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The Prisoner of Sex

by Sarah Ruden

Sarah Ruden examines Camille Paglia’s sexual emphasis

I was out of the country during most of Camille Paglia’s rise as a commentator on sex and culture. I encountered her writing directly for the first time only this summer, in a New York Times opinion piece about erotic malaise in the American bourgeoisie (“No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class,” June 27). Because I’m also an inquirer into the foundations of modern Western sexuality — in the strictures of Paul of Tarsus — I was fascinated. Since then, reading works by and about Paglia, I found that the Times op-ed was a typical provocation. She is that rare thing, an intellectual force of nature: Nothing stands in the way of her revealing the truth of her own experience and perception.

And, in the case of this New York Times article, there was an impressive amount standing in the way. In the highly respected 1994 University of Chicago study “Sex in America,” faithful married partners — solid majorities of both men and women — reported the most and the best sex. And if two prolonged wars and economic hard times have made those throngs of the satisfied less satisfied, Camille Paglia wouldn’t know about it. She cannot bear to look at any evidence of sex quietly integrated into life, as in marriage. Sex, she has long argued, properly strives to be itself (whatever that might be), free from social and even biological tyranny. (“For a fetus is a benign tumor, a vampire who steals in order to live.”)

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