The Many-Headed Goddess, Part 1: An Attempt Has Been Made To Solve The Unsolvable

February 18, 2008 at 9:07 pm (proclamations, sex)

(I’ve been told all my life I am a very sexual person; to whatever extent that is true, this writing reflects that truth, that perspective. I mean no disrespect to people who identify as asexual. This is my reality, and though I think it applies beyond me, I know its applications are not universal.)

Okay, first of all, while I was writing this I realized that the perfect name for a blog carnival for sex writing would be The Carnal Carnival. If anyone happens to be thinking of starting such a tradition, please do it, and please use that name. I will help.

Moving on. If we’re to have halfway happy lives, each of us must grapple, in one way or another, with the train-wreck that is sexuality in this culture. I’ve been doing this lately. It happens in a lot of little ways and is mostly in my head. I’ve got a few separate ideas to explore about it, so I think it will be a series. This is part one, or something of an introduction. It begins in the middle of the story.

I don’t think I could have done this — the grappling — until now. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s something that can be done until you’ve steeped in the realness of sex for awhile. This makes for a lot of fumbling, a lot of anxiety.

When my girlfriend and I were first fooling around, she would frequently stop kissing me to smile. She would smile like babies smile, with complete and uncomplicated happiness. I would stare at her with complete confusion. She was feeling sweetness, love, joy. I had unconsciously shifted gears out of Love Mode and into Sex Mode; these were two totally unrelated frames of mind. The latter was my yearning covered over in harshness, in toughness, a massive shield of stone and anger blocking everything tender in me.

After weeks and months of steady exposure to a potent cocktail of love, this wall thinned and crumbled. Sex and love could flow into and out of and through each other, or they became one force, a many-headed goddess. Sex the extrapolation of love and love the extension of sex. This was sort of the first solid step out into the water. I have gone much farther from there.

An idea (not a very original one): sex is overwhelming and nearly unstoppable, and in that way, it is terrifying. Many of the cultural myths and lies, the cruelty and slander, about sex, are misguided attempts at making sex less horrifying, less uncontrollable. They are attempts at making it understandable (but it is not understandable), making it rational (but it is absolutely irrational), making it manageable (but it is not). They are attempts to mechanize sex, to simplify it, to reduce it to the sum of its parts. (And these ideas would be very applicable here.)

They are attempts to demystify it when all its power is in its mystery. They are attempts to understand it when its beauty is that it cannot be logically understood. They are attempts to make sex as rusted and predictable as factory machines, to tame and crush and rape and batter it as we have done to animals and nature.

They are, in effect, attempts to kill it, though it is life itself, if anything is.

We are left the remains of this attempted murder. We are given selves with parts cut out, with parts cut off. Some of experience this evisceration literally, bodily. I think that all of us experience it psychically, emotionally. We feel it in our brains and in our guts and in our groins.

So I will be trying to unravel the damage this has wrought within myself. I know that others have tried to do this, and have done this, and are doing this everyday. If anyone would care to join me, here in comments or on your own blog or in your own mind, please do so.

Two links that made me think along these lines, for anyone looking to do more reading: Blackamazon on sex; Richard Jeffrey Newman’s complicated essay, My Daughter’s Vagina (you can find all the segments he’s posted so far there; start at #1).

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13 Comments

  1. Infra said,

    “That is so Master of Arts.”

    It’s a line from a now out-of-print book by Brian D’Amato, Beauty, and I think that it’s a good one for what can happen with sex. Because, to me, it’s an art — and like all arts, technique is both limiting and liberating. The crux of the matter is whether or not we’re able to maintain the creative spark during and after the process of mastery — or if it becomes all technique, all Master of Arts, with no soul in the work that results. (This is probably why I like Cashback so much, too.)

    It’s like writing poetry: at least in the past, the first thing to do was work with forms: short and split couplets, sonnets, etc. After we know the rules and are able to work within them, breaking them becomes a matter of style — a powerful act and an assertion of freedom. Similarly, skill in ballet contributes to a skill in modern dance, and even more when it comes to choreography. In my experience, it’s the same with sex. Demystification doesn’t have to kill it, so long as we can remain the composers and performers in our own symphonies.

    I used to think that the power of sex was in its mystery, and after plumbing the depths for a bit, to understand it, I got to miss that. But after a while, that changed. It wasn’t mysterious anymore, but it was clear, in the same way that an awakening is clear — or whitewater rafting, or a forest at dusk, or a lonely violin giving texture to the breaths of a silent crowd.

    In some ways, I think that the mystery can be as much of an escape as the demystification. There’s a razor’s edge there, riding the abyss and laughing with the scent of its possibilities (“nothing is true, everything is permitted”). And one thing that such a journey requires is the ability to balance — to juggle, to form, to guide, to uplift and submerge and bring back again. To dance is to know how to move, and to move is to not only draw on our natural talents, but to refine and extend them.

