Sex, Maslow and a Camperdown Brothel

News moving cities can’t hide you from.

As a former Sydney Inner-West resident the story has been hard not be kept up with.

“Australia’s largest brothel”, it was touted.

“The Westfeld of brothels” one local rag had called it.

An existing large brothel in Camperdown has made submissions to the NSW Land and Environment Court to have their current premises more than double in size into a three story, 50 bed Gargantua. This has, of course, raised the ire of local residents. If the Star Casino is allowed to have a 150m brothel exclusion zone around it to give the impression that it isn’t a shady institution, why shouldn’t Camperdown residents be afforded the same dignity? The brothel’s development application has already been knocked back once.

But then the brothel owner made an argument I certainly didn’t expect. The story hit the SMH this morning. Essentially the brothel owner argued that the redeveloped mega-brothel would be “in the community interest”.

The Herald article quotes from the brothel’s submission to the court,

”The development is in the public interest as the regulated supply of sexual services to the community meets a basic human need,” the submission read.”

Did you catch that?

To my mind, in this one sentence there are several hidden premises smuggled into the argument (e.g. a “regulated supply” of sex is good for society) but I’m not going to deal with those. My contention is with the five words.

Sex. It’s a basic human need. Everyone knows that. Right?

It’s one of those truisms. Sex is just like eating. But one of the things that is never really explored with this argument is ‘what happens if this “need” goes unmet?’ That hypothetical seems all too horrible to ponder. It’s why we have movies like 40 Year Old Virgin.

Is the implication that a person who doesn’t have sex will die (in the same way as a person who doesn’t eat will die)?

Is the implication that a person who doesn’t have sex secedes from the genus “human”?

Of course these suggestions are ridiculous. We show we know these suggestions are ridiculous in all sorts of ways. Most obviously, if they were true then age of consent legislation would be evil (because you’d be preventing children from being human or starving them of something they need for survival).

We know that this is crazy, so why do we labour under this false assertion?

I can’t claim to offer the origins of this belief, but I can propose its most significant proponent. In 1943 Abraham Maslow published a paper entitled A Theory of Human Motivation. This paper was then expanded into his 1954 book Motivation and Personality. In these works Maslow came to express human needs in a hierarchy (often illustrated in the pyramid below).

Source: Wikipedia

Maslow’s hierarchy has been the the water that educators, psychologists, development workers, economists and marketers have swum in for over 50 years. It has been treated as so self-evident that theologians and philosophers have forgotten that it is in fact a product of modernism (self-actualization as the goal of humanity should have been the giveaway). Indeed worthy attempts by some to question this presentation (such as economist Max Neef’s excellent work on the inter-connectivity and societal fulfillment of human needs) have failed to gain traction – not because the presentation is less compelling, but because our current just-so story allows us to hold onto irrational ideas like “sex as survival need”.

Note the bottom rung of the Maslow ladder. Granted we need air, sustenance, clean water, sleep, a functional antiviral system and the ability to poo and wee or else we will die. But sex? Doesn’t putting sex in that list further depreciate single people in our society (a group of people we have already done far too much to depreciate).

I for one really hope that the NSW Land and Environment Court see through this community good guff. The commodification of sex only serves to further our modernist white-anting of “community”. The commodification of sex on a far grander scale all the more so.

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