by Dr Enakshi Ray Mitra.

We habitually say that our erotic experiences have an irrevocably given status – they are not available to alternative modes of interpretation. By contrast, an experience of a material object like a long pencil, for instance, maybe said to dissipate in different directions – say an experience of length, of blue colour, number one, point of a compass, upward direction etc.[1] Even experiences of colour and number which seem to impose a raw feel on our senses prior to all conceptual exercises, can be put under different modes of training and routes of interpretation. What is normally a projection of black and white images on an opaque white screen can, with a little effort, be recast into a transparent pane of glass and the events of the film as lying behind the glass.  What seemed to be the opaque white screen would now be seen as taking the colour away from things and allowing only white, grey and black to come through.[2]  Further, are we compelled to see this length of 2 cm as consisting of two parts, each 1 cm long?  ‘But why not of one bit 3 cm long and one bit 1 cm long measured in the opposite direction?’[3]  Now unlike these cases, our sexual experiences are held to wear their meaning on their sleeves; they have a compellingly phenomenological character that allows only a unique mode of conception. Further, the sexual acts also tend to assume the status of an involuntary action, for they are held to be caused by certain events or experiences – that are given primordially or pre-conceptually or lying beyond the purview of any level of cognition.  Thus, on the one hand, we think that the undulations and protuberances of the human body along with their pattern of exposure and non-exposure have an inherently titillating character that is beyond all cultivation or construction; on the other hand, they not only fall beyond our conceptual construction but sometimes fall beyond our (so-called) pre-conceptual cognition as well.  Hence we seem to have a remarkably easy way of excusing ourselves with regard to our sexual irregularities – that would include the behaviours of male chauvinists, sex-maniacs and rapists as well. All that one has to do is to plead ignorance about some blind or brute happening in one’s body or brain – goading him/her to do something against his/her wish or will.

Our objective in this short essay is primarily to impress the conceptually loaded character and the inbuilt autonomy of the sexual acts.

Seeing a human body erotically – as having nervous impulses, muscle-contraction, experiencing erection, orgasm, performing the actual sex-act etc. – these items are not caught in a causal or deterministic mechanism – where one item antecedes and determines the next in an uncontrollable flow. Rather all these elements have meshed in a single whole – a single action which one is free to perform or not to perform. Indeed the unmistakably conceptual character of sexual experiences is evident from the fact that one needs to consciously construct and plan his sexual experiences right from the foreplay, progressively to the subsequent phases to ensure the final output. The common fact that one partner may lose interest and concentration at any stage clearly shows that our sexual experiences and acts do not have the imposing character of the reflexive responses to a violent stab of light or a hard blow.  But what we want to highlight is that the freedom of choice obtains not only between letting one phase of the entire act lead on to the subsequent phase or preventing it but more significantly in recasting any of the phases in an entirely different mould – to see it in an entirely different aspect and thus embedding it in a radically different action. Seeing or sensing a human body is a loaded conceptual construct, available to different routes of thought-adventure.

The purported definitions of all the crucial terms pertaining to sexual phenomena are circular – they are never able to substitute the word ‘sex’ in terms of neutralized of sexual connotations. Take the term ‘orgasm’ supposedly referring to an isolated and insular bit of stimulus-experience – delinked from any wider conceptual network.  We can cite the following definition of ‘orgasm’ – ‘The sudden discharge of accumulated sexual excitement during the sexual response-cycle resulting in a rhythmic muscular contraction in the pelvic region characterized by sexual pleasure.’ The sexual response-cycle in its turn is defined as a four-stage model of physiological response to sexual stimulation – starting from excitement phase, plateau phase, orgasmic phase and resolution-phase.[4] The excitement phase is characterized as being generated from physical or mental erotic stimuli (kissing, petting, having erotic images). The plateau phase is said to be the period of sexual excitement prior to orgasm, characterized by increased circulation and heart-rate in both the sexes, increased sexual pleasure with increased stimulation.  Indeed when the term ‘orgasm’ is sought to be defined with the stance of sexually neutral terms borrowed from physiology – i.e. in terms of contraction, withdrawal, swelling, brightening, reduction of size, ejection, convulsion, contraction, lubrication, ejaculation etc., pertaining to muscles, tissues and glands – however complete this narration may be attempted to be,  it cannot dispense with the terms having sexual overtones. Similar remarks would apply to the definition of the ‘resolution phase’ – in terms of relaxation of muscles, dropping of blood-pressure – for none of these movements can shirk off the crucial nuance,  viz. ‘slowing down of sexual excitement.’

All this shows that the attempt to turn sexual acts into involuntary acts causally determined by physiological occurrences or unconscious intentions and instincts which the agent himself /themselves may be ignorant is not a valid project. No proposal of reading sexual experiences as being or based on a given stimulation-content can be meaningful; for every effort to eke out that pre-conceptual content of sex  –  right from the very first stage of its being triggered off by some typically erotic experiences  – betrays this ‘given’ stimulus as already loaded with heavily ‘sexed’ connotations.

