Exploring "Join The Dots"

Started by SueC, August 06, 2019, 14:28:23

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SueC

THE CULTURALLY CONSTRUCTED SORDID OVERTONES

I came across something trawling the CF archives last night that started a discussion between us here at home, and I've decided the topic needs writing about.  I'm not going to link the quote back to the archived discussion; the person it's from seems to mostly make very intelligent contributions and this isn't to get back at them, this is to discuss a cultural problem.

I'm posting it in this thread because even though it's not a B-side, we've already talked about The Only One previously here, so it can be a post-script to that, and a discussion opener if anyone is game to jump in.

Quote...by the way something that one guy said on that morrissey forum describes it rather well: "Sure, hearing Bob sing about getting an awesome blowjob is mildly entertaining, but..."
yes, 'but' indeed. ;)

As a couple we unanimously take exception to the careless (and ridiculing, and vulgar) language frequently used around sexuality in casual discussion, as it was here - and more specifically, the summing up of an attempt to write openly about sex in a song as, "...(this person) getting an awesome blowjob."  (And they are mildly entertained by that.  Ho hum.  Yeah, people write about intimacy in order to entertain Neanderthals, apparently.)

The lyrics to The Only One were graphic, but they weren't vulgar, and they weren't toxic, and they weren't misogynistic; but let's not miss the opportunity, apparently, to describe that song, and oral sex actually, in vulgar, toxic and misogynistic terms.  (And why are we specifically making this about oral sex?  The song was about sexuality more generally, and oral sex was only an aspect of that.  I've got some ideas, and will try to weave those in later.)

English is not my first language, and I had quite a few surprises learning it.  It's the only language I've come across in which "it blows" can mean exactly the same thing as "it sucks", and in which abbreviation is such a long word, and where there's at least four different ways of pronouncing the letter combination "-ough", and umpteen other things like that.

I first heard the word "blowjob" in middle school, where I also heard frequent joking/insulting references to "vibrators" - and those references left me perplexed and emotionally reeling at the apparent crudeness and idiocy of adulthood.  As for the latter, I imagined it must be a joke - surely people wouldn't have constructed machines to stick in their private places.  But as the years passed, it dawned upon me that people had done exactly that, and as the decades passed and I caught some documentaries on SBS on Friday nights, I was kept intricately up to date on the evolution of sex robots.  Because sex is a commodity, apparently, and human intimacy is optional (/scary?).

I'm an adult these days, and I'm not wanting to shame anyone over the use of electrical appliances in the bedroom, even if that concept baffled me as a teenager and still doesn't do anything for me personally - ever heard the saying, "My erotica, your porn, their filth"?  But let's talk about shame, and ridicule, in the wider sense, because it's a discussion that needs to be had.

"Blowjob" is one of those words that seems nonsensical, amongst other things.  "Why is it called blowjob?" I asked my husband.  "One doesn't actually blow.  It's not like inflating a flotation device."  He replied, "You might want to look up the etymology of that one.  Or on second thoughts, maybe not."  (And then, "Hey Sue, what's the entomology of insect?"  - "Hey Brett, what's the etiology of your mental disorder?")

Logically, the word "blowjob" should refer to inflationary activities, as applies to balloons, camping mattresses, the aforementioned flotation devices, inflatable sexual partners, etc.  Scenario:  You go camping, and you delegate the blowjobs.  But let's put the jokes aside.  Why refer to oral sex in this way?

And is it all oral sex, or specifically oral-sex-as-applied-to-males?  I've never heard the word "blowjob" used to refer to oral-sex-as-applied-to-females - where frankly, a jargon-induced misunderstanding about what you're supposed to do is potentially dangerous:  Blowing up the vagina occasionally leads to embolisms, and to my mind is no more erotic than trying to blow up your partner's oral cavity when kissing.  ("Hey, I'm not a Resusci-Annie!")



