The banality of sex

10 Apr

Sex still gets people’s attention, their nervous giggles and sideways glances. Sex sells a myriad of products and performers, the politics of sex are debated, we scream with apocalyptic fervor about the repercussions of porn, sexting teens and whether Katy Perry’s kawaii-cute squirting hooters are distracting for children.

Goddamnit, we just love talking about sex.

We also love reading about sex memoirs, wherein women chronicle their laundry list of indiscretions and adventures or, in a strange new turn for the sub-genre, chronicling their abstinence. When reading a book about sex, one generally expects some titillation. Working on that assumption and the trend of “Literary ladies gone wild” sex memoirs, you could surmise that there is a steady market for these forniographies, a term which I’m sure will never take off but was better than my previous effort, shagoir.

It’s interesting to note that these sex memoirs are generally only ever from the female perspective. Perhaps it’s more titilating for a reader to discover that women enjoy sex or that the thought of a woman engaged in some sort of sexual activity still shocks. Perhaps there is no art left in a man listing his exploits, unless it is some relatively edgy fetish.

With all this in mind, I recently read ‘The Sexual History of Catherine M’. It’s French, the author is suitably impressive and the book features lots and lots of fucking – threesomes, gangbangs, swinging, casual encounters, monogamy. If nothing else, there could be action on every page.

However, ‘The Sexual History of Catherine M’ is relentlessly banal. Sexual exchanges, no matter how grandiose in scale or exotic unfamiliarity, lack any of the excitement expected from twitchy readers. In between her trysts, there are trite pontifications on sexuality and relationships that barely mask the vacuity of the author. In an environment where everything is discussed with detached pseudo-intellectual torpor, any activity appears welcome no matter how rote, no matter how it merely goes through the motions.

Is it a fundamental problem when it comes to writing about sex? Are writers today stuck between the nauseatingly pretentious bodice rippers or empty French fucking? Are these the only options?

Perhaps the problem is with sex itself. Though an unlikely example to cite, there was a passage from ‘Red Dragon’ that seems particularly relevant. Francis Dollarhyde, serial killer with an incredibly complex ritual for slashing his way through perfect family homes and videoing the process, noted his movements started with grand, powerful sweeps before degenerating into base pig fucking, all sense of grace lost in his own mounting pleasure.

There is some truth to that. No matter the location, kink or beauty of the participants, sex often comes down to those grabs of overloading pleasure that often don’t convey outside the union. I’ve watched others and been struck with the banality, choreographed routines that bore.

I am most likely being overly harsh, vexed by the rote approach to erotica. Add two tattooed girls with piercings and tube socks and you have 68% of Tumblr. A woman with a corset is suddenly a burlesque performer. Pole dancing is an exercise routine. A French author dutifully notes how many cocks she can take at once.

Is it just me or are women still defining their sexuality via male approval?

Shameless plug: I wrote about hysteria surrounding porn over at the Drum.

2 Responses to “The banality of sex”

  1. Safzoro April 10, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    I remember reviewers saying very similar things when this book was first released. The quantity and description of the sex certainly didn’t shock, and the formulaic nature of it was seen as souless.

  2. Nicky April 10, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    The same thing for me with Anthony Kiedis’ biography. Drug taking & addiction reduced to such factual, banal descriptions that by the end of the book you’re barely registering his behaviour as unusual.

    Someone pointed out to me that sex will always have a connection to our evolution, and the whole notion of cavemen dragging their women around by the hair. This is why a large number (perhaps even a majority?) of men fantasies about non consensual sex, and a similar portion of women get off on being dominated or taken by force.
    If nothing, its an interesting theory & would go some way to explaining why women define their sexuality by men’s attitudes.

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