The Prison of Mandatory Pleasure Provision

Maria Soledad Vela, a member of Ecuador’s Constituent Assembly, a
committee tasked with the job of rewriting the nation’s constitution, made international news
recently by proposing that a woman’s right to sexual happiness be written into
the constitution.
To the surprise of
exactly no one, this suggestion caused some humorous overreactions from fellow
Ecuadorian politicians, mostly
male. One suggested the law was a
mandate that women have orgasms, supposedly a physical impossibility,
though I’m sure Betty Dodson would
disagree. Another, according
to Salon,
likened the law to life in prison. Protests like these caused folks the world
over to speculate about the psychology of a straight man who would advertise
his indifference, even hostility, to women’s opinions of what happens in the
conjugal chambers.

Vela denied that she intended to trap unwilling men into a
hellish land of mandatory
pleasure provision.
explanation–that this was about redefining women as sexual agents instead of
just sex objects and baby-makers–fit neatly into a long-standing feminist
paradigm, and really shouldn’t have caused the alarm that it did. Lindsay
Beyerstein, in the comments at my place,
likened it to the "pursuit of
happiness" clause in the Declaration of Independence. One would assume that the right to sexual
autonomy simply went understood as a component of the right to pursue happiness,
but in the atmosphere of sexual repression caused by the anti-choice rightwing in
this country, one can’t assume too much.
What would life be like if sexual autonomy were written into our
Constitution, a right much like the freedom of speech or freedom of religion?

A lot of contentious issues would become a lot less
controversial right away. The right to
birth control and abortion–critical to almost all heterosexual women’s sexual
agency–could hardly be debated.
Right now, anti-choicers can exploit people’s ignorance of legal matters
and hint that the right to privacy found in the Constitution by the Supreme
Court in the decision Griswold v.
which legalized contraception and led to Roe v. Wade, was somehow illegitimate
because the Constitution doesn’t explicitly use the word "privacy" and because
the word "penumbra"
is multi-syllabic and confusing.
Penumbras are the cause of many rights that go unchallenged, but
anti-choicers won’t tell you this, pretending that sexual rights are unique in
this respect. But if sexual autonomy were spelled out
as a right, then they couldn’t really argue against it. Most people aren’t going to buy the idea that contraception is
irrelevant to a woman’s sexual autonomy, unless of course she’s a lesbian, and
I don’t see the fundies pushing widespread lesbianism as an alternative any
time soon.

It would be much easier to make the argument for
government-subsidized contraception, as well.
Right now, we can argue for it as a public health measure, but with a
right to pursue sexual happiness, we could also argue that those who can’t
afford their own contraception should have their rights subsidized by the
government. For those who wish to clutch
their pearls in shock, realize that the only downside to such a program
would be reduced public health expenditures for treating people after they
catch STDs or become pregnant unintentionally. The Hyde Amendment, of course, wouldn’t stand
a chance against the right to sexual pleasure.

Abstinence-only "education" would be a non-starter of an
issue, as well. The idea that the
government should dictate to you a moralized agenda contrary to your own
autonomous desires–and to withhold crucial information you need to enact your
rights in the healthiest manner–would make as much sense as giving the
government the right to pick your religion for you. The idea that there’s a virtue in depriving
yourself of the pursuit of sexual happiness would start to look like
arguing that not voting or speaking up is somehow virtuous. Trying to secularize for the classroom what
is patriarchal
religious dogma
would be a much harder task, nearly impossible.

Why rape is wrong would become much clearer. Right now, the law has to function
(for good reason) by distinguishing between consensual and non-consensual sex. So
far too many people think there’s no moral difference between getting consent
that sounds like, "Oh god, do it now!" and "Fine, if it’s the only way I can
get you to leave me alone." But if we
had the right to sexual autonomy enshrined in the Constitution, then perhaps
people would see more value in women’s sexual pleasure, just as we value free speech, freedom of
religion, and privacy. And a lot fewer
men would push their luck by pretending that "no" was really "yes" by
exploiting the gray areas.

Same-sex marriage rights would be an easier sell, as well,
if everyone had a right to sexual autonomy and the pursuit of happiness. After all, isn’t the debate over marriage
basically about whether or not the institution exists to make people happy
(same-sex marriage advocates’ argument) or for people to submit to in order to
uphold the hegemony of heterosexism (an argument made by right wingers, though of
course without the big words that come from the "elitism" of literacy)? Such an amendment would wrap that debate up
altogether, making it clear that in America, institutions–even ones
with a sexual component like marriage–exist for the people, not the other way
around. And if the people are better
served by same sex marriage — as they are — then there are no good arguments
against it.

Needless to say, there’s no court in the land that could
justify a ban on selling
sex toys or even a need for the euphemism "marital aids".
Saving the country the expense of prosecuting
dildo dealers alone would justify such an amendment.

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  • invalid-0

    So why ISN’T somebody proposing the same legislation in America?! That and a change in the pledge of allegiance I have in mind should get these idiots out of the business of telling me what to have faith in and what I can and cannot do w/ my own body!! Unfortunately, I’m no lawyer and don’t profess to know much about the process of changing such things or making such proposals. Who can I get in touch w/ to start it?

  • invalid-0

    A constitutional amendment is passed declaring a right to sexual happiness.

    Soft-on-crime judges declare laws against rape to be unconstitutional because it interferes with the sexual happiness of rapists.

  • mellankelly1

     Soft-on-crime judges declare laws against rape to be unconstitutional because it interferes with the sexual happiness of rapists.

    So, let me see if I’ve got this right… a womans right to enjoy sexual happiness would lead to the decriminalization of rape.  Merely asking for the right of women to enjoy sex in a free, fair and more open society will cause the judicial system to declare rape consititutional.  WOW.

  • harry834

    the hypothetical amendment means happiness to mean autonomy, as in an individual’s right to make choices about sex without coercion. A rapist is an agent of coercion and thus the amendment would recognize the crime of rape as the evil it is for the right reasons.

    Conservatives think rape is wrong, because they think sex is wrong. They can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that their teen daughters may want to have sex before marriage.

    We recognize that sex can be consensual, and that it should be. That’s our reason for opposing rape – because the pursuit of happiness means the defense of autonomy, the freedom of an individual from all forms of coercion – whether its coercion to have sex (rape) or coercion to be virgin (everything the Christian Right, and perhaps you, stand for)

  • invalid-0

    I thought rape was a violation of the woman. Even the Bible describes rape as a violation of the victim . (Deuteronomy 22:29)

  • harry834

    it takes away the woman’s right to make her own sexual choices, just like any individual should have the right to make their own sexual choices.

    I’m not sure what the Bible says about sexual pleasure and consensual sex, but the mouthpieces of the right-wing are definitely anti-pleasure, anti-sex. We all agree that rape is wrong, but their condemnation comes from their distaste for a woman’s loss of virginity before her wedding. They don’t even want her to give up this virginity, even by her own choice. Their goal is to preserve (control) the woman’s hymen, like it was their prized possession, rather than the body of the woman and her choice to do as she desires.

    The quote from Deuteronomy may or may not contradict my point. What does it mean when it says that it is a "violation of the victim". Does that mean that the "violation" is the loss of virginity, which makes the woman "impure"? If this is the case, then the bible’s definition of "violation" is the same as "violating" an object (the woman)and making it dirty, so that no one would want to touch her.

    Is this what that passage means by "violation"?