Oscar Wilde said a lot of insightful things, but this isn’t one of them. Not really. For a start, the first premise is inaccurate – not everything is about sex! I can think of several things off the top of my head that are definitely not sexual either in their objectives or their applications – nuclear physics, cat food, Laura Ashley wallpaper, aeronautical engineering, dentistry…of course if you have a dirty mind like mine, you can find a way to make these things be about sex for you, but you should definitely refrain from the assumption that everyone else shares your views and tastes.
So everything isn’t about sex – although a lot of things are. Anything to do with sex, for a start. And the uses of sexual references or imagery, including in advertising or campaigning. Those are about sex, for sure.
Friendship, that’s another thing that isn’t about sex. Sex can be part of a friendship but the two aren’t mutually reliant; both exist independently of each other.
So minus 1 point Mr Wilde, for hyperbole and inaccuracy.
Moving on to the second premise; is sex about power though? The idea made me indignant at first, because it seems like such a contradiction of the sex-positive and inclusive principles I try to adhere to. But then I had a rethink – my assumption was that ‘power’ implied one person usurping power over another; which seemed like an unhealthy basis for sex to be put on.
I was specifically not thinking about BDSM here because CONSENT makes all the difference between power granted and power hijacked. My unease came from the narratives about sex that still persist in mainstream/vanilla/cis culture: predator/prey framing, toxic gender role boxes, bedpost-notches – all that stupid patriarchal crap that has poisoned our existence for so long. Sadly, these ideas are an inextricable aspect of the notion of ‘sex’ in most societies today. Things were even less civilised in Wilde’s day, so perhaps while sex might have about usurping power in the past, it doesn’t have to be true today. The difference is in how we perceive the world and each other.
Once I consciously weeded out the tropes, the myths and the programming from my thinking, I realised that perhaps sex could be about power – in the sense of a free and willing negotiation of powers between equals, (rather than in the sense of imposing by force). Okay, that works. Take the cultural baggage away, and what we’re left with is two (or more) human beings each contributing and benefiting from intimacy. That’s not only a negotiation of powers but a powerful thing all by itself.
So maybe sex is about power after all – a summit of equal powers meeting for a mutually-beneficial purpose.
I look forward to a day when mainstream attitudes to sex are grown-up, positive and principled. Sex is still mired in hypocrisy and myth at the moment, although some enlightened pockets of people do exist – albeit largely in a semi-covert state, so that they don’t get discriminated against and attacked by all the other people out there who have judgemental, ignorant ideas.