Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Maybe we all spend too much time getting 'into' each other.

As you know, part of my job in surveying the SHAMscape is to stay current with the movement's vast literary output. Because my other workload prevents me from being as up on things as I'd like, I just recently got started on a book from this past May titled Be Honest: You're Not That Into Him Either, by Lifetime's "dating doctor" Ian Kerner. This, of course, is a clear attempt to play off the wild (and ongoing) success of 2004's He's Just Not That Into You, by a different set of authors, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, who I imagine had a thing or three to say about Kerner's derivative book concept.* Anyway, in the spirit of giving credit where it's due, I must say I was struck by a particular observation early in Kerner's book. It's one of those things that we all "sort of know," but gives you pause when you see it in black and white.

Kerner poses that
once upon a time--pre women's lib or, more specifically, pre the sexual revolution--women upheld the conjugal dignity of the species. It was their job to "just say no." Those habitual no's, even if they were reflexive and unfelt, prevented things from getting out of hand--and also, more importantly, reminded men that they shouldn't be going around indiscriminately asking for sex in the first place. Basically, then, a woman's refusal to cheerfully agree to mate whenever some man requested it told men as a class that they were pigs for wanting to do what they always wanted to do whenever they got a woman alone (or at least out of eye-shot of law enforcement and/or their wives).

That's all changed now, says Kerner. Women are every bit as sexually aggressive as men. Maybe more so. Ergo, not only is there no one to say no anymore, but there's no one to slap men upside the head and remind them that they're lowlifes. In other words, argues Kerner, the sexual aggressiveness of today's women validates libertine male behavior. With women no longer acting as a man's conscience, men are losing their consciences. We have "raised" a generation of men who not only act like pigs, but don't even realize they're pigs.

This, says Kerner, is not a happy development for women. And that's because--he says--women, in their heart of hearts, no matter how easily or often they hop into bed, don't really feel that way. They still hold The Dream somewhere deep inside them. But their own friskiness is sabotaging their chances of ever finding a man who'll respect them and treat them the way they want to be treated. Understand, he's not just making that old argument about the cow and the free milk. He's contending that women are changing the very way in which men look at the battle of the sexes. Though he doesn't say this explicitly, Kerner's implication is clear: Women have themselves become pigs. Therefore, men no longer have a higher standard they feel they're supposed to aspire to, at least in theory.

When I read that section of Kerner's book, I was reminded of Randy Shilts' thoughts on the genesis of the American AIDS epidemic in his brilliant and harrowing social history, ....And The Band Played On. Shilts, a gay journalist who ultimately would lose his own battle with AIDS, pointed out that gays are men first, with male libidos and the typically male disinclination to walk away from sex. If there was a single factor that overnight transformed an obscure rain-forest microbe into a public-health nightmare, wrote Shilts, it was the absence of anyone to say no.

This is a fascinating topic (to me, anyway), with any number of touchy overtones--both for self-help and the Bigger Picture. Do you think women are "supposed to" be the ones who slow things down? The "gatekeepers"? Is that really in the wiring? Or just social conditioning? Is this cyclical and destined to take a pendulum swing back to more conservative behavior?

Or has Kerner overstated the degree of women's sexual ardor to begin with?

* although as a practical matter it's almost impossible to sue successfully over mere "concepts" unless an author is approprating a trademarked phrase--like, say, "idiot's guide to...."

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, what happened to the yellow Magic 8 ball?!

Steve Salerno said...

Yeah, funny thing about that. Because I actually started working on THIS post before THAT one, blogger set them up in chronological order in the file directory. So when I attempted to publish the current post, the system placed it behind yesterday's yellow-ball post. I couldn't figure out a workaround that didn't involve cutting and pasting this current post into a whole new file--and that didn't work anyway, b/c when I tried it, I ended up with a whole bunch of strange codes imbedded in the new file that made it read like gibberish. So...I guess it's good-bye, 8 ball... (Maybe I just wasn't inspired enough...)

RevRon's Rants said...

i don't believe that women are hard-wired to say "No," any more than I believe men are hard wired to say "yes," regardless of circumstances. For many years, women have been taught that in order to retain any semblance of self-worth, dignity, and moral value, they must avoid sex for anything save procreative desires. Our historically patriarchal society has even taught that they are essentially evil and unclean. At the same time, men have been taught that it is their duty as males to conquer and subdue. Thus, the dichotomy of the sexes.

