April 13, 2014 § 4 Comments
As a single twenty something, I subsisted on stories of sexual exploits. Brunch with friends consisted of dishing the dirt on what happened the night before. All of our experiences seemed like some kind of amazing movie, where the hot musician/artist/stranger from out of town walks in and sweeps away the night with his own unique way of wooing, either leading to mounting sexual tension or strewn sheets.
I also worked at a brand new restaurant where they only hired you if you were beautiful or Irish. Everyone was sexy. We worked hard, played hard, and then all ended up in bed together. To be honest, it was the best job I ever had, with the strongest sense of community. The drama kept it interesting, and persistent flirtations kept my adrenaline pumping. People with commitments didn’t fare so well working there. But I had no strings, no attachments, and just a couple of obsessions. I was at that age where you were allowed to be just a little bit stupid. I learned that you probably shouldn’t mix business with pleasure, but it’s a lot more fun when you do.
Ten years later, I look back on that time as my heyday of singledom. It was an adventure to sleep with all kinds of men, and I’m glad that I did. I learned a great deal about life from all of those experiences. I never imagined that my life would change so much since then, and that I would choose to be in a monogamous marriage.
We’ve both admitted that the single thing we miss most about dating is the variety. Once married, that excitement of the brand new person in your arms is a thing of the past. The challenge is to go beyond the familiar to create a fresh erotic experience. Biologically, the familiar is a warning signal that keeps us from committing incest, and once your family, there is nothing more familiar than your spouse.
At times, we get our kicks from listening to stories told by our single guy friends. But as they talk, I find myself feeling depressed and left bored. They check young girls off their list, and are consumed with looks rather than substance – the type of girls who like to flip their ponytail in your face; had a boob job at eighteen; and fail in conversations with comments like, “Alcohol was once illegal? That never happened!” In the meantime, the fully formed human beings are relegated into friendship territory.
For much of our lives, love and sex are two very different things. If you marry a person based on your passionate sex life, you’ll wake up one day to find that you have nothing in common. If you marry your best friend, you’ll realize that as love grows stronger, keeping sex fresh is a challenge. Love and sex only come together completely in the first initial phases of an intense relationship, and as familiarity takes over, lust wanes.
Everything that I’ve ever felt about the nature of human sexuality is explained and affirmed in Sex At Dawn – How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’. As their theory goes, we owe much of our culture to the rise of agriculture, but the earth was a more balanced place when we remained hunter-gatherers in pre-history. There was no famine, no malnutrition; people grew taller and lived longer; finding food took up to three hours a day leaving the rest of time for play; when food and resources were scarce they kept moving; and communities were kept small so that everyone could be accommodated for. Strength came from how little you had – as in possessions as well as people. Greed represented failure, and sharing was the ultimate benefit. As food was not withheld, neither was sex.
During ovulation, women slept with as many men as possible, letting the best sperm-match for her egg battle it out inside her body. The baby could be anybody’s, and this ensured protection for the child. Everyone took responsibility for raising the children. There are many communities throughout the world that still function in this way, though outside pressures threaten to stamp it out.
Our bodies perform functions that are basic to this mode of sex and reproduction. As a woman vocalizes during orgasm in the throes of sex with one man, she is calling attention to other potential mates in the area. When a man thrusts, his action combined with the coronal ridge of his penis creates a suction that removes competing sperm from a woman’s vaginal canal. A woman’s body will actually attack sperm that are not the right match for her egg. But when sperm and egg are the right match to make a strong and immune child, her body is more welcoming. These various functions are called “sperm competition.”
There is a lot to be learned in this regard from our primate cousins. With Gorillas, the largest male wins all the females. He competes with his strength, but his scrotum is tiny – an example of male competition rather than sperm competition. With bonobo chimps, the females lead with a sexually free society, where the males can enjoy themselves instead of posturing to win the ladies. When there is enough sex to go around, everyone can relax.
Most social primates are non-monogamous. In fact, it’s a real stretch to find any animals anywhere that are monogamous. I hate to burst the bubble, but even penguins find a new mate after the hardships of protecting the young are through. Sometimes penguins engage in threesomes that are beneficial for the male in times of keeping the egg warm – double duty.