I'm scraping around my memory for a crude term specifically for oral-sex-as-applied-to-females, and am not coming up with anything (although there's a myriad ways to scaffold it onto existing intentionally offensive terms around female anatomy and general sexuality).  My fishing failure here may be because I don't usually hang with people who discuss sex in crude terms, and/or perhaps because oral-sex-as-applied-to-females is a rarer thing in the real world than oral-sex-as-applied-to-males, and/or because when certain men who like crudity do condescend to perform such an act on a female, they see it as a heroic act of masculine virility and/or a shining example of how they're God's gift to women?  (If they can even look past their penises as the be-all and end-all of everything for long enough...)  Maybe the kind of people who construct these crudities are men who see themselves as entitled to receive such attentions from the females they are attracted to, and yet to spit upon them semantically and metaphorically for the performance of it?  And would never be caught dead offering oral sex to a female partner (however fleeting), unless it can be used as a means of ego inflation, control or humiliation?  Toxic masculinity is a thing; and there's whole packs of men like that online, discussing their misogynistic fantasies and talking about their "right to rape" and even how rape "doesn't actually exist because a natural man has a right to females."  (It's funny you know, in nature, if a stallion gets a notion like this, he may find himself educated by a resounding kick in the chest by a mare.)

Which brings us to this:  People suck.  They really do.

Some people, of course, may be immature, and embarrassed by sex, and therefore need to resort to jokes and ha-ha about it.  I'm not pointing my rebuke at them, but they are the chicken and the egg both, really - the embarrassment is partly due to this cultural shiitake, and it perpetuates the cultural shiitake at the same time.

And it's all such a long way from this:



Because human intimacy is an extraordinarily beautiful thing, to which the crudity, lack of respect and inequality I discussed above is anti-matter.

Think about kissing for a moment.  Not kissing in order to pressure someone to have sex with you; kissing to convey love and appreciation and togetherness.  Kissing in order to express and to create intimacy, emotionally as well as physically.  Perhaps, but not always, kissing to express and create desire in both of you - not always because the tail doesn't wag the dog; it's the other way around.  Kissing as a warm and intimate and sharing thing - and as a respectful thing, as well as a wild thing.  It's one of the loveliest things there is.

So would you dismiss that as "face-svcking"?  (Sorry about the v - ironically, s'ucking is automatically censored by the forum software, but you can say suck till the cows come home.  :winking_tongue)  I'm sure face-svcking is also a thing; the kind of stuff people do with their faces in order to say, "Me-Neanderthal-you-Jane-I-want-sex-now!" is actually more aptly described that way - it doesn't dignify the application of the word "kissing", if you ask me.  (I'm so extremely lucky - my husband is not a Neanderthal. ♥  My heart does cartwheels over that every time we're intimate.  If you've seen a lot of dross, you appreciate gold all the more.  Metaphorically.  I don't give a flying fvck about the metal per se.)

Accordingly, let's consider oral sex for a moment.  (It's not a very positive term either; it kind of sounds dental and clinical and odd.  We need a better word...)  If I were to draw a Venn diagram, with a circle with the word "kissing" in it, then the circle I'd draw with the word "oral sex" in it would actually have a lot of overlap with the "kissing" circle.  It's an extension of kissing in an erotic context.  And it's not like there's only the mouth or the genitalia either - how many square metres of skin on the human body?  Yet some people seem to see it as a soccer field, with two goals either end.

As you can see, I'm coming at this from the perspective of intimate relationships involving actual love - I understand that there's also the mutual-Neanderthal stuff (and regrettably, the one-sided Neanderthal stuff, which is another matter); that some people just want to bonk as a sort of recreational sport and not recognise the other person's humanity while they do so; and as long as both sides are happy with that kind of transaction, it doesn't bother me.  Each to their own - as long as there is consent.

But it does seem to me that the Neanderthals do a fair bit of projecting; and I don't think it's fair for them to describe what people for whom love and emotional connection matter do in the language with which they refer to their own activities.  I don't give my husband blowjobs - there's no blowing, it's not my job or even a job, and it's not like this:

QuoteYoung women reported a lack of respect and satisfaction in their sexual experiences. Even on dates, women said they felt pressured to provide pleasure. Orenstein was surprised when "a freshman at a West Coast college said to me, 'A girl will give a guy a blowjob at the end of the night because she doesn't want to have sex with him and he expects to be satisfied. So if I want him to leave and I don't want anything to happen...'"

