FREEDOM OF SEXPRESSION

To sexpress; a sexpression, according to the urban dictionary:


Sexpress:
1.Convey (a sexual thought or feeling) in words or by gestures and conduct
Sexpression:
1. The process of making known one’s sexual thoughts or feelings.
2. The conveying of sexual opinions publicly without interference by the government: “freedom of sexpression”.


This is not a blog about sex. This is a blog about our freedoms and limitations. But sex is a part of all that.

Sex has often been the central controversial topic when it comes to freedom of expression. I can’t tell you why is that. Maybe because sex is fascinating or maybe because it is part of everyone’s daily lives. But there is no right way to have sex – at least I am not aware of it. There is no book written about the ‘correct’ position, or the ‘correct’ level of passion, or the ‘correct’ price of it (or no price). Therefore sex is open to discussion – therefore opening one of the most interesting and juiciest discussions out there.

Our sexuality is there because of our human biology. The same way all animals tend to seek out sex, humans are driven by the same instincts. Our sexuality is therefore natural, and is part of our biological framework. However, there is a great number of cultural restraints –  our environments dictates how  to feel about our sexuality, how to express it, and who to express it to. As Edward Shorter states, “to be sure, what people actually experience is always a mixture of biological and social conditioning: Desire surges from the body, the mind interprets what society will accept and what not, and the rest of the signals are edited out by culture”.

Therefore there is a big discussion about the appropriate way to talk about sex, and the appropriate amount images displaying sexual conduct that we may be exposed to. The idea of the ‘forbidden’ goes a long way back – one could associate it with Eve having a bite from the forbidden tree. However, outside of that perfect little paradise there is no way to distinguish the free from the forbidden. Some might argue that in that case everything should be free. Some might say, that some limitations are necessary. Where is the line between sexual texts and images that can be exposed to masses, and the ones that are limited? This is just one of the questions I am addressing in this blog. Using examples from previous cases, controversies of the topic, and interesting opinions that have been expressed towards this issue, I will do my best to examine the freedom of sexpression that we currently enjoy, and the restrictions that we fall under.

This is not a blog about sex. This is a blog about our freedom.

 

Oh, and remember – even if you don’t agree with what I have to say, or even if it is wrong – I should still have the rights to say it, shouldn’t I?

SEX! …in film, art and literature

Freedom of sexual expression is a discussion that evolves in the context of art and entertainment. The way people react to these images are influenced by social constructs, political beliefs or religious reasons. But what are the main sources of these discussions, and what are the factors that influence the limitations of sexual expression? In this entry I will look at three areas where sexual speech have caused limitations upon author’s creation – literature, visual arts (and film in particular).

Literature has become a rather small area of discussion, as the popularity of reading books is diminishing in today’s society. However, despite that, sexual content in books and their influences are still restricted by Obscene Publications Acts and the Protection of Children Act 1978. Expression of some sexual speech is regulated in cases if it qualifies as obscene, however books are judged less harshly. This is so possibly because, as literary critic Amanda Craig describes, “There’s a difference to being presented with sexually explicit images and imagining what you’re reading”.

Art, similarly as literature is an old mean of expression, that has been highly valued in society, also playing an important role as a medium of communicating messages. For the Ancient Greeks, sex was a celebration of fertility, where the male genitalia was admired as aestarticle-2439371-18676DB500000578-851_634x614hetic beauty. However, in the 21st century contemporary art sex is often criticized by the conservative audiences, labeling it as vulgar or tacky. There are a number of cases where sex in art has been attributed as offensive and inappropriate, including art pieces that have been around for centuries. If sexual portrays and images are not accepted even in the context of the most expressive, does sex can only exist behind locked doors and between the sheets?

In film, the controversies reach another level. The emerging of internet allows images to be shared more widely, and are more and more problematic for institutions to regulate. This has contributed to the accessibility of  sexual material and sexual expression to larger masses, as the Internet doesn’t have a single institution that is in charge of it. Images of sexual expression in television has been either banned or moved to late hours to protect children from the explicit material. However, pornography in general in most of the countries are undergoing large restrictions because of the obscenity laws, not allowing the free expression of these particular sexual images. The case of pornography is discussed in more detail in another post, explaining it role as a commercial expression (rather than implying an artistic meaning), and problems with that existing assumption.

