I know what you’re thinking: What do I mean by “eroticise” society and why on earth should we do that? Surely we are obsessed with sex as it is!
Well, yes, sex is everywhere but Eros, i.e. Erotic love, isn’t. Our sexual culture is either prudish or pornographic. On one end, we are surrounded by explicit sexual images that objectify women and make men seem vulgar: and on the other end, lurking underneath our hypersexualised culture are proscriptive Victorian values. In reality, pornographic and prudish cultures are two sides of the same coin: they shock and feed off each other.
In 1970 Shulamith Firestone wrote in The Dialectic of Sex that “heterosexuality has been restricted to the genitals, rather than diffused over the entire physical being”. Still very true today. We still hardly talk about the psychological processes to do with sexual desire (NSFW). Nor do we culturally uphold genuine intimacy. Yet so much of the joy of life is about showing our real selves. Or as Brooke Magnanti a.k.a. Belle de Jour put it, what everyone wants is “someone who accepts them exactly as they are.”
By contrast, in creating a culture where sex is either superficial or taboo, people are stuck with all sorts of hang ups about sex. Even worse, as a 2009 study showed, poor self-esteem, stress, and self-doubt are associated with a hypersexual culture.
This is why we should eroticise society, as Eros per definition involves desire, intimacy and love.
Now it is, in many circles, unfashionable to speak of making love. Making love is associated with a particular idea of romance: R&B music in the background; rose petals floating lightly on velvety cushions that rest invitingly on a silk-clad bed for two; champagne, chocolate, home cooked dinner, cunnilingus.
I’m not judging anyone for whom I’ve just described a perfect recipe for stupefying sex, but I think making love could equally be a quickie in front of the TV. To me, making love is not so much about the format: the set up or the schmooze, but rather it is a mindset. When sex is seductive, honest, sweaty, soft, tactile, emotional, connected, etc., the phrase that best describes it, regardless of where and how it takes place, is making love.
Fucking, on the other hand, is characterised by detachment. You know you are fucking when there is a sense of indifference to whom you are sleeping with – never mind he is your partner of fifteen years and you have five kids – all that matters at that moment is that he is satisfying your animalistic urges.
Let me be clear: one type of sex is not better than another, I think most people engage in both, but to eroticise society, we must talk more about making love.
It hasn’t always been this way …
There is no golden age to look back to when it comes to sexual relations, but before western male supremacist sexologists (such as Sigmund Freud, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis etc.) systemically “phallocentrified” sexuality, historical remnants provide examples of reciprocal sexual exploration. Some very old (NSFW) examples are The Turin Erotic Papyrus of ancient Egypt, the Lakshmana Temple Reliefs and the Japanese Shunga. Attitudes toward homosexuality were also much more relaxed than today. For instance, as far back as 2000 years ago in San cave paintings in Zimbabwe and in 15th century European prayer books there are drawings of male-male sex.
Ultimately, a more erotic society would mean that humans interact – lust, learn, pleasure, care, explore, share, disappoint, love – each other with more finesse. As the Congolese author, Sony Lab’ou Tansi said, “Eroticism is the art of cooking love well”.
What do you think?—
Hi! I’m Minna Salami. I’m a writer, blogger, columnist, lecturer and speaker and the founder of the feminist blog, MsAfropolitan, which connects feminism to contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective. I’ve been listed alongside Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie as one of “twelve women changing the world” by ELLE and my work has been used as a resource and case study at universities around the world. Like what you just read? Sign up above to receive new posts directly in your inbox.