It is most certainly not easy writing about sex. To begin with, you have to deal with the fact that once you start talking about orgasms, breasts, penises and foot fetishes (the human mind is an unholy place), it is very easy to sound like you are writing plain-old erotica—cheap, unsophisticated, and yet very arousing. At the same time though, if you try to distance yourself from the human depravity of sex, you could sound more like a plumber describing a u-bend when exploring whether the G-Spot really exists. I want to avoid making such serious stylistic errors, but I don’t want to forget that any conversation about sex has to be both erotic and exciting whilst being decidedly technical about a topic that is so serious. I remember watching an interview of Philip Roth (you kind of have to read and listen to him when thinking about sex and literature), where he declared quite hilariously that when he and his friends were sixteen they had only question about sex: “WHEN? WHEN? WHEN?!!” That kind of desperation was not simply because of an animal drive within us, according to Roth. If his book Portnoy’s Complaint (which is about a mother-obsessed, masturbation addict) is any indication, the want for sex in human beings can lead to all kinds of things both disgusting and sexy. The power that sex holds over our lives can lead to all sorts of problems, from the relatively benign but hideous (think Diogenes masturbating in the open streets) to the debauched (think Marquis De Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom) and to even wholesale exploitation (think prostitution). There is a reason why “sex sells” and there’s a reason why clerics don’t want even the ankles of women to be visible to men. Sex lies at the very human intersection of patriarchy, fulfilment, love, exploitation, power and everything else in between.
I think a brilliant place to find a conversation about sex that is stimulating (in the right way) is the comments section of any porn video (it’s also a good way of ensuring the video is a good one!). The things people say (and don’t say) about sex in these comments is so profoundly revealing (never thought I’d use the word profound when writing about sex!). These comments tell us that people don’t just watch porn to simply “bust a nut or yaw yaw the sisterhood”. Masturbation is a very sensuous thing in our lives: It relieves boredom, which is perennially the human mind’s most wicked enemy and it gives us the opportunity to enjoy the feelings (and hormones) that sex brings with the most important person in our erotic lives: ourselves. Therefore, it is no wonder that people have such strikingly specific criticisms of the acting in the video, or the stilettos of the female porn star, or the absolutely unrealistic time for which the male porn star lasts. People put up comments stating all sorts of things, from the things they found funny like the orgasm face of the actors or the scenes they felt where outright bizarre like one where they felt the porn star’s screaming was extremely unappealing as it sounded like a “donkey braying”!
Porn is about the deep voyeurism that inhabits the human mind, it is about finding release (literally) and for that one needs a good experience. Put it this way: when we want to release our bowels we want a clean toilet that smells good, when we want to fulfil our hunger we want food that tastes good, and when we want to avoid the cold we want a jumper that looks good. If we want quality in all other things, should it surprise anyone that we want porn to be more than just people “doing it” with each other? Good pornography is important for the same reason that anything is important to human beings, we are not just Plato’s “featherless birds” and we don’t just have sex in caves (HA!). Unlike the plots and scripts of most porn movies, human beings are interesting in nature, and their erotic lives reflect that via their desires from pornography. There’s a reason why Playboy Magazine, instead of just having any other nudes, had Marilyn Monroe’s nudes. And there is a reason why Pornhub has reported a phenomenal rise in the consumption of incest porn by…(drum-roll)…millennials!
Sex as an activity is about satisfying the human imagination—otherwise, a few grunts and no foreplay would have kept everyone happy. On the issue of ‘grunts’, we all know that men can have very few problems when it ‘comes’ to (pardon the pun) reaching climax, whereas there is a whole body of feminist literature on how women don’t really climax at all most of the time. The common form that the female orgasm takes is due to clitoral stimulation, and the reason why women do not really come due to vaginal stimulation is because, well, men don’t usually last long enough. This creates an obviously skewered power dynamic in sex, where men are able to “unload” ever so easily and women are left feeling constantly under-appreciated. I don’t mean to say that this means men are near-constantly aroused pigs who pay no heed to the needs of their female partners, although there is truth in that contention. My point here is simply that without a good amount of foreplay and some good oral sex, our sexual activities with all their imaginative passion can simply end up being a dull series of painful thrusts for one whole half of the human population—and sex must be far more than that if in these feminist times we men are to redeem ourselves for having treated women as objects of sex for thousands of years. Ancient India, being a culture at a stupendous height of civilisation, was acutely aware of the consequences of denying women the beauty of an orgasm. As Wendy Doniger, a controversial yet revered Indologist, points out, even the legendary Kama Sutra is clear on the fact that women must orgasm first, given how easy it is for men to do so. The message is clear and has been clear for more than a thousand years: boys, at least try to find the fabled G-spot once in a while instead of just seeking blowjobs.
The power dynamics of sex bring up a very curious issue with specific regard to sex between homosexual men. It is difficult to accurately describe how significantly being either a ‘top’ or a ‘bottom’ has an effect on the masculinity of gay men (MEN!!). The power politics in that part of human sexuality has assumed new proportions with the world’s gay community bidding adieu to the stereotype of the “camp” gay man and welcoming a more traditionally masculine homosexual male as more desirable. As Kevin Troughton writes for The Guardian, “very few find [camp] sexually attractive. That limp-wristed, bitchy queen might be hilarious, but you wouldn’t want him as a boyfriend, or even as a one-night stand.” The fact is “bottoming” gay men have always been stereotyped into the camp category, facing potentially even internalised homophobia due to their perceived passivity in the gay community. And now with the rise in the desirability of the straight-acting gay alpha male, it would appear that all men who wish to receive anal sex will potentially have greater issues relating to dominance and estimations of their own masculinity. Funny enough, all of this simply reinforces the words of Oscar Wilde: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power”. It is slightly hilarious but definitely unsurprising that men having sex with other men is where power dynamics take centre stage, after all, the ‘male ego’ manifests itself most strongly in front of other men!
The relationship between love and sex is complicated (well, of course). And if you have read a bit of Freud (he has to be mentioned in a discussion on sex, you know, #respect), sex and love are both about your mum. Obviously, his Oedipus Complex and theories on the development of libido are a bit bogus, but his underlying assertion that we learn how to have relationships primarily from our parents makes a lot of intuitive sense. Parents give their children a reality, they define what human interaction means for them and they do so simply because that’s how it is, for good or for bad. This means people’s relationships are (to a degree) shaped by the experiences given to them by their childhood and their parents. The problem is that people fall in love with the people they have sex with quite often and vice versa! And people falling in love leads to all sorts of problems like marriage, infidelity, drama and the responsibility to take care of children. The very point of sex leads to relationships that are determined on factors outside your control (your mum!), and lead to a sexual rut (your children) with added responsibilities of bringing up another human being—so that the cycle can continue.
It is definitely weird talking about sex and extremely difficult to treat it with the sensitivity and respect it deserves. But it certainly is fun to think about and research on something that is so goddamn brilliant. I mean, my research showed me that orgasms could be had by brain dead people if the right nerves are stimulated! And it was facts and observations like this that made my task ever so out-of-control. Yes, sex is important, I could see that, but what is the common thread that makes it all ever so important? And why? I think I have chanced upon a simple answer to these questions: sex is humanity’s deepest desires manifested in the most physical of acts, and for that very reason it’s going to be more than just a simple act. Adieu!
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