Buckley, Canadian commentator who runs the YouTube channel A Dose of Buckley, has pointed out something which I hadn’t really noticed until now. In his video Miley vs Taylor and Sex vs Violence he asks why we tolerate violence more than we do sex. It is not like someone has died from someone walking into a movie theater and flashing their tits, he says. A family is completely comfortable watching movies where a person is killing over a hundred people or maybe more but when a sex scene comes up everyone tenses up and acts weird. Why is that? What is it about sex that makes it so intolerable as opposed to violence, while violence is far more harmful than sex?
He makes a good point. Logic would have it that we make something more harmful the least tolerable in our society but it isn’t the case at all, in fact we have even made sports out of it. I’m not saying there should be sex in the Olympics, you have to admit it is strange that this is the case? How can we make sense of this?
The evolutionist in me is quick to say it is good for our survival, but it seems if that is the case we should be more accepting of sex, perhaps as much as we are of violence. So clearly, an argument from survival can’t answer this question. You can take a historical perspective, to say that religion has often vilified sex and that has filtered into our cultures and societies even if we aren’t religious, it is a relic of a very theocratic past. But there are plenty of tribes who simply don’t share the same history we have and feel the same way about sex. Invoking history isn’t enough either. It seems wherever you go, no matter the history, sex is the least tolerated, even in African communities where women walk bare breasted. So what is it?
I think the answer is that sex is something which we have learned, like our bodies when we were young, that it is private and intimate. That is why we can’t tolerate sex in public and on the screen when we are with others. Sure we can watch people have sex alone and not feel uncomfortable as we do when we are with other people, because as soon as other people are present it becomes public. This is why we wear clothes all around in public and when we are around others, except for nudist or weirdos. Bodies are private. Even a stripper understands to put her clothes on, nudity is for occasions under set conditions and mostly in private, alone or with a person or people with an understanding or an arrangement. It really comes down to that, privacy. Violence is different, nobody thinks violence should be private, although violence has perhaps equal evolutionary necessity.
Why is sex private in the first place, you ask. In evolutionary and pragmatic terms you might say that having sex somewhere safe is important for survival. Usually safe places are those that are concealed, somewhere an enemy, competitor or a predator won’t see you and attack you unaware or with ease. So behind the bushes, inside a cave, in the house and so on are perfect places. It just happens that those concealed places tend to be private. So sex became private.
This has led me to a certain insight about sex. Perhaps the reason why our societies are so curious about sex, why sex sells, and why articles about sex are amongst the most read. It is because of the “gossip factor”. The fact that something which is generally private is being made public and suggested in the public makes it thrilling and exciting like juicy gossip. Because we don’t see much sex, from regular people we know (instead of actresses and porn stars), we are intrigued as to how other people experience it and what they think of it and more, our friend circle is too small to be absolutely certain that we know all there is to know about sex from them. This is why sex in the news, the internet and the movies is always a crowd magnet. The private nature of sex shrouds it in a type of an interesting mystery, so it remains interesting because it is talked about too little, too shallowly, too vaguely and too narrowly. We simply want to know more about what is a very important part of our lives, we want to know how we compare to others or if we are all one in the same in that aspect, because a part of understanding ourselves is also perceiving others as they are in relation to us.
This is why sex is and always will be a scandal.