The End Of Desire

Postulate: some time in the future, a politically-correct attempt to suppress “appearance-ism” and achieve what Hartley once called “facial justice” through a tailored virus or some other deus ex machina goes horribly wrong, wiping out human sexual desire altogether. As is common in SF, we ignore the fine print of whether and how this is actually possible, and concentrate on the social consequences.

After the Change, sex remains feasible, just, but with little enjoyment, finally realising the medieval Christian ideal of relationships being based solely upon a non-passionate respectful affection. In consequence, marital partners are selected for friendship or on rational economic or reproductive criteria. There is very little incentive for infidelity, and children are fewer but more likely to be wanted. Romantic love, of course, is mostly exploded; for it never was anything but a dishonest name for simple horniness, with a dash of parent-figure projection and a thirst for narcissistic supply. The aesthetics of the human form are transformed, and the ideas of beauty, fuckability and congeniality may finally be disentangled from one another. Loneliness, of course, is if anything greater than before, and most especially among the attractive; for these men and women never had any difficulty finding a warm body to lie next to, and now nobody actually wants them. Unfortunately, the darker aspects of sex are also intact, because they were never about desire in the first place: namely domination and collection. In addition, all the purely mental perversions remain.

What other drives would be taken down by the end of desire? By definition, all accumulation of power and property for the sake of reproductive opportunity. By reproductive opportunity we mean, not just the chance to have sex, but also access to high-quality partners, which covers everything from good health to good looks, plus assistance in ensuring that healthy, good-looking progeny survives to reproductive age. The question for the story then becomes, how much accumulation of power and property is not engaged in for the sake of reproductive opportunity. Aristotle Onassis, who ought to know, once said that without women, all the money in the world would have no meaning. All right then, so how will men behave if all the money in the world loses its meaning? And on the distaff side, how much female beautification and display is aimed at men, that is, attraction of a mate, and how much is aimed at other women, that is, assertion of status for its own sake? The end of desire might be the only thing that can reliably tell us.

On the answer to this last question will obviously depend the fates of the cosmetics, perfume and other beautification industries. In most places, we will still need clothing to protect us from the elements; and in places where we don’t, it would be interesting to find out whether religious people in hot and humid countries relax the ban on nudity now that it can no longer incite lust. But what form will that clothing then take? Will we all look like the Fifties East Bloc, or will we pour our energies instead into baroque styles for their own sake? Except for the dark corners of non-consensual sadism, the whole sex industry will naturally disappear, and that means half the entertainment industry as well. Why, artistes might actually have to learn to sing! And find something else to sing about. As regards to movies, it is probable that many classic stories will survive; even if we no longer have Boy Meets Girl, we shall still need Good v. Evil and Person Conquers Adversity. The pitting of wits against the natural world never had much to do with sex anyway, or much room for it.

We should remember, on the other hand, how many sectors of the economy are actually hidden quasi-prostitutions, by which we mean the employment of people with whom one does not necessarily have sex but whose ability to inspire desire and fantasies is nevertheless an essential part of the job. When, for example, did you last see an ugly receptionist or bellboy? Let us likewise wonder how many secretaries, research assistants, tennis coaches and alternative therapists will survive the Change. Much business travel and junketing will turn out not to be necessary after all, the same will go for tourism in general – in particular South-East Asia for the men and Italy and Africa for the women. The mountain-hotel conference, which here in Norway serves to offer female executives, civil servants and academics a game of musical beds in the same manner as the classical English country-house weekend, will overnight be restricted to people who honestly enjoy mountain air. The only sectors that will not be devastated will be agriculture, fisheries and food; civils, construction and utilities; the less frivolous branches of manufacturing such as machine tools; medicine, law and accountancy; and – in contrast to cinema – most of the book world.

Possibly to the surprise of some, Catholicism will be seriously confused. Yes, it is against recreational sex, but is it not simultaneously in favour of populating Heaven, which will become harder if no one has the hots. Judaism will be in even worse a state, as will be other family cults like the Moonies and Mormons. Protestantism will probably cope. Islam and Hinduism – I have no idea. The only winner among the major religions will be philosophical (as opposed to popular) Buddhism.

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