On Degradation

by Wednesday.

I have been told before, by presumably well-meaning acquaintances, that I ought to refrain from sexual activity because ‘Do you really wish to compromise your self-respect?’

I have puzzled over this statement before, because I saw no link between enjoying sex and having healthy amounts of self-respect. (Well, except in depressive moments, of course. But that has nothing to do with sex. In a depressive fit I can and do blame myself for everything and anything. Such is life.)

And then I realised that, good intentions aside, this statement betrayed one of the most fundamentally problematic issues of sex-negativity. Heterosexual sex (usually interpreted as intercourse) is seen as a power hierarchy in this narrative. It is about control, or conquest — about one party ‘giving’ and another ‘taking’. And of course that has a lot to do with self-respect — because, within this paradigm, heterosexuality is designed at heart to degrade the female partner.

That is one reason I back away so viscerally, well-meaning though my friends may be. Because I really don’t think it’s Andrea Dworkin who said all sex is rape.

(Note: She didn’t. Re-read Intercourse. Not even Adrienne Rich goes that far in Compulsory Heterosexuality, and I loathed the prescriptism of that essay.)


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