Of the primates, gibbons are a standout for their solitary existence up in the trees, with a generally monogamous existence. Among the gibbons, males and females are exactly the same size. Humans have much more in common with chimps and bonobos in regards to male/female size ratio and the general size of male sex organs. We also share 98.8% of the same DNA.
As a social function, sex throughout history has been a solidifying exercise between people groups – a way to create bonds, establish friendship, welcome distant travelers and gain their trust. Marriage, on the other hand, was a negotiation – an economic and political maneuver. Typically, patriarchs chose who you married, before the Victorian era built up the idealistic idea of marrying for love. That same era was the most uptight, restricting, and repressive time. No one thought that women actually wanted to have sex. They were idealized as angelic creatures, all the while getting their orgasms at the doctor’s office in treatment for Hysteria.
“Otto Kiefer, in his 1934 Sexual Life in Ancient Rome, explains that from the Roman perspective, “Natural and physical laws are alien and even opposed to the marriage tie. Accordingly, the woman who is entering marriage must atone to Mother Nature for violating her, and go through a period of free prostitution, in which she purchases the chastity of marriage by preliminary unchastity (Ryan, Jetha, 124 – 125).””
Sound advice. There is a reason why “gang bangs” are such a popular porn feature. The truth is, it takes us back to our roots in the ultimate expression of sperm competition. Monogamy has caused an increase in fertility issues in men – some 20% of men suffer, and the numbers are rising. These issues would never arise in a non-monogamous society, where the strongest sperm win, weeding out the weak. In monogamy, the weak just keep trying.
A man’s sexual preferences become rigid in his youth, while a woman’s preferences are infinitely flexible (whether she knows it or not).
“Gay or straight, the men were predictable. The things that turned them on were what you’d expect…. The female subjects, on the other hand, were the very picture of inscrutability. Regardless of sexual orientation, most of them had the plethysmograph’s needle twitching over just about everything they saw. Whether they were watching men with men, women with women, the guy on the beach, the woman in the gym, or bonobos in the zoo, their genital blood was pumping. But unlike the men, many of the women reported (via the keypad) that they weren’t turned on. As Daniel Bergner reported on the study in The New York Times, “With women… mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person (Ryan, Jetha, 273).'”
Despite the major shift in consciousness through the last one hundred years, women are still very good at being sexually dishonest with themselves. And why wouldn’t they, when society at large anxiously awaits that moment when they can label a woman a slut or a whore? Women are still punished for being sexual, when it should be celebrated.
I’ve never fared well with overly idealistic women. When they ask me to tell them how I met Michael, how he proposed, where we got married – I cringe a little bit. They are all great stories, but they sum up our relationship into some bizarre fairytale narrative that has nothing to do with our day-to-day reality. Those stories are mere blippits on the radar at this point. They remind me of the whirlwind that I was swept up into, left almost unrecognizable to myself, as I planned a wedding and turned into a girly girl, entering into a mainstream institution.
I’m still confused by what, exactly, happened to me. I’m still difficult to deal with, yes, but my personality did a back flip in response to Michael’s triple lutz. He made me a better person. I became strong and secure, simply because he believed in me so much. And now, five and half years since we met, we’ve changed so much together that I have little in common with the person I was back then.
I know that I could handle an open marriage, but Michael is not interested. And would I want to go back to that way of life? I see the other options out there, and it all pales in comparison. Before, so much energy went into thinking about sex, when now, we put our energy into the work that we love doing. I was not that productive before Michael came along.
We have a shared narrative that makes life enjoyable. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, and sometimes we forget to have sex for a few weeks, and at other times, he feels more like my brother or my son or my father than a husband. But then it all comes back around, and it’s like we’re at the beginning again, in our own little world, with the sheets in wild disarray, and the hours passing by undetected.
I think the important thing is to not look at a relationship as a given. To not give up on life and let everything go. It’s the outside world that keeps the inside world invigorated. It’s the community at large that keeps love alive. An insular relationship is doomed to end in boredom. With trust and openess, fresh energy flows, and you find that the person you married never stops changing.
May 12, 2013 § 4 Comments
I am so happy to announce that my memoir No End Of The Bed is now available on Amazon!
