Meredith Woerner at io9 brings up the prickly situation of sex in Avatar. As most of us guessed, Na’vi sex happens, at least in part, with their mind-link cords:

If [no genitalia are involved], then we’d have to assume that Na’vi mating only includes the hair tail syncing system. Which puts us in a bit of a dirty little conundrum. If syncing up basically means “the most amazing orgasm” ever, um, what does it mean when the Na’vi are syncing up to the rest of the Pandorian wildlife? Can the animals really consent, or even understand what’s going on here?

Now that is a weird question. As I mentioned earlier, Cameron’s biosphere on Pandora is far more interesting than anything in the film’s plot. I must admit, when I initially read the headline about “Avatar” and “bestiality,” I thought Woerner was implying that having sex with the Na’vi was akin to having sex with an animal. That, thankfully, is not her point. Instead, what she is asking is: if Na’vi-Na’vi link equals sex, then Na’vi-Pandorean critter link would also, weirdly, equal sex, which, in turn, would equal bestiality. By Woerner’s logic, the movie should have been NC-17 because just watching Jake Sully learn to ride the horse would be way beyond MPAA standards of decency.

Of course, Woerner is just exploring the possibilities, so let’s take her lead and run with the idea of Na’vi sex. The question of consent is the most important one here, as that’s what makes a behavior unethical. Let’s assume that Na’vi sex is genital free and only involves the mind-link, so every animal-Na’vi interaction is potentially a sex act. A worrying set-up, since we see a lot of linkage throughout the film.

In a worst case scenario, the more mentally powerful (intelligent, advanced, evolved, etc.) creature controls the situation and every mental-link would be somehow sexual. Thus, every interaction that isn’t between two fully matured Na’vi adults, say, between a Na’vi adult and a Pandoran banshee, is rape. It is rape because consent is impossible, due to the imbalance of both power and intelligence. In this worst-case scenario, Jake Sully effectively raped most of the flora and fauna he encountered on Pandora via his avatar. Re-read that sentence, ladies and gentlemen, and remember this is what happens to your brain if you read too much Foucault.

That scenario, however, doesn’t quite make sense.Through Jake’s trials and tribulations, we see that learning to deal with the mind-link is not easy and, even with the plants of Pandora, requires significant effort to make effective. Furthermore, the link is shown to work in both directions, effectively uniting the two creatures. Jake can “feel” the emotions and sensations of the creature. It brings into question the whole idea of sex for the Na’vi. With a pure mental link, one that flows in both directions, the fundamental barrier between two entities is broken. By linking together, the two entities must, in a sense, decide to give the other pleasure. A bond can be made, but it need not be pleasurable, or pleasurable in the way sex is. When I pet my border collie, that isn’t sexual, but she seems to take pleasure in it. The mind-link, like physical contact, probably requires a lot more than just the basic connection for it to be a) pleasurable and b) sexual.

Based on my arbitrary, totally unverifiable speculation, it would seem that the way the Na’vi link to each other and to the wildlife of Pandora makes it possible for two different species that cannot communicate via language to have consensual sex.

The weirdest point is that, because the pleasure isn’t physical, one can presume that the intensity of the experience comes from a mutual desire to interact in a pleasurable  way (is it even sex?). By extension, the quality of the mind linked would determine the quality of the sex. Therefore, not only would rape be a technical impossibility due to the nature of the bond, there would be no point in having sex-like mind-linking with a non-humanoid entity.

So, I think, if I’m getting this right, Meredith Woerner does not have to worry about the alien bestiality that is ostensibly implicit in Avatar. Probably.

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