When you get past the dogma and social programming, however, I think that the sex drive is pretty symmetrical in both sexes. We just play our parts per the demands of our audience. If there is, indeed, to be a pendulum swing, I think it is more a matter of a move toward personal responsibility, rather than a regression to the dictates of repressive social dictums. Men are finally learning not to allow their libido to write checks that the rest of their personnas cannot cash. And women, conversely, are learning that there is much more capital in their sexual accounts than they have been led to believe. It is inevitable that both sexes' pendulum will swing a bit too far, but I believe that as with a pendulum, each return will follow a smaller arc, always moving toward a state of balance. And as we move toward this center, we will achieve an ever-more-genuine state of dignity, and will rely less and less upon a pseudo-dignity imposed in response to outmoded gender-specific roles.

But then again, I am an admitted optimist where humanity is concerned (even as I am pessimistic about some individual humans!)

Steve Salerno said...

Typically cogent thoughts, Ron--not that I am the Great Arbiter of Cogency--but I'm just wondering, are there any zoologists out there? I ask because I was watching a special on Animal Planet some weeks back, before Steve Irwin managed to get himself offed by that ray, and it showed a pride of lions during courting/mating season. And the narrator made specific comment about the "coy" behavior of the female lioness! (I guess all lionesses would be inherently female, but we'll leave that go.) At first she felt compelled to refuse Mr. Lion's advances, to the extent of snapping at him and even getting up and moving elsewhere. Then she finally relented. So I'm thinking, yanno, if even LIONS are behaving that way...?

Steve Salerno said...

I guess what I'm asking is: How far down the evolutionary scale does this go? Do lady amoebas (I know, they only have one cell to begin with, but humor me) always refuse the offer of that first pina colada? Do they toss their little amoeba-hair and turn in the opposite direction, feigning profound offense, when the male of the species asks them to go home with him?

Steve Salerno said...

And mega-thanks to Emily for explaining to me how to defeat Blogger's automatic time-stamping, thereby enabling me to restore yesterday's yellow-ball post, complete with all comments, to the profound joy of all, no doubt...

acd said...

From a biological standpoint, the traditional gender roles are hard-wired. In the animal kingdom, females are typically discriminatory with potential mates. They need to determine which males are worthy of being the father of their offspring. In other words, they are the ones to say "no." On the other hand, males are designed to copulate with anyone in their species that has two X chromosomes (though, as with most things, there are exceptions).

Even if we look only within our own species, the vast majority of human societies are polygamous. Less than one percent of these societies are polyandrous. The biological tendency is to have one male with many females. It is social conditioning that created this idealistic concept of monogamy. Since we are allegedly thinking, rational beings, our culture is supposed to override biological instinct. Obviously this only works in theory.

In any case, it is society (as a result of women's lib) that encourages women to be less selective about their choice in partners. This is especially so since the primary purpose of sex is no longer to produce children. That greatly differentiates us from almost all other animals, but it does not change the biological inclinations that males and females have.

I am not an expert on libido, but, biologically, it makes perfect sense that the male should have a significantly greater sex drive. This is because his purpose is to mate with as many females as possible. I do not see the evolutionary benefit of a high female sex drive. They only need to copulate enough for them to become pregnant. After that, there is no point. However, males can continually impregnate other females and thus should always desire sex.

This is indeed a more detached, scientific way of approaching the topic, but no matter how evolved we humans allegedly are, we cannot escape the instincts that are within us. Plus, Steve DID ask for a zoological perspective.

However, an argument from that viewpoint is irrelevant in that humans are among the few species that have sex for pleasure. Therefore, women can (usually) get just as much out of it as men, so they can be equally desirous. In such a case, biology is overridden because there is an added benefit that is not present in other species' sexual behavior.

Not surprisingly, this is a matter of both biological wiring and societal standards. You cannot disregard the role of either.

a/good/lysstener said...

Thanks for explaining what befell yesterday's post about the happy ball. Its disappearance made me unhappy. :-( All the more so because I sent the link to one of my friends, who knew somebody who had just such a ball, and now you take down the post!