Lauren J. Barnhart’s memoir No End Of The Bed spans her search for truth through differing perceptions of sex, with some surprising parallels made between the fundamentalist church and the sex-positive movement.
Raised within the confines of Fundamentalism, Lauren J. Barnhart is instructed that her body is inherently evil and unclean; that innocence is of the highest value; and that a woman is meant to be a servant to everyone but herself. She struggles to believe all that she is told or else disappoint family, friends, and an all-knowing God.
At age twenty-one, outside of her small conservative college, Lauren expresses her sexuality and is surprised to discover a lack of guilt for her transgressions. Within nature rather than against it, awakened to all five senses, she begins to record the feelings of intense love and empathy that she failed to find within the church.
In the search for something more, she is drawn towards a group of polyamorists, who celebrate the body and the freedom to express themselves with many. Through their zest for life, she abundantly taps into her artistic nature. But at the same time, she experiences the same misuse of power that was left behind in the pews. Realizing that the need to find a leader is a fallacy, Lauren learns to value her own true voice, and finds the strength to forge a different path.
I began this book when I initially broke with the church twelve years ago. The experiences I had along the way were strange and extraordinary, and it took the entirety of that time since, for the story to fully unfold. In fact, the last chapter took place exactly one year ago.
In my early twenties, I became obsessed with the need to capture everything I was experiencing. I kept detailed journals, wrote poems, songs, and began writing short stories that grew to connect as chapters.
It took ten years, and one year of prodding from my husband, before I could face the fact that I was writing a memoir. I’m still shocked that I’m not hiding behind the false label of fiction. There are truths in the book that I wouldn’t even tell my close friends. But a book is different than a conversation. And without total and complete honesty, the story loses its effect.
Others who feature in my story might not remember the details the same way that I do. Each and every one of us has a different set of memories. But we all shared the same arc from repression to crazy expression.
I am very immersed in the present right now (more than I have ever been). I could not let go of the past until I finished this book. It helped me to process my life. I came to understand everyone else’s motives. I forgave them and went through a long phase of constantly thinking through the male mind. At least that is to say, the male minds that are in the book!
In the end, I found that there were more similarities between the Fundamentalist church and the Sex-Positive movement, than dissimilarities. Erica Jong once wrote, “All pornographers are puritans.” Residing in one extreme, the complete opposite extreme lies within it, just under the surface of repression.
Growing up, I was told that the body I live in is rife with taboo. I wanted to understand why. I put myself in highly uncomfortable situations just to test my own limits. I discovered that taboo only exists in your mind. Fear is based on the unfamiliar. Rules and religion began with the human desire for control and patriarchy, and control keeps the masses in the dark.
Through the long, arduous publication process, passages, words, phrases, and pages jumped out at me: flashes of years past. No End Of The Bed shows me how far I’ve come. I feel invulnerable to judgment. The young, confused girl in the book is not the woman that I am today.
But I also miss certain aspects of that very youthful place. I was so open to people that it bordered on unhealthy, though I learned so much from them. I was also scared shitless of all the new people that spoke a different language than the religious language I grew up with. Lately I am reminded, that if you’re not scared shitless, you’re not really living. Being on the stage seems to provide that over and over for me. I like to be constantly challenged so that I can keep growing.
Right now, I have two other books in the works, and I will be publishing other authors as well through Knotted Tree Press including literary fiction, memoir, essays, and poetry. You can find out more at Knotted Tree Press.
In the memoir, I found responsibility for my self. I let go of the need for a leader, and discovered my own truth. In taking charge of the publishing of that memoir, I found responsibility for my work. I’ve loved every detail of editing, formatting, designing the cover artwork, and marketing. The funny thing is, it took exactly nine months to complete the publishing process. Now, it’s just so good to be back to writing again.
September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
After watching the excellent film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, I had no choice but to pick up Dalma Heyn’s book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife.
In the film, Pippa marries a wealthy man thirty years her senior when she is a young runaway living on the edge. She mutates from being an expressive human being with problems into the stilted and empty role of being the Perfect Wife. But underneath all of her prim lines, you sense the real Pippa lurking underneath. She begins sleepwalking, ending up at the min-mart where she buys cigarettes. And then, out to lunch with her neurotic friend, Pippa begins to combust:
“You could be married to anybody, if that’s what you’re worried about. Marriage is an act of will. I mean, I adore Herb, but our marriage functions because we will it to. If you leave love to hold everything together, you can forget it. Love comes and goes with the breeze, minute by minute.”
