The Anxiety of the Sexual Have-Nots

LustPascal Bruckner in the magazine Open:

In August 1993, the magazine Elle offered a summer test on its cover page entitled: ‘Are you a whore?’ A real shocker—not so much because of the starkness of the question but because of the enthusiastic responses. There wasn’t a single writer or journalist of this famous weekly who did not respond positively, taking pride in being a bitch, a slut with no equal. In short, ‘whore’ had become a title showering glory on the holder—a sort of prefix in the game of love. The conversion of an insult into a matter of pride is proof enough that our world has changed. A taboo subject in the past, sex had to be flaunted now. There was a new snobbery regarding voluptuous pleasure, and no one wanted to be seen as lacking the necessary savoir faire. Thirty years of leafing through a certain category of magazines is like discovering an outlandish catechism of debauchery—one that is no less prescriptive than the catechism of yesteryears: try sodomy, threesomes, bisexuality, whips, are you a good lay, do you make love on Mondays? While death remains obscene and still in a shroud, dirty little secrets are out in the open, in the public arena, and all and sundry are jostling to tell their stories on the TV, radio and the net.

The emancipation of social mores has played a bizarre trick on men and women. Far from giving free rein to the joyous effervescence of the instincts, it has only replaced one dogma with another. Reined in or forbidden in the past, lust has become mandatory. The collapse of taboos and the right of women to dispose of their own bodies are coupled with an injunction of voluptuousness for all. The elimination of reticence has been offset by increasing demands—you’ve got to be ‘up to snuff’, as they say, at the risk of being rejected.