Objects & Subjects of Sexual Desire

Guest Post from Davy Marzella

One biological purpose of sex is the fertilisation of an egg by sperm to produce offspring and propagate the species.   Presumably this is a main evolutionary reason for the impulse to be sexual.  Though very few people have sex exclusively and solely for this purpose.   Fertilisation can now be carried out either in vitrio, or by self-insemination using donated sperm.  Whether it is by nurture or nature , or a combination of both – do women and men generally experience differing roles and outcomes to being sexual ?

The physical and psychological activity of sexual intimacy is usually extremely pleasurable and gratifying and can be enjoyed purely on its own , in and of itself , and does not have to centre on the genitals.  This intimate physical pleasure can be experienced individually or between any two or more people , whether known to each other or not.  It can also be carried out between people in ongoing close emotional , psychological relationships – with or without the additional aim of reproduction.  Being sexual can also have many conscious and unconscious motivations.

The abuse of sex, particularly through the expectations with which we commonly burden it, is so pervasive and deeply ingrained as to go largely unnoticed, except in its more lurid, obviously dysfunctional, or perverse extremes. Even more removed from any telling awareness is our aversion to truly exploring and illuminating the whole matter of human sexuality, not clinically, nor in any other kind of isolation (or in vitro corralling), but in the context of our entire being, our totality, our inherent wholeness.

 Eros Undressed : An Intimate Look at Sex by Robert Augustus Masters

Conventionally, women in general become objectified as the subjects of a collective “male gaze” and of a general male dominance in patriarchal societies.

When someBody is found to be sexually attractive – is there not some degree of objectification – ie. they become the object of our desires ?

Delusions of Desire, Second Council House of Virgo


Within sexual encounters , whether one-off or ongoing relationship, there can be degrees of differentiation, eg. gender , class , ethnicity etc. These socialised differentiations can add to “power” dynamics within a relationship.  They can also add to degrees of submission and/or domination , eg. submitting ourselves to our own desires and fantasies and/or those of a partner.   If , for example , a couple were being sexually intimate embracing together lying on their sides – then there could be some kind of balanced equilibrium.  As soon as one partner takes any initiative , and/or gets on top of the other and/or one is penetrated by the other – then degrees of submitting to or dominated by – come into play :  IF ONLY for any of those given moments.  Can that vary between general subjective experiences of men and women ?

These dynamics can be reversed , reciprocated and transgressed. How often and how equally in practice are they for many people ?

They can also be combined, eg. the penetrated partner can be on top of the penetrating partner. If that includes a penis , then that can be phallocentric (is that the objectification of the penis ? is the central object of much porn – for the majority of its heterosexual identified male consumers – the penis ? Whether that is (unconsciously ?) desiring the onscreen penis – objectively – and/or self-identifying with it – subjectively )

It could be said that some degree of objectifying , dominating and/or submitting are common dynamics of much sexual activity.  In an ideal world , it maybe possible to be sexual without these dynamics , although these dynamics could also possibly add to the “frisson” of being sexual.


People have sex for all sorts of reasons , usually involving some kind of exchange – be that of love , affection , gratitude, pleasure , psychological or material gain. Ideally , any exchange should be mutual and reciprocal , but in practice it is not always so. In the case of prostitution , the financial payment is not reciprocated. It maybe ethically wrong to use the body ( divorced from the whole person ) of someone for selfish gratification. But many people ( mostly men ) do that without paying money.

Some discussion of prostitution regards it all as abusive and exploitative of women. And there is undoubtedly much serious abuse and exploitation of women that takes place in prostitution – as there is also abuse and exploitation of women in general , outside of prostitution.  In the short term that urgently needs to be addressed. In the longer term , a more thorough understanding of sexual activity also needs to be considered. I see little or no sign of that among organisations that support the criminalising of those who pay to be sexual.

For example , is a woman who is being paid to penetrate and sexually dominate a man being abused ? If not , then not ALL prostitution per se is abusive of those who are paid to engage in sexual activity . There are also men who get paid to be sexual with either men or women. If everyone who makes any kind of payment for sex is to be criminalised by the state , how would that be “policed” ? If someone pays for a regular masssage – which can be very intimate and sensual – and then , with mutual agreement becomes sexual (ie. genitals become involved) – would that also be criminalised?

I sense much of the discussion of prostitution – ie. the majority of which is penis in vagina sex of women being paid to be penetrated by men – implies some kind of correlation (of being penetrated) with abuse and/or exploitation. There may be truth in that , but it is not usually stated explicitly as such. Maybe some more understanding and clarification of issues surrounding the dynamics of penetration is also needed.

The putative logic of Foucault’s, Faubion’s, and Lancaster’s interpretations is that being anally penetrated feminizes a man because women are vaginally penetrated in heterosexual genital intercourse.  A man’s anus is supposedly read as a substitute for the vagina.  I suggest, though, that it may be the other way around.  It may be that Foucault and others are reading the vagina as a substitute for the anus, that they are taking the top-down politics of homosexual relations—including Attic Greek pederasty and contemporary leather bars—as a model for understanding the possibly different politics of heterosexual vaginal intercourse.

Penetrating Questions:Sodomy and Sexual Intercourse across Cultures, Jeff Tobin


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