Originally published November 2022, last updated November 2023.
Not so long ago I was delighted to make a new friend on the penpal app, Slowly. "F" and I have been chatting a lot about various things, but none morso than the stigma and criminalisation of pleasure. By that, I mean the way that we view one pleasure as "okay" and another as "totally wrong", we see making love to a partner as good and cheating with a stranger as bad, even though both are totally legal in the eyes of the law. This got F and I thinking about the ways that we as humans view our pleasures in life, and different types of sex and sexual practices. I don;t want to say too much more than that, but I'll leave you to enjoy this thought-provoking and deeply phospopical read from F, enjoy!
First, it is good to start from the base, or to give definitions of stereotype, prejudice, stigmatization, ethics, morals, obscenities, law. We can thus define a stereotype as a generalized and pre-established opinion, without basis (neither experiential nor scientific); prejudice, defined as the pre-conceptualized opinion that authorizes positions, behaviours, and attitudes, with the aim of generating conflict and damage. Stigmatization is a phenomenon of negative attributions and connotations towards people and organizations (or other) present in society, with the aim of downgrading, diminishing, and marginalizing. Morality is different from ethics; the first is the set of values of a single individual, ethics contains the values of each individual contextualized and adapted to the inside of society, also containing norms of behaviour and common values. With the term obscenity, we can describe the set of behaviours and attitudes that can be considered "offence to good taste" rather than morality. The law is to be considered the legislative act that regulates relations in a company [1,2].
All this, as can be guessed, is strictly connected to social, cultural, and traditional factors. In short, open a map of the world, put a finger on it, and you will know if you will be considered outlawed or not. Following these definitions, and I want to clarify now (and I will not do it later) that mine is not an invitation to be an "outlaw" or a "criminal" but an invitation to criticism, self-criticism, understanding the existence of infinite different perspectives, and the comparison of ourselves in relation to the society that surrounds us. Before getting into the narrative, teasing your brains or anything else if you prefer, and making you look at the neighbour with upset, I share with you the motivation for some migraines.
Do you feel free to choose between the limits imposed by someone else? Who chooses what is ethical, moral, obscene? Who chooses what is perverse? And the questions previously asked, why are they related to the functionality of the concept of legal or illegal? Does the law allow the satisfaction of your needs?
To begin to analyse our needs, what we want, what makes us, what makes us feel "I" we can take advantage, without consent, of the Pyramid of Maslow also known as the Pyramid of needs ; this pyramid is made up of five levels; physiological needs, security, belonging, esteem, self-realization. This climb makes you "I" more complete, so hope you do not have "excessive needs" to be "I", differently you will have to be content with being someone else, maybe that someone else who imposes ethics, morals, and the perceived obscenities of 100 years ago, maybe 200 ... maybe 300 years ago. That damn footsie made in the carriage, under the indiscreet gaze of some well-meaning coachman ... that damned fellatio between guards in secret cellars. Yes, sex is at the bottom of the pyramid, but we must also understand what sex is, and the definitions are different according to the domains; the concept of sex is different in the medical, scientific, social, and psychological fields. For some domains it is exclusively the act for the generation of the offspring, for other domains it is to have the drool in the mouth looking, smelling, feeling, touching something; is one of the peculiarities of the human species ... I have never seen a wild boar with a whip in hand, nor an elephant crush an insect to have an orgasm, for the human being sex (regardless of the domains of study) is not just reproduction, but it is realization, pleasure, belonging, expression, and construction of the person. An answer to all this perhaps exists, and to respond to stereotype, stigmatization, prejudice, morality, ethics, and even the law. It is called a cultural or sociocultural factor; as well as, in the world we have child-brides, we have genital mutilation (male and female), and so on ear holes and piercings everywhere, tattoos, neck rings, various and any bandages, permitted by law! The much-loved law, the much-loved morality, the much-loved ethics. That ethics, that law, that moral, which divides a husband from a paedophile, a tradition from a crime on minors, from sexual partnership to sexual violence. Focusing now on the proposed topic, namely the stigmatization and criminalization of pleasure, it is necessary to have the flexibility to look at it from different perspectives. In a free society whose range goes from free to completely non-free, a sort of T&D where the handcuffs can be the real ones, but the “safe word” does not exist, we must necessarily tighten the field passing from the affirmation of "I" in the world to the affirmation of "I" in the place where we are. It will seem strange but even if we tighten the field from the world to our nation, or our city, perhaps even to our home address, we could analyse a lot of nonsense regarding the satisfaction of pleasure. As is well known, all our activities, even strictly personal ones, are regulated by the law, based on the socio-cultural heritage that surrounds us; this heritage leads to the creation of laws that are discriminating in absolute value. Kiss in public. Do it passionately, maybe someone might have to say. If you kiss and do it even passionately, and you are not "straight" maybe it can be worse! Imagine yourself in public, kissing your partner's foot and not the mouth! You have few options… obscene… criminals… immoral… you deserve to finish Arkham. Here this is an example of criminalization and pleasure. Because it does not matter if it is consenting, it is socially unacceptable and immoral more than the lips (of the mouth I mean!); So, pillory!