    I’m not sure that sex is rational in the usual sense; but it has its own logic. I’m not sure that it’s understandable; but that’s probably only until we learn to speak its language. And I’m not sure that it’s manageable; but that’s probably the difference between being able to control something and being able to flow with and direct it.

    I may be an anomaly — and I probably am, given something a past lover said to me.* But it seems, to my eyes, that when we try to demystify sex in the usual way, it’s because we’re trying to overcome the primal; and when we try to keep the mystery, it’s because we’re not quite sure that’s where we want to go. Because it isn’t sex that changes us — not precisely. It’s that who we can be during sex (the multiple-room, grunting, panting, sweat-licking, exhausting, exhilarating, I’ll-have-to-replace-that-furniture-now kind of sex, or the kinder, gentler, drifting on the water on a sunny day kind, it doesn’t really matter which so long as it’s got that touch, that Gibsonian “Edge” with a capital E) reminds us that we can change, that we never lost that potential. And that’s frightening, because it means that what we are and believe ourselves to be isn’t set. Even the good things. That there might be things about us that we don’t remember, or even know.

    Especially… hunger, and the desire to consume, or envelop, or dissolve in another human being. Or in the experience itself, never to wake again.

    I don’t know. Sex isn’t a mystery to me anymore — but like I wrote, I might be an anomaly. It hasn’t become dry, or dead, or logical, or controlled. Not in the normal ways. But it’s not a mystery, and even so, it’s more alive than ever, and a pulse that never ceases to overwhelm — by gentle or crashing waves.

    * She said that we could never have sex again — because it felt too natural, like fucking God and the Devil at the same time. She said that it made her want to be more honest, more herself, in ways that society wouldn’t let her be, and that she couldn’t allow herself to feel that — because going back into the regular world would be just so much regret. As for myself, I don’t have a problem with that; but I suppose that that’s why some people find it quite disconcerting, the look behind my eyes. I’ve been told that it burns, in a dark and strange way.

  2. Daisy said,

    Hi Infra! Thank you for your beautiful comment. I agree with much of what you said. What I object to is “trying to overcome the primal” — that’s the heart of it.

    The kind of demystification I’m complaining about isn’t the kind you’ve experienced, which is demystification by learning, gaining an understanding of what sex actually is. The kind I’m complaining about is the kind that’s not so much unraveling the mystery as denying it is there. The kind that tries to cut it down and take all the power out of it (which is impossible).

    I’m not sure that sex is rational in the usual sense; but it has its own logic. I’m not sure that it’s understandable; but that’s probably only until we learn to speak its language. And I’m not sure that it’s manageable; but that’s probably the difference between being able to control something and being able to flow with and direct it.

    Yes. The way you put it there makes me think that sex is a lot like dreams: irrational, but following its own logic, indecipherable until you learn its language, uncontrollable like water is (you can’t control it, but you can build a boat, or swim; can’t stop it, but you can influence the direction it goes).

    Because it isn’t sex that changes us — not precisely. It’s that who we can be during sex (the multiple-room, grunting, panting, sweat-licking, exhausting, exhilarating, I’ll-have-to-replace-that-furniture-now kind of sex, or the kinder, gentler, drifting on the water on a sunny day kind, it doesn’t really matter which so long as it’s got that touch, that Gibsonian “Edge” with a capital E) reminds us that we can change, that we never lost that potential. And that’s frightening, because it means that what we are and believe ourselves to be isn’t set. Even the good things. That there might be things about us that we don’t remember, or even know.

    Especially… hunger, and the desire to consume, or envelop, or dissolve in another human being. Or in the experience itself, never to wake again.

    Yes, yes, that, exactly.

  3. The Many Headed Goddess, Part 2: On Having Real Sex « Our Descent Into Madness said,

    […] Picking up where I left off here. First of all, Infra left a very beautiful and thought-provoking comment there, which everyone should probably read. I plan to explore the ideas raised there more. […]

  4. calliope said,

    What an insightful and articulate post. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, in many respects.

    I believe that this “mechanization” of sex also, interestingly, feeds into many of the other hang-ups about sex in our culture, especially the absurd, disturbing, and corrosive notion that sex is inherently “dirty.” It is difficult to ascertain which gave birth to which—whether the mechanization of sex made sex something foreign and shameful, or whether shame is part of the fear which spurred this mechanization in the first place—but either way, the two go hand-in-hand. When sex ceases to be about hunger and communion, and becomes reduced to genital contact for its own sake, it loses all its power, all its transcendence, all its wild, radiant beauty. It becomes something else entirely. It becomes an act of greed. It becomes defilement. It leaves us feeling satiated and ashamed, and profoundly unsatisfied.

