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PIV Politics: Physical Realities and Social Constructions June 4, 2011

Posted by Summerspeaker in Feminism, Queer politics, Transhumanism.
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Over the last few days, I’ve found myself in a number of conversations that involved criticism of penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse on feminist grounds. Blogger lateralpazwalk recently came out as an anti-PIV man, which generated a fascinating radical feminist discussion on Facebook. After FCM’s piece about Hugo Schwyzer exposed them to the critique, the folks on RevLeft employed the opportunity to dismiss it as feminism run amok and bemoan the horror of supposed puritanical extremists such as Andrea Dworkin (may the God who does not exist rest her soul). Even a rather knowledgeable and even-handed RevLefter had no compunctions against blithely proclaiming PIV right for the majority of human species.

So what’s going on here? Why such noise and heat? What makes this one sex act so simultaneously sacred to Abrahamic religious fundamentalists, evolutionary biologists, and random straight people on the street? Radical feminists like Dworkin and FCM make a compelling case for its central role in patriarchal oppression. The responding outcry bolsters their point and shows the importance of PIV to straight identity – especially straight dude identity. I find the materiality of FCM’s indictment particularly intriguing. While any self-respecting queer theorist should recognize the trouble in privileging PIV sex as the one true path, most would balk at suggesting inherent problems. FCM emphasizes the health hazards to females in the form of pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and injury. These dangers in turn generate emotional and psychological harm; FCM goes so far as to describe the positive feelings often associated with PIV as a trauma-bonding.

Coming from a background in Shulamith Firestone’s thought and transhumanism, FCM’s insistence on the relevance of corporeal experience resonates with me. Reproductive biology matters; Firestone traces the origins of women’s oppression to female status as the means of reproduction. Though ey made no critique of PIV intercourse, Firestone’s materialist analysis lends itself to that position. PIV sex is what makes females undergo the process ey described as like shitting a pumpkin. The nightmare of compulsory pregnancy walks hand in hand with compulsory PIV intercourse. It’s there hiding in the shadows whenever a parent pressures a child to produce grandchildren. Vast cultural forces demand heterosexuality, PIV, and breeding. We need attacks on this oppressive apparatus from every angle possible. In this sense, FCM and company contribute to the good fight. (Indulge, if you would, my vain hope that all ours sweat and tears constitute a collective struggle that can lead us to a better world.) I have difficulty imagining the patriarchy without PIV as an enshrined institution, though also a profound respect for its mutability.

At the same time, the self-styled pro-sex opponents of this perspective bring an important critique of their own. They rail against what they view as an attempt to code sex as a bad and regulate individual sexual expression, invoking the repressive sexual morality of organized religion. They remind us that no good would come from the policing of individuals’ sex lives. While always something to watch out for as anyone who grew up under the spell of religion knows, I consider this fear mostly misplaced. The historical censorship alliances between anti-porn feminists and Christian moralists do give cause for alarm, but they strike me as marriages of convenience more than anything else. Moreover, the same affinity does not apply on this subject. The allegation of puritanism against PIV critics becomes strange when one considers the record: Who has greater respect for that act the Abrahamic religious hierarchy? For hundreds of years they’ve been the ones mandating PIV by divine degree and denouncing other sex acts as a diabolical or unnatural. Straightness has indeed been a narrow road to travel. Going after PIV intercourse strikes at the heart of the traditional family and is anathema to the adherents of Abraham.

It should go without saying that there’s nothing necessarily oppressive about any interaction of human bodies that can happen without significant physical injury. Radical feminists may well veer into essentialism and conflation of construct with material reality, but if so they do these things for a legitimate political purpose. We’re talking about the lives of billions here. Reaction against so-called feminist extremists is exactly that: counterrevolutionary reaction that supports the status quo either explicitly or implicitly.

Transhumanism enters the debate offering both a belief in making PIV safe for those who desire it and deconstruction of that act’s privileged position. The technofix doesn’t interest me in this case, so I’ll jump to number two. As tons of folks get off just fine from much less risky sex acts, rational reflection shows preference for PIV (and penetrative sex in general) to be based overwhelming in antiquated if not downright superstitious cultural narratives. Why should we respect irrationality in this matter? Current birth control debates sound absurd when you consider their foundation in a binary opposition between PIV intercourse and the much-dreaded abstinence. Pregnancy isn’t likely for potential breeders engaging in anything other than PIV – and it’s downright impossible for folks with the same genital configuration. It’s a pity rationalists have given little attention to this subject. (Anyone care to guess why that is?)

I urge serious consideration of the critique presented by Dworkin, FCM, and company. We will never achieve genuine revolution without radically rethinking and remaking all of our personal relationships. At a minimum, PIV intercourse – and penetrative sex in general – has to lose its sacred status and pivotal place in dude supremacy for the project of sexual liberation to proceed. Despite popular opinion, sex doesn’t require sticking a cock somewhere.

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Comments»

1. lateralpazwalk - June 5, 2011

The blog post caused a conversation on facebook? Would you mind linking me to it, please? I’m a little out of touch with the feminist community on facebook.

2. Esperanza - June 5, 2011

As long as it is genuinely consentual who cares what two or more people do. It’s a matter of personal choice over one’s body.

3. Summerspeaker - June 7, 2011

Would you mind linking me to it, please?