Regarding today's topic, I think it's a mistake to draw an analogy between men and women and their sexual habits, just because women today are more upfront about their sexuality. I still think that for most women, their desire remains relationship specific. What I mean by that is that women are no longer ashamed to rank regular, good sex among the list of reasons why they want to be in a relationship. That doesn't at all mean they're out there having sex with every guy who catches their eye! Female behavior even today, at least among the females I know, can't be compared to the way men operate, which is basically to [fill in whatever term you like] every decent looking female that crosses their path. Or try to.

Rodger Johnson said...

Quite an interesting topic, Steve. You know, Alfred Kinsey published (albeit many years ago) two volumes detailing the sexual habits of men and women.

Honestly, I think the notion of women moving away from the chaste demeanor of yester years to a more robust sexual behavior is a natural evolution running in tandum with our cultural evolution.

And I don't think it's either good or bad, just a natural phenomenon. Regardless of whether two people decide to have sex either before marriage or afterward tying the knot, it's just sex.

The problem with sexual behavior between men and women is breaking committments that are agreed upon during the marriage.

If men and women want to sow their wild oats before marriage -- so long as they do it responsibly --let them have at it.

In fact, I think the problem you're touching on goes much deeper into the stuffy American psychie. We are a people too worried about what others think, if we do x or y.

I like how RevRon put it: "For many years, women have been taught that in order to retain any semblance of self-worth, dignity, and moral value, they must avoid sex for anything save procreative desires...I think that the sex drive is pretty symmetrical in both sexes. We just play our parts per the demands of our audience."

THe bottomline seems very simple, at least in my opinion. Have sex and have it more often. And, understand that having sex is a joyious activity between two individual who should show respect for each other before, during and after the sex has occured.

a/good/lysstener said...

Thanks for explaining what befell yesterday's post about the happy ball. Its disappearance made me unhappy. :( All the more so because I sent the link to one of my friends, who knew somebody who had just such a ball, and now you take down the post!

Regarding today's topic, I think it's a mistake to draw an analogy between men and women and their sexual habits, just because women today are more upfront about their sexuality. I still think that for most women, their desire remains relationship specific. What I mean by that is that women are no longer ashamed to rank regular, good sex among the list of reasons why they want to be in a relationship. That doesn't at all mean they're out there having sex with every guy who catches their eye! Female behavior even today, at least among the females I know, can't be compared to the way men operate, which is basically to [fill in whatever term you like] every decent looking female that crosses their path. Or try to.

a/good/lysstener said...

Thanks for explaining what befell yesterday's post about the happy ball. Its disappearance made me unhappy. :( All the more so because I sent the link to one of my friends, who knew somebody who had just such a ball, and now you take down the post!

Regarding today's topic, I think it's a mistake to draw an analogy between men and women and their sexual habits, just because women today are more upfront about their sexuality. I still think that for most women, their desire remains relationship specific. What I mean by that is that women are no longer ashamed to rank regular, good sex among the list of reasons why they want to be in a relationship. That doesn't at all mean they're out there having sex with every guy who catches their eye! Female behavior even today, at least among the females I know, can't be compared to the way men operate, which is basically to [fill in whatever term you like] every decent looking female that crosses their path. Or try to. - Alyssa

Cosmic Connie said...

I think the sub-thread about other species is interesting. However, since amoeabas (amoebae?) don't reproduce sexually, I guess they really don't count in this discussion. :-) I'm not a zoologist, though it could be argued that the Rev's and my house is kind of a zoo, but I am definitely interested in this subject. I've read some Edward O. Wilson ("Sociobiology", etc.) and other authors, which hardly makes me an expert, but what the heck, I’ll join in the conversation.

Playing around on the Net, I found an interesting listing for a book that may be relevant here: "Promiscuity: An Evolutionary History of Sperm Competition" by
Tim Birkhead, published by Harvard University Press. This is one of several books that challenge the traditional notion of males being promiscuous and competitive, and females being naturally monogamous. According to the blurb on the Harvard U Press web site, [In the animal kingdom], "Females, it has become clear, are remarkably promiscuous and have evolved an astonishing array of strategies, employed both before and after copulation, to determine exactly who will father their offspring.”