When Dalma Heyn set out to write her book comprised of years worth of interviews with wives who committed adultery, she began with an armload of clichés, stereotypes, and societal views that had nothing to do with the feelings of actual women, their marriages, and their experiences. The problem that all of these women shared, was that they bought into the ideal of the Perfect Wife – she is selfless, giving, able to predict the needs of everyone else, without ever meeting her own needs. When these women don’t measure up to this idea of goodness (and no one ever does or should), they constantly feel bad – they are a failure, there is something wrong with them. In the process, they disconnect completely from themselves and go numb. They can no longer experience a fulfilling sex life either. They’ve become what they thought was their husband’s fantasy, but it has nothing to do with them. They are looking at themselves from the outside in.
“They spoke of a profound awareness that they were somehow no longer themselves, that they weren’t in a relationship but playing a role in one (Heyn, 103)…”
They wonder what became of the sexual outlaw they were before marriage. Some of the women had not even had premarital sex. Regardless, women from their twenties to their seventies, and all walks of life, experience adultery as a rebirth of self. They don’t experience shame or guilt – they experience life, total joy and an uninhibited place to reclaim their authenticity. They seek out men that have none of the prerequisites that they look for in a husband or even a boyfriend. They might not even be in love with these men, it doesn’t matter; the experience of total freedom is the same.
The women often have no desire to leave their husbands. But through the experience of adultery, they understand that they need to change the shape of their marriages, so that at last, their needs can factor into the relationship. There is no going back to the Perfect Wife. Some of the women never tell their husbands and fare well, while a large percentage of the women who do tell end up in divorce. But every marriage is different with different outcomes.
I never thought that I would get married because I loved being single so much. My sexuality was the ultimate adventure for me. So sometimes, I wonder, how did I end up married to a man whose sexuality is so vanilla. He’s turning fifty this year, and though he thinks of having sex all the time, it’s often the last priority. When it doesn’t feel like a routine, when he isn’t being too sensitive and careful, sex between us is wonderful, but rarely ever dark, or seductive, or unbridled. Can these things exist in a marriage? I always thought they could.
When we were dating he struggled to keep up with me. He stayed up late with me till the early morning hours and we had sex everyday. He was working three jobs and started to feel the pressure.
Around the same time, I decided to give him a fashion show. I went into my closet and put on all my old fetish gear – vinyl, thigh-high fishnets, towering platforms. When I paraded out, he was not aroused by it at all. He said I was playing the part of someone else. Maybe it was who I was before he met me, maybe I never was that role to begin with. It just wasn’t for him. He wanted me to put on a sleek and elegant dress instead. I’d never encountered a man who didn’t go crazy over artifice. For a week after that, he struggled sexually, and then unbeknownst to me, Viagra saved the day.
For him, the two events were unrelated, but after that week, I stopped taking risks. I started feeling nervous about making him uncomfortable. I left my kinks behind. He loves my strength in all facets of our life together. But he has a puritan side, a clumsy embarrassment over anything out of the ordinary.
The other issue is that he’s not the string bean-types that I used to date. He’s like one of those massive warriors that you see in movies like 300. Built like a rock, solid, stocky, with huge hands that don’t know their own strength. When I told him that I like to be choked, he gave it a try and almost broke my neck. When he sleeps with his arm across my chest, my ribs begin to feel like they’re crushing under the pressure and I panic, trying desperately to wake myself. I’m still learning how to live with our differences.
But life is also easier, happier, more content with him. We can’t get enough of being together – we work together, go out all the time, talk openly about everything, and share our passions. It’s always fun, even when we’re fighting. We don’t buy into the term “settling down” like many couples do. I play the role of the Perfect Wife more for my parents than my husband. When they show up, everything is clean and dinner is delicious. When they’re not here, our lives are chaotic and slightly out of control.
