Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A little bit more about sex and advertising

After mulling over the thoughts in my previous blog for a few days, there are a couple more things I'd like to say on the subject.  First, on the subject of non-persons and dehumanizing:

I don't like the word "dehumanize."  It gets tossed around very easily, and I think that is undeserved.  Humans are very complex creatures, capable of very generous and kind acts as well as very cruel and despicable acts.  Mass murderers are being just as "human" as human rights activists.  They're just being particularly cruel humans.

Here's an important distinction to make.  In some situations, individuals can have their "humanity" taken away.  Examples of this would be sensory deprivation or extreme isolation.  Humans are social creatures who rely on our senses and human contact for our sanity.  When a human is deprived of these things, they are (in my use of the word) being dehumanized.  What's important to bear in mind is that the people doing these things are being very human.

Point two:  treating people as less than intimate friends is not dehumanizing them.  Humans are designed to have a hierarchy of intimacy, from that of a complete stranger from another culture to that of an intimate long time lover and friend.  We recognize that other people are humans, but we don't accord them the same level of intimacy we would someone more familiar.

Point three:  Sex is not magic.  Particularly in America, we tend to think of sex as something either above or below other kinds of human interaction.  For many fundamentalist Christians, it's something that humans basically have to do, but it's not something we talk about, and certainly not something we try to enjoy too much or give into more than occasionally.  For many others, it's something sublime and wonderful that's above the mundane, and is proprely reserved for only the most special people to experience, and only the most intimate to discuss.

I maintain that it is neither of these things.  While sex can certainly feel magical, the reality is that most people will have far more "normal sex" in their lives than they will the intensely romantic, erotic, and adrenaline fed sex they did when they found their first "true love" and had that perfect night.

In reality, many people never have that night.  Sex is not magic.  It's two people and nerve endings and heart rates.   There is no inherently correct way to view intercourse, either.  It is not true that sex within marriage is always better than casual sex, nor is it true that all married couples become bored with each other and have only infrequent mundane sex.  It's not true that monogamy is the best way for people to have sex, nor is it true that open relationships will save all marriages.  The fact is, sex is a highly subjective experience, and our perceptions of it are directly caused by our environment acting upon our genes.

This, I think is the crux of why I get aggravated by people who assert that sexual advertising, or porn, or see-thru tops, or swingers, or confirmed bachelors, or any other "unusual" variation on human sexuality, is degrading, humiliating, or dehumanizing.  What we need to remember is that the only thing we can rightly say about a particular aspect of sex is that it feels degrading to us personally.  The truth is, we cannot say that it is universally degrading, nor can we say that because most people find it degrading that anyone who doesn't find it so has something wrong with them.

Finally, I want to make clear that I recognize the difference between morality and taste.  I, for one, get kind of tired of seeing Girls Gone Wild commercials during every commercial break after midnight.  I find the videos to be overload, to be honest.  I like young attractive females with breasts as much as the next guy, but after the first hundred and fifty, they start losing their appeal to me.  It's not my thing.  However, I will defend to the end the right of women to show their breasts to anyone who wants to see, and I will defend the right of men to masturbate to videos of them doing so.

To those who will say, "Yeah, but you have to draw the line somewhere," I submit that the line draws itself in two ways.  First, there's the law.  Girls under the age of 18 are not permitted to be in sexually explicit media.  I support the law even though I quibble with the implementation of it from time to time.  (I'm thinking of a case where several teenagers were charged as sex offenders when one of their friends, also a teenager, sent a topless photo of herself to several cellphones.  That's ludicrous.  These were clearly not sexual predators.  But I digress.)

More importantly, the line draws itself by virtue of the fact that there are different tastes.  If I choose to, I can get in my car and drive to a neighborhood where everyone is rich and white.  I can drive to another area of town and have my choice of eighty or so bars.  I can go to the mall and see nothing but photos of beautiful people wearing expensive clothes and jewelry.  I can go to the seedy part of town and have my choice of adult toy stores.

The world has never disintigrated into a giant orgy despite the fact that everyone thinks about, and most people like, sex.  There is a natural limit to what people want to see, and this is reflected in our society.  It isn't that the laws prevent us from turning the world into a giant billboard for "Pussies R Us."  It's that even the most sex crazed people have other things to do and other interests.

Sure, there will always be debates over particularly risque ads, and someone will always push the envelope when it comes to advertising their product.  The important thing to remember is that human nature is not infinite.  We won't turn the whole world into a brothel.  We've got other shit to do.  Most of the fuss and worry is unfounded because sex isn't magic, it's not dehumanizing, and it's not all there is to being human.

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