Guest blogger Sephy Hallow, Deputy Leader of the Pirate Party UK, says sex is one of the fundamental underpinnings of our political system.
When trying to argue the point that sex is a fundamental part of our political system and an inherent feature of democracy, I tend to get the same reaction: you’re kidding, right? Sex, and more especially the sex trade, is seen as pure hedonism, an indulgence of an animal instinct that is as far removed from the civilising nature of politics as anything can be, and not particularly deserving of serious consideration or public debate.
Sex is for late-night channels, top-shelf magazines, and strip clubs – not the House of Commons.
In fact, the way that sex is annexed – shoved into these specific, hard-to-reach places that require deliberate, conscious intention to find – says a lot about the way we view sex: that it needs to be kept at the end of the channel list, or the top of a shelf, within society’s peripheral vision, but never centre stage in the greater public sphere. It’s also indicative in the way the ISP filtering debate has been set up; the great porn block might be up for debate, but most anti-censorship campaigns point to other, more serious losses. Factors such as restriction to information on sexual health or abuse helplines are frequently referred to in order to bring political clout and legitimacy to a debate which could otherwise be framed as Perverts versus Parents.
Sexual expression and freedom of access to stimulation is not seen as a right, but a hedonistic indulgence, and is therefore given as much credence as a demand for chocolate as a matter of public welfare.
But here’s the truth: sex is actually the linchpin of our democracy, not only linking together core political concepts – such as civil rights and social responsibility – but also acting as a pressure point which has been used time and again to shame people into silence.
It is also, thanks to our own embarrassment, a smoking gun pointed straight at our democracy.
As part of its mass surveillance, the NSA has been “gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites”, in order to use the information to shame “radicals” into silence. Of course, this isn’t the first time shame has been used as a censorship tactic, but with mass surveillance now looming over us all, the threat has spread from outspoken political activists to ordinary members of society with fringe political views. So what can we, the public, do about the use of slut shaming as an anti-democratic tool? The most simple, logical and productive answer has to be: remove the threat by removing the shame of sex.
I am aware that, in a certain sense, I’m asking humanity to turn its back on thousands of years of ingrained social pressure and sexual stigma, and embrace its carnal side – and that’s simply not going to happen, certainly not overnight. But I’m not asking society to change; I’m asking individuals to assess their embarrassment, and, if they can find no logical reason to feel shame for their preferences, to embrace the idea that they are not the bad guys. When a government threatens to remove your privacy and dignity, it is the threat that is perverse, not the porn you watch, and certainly not the content of your character. Exposing the sexual habits of a person without their consent is nothing short of a violation; so why is it that we shame the victims that are abused by the powerful?
If as individuals we can accept our sexual nature, we can disarm character assassinations that threaten our democracy and freedom of speech. By pulling the pin out of the hand grenade, you call your attacker’s bluff; either you’ll both blow up in a fiery explosion of sexual shame, or you’ll find the threat to have been a hollow one all along.
I’m not advocating for you to go and tell the world all about your personal kinks, and I’m not saying privacy isn’t important – quite the opposite. What I am saying is now that mass surveillance has made social embarrassment over sex a threat for all of us, we need to start considering what it really means to have a sexuality. By admitting that sex is part of our daily political reality, and encouraging a defence of your right to sexual privacy, we can confront the threat of censorship, simply through honesty, acceptance, and pride in the reality that humans are both rational and sexual creatures.