Do we have freedom of sexpression? Yes. Is it limited? Yes.

Let’s not talk about sex, baby.

When it comes to expressing our sexuality, our freedom is very limited. There are many different laws that apply to exposure to sexuality, varying from culture to culture. However, the general approach to expression of sexual thoughts and conduct in public is limiting. Therefore a question arises – where does our fear and intimidation of sex comes from, and why is has gained such an important role in the societal construct of “taboo-ness”.

If we look at sex from the pYouth Against Obscenity068-500x500erspective of various human activities, it is just a physical act, performed to gain satisfaction. It could possibly be compared to kissing, or even hugging, as these are also physical acts that can be exchanged in times of affection. However, sex is a physical act that often involves nudity, and nudity as a common model is not accepted in public. Clothes in our society play role because of their functionality, tradition and even a way of expressing our status and authority. Nudity is also not encouraged because of its possibility of sexual arousal. This last perception has been challenged by nudists and naturists, who generally accept nakedness, and has accepted human body and sexual organs as natural and inevitable construct of our biology.

Sexually explicit material is in general really contradictory term, as we live in a world with many different cultures and perceptions of “sexually explicit”. If there are nations that consider a bare ankle sexually explicit, why are they not legally protected from this material? The perceptions of obscenity vary across national borders, while the cultural and commercial products are spreading throughout the world because of globalization. How can we be protected by the same human rights, if our perceptions and social constructs intensely vary across the borders?

The laws concerning obscenity are also ambiguous. According to the Supreme court, material will not be declared obscene unless (1) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the material’s predominant theme appeals to a “prurient” interest; (2) the material depicts or describes sexual activity in a “patently offensive” manner; and (3) the material, when taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. However, the Supreme Court has failed to clearly define words and phrases such as “prurient,” “patently offensive,” and “serious artistic value”.

The reason why free speech is protected is, according to Mill’s argument, because all the opinions are supposed to participate in the public discussion forum to find out the truth. Are we possibly living in a world where limitations of sexual expression are limiting our possibilities to discover our own sexuality? With sex playing such an important role in our reproduction and interaction, doesn’t sexual speech deserve protection in order to avoid sexual confusion and lack of knowledge?

These are just some of the controversies that arise from the topic of freedom of sexpression, but, in my opinion, they are worthy the debate.

According to the conservative, liberal and feminist…

Sexuabreak-up-sexl images are often considered obscene, causing regulations on their publishing and distributing. However, there are critics to these regulations, who argue for the right to publish sexual content the same way other content have the right to be outspoken. In the case of this discussion, the main contributors are the classic conservatives, liberals and feminists that all have varying opinions upon this topic. In this post, I briefly summarize their opinions to see the main arguments for and against limitations of obscene (sexually explicit, in this case) speech.

According to moral and religious conservatives attribute sexually explicit material as morally corrupting, and argue that it has the potential to affront classic family and religious values. They argue that sexual images should be restricted, as they can potentially diminish morality and decency standards for the society as a whole. These reasons don’t however introduce any arguments that are suggesting any clear and present danger to individuals. Instead, they are concentrated on the decline of the morality of the society.

This is where the liberals oppose these ideas, saying that moral majorities shouldn’t have the power to exclude minority’s expression and ideas from the public forum. They say, that even if there is sometimes small value in sexually explicit images, they should still have the opportunity to be introduced to public. Liberals also protect their arguments with human right to privacy – everyone should have an opportunity to explore their sexuality by being exposed to different texts and images of the field. Expression of sexual thoughts and conduct is relatively harmless – and, if there are noticed negative effects, they can be declined by appropriate education and information on the topic.

Or – are we just too intimidated to approach these issues through education that we have to limit one’s speech on the topic?

Feminist view on the topic are split. Some argue that sexpression, as it exists today is objectifying and oppressing women. There is generally more nude and sexual images of women than men in arts and entertainment today, and these images contribute to the discrimination that women are put under in our society. However, some feminists argue that the sexual speech is freeing women from the traditional sexual conservatism, and allowing them to explore minority forms of sexuality.