Of course, it’s always tricky to use the behavior of other species to prove whatever point we’re trying to make about human behavior. For starters, which species do we use as our “role models?” I remember how religious conservatives embraced the recent documentary film, “March Of The Penguins,” as an example of how “family values” were apparent throughout nature. They completely overlooked the penguin behavior that was not consistent with born-again types’ narrow “family value” platform. More importantly, they chose to ignore the rampant promiscuity (and even frequent homosexual encounters, not to mention self-abuse) among species that are much more closely related to humans than penguins are. There is, for example, a certain subspecies of chimpanzee called the bonobo, which are, suffice it to say, very naughty apes. Yet according to biologists, they are our closest great-ape relatives.

And then there are hyenas, a little further removed from humans but still, by virtue of being mammals, closer to us than penguins. The female hyena is aggressive and dominant, and possesses an oversized clitoris that the casual (human) observer might mistake for a penis. That is, if one were inclined to get close enough to a hyena to look. I’ll pass on that one. Though I admit that when the Rev and I were in the hunting & sports superstore Gander Mountain the other day, I noticed a stuffed hyena, and I did look, but strangely enough, I saw nothing. I guess the taxidermist decided not to include that bit of anatomy.

As for homo sapiens, though, the always eloquent Rev is right; the pendulum does swing. (So do a lot of really unattractive middle-aged people, but that's another blog.) Remember that obnoxious bestselling book "The Rules," that came out a few years ago? This was Coy Behavior 101 for women, its central premise being that you have to play hard-to-get in order to successfully trap a husband. Interestingly enough, one of the co-authors later got divorced. Maybe her hubby got tired of being married to a "Rules Girl." To me, that book was a clear example of the pendulum swinging a little too far back, but apparently it was only temporary. Later, a couple of men came out with a semi-satirical – and definitely derivative – book for guys called, “The Code.” And for the most part, it was business as usual in the self-help/sexuality book market. The general assumption, outside the Christian and other religious markets, seems to be that men and women both are equally likely to have serial sex partners.

Of course (as acd touched on), there is still a “biological imperative” that makes human males, in general, slightly more inclined than human females, in general, to *crave* sex. In some places and time periods, that has resulted in a tendency to male promiscuity. I'm no expert on libido either, but I think that because women are not so testosterone-driven (though they do produce low levels of the hormone, which apparently is crucial for their libido), they can be a little more “detached” from the constant need to have sex.

Even so, I would like to think that humans are progressing, or will eventually progress, past the point where we feel the need to play games, or to use sex as a means to gain power. I never thought the “double standard” was fair, and I would hate to see a “Rules”-driven world. I’m glad women can be more open and honest about their sexual needs. Yet when I look at a cover of, for example, the “new” (post-Helen Gurley Brown) Cosmopolitan magazine, and I see all those catchy headlines about “how to make him your sex slave,” “how to make him beg for it,” etc., I cringe. Even if it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek, the message in much of the media directed at younger women seems to be that sex is more about power than about intimacy and satisfaction.

So in that regard, little has changed…

PS -- But I like what Rodg had to say, especially in his last paragraph. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Keep it going, folks, keep it going--great stuff here--and I don't think this discussion has even reached the "plateau" stage yet, if you get my drift... I'm counting on all of you to make this our all-time comment-inducing post. It has that potential, I believe. So tell your relatives! Tell your friends! Tells your husbands and wives! Tell your lovers! Tell your husbands and wives and THEIR lovers! But by all means, let's keep the (intellectual) stimulating going.

Cosmic Connie said...

Plateau stage? Heck, the Rev and I were already sitting back smoking cigarettes...well, he was, anyway; I don't smoke. :-) But you're right -- this is good stuff.

Anonymous said...

This is a great thread. I like the way different people come at the topic from different angles, which, indicate their area of interest or specilization. Everything everybody says is interesting. I want to see what more people say, then maybe I'll try for the last word. :-)

a/good/lysstener said...

I believe it's a mistake to assume that humans follow the same biologic script as other species. What are we basing that on? If you're going to argue for the validity of that assumption across the board, then some of us should be eating our young or thumping our chests. Then too, we all know men who do that in some way. ;)

Also, how do we know that the females of lesser species don't experience pleasure during sex? We know that human females are equipped with a clitoris (and thank God!) But I think I read where some species of monkeys have that apparatus as well. Do we know if it exists in other lesser species?