I don’t idealize our relationship. I didn’t marry a man for his status or money. I married a fellow outlaw, who lives by his own rules, and makes me laugh. I’m well aware that the future is uncertain. I’ll be surprised if our marriage survives for the rest of our lives, and I very much hope that it does. And does that only mean the rest of his life, since I’m so much younger? I make jokes about being a wealthy old widow, living like a gypsy and on the prowl. But really, it’s just to make myself feel better about the unknown.
I went through some confusing changes in the process of our growing closer. Like a rubber band snapping back and forth. I was caught up in the whirlwind, in the romance in the beginning. Then after our engagement I rebelled and fought and wanted to leave. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing. But on our wedding day, it all made sense.
For a short while, I turned into an old lady, had no real friends, started to compensate for my husband’s reckless, accident-prone nature by being extremely anxious, nervous, overly careful. At times, the pressure of being a wife overwhelms me. I’ve often wanted to run back to when my life was more straightforward and simple – when I could just work, do my art, and have sex with random people every now and then.
Sex was self-discovery, mutual-discovery, empathic-discovery. Married sex is something completely different that I don’t quite understand. It’s like we need to learn to speak each other’s languages, and haven’t quite gotten there yet.
There is a strange role-reversal where in our relationship I am supposed to be more like the man and he is more like the woman. He wants to cuddle and be close, and I just want to get laid. He wants to work up to it for long periods of time, while I get bored waiting. He wants me to initiate, while I just want to feel wanted. And yet, he is enormously giving, patient, and selfless – which makes me feel like an impatient, selfish, taker.
No couple is perfect, and somehow our differences balance things out. My husband is the first man I was ever in a committed relationship with. I guess I got bored with everything else. Before we met, I had become an evil heartbreaker. The ego trip felt nice, but it didn’t feel right to hurt people and feel nothing. My husband didn’t buy all that crap. He saw right through it (though he admits to being scared of me at first). It was good to be seen at last. Really seen. It still is.
When I think of other men sexually, I wonder what would be the point, when there’s only one man who lets me be who I really am. Maybe not the dominatrix side, but every other side. Everyone else pales in comparison. Everyone else seems like they’re missing something. With everyone I dated before, I was never really myself, and was never accepted to begin with.
I am the subject of my husband’s life. He says that I give his life meaning. He even took my last name.
Yesterday was our 2nd Anniversary. I hemmed my wedding dress and surprised him by wearing it on our dinner date, along with my birdcage veil, and my grandmother’s jade necklace. We talked about our plans for building our future together. We talked openly and honestly about how we really feel about all of it. We raved over Sea Urchin, Veal Sweetbreads, Cavatelli with Morels, Chocolate Truffle Cake with Black Cherries. We even talked about this post, and how our memories are different, and yet the same.
This is the first openly honest thing I’ve ever written about my husband, stripped of all the idealistic tripe. I’m breaking my erotic silence.
February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Growing up, I never really talked to any boys until I slept with one. And by that time, they were no longer really boys – especially since I was twenty-one and I gravitated to older men.
In my senior year of college, there was a speaker at chapel who seemed more suited to Junior High students. He neatly categorized the different stages of a relationship through a ladder analogy. The bottom rung was eye contact. The second rung was conversation. The third rung was holding hands. The further up the rungs you climbed, the more dangerous it became. He told us it was best not to go past the third rung before marriage.
I turned to the girl next to me and said, “I started at the top rung and worked my way down.” She gave a nervous laugh. But I knew plenty of people who followed the ladder rule – my sister for example. She and my brother in-law never kissed until a month before their wedding. She was disappointed that they didn’t quite make their goal of waiting. Their friends however, did.
At my college the divorce rate among the alumnus was huge. Years after, I heard women complain that they didn’t enjoy sex with their husbands. From birth onwards – girls and boys were taught that sex is dangerous, taboo, disgusting, perverted, depraved, sinful, dirty. And then one day you find ‘the one.’ You get married and then all of a sudden – sex is beautiful. But actually, often it isn’t. Because how do you shake all of those old perceptions that are ingrained not only in your mindset, but in your body.
Growing up in Christian schools, education on sex was extremely limited, and friends offered silly stories that had no bearing in actual life:
“If you don’t have the gene for curling your tongue, then you can’t French kiss properly.”
“A woman is a rose. To each man she sleeps with, or gives a part of herself, she gives away one of her petals. If she sleeps with too many men, soon she’ll have no petals left.”
