Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Make Love Not (Necessarily) Sex

I've been nerding out on the history and philosophy of nonviolence.

Sparked (kinda) by Mahatma Ghandi and brought to the US by Dr. King, nonviolence has had a profound impact on the way that we think about social change. The biggest misconception about nonviolence is that it is a form of absolution, swearing off the use of force because hitting people isn't nice. Nonviolence is a tactic. It's a set of principles and strategies for groups to create social change which are, in almost all circumstances, MORE EFFECTIVE than hitting people.

This seems kinda counter intuitive. After all, isn't power ultimately about who has the ability to hit who? Isn't refusing to literally fight for what we believe in a cop-out? Aren't we just yielding power to those willing to use violence to achieve their ends?

Non-violent activists would give a calm, resounding "no" to all of the above. Power isn't about who can hit who, it's about who can stand together. When given the option between a powerful violent group and an equally powerful nonviolent one people will almost always choose the latter. Sure, it takes guts to fight for what you believe in, but it takes even more guts to stand up to anger and violence with compassion instead of retaliation. Standing up to anger and violence this way doesn't yield power to it, quite the opposite. If someone wants to hit you and you show them compassion, they stop wanting to hit you. Effective nonviolence dismantles violence, and in doing so it demonstrates that violence is a lot less powerful than everyone thinks.

I bring this up here because increasingly when I think about what it means to be "nonsexual" the idea of nonviolence comes up. To be clear- unlike violence, sex is NOT a Bad Thing. But like violence, sex is a massive source of fear, power and control in our society. And like nonviolence, nonsexuality can be an extremely effective tactic to dismantle that power. Replace "violence" with "sexuality", "nonviolence" with "nonsexuality" and "social change" with "intimacy" (or vice versa.) When used correctly, nonsexuality can be a more effective tactic to create intimacy than sexuality. This is counter intuitive. We live in a society which largely equates intimacy with sex, which loudly celebrates sex as a THE way to create intimacy in popular media. Sex is a blunt instrument, a way to monitor and control the intimacy that people create without really delving into the reality of what makes that intimacy happen. But the power that sex has is also fundamentally fragile. As someone experienced in the practice of nonsexuality, I have learned that if I respond to sexuality with open, nonsexual compassion the sexuality miraculously dissolves and the other person winds up thanking me for it.

There are some powerful implications here. In our society, both sex and violence are tightly controlled as a way to control the ability of people to create social change and form close connections (two pasttimes which are more than a little connected.) What if nonsexuality works like nonviolence? What if we can go around creating whatever kind of intimacy suits our fancy without regard for society's tight constraints? I'm not suggesting that sexual people start lining up to take vows of celibacy, just that we asexuals should think of the nonsexual stuff that we're doing as more than a form of absolution. Nonsexuality is a tactic. It's a set of principles and strategies for individuals to create intimacy which are, in almost all circumstances, more effective than sex.
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Julie said...

Powerful words :)

Anonymous said...

Definitely something worth thinking about.

Sara Brooks said...

Yes. Exactly. I'm someone who does a lot of nonviolence work -- specificially with civil disobedience in the LGBT Equality movement -- and I can completely draw this correlation in my head.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge supporter of nonviolence as a tactic. The strategy works so well and is the perfect solution to those who seek to use violence. I don't know why it isn't used more frequently, although I could speculate.

Saur said...

I do agree with much of what you say.

However, although I have an asexual relative, I am hetero and I do not see violence and sex as akin to each other (I realize you're not saying they're the same thing, but you seem to be saying they're cousins).

In general, I am anti-violence and anti-war but there are times that self-defense is necessary. Think of WW2. America stayed out of it until Pearl Harbor.

On the other hand, recent evidence has proven that WE fired the first shots (from a submarine) before the Japanese bombed P.H. So... perhaps this is a bad example after all.

Generally, I believe that we are not the World's Policemen and we need to avoid engagement unless we are being directly attacked.

Anonymous again said...

Note 1: I agree with this post more after having gone away and thought about it and then returned and read it again. :) There are more effective ways to express love and intimacy than through sex.

Note 2: I dislike the amendment to the post title. If you want to amend something, add a footnote at the bottom or something. Changing the title diminishes the effectiveness of your point.

Note 3: Saur, in your objection to his post, it sounds like you're /agreeing/ with him, not disagreeing. Sex and violence are akin in some ways. That doesn't mean sex is necessarily bad.
There are times for violence (self defence is a stellar example). There are times for sex (for some, anyways). The two should not be equated (I daresay that for most people, there are more times for sex than violence, thank goodness...) but this blog post doesn't at all.
I think you may have misunderstood... or what are you objecting to?

DJ DJ said...

Sorry for the title change, I just realized that the previous title could be quoted out of context and come across the wrong way. Gotta be careful around reporters...

Ily said...

Deep, man...deep. I always like thinking about what goals asexuality could have as a movement.

Anonymous said...

DJ, I think you've got your finger on a potentially terribly important insight--for asexuals. I hope that this doesn't come across too bluntly (...that's not how I mean it...) but it looks very much like you have not considered the possiblity that *for* *sexuals* sex is a perfectly legitimate part of intimacy-building.

Still, I don't want to entirely reject what you wrote out of hand. Sex isn't the be-all and end-all of human existence, after all--even where sexuals are concerned.

Conor Wilson (the one on AVEN)

DJ DJ said...

I'm not talking about whether sex is a legit part of intimacy building, I'm talking about whether nonsexual intimacy is. Let's say that I'm write, and asexual people can learn to practice nonsexuality as a legitimate and powerful way to connect with people. Is there anything to stop sexual people from connecting nonsexually in the same way? Is there anything to stop them from using nonsexual connections to complement the sexual connections that they have with people? Nonsexual intimacy doesn't invalidate sex, it makes it that much more fun (if it's your thing.)

Anonymous said...

I read your reply, and re-read the blog...and the only thing I can think of to say is: I never really questioned (in theory) the validity of non-sexual intimacy. So maybe I'd be best off asking: can you give some more specific ideas? What kinds of "non-sexual intimacy" do you have in mind? Maybe I should even ask what is it that counts as "non-sexual intimacy" in your thought. For example, would you consider spooning to be "non-sexual?" (I can see people arguing it both ways.)

Conor Wilson (the one on AVEN)

P.S.: Don't ever let anyone talk you into giving up the blog. You're one of the more original thinkers that I've read on relationships, and I look forward to your blog entries.