I truly hope I'm not throwing this blog into the realm of TMI on my very first day! These are honest questions that I think follow naturally from issues others have raised here. - Alyssa

RevRon's Rants said...

Apparently, dolphins experience pleasure during sex, but I'm not so sure we're on solid ground referring to them as a "lesser species." Maybe if they were to start some 12-step programs or start killing other marine life for whatever passes for dolphin profit and prestige...

I guess the question that I'm left with - and am not particularly obsessive about having it answered - is not whether other species experience orgasms, but whether the experience is a pleasurable one for them, or merely the easing of some biological imperative.

Years ago, we adopted a cat which originally belonged to my daughter, and my son (a deviant fellow by all counts) used to like to pat her naughty bits with a rolled up magazine until she climaxed - quite loudly, I might add. Not being fluent in cat-language, I never got an answer from her as to whether the experience was enjoyable or not. Eventually had her fixed, and her days of screaming orgasms ended. But who's to say whether she misses the experiences or just feels relief at not being driven to diddle?

Cosmic Connie said...

Good points, Alyssa. Obviously, since humans are part of the animal kingdom, we have much in common with so-called lesser animals. But as acd said, we can't ignore the influence of societal standards on our sexual behavior.

I do think it's a mistake to believe we're the only species in which the female finds sex pleasurable. All female mammals have clitorises, which should tell us something (I'm not sure what).

And certainly other species indulge in sex play that doesn't necessarily lead to reproduction. Monkeys, for example, masturbate. And the Rev and I had a male cat (neutered) who used to love to...how can I say this delicately...orally pleasure himself. He died last year at the age of seventeen-and-a-half with a smile on his face. :-) (Now, if that's not TMI, I don't know what is...)

We can't look solely to other animals as models for our own behavior, sexual or otherwise. On the other hand, if we think we're completely "above" the other animals, we're only fooling ourselves. The veneer of civilization / societal influences is, after all, probably pretty thin.

acd said...

First of all, we aren't "eating our young or thumping our chests" because of a little process known as "evolution"--maybe you heard of it?--whereby man was able to develop culture, which either accepts or disapproves of certain behaviors. Sex was always present throughout this evolution (gee, I wonder why); therefore, our sexual habits are derived from common ancestors.

Secondly, I never said that other female animals do not experience sexual pleasure. I said that "humans are among the few species that have sex for pleasure." That is, we have sex only for the pleasure, specifically knowing that we will not (or, at least, hopefully will not) produce offspring because of it. Other species may have pleasure, but they are not copulating for that purpose alone. (And no, I'm not going to lecture on the evolution of the clitoris. I'm glad that you appreciate the fact that human females have them, but I find any further discussion of that gratuitous, as well as an evasion of the more important arguments presented thus far.)

RevRon's Rants said...

acd -
Your condescension notwithstanding, perhaps human beings are alone in their *description* of the sex act as a pleasurable one, or perhaps we simply aren't well qualified to discern whether an animal's behavior during the act is emotional, driven by pleasure, rather than merely an automatic response to a biological stimulus. Given the limitations of our ability to translate the motivations for animal behavior, I doubt that any of us is qualified to summarily state that humans alone engage in sexual acts for pleasure alone. As to whether we are unique in our eagerness to have sex, while desiring not to bear children... In the heat of passion, procreation is usually pretty far down the list of what we're thinking. Such thoughts generally occur after the passion has been sated. A kind of "buyer's remorse," if you will. During pursuit and foreplay, it takes a genuine effort to focus upon such hypothetical thoughts. Of course, some people are always evaluating, rationalizing, and quantifying their experiences, and would certainly have the more practical matters foremost in their minds at all times. Gee... I'm getting aroused at the mere thought of being with such a lover! :-) As usual, my preference lies somewhere between the two extremes (but I lean toward the more sensual, spontaneous - occasionally, to my mild regret).

