(On the Semiotics of Sex)
In the world of Literature, there are words that send a shudder of fear among listeners (or readers, for that matter)—exhibit A: Sauron – with the mention of this word, Gandalf and the rest of the fellowship are sure to shrug a shoulder or heave a deep sigh or conjure images of darkness and evil; exhibit B: Voldemort – he who must not be named.
Life is not so different from Literature, mind you, for there are also words that send a chill down the spines of many people. As an experiment, try to say the words: onomatopoeia, ratiocinative , recalcitrance, aardvark, and etc. This would be more interesting if a teacher would ask his/her students to spell these words correctly, and observe the beautiful despair among their faces.
But all those are mere introduction. The object of fascination here is how words, signifiers—in theory—connect to multiple chains of meanings that give words dozens of other connotations, or signified meanings.
If Sauron is sure to ring a bell (pun intended), surely, the word sex also causes the same effect.
Sex. Sex. Sex. Sex. Sex. Sex.
I have mentioned the word sex six times, not for any absurd symbolism but for sheer emphasis. By now the reader would have arrogated that the proceeding sentences are about the best passages of the Kama Sutra, how to effectively perform the doggie, or what forty-five is aside from its pistol counterpart, but also has the same explosiveness, albeit of a different quality.
The cultural semantics of the young have been stigmatized by centuries-old orthodox morals: among the lexical victims is, of course, sex.
There is a certain fear in mentioning the word sex; for one, it triggers a great deal of connotations: for example, when I say sex, someone is sure to think that I am “bastos” and of no education and breeding since I am mentioning a word that relates to something erotic, something taboo—something that runs counter to society’s strongly preserved self-innocence. To some extent, the one who lets out the s-e-x from his/her mouth is in danger of being tagged a pervert. But, to paraphrase a KISS song, why place an X in Sex, anyway?
Perhaps we have placed sex in the shadows while giving the spotlight to its privileged opposite, abstinence—that which often brings up heroic Puritanism into the fold, while relegating sex as an act of religious and social banditry.
In short, we have stripped naked sex of all its beautiful adornments and have straight jacketed it with harsh prejudices and assumptions that are mainly responsible for its being a cultural and lingual stigma among the young.
And now, like the hated Evil One and his One Ring to Rule Them All, all things that relate to sex are also shunned.
The passage of the Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippines is strongly denied because, to many people, it promotes promiscuity through the accessibility of contraceptives, which to some are sex paraphernalia—an attack on the morals!
It is also an interesting linguistic case: they say that condoms trigger a libido overdrive among those who hear it and its uses; with that logic, the word “inidoro” also sends the digestive system into frenzy, and down goes logical reasoning in a flush.
If indeed it is a moral duty to attack words that are negative in nature, then why are moral institutions mum when nightly news dish out the words murder, rape, pillage, rob, kill, fire, destruction? All these words are of a negative quality, but it is interesting why we—a collective of listeners—have become callous to such words and their denotations and connotations. Perhaps it’s okay that someone has been raped or murdered as long as we don’t hear of news of anyone having sex, for that is totally a crime upon morality, or even upon humanity for that matter!
Turning a cold shoulder to such an important issue such as sex and instantly defiling it reduces society’s character; it embraces stoic dogmatism instead of participating in contemporary parlance, especially in modern discourse.
What do we lose because of this?
Because sex has become taboo, the young see it as an adventure opportunity to do it—not minding the implications that entail its practice. For that, there is a steady rise of HIV cases in the Philippines. Young girls become pregnant because they were not taught the proper protection when engaging in it; there is, in short, a wholesale lack of information and a widespread case of misinformation.
Face it, sex is a beautiful act. That’s why we should undress it of its medieval dressings, that which have withered it for centuries and dress it with the proper attention that it so deserves. We should not discuss it with bigoted derogatory comments; as well, we should treat it as it is, not as something fictional—minus all the sensational aspects attached to it.
Like every beautiful thing, sex should be discussed properly and openly, without direct prejudice and logical moralizing. The discourse on sex should be up with the times. If the present calls for its appreciation instead of defamation, then let’s do it—with utmost care and sensitivity. We are losing too much and we are lagging behind because of our strongly held medieval affinities.
If we are to be really progressive, we should—and I say, should and must—throw away our prejudices, like throwing away the evil ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Let us set ablaze our age-old assumptions and deal with facts as they are, without fear and trembling—but with critical zeal and openness.
The information we gain from opening the discourse on sex is fundamental for the sustainability and the health of our society—that we not anymore seek to demonize sex, but to rather make it an opportunity for people to learn and practice responsibility.