Philosophy In the Bedroom

'Philosophy in the bedroom' is the title of a 1795 book by the Marquis De Sade and was used to frame the debate of the same name at How The Light Gets In festival. Alison Stone, Finn Mackay, Sam Roddick and Steve Fuller came together to discuss the relevance of Sade’s work today and consider if these pursuits embed undesirable power relationships or are they instead essential to our sexuality?

Alison Stone is a professor of European philosophy at Lancaster University and the first to speak on the topic. The crux of her argument was to implore us to think carefully about what we do sexually so as not to reproduce male domination in the bedroom. She saw sexuality and domination being very entwined with one another and the difficulty was unpicking this. Whilst she has no problem with BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism) in principal, she said, it often reproduces dominating power structures within sexual relationships that can be harmful to women and because of this Stone saw the work of Sade being problematic as it is based around non-consensual intercourse.

Finn Mackay, used feminism to frame her argument being herself a feminist activist and founder of the London Feminist Network. She saw sexual liberation as being about women’s right to define and explore their own sexuality. She thought that feminism has being unfairly maligned as being anti-sex when in reality it was anti-violence and the problem with sex today is that very often the lines are blurred: violence is often promoted as sexy, whilst sex is so often depicted as violent even when it’s consensual. She argued that the narratives we see about sex in popular culture are not liberal and very often remove agency from women.

Sam Roddick is very much in favour of expressing and celebrating our sexuality. She is the founder of the Coco de Mer sex emporium. She described sex as being an emotional expression, and the body as being a physical vehicle for experiencing this emotion. But despite this she believes that sex doesn’t necessarily have to be physical and definitely not just physical. She explained that our own personal experiences will affect and influence the sexual relations we have. She believes that sex can be a healing process: a way to go over and repair trauma and in this way she sees sex as being very much linked to our subconscious minds.

Steve Fuller is a philosopher-sociologist currently working at Warwick in the field of Social Epistemology. He framed his argument around the works of Sade, coming out in defence of his works from a philosophical perspective. Sade was a materialist who in his works argued that the body was merely a collecting point for pains and pleasures and that we should, as humans, experience everything without violating another’s subjectivity by dictating what they can and can not be doing. Sade wanted to break down the boundaries between bodies and for this, his work should be celebrated.

In response to this, the other members argued that this is simply impossible today and saw Sade’s work as having a very male sexual perspective, as historically men are perceived as gaining more pleasure from sex. To not want your subjectivity infringed on without thinking about the other participant is non consensual, as sex is an act which should be engaged in equally by two parties. From there the debate moved on to consent and the particulars of it. Roddick explained that to her ‘consent is a constantly rolling negotiation’. We have to interrogate closely what it actually is that we are negotiating for and for this reason consent is ‘not just a yes or no’.

Finally the argument closed with Stone warning of the danger of an overly sexualised society describing our culture as ‘obsessed’ with sexuality and that it feels ‘compulsory to be engaged in it’.

© Katie Jackson2016

Alison Stone, Finn Mackay, Sam Roddick, Steve Fuller took part in the debate ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’ as part of How The Light Gets In Festival in Hay on Wye. The festival ran from 26th May – 5th June.

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