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What is Good Sex?

[Image from unknown archive] [Image from unknown archive]

I am sure we all have our own answers to this question. While I can only imagine how interesting these answers may be, the answer according to the Lebanese state (or any other state) is much more complicated. This answer is refracted and expressed through various mediums, including the law. One way to understand what "good sex" is according to the Lebanese state is to study the way that sex is regulated in the Lebanese legal system. In order to do this, the legal system in its entirety must be taken into account. 

Personal status, civil, and criminal law should be studied as part of this larger system in order to understand the overall philosophy of sex that is being expresed when, for example, both anal sex (criminal law) and sex with a sterile husband or wife (personal status) are acts that can be legally sanctioned.

In Lebanon, two articles in the criminal code have recently gained notoriety in activist communities. One of these articles excludes wives from the protection of rape laws and the other is article 534, which criminalizes “unnatural sexual acts” and has been used most often to prosecute sex between two or more men. As such, feminist and anti-domestic violence activists have been very vocal on the issue of marital rape, while LBGTQ activists have focused on the repeal of article 534. While both groups of activists are, perhaps, “fighting a good fight”, they lack a holistic approach as to how all sex is regulated by state structures. Before we decide which battles to choose and which battle tactics to deploy, I believe it is necessary to understand the ideology of the legal system and, crucially, the way the laws are being practiced. Only then can we understand how and why sex is being regulated. Why does the state care so much about sex?

The goal of the Lebanese legal system is not to discriminate, per se, against gays and lesbians or against women and against wives. Rather, the collection of laws that regulate sex aim to produce ideal female and male citizens who will then be married and produce another generation of citizens. For the Lebanese state, all sex that does not lead to this production of legitimately conceived citizens [children born to married heterosexual couples] is discriminated against legally at different levels. For example, adultery is criminal, and the prison sentence for a female adulteress is potentially higher than it would be for a female who is being prosecuted for lesbian sex under article 534. In a similar vein, a man who violently and repeatedly rapes a female can marry his victim and not be charged with a crime. Consent is not a component of “good sex”-- a fact that the exclusion of wives from rape laws makes clear. Furthermore, most personal status laws allow a man to divorce his wife if he discovers that she was not a virgin prior to marrying him, effectively making premarital sex a  penalizable offense for over half of the Lebanese population. “Good Sex”, therefore, is sex that leads to the birth of citizens through the acts of married heterosexual vaginal sex. “Bad Sex” is all sex that falls outside this function, a definition that includes, for example, a married heterosexual couple having consensual anal sex.

For activists, the goal should not (only) be to struggle against, for example, the criminalization of “queer sex” or against the legalization of “marital rape” in Lebanon. Rather, activists of all causes related to sex should recognize each other as allies in the fight against the bio-political technologies of the state and the state’s investment in regulating the production of citizens through determination of “good” and “bad” sex. As citizens, our bodies are the stuff of politics and the target of law because it is through our bodies that we produce the next generation of citizens and thus ensure the longevity of the state.

A caveat. Law is not the only political technology that regulates sex. Furthermore, laws are not always enforced. When they are enforced, that enforcement is often refracted through class, gender, ignorance of the law, and other power dynamics. For those who find themselves in a weak position, sometimes the threat of law is sufficient. Women and men who cohabitate without being married often find themselves in this position. Although cohabitation is not illegal, woman are often threatened by landlords or even bribe-seeking vice police with the crime of prostitution or a non-legal sanction: public exposure in a society that does not accept cohabitation. There are other, more insiduos forms regulating sex. This week, a friend of mine went who works for an international human rights organization was called into the police station to follow up on a case of a transexual individual that her organization has been working on. When she arrived at the station, the policeman immediately began interrogating her about her own sexuality, an interrogation that was clearly illegal under Lebanese law. The policeman asked her if she was a "woman" or a "girl", a semantic binary that is often used to denote virginity and non-virginity. When she refused to answer, the policeman threatened her with a medical exam to determine if she is "a girl" or a "woman". These extra-legal threats, when voiced from legal positions of power, are another way to regulate sex and, in this particular case, to frighten one into submission. This time, the policeman's threat with what amounts to what one could call "medical rape" (لاغتصاب الطبي) did not work, but only because my friend is well versed in Lebanese law (and there is no criminal law against pre-marital sex), has the protection of an international human rights organization, and has been known to be quite stubborn. Others may not find themselves in such a privelaged position.


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