This Sunday is the Puerto Rican Day Parade -- still the largest outdoor event in the
You get to be a PR this weekend. I will be giving out free PR injections in my capacity as the Official Spokesperson for All Nuyoricans (women only need apply, sorry).
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from “Porky's” (1982)
(l) Mark Herrier peers through one hole into the girls’ shower room, while Wyatt Knight exposes himself through another hole.
(r) Kaki Hunter (far right) and the other girls in the shower room sense that they are being watched and go to investigate.
-=[ Are You Normal?]=-
Yesterday, I posted a blog about relationship addictions. I submitted that a large part of relationship dysfunctions have their roots in social norms. It was connected to a line of thought I began last week -- an exploration into normalcy . Actually, I used Sex and the City to show how popular culture often defines normalcy. In addition, I showed how shifting sexual attitudes have liberated sex from the grip of religious institutions. As a result, the primary purpose of marriage has shifted from economic necessity and procreation to companionship. How we measure success (or “happiness”) today includes physical vitality and life enjoyment. Changes in social attitudes and advancements in contraception have allowed women to view sexuality as separate from reproduction and a legitimate vehicle for self-expression and, yes... pleasure.
These changes, I argued, resulted in an increased importance of sex in relationships and how we define ourselves. People today are relying on personal relationships to provide a sense of worth. Sexuality, with its ties to intimacy and our inner emotional lives, has become an essential part of that identity. This is why so many people are looking for guidance in the sexual arena. It is why so many people often ask the question (especially in sexual matters), “Is this normal?”
Today, I’m going to attempt to explore the concept of “normalcy,” which really isn’t as simple as many of us make it to be. I will also show that while sex has been freed from the clutches of religious repression, it has been medicalized. Today sexuality is not so much morality (evil versus good) as much as about psychological normality (deviant versus normal).
So, what is normalcy? There are several ways to answer this question...
First, there is the subjective answer. According to this definition, I am normal, and so is anyone who is the same as me. Secretly, this is the definition most of use, though we would never admit it publicly.
Then there is the statistical definition which views whatever behaviors are most common as normal; less frequent ones are abnormal. If you conduct a survey, ask people what kinds of sexual activities they have engaged in the past five years, and graph the results on a curve, the most frequent responses will be those in the middle, with the extreme highs and lows at the ends. The idea of normalcy as something that is not too low or not too high is based on the statistical viewpoint. In our culture today, “too little sex” has joined “too much sex” as cause for concern.
From the idealistic perspective, normal means perfect, an ideal to be striven for. Those who model their behavior on Christ or Gandhi, for example, are taking an ideal for their norm, against which they measure all other deviations.
Without being aware of it, most of us use the cultural definition as the standard for what is normal. This measure illustrates why our ideas of normal do not always agree with those of people from other cultures or countries. Bare breasts or men kissing public are normal in one place but abnormal in another. In addition, it is common for deviant behavior to be perceived as dangerous or threatening in a culture that rejects it, although the same behavior may be common and harmless in another culture. Mouth-to-mouth kissing is a great example. For a significant part of the world, mouth-to-mouth kissing is regarded as unsanitary and disgusting, and yet in Europe and
The above definitions are for the most part subjective. In other words, they seem to depend on individual or group opinion rather than on “objective” evidence. This brings me to the final way of defining normalcy and that’s the clinical perspective. The clinical standard, technically speaking, uses scientific data about health and illness to make judgments. This is what should contrast the clinical perspective from the rest. For example, a specific blood pressure, diet, or activity is considered clinically abnormal when research shows that it is related to disease or disability. In this context, cultural or subjective norms shouldn’t matter.
However, using the clinical standard when it comes to human behavior is problematic. Who’s to say, for example, that an absence of interest in sex is abnormal? What sickness does sexual avoidance bring about? What’s the disability? Obviously, such a person misses out on a life experience valued by many people, but is “avoiding” sex the same as avoiding dietary essentials? At worse, it’s more like avoiding traveling or taking risks.
I would submit that much of the clinical standards established for sexuality are based on cultural and class opinion dressed up in scientific language. For example, sexual habits and preferences that do not conform to the procreative model of sex are the ones considered deviant. From lack of erection and orgasm to preference to masturbation and oral sex over intercourse to involvement of pain or items of clothing in sexual role-play -- almost everything that listed as psychiatrically abnormal refers to sexual practice that deviates from a preference for heterosexual sex as the standard. And it wasn’t until 1973 that the psychiatric community was pressured to “declassify” homosexuality as deviant.
A persistent interest in unconventional sexual expression is often seen by clinicians as evidence of deviance or abnormality. Although I agree that such patterns could be evidence of underlying psychological problems, I would require corroborating evidence from other parts of a person’s life.
The issue (and where I will leave it for now) brings me back to Sex and The City. The reason why Sex and the City is so popular is that it helps many women define “normalcy.” And “normalcy” -- at least for the women portrayed in Sex and The City -- is more about conforming (i.e., getting a man/ married), than personal liberation. You see, the problem is that the existence of standards of normality is that it breeds harmful psychological consequences for those who deviate. This is known as “social control.” and once norms become clinical standards, it’s very difficult to identify those psychological problems that might not exist if social conformity weren’t so important.
But that’s for next week... LOL