Sex in the Future: The Reproductive Revolution and How It Will Change Us
Author: Robin Baker
Publisher: New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000
Review Published: May 2004
Sex in the Future is an unusual book. Robin Baker has tackled some very complex and taboo issues by writing a series of "scenes" or, as Baker describes, "short stories interspersed with scientific discussion" (xvi). The aim of the scenes for Baker is to enable the reader to gain "a flavour of reproductive life in the not-too-distant future and to show that when seen through the eyes of characters rather than through the stark imagery of scientific jargon, nothing seems quite as scary" (ibid). The contents are divided into five themed sections, each section containing two or more chapters. This makes it easy to read, but some of the later chapters go on to incorporate and extrapolate complex issues already covered in earlier chapters. Themes discussed are: "the decline of the nuclear family"; "an end to fertility"; "choosing a gamete partner"; "relationships to fear"; and "time warps." This book is a narrative of options and choices for possible technologies of procreation in the future and a speculation on subsequent impacts on society.
One of the complex social issues concerning the section on the "nuclear family" raised by Baker is the future of paternity testing and child support. He suggests DNA fingerprinting and naming of possible fathers, and introduces the idea of a "child tax" (28). In this way, the author confronts future issues of civil liberty, crime detection, and surveillance. In the light of future information technology, such databases would be, as Baker asserts, available on a global scale. In his descriptive scenes, Baker sets examples of infidelity, entrapment, and the financial implications of procreation. He describes the breakdown of the nuclear family and argues that "single parenthood will become the best system for raising children in the twenty-first century" (51). The section goes on to investigate in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy, and projects possible new ways in which the technologies of IVF could be developed along with, and complemented by, surrogacy. This is done by referring to the social and legal issues raised by Kim Cotton, Britain’s first surrogate mother, who founded COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy) (88). In order to balance such issues, Baker then explores similar issues for men such as artificial insemination and introduces the notion of "surrogate testes." It is at this point that the book projects some controversial but extremely novel and unusual possibilities, and, from my own personal standpoint, is not for the squeamish.
The author confronts some taboo issues in what can be described as a zoophilic transference onto surrogate testes and ovaries. In his descriptive future projected "scene," he suggests that rat testes could be used to manufacture human spermatozoa and vice-versa (127-143). This taboo subject area is then covered by descriptions and explanations of current research, and suggests, first, how surrogate animal testes could be beneficial in the future, and, second, that human testes could be surrogates for wildlife nearing extinction. However, some opinions about surrogate testes expressed by Baker could be read as extremely factual but provocative and controversial, as evident in the following two quotations:
By far the most convenient host for other species would be man himself. He is long-lived and can ejaculate to order without the need for electro-ejaculation. Most men, though, are unlikely to volunteer to nurse the sperm cells of another animal, no matter how precious the individual nor how endangered the species. (143)
Baker sees this as a positive step, stating that "blockbanking, though, should engender an image quite different from sterilization. In fact, psychologically, it could gain the aura of the beginning of a person’s fertile, and particularly sexual life -- the equivalent of a sexual ‘rite of passage’ found in so many cultures" (189). It is also noted that the BB system would be most attractive to men, as it would free them from "the spectre of unwanted and unaffordable child tax" (192).
However, other issues involving economic class are considered, as those who can afford the BB system could also afford other forms of conception. Scholars of cyberculture and new technologies will be especially interested in what, Baker asserts, would be the creation of "contraception cafeteria" for the poor and the "reproduction restaurant" for the rich. The conception cafeteria would inform the poor, while the reproduction restaurant would be an "upgrade" of an internet cafe, where one could select the building blocks of life to-order, like shopping on-line for sperm donors today. This availability of such choices for the author is part of the divorcing of the sex act from procreation (199). It introduces questions concerning eugenics, the human genome, sexually transmitted diseases, sex ratios, and gender selection. Baker then argues the following:
In the section "relationships to fear," Baker explores some of the vagaries of familial and social relationships that will be generated by reproductive technology. He suggests that two of the section’s chapters "deal with situations that some readers might find difficult to handle. One looks at the position of homosexuals in future society and another considers the whole question of incest and whether it will need defining afresh" (223).
The redefining of incest also involves an understanding and definition of infidelity. Infidelity is part of relationship construction and can also involve morality and religious beliefs. However, Baker asks this fundamental question: "Will the concept of infidelity any longer have meaning in a world of single parents in which sex no longer leads to reproduction?" (229). The book then moves on to discuss the taboo of incest in the light of some of the technologies already mentioned. The scenario involving concepts of incest also has its impact on definitions of familial relations, especially when concerned with cloning: "We have just watched a man lusting after his daughter, only to be beaten to his goal by his son. For many, this is the real stuff of nightmares, and if this is what the future might hold, shouldn’t we do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen this way?" (238).
A discussion then follows concerning the legalities of such enactment. This is complemented by a scientific discussion as to why and how natural selection shapes a strong aversion to incest. Baker then examines "alternative life-styles" such as homosexuality and bisexuality incorporating a scenario where various multi-sexual couplings and "pregnancies" take place. Fears surrounding homophobia and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) will be a thing of the past according to this section, with "the possibility of everyone being bi-sexual" (259).
Finally, in the section "time warps," Baker examines the idea of reproduction past menopause and beyond. This involves the possibility of reproduction after death. One case in point cited by the author is that of a British woman, Diane Blood, who has already had two children by her dead husband’s stored sperm (298).
In this book, Baker explains clearly how the process of procreation is now entirely separated from the androcentric model of conception such as: the preparation for penetration, actual penetration, and orgasm/ejaculation. However, I suggest that new computer-mediated technologies of pleasure are surfacing (see, for example, www.fuckingmachines.com) because of this separation. Those studying cyberculture and cybersex, and those designing and developing new hardware and software technologies, will need to keep abreast of such issues. Overall this book offers a unique and sometimes disturbing glimpse into our possible sexual futures.
The ending is upbeat and positive: "There is no need for the future to be cold and clinical. Our descendants should be able to give their emotions free rein in a way that we never could. The beast within could be released on a longer lead than for centuries" (318).
Practically every sexual permutation currently possible is covered in the book, along with social, legal, cultural, and philosophical consequences. However, it would be enlightening to see how such futures of sex could and would be deviated in the light of the ongoing development of new and upgraded computer-mediated technologies. The divorcing of the act of procreation from sex also opens up a world ripe for experimentation with new notions and concepts of pleasure. It would be interesting to speculate on novel possibilities of arousal and then perhaps the spectre of Baker’s "beast" may even get the chance to be cut from its lead altogether.
It is then, I suggest, that we will have a very interesting sexual future indeed.
Trudy Barber is an artist who recently completed her PhD in Sociology/Cultural studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, entitled: "Computer Fetishism and Sexual Futurology: Exposing the Impact of Arousal on Technologies of Cyberspace" (Berg, forthcoming). She exhibited the first immersive Virtual Reality Sex environment as an art installation in the early 1990s. Her specialist subjects involve cyberculture, cybersex, cybersociology, fetishism and deviation, new media and the arts. She has lectured worldwide on her subject and has extensive broadcast experience. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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