While I acknowledge that most animals only mate when the female is ovulating, it is very possible that she delivers physiological, behavioral, or chemical (pheromone) "cues" during that time which are necessary to incite desire on the part of the male. Perhaps scratching behind her ear just so is the male doggie's equivalent of a male human (most, anyway!) watching two human women give each other pleasure. If only there had been a comprehensive Kinsey Report for animals, we might have a better idea.

The bottom line is that our best "science" is little more than an anthromorphized guess, and that the theories put forth - no matter how firmly - are still only theories. Myself, I like to think that the animals are having a grand old time. Might not be fully supported by the "science" available, but it sure makes for a more romantic - and pleasant - view of the situation. And so far, science hasn't delivered concrete proof to the contrary, and I frankly doubt it ever will.

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, I don't think anyone was expecting a lecture on the evolution of the clitoris, but neither do I think that any of the discussions here so far have been gratuitous. They're all just part of the free exchange of ideas that make this blog so interesting.

However, getting back to one of the points Steve made in his original post...I think there is a lot of merit to Randy Shilts' argument that AIDS spread so quickly among the gay male population because there was so much unbridled sex -- no one to put the brakes on, as it were. Again, testosterone at work.

In heterosexual society, it has all too often been left to women to say no. And although women (in our culture, anyway) are no longer necessarily expected to save themselves for marriage, there is still sort of a double standard. A promiscuous girl or woman is still called a slut or worse. And a woman who has a casual encounter with a guy who promises to call the next day but never does is probably more likely to feel "used" than a guy would if the situation were reversed.

I think the way it's working out now is that most people of both genders experiment quite a bit when they're younger, and eventually most of them grow into a deeper appreciation of sex and sexuality. With any luck, they emerge from their years of experimentation disease-free.

I would like to think there's a possibility that the Rev is right and that as a culture, we are in the process of developing a more balanced and dignified attitude towards sex. However, we have a long way to go (witness how "scandalized" everyone was by Clinton and Monica a few years ago. And no, it wasn't because Clinton lied.) I think a good start in the "mature attitude" direction would be to have realistic sex education in the schools -- not just "abstinence classes" or "hygiene classes," but classes that presented a good balance of facts and values. I'm not necessarily talking about religious values, though of course that would be appropriate in private parochial schools. I'm just talking about values that convey the importance of sex, and the dangers (both emotional and physical) of having too much, too soon.

So is the pendulum swinging, and if so (or if not), what are the implications for the self-help industry? Perhaps I'm evading serious discussion (it won't be the first time), but in the end, it comes back to this: Publishers, ever on the lookout for more ways to make a buck, will glom onto any trend that looks profitable. Whether it's "the new promiscuity" or "the new celibacy," there's sure to be a book, or a few dozen books, about it. I think that's one thing we can safely count on.

Anonymous said...

To get back to acd's comments, I think all creatures have sex for pleasure, including snails and insects (any entomologist will agree, insects' mating behavior has been studied at length). What differentiates humans is not just that, as was previously pointed out, they've developed to be able to have sex outside the fertile period of the female cycle, but also that they now KNOW they can have sex simply for pleasure (with appropriate precautions, of course) without it resulting in procreation. While I think it's extremely doubtful that animals realize that they're having sex in order to reproduce, only humans, as far as I know, are aware that they can have sex without reproductive "consequences" (there are, of course, other possible consequences!). And I am convinced that that awareness, and that lack of reproductive consequence--a first in the entire history of sexual life on earth--is having and will have the most profound effects on human society, effects which, given the brevity of our use of effective birth control, we cannot yet fathom. But in a few hundred years, social historians will be having a field day!

Steve Salerno said...

Just FYI--I suspect you already know this, CosCon--Gabrielle Brown actually wrote a book called "The New Celibacy" back in 1980; as I recall she got a fair amount of play with it. The book's subtitle went through an evolution over the next decade or so as the publisher tweaked the nuance to better conform the book's rather contrarian (and at least initially off-putting) concept to American society's swirling mood of the moment. Also, back in 1998, feminist gadfly Naomi Wolf (who was then ubiquitous on talk shows, albeit at least to some degree, ironically, for her good looks and gobs of hair) did a book called "Promiscuities" that focused on the sexual politics of women's progress. I would say that Wolf's book, like Stedman Graham's book, fell into that nether category of part social treatise/part self-help.