    At the core of this shame and dissatisfaction is the fact that mechanized sex is no longer about sharing, but about taking. Mechanized sex is not about reveling in pleasure with your lover, but rather about using their body to give pleasure to yourself, or to conceive children, or to further some other end. True sex is never a means unto an end. It is an end unto itself. It is not a tool used to achieve communion with your lover; it is communion with your lover. Furthermore, it is not the only type of communion, and it is no more and no less valid and necessary and wonderful than any other type.

    In my own life, this realization has been one of the most important steps I have made toward coming to terms with my sexuality. Growing up, my understanding of sex was colored by our society’s mechanized definition of it. I believed the repulsive, dangerous lie that sex was, as you said, no more than the “sum of its parts.” This lie had even more detrimental implications for me, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, as this definition draws no distinction between sex and rape, though the two are antithetical in every possible way. I believed that having sex, like being raped, was not something I would do with a man, but rather it was something a man would do to me. And because of the awful sexist and heterosexist bullshit that our culture propagates, I believed that, for a heterosexual woman, this was normal and healthy. I believed that I was fated from my inception never to be a participant in sex, but simply an instrument of it. I had internalized this lie from the time I was a child, and it wreaked utter havoc on my relationships, as well as my own sense of self.

    Only recently have I begun my own process of “grappling.” As I transition from adolescence into adulthood, I have begun the arduous, vital process of examining, and then systematically dismantling, the harmful false notions of sex that have rooted themselves into my consciousness.

    And as I strip away all of these falsehoods, all of these vile, naked lies, what I am left with is exactly what you and Infra have described: “the desire to consume, or envelop, or dissolve in another human being.” This is what lies at the core of my very deepest understanding of sex. Beyond that, I know nothing.

  5. Daisy said,

    Welcome, calliope! Thank you for your thoughts. I hope you will share more of them as I continue this series, if you are so inclined.

    I believe that this “mechanization” of sex also, interestingly, feeds into many of the other hang-ups about sex in our culture, especially the absurd, disturbing, and corrosive notion that sex is inherently “dirty.” It is difficult to ascertain which gave birth to which—whether the mechanization of sex made sex something foreign and shameful, or whether shame is part of the fear which spurred this mechanization in the first place—but either way, the two go hand-in-hand. When sex ceases to be about hunger and communion, and becomes reduced to genital contact for its own sake, it loses all its power, all its transcendence, all its wild, radiant beauty. It becomes something else entirely. It becomes an act of greed. It becomes defilement. It leaves us feeling satiated and ashamed, and profoundly unsatisfied.

    I hadn’t made that connection. I think you’re absolutely right. It’s sort of a chicken/egg puzzle, but I imagine that both the dirtiness and mechanization come as coping mechanisms for reality the sex is intense and potentially terrifying. Maybe they’re just twin ways to undermine it? So that sex guess simultaneously dismissed as dirty and mechanical.

    Alternatively, maybe the mechanization is an attempt to organize and sterilize sex, so that it won’t be dirty, dirty meaning earthly, corporal, real.

    At the core of this shame and dissatisfaction is the fact that mechanized sex is no longer about sharing, but about taking. Mechanized sex is not about reveling in pleasure with your lover, but rather about using their body to give pleasure to yourself, or to conceive children, or to further some other end. True sex is never a means unto an end. It is an end unto itself. It is not a tool used to achieve communion with your lover; it is communion with your lover.

    You’re absolutely right here, too. This is beautiful.

    This lie had even more detrimental implications for me, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, as this definition draws no distinction between sex and rape, though the two are antithetical in every possible way. I believed that having sex, like being raped, was not something I would do with a man, but rather it was something a man would do to me. And because of the awful sexist and heterosexist bullshit that our culture propagates, I believed that, for a heterosexual woman, this was normal and healthy. I believed that I was fated from my inception never to be a participant in sex, but simply an instrument of it. I had internalized this lie from the time I was a child, and it wreaked utter havoc on my relationships, as well as my own sense of self.

    Ugh, yes. Thank you for bringing that up. What an insidious piece of bullshit that particular idea is. That’s another example of the mechanization: it’s too complicated and confusing to acknowledge that sex is something people truly share, truly participate in, a constant trade-off, a constant collaboration. So it gets reduces to a subject/object relationship.

    And as I strip away all of these falsehoods, all of these vile, naked lies, what I am left with is exactly what you and Infra have described: “the desire to consume, or envelop, or dissolve in another human being.” This is what lies at the core of my very deepest understanding of sex. Beyond that, I know nothing.

    Yes, mine too. Hunger, power, heat.

