Compulsory Sexuality.

The other day I saw the movie, The Hero, with Sam Elliott. This was the third, low-budget, ‘quiet’ movie I have seen him in. I really enjoyed the first half, but then it started to flatten out and get boring. After realistically presenting some of the issues an old pothead who is tired of life has to confront, the movie suddenly veers off into him starting a romance with a gorgeous woman half his age.

Adrienne Rich wrote an excellent essay on ‘compulsory heterosexuality.’ For me, this idea should be broadened to ‘compulsory sexuality.’ How many movies are made that do not include at least one sexual act? The ‘ritual of the sex act’ is embedded in almost every fictional narrative.

A few days ago I came across an interesting statistic. Only 7% of Americans, aged 64 and older, have never been married. While I don’t know what the percentage is now, a few years ago, 50% of all marriages ended in divorce.

If half of the people who do X, don’t like it, then it would stand to reason that there is something wrong with X. But because of ‘compulsory sexuality’ the X here (marriage), is never seriously questioned. Even for the 50% of people who stay married, how many are just ‘sticking it out’ for money or the kids? While I’m sure there are people who are happily married, I have never met any of them.

What happens in a movie that does not include ‘the sex act’? Well, the recent film Beatriz at Dinner is a good example. The main character, a single woman, commits suicide. Or, how about Grandma, a movie about an older woman who, at the end, is shown walking down a deserted alley shaking her head and shrugging her shoulders.

Regardless of how one defines their gender, isn’t ‘gender’ primarily about who you have sex with, how you have sex, or whether or not you strongly identify with some aspect of your ‘sexuality’?

More and more people are simply coming to the end of ‘the ritual of the sex act,’ but given that this ritual is the end-all, be-all of human existence, what else is there? What could the man in The Hero or the woman in Grandma have done that would dramatically change the narrative?


There is a strange restlessness taking over my days. I want to break through walls but instead I hit my head and bounce back to ‘what is.’ While every day is filled with the richness of new experience, it is a richness that has no recognizable currency. I can’t count what I am in dollars, in children, or by how many times I have sex each week.

How do I quantify the richness of a red flower shimmering in the sun or a hummingbird suddenly fluttering in front of me? How do I keep track of moments of serenity or the wide open, fiercely free space that stretches out into infinity?

“Space is increasingly crowded with the abundance of objects modern technology has created, and this in turn is reflected in the crowded inner landscape of our thoughts and desires. While knowledge continues to divide, specialize, and proliferate, we appear to be moving toward less certainty rather than more. The light of knowledge as it is projected from the past into the future has somehow grown dim, and is now powerless to illuminate a clear path of action. We no longer see where the arrow of the future is pointing; we do not know the direction of human destiny.” ~ Tarthang Tulku, Knowledge of Time and Space.


One thought on “Compulsory Sexuality.

  1. I could also do without the sexuality in movies. I was planning to see Hero until I saw the trailer — yet another plot line with an older man involved with a woman half his age.


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