If Paris Hilton does indeed make good on her vow to stay sex-less for a year, I'm leaning toward another round of "new celibacies." I'll be opting out, thank you very much--as, in fact, most of those who buy such books would be, I'm quite sure. Once again, I question whether self-help books ever have anything concrete to do with the way the readers of such books live their lives: they just read, and talk, and read, and talk. (And stand in front of the mirror and "affirm" every now and then.) Nothing ever changes, and life goes by.

Finally (for now), folks, I read the posts on this topic in partcular and I end up wondering why there isn't more of this in our society: more discussion with this level of easy elegance and insight; more philosophical disagreement that doesn't instantly devolve into partisan name-calling. My thanks to all of you for taking the time and trouble to weigh in with such intellect and verve.

Anonymous said...

Why do you people over intellectualize these things? People want to have sex. Males and females. They look for excuses to do it. Reasons to make it "o.k." to do it. Women had fewer excuses years ago. More was expected of them. We're all the same under the skin. People are people, and people like sex. Jesus H. Christ!

Steve Salerno said...

I'd be careful about bringing Christ into it, anon. Christ might get angry, and you may find yourself in sudden need of permanent Viagra. (Why am I picturing this as a guy?) Then again, if the religious revisionists can be believed--Christ might've liked sex, too. (That Mary Magdalene! Tsk, tsk...)

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon raises a good question, and the answer, of course, is that people in general always make things more complicated than they should be. We over-intellectualize about sex because we over-intellectualize about everything. We have big brains and that is one of the things big brains are for. I know, I know, the cure for that is for all of us to spend all of our free time you-know-what-ing our brains out, but then how could we blog?

Steve, you're right; I was aware of the books and authors you mentioned, but as we know, the existence of those books is no reason for other authors and publishers to refrain from trying to make a few bucks from the same subject matter.

Finally (and this is back to Anon's remark), I have always wondered what the "H" stood for in JHC. History is strangely silent on this one. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Yanno, when Anon's comment first came through (the "Christ" one), I was tempted to play it for laughs--as I guess I did, in a way. It seemed so counter to the tenor of the rest of the ideas and analyses that have occupied this blog for the past day. But now I'm thinking--maybe there's more to that comment than meets the eye? I agree with you, CosCon, that we over-intellectualize everything in this culture... But is it just possible that we over-intellectualize sex in particular as a way of denying to ourselves the reptilian nature of the way we really feel about sex at its core? Is it possible that we "think" that the more words we pile on top of it, and the more grandiose we make the discussions of its meaning, the less we have to face the simple truth that we're just, well, animals who want to "do it"?

Steve Salerno said...

Or is everybody else laughing at me as we speak, because it took me so long to come to that self-evident realization...?

RevRon's Rants said...

We intellectualize and over-evaluate because doing so makes us feel clever, and supports our prized notion that we are somehow better than all other forms of life. We share our profound thoughts so that others will see just how clever we are, and either love us or fear us (and leave us alone). So what? So long as we participate in the game, without taking it too seriously and allowing it to consume us or make us want to destroy each other, it's just another pleasant pastime, with the added benefit of providing intellectual exercise - which allows us to more easily overcomplicate even more!

There are, of course, "intellectuals" whom are so unable to socially integrate that they are compelled to create for themselves a faux uniqueness, which they perceive as proof of their superiority over those with whom they cannot bond, thus justifying their existence as social outcasts. Witty, but ultimately, very sad.

There are also those, as Vonnegut posits in "Breakfast of Champions," whose ideas are little more than badges, and who reject the ideas of perceived enemies, while embracing the ideas of perceived allies. We all do this to some extent... we've even seen examples on this very blog.

As always, I look for something resembling a state of balance here. We play the game, tell ourselves how clever we are, and breathlessly await someone who will reinforce that sense of cleverness, either by agreeing with us, or by challenging us to display even more of our cleverness. But in the final analysis, we're just playing an enjoyable game (much like life, itself), and if we play it right, we all win.

Cosmic Connie said...

