of situations the pursuit of conquest irrespective of the availability of a wanting partner.
As such the sexual liberation of women is not posited in its own right as a win for egalitarianism, but rather as an accentuation of the “playing field” for men and even worse can be perceived as a source of self-worth and value for women.
The other side
This is in no way an argument meant at exonerating the vile treatment of women in Islamic and Arab cultures, or to compare the fall out resulting from the adaptation of these hypotheses as truths. The struggles of the women in Toronto who instituted the slut walk are incomparable to the struggles of women in the Islamic and Arab world who face harsh regulations on what is permissible attire, or the women being stoned and killed under the banner of honour, even though both are derivatives of the association of morality and sexuality that women hold the ultimate accountability for.
It is this preposterous logic that leads to extreme statements where a woman’s appearance can lead to the incitement of a population and the ultimate collapse of its moral structure!
In the Arab and Islamic world, and beyond the horror stories of ritual executions and honour killings, the ramifications of these hypotheses can still be felt in the most liberal and “mixed” religious populations. The insistence on a woman’s virginity before marriage leads to the suppression of natural behaviour throughout adolescence. Reinforcing virginity before marriage as a virtue of morality has a deep psychological impact on women even after they have upheld that social contract where many women go on to struggle with issues of identity, belonging and self-judgment as sex becomes a remit of the public sphere on condition of marriage.
On the other hand the lack of access to sexual behaviour also fuels and increase in sex services. It is true that women who work in this industry are often “westerners” most often of eastern European or Asian origins; this allows men to escape the cognitive dissonance that would otherwise have been created if they perused women of their nationality. This surely creates a misconception in the Islamic and Arab world around the liberty of “western” women, but to suggest that this cultural rift means that Arab and Muslim men have an abandon towards privacy and the rights of woman leading to an impasse to the integration of individuals of Arab or Muslim origin into different cultures preposterous.
Ironically, the same frustration that leads to an increase in the importation of sex labour also conveniently acts as the rallying cry of postulate liberals whose adoption of liberal values is driven by nothing beyond their sexual frustrations and sense of entitlement for sexual conquest fueled by the availability of information today and the hyper-sexualisation found in imported media.
Political movements that continue to support conservative religious views on sex have indeed abetted in the oppression of women and sex as a topic in general in the region, but to exclusively correlate and implicate the religion without considering its interpretation and administrative function in the social and political arena is nothing short of hearsay. Furthermore, the circumstances under which these movements have been reborn and sustained are questionable at best, especially when the region was as a whole leaning a lot closer to liberalism in the 50’s, but that is a separate topic in of its self.
When it comes to comparing the two cultures then, one would be deeply mistaken to attribute the differences to religion. One might also be inclined to make a comparison between individualistic and collectivist cultures, however many countries, such as Japan where sexual liberation is rated highly, will quickly dispel that notion. Alternatively, one could suggest that sexual liberation is nothing but a result of economic liberty. The movements of sexual liberation in the US became only significant in the post-world war 2 era following the economic liberation of women. Economic liberty also translates into mobility and the ability for individuals to disassociate themselves with rhetoric that perhaps does not coincide with their individual views or any socially imposed moral obligations. A combination of this economic liberty, mobility, and the interaction that is brought on by urbanization is fertile ground for the inclination towards sexual liberalism, and it is this where the demarcation line between east and west lies.
For sexual identities and sexual interaction to take a healthy turn in any society both hypotheses must be abolished, only then can an individual form their sexual identity in a non-judgmental environment away from pressures of conformity. It would be interesting to understand how the sexual interaction between gay couples unfolds where at least the dynamics of one of these hypotheses is made null. Of course this is not to say that individuals within the gay community are not subject to similar and exceptional social pressures in relation to morality and sexual activity.
It is important here that with all this talk of sexual liberation, to keep away from the false association of repression and abstinence, for abstinence or celibacy can just as well be an empowered individual choice. To turn a blind eye to this possibility is nothing but to perpetuate a sense of sexual entitlement.
As it stands, and with the propagation of these two hypothesis, sex is, and will continue to be, seen as a commoditized interaction between two individuals which inherently provides it with a power dynamic fed by archaic theorems and social practices. The mere suggestion of sex as belonging to the social sphere as opposed to that of the individual in-of itself removes it from any notion of liberalism. An understanding of individual rights of choice might deal with one of the hypothesis but it is not until the removal of the social notion of sex can individuals truly feel liberated. This might not become a reality until gender segregation in its entirety is eliminated; unfortunately we are far away from any such point in time.
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