Essay 01

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Do You Want Fries With That?

In the following passage, Elliston (Frederick Elliston, "In Defense of Promiscuity") draws an analogy we have often seen employed:

Sex and eating are frequently compared, since both are appetites whose satisfaction is socially regulated. Consider a society where the following etiquette is operative. Each man is allowed to dine with only one woman. Before their first meal begins, each receives a solemn injunction: "Thou shalt dine with none other, so long as you both shall live." Their partnership is exclusive; no one may be invited to the meal ("three is a crowd"). Only the utensils already provided and accepted by others may be used; bringing a new gadget to the meal is an innovation attempted by many, though (curiously) condemned by all. Throughout the remaining meals the menu is fixed on the grounds that meat and potatoes are the most nourishing foods. The ways in which these meals are prepared and consumed is subject to strict regulation: one is not supposed to touch the food with one's hands; everyone must keep an upright position (it is considered an insult for one to stand while the other lies). Interaction is drastically curtailed: one is not allowed to exchange dishes; one must feed only oneself (for a man to place his spoon in his partner's mouth is a mortal sin). These rules prescribe that each person gratify his own appetite, but in the company of a select other (to eat alone is forbidden, though many do)." During the meal a typical conversation consists of compliments-how good the meal is and how agreeable the company-regardless of their truthfulness.

If food and sex were only the satisfaction of appetites, these restrictions might be defensible-though the prohibitions against some changes would still be contentious. However, some innovations, at least for some people, not only could enhance the efficiency of such practices, but could add to their meaning as well. To "dine" with several different people can make eating not only more pleasant, but more enlightening too. To vary the "menu" is a safeguard against boredom that not only expands the topic of conversation, but also has nutritional value. To invite a guest similarly intensifies the conversation, which need not dissolve into monologues if considerateness is shown by all. People should be allowed to get their fingers sticky (sex is wet) and to eat alone (masturbation makes neither your eyesight grow dim nor your hair fall out). Sometimes it may be more convenient to eat standing up or lying down: the exceptions of one society may elsewhere be the rule. More interaction can make the experience more significant; for example, switching dishes when the desires are different (to the dismay of many, they frequently only look different) provides variety that, after all, is still "the spice of life." If the food is not well-cooked and the company is no longer mutually attractive, admit these shortcomings; such honesty may lead to better meals. Only recently have the stereotypes that determined who issued the invitations, and who prepared the meal and did the serving, begun to dissolve. Exchanging traditional sex roles by allowing the woman to show greater initiative (if not aggression) can enhance mutual understanding and respect by dramatizing what it is to be in the other person's place.

The assumption Elliston makes in this article and which we've seen in other readings drawing the same analogy is that the satisfaction of sexual desires is analogous in all relevant respects to the satisfaction of gustatory desires. Yet there are surely other, perhaps better analogies. For example, it could be argued that sex is more like a conversation, or it could be argued that sex is like a symphony orchestra (without quite so many participants, of course) or a jazz quartet. Given these three analogies,

  • Sex as dinner party;
  • Sex as conversation; and,
  • Sex as symphony or jazz quartet

which one would you argue is the best analogy in light of our discussions of Blackburn's conception of lust, and what is the best argument you can find for it? Elliston, of course, uses the analogy of sex as dinner party to defend promiscuity, but can the analogies of sex as conversation and sex as symphony likewise be used to defend promiscuity? Why or why not?