The question if eliminating these images from circulation by restricting freedom of speech is the most effective way to deal with the consequences that they produce upon our society is still a debate. In my opinion, after looking at different view on the topic is that maybe increasing the debate by removal of restrictions would result on a finer way to deal with the negative consequences of the display of sexual images. Maybe there is a truth in the old Mill’s argument, that the open marketplace can generate the truth. Or it can definitely generate new and innovative ways to deal with the truth. Any censorship is dangerous, as it can lead to a slippery slope, where more and more restrictions are introduced, if the line between the allowed and forbidden is ambiguous. Or it can result in a chilling effect, where society is anxious of expressing their views. And history has proven that silencing the masses is not the greatest way of dealing with their expression.

No porn here and there

In most of the Western democracies pornography porn-lawsdoesn’t enjoy protection of the freedom of speech laws. This is so, because pornography is generally considered a commercial expression, rather than implying artistic or ideological meanings. So, it seems that when a woman or man participates in the production of pornography, they do it because of pure material reasons rather than an exposure of their inner womanhood. The commercial nature of pornography is driving the field, and even the free sources are highly driven by advertisement revenues. Therefore it is considered as limitable by law, as very little or none of it is considered as commercial artifact.

Fun fact about porn – even if it is considered as a mean of increasing the oppression of women, it is one of the rare industries where women are generally paid more than most of the men. At the same time, the obscene material is considered inappropriate for many other states, making them impose limitations and/or bans on pornographic content. These limitations, as seen on the infographic of the post, are sometimes ridiculous, and sometimes reasonable. However, the ambiguousness of the non-defined terms in these laws are making us question their reasonability.

Pornography is defined as the “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement”. Here we see that what separates pornography from any other sexual images is it intention to stimulate the excitement. How can a legal system work with such an unclear definitions? We have seen in the previous posts that obscenity itself has very undefined implication, and the hard distinction of what is and what isn’t porn is not making it easier for those in power to limit our free speech.

For those of you who think that if there is a problem, it can be solved by the United States, I offer you the legal position of pornography there. Pornographic material is considered legally ‘obscene’ if it is judged to have ‘a tendency to deprave and corrupt’ the intended audience. This normally applies only to the most violent and degrading adult pornography. It is currently an offence to ‘publish’ obscene material. Possession of child pornography (‘indecent’ photographs of children under the age of 18) is a serious criminal offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

There are ways states approach laws on pornography, however, they are all somehow limiting our freedom of expression. And it is still unclear how clear and present is the clear and present danger, so it is a little bit of wondering around in the dark. However, no matter how much of artistic and ideological value we are prohibited through these legal systems, don’t go off crying about the poor porn industry workers – they are still managing a business that is highly demanded, consumed and paid for in our society.

What does the intelligence say?

When talking about sex and sexual expression, the issue often comes back to human sexuality and sex as a social construct rather than its only biological sense. There have been various works written discussing human sexuality, and in this post I will be looking at few of the theories and arguments developed in these works.

The French philosopher Foucault was less interested in the history of human sexuality, rather in the way people think of themselves in sexual terms. In his work “The history of sexuality” he discusses the various discourses concerning sex. He draws the contrast how during Victorian times there existed a repressed sense of sexuality, where people were encouraged to talk about sex only within the context of marriage. Later the links between the productivity of society and population were drawn, changing the society’s approaches to sexuality. Later in the book he also seeks to find the reason for the western urge to find the “truth” in sex, as well as he defines the relationship between sex and power. In his arguments, Foucault underlines the connections between sex and politics, economy and cultural changes in the society.

Anthony Giddens approaches sexual discourses in his book “The transformation of intimacy”, arguing that sex is both a construct of and influence on the modern society. He focuses on the modern society, showing its influence on changing the relationships between sex, love, gender and intimacy. What was once considered private, has now been brought into the public discussion, changing the shape of human interactions. He uses the term “plastic sexuality” to refer to sex that is free from procreation, more as a trait of personality, therefore linked to “the self”. For Giddens, it is clear that sexuality is a social construct, functioning within the discourse of power.