(Read the rest of it here).  How did we get to this?  It's appalling.   :smth011

In the context of that Cure song, it's also the narrator's partner you're insulting here.  Go on, have a dig at the woman - taking a sexual dig at a woman is what lots of people do, some maliciously, some for entertainment, many without thinking because it's so culturally ingrained, and because of how it has stained the language around sexuality.  And if you belong to the third category, wake up please.  (If you belong to the first two, I don't know how much hope of that there is.)

Attitudes matter.  Language matters.

The in-common-use problematic language around sexuality colours people's attitudes to sex before they even reach puberty.  It normalises things that it's actually really unhealthy to normalise:  Exploitation instead of mutuality.  Ridicule instead of respect.  Double standards. 

Think about it for a moment:  Sexuality is potentially one of the most beautiful, intimate, connecting things between two people - so why is it that so much sexual language is also co-used - and actually predominantly used - for insult and derision?  Why is it that when a person wants to take a really below the belt potshot at another, they describe them in terms of the anatomy and physiology around urination, defaecation and intercourse?  Why is intercourse thrown into the same bucket as waste removal?  Why is it that when you want to be really mean, you use words related to female anatomy, and females?  Why is it that when you call a man a dick it's almost a friendly insult and means he's a bit silly, but when you call him a c*nt he's a really horrible person?

If the language of ridicule and shame also enters the bedroom, it can kind of taint the experience.  Maybe this is more the case for word nerds who are super-aware of these things, but it's there to a degree with everyone.  Language is our symbology; and if we dip our symbology in shit, it's going to smell, even if my nose is more sensitive than yours.  If the casual (and the vulgar) language around genitalia, sex and sexuality is loaded with ridicule, insult and shame, how will this not bleed into your experience of sexuality?

I do know how we personally in part avoid that - we simply don't use such terms in an erotic context.  We use neutral language, anatomical language, medical language, and a fair bit of metaphor.  We make up language if we need to.  Also of course, sex can be a language of its own, where you go way beyond words, just as music takes you way beyond words.

Some couples might be able to reclaim terms that we personally don't use, the same way you can reclaim Christmas from all the BS consumerism around it, and if that's you, good on you - there's more than one way to skin a cat, etc.  And just as I don't want any consumerist BS around my Christmas, I don't want any demeaning BS around my sexuality, or my husband's sexuality, or sexuality in general - yet our whole society seems to have this shiitake loaded onto our shoulders from the go-get, and we have to learn to get rid of the foul taste and the bad smell, if we're wanting to have experiences with one another that are completely and unequivocally beautiful, in that brief flash of light between those eternities of darkness.  :P

I may or may not be finished.  You can check back tomorrow if you want.  Meanwhile, other stuff to do...



[Probably still under construction - and if you persist with this, you will need a securely anchored Jesus handle]

Recommended Reading

https://ideas.ted.com/we-need-to-talk-about-the-orgasm-gap-and-how-to-fix-it/

From Elizabeth ♥ who kindly recommended Peggy Orenstein on this stuff - and it's excellent:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/07/794182826/boys-sex-reveals-that-young-men-feel-cut-off-from-their-hearts

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/03/29/472211301/girls-sex-and-the-importance-of-talking-to-young-women-about-pleasure

https://www.npr.org/2011/02/05/133471639/saving-our-daughters-from-an-army-of-princesses
SueC is time travelling

SueC

AARDVARKS, SEX, ETC

Since the last post is so long, I'm leaving it be and writing postscripts (which is getting kind of recursive :lol:).  This is from discussions about The Only One with friends and where that went to, and us talking to each other at home, and just general ongoing reflection.

