Culture at the Crossroads
The McDonaldization of Sex 4: Organic Sex (Sex and Christianity 13)
Sixth, it means expanding the optic with which contemporary culture views sexuality. As I suggested earlier, the problem with the contemporary optic is that it is too small. It sees sex as a personal decision that contraception makes more autonomous. I have argued that a more adequate optic is broadly cultural, even global—panoptic rather than myopic. In the panoptic view, sexuality is about the way people interact with each other, and all the assumptions, biases, expectations, and hopes that influence those interactions. Contraception, I am arguing, completely changes the field within which people make decisions about how to relate to one another. It has McDonaldized sex precisely by making it more available all the time. It has changed our views of nature and our relationship to (or presence within) nature, such that when nature shows up unintended it is named as an enemy.
What I am proposing, in short, is again sacralizing sex. More precisely, recovering a more robust understanding of human desire that gives rise to sexual desire. Shakespeare would not have understood our use of the word "sex," because in his day it referred to the distinction between male and female.
Modern sex is an abstraction from the concrete reality of persons. Strictly speaking, one cannot have sex. One can have an orgasm, a kind of altered state rooted in the limbic system, with or without another person. To re-sacralize sex would be to reconnect it not to biological function, but to the complex reality of men and women who experience desire. And what we have come to appreciate both through the human sciences and ancient spiritual practices is that there are layers of desire underneath desire. Pushing back against the McDonaldization of sex would require first removing reliance on mass-produced orgasms that depend on contraception, then slowly re-learning—as a culture—the art of relationship-forming. Like other psychological and spiritual practices (fasting, etc.), its aim would be to free ourselves from addictive desire in order to discover the roots of authentic desire. Then, build a life upon those authentic desires, which lead to the flourishing of individuals, couples, and entire societies.