I’m not sure that would be appropriate and everything tends to vanish on Facebook anyway.

For anyone interested, here is a blog post by cherryblossomlife on this subject.

4. cherryblossomlife - July 6, 2011

HI,
I really liked your post, but I just wanted to add that I don’t subscribe to Firestone’s idea of the female body as faulty. That’s not exactly what we’re arguing, and Firestone’s arguments are more liberal feminist than radical feminist as far as I can see.
The risk of childbirth to women must be factored into our consciousness because currently, there is some sort of cognitive block when it comes to the realities of the female body vis a vis discussions of PIV and “equality”

When a baby is *planned* however, and delivered under ideal conditions, such as non-interference by the technocratic model of childbirth (epidural, episiotomy etc) , and when the mother has received proper nutrition, and when the baby is wanted and she has support, the female body is perfectly designed to give birth. Radfems have always maintained that to go down the route of Female Body As Faulty is to buy into what the patriarchy already believes about us,as demonstrated by its manic obsession with controlling pregnancy and birth.

Here is a great article on the subject:

http://radicalhub.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/womb-rights-womb-wrongs/

I look forward to reading more of your posts 🙂

5. cherryblossomlife - July 6, 2011

Ultimately Firestone was envisaging a world where women’s bodies were rendered irrelevant. Radfrems see this dystopia as a place where the male body iss the ideal, and the female body iss a faulty version of the original prototype: the male body.
In fact, the female body is the original prototype, and is perfect in every way.

As long as women are not being coerced or forced into compulsory PIV

6. Summerspeaker - July 8, 2011

Hello cherry! Firestone’s view of the female body merits criticism, but it’s more complicated than considering it faulty. While perhaps better described as a socialist feminist, Firestone’s instance on completely abolishing gender as well as transforming economic and family relations distances em from liberalism. The topic of the body and its perfection/imperfection begs for further exploration. For now I’ll just express the hope for tolerance and cooperation between folks with dramatically different positions on the subject. Best wishes in the struggle!

cherryblossomlife - July 13, 2011

Hi I missed your reply.
Yes, we clearly have dramatically different positions on the subject 🙂 but it would be great if we could chat about our ideas. All too often online, commenters are obsessed with proving their point. Me? I’m in it for the intellectual stimulation as much as anything else.. and there seems to be plenty of that on your blog.

As far as I see it, you can’t take “the body” out of its patriarchal context. So discussing the perfection/imperfection of the male body is an entirely different thing to the female body… because after a thousand years of patriarchal colonization, women’s bodies are seen as “faulty by default of their femaleness”
Here is a recent article of mine at the HUB about gynecology-as-legitimized-torture, under the guise of “checking for problems” or “caring for women’s health”

http://radicalhub.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/polish-government-proposal-submit-to-compulsory-gynecological-examinations-or-be-fired/

P.S You don’T have to answer, but are you a guy?

7. Summerspeaker - July 13, 2011

From the transsexual and transhumanist positions, bodies are – or at least can be – works in progress. Framing the question as perfection versus imperfection distracts from the real issues at hand. Asserting the perfection of the female, male, or human body excludes folks who wish to change their forms. As you rightfully point out, the established narrative of the female body as faulty has even more pernicious implications, but we need not choose between blanket declarations of perfection or faultiness. Firestone’s thought has been reasonably criticized by Donna Haraway and others for abjection of the female form. Genuine liberation will require space for both folks who consider their bodies already ideal and those who wish to modify them.

I’m phenotypically male, though ambiguously so according to people on the street. I’ve never had a genetic test that I know of. I identify as genderqueer and not a dude.

8. Anon - June 1, 2013

Is there any chance you lesbians can see sex as a basic instinct among animals to reproduce? And that it is that strong extinction prevention instinct and not some patriarchal conspiracy that makes both men and women want to do it?

Summerspeaker - June 1, 2013

Probably not.

Anon - June 2, 2013

I didn’t think so. Still, a dose of sanity was worth a shot. Anyway, go back to thinking that only asexual animals are non-rapists and that every sex act is the result of conscious hate instead of natural urges. I’m just glad that sane people rule the world, otherwise humans would be extinct a long time ago. If that’s patriarchy, than we need way more patriarchy!

9. oogenhand - June 24, 2013

Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
Power inequality makes full consent to any sex act impossible. However, no reproduction requires either eternal youth or euthanasia. Euthanasia creates its own consent problems, and then some.

Summerspeaker - July 6, 2013

I like eternal youth, though I’m not necessarily advocating against reproduction. Nor does reproduction even today necessarily involve a sex act – depending on how you define it!

oogenhand - July 7, 2013

Reproduction does not require a sex act, but the technologies are still prohibitely expensive.

Anon - July 7, 2013

You do realize that it is women’s nature to want a man whom they can look up to, or a man that is more powerful than her, right? That’s the essence of femininity. A woman can’t get horny unless there is “power-inequality.” But I don’t expect a group of lesbians to understand what female nature responds to all across the animal kingdom. Suffice it to say, that women don’t get turned on by non-aggressive males, or by their equals.

Summerspeaker - July 9, 2013

Nope, I did not and still do not know that. I tend toward skepticism of all purported essential natures. If that is the essence of femininity, then femininity seems like a trick to make men more powerful.


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