Yesterday I wrote about John Foxx's concept of "media ghosts" as discussed in his blog posting entitled "Thought Experiment: Unrecognised Effects of the Media". Today, I want to look at another topic he discusses--love, sex, and/or eroticism.
John points to the porno magazine as the height of deceptive irony. They are frequently purchased as a male sexual stimulant (i.e., to look at during masturbation, and God knows what else), and yet a colored piece of paper is no substitute for the touch, feel, voice, and responsiveness of a real woman. He accurately notes that an animal, relying on certain "tests", would reject such an object as untenable for sexual arousal. Additionally, if sex serves some reproductive function, a picture in a magazine can't serve that function.
I saw an article in Yahoo news the other day about a young man in Japan who married a video game character. If you get past the notion of publicity stunts and legalities (how do you "marry" a fictional character in any real sense)--even at the symbolic level this is pretty pathetic. Just how removed do you have to be from living life to fall in love with a simulation of a real woman? We're not talking a photo of a woman--we're talking an anime-type character--something that never even WAS a woman. The video game is called LoveSim, and is some kind of simulated dating game. Good Lord. That's like saying you've traveled the world when all you've done is watch Rick Steves videos.
But maybe I shouldn't judge this kid too harshly. While the notion of "marrying" a video game character may be extreme, certainly men have been aroused by images of women in all types of media. Women may also do this, but I think men in general are a little bit different here. Men tend to be more aroused by visual stimuli than women. While there are women who get off looking at naked men, I would suggest that the percentage of men who get off looking at naked women is significantly higher.
One theory about why this is comes from the Eastern chakra system. The chakras refer to seven major energy centers in the body that rotate like wheels. When they spin too fast, or are stuck, physical and emotional problems associated with the chakra can manifest. A lot of Eastern medical and meditative practices are based on the chakras. The male sex organs lie in the muladhara or base chakra. This is the chakra that is associated with primal instincts and basic survival. Women's sexual organs are located in the svadisthana, or solar plexus chakra, which is associated with security, confidence, settling down, "nesting". Following this theory, the result is that men's arousal tends to be more associated with a biological need or function, while women see it as a function of "nesting", or settling down. (Girls--how many of you want to clean and organize every fucking thing in the world during or just before your period? That's the hormonal "nesting" instinct.) So, it is not surprising that men may be more interested in a quick means of "getting off", or having a brief one-night hook-up, while women tend to view sex as an indication of a relationship--and why more women may want a commitment. Mind you, this is a theoretical generalization, and you will find cases where the reverse is true.
Of course, hormones are not the only thing that influence relationship behavior. Experience and environment are big ones--how many successful relationships you've had, how often you've been betrayed or rejected, what your parents' relationship was like, the attitudes in general of your friends and family, etc. One also must consider the fantasy factor--one's "perfect" image of the perfect man or woman is often projected onto a living man or woman. This is dangerous, because you may mistake the real human being for your fantasy figure. When the person doesn't match up in real life, you lose interest if there is no other basis for the relationship. And, just like the "media ghosts"--that's another image that one can never live up to, ever.
A couple of illustrations of the fantasy factor--first, I recall an exchange I had with a female friend about a man she had a crush on. "I hope he never asks me out," she said. I was surprised. "Why not?", I asked her. "Because my image of him will be ruined if he does," was her reply. While I disagree that one shouldn't attempt a relationship because of that risk, it's interesting to think about. The other has to do with my own relationships. From what I can gather, I project a "strong" image to men--I can take care of myself, and I don't act "needy". For all the complaints that men have about women who act like helpless appendages, you would think this is a good thing. Not necessarily. What has happened is that I meet intelligent, capable men who are, in some fashion, lazy. It's not that they're stupid or incapable--they just want to be carried through life with as little suffering and effort as possible. What they want in a woman is a perpetual mother, or a female "savior" figure--someone who will come in, clean up after them, put everything in order, and basically make them happy. So, they meet a woman like myself who they view as not needy and self-sufficient, and figure I'm a good candidate for fulfilling their wish. I refer to these men as "parasites", and there are an alarming number of them out there subscribing to this female mother/savior myth. In my own relationship life--if I may carry this through with a bad metaphor--I tend to stay out of the water because there are too many leeches.
At the end of his post, John asks-why are there only images of violence and suffering in the media, and none of relationships that are both loving and erotic? Well, violence has to do with tearing things apart, sex and love has to do with bringing them together. It seems that people identify more with the idea of being torn apart, and the media rallies around that. Portrayals of healthy, loving relationships don't generate as many ratings. But does anyone know what a real, healthy, loving, respectful and sexual relationship looks like? If you have one, how would you explain it or portray it to others? I imagine it's difficult at best--it's like trying to explain what "God" is.
The situation is not helped by society's treatment of sex. How can something be the "most sacred thing" (i.e., religious ideas of sex only within a sanctified marriage) and a filthy, base thing engaged in by "whores" at the same time? Sex, like any force, can be on one end of the spectrum or another, but children are raised with the idea that sex is one thing or the other. If you are taught that sex is purely functional, then it will make eroticism awkward. Eroticism is treated like a taboo. Try to remember your early puberty days--physically awkward, insecure, and drowning in a sea of hormones--and think about how you had to navigate the sexual/erotic landscape. In the book "Female Chauvinist Pigs", Ariel Levy gave what I consider one of the most succinct summaries of the portrayal of sex in the media and in education: Be sexy--show it as much as you can, be as raunchy as you can--but don't have sex. And somehow, attempts to portray loving, sexual relationships come across as embarrassing or silly.
We ought to go back to having secret society rituals for initiation into sexuality. Because let's face it--making it all work together is a great mystery, and no one is comfortable talking about it. You can't learn from your parents, because most people are grossed out at the idea of their parents having a sex life. If your parents are very open with you about their sex life and such from a young age, they risk being arrested for child endangerment. It's the forbidden thing you can't know about until you're some social definition of an adult, and by then it's too late. You've already been screwed up by the multiplicity of contradictory