May 3, 2007

The AFA on “sexual orientation”: wrong, wrong, wrong

Posted in GLBT issues, Sex at 4:24 pm by The Lizard Queen

Evil Bender has a “pop quiz” up on his site, asking how many problems we readers can find in the list of “sexual orientations” he culled from the AFA’s list. He made it into a contest, which I was going to exempt myself from anyway (since the prize is that he’ll write a post on the topic of the reader’s choice, but I feel confident that I could say, “oy, EB, howsabout you write a post on ______?” and stand a pretty good chance of getting what I want), but then I started writing, and… well, it got a bit lengthy, so I figured I’d take it over here. And I added a couple of items EB left out (but not all of them, since the inclusion and/or definitions of many of them just make my brain hurt), because I’m compulsive and annoyed–not a good combination for getting anything else done, but a good combination for blogging!

First of all, most of these are not sexual orientations. Here is the OED definition of “sexual orientation”:

Originally: (the process of) orientation with respect to a sexual goal, potential mate, partner, etc. Later chiefly: a person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to whom he or she is usually attracted; (broadly) the fact of being heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual.

One might be able to make a case for the AFA’s conflation of sexual orientation, gender identity, fetishes, and behaviors that involve sexual activity given the first part of the definition, but the quotes the online version includes make it clear that “sexual orientation” has clearly referred to a person’s sexual identity insofar as to whom they’re attracted is concerned since at least the middle of the twentieth century.

So, to go through this list very briefly:

Coprophilia – this is a FETISH, not a sexual orientation. From Wikipedia’s entry on sexual fetishism: “In common speech, any fixation on a singular inanimate object, body part, body feature or sexual practice is called fetishism.” The idea of coprophilia is distasteful–I suspect–to the average person, and if you’re not careful about washing your hands it certainly has the potential to be unsanitary (but, hell, that’s true about lots of activities, sexual or otherwise), but when one is in the comfort of one’s own home, alone or with one or more consenting adults, who’s it hurting?

Exhibitionism – another fetish.

Frotteurism – first of all, this word is a noun, and the definition they gave should be paired with a verb. Second, if the woman truly is “unknown,” then this activity constitutes sexual assault. Third, I find the heteronormativity present in this definition very interesting: I don’t think frotteurism is, by definition, limited to male-on-female.

Incidentally, this is considered by psychologists and psychiatrists to be one of numerous facets of paraphilia (OED: Sexual perversion or deviation; spec. attraction to unusual or abnormal sexual objects or practices; an instance of this.). Here are the diagnostic criteria from the DSM IV:

  • Recurrent, intense, or arousing sexual urges or fantasies, that involve touching and rubbing against a nonconsenting person
  • The person has acted on these sexual urges or fantasies, or they cause the person significant distress, to a degree they are disruptive to everyday functioning.

Gay/Homosexual – this is, in fact, a sexual orientation. I object to their defining it in terms of sex, though, because I think one still has a sexual orientation even if completely celibate (though… if someone presented a very good argument to the contrary, I’d be willing to consider it).

Lesbian – also a sexual orientation.

Lewdness – this demonstrates, in my opinion, the absurdity of this list. Who in the entire English-speaking world would answer “oh, I like being lewd” when asked about their sexual orientation? Whether or not you’re unchaste, lustful, or debauched, you’re going to have a preference as to whether you are interested in sex with a man, a woman, or both.

Masturbation – ditto. Also, if someone from the AFA asked me what my sexual orientation is and I answered “oh, I’m a masturbator,” both they and I know full well they would say, “okay, but, um, are you straight, or gay, or…”–probably while blushing furiously at the idea of me with my hand in my pants.

Necrophilia – this is a fetish. It’s also illegal because of society’s feelings about corpses, as well as, I suspect, public health issues. Also, I suspect necrophiliacs still fall into categories of sexual orientation–do you prefer male corpses, female corpses, or both?

Pedophilia – I love (/sarcasm) how they split pedophilia up according to SEXUAL ORIENTATION. Also, pedophilia is illegal, PERIOD, because a child can’t legally consent. PERIOD.

Prostitution – I wonder–is it prostitution if you offer the sexual activity for money but either don’t go through with it or don’t receive the money? (In other words, I don’t think this definition is adequate.) Prostitution is so far from being a sexual orientation that I don’t even know where to start.

