Desire and Interdiction

By | 19/01/2015

Desire can be defined as a kind of “tension” that impels a person in the direction of something or somebody, the most common kind being of sexual nature. Intellectual curiosity is another kind of desire, one that drives children, from their earliest days, to try to understand how everything surrounding them works. Our bodies have needs, which differ from desire – an unfulfilled need will cause death; an unfulfilled desire, only frustration. Needs, such as food, clothing, drink, etc., can blend with desires. Eating is a need; eating chocolate, a desire. Clothes are a need; that special shirt is a desire.

We human beings have used a good part of our brainpower into producing many new objects. When successful, they quickly become “objects of desire,” which, unlike sex and curiosity, are not natural at all.  Many of these desired objects become so essential to our lives that we begin to perceive them as necessary. Something that did not even exist until recently becomes desirable, then essential. The most obvious example is the cell phone: it’s impossible to imagine life without it, these days!

At first, new objects are accessible only to a small and exclusive group of people; their high cost prevents most from purchasing them. Many might desire a certain item, but they can’t have it, because of its price. There is desire, but also interdiction, which only serves to reinforce said desire. Eventually, the desired object becomes more accessible, and those who hadn’t previously been able to afford avidly purchase it. As soon as desire is gratified, though, it goes away – we can only desire what we do not have. New items come along and the cycle repeats itself. To keep consumerism going, new objects of desire, which will become essential, must keep being invented.

One interesting example of the mechanism of desire concerns eating. When someone is overweight and decides to adopt a restrictive diet, they begin to live in a context of privation, forbidden to eat many, many different kinds of food, usually the highest in calories and, therefore, most desired and delicious ones. They are free to eat salad, all kinds of vegetables, lean meats and not much else.  At first, it is not an issue, since the aesthetic goal is a reward proportional to the sacrifice. But the mere thought of not being able to eat pizza on a weekend or getting ice cream for dessert vastly increases the desire for these treats. Interdiction seems to increase the desire to eat what is forbidden instead of what is allowed.

Sexual desire has always been subjected to strict interdiction, by rules designed to organize life in society. Freud believed that sexual regulations – and the frustration it generates – where an essential mainstay of social life. This was true, until a few decades ago. Up until the 1960s, women had to remain virgins until marriage, to prevent pregnancies outside of the nuclear family. Marital fidelity, especially from women, was a means to ensure the paternity of the person who would provide for the family; so on and so forth.

Sexual drive has always been repressed by moral and religious beliefs, as well as social rules. This kind of desire was seen as a dangerous enemy of the establishment and was only allowed to manifest itself between married couples. It became, undoubtedly, the most important desire felt by humankind for centuries. But here is a question: once the rules that restrict sexual interactions between single, uncommitted and same-sex people begin to erode, will desire still be as intense? If it is true that interdiction makes desire grow, less restriction might make sex less interesting and important to future generations!

It is quite interesting to observe how our own actions develop and bring change. Who would have thought that the pill’s invention and the huge changes in women’s social roles, which generated until then unimagined sexual freedom, would end up decreasing the importance of sexual desire?

Tradução: Amanda Morris