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Alexandre Lacroix wants ‘a philosophical definition’ of perfect sex

In his new book, the French philosopher defends a creative and political vision of intercourse, denouncing how pornography has devalued our sex life

Alexandre Lacroix
French philosopher and writer Alexandre Lacroix.Serge Picard

They say having sex is like riding a bike. In reality, it is more like getting your driver’s license: no one pays much attention to the theory because everyone wants to jump right into the action, which they will continue to practice, hopefully, for the rest of their lives. Alexandre Lacroix thinks this is a big mistake. To help solve it, the French philosopher published Apprendre à faire l’amour (Learning to Make Love), an essay on sex in which he promises clues to obtain “the perfect fuck.” Lacroix takes from classics such as Ovid and the Taoist tradition, bringing their teachings to the present, a moment in which sex is saturated with what he refers to as Freudporn.

This unique neologism entails a monotonous and rigid script (foreplay, penetration, orgasm) that was established by the father of psychoanalysis and reinforced the pornography industry. A script that lovers (mainly heterosexuals) repeat involuntarily, following the steps of a previously choreographed dance. Instead of being driven by an atavistic and irrational instinct, what we do in bed is quite often inspired by porn sites like Pornhub.

In addition to telling personal stories, Lacroix resorts to past and present names such as Aristotle, Michel Houellebecq, Andrea Dworkin, Arthur Schopenhauer or Immanuel Kant to make the case that sex must be understood as a living, creative and performative art. In his opinion, the biological perspective of this act has been overanalyzed, while its environmental, cultural and political dimensions are often overlooked. In his attempt to figure them out he consulted books, but also took a look at the bedsheets of history, where a whole composition of passionate, mechanical and violent sex has been imprinted; one that makes us understand and practice intercourse the way we do.

Question. Can a treatise on philosophy help in bed more than a Kama Sutra?

Answer. Yes. I think that there are two dimensions there. The first is that [the Kama Sutra] is not so useful. It’s sometimes difficult to perform the positions, and it transforms the sexual intercourse into a sort of comic strip. It’s like explaining with geometry that you are having a great moment with someone; it’s not so easy. On the other hand, I think that philosophy can help because sexology is influenced by medicine and psychology. But it’s something more complicated than that. Sex is not just a biological function. It’s not like when you eat. When we are having sex, we are engaged in cultural scenarios.

Q. It’s what you call Freudporn, which is quite a word…

A. There is a theory which was quite interesting regarding the sociology of sexuality, which was published [in the 1970s] by two American researchers, John Gagnon and William Simon. [It’s called] the theory of the sexual scripts. The idea is that when we are engaged in sexual intercourse, we are following some script. These scripts are not written, but we know them. We know perfectly well what we have to do at a certain moment. And the more banal, the more simple script, is what I call the Freudporn script. The idea is that, OK, we should have preliminaries and then penetration and then orgasm and this is the correct order. This is maybe what you will do with a new partner if you are heterosexual: preliminaries, penetration, orgasm. And this is cultural, not biological.

Q. But more than 100 years passed between the publication of Freud’s Totem and Taboo and the ubiquity of Internet porn. We haven’t changed that much, then.

A. it’s difficult to say, but sexual life has changed. For example, the Greeks or the Romans were openly bisexual. Even the term “homosexuality” is very recent; the word exists since the end of the 19th century. So the concept was not used, it wasn’t known. But there was a real tension between being a top or a bottom. It was a little shameful for a man, a macho man, to be a bottom, but it was normal for young men. Another example: a novel from the Middle Ages portrays a sexual relation between a princess and a knight. But he’s not a real knight. He’s a servant disguised as a knight. And during the night, she feels that there’s something wrong because he doesn’t kiss her. People from the low layer of society didn’t usually kiss while fucking. This is cultural.

[Another story is that of] famous French anthropologist, Jean Malaurie. He was living with the Inuits [inhabitants of the Arctic tundra of northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland] in the 1950s. And during the winter there was a woman he went to, who gave him some company. He describes this sexual intercourse: just penetration, in one position. Because if he had done something else, it would have felt like a profanation or an aggression. And it’s interesting because this describes the confrontation between the European script, which was for the preliminaries, penetration, orgasm, and the Inuit script, which was really just simple: just penetration in one position.

Q. Until a few years ago, sex was considered inherently apolitical. In your book, you quote thinkers like Andrea Dworkin to argue otherwise.

A. She’s a feminist, a radical feminist. And she was convinced that sex was very political. She said that what happens in the bedroom is outside the public sphere, but this does not mean that it is something neutral, it is convenient for a few. In this case, it has been perfect for the man.

Q. In your book, you promise “a philosophical definition of the perfect fuck.” What would it be?

A. There is the question of the rhythm [of our sex life]. It is like electronic music, you know, boom, boom, boom. Very mechanical. We would have to swing; when you swing, you repeat the same thing, but there is a kind of elasticity. It’s something that you feel. [We must] deconstruct the Freudporn script, which is really thick with the idea of procreation, it’s like a moral justification. But the education is done by pornography.

Q. Because the sex that is practiced in solitude influences the sex that is performed with company.

A. More and more. In France, the median age of the first exposition to pornography is 11. But the median age of the first [encounter with a] person has not changed in 40 years, 15 for the men and 16 for the women. So it means that during five or six years, all your education is done by pornography. The main problem is that in the mainstream porn, women have no pleasure, the representation of the minorities...

Q. Regarding sex, people tend to prefer practice to theory. Is this a mistake? Should people read more on the subject?

A. Yes, I’ve read a lot, and it’s not so easy to get out of the pornographic representation of sex. In every country in the world, Pornhub is among the ten most seen websites. It means that there is a globalization of access, but it’s not so easy to discuss it with the parents. It’s not really easy for us to discuss it with the teenagers. So there is a silence there. It’s not always easy to discuss some things. But there is a very big tradition in literature and philosophy: Ovid, The Art of Love, China’s Taoist tradition. It’s like dancing, it could be very creative. It’s not just about getting a satisfaction. And so my idea was to write a book in this tradition, from the 21st century.

Q. We talk a lot about the influence of pornography, but how have other technological advances such as dating apps influenced? Have Tinder, Bumble and Grindr changed the way people think about sex?

A. It has improved the dynamic that is transforming sex into market. You have a price. The algorithm gives you a level of desirability. When you enter your age, the place you live in... It’s like when you are in a chess tournament. If someone has a higher position than you, they swipe you. If someone has a lower position than you, you are good to go. You are in the market, and you behave a little like someone on Amazon, when you want to buy something you want to know a lot of things. What do you prefer? What is your body like?

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