Toucherism – “characterized by a strong desire to touch the breast or genitals of an unknown woman without her consent; often occurs in conjunction with other paraphilia”–Um, not quite. Here’s the definition I found on Sex-Lexis (a dictionary of sexual terms): “arousal from surreptitiously touching strangers. In psychiatry, toucheurism is defined as a paraphilic condition in which sexuoerotic arousal and gratification are dependant on surreptitiously touching the erotic parts on the body of a stranger, particularly the breasts, buttocks , or genital area.” This is a fetish, and, again, if this isn’t consensual it’s assault.

Transsexual – “a person whose gender identity is different from his or her anatomical gender”–my concern with this definition is its conflation with transgender. I might not be completely clear on this point–in which case, please do correct me if you’re more informed–but my understanding is that the definition the AFA gives for “transsexual” is more appropriate for “transgender”; a transsexual is someone who is transgendered and is undertaking steps to transition from their sex at birth to the sex with which they identify.

Transvestite – once again, wrongo, rat breath: this is another fetish. One can be as straight as the day is long and still get off on dressing up in the clothing of the opposite sex.

Urophilia – another fetish; see my comments on coprophilia.

Voyeurism – another fetish; this is another one that becomes problematic because of issues of consent.

Zoophilia/Beastiality – ditto, since animals can’t legally consent to sex.

Of course, since AFA clearly prefers to debate issues according to the issues as they frame and/or define them, my objections to their list would likely mean nothing to them. Oh well.

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4 Comments »

  1. luaphacim said,

    I like most of what you have to say here, with one exception: I think my sexual orientation is probably Lewd, and possibly also Lascivious. You don’t have to take my word for it; ask the wifey! (tee hee)

  2. luaphacim said,

    (What does Lewd even MEAN, anyway?!)

  3. Evil Bender said,

    I suspect if I asked your wifey that, one or both of us would end up in lots of trouble. And rightly so.

  4. DavidD said,

    California law is quite rigid about what constitutes “sexual orientation”, mentioning only heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.

    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=422.55-422.57

    “gender” is much more loosely defined in the above legal code sections, specifically allowing for behavior unlike that of one’s assigned gender at birth. How far can that go? The code doesn’t refer to chromosomes. Are there 2 genders? Are there 5 if you add gay, lesbian, and bisexual, transgender or other, as some do? Are there more?

    Like many issues of legal semantics, the answer is whatever the state or federal Supreme Court says it is. It’s not that there’s a good answer. I find it hard to believe that there’s a sharp dividing line between role-playing as a transvestite and being consistently and unalterably transgendered. Still even if it’s a fuzzy and arbitrary line, I think the law can find some line between fetish and gender identity much more reasonably than the AFA list suggests.

    I’d accept pedophilia as a sexual orientation, maybe even zoophilia, too, though I’ve never heard of someone who wanted to have sex with animals exclusively. Maybe there should be “omnisexual” to cover those of us who would have sex with anything, given the right mood music or whatever else it might take. They’d have done it on Fear Factor if they could have gotten away with bizarre sex.

    That’s not the same as what drives us into a lasting relationship, of course. That definitely gets lost in focusing on fetishes or “perversion” as the result of legally protecting gays and lesbians. As Cassius declares in the movie Spartacus, how one has sex can be no more meaningful than a preference for a type of food, even though both can be sin according to the Old Testament. How one has love is different, something that very much gets lost in talks about sex. How did we wind up with the term “sexual orientation” instead of something like “love interest”? Was it someone trying to be clinical? Was it a baby step to go from homosexuality as a disease to “sexual orientation”, but it would have been a giant leap to call homosexuality healthy love? If so, why not go the rest of the way now?

    Whatever sparring may come over semantics, I doubt it will matter until people generally understand that homosexuality is about a healthy love, not perversion. Conservatives can bluster all they want about “thought crimes”. Anyone who gets past the propaganda can see that this is about stiffer penalties for actions that are already crimes and about non-discrimination in employment, not the thought police. It is about homosexuality being OK and discriminating against homosexuals in public activities not being OK. It seems peculiar to me that this will happen before people generally accept that homsexual love is healthy love, rather than the other way around, but I guess that’s what’s happening.

    Now I wonder how long it will take for people to accept that no one chooses to be a pedophile. It should remain illegal to be a practing pedophile, with real children anyway, but calling them “monsters” isn’t much different from calling homosexuals “perverts”. What is the loving thing to do? What is the knowledgeable thing to do? It’s so hard to be both loving and knowledgeable about everyone.


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