The theory of sexual essentialism implies that sex is a raw natural process that has existed outside and before any social implications surrounding it. Despite the inherent biological nature of sexuality, the concept has been profoundly institutionalized and shaped by society through history and the formation of cultural values. Sex is used as a mechanism of political control of the population that is hypocritically manipulated through legislation despite the existence of civic rights theoretically guaranteeing certain sexual freedoms.
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The argument about mental and social health effects of exposure to pornography is an excellent example of how history and culture influence modern thought. There is an inherent fear about the consumption of pornographic material, particularly by a younger audience. The public debate has equated pornography with the sexualization of children. Therefore, it becomes a considerable threat to children’s psychological state.
The social response to this is based on the 19th-century social values that confined young women to a life of strict sexual obedience. Pornography was considered obscene and used by European governments to intervene in citizen’s private lives. Despite guaranteeing civic freedoms, the superficial and unproven excuse of cultural decay and public immorality was used to maintain control (Tsaliki 66).
Rubin argues about similar trends occurring in the late 20th century regarding sexualization of children. Right-wing groups supported the suppression of any exposure, including sex education that inherently led to violations of constitutional rights. Various political movements were incentivized to create drama and conflict around pornography and initiate the process of making it a social taboo.
Through legislative acts, the government could police and target specific groups that are deemed socially dangerous based on sexual practices (Rubin 145). The parallel between 19th-century practices and modern-day politics regarding sexualization and exposure to pornography is paramount. Considering, the process of acceptance and sexual revolutions that Western society has undergone regarding many practices, there is a consistent trend amongst a large part of the ruling elite to suppress sexual freedoms, education, and reproductive rights. It justifies that sexuality has always been a capable political agent to initiate repression.
The concept of sexual freedom is seen as potentially dangerous by governments since reproductive control is a very potent tool of population control. Furthermore, so-called sexual “deviants” that do not abide by the status quo create attitudes of descent against established social values and taboos. According to Rubin, “Like gender, sexuality is political. It is organized into systems of power, which reward and encourage some individuals and activities while punishing and suppressing others” (194). Therefore, these groups are forcefully suppressed and socially stigmatized in the process of political, sexual dominance.
Rubin presents the argument, “Like the capitalist organization of labor and its distribution of rewards and powers; the modern sexual system has been the object of political struggle since it emerged and as it has evolved. But, if the disputes between labor and capital are mystified, sexual conflicts are completely camouflaged” (194). This can be analyzed from the perspective that despite the actual topics of sexuality being publicly discussed, the political intentions behind the systematic oppression presented as evidence are hidden under the veils of morality and social well-being.
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It is interesting to consider Rubin’s arguments and proposed hierarchy of sex in the context of recent events. A variety of people, many of them female or queer, have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against white men in positions of power. As new evidence emerges, it is clear that the abusers have long been engaged in a systemic practice of violating and silencing their victims. There is a shift in social values as powerful influence can no longer protect people from this immoral behavior.
Rubin’s opinion that social perspectives on sex are formed based on male preferences begins to crumble as sexual conflicts are becoming exposed and non-traditional practices are gaining more widespread acceptance. The construct of a discriminatory and oppressive hierarchical sexual caste system is being challenged through advocacy, media, and exposure. It attempts to circumvent any legislative means by the powerful elite to implement sexuality controls on the population.
This is demonstrated by the attempts in recent years by Republican policymakers to defund and potentially ban abortion clinics, limit sexual education and access to contraceptives, and repudiate the acceptance of gay marriage. Sexuality is regulated by law on a much deeper level than most citizens assume. Rubin discusses the process of criminalization of various practices in order to justify oppression. However, the law can restrict privacy, autonomy, and protection.
It gives the legal power to recognize certain rights or groups officially, thus ensuring protection from persecution by institutions or individuals (“How is Sexuality Regulated in Law”). Despite sexuality being a private choice and strongly interconnected with personal health, the government is attempting to vigorously enforce its ideology that can be considered mechanisms of control.
In modern day, however, it is difficult to push an agenda behind certain legislation covertly. Technology and social media allow for more open public discussions and opinions that create a significant opposition that cannot be ignored in a democratic society. As a more open-minded generation enters political circles with the presence of minorities in representative bodies, Western society is bound to see tremendous shifts in attitudes and values regarding sexuality. It is critical to consider that legislation can be used to promote social justice and the support of fundamental human sexual rights as much as it has been used for oppression throughout history.
“How is Sexuality Regulated in Law?” Institute of Development Studies, n.d.. Web.
Rubin, Gayle. Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader. Duke University Press, 2011.
Tsaliki, Lisa. Children and the Politics of Sexuality. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.