This conveniently excludes the fact that a rose is a perennial and comes back every year. There is no direct experience in these ideas. Admitting direct experience is taboo. Denial even sometimes remains after a girl appears to have swallowed a watermelon. And of course, denial is also the reason for the failure to buy condoms or birth control in the first place.
The dangers of repression became glaringly obvious one day when a group of girls decided to streak through campus. Every year it was the tradition for guys to do this, and it was always at a very public event. The first year it was while we were all on the lawn watching ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ in 3-D. All of a sudden naked guys were streaking past the screen – odd because at first it seemed like part of the movie. The next year they rode their bikes through a festival. And the third year, some girls from the Basketball team wanted to join the tradition.
They went streaking through the canyon by the dorms – and strangely enough, guys started chasing them down, driven by mad lust. Something comical and bonding and freeing turned into something horrific. Most of the girls darted down a gravel path, trying to get away. They dove into the bushes to hide, getting scraped by stones and branches. Only one saintly fellow came and offered clothes to get them back to safety.
This all reaffirmed for me my distrust and lack of interest in the guys at my school. I had a long list of issues. For every six girls there were only four guys. Overall, they were unattractive, lacking in life experience, introverted with women, hypocritical. Basically, they were a direct reflection of myself, and I did not want to be who I was. Up to that point, I had always been at the hands of environment and religion – ingrained to think the way I thought.
Among many girls at my college there was a celebration of the infantile. My friends sported the same haircuts they’d had since the third grade. They liked to wear t-shirts and sweatshirts with cartoon characters emblazoned on them – most popular being Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse. My roommate insisted on putting up hideous posters by Ann Geddes of babies in flowerpots and dressed as pea pods. They favored the pastel colors of a baby nursery – pink, lavender, lime green, baby blue. Bedspreads ranged from candy-colored stripes to polka dots. Their binders had pictures of puppies and kittens in the front. And yet – they were adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty-two.
These women preferred to remain in an infantile state because it was easy. One year I asked all the girls on my floor if they would rather marry for passion and adventure or for comfort and security. Every girl chose comfort and security except for my roommate and I. They went to college to get their M.R.S. degree and I listened to them complain if they didn’t get that ‘ring by spring.’ Marriage was protection from the dangers of being out in the world. A husband would take care of them, protect them, control their lives and make the decisions. They would spend their time scrapbooking sentimental memories, making banana bread, volunteering at church. They would mistrust any environment not labeled ‘Christian.’ They would attempt to repeat the entire system by ingraining their children with the same unrealistic worldview. They would secretly acknowledge that their husband was not a prince. They would feel trapped, but the world without a husband is the great unknown. They’d never been in it, and never wanted to be.
I just finished reading Carlene Bauer’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Maybe I was too excited to read a book that seemed comparable to my own developing memoir. But she failed to draw me in. I spent the entirety rolling my eyes, just wanting her to get over herself. Was it because I relate in all the parts of myself that I don’t like, or because I saw so many of the girls that I grew up with? Probably, a little of both.
Bauer grew up in the Protestant church, attended a small Catholic college, and then moved to New York to become an editor, still clinging to her virginity. She eventually leaves religion behind, but not prudery. She excuses it by saying that she is a perfectionist.
“Used improperly, said church, sex could addle you beyond repair. If someone who didn’t love you saw you naked, you would become Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass, eyes gone wild and trembling, wanting to drown yourself in the bathtub because your awakened appetite could not be satisfied (Bauer, 176).”
God wasn’t really the reason Carlene Bauer didn’t get out there and throw herself into the depths of life like she really wanted too. It was only herself holding her back – her fears, her introversion, her lack of confidence.
“Maybe my body was what was weighing me down, not God, and if I could just learn to forget about my body, my mind could finally, finally be free (Bauer, 62).”
The title of her book is ironic. Not That Kind of Girl. For the entire memoir, it is strikingly obvious that she has always longed to be that kind of girl – the kind of girl that lives a wild life, with passions and loves, throws caution to the wind, a real bohemian. She relates to Sylvia Plath and looks up to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and chides herself for not being nearly as interesting. Though I am happy that she is a success as a writer and has found her way outside of the beliefs that held her back, I wanted her to become what she always dreamed of being. I saw more potential for her, and I hope she finds it for herself.
