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Thinking Sex: Perception of Sex and Sexuality in Modern Society

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 Gayle Rubin is a well-known activist and theorist in sexual and gender politics. In her essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” from the book Deviations, Gayle Rubin mentions and interrogates multiple topics on the basis of sex. Along with her conversations of sex, she examines the history of sex and reflects how the practice of sexual behaviors has been oppressed. The purpose of Rubin writing this essay is to start a conversation on sex and sexuality. Her end goal is to start a conversation on sex because “the time has come to think about sex.” (Rubin 151). I believe she has accomplished her goal towards the end. The topic of sex and sexuality is not black and white, it is much more complex than it appears to be. These topics are not the same and Rubin addresses this as well.

She examines and interrogates the basis of sex in society and attempts to show how certain sexual ways are accepted and how some are not. With this, she comes to conclude that sex is political. Sex and sexuality make society uncomfortable. She explains that when involving sex, there is a noticeable hypocrisy that no one seems to address and there is a lack of attention to sexuality, a visible unimportance to the topic that Rubin realizes. She expresses the fact that homosexuality is looked down upon along with pornography and sex work. With the sex laws it “incorporates a very strong prohibition against mixing sex and money, except via marriage.” (Rubin 158). The topic of sex is very hypocritical. It is acceptable for a married man and woman to engage in sex when they want something monetary but illegal for others using their sexuality to get money from someone else. It is seen in this light because when you are married it is obligated that you have sex with your partner—you have no choice. On the other hand, sex work is a choice where individuals are using their sexuality to their advantage. “Prostitutes are a criminal sexual population stigmatized on the basis of sexual activity” (Rubin 156).

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In her first argument, she claims “sex is always political” (Rubin 152). Sex is political because there is never an agreement on the basis of sex. Sex and sexuality are seen as something that should not be spoken about. What makes people question a topic in society is when someone brings their beliefs and try to influence you to believe them as well; they try to persuade you into believing one way. While on the other end supporters of that belief refuse to let their opinions be shaken and influenced. Rubin makes a point where she explains the context of sex. The definitions she provides is much different than the English definition. Sex is not as simple as it may be perceived as. Sex is not just based on gender; on whether you are male or female. She identifies that there is a type of caste system in sexuality. At the top would be married heterosexual couples who have sex to procreate and everything else, including those who are not married, homosexual, transsexual and etc. falls below, and at the very bottom are persons such as pedophiles that take their fetishes to people who are not in their generation.

Sex and sexuality are so politicized that social movements have been created to limit the openness of sex. These social movements were intended to target the youth “to encourage chastity, to eliminate prostitution, and to discourage masturbation.” (Rubin 143). They go as far as to limit what children can watch and expose themselves to. “They are forbidden to see books, movies or television in which sexuality is ‘too’ graphically portrayed.” (Rubin 158). Because sexuality is so feared and looked down upon, they want to target the youth who are easily influenced. What is odd is how children can’t see these supposedly graphic images of the human body but in textbooks everywhere there are the graphic, disfigured and mutilated bodies of war. How is this more acceptable for children to see than sex? Although I think it is good to be in tune with your own sexuality, there should be a limit. Children should not be exposed to sex so early. Instead of forcing something upon them and making them accept sex, it should come naturally without anyone, even the ones who are pro sex and pro sexuality influencing them.

In order to justify sex as an illegal act, the government went as far to coin the term sex offender and group rapists, child molesters and even homosexuals in that category. There is even a law in place that is targeted towards homosexual men—the sodomy law. What I don’t understand is why should homosexuals be in this category with rapists and sex offenders. Having consensual sex with your partner should not be deemed as illegal. However, if a man and woman have sex, it is natural. But this goes to show how society is—if you do not fit into their dynamic of how society should appear, you are unwanted.

The perceptions of sex and sexuality has a lot to deal with religion, and “sexual ideology plays a crucial role in sexual experience” (Rubin161). The church can be an example for the factor of ideology. When going to church, we are taught that the family dynamic and life dynamic in general is heterosexual and anything other than that is not accepted according to the Bible. This is why many laws made refer back to the bible. From the making of this world, religion holds an important part in the making of laws and just how society should operate. For instance, AIDS. In the bible, the mention of sodomy was used as a form of protection to limit people from committing this act. But if you went and committed sodomy, the contraction of the AIDS disease is believed to be the proper punishment. This is why AIDS has an association with the gay community.

Being a homosexual, there is no escape to be free and live without judgement. Everything that is done, there is a rebuttal. Being gay in society, you have to walk with caution because every little thing can get you in trouble and persecuted. Unlike heterosexuals, when faced with an issue in their life, it is easy for them to pack up and leave. However, for gays, it is much more difficult. For example, when things become financially straining, joining the military is the easiest way to leave and get away. However, in the military there are laws preventing them from doing so. If found that they are queer, it could lead to many issues. When reading this, it made me think of the “It gets better project” and its campaign to help queer youth who are bullied in school—reassuring them that it gets better. School is just a small factor in this world. Once that is over how are these youth supposed to walk around knowing they can be victims to the persecution faced from society from the way they are. If it in fact gets better, then why are there so many laws in place which are against sex acts of homosexuals? Rubin wrote this in the 80s and there are points in here regarding homosexuality that are still being experienced today based on how society has built the population.

Sex is basically used as a scape goat for most situations when the order in society is being compromised. Sex is seen as promiscuous and affects the lives of others. Sex is so unaccepted by society that it can be used to get rid of someone. “a sex scandal is the surest method for hounding someone out of office or destroying a political career” (Rubin 160). This reminds me of when Bill Clinton was impeached from presidential office for his alleged affair with a woman working for him. Another example is Anthony Weiner, a former politician had his career destroyed when it was found that he was sexting underage girls who were below the consent age. After this scandal came out, he was jailed and has not been in politics since.

Gayle Rubin makes the argument that sexuality is based on the society and not biologically. I believe this means that sexuality is not something that you are born with but rather something that you grow into. There are no facts explaining that when you are born you will be attracted to the opposite sex. We learn sexuality and then figure out what we are from there. ‘Once sex is understood in terms of social analysis and historical understanding, a more realistic politics of sex becomes possible.” (Rubin 149). The many factors in society can affect the way we think and behave which has a direct result on how we are sexually. This is why in the western world, they take the initiatives to do something about sex in society in any way, shape or form. Everyone likes what they like so there should be no one dictating how someone should behave. They take out the pleasure in sex and put it as purpose to procreate.

To conclude, Gayle Rubin has accomplished her goal to start a conversation of sex. By reading her influential piece of work “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality”, the reader will be able to know more than what sex and sexuality is perceived as. Sex is not illegal and should not be seen in that light. However, the outside influences change the way sex and sexuality is perceived as. By reading, I even have come to think more deeply about sex and sexuality. I have been taught to learn about sex in one way and hearing other aspects that involve sex used to make me cringe as if it should not be that way. However, that is how society has programmed me to believe. I never thought about looking at sex and sexuality in the way she presented until reading.

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