Sexuality in Literature

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Sexuality has been a theme in literature since the origins of literature itself. Its role in literature is undoubtedly a reflection of how various cultures view sexuality and what its role is in those cultures. Sexuality can be as important and prevalent in a culture as money, power and time, or it can be so suppressed as to consider a taboo. Authors across time have explored the ideas of sexuality and expressed their own beliefs, often contrary to the culture in which they live, on its importance, advantages, and disadvantages.

This page will primarily discuss the role that sexuality has played in novels under the genre of Cyberpunk, but it should certainly not be limited to that.


Sexuality in CyberPunk

One of the major questions that arises in Cyberpunk is what does it mean to be human. Many complex answers arise from discussion of emotion, sentience, and genetics. Sometimes a simpler answer comes from the ability to engage in sex. Others would argue that this is merely a primal behavior that is common with animals. Nevertheless, many authors of Cyberpunk use examples of sexuality to explore what it means to be human. By no means are these authors shy in there examples and detail in using sexuality. From inter-special sex to human-cyborg sex, these authors will use whatever is necessary to convey their message as well as brighten their story.


Of the three novels listed here, Neuromancer contained the least amount of sexuality and even at that, the sex in this novel probably had the most insignificant implications with respect to the themes of Cyberpunk. The most evident example in the novel was the sexual relationship between Case and Molly. It is known that Case prefers to exist in the virtual world rather than the real world, as the entire novel is based around his initiative to get back into the virtual world. It is possible that William Gibson is using Case's sexual relations with Molly as one of Case's few connections to the real world. Nevertheless, Case appears not to care so much about Molly. The sexual scenes in between the two almost have the appearance of a footnote, which might even support Case's growing desire to return to the virtual world. Concerning Molly, later in the novel it is briefly mentioned that in order for her to obtain her various mechanical enhancements she was forced to work as a sort of puppet in something like a brothel.


Sexuality is an integral part of Schismatrix.

The first example of a sexual element is presented when Lindsay is exiled to the "sundog" world of Zaibatsu. In a blatant example of how prevalent sex is in the culture of this artificial planet, Lindsay finds out that one of the primary currencies is hours of sexual labor. By such example, Bruce Sterling is showing the value of sexuality in this culture and explaining how important it has become to this society. While Zaibatsu is a dystopian society, it is a society of the future, and Bruce Sterling might be suggesting a trend that as societies modernize and age they become more open with sexuality.

While Lindsay is on Zaibatsu the reader is introduced to another Shaper, Kitsune who appears to be much more "shaped" than Lindsay himself. In an extremely bizarre, twisted sex scene, the two shapers join and experience senses in ways that Sterling describes as being quite different than a human beings. This is example actually counters the argument that sexuality is defining characteristic of humanity. Kitsune, as a character, embodies the idea of a post-human, something that is no longer human but beyond, perhaps superior, or perhaps not. Nevertheless, the fact that she is engaging in sexual behavior in the same sort of way that Lindsay is, seems to negate the principle of sexuality's integral role in humanity .

The next appearance of sex in the novel comes in the form of an odd ritual aboard the spaceship Red Consensus. Though the language is somewhat difficult to understand, essentially all the members of this "nation-state" engage in a scheduled orgy. The fact that this "nation" is so small, approximately 10 to 15 people, is definitely a contributing factor to the implementation of such a mandatory orgy. This example is most likely going back to a support for the humanness of sexuality. Though all the people on the Red Consensus are not purely human as the book defines it, they do attempt to cling to culture that would establish them as humans. They have a democracy with elected officials and cling to this militant democracy as though it were an official government, which in a sense, it actually is. By this mini-cultures attempts to cling to what is human, their orgy ritual is yet another example supporting sexuality as a defining human characteristic.

Another example supporting the ideal that sexuality is integral to being human, occurs when Lindsay convinces or manipulates Nora Mavrides into having sex with him using aphrodisiacs. All before their sexual encounter, Lindsay had been trying to persuade Nora to join him and leave. It is only after the sex, that Lindsay was finally able to convince her to abandon her shaper duties and join him in "sundogging" it and surviving. As is discussed in Flesh Made Word survival is another instinct that is innately human. Essentially Lindsay used the sex to get Nora to relate to her human side and embrace not only her human sexuality but also embrace the human instinct to survive, linking these two distinctly human character traits.

Later in the novel, there is an even more weird occurrence of alien sexuality. The alien sexuality is extremely different form human sexuality in that it establishes the social hierarchy and violations against the standards of their informal sexual code are as taboo as things like pedophilia or incest in most human cultures' standards of sexual conduct. By making the alien's sexuality so different from human sexuality, Bruce Sterling may be trying to propose that sexuality in any species or culture is a defining attribute of the that species.

