Friday, May 4, 2012

A little light culture: Our masturbatory culture

In researching yesterday's post I read a bunch of pieces written by Alexandra Molotkow. Over the last twenty-four hours a couple of lines she wrote kept coming back to me:
As a woman in your twenties, you sometimes serve as a human Fleshlight, and you sometimes thank the guy for the privilege, and you sometimes pay for it when the STI or the pregnancy test, or both, come back positive. Our lives, like any, are made up of small humiliations. 
And I kept thinking of a quip of my grandmother's: "Are you complainin' or braggin'?" My grandmother never dropped her G's except with intentional irony and that irony would be well-placed here. That is bragging.

In another article, Molotkow writes at some length about her experience as a teenage cybersex obsessive. Here is the teaser published at the top of that article:
I’m among the first generation to come of age on the Internet. By 13, I was an expert at chat room sex, spotting cyber-pervs and hiding my secret life from my parents.
She is way ahead of me that is for sure. I had to Google "Fleshlight". Let me save you the trouble. It's a masturbatory aid for men (like we need one) that is shaped like a flashlight. It's the sort of thing that major losers buy. If you would like to contest that claim, here is a challenge: Google "Fleshlight", click on images, look at a picture of one of the things and imagine cleaning it after use. If that doesn't make you shudder with disgust, you need help.

But Molotkow is rather proud of her knowledge of this sort of thing. She talks, and talks quite knowledgeably, about cybersex she did as a teen. And she isn't shallow or stupid. There is a fair amount of wisdom in her article. For example:
Sex talk at our sleepovers invariably led to a discussion of cybersex. We’d start by agreeing how perverse it was. Gradually we’d work toward a list of circumstances in which we could see ourselves taking part. Eventually we’d agree that cybering wasn’t necessarily bad, just not something we would ever indulge in. And then one night we decided that cybering was something we might try, and “might try” quickly became “should do.”
That shows considerable self awareness. That is how we talk ourselves into these things and it is also a good illustration of how journalists help us down the primrose path. The first articles on the subject are about this weird and disturbing trend that has "experts concerned" but you can be sure that it will be only a few years at most before the journalists are writing that every twelve-year-old girl is already doing it and quoting experts telling us that we may as well get used to it because it can't be stopped and it isn't that bad anyway and a short while after that the articles will be about how much more savvy kids today are than their parents.

Here is another:
Chat rooms are full of people trying to get laid; they’re a lot like bars, if bars admitted children.
My buddy Steve made the same observation back in 1990 after reading an article about a then new service  that made it possible for people to call a single number and then connect anonymously for conversations with members of the opposite sex. He said, "This service is going to end up with a lot of teenage girls getting taught about sex by pathetic old men who've never managed a relationship and learned everything they think they know about sex from decades of reading porn." And that is pretty much what has happened.

There is one thing Molotkow didn't learn from all her experience however and that is how to actually connect to a man. If you read the whole piece it's really quite pathetic. I'd like to make what might seem like a crazy claim though and it is that the bitter complaint I quoted at the top—about being a human Fleshlight—is really at the root of why so many women, like Molotkow, can be so sexual and yet unable to bond with a man.

Come with me on a mental experiment. First, consider the effort a young woman puts into being a young woman.
  • Think of the hours spent on clothes and make up. 
  • Think of the years spent in school and university and all the studying she didn't feel like doing but did anyway and all the essays she didn't feel like writing but wrote anyway. 
  • Think of the fitness stuff she does going to the gym or yoga class several times a week. Think of how hard it is to start exercise sometimes and how it always feels worth it after you've made the effort.
  • Think of how she can feel like crap but make the effort to be cheerful and friendly for some people even though she doesn't feel like it. 
  • And think of her job. Think of how she gets out of bed earlier than she would like every morning. Think of how she dresses up for the job. Of the long hours put into pleasing her boss and her clients.
It's a great bloody lot of work and she keeps doing it even though there are days she hates it. And, after all this, she regards sex that is more for her guy than for her as being like a human masturbatory aid?

And it's not just Molotkow. I've heard women in the third year of marriage or a relationship say, "It feels like we are just servicing one another?"

Okay, now that we have done the background, consider a hypothetical. Imagine a woman in a relationship. We'll assume she actually likes sex and is able to maintain enough interest in her guy that they have sex regularly. Suppose her guy asks, given the obvious difference the sex drives of most men and most women, that she consider doing it "just for him" twice a week above and beyond the sex she wants for herself. How much effort would be required for her to do a really first class job of this? She would have to,

1. Spend a few some time planning.
  • She would have to think of the best time for this. 
  • She'd have to find a time when they both would be free and when they wouldn't be too tired. 
  • And then she could spend some time thinking through scenarios.
2. Spend some time preparing.
  • She'd put a little extra time into dressing. Not much. She has to get dressed anyway, so all she has to do is pick her outfit and underwear with a little more care. It would take the same amount of effort as getting dressed for work or a party takes.
  • She'd put a little time getting herself into a positive frame of mind. Again, this is the same effort she'd make when preparing to meet clients or to meet family.
3. Actually do it.
  • Like exercise, sometimes the hardest part is getting started but millions of people manage it.
  • It requires paying active attention to what he likes and his mood today.
  • And it takes a certain amount of time. Begin with a little flirtatious chat and kissing to the moment when she could reasonable get up and do something else is probably about forty-five minutes.
  • And she'd have to keep doing it and not let her efforts peter out.
That would be a gold-plate effort, more than most women in a settled relationship or marriage do. That plus the regular sex needed to meet her needs is way more than most men get or expect.

How much effort would this be? It's an hour and a half of actual activity, plus maybe ten to twenty minutes at most extra dressing time (she is getting dressed for work anyway) and lets say another half hour of planning and mental preparation time. That's less than three hours a week. That's less effort than a lot of women put into physical fitness. It's a lot less than you'd need to put into a job.

Heck, let's cut it in half and have her do it only once a week beyond the sex she wants for herself. Now we're talking about less than an hour and half effort per week. When you break it down like that, how does it get to be that a woman might bitterly complain that she feels like "a human Fleshlight" or like "we're just servicing one another"? Is that some crazy, unfair imposition to suggest that you might make this sort of effort for a person whom is going to unite his life to yours.

That is where our masturbatory culture has gotten us. It's not, as some moralists complain, that the fantasies that come masturbation are so ideal that real life can't keep up. It's more that we lose the ability to connect to other people. It's not an accident that as it has gotten easier and easier to get anything you want at a touch of a button it seems like it has gotten harder and harder for people to connect as a couple; it's not an accident that online porn and speed dating have popped up at the same time.

Anything you want you can have. Usually for free. The joke is that if you can imagine it, it exists. In fact, things you couldn't have imagined exist. In a world where all that is so easy, the really magical thing, the thing that gives the greatest erotic thrill is managing to build a real connection to another human being.

Here's a clue, a big part of making that work is serving one another willingly and joyfully.

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