In his academic paper “Feminism, pornography and law”, Eric Hoffman discusses the role of feminists in the discourse of sexual expression, evaluating the feminist argument insisting on legal regulations of sexually explicit material, and considering if it should be used to justify the regulations by the state. He also contrasts the conservative and liberal arguments and articulates and evaluates the legal proposals constructed by the feminist perspective. In his paper, he underlines that some regulations have been made in response to the feminist critics, however it hasn’t particularly left anyone fully satisfied.

Hereby we can see that the discussion about the display of sexuality in texts and images has many different angles of approach, and it has been discussed, but without an apparent solution to satisfy all society. Fighters for freedom of speech will continue fighting against government restrictions, while the others will keep on developing legal arguments for our sexual expression to be limited. However, sexuality is a social concept that is highly linked with power, and these power systems are rooted in history, making them really hard to change.

For further sex explorations..

In this blog post I will provide a list of web sources that provide information on freedom of sexpression. These are basically the websites that have been sitting in my bookmarks list for a while now, waiting to be forwarded and shared.

http://www.glasswings.com.au/sensual/sexpression.html – an interesting article, written from the Australian perspective. Defends one’s freedom of speech by criticizing the restrictions on R, X and RC content.

http://thecourieronline.co.uk/freedom-of-sexpression/ – a short article written on sexual expression in art. It explains the role that sex plays in art and debates whether it is tasteful of tacky.

https://www.aclu.org/free-speech/freedom-expression-arts-and-entertainment – an article about freedom of speech in arts and entertainment. It touches upon many issues regarding the entertainment industry and questions whether media violence is a threat to our society. It also summarizes studies on the relationship between media violence and real violence, which is still an arguable debate.

http://www.archivalplatform.org/news/entry/exhibition/ – a news article summarizing one of the cases regarding sexual expression in art – about a Minister who comments on exhibition of photographic images of a homosexual couple, calling it pornography.

http://civilrights.uslegal.com/freedom-of-speech-and-expression/permissible-restrictions-on-freedom-of-expression/obscenity-and-pornography/ – a website providing the legal standpoint of obscenity and pornography, attempting to explain the restrictions and comment on the limitations of speech in regards to sexually explicit material.

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/06/can-pornography-be-art – an article attempting to define art and pornography and trying to distinguish if the latter can be seen as a valuable material. The author underlines the moral and ethical implications that can distract the viewers, not allowing them to see the artistic meaning in a work.

There are many more interesting internet sources on the topic, some of them are underlined as links in my posts, providing a large platform of resources for anyone further interested in the topic.

RELATED TOPICS

As we have seen, the laws restricting sexually explicit material are rather ambiguous, as well as the general attitude towards sex is very subjective. However, there are issues that go even further than just sexual expression. There are specific restrictions on many taboo topics regarding sex. Some of them are considered serious crimes, while others are becoming more and more integrated into society. Homosexuality and masturbation, as an example are both taboo concepts, but are becoming more and more integrated into today’s arts and entertainment movements. Homosexuality is also in the middle of the legal fight.

Therefore we can see that freedom of sexuality is a highly debated topic that has many angles to it. We currently still live in a heteronormative society where monogamy is the appreciated model of relationships. This existing model is restricting towards the minority groups that exercise different sexual practices. The majority’s opinion and expression is more appreciated, leaving the minorities wondering to find the appropriate venue for their expression. As a society, we have the right to sexuality and we should be free from discrimination in regards to our sexual preferences. However, the minorities still undergo oppression to some extent, while countries like Uganda practice oppression towards homosexuals to an unbelievable extent.

The taboo concepts are just some of the examples of the cases that are undergoing unproportionally minimal coverage in the public discussion forum. Even the speech that is protected from the legal standpoint is not exercised because of the public norms and mainstream views of people. The lack of information is misshaping society’s views and prohibiting a discovery of more knowledge in the area of sexuality. All truth and societal norms should be questioned in a perfect society, making them questionable and aiding in discovery of little bits of knowledge that have been lacking from the times when the norms were initially formed.