January 27, 2012 § 1 Comment
The first thing I noticed when I picked up my used copy of Platform by Michel Houellebecq, were the bits of jizz on the edges, making the pages stick together. Not surprising, given the amount of orgy scenes.
Houellebecq’s exploration of our contemporary malaise is only relieved through the constant pursuit of sexual adventure. The protagonist, Michel, is a depressing character with really no personality to speak of. He drifts through life bored and alone. “Anything can happen in life, especially nothing (Houellebecq, 148).” He is unable to find a suitable partner, or even really, connect with anyone at all. But then he meets Valerie on a group tour in Thailand, where he goes to enjoy the benefits of Thai prostitutes. In Valerie he discovers a sexually giving nature with the benefit of having someone to love, talk to, and enjoy life.
She works in the tourism industry, dealing with the problem of customers who are bored by their vacation experiences. Michel suggests a line of hotels that specialize in sex tourism. At first it’s a huge success – until Muslim terrorists step in.
“The problem with Muslims, he told me, was that the paradise promised by the Prophet already existed here on earth. There were places on earth where young, available, lascivious girls danced for the pleasure of men, where one could become drunk on nectar and listen to celestial music; there were about twenty of them within five hundred meters of our hotel (Houellebecq, 250).”
Michel listens quietly to his companion, but he is more concerned with the sexual problems of westerners. “Something is definitely happening that’s making westerners stop sleeping with each other. Maybe it’s something to do with narcissism, or individualism, the cult of success, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that from about the age of twenty-five or thirty, people find it very difficult to meet new sexual partners… so they end up spending the next thirty years, almost the entirety of their adult lives, suffering permanent withdrawal (Houellebecq, 172).”
In my early twenties I attracted more men and even women than I ever have since. And since then I have been analyzing exactly why this is so. I had that youthful glow and was always smiling and laughing, whether it was nervous laughter or not. I was much more friendly and open to all experiences – not yet scarred by all that was thrown at me later. I was naïve, which older men found highly amusing for a while. In fact, I was everything they were looking for to make them feel young again. I was the answer to their existential crisis – youth.
For a number of these men – sex in its basic form wasn’t cutting it anymore. They were resorting to cocktails of Ecstasy and Viagra, group sex, role-playing, bondage, domination, whips, hooks, orgy-parties. And yet, they were still always bored. “Organized S&M with its rules could only exist among overcultured, cerebral people for whom sex has lost all attraction. For everyone else, there’s only one possible solution: pornography featuring professionals; and if you want to have real sex, third world countries (Houellebecq, 175).”
When I did date normal, mainstream guys, I was bored out of my mind. They were so vanilla, with nothing to talk about and a limited capacity for pleasure that was stunted and one-sided. They were also not as honest.
Since then I have gained much more than lost. But if I have lost anything, I would like to bring back that openness I had to people all around me. I want to love fully without fear, with more effort on my part in the awareness that we are all as one. Houellebecq, of course, puts it more bluntly, “It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves; it’s that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable (Houellebecq, 63).”
Houellebecq has a dire view of the world, and though he writes of the dangers of isolationism, he also gravitates to it. I see it as laziness. How can you feel connected to others, if you are not first willing to give? The character of Michel expects women to sexually fall all over him when he has not given them anything to fall over. He is a walking dead man. There is nothing lovable about him. And when he meets Valerie, it is hard to understand why she is attracted to him.
Behind Houellebecq’s fictional sexual forays is the mind of a Puritan. His characters are always punished for finding sexual satisfaction. They begin and end in their fear of intimacy. The sterile, noncommittal experience of a prostitute becomes the safer approach.
I watched Houellebecq’s interviews, and got the sense that he is already dead. He appears to fall asleep, and takes an inordinate amount of time to answer questions. His hands and mouth constantly grab for the stimulus of a cigarette. In an interview for The Paris Review, he was asked how he has the nerve to write some of the things he does. He answered, “Oh, it’s easy. I just pretend that I’m already dead.”
