18 Mar 2004
The Battle of Sexuality
The Battle of Sexuality in Singapore
Recent debates in the national media and newspapers are attempting to defend male domination in Singapore, (patriarchalism). Whether it is a debate focusing on the birth-rate, homosexuality, (gay and lesbian) or oral sex legislation I feel that the following section from a well known and highly regarded sociologist seems to place Singapore's 'problems' in a wider global issue. The statistics referred to in the article are American, but finding statistics on this area in Singapore is not possible. However, survey conducted by Durex concluded that Singaporeans have the least sex in the world. I wonder if that survey questioned the frequency of other sexual activity. How would Singaporeans have been ranked if the "perverse" pleasures had been assessed?
In the TODAY newspaper there is a letter from someone condemning 'oral sex'. Here is my rebuttal. What follows are not my own words but those of Manuel Castells.
"[C]onsumerist sexuality" appears to be on the rise, although the indications here are rather direct. Laumann et al. analyze their sample in terms of sexual normative orientations following the classic distinction between sexuality (procreational), relational (companionship), and recreational (orientated towards sexual enjoyment). They also isolate a "libertarian-recreational" type that seems closer to the images of pop-sexual liberation or, in Giddens terms, "plastic sexuality." When analysing their sample by major regions in America, they found that 25.5 percent of their sample in New England, and 22,2 percent in the Pacific region, could be included under such a "libertarian-recreational" category: this is about one-quarter of the population in some of the most culturally trend-setting areas of America.
A meaningful indicator of increasing sexual autonomy, as a pleasure-orientated activity, is the practice of oral sex which, I remind you is catalogued as sodomy, and explicitly prohibited by law in 24 American states, albeit under conditions of doubtful enforcement. Laumann et al., (1994) commenting on these findings, assert that:
The overall trend reveals what we might call a rapid change in sexual techniques if not a revolution. The difference in lifetime experience of oral sex between respondents born between 1933 and 1942 and those born after 1943 is dramatic. The proportion of men experiencing oral sex in their lifetime increases from 62 percent of those born between 1933-37 to 90 percent of those born between 1948-52. The timing of sexual techniques appears to have been responsive to cultural changes in the late 1950s, changes that peaked in the mid to late 1960s, when they approached saturation level of the population. The lower rates among the youngest groups in our survey are not evidence of decline in oral sex; these groups simply have not yet engaged in sexual relationships in which oral sex has become likely if not normative. [Laumann et al., (1994)]
Incidentally, between 75 and 80 percent of women in the latest cohort also experienced oral sex, and in the younger groups their occurrence is higher than for men. Laumann et al. Also report widespread incidence of auto-eroticism (associated with high levels of partnered sexual activity), and of masturbation, hardly a novel technique, but that seems to involve two-thirds of men, and over 40 percent of women.
Thus, if instead of reading sexual behaviour under the norm of heterosexual, repetitive partnership, we take a more "perverse" approach to it, the data reveals a different story, a story of consumerism, experimentation, and eroticism in the process of deserting conjugal bedrooms, and still searching for the new modes of expression, while watching out for AIDS. Since these new patterns of behaviour are more visible among younger groups, and in trend-setting cities, I feel safe to predict that, if, when, and where the AIDS epidemic comes under control, there will be one, two, three many Sodoms, emerging from fantasies freed by the crisis of patriarchialism, and excited by the culture of narcissism. Under such conditions, as Giddens proposes, sexuality becomes the property of the individual.(Giddens, 1992) Where Foucault saw the extension of apparatuses of power into sexuality constructed/construed subject, Giddens sees, and I concur, the fight between power and identity in the battleground of the body.
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Castells, M., (2004), The Power of Identity, Second Edition.
Singapore is a patriarchal society in the midst of a quiet revolution, led primarily by females and declining marriage rates and birth rates are the front line. The old male guard will not even admit that there is a battle between the sexes centering on female ownership of their own bodies but also sexuality in general.