Further, there are some controversies as to whether male orgasm is to be regarded as identical with ejaculation or whether the former is to be held as being caused by the latter. The equational theory, which again claims men as capable of having multiple orgasms, undergoes two versions: The first version seems to equate the number of orgasms with the number of convulsions (in ejaculation), and the second version claims men to have an orgasm without ejaculation (i.e. dry orgasms). Now one can legitimately observe that had sexual acts been involuntary or instinctive – triggered off by a non-conceptual sense-stimulation, where each phase leads to the other in a rigorously demarcated structure – there would not have been such controversies regarding the very identity of a phase, or as to whether the purported antecedent actually coalesces with the consequent or not.  Nor would there have been a disagreement about the fact whether men can have multiple orgasms – whether they have the power to lead the first orgasm to the second, the second to the third – and so on. Thus orgasms are not given pre-conceptually as numbered items which may be subitated (that is taken in at one go without counting). Nor is the concept of orgasm so transparent as to determine a fixed number of its instantiations.  Rather the controversy regarding the number of orgasms shows that there are many modes of reading its qualitative and quantitative identity – a fact that puts considerable indeterminacy as to the number of its instantiation.

A brief look at the prevalent controversies on the phenomenon of female orgasm will show the inherently enactive character of female sexual experiences. According to one set of theories, female orgasm is achieved by direct or indirect clitoral stimulation. Clitoris is said to have as many nerve endings as the penis, and the former being homologous with the penis they are said to be equivalent in their capacity to receive sexual stimulation. On the other hand, Freud claimed that it is the other area viz. G-spot running along the roof of the vagina that is the prime location of the paradigmatic experience of an adult woman. So we have a dichotomy between the two models of female orgasm – one insisting on the G-spot is a well-characterized entity and the other claiming it to be virtually non-existent. Seeing how these theories dissolve into an enactive theory of sexual experience would be more conducive to our approach. These enactive theories claimed that the clitoris and the vagina are spatially connected – the clitoral tissues extend to the anterior walls of the vagina, and women may be able to achieve vaginal orgasm via the skin of the G-spot because the highly innervated clitoris is pulled closely towards to the anterior walls of the vagina during the phase of the arousal and vaginal intercourse. It is not that the stimulation of one spot passively and involuntarily leads on to another spot because the spots are already laid out as fillers of an empty spatial framework given out there. Rather it is a structure that women voluntarily carve out in their sexual activities, making smaller spaces burst forth into larger spaces, where the putatively discrete identities (privileged spots or specific organs) are actively entwined with each other.

Any theory of human action that conceives the action as caused by an act of intention or volition virtually posits a split between the action and its intention and reduces the former into a brute physical event. (This is simply because cause and effect, though brush against each other in the most intimate fashion remain distinct in the long run.)  Davidson’s theory of action[5], despite its sophisticated and multiple dimensions, suffers from this lacuna. In so far as it admits a split between the action and its causal antecedent, it will not be able to prevent male chauvinists, sex-maniacs and rapists gaining mileage from the determinist theory of causation (invested with a cognitive gap between the action and its cause).  How will Davidson handle the acts of uttering clichés like ‘I have no control over my action’, ‘My penis is my monarch’, ‘Whenever I see or touch a woman’s body I have such and such reactions absolutely determined, I have no cognizance of the internal happenings’ etc. etc.? Such escape-routes used conveniently used by both theoreticians and common people are not only culpable of a moral error but also an intellectual error.  We should appreciate that using such a causal model with a projection of epistemological gaps within the process is just a manner of speaking or a language-game with no external reality-constraints of objects and events.

That the sexual instinct, like all other instincts, is conceptual in nature, is evident from the way they develop. Instincts are not stereotyped or fixed in nature; they conceptually transit from one object to another – like the chick’s instinctive movement to follow a moving object is transformed into her moving mother. Similarly, our sexual instincts to caress undulations, ups and downs of tactual surface transit from our pillows, tables, seeds, to our bodies and undulations of others’ bodies  – all occurring in a conceptual fashion. All this shows a slight variation from what McDowell says[6]:  our sexual nature embeds our conceptual operations in a way that there is no notionally separate concept independent of our nature. In other words, there are no antecedent happenings in our body – the neural firings, the muscle contractions or pre-conceptual sensations that causally determine our sexual experiences and activities, rather these happenings are tantamount to the latter. ‘The guilt (of a wrong sexual act) lies in the very fact that he chose in the way that seemed so natural.’[7]

[1] Wittgenstein, L, The Blue and the Brown Books, ed. R. Rhees (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975) p 2

[2] Wittgenstein, L, Remarks on Colour, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe, trans. Linda L. McAlister and Margaret Schattle (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1950), Part I : section 25

[3] Wittgenstein, L, Philosophical Investigations, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe, R. Rhees, and G. H. von Wright, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984) section 47.

[4]I have drawn the relevant details about the notions of orgasm and sexual response-cycle from web: , accessed 30.11.17

[5] Davidson D, Essays on Actions and Events, (Oxford, Clarendon, 2001)

[6] McDowell, J., Mind and World,  (England: Harvard University Press, 1996)  p 88,89

[7]Wittgenstein, L., ‘Lectures on Freedom of the Will’, Philosophical Occasions, 1912–31 eds J. C. Klagge and

Alfred Nordmann (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993) p. 436.

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