He, She and It

The largest example of sexuality in He, She, and It is when Yod, the cyborg, and Shira, the protagonist finally engage in sexual relations. When Shira first met Yod, she immediately classified him as being a machine, and not human at all. After she had sexual relations with him,however, she thought of him almost to the equivalent as a human. This drastic transition lends to the idea that the sex changed her opinion of how human Yod really was. Consequently this would establish sex as an integral quality of humanity.

One other brief example of sexuality in the novel was the mentioning that Gadi and Shira had used "stimmies" to have sex before having real sex later. Since "stimmies" are essentially virtual realities, the two had virtual sex before they had sex. More than a reflection about humanity, this example explores the theme of virtual versus real and how the two interact with one another. As the current society has more and more of an existence in the virtual world, scenarios not too different from this virtual sex are becoming more and more prevalent. The simplest example in society now would be pornography, but this could arguably be placed under erotica which has existed for centuries. However, the growing amounts of cyber sex and even virtual worlds where sex is the main focus are other more modern examples similar to this one in He, She, and It. The novel He, She and It by Marge Piercy is centrally themed around a kind of socratic discussion between characters as to what exactly defines a humans.  Piercy decideds to take an indepth look particularly at human sexuality.  Humans are one of only three known species that engage in sexual behavior for pleasure.  Yod,  not being human, cannot enjoy any physical pleasure from sex, and yet he still seeks it both because he is programmed to as the ideal man, but because he wants to feel a human connection.  This is a key ingrdiant of the issue that is introduced early on, the link between physical and mental sex.  At some level one could say that Shira uses Yod as though he were a very expensive and skillful dildo, and this is indeed how many humans even treat their sexual partners.  After her first time having sex with Yod, Shira realizes it was the most satisfied and fulfilled she had since her teenage sweetheart.  Now she begins to form a mental connection when having sex with Yod even while realizing explicitly that he cannot truely have 'feelings' for her because he is not human.  Here there is some refernence the the pervasive theme of Solipsism that exists in cyber punk novels.  This deceit of perspective means that because Shira can form a connection with Yod and is not aware of him as she is self aware, then she has to assume that both her mental and physical connection are reality.  This intriquate intertwining of both the mind and body in a sexual relationship are key to determining Piercy's views on sex.  Also it is important to identify the importance of gender roles to a feminist author writing about sex.  It is clear that Yod cannot recieve pleasure from sex and yet he is happy to work tirelessly to please Shira.  This kind of Form (Theory of Forms) of a man would never actually exist but is still suggested by Piercy.

Sexuality in Culture

Sexuality only appears in Literature as a reflection on the sexuality of a culture. Many different societies have varying views on the importance of sexuality and its level of openness.

One interesting fact about sexuality in culture is that the levels of acceptable sexual behavior are almost always unevenly distributed between genders. It is very typical for society's to allow men to be open with their sexuality, but to expect women to be modest and chaste. Though it is starting to even in the United States, it is definitely not at a level of equality yet.

Sexuality in the United States

In the last century America has moved ever more towards the liberal side of sexual openness. From the "flappers" in the twenties to the "pornstars" in the nineties American entertainment has become the face of sexual openness. However despite its recent liberation, there are many traditional and conservative Americans who still cling to morals and values of modesty, chastity, and abstinence. The major rift in Americans concerning sex is divided along lines of religion (mostly Christianity) and secularism. As the country moves away from the Christian ideals of those who founded the country, the country moves towards a society freely allowing sex.

Despite the trend towards sexual openness, American culture still holds many sexual practices as taboos and attempts to suppress them through either the law or social pressure. These include things such as pedophilia and incest.

Like any other culture, the appearances of sex in Literature serve as a catalyst to push our society towards the ideals and manners presented in such literature. American literature serves not only as a catalyst but also as a record of the sexual progression of America in cases such as when characters express their sexual limitations placed upon them by cultures, particularly because of their gender.

Sexuality in Other Nations

Perhaps one of the most liberal nations concerning sexuality is Japan. Pornography is prevalent in its newspapers, advertisements and media. Additionally discussing sexual behavior in Japan is not nearly as avoided in Japan as it is in western countries.

European nations in general are much more free with their sexuality, an interesting reversal from the early twentieth century when most European nations were shocked by what was seen at the time as being scandalous behavior.

In short, the U.S. is simply more conservative in the way we address sexuality versus other countries in the world today.

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