  6. calliope said,

    “Maybe they’re just twin ways to undermine it? So that sex gets simultaneously dismissed as dirty and mechanical.”

    They absolutely are. In fact, I don’t think one can really exist without the other. When you acknowledge that sex is more than mechanical, you acknowledge its beauty and its transcendence—and then it is no longer dirty. Conversely, when you acknowledge that sex is not dirty, you are granting validity and dignity to it—and then it is no longer simply mechanical.

    “It’s too complicated and confusing to acknowledge that sex is something people truly share, truly participate in, a constant trade-off, a constant collaboration. So it gets reduced to a subject/object relationship.”

    You’re right. And not only is it complicated and confusing, it is also terrifying, because it requires an incredible degree of humility and vulnerability. Sex—real, loving sex—requires mutual surrender. It requires that we relinquish our pride and prostrate ourselves before the great, gaping mysteries of carnality and passion and love. And it’s fucking scary. There’s an image that comes to my mind, of my boyfriend right after making love. He had collapsed, exhausted, and he was lying beside me, flushed, panting, limp, profoundly naked, with his head on my chest. I remember looking at him like this and thinking to myself that I had never seen such vulnerability; I had never seen anyone look so very, very small. He had surrendered himself to this immense, terrifying mystery—love, sex, whatever it was—and he was utterly helpless in the face of it. I think it’s this helplessness, more than anything, that the mechanization of sex is aimed toward killing. But this helplessness is not only inevitable, it is also an integral part of sexuality—and love, and beauty, and life. It is terrifying, yes, but it is also rapturous, and beautiful, and sublime. It is terrifying in the way that God is terrifying.

  7. calliope said,

    Oh, and Daisy, I very much look forward the continuation of this brave and refreshing series, and I’ll be happy to share whatever thoughts I have.

    : )

  8. Daisy said,

    Calliope,

    In fact, I don’t think one can really exist without the other. When you acknowledge that sex is more than mechanical, you acknowledge its beauty and its transcendence—and then it is no longer dirty. Conversely, when you acknowledge that sex is not dirty, you are granting validity and dignity to it—and then it is no longer simply mechanical.

    Yes, definitely.

    And not only is it complicated and confusing, it is also terrifying, because it requires an incredible degree of humility and vulnerability. Sex—real, loving sex—requires mutual surrender. It requires that we relinquish our pride and prostrate ourselves before the great, gaping mysteries of carnality and passion and love. And it’s fucking scary. There’s an image that comes to my mind, of my boyfriend right after making love. He had collapsed, exhausted, and he was lying beside me, flushed, panting, limp, profoundly naked, with his head on my chest. I remember looking at him like this and thinking to myself that I had never seen such vulnerability; I had never seen anyone look so very, very small. He had surrendered himself to this immense, terrifying mystery—love, sex, whatever it was—and he was utterly helpless in the face of it. I think it’s this helplessness, more than anything, that the mechanization of sex is aimed toward killing. But this helplessness is not only inevitable, it is also an integral part of sexuality—and love, and beauty, and life. It is terrifying, yes, but it is also rapturous, and beautiful, and sublime. It is terrifying in the way that God is terrifying.

    Very beautiful, and very true, and very much what I’ve been trying to get at.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying my writing; I’m enjoying yours, too. : )

  9. Jessie said,

    When sex ceases to be about hunger and communion, and becomes reduced to genital contact for its own sake, it loses all its power, all its transcendence, all its wild, radiant beauty. It becomes something else entirely. It becomes an act of greed. It becomes defilement. It leaves us feeling satiated and ashamed, and profoundly unsatisfied.

    This so reminds me of learning about sex in school. Just the way it was presented and talked about made me feel defiled, violated, ashamed.

    Interesting, the definitions of those words:

    defile:
    desecrate or profane (something sacred)
    [archaic] violate the chastity of (a woman).

    violate:
    treat (something sacred) with irreverence or disrespect
    rape or sexually assault (someone)

    Anyway, real sex is nothing like its mechanized myths. ;)

  10. The Many-Headed Goddess, Part 3: On Mutilation And Mysticism, Chesed And Gevurah « Our Descent Into Madness said,

    […] 26, 2008 at 11:06 pm (proclamations, religion, sex) (Parts 1, […]

  11. The Many-Headed Goddess, Part 4: What would you tell your younger self about sex? « Our Descent Into Madness said,

    […] 3, 2008 at 7:30 pm (proclamations, sex) (Parts 1, 2, […]

  12. Spring break is briefly breaking our connection to the blogosphere. « Our Descent Into Madness said,

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  13. An Introduction | Revolutionary Act said,

    […] most notably a four-part series about sex some months ago, which I invite you to take a glance at. Here is part one (the other three parts are pinged in the comments […]

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