Kylie Minogue to the British National Health Service, sexercise involves turning the bedroom into a gym, and the gym into a training ground for the bedroom. It pushes sex toward self-improvement, with the aim of attaining ‘peak performance’: we must all aspire to be elite erotic athletes, constantly striving to exceed our previous personal bests. What was once prohibited and repressed (and as a result, rather more enticing) in the 19th Century, has become relentlessly fun, healthy and productive in the 21st. More directly than other related neologisms (‘boxercise’, ‘salsacise’, ‘jazzercise’), sexercise spells out late capital’s aim – already hinted at by Lacan in Télévision – of getting rid of sex by rendering it omnipresent. All that is sordid melts into air, suffocating desire.
Advocates of sexercise point out that a good ‘session’ stretches and tones diverse muscle groups, pushes the cardio-vascular system, and burns off as many calories as would half an hour on a rowing machine. Endorphins released during orgasm are also said to stimulate the immune system, add a sheen to your hair, and even get rid of wrinkles. Positions which retain their animalised names (‘doggy style’, ‘horseback’) are inserted into workout routines that mimic yogic and even tantric disciplines, minus the spiritual dimension. Fuck yourself fit then – but whatever you do, don’t indulge a post-coital cigarette!
Far from compensating for the sexual non-relation by means of a fantasy that can frame an imaginary coupling in the illusory but consoling terms of love, sexercise brings the body into line with the quite distinct real of science: the sexercised body is a plastic and flexible body. It improves at the level of the biological real by responding to efficient conditioning, channelling enjoyment into whatever makes it leaner, fitter, faster. Note, though, that all these alleged gains in health and wellbeing belong to what Lacan, in Seminar XX, called the ‘One-all-alone’. The sexthlete is isolated, even during intercourse, within a biopolitical body that is being enjoyed by another Other than the lover, who suffers a reciprocal solitude. The lover, indeed, is reduced to an exercise partner, someone who will spot your benchpresses if you spot theirs. Sexual difference does not really arise in this contract of co-conditioning: ‘men’ and ‘women’ aim for more or less the same androgynous body of lean and limber athleticism. The women get ‘ripped’ and toned, while the men depilate and fuss about their weight. Both admire their bodies in mirrors, but the resulting imago is not confirmed by a symbolic Other strongly structured around sexuation. One could even say sexercise is a-sexual: the elimination of any etropic gap between input and output cancels the lack that animates desire.
Inevitably, the market offers a range of lathouses to facilitate this jouissance of orgasmic efficiency. DVD’s from personal trainers and manuals from Ann Summers provide handy hints on setting up tailored sexercise regimes that will ensure each session will bring a new gymnastic challenge. For the more mechanically minded, it is now possible to buy rowing machines and exercise balls with dildos attached in the relevant places (what better embodiment of the fate of the symbolic phallus in the 21st Century than the dildo?). Such hard(on)ware can also be supplemented with digital software. Apple, for example, has brought out a sexercise app that guides its customers through a cycle of positions that ‘burn the most calories’ and ‘improve core strength’. With a smartphone then, you can have smartsex. The personal pronoun that inscribes a place from which to speak for the parlêtre becomes the branded ‘i’ plugged into the iPhone. Enjoying bodies are mediated by algorithms and numbers more than by signifiers.
The most extreme manifestation of this tendency, perhaps, is the Quantified Self Movement, which embraces the constant technological measurement of all kinds of bodily inputs (food, air quality, sleep patterns) in order to then link them to performance outputs (cognitive processing, physical stamina, corporate productivity). Sometimes known as ‘lifeloggers’ or ‘bodyhackers’, enthusiasts employ ‘wearable computing’ that converts every aspect of their daily lives into a data-stream that can then be fed back in to their activities, supposedly to maximize health, happiness and wellbeing. To take some examples at random: FitBit Tracker quantifies steps taken, stairs climbed, calories burned, and quality of sleep; MyFitnessPal monitors diet and weight; the Lume Personal Tracker maps mood states and happiness levels; and WorkMeter measures employee productivity. Not surprisingly, the movement welcomes the inclusion of sex into this statisticalized form of the care of the self, placing sex on the same level as eating, sleeping and walking. The ‘FuckFit’ app is surely on its way.
In the third session of Seminar XX, Lacan said “we speak in analytic discourse about what the verb ‘to fuck’ (foutre) enunciates perfectly well. We speak therein of fucking, and we say that it’s not working out.” By contrast, sexercise tries to make fucking into a workout where any pain is instantly converted into gain.
But who will the sexthlete speak to when the workout doesn’t work out?
1 Lacan, Jacques, ‘Télévision’, in Autres écrits, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2001, pp.509-545. 2 Lacan, Jacques, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Femine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Kowledge, 1972-1973 (Encore), trans. Bruce Fink, London: W. W. Norton, 1999. 3 Lacan, Jacques, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Femine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Kowledge, 1972-1973 (Encore), trans. Bruce Fink, London: W. W. Norton, 1999, p.32.