How many situations of this type are you in in your life? How often are you the one who judges? Admit it!
I know you did, and you know it too. It is not a question of "guilt" it is a question of habit. Now, I'm going to try to hit you like the tip of a whip-snake that hits your side, using an extremely borderline, profound argument that can be creepy.
Well, why is sexual pleasure criminalised? Probably because we live in a granted and limited freedom; in the Maslow pyramid food needs and sex are at the same level ... probably there is the sex of evenings A and sex of series B, or it is the exclusive need to reproduce ... yet at the same level we have people of series A and series B, saints or devils. We have the hunter and his prey, the fisherman and his fish, we and our occupation; but don't dare to squash a snail for sexual pleasure because you will unleash divine wrath, animal welfare associations, clergy, military intelligence, lawyers, police. Criminals! Killers! How disgusting ... for sexual pleasure do such a thing ... to satisfy the taste buds with a nice, rare fillet. Just to give you a figure, 7 billion male chicks are culled as waste for the food industry ; as you can see, there are A and B people, A and B needs and pleasures, A and B sex. With this provocation I decided not to go into gory details, the updated DMS-5 is on paraphilias , but I would also like to share with you what is called "cute aggression" or the urgency (and I imagine desire or pleasure) to crush, squeeze, bite into something nice, in short, that irrepressible desire to pull the neck of that tender canary in the cage. Being a complex and profound subject, we can give a correlation to paraphilias of a masochistic or sadistic type. These behaviours, and in our case, I want to define them as sexual pleasures, are stigmatised and criminalised more than what is socially accepted and defined as sex; and it is precisely for this reason that kinks or BDSM are still considered borderline in society today. Overall, we live in a society where even today what is considered sexual pleasure, especially if not accepted as a standard, becomes a crime to be justified and eradicated. And if the law does not take care of it, society itself creates its umbrellas and categorizations, creates its catechesis that will tell you “You are free to do what you want" among what I allow you. At this point it is clear how our want of "I", of belonging, of expression, is crushed. Beyond the consent the law will arrive, beyond the consent the mental illness will arrive, and if that were not enough, they will tell you that something is worth more than something else because it was decided so, against all cold logic. The criminalization of pleasure, therefore, falls into a tried and tested stereotyped, prejudicial, and stigmatizing system. In the BDSM "environment" (and in the LGBTQ + one) in general, at least from personal experiences, the criminalization of pleasure is still present; the perception of having to be “labelled” at all costs even with the label “no label”; the threshold of contradiction. The cultural phenomenon is fundamental in bringing about a change, which should not be a reinforcement of the precariousness and discrimination of rights, including that of sexual pleasure. So, I'm wondering, what is the difference between butt groping and trampling? Between oral sex and sniffing pantyhose? And why is something moral and obscene and someone else not? Imagine two 90-year-olds and their passionate saliva exchange. Imagine two young rampant doing the same thing as themselves. Shouldn't they have the same rights? Yet the perception of "obscene" could be very different. You cannot enjoy as you wish, you are forced to enjoy by concession, and choose between what is granted to you. Obviously in accordance with the law.
- Hansen-Brown, A.A. and Jefferson, S.E. (2022). Perceptions of and stigma toward BDSM practitioners. Current Psychology. doi:10.1007/s12144-022-03112-z.
- E, B. and Kite, M.E. (2016). Psychology of prejudice and discrimination. N ew York; London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
- McLeod, S. (2022). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [online] Simply Psychology. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html.
- Krautwald-Junghanns, M-E., Cramer, K., Fischer, B., Förster, A., Galli, R., Kremer, F., Mapesa, E.U., Meissner, S., Preisinger, R., Preusse, G., Schnabel, C., Steiner, G. and Bartels, T. (2018). Current approaches to avoid the culling of day-old male chicks in the layer industry, with special reference to spectroscopic methods. Poultry Science, 97(3), pp.749–757. doi:10.3382/ps/pex389.
- American Psychiatric Association (2022). Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Text Revision Dsm-5-Tr. S.L.: Amer Psychiatric.