One idea that surfaces is that you don't want to end up with mental videotape of the particular, person-specific scenario in the song (well, maybe some people do, but not the people I'm talking to).  Remember when you were on the cusp of adolescence and you'd become intellectually aware that a lot of the adults around you were having sex, and you then needed brain bleach because of the footage your mind's movie department automatically created?  And you had to interact with a lot of these people "normally" even after becoming aware of this hidden world, which you never gave another thought before puberty, because way back then it only existed in cartoon shapes in birds-and-bees books for children, and you'd think, "Adults are weird - the strange things they do when there's all these cool train sets you can play with!  Adults are boring!"  (Hahaha, kiddo.  :yum:)

Part of the process of growing up is becoming the director of the movie department in your head, who says, "Yes, that's a great movie concept, let's explore that!" versus, "No, this is really B-grade and has ethical problems, and ramifications for real life that are better avoided."  But there's a bit of a curly problem with the mind that's well illustrated by, for example, a challenge not to think about a particular word for 60 seconds, like the word aardvark.  You try it!  And actually, as is often the case with thought and behaviour, it's so much easier to redirect yourself, than to try to not do or think something.  So, the best strategy for actually not thinking about the word aardvark for 60 seconds, if that's your brain-gym challenge to yourself, is to recite a non-aardvark poem in your head, or to do quadratic equations, or to conjugate verbs, etc.  In some ways, it's like distracting a toddler.

Confidence is also good for banishing a hypothetical aardvark for 60 seconds - if you're nervous about your own ability to do that, you're less likely to be able to do it.



A friend of mine works in trauma therapy and general psychology, and told me the biggest consumers of pornography in her country (USA) are evangelical Christians, who of course, frontstage, make huge proclamations about how evil that is - and they're also the ones showing up the most for porn-addiction problems.  In part we could talk about hypocrisy, in part we could talk about toxic and infantilised cultures masquerading as together and ethical cultures, and in part I think this is actually just another application of the hypothetical aardvark problem:  The more emotionally invested you are in not thinking about something, the more likely you are to think about it - and then you're thinking more about the hypothetical aardvark than you'd ever have done if you'd not decided that for whatever reason you shouldn't think about the hypothetical aardvark.  (And thusly, people create their own demons.)

What do you personally think about pornography?  Answers will vary; I'll answer that question for this household.  (Brett says, "Great album that, haha!"  :winking_tongue)  Let's start this at the beginning:   To me personally, sex was never a spectator sport, I'm not interested in watching other people have sex, even less than I'm interested in watching sport on TV (with the exception of tennis when the Australian Open is on ;)).  I don't make a point of watching animals that happen to be mating in a paddock or in the wild, either.

And just as an aside, a funny story:  The most popular photo on our Flickr stream is one of horses in a paddock where one of them has started to drop his penis out because he's going to pee soon (horses have retractable penises, which is really handy for running, and also to deny predators this particular soft target).  We couldn't work out what was so special about that photo for it to have suddenly had thousands of views, and followed it back to the profile of the person who had faved it.  Turns out they had an obsession with animal penises and a huge collection of photos about that, which in turn were immensely popular with other viewers.  Brett and I turned to each other and said, "People!  What strange planet have we landed on?"

Back to sex as a spectator sport or not, I've got this concept around privacy which intersects with all of this.  Talking about sex is one thing, and it's a generally positive thing to talk thoughtfully about curly topics, but when it comes to actual sex, I'm only interested in that as an aspect of the relationship I am in - and I think it's fabulous how we can take something that's essentially about DNA transfer and make it about affection and intimacy and pleasure and our own personal universe which no others may enter (biologically, that's the pointy end of pair bonding :)).



