Just to clarify: when I use the word “sex,” I mean consensual sex. Rape is not sex anymore than beating someone with a bat is baseball.
Going back to the mechanization of sex. That thought occurred to me while I was puzzling over a different, sex-related problem: the notion that some kinds of sex are “real sex,” and others are not.
Which, you know, just putting aside for a moment all the sexist, phallocentric, heterosexist shit that comes with the idea straight penis-in-vagina intercourse* is the be-all, end-all of sexuality, is really just… Stupid. It’s stupid, and it doesn’t make sense, to say that sex acts between consenting adults are inherently anything. It’s ridiculous to say some are inherently more intense or valid or important, and it’s ridiculous to say some are inherently bad or immoral or degrading. It’s like saying certain kinds of food are inherently delicious, or inherently gross, or inherently The One And Only Real Food.
But, stupid as it is, I do think it makes sense that such an idea would happen, if we’re imagining, as I did in that last post, that our hang-ups about sex are largely related to trying to make sex less terrifying, more manageable. Because, what’s happening when people** are having sex? What’s really going on there? What are we really experiencing?
What is literally happening, to be sure. But much, much more importantly, we are having a subjective experience of the bigger context of those acts. We are experiencing whether we’re turned on or not, whether or not we’re nervous. We are aware of what our partner/s is/are feeling, too. We are experiencing whether we like, love, hate, or could care less about the other people involved (or the lack of them). Perhaps most importantly, we are experiencing our own hunger. We are deeply, directly connected to our own yearnings. In terms of the specific acts that occur, what is significant is how they mesh with our desires, not how they rank on an arbitrary ladder of importance.
People do all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. Some of those of reasons are physical — not all bodies can do all things, for gender reasons and for health and ability reasons. Some of those reasons are preferential — not everyone enjoys all acts, and most everyone enjoys some more than others. What matters, though, is whether or not what we’re doing, in that moment, what we want to be doing, in that moment.
What matters is not who is putting what where. That’s something much simpler. What really matters — what really causes the experience — is the messy, multilayered content of our hearts and minds. The brain is the most important sex organ, right? So the details of what is happening to our genitals are far less meaningful than the story we are telling ourselves about them in our heads, the story that our hearts are telling us about them in our chests.
I think the idea that some kinds of sex are more “real” than others acknowledges this, actually — that’s why it says what it does. We know that the subjective experience is what’s actually important; that’s why it’s the part that gets cut out. That is why it’s the part we ignore when we’re trying to turn sex into a logical, mechanical, manageable thing. We take fairly straight-forward physical actions — a hand here, a tongue there — and brutally cut and tear them out of the scenes in which they gain meaning. We disembowel sex; we lobotomize it. We reduce it to a quantifiable sequence of mechanical actions.
And then we extend this process to its inevitable conclusions. We build a hierarchy of sex acts, decide that some things are Real Sex, and other acts are permanently classified as “foreplay” — games that exist just as build-up and preparation for The Real Thing.
It does not matter that “foreplay” acts are generally more orgasmic than Real Sex, because orgasms are not the point. Pleasure for its own sake is one of the things that has been cut out in the disemboweling. (Women’s pleasure obviously has; this segment of the afore-linked essay by Richard Jeffrey Newman points out that men’s has, too.) Pleasure is, obviously, purely experiential — so out it goes. And along with it the incredibly obvious fact that the most real sex anybody can possibly have is the sex that they most want to have. Extremes of desire lead to extremes of experience. Sex, like anything, becomes intensely real to us when we intensely want to be having it.
* For added flavor, toss in “married” and/or “procreative” and/or “missionary position.”
** Any number.
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