In any case, intellectualizing (or even over-intellectualizing) about sex is, IMO, a step above trying to sweep it under the carpet, or giggling about it like junior-high kids. And, figuratively speaking, US culture is often guilty of the latter two. Despite the in-your-face sexual imagery with which we are continually bombarded, our sexual attitudes still reflect a disturbing combination of that giggly pre-adolescent kid and the dour Victorian (or the moralistic but prurient Church Lady) who would prefer to deny that we are all sexual beings.

OTOH, many people these days are actively exploring the spiritual aspects of sex. Of course, religions and spiritual paths have always had something to say about sex, but nowadays, East is meeting West with a vengeance (e.g., all of those "sacred sex" books and seminars, based on centuries-old Tantric practices). But who knows, maybe this is a healthy step in the right direction for some people. It sells books, anyway. :-)

Anonymous said...

This all comes down to one thing--women opening their legs on the first date for nothing more than to "get laid" and how this liberated habit has changed the social standards for women in various societies and cultures. You are presenting the argument that when women stopped respecting themselves they were telling society they have the same "junk-yard-dog mentality" as men. Viewing this through a moral microscope, there could be a grain of truth to Mr. Kerner's theory. Women were empowered (to come out of the closet) when the era of financial independence became a way of life for the average female. They were no longer cocooned at home while the male went out into the world as the sole provider, affording him the opportunity to form liaisons with other women. Undoubtedly women decided what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so they evolved into promiscuous kittens who weren't afraid to ask for sex, or even expect it on the first date.

Although, I would agree that most women would prefer a gratifying relationship with one primary partner. And I think it's great when women who have healthy sexual appetites would prefer to be coupled with a man who appreciates and shares her enthusiasm for the most intimate act in the world--bonding sexually with the one you love. But once again, that takes us back to what Kerner is talking about--why were women willing to lose their innocent image just for the sake of having their way!

Steve Salerno said...

Somebody contacted me off-blog to ask me why I'd "censored" a previous comment of theirs that they considered tamer than some of what's appeared in this thread. This is always going to be a matter of discretion--unhappily, mine. Due to the nature of the subject matter at hand (as well as some of the strong feelings that have emerged here and there), I've allowed a fair amount of latitude in the use of language. It's like anything else--you have to look at it in context. There are movies by Scorcese (Goodfellas comes to mind) that are ugly and profane...but somehow achieve a certain hypnotic/esthetic beauty, and also have a larger point to make. And then there are movies by other directors in other realms that are just...ugly and profane. I do the best I can. Overall, as I've said repeatedly, I am very proud of the level of discourse on this blog. There are days when I'll actually go back and read a comment several times, just for the poetry of it. It's a sickness, I know--but it also explains why I work with words and ideas for a (sometimes) living.

Anonymous said...

Steve- Your best post so far I think. And I'm here to tell you guys are interested in relationship talk! We want to know the rules as much as anybody does, except women are always changing them. Also if I may say so, I like your commenter who wrote about women opening their legs. Talk dirty to me, baby! (I am just kidding, don't go off on me please, feminists!)
-Carl

Steve Salerno said...

Carl, I hate to take the wind out of your--sails--but where in that comment do you see hard evidence, as it were, that the commenter is female? Or does that not matter? Which is fine, of course. I'm just askin'.

(In fact, the repeated third-person references to "women" and "they" almost make it sound like it was written by a guy.)

Anonymous? You out there? Declare yourself: male or female!

a/good/lysstener said...

This is a very difficult topic for me, because I don't want to be in the position of advocating against the sisterhood, as some of my Womens Studies friends still call it. Women have struggled for a long, long time for parity in many areas, including sex. I do think, though, that much of what women do today in the interest of being "empowered," as one anonymous commenter put it is counterproductive and self-defeating. Love should be inseparable from sex. I know that there are many reasons and situations today that make it difficult for a woman to hold that line. Fine. It should at least be a goal we are working towards. Not just another commodity or pastime. And I think it's a shame that fewer and fewer of us see it that way

RevRon's Rants said...

Leonard Cohen once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that Sex without God is pornography, and God without Sex is piety. The guy had a point. While porn & piety have their place, I wouldn't want to make a lifestyle of either. As to tying sex with love, I'd like to think that most people mature to the point where the two go hand in hand. The alternative is to risk experiencing coyote love, where you awaken, look over at your partner du juor, and gnaw your arm off, rather than awaken them. It's just not a fun place to be.