Pretty obviously, I don't think sex itself is evil, or that marriage is a prerequisite ethically.  Another funny story:  Brett was reminding me this morning about the half year I spent in Perth working out of his place before we were married or even engaged, gigging around local schools on a day-to-day basis instead of teaching my own classes because it was well paid and a very good way to make a big dent on the remaining mortgage, while also giving us free evenings to do things together instead of me marking essays etc.  For that half year I had a number of schools on my list, some of them secular (and some of those pretty wild), some of them Catholic, and Brett says he used to have especially good evenings if I'd taught at a Catholic school that day; I'd be like, "Funny how going there has this side-effect that I become extra motivated to come home and have unmarried sex."  :rofl   That's very like the time I accidentally spent a term working at an evangelical Christian school in Sydney, before I met Brett, and by the time I arrived home in the late afternoons I wanted to build an altar to Baal and to dance naked to AC/DC (and I don't even like AC/DC).

So sex is one thing, and obviously has ethical issues around it largely to do with consent and respect, but I do have ethical problems with pornography in general because of how it objectifies sexuality and how that's unhelpful (the links on the last piece go into that), and because (and this is Brett's biggest bugbear about it) the narrative is often really damaging, not to mention boring (for how the narrative is damaging again see the links at the bottom of the last post), and also because it kind of sucks that women often make less money for their skills and thoughts than they would for selling their bodies for public consumption.  (Women more than men - men still tend to get the more lucrative positions in the work world but at the end of the day the message being sent to women is that their greatest worth isn't as a contributor to scientific problems, education etc etc, but to sell their body in some way, shape or form for the sexual gratification of others.)

Ever noticed the effect of modern toys and childhoods on children?  Our generation was at the tail end of Westerners still playing with wooden building blocks, pretending broomsticks were horses, making up impromptu imaginative games, building little hide-outs out of whatever was available.  More recent toys are like prepackaged experiences - plastic "electric guitars" that play a tune when you press a button, theme Lego where you don't have to construct the spaceship out of blocks but just assemble it from a few ready-made sub-sections, making it look more realistic but also making the activity more inflexible and less fostering of imagination, sensorimotor and problem-solving skills - and don't get me started on the portable screens and how "smartphones" are dumbing down childhood.



Pornography too is a prepackaged experience for consumption, creating a box within which people start to think - while sex that's not shackled to narrow received ideas can be an open-ended experience, and a far better experience than the scripted mechanical bonking on a screen.  There's great books, great art, great pre-recorded music, great food traditions, but there's no great McDonalds, literally or in its metaphorical iterations.

Pornography in general isn't about intimacy and imagination, it's about sensation, and sadly often about power and stereotypes - sort of like consumerism is about greed and disposability etc.  Pornography is really what consumerism does to sexuality, the same way consumerism applied to food gave us the fast-food hamburger and other empty junk food.  - OK, you can make a good hamburger too, but I mean the shitty ones from the chains that taste like plastic and create public health problems.  And in theory, you could make pornography that's got better standards than average, and it probably exists, but I couldn't tell you because I don't do any fieldwork in this area.

(A related anecdote:  Brett and I went to a lot of festival films when we lived in Albany, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival.  We vividly remember seeing quite a good Italian film with this completely jarring sex scene in it that didn't even need to be there, for the plot.  It was just kind of dropped in there, completely out of left field, as if the director said, "Gotta have a sex scene, this is Italy!"  And it was just the most hideous scene you could imagine - showed enough detail of sexual organs to be indistinguishable from porn, and was just completely mechanical, sort of like an engine being taken in for a service.  There was zero intimacy in that scene.  At one point we were treated to a close-up of the actress' nipple, which was being savagely twisted while she moaned away climactically.  The whole thing under surgical-type lighting, like it was a joint replacement or something.  We were just looking at each other going, "Pass the bucket!" - really unusual for a film.  I mean, film sex scenes usually aren't great - though I did like the one in Ghost - it was well constructed, it was obviously affectionate (I get that not everyone wants their own sexual experiences to include affection, but personally I prefer it with), and to me it's really about what you conceal and leave up to the imagination, rather than shoving everything into people's faces...)