November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
Remember the nineties when rape and sexual harassment were everywhere? There were all those televised court cases such as Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. In Modern Novel class in college, every book we read had a rape scene in the first chapter. Wherever you turned, there was some outrage over the untamable impulses of male sexuality – that evil creature that for one second is the boy next door and in the next is that gang rapist in the fraternity at 3am on a Saturday night. The problem was that young women grew up thinking that men were evolved spineless teddy bears. But feminism is no match for nature.
I’d forgotten about the rape preoccupation until I read Camille Paglia’s collection of essays, Sex, Art, and American Culture. To be honest, the book is outdated and repetitive. But Paglia’s voice more than makes up for it and her rich knowledge from ancient history to pop culture is passionate and invigorating. She loves to tell it like it is. “American feminism has a man problem. The beaming Betty Crocker’s, hangdog dowdies, and parochial prudes who call themselves feminists want men to be like women. They fear and despise the masculine. The academic feminists think their nerdy bookworm husbands are the ideal model of manhood (Paglia, 5).”
Paglia embraces nature and our natural impulses to understand why we behave the way we do. When it comes to survival in nature, you must always be aware. “Feminism keeps saying the sexes are the same. It keeps telling women they can do anything, go anywhere, say anything, wear anything. No, they can’t. Women will always be in sexual danger (Paglia, 50).”
I still hate admitting that this is true, even though I have learned from many bad experiences that it is. And of course, Paglia tends to contradict this statement as well. I’ve been mugged, and more humorous than scary, once I was on my way home from work in my sweats and a guy in an SUV from the suburbs mistook me for a prostitute. He asked me how much for a blow job, and was embarrassed when I rounded the corner and entered my building. But it still left me shaken, because he was following me in his car.
Most recently, I was walking home from dinner and on a street corner a man asked me the time. “10pm,” I said. The light changed and I started walking. He followed me for six blocks – up the bridge, over the freeway, through the dark foliage of the side streets. My heart was pounding as I felt his presence behind me, keeping close watch on his shadow. Then he said something, which I couldn’t hear. I turned and snapped, “What?”
He goes, “How would you like me to rub my penis up on you?”
“Fuck off!” I yelled, “Do you want my husband to come down here and fuck you up? You need to respect women!” I shook my finger at him, inflamed.
Immediately he stepped back four feet, struck by the sheer force of my anger. He held his hands up in surrender. Just at that point, I reached the well-lit entrance of my building where my neighbors were in the lobby getting their mail. My hands were shaking, “That guy was disgusting.”
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” they cheerfully replied. I tried to keep myself composed as we rode up the elevator, but as soon as I was inside my door, I melted onto the floor and lost it. In a rage my husband ran down to the car, circling the neighborhood to find the guy – someone who could be almost impossible to recognize, slipping in and out of shadows, a faceless loner in the night.
Feminism’s biggest mistake was in denying nature, history, and the archetypes of our mythology. Utopia doesn’t exist, and we live in a world of risk.
At some point in his journey towards maturity, the average man will reject his mother and his dependence on women. He will join the pack mentality in a rite of passage and succumb to his most basic nature, the nature that society tries it’s best to refine and suppress. But when a man relies on assault to overtake a woman, he becomes a pathetic figure, weak and inept, revealing all of his vulnerability as a man. If you need to take something by force, then you will never really have it at all.
So why did the rape and sexual harassment propaganda get out of control in the nineties? “The theatrics of public rage over date rape are their way of restoring the old sexual rules that were shattered by my generation (Paglia, 52).” It always scares me when women want to return to an infantile, protected structure lacking in freedom. In the end, I don’t see that this preoccupation with fear won out. The young twenty-something women of today don’t remember a time when they weren’t equals. Overall, they seem to be well informed, prepared and strong.
I relate to Paglia’s warrior mentality, “Rape does not destroy you forever. It’s like getting beaten up. Men get beaten up all the time… If it is a totally devastating psychological experience for a woman, then she doesn’t have a proper attitude toward sex (Paglia, 64-65).” I have experienced sexual violence, and I would have to agree with this. It was physically and emotionally painful, and it came from the pain my attacker had suppressed. That is the way of nature. A pain-free world does not exist. We must all be trained to fight, to be fit, ready for what comes. But through it all – take the risk of being open and free to all human experience. Lacking in fear – but full of awareness.