Accepting vulnerability can improve sex for women – 05/26/2023 – Equilibrium
In the book “Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again”, the Belgian philosopher Katherine Angel brings provocations about the disparities of power in gender relations and how this is imprinted on sexuality, mainly in the relationships between men and women.
Angel, also a doctor in the history of psychiatry and sexuality, is critical of the way in which certain movements and specialists offer a ready-made formula for women to protect themselves from potential violence and questions the common sense that consent is the key to avoiding situations of harassment and abuse.
From the author’s perspective, this is a simplistic and inefficient view. “The fascination with consent is well-intentioned and important,” she says, via video call. “It’s part of what we need to make life safer for women, but it’s also limited. Some of those limitations have to do with material conditions. We have to find ways to reduce inequality, because sexual abuse is prevalent where there’s a lot of inequity. “
Power inequalities and gender violence create a layer of fear and surveillance over the exercise of sexuality in those who are not in a position of control, writes Angel. The scenario creates the search for solutions often based on individual behavior, something that has proved to be flawed throughout history, according to the author.
“People want to believe that there is some kind of procedure to follow if you want to make sure things don’t go wrong. You have to be able to trust someone, be open and vulnerable in order to have a sexual relationship that has minimal chance to be good. But there’s nothing we can do to make sure sexual violence doesn’t happen to you.”
At first, this prospect may sound bleak, as it demands acceptance of an inconvenient truth. If violence cannot be taken out of the picture, how is it possible to dream of a fruitful and positive sex life for girls and women?
Angel, at the same time, invites us to accept inequality as a given and to escape the prescription of safety standards. In doing so, he moves away from blaming discourses that assume the victim should have avoided the abuse situation.
“We know that girls and women are at risk of violence, so we add a layer of anxiety and a sense of control by trying to tell girls and young people, ‘Be careful, because the world is a dangerous place for you.’ people must not let this notion of risk management end up constraining girls and women from exploring their pleasures.”
Angel’s perspective is cautious and draws from the source of thinkers like Michel Foucault to formulate a thought that breaks dualities and leads to counterintuitive conclusions. In addition to resignation, it instigates a reflection in which the acceptance of vulnerability would make room for more authentic and profound pleasures.
According to the author, desire can have several facets and fear can be recruited by the erotic. In a world where equity has not yet been achieved, pleasure always involves a level of risk, and this should not be disregarded, as it is not necessarily a factor that reduces pleasure.
“It is not by hardening ourselves in the face of vulnerability that we — any of us — will find sexual fulfillment, but by admitting and opening ourselves to our universal vulnerability.”
“Sex Will Be Good Again Tomorrow” also calls men to account, urging that a change in the model of masculinity would not only allow for a safer world for girls and women, but would also open the door to a less restricted sexuality for them.
Angel understands that men tend to be violent towards women when they feel humiliated — and that when there’s a very narrow view of masculinity, that feeling of humiliation can be triggered by anything.
At the end of her argument, the author explores how models of pleasure for heterosexual masculinities are narrow and restricted. In a world in which men move away from positions of power to open themselves up to vulnerability, the scenario not only becomes safer for women, but also allows for a more authentic enjoyment for men themselves.
The author understands that sexual violence resulting from the abuse of power affects people in different ways (boys and girls, cisgender and heterosexual women, trans and LGBTQIA+ people), but, in the work, it focuses on the relationships between men and women.
Explaining that the gender structure centered on heterosexuality ends up being the focus of her studies, the writer also argues that her conclusions can be generalized if applied to all people and forms of relationships.