But those problems with it are not really the reasons why evangelical Christians think pornography is evil - they think that primarily because they're so prescriptive around sex, who's allowed to have it and how etc etc, so that it becomes only something between husbands and wives, and only the missionary position etc etc - and often they seem to want their sex to be entirely spiritual metaphor, and not the physical thing it is at the base of it.  And you even see that with new-agers etc, for example, the surprise that Robert Smith would write a song like The Only One - "...but I thought he was enlightened, how can he write like this, be so base..." - but sex doesn't have to be base, even if you don't shroud it in metaphor.  It's like there's two extreme positions:  The people who get drunk and grab whoever is available and do really surface stuff without intimacy and without knowing one another, and the "purity brigade" who think the only place for it is marriage and you're only allowed to do "approved" stuff and you're not really supposed to enjoy the physical aspect (especially if you're female) but just see it as metaphor for something "higher"...


So the more I look at this stuff, the more I think there was a serious social point to writing The Only One - and also obviously as a "How do I love thee, let me count the ways, here's one..." by the person who wrote it, to his partner.  (Please note that I am making the assumption that the author and the narrator are in this instance one and the same;  if you're in a happy stable relationship and writing about the wonderful sides of happy relationships I think that's a fair assumption.)

Notice something about this song that's not particularly common in contemporary music, especially as sung by males?  It's a sexual scenario where the female is taking the initiative.  Whether in music or pornography, the stereotypical scenario paints heterosexual sex as being about a dominant male doing things to a submissive female, and the female typically giving a performance for the male - playing dead, faking orgasms, whatever.  It is still, after all this time, non-mainstream in popular culture to hear sex discussed as a mutual interaction between partners, as an egalitarian thing where either or both people will take the initiative - and in contemporary music, which has a fair bit of toxic masculinity in its DNA (just listen to Led Zeppelin's The Lemon Song and other such delightful little ditties), it's something of a statement when someone breaks that stereotype.

One of my friends doesn't like the "Robert Smith is singing about getting an awesome blowjob" comment I took to task in the last post either, and frowns upon that kind of drawing attention to the person who wrote it and his partner, but wants to see the song in terms of their own special lived sexual experiences.  And I think that's how it's supposed to work, don't you?  Like any other song.  What you can relate to, and your own experiences, and not some kind of voyeuristic exercise where we're discussing the author's sex life in particular.  The interesting thing is, if Robert Smith were a run-of-the-mill on-paper poet and had written this, then this is exactly how it would be seen - because that's how we relate to print poetry; as a general kind of thing about life and what we can personally take from the reflections, thoughts etc in a poem, which fosters our human-ness, our consciousness of what we do and how we think, our relationship with the "big themes" of life and all that.

But when it's a well-known musician, or anyone really who's got their face all over popular culture, people are more inclined to make it about those faces and to make mental videotapes about those people's situation, instead of reflecting it back into their own experiences.  To be fair, some pop stars actually encourage this - and I think Madonna is one, and Kylie Minogue, etc etc - they weren't averse to objectifying their own sexuality to make money and get famous; but that's worlds apart from what Robert Smith was doing if you ask me, when he wrote that song.  It wasn't, "Please imagine me and my wife and aren't I lucky!" - it was just a piece about intimacy, and a celebration of that, and in some ways pushed the boundaries and made us think because it was using fairly graphic images - what do we do with that?  How are we reacting, and why are we reacting the way we are?  And that's how we learn about ourselves, and evolve.

As a footnote, if you go to YT for the clip above and read the comments below it (which is seldom a good idea), this particular clip doesn't come so much with the immature-idiot-level comments like the one I talked about in the last post, this one comes with an equally problematic type of comment which elevates the writer and his wife into some kind of super-special, angelic beings and how lucky they are etc etc.  Well, anyone who's in a relationship that really works is very lucky (and probably also very very skilled in some interpersonal things as a result of past car crashes in that realm, and having a desire to learn how to do difficult things).  Why don't people get this:  Other people you've put on pedestals are not "angels" - they're flawed people too, with strengths and weaknesses both to work on.  And why don't they get this other thing:  You can be brilliant too, not just other people, but if you keep on infantilising yourself and holding up some other adults as your demi-gods whose perceived levels you can never hope to reach, you're just engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I think that's enough thoughts for one post....
SueC is time travelling