A feminist/phenomenological perspective In her article “Better Sex”, Sara Ruddick develops a fine- grained phenomenological account of sexual experiences. (Phenomenological analyses use carefully disciplined attention to human experience as primarily embodied beings.) Her account offers a much richer description of human sexual experiences than those that focus on sex and sexuality as something involving only bodies.
These latter accounts derive from at least two sources. The first is a kind of dualism – whether religious or philosophical – that makes a strong separation between the person as a soul or mental agent, on the one hand, and their body, including their sexuality, on the other. These dualisms have predominated in Western traditions since at least the time of Augustine, and are carried through into modern philosophical thought in the profoundly influential work of René Descartes. Beginning with William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer, which invented the term “cyberspace” and defined it as opposed to the world of “meat,” these dualisms predominated in 1980s and 1990s understandings of “cyberspace” and virtual worlds as radically different from our more ordinary, offline worlds. The second source is simple materialism – the view that holds that human beings are fully reducible to the workings of their solely material bodies, as described by and predictable through the various natural laws of biochemistry, neurology, simple physics, and so forth. On this view, there is no free human agent – only the illusion of freedom. We really are “just meat” – no different in any significant way from, say, dolphins, other hominids, or cows. For many in the contemporary world, especially those raised in highly secular societies in Northern and Eastern Europe, and some parts of Asia, this view may seem common sense and unproblematic. Be aware, however, that this view is rejected by most contemporary philosophers, who opt instead for a position called “compatibilism.” This view holds that “free will is compatible with [material] determinism”. The trick here is to be a compatibilist without being a dualist; it is not necessarily easy, but it can be done.