As we grow up, we learn to equate control with maturity. The more control one has, the better off they will be. This does not have to be a bad thought process; when I say control, that includes self-control as well.
We learn to see what we control as part of the fabric of our identity. It becomes often very hard to let go of control, especially if what you will stop controlling is considered dear to you. In fact, the idea of losing control can be so awful just to meditate on that we often do everything we can to avoid things that could lead to loss of control.
Violence is one of those things. It’s not a coincidence that this word sounds like [and comes from the same root as] the word “violate.” Because that’s what violence is–someone is getting violated. Their control over something is being ripped from their grasp. The more intimate the control being stripped away, the more violent the act is.
Because so many of us shield ourselves from situations where this will happen to us, we often don’t experience a lot of very serious violence (unfortunately there are people for whom that is not true). So we become fascinated by what we haven’t truly experienced. It’s a curiosity about things we dare not truly put ourselves at risk of experiencing. And we sometimes delight in seeing violence happen, because it piques our curiosity. It brings us closer to moments we don’t ever want to go through… but we still get to know better what those moments look and feel like through others’ experiences, or so we think.
Sex has the same effect, especially when we shield ourselves from experiencing it often. There is a curiousness that develops. I knew somebody who put on sex toy parties and sold sex toys for a year, precisely because she did not have much sex but wanted to be more comfortable with sexuality generally (she had only had one partner in her whole life). This experience helped her to become more comfortable talking about sex, and thus to feel more a sense of control about it, and it felt good to brush with what felt so forbidden without getting completely sucked in and feeling an acute loss of control.
Here’s the other thing about sex and violence: just observing these things in reality can completely yank control away from us.
Most of us have a very hard time ignoring strong, primal emotion: you hear somebody breathing hard, shouting, crying–and suddenly, you can’t concentrate on anything else. Without anybody necessarily doing anything to you, the actors not even being aware that you are present [let alone affected], suddenly, you have lost control. You just can’t focus on anything else; the sounds and sensations of the sexual and/or violent act captivate you, and you are held hostage. There’s no ignoring it. If you aren’t used to this, it can be extremely traumatic even though you aren’t one of those taking part in the act, because you have met with a force that leaves you powerless, that you can’t just switch off.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to reclaim control when you suddenly lose it… or have the choice to avoid losing it altogether? Subconsciously, secretly, that’s what we’re after in our fascination with sex and violence. We want to figure out these forces and psychological powers that suddenly seize us and take away our sense of self and self-control, even though the truth is that we’ll never figure it all out. No wonder we’re fascinated, eh?
I want to end by saying this: don’t be ashamed. Don’t be afraid of your curiosity about sex and violence. It’s there for a good reason, and as long as you don’t violate others and take care of yourself, it’s perfectly fine to explore this curiosity. Of course, when it comes to violence I am not advising tolerance of nonconsensual activity–indiscriminate violence is completely unacceptable. BUT there are controlled ways of exploring sex and violence (and both of them put together: certain kinds of dancing, martial arts, and kink/BDSM, for example) that are very therapeutic and can help give you a sense of comfort – so that the next time you feel the control being yanked from you, you can at least have a sense of the how and why about it. You can remain calm and think more clearly about how to remedy the situation. That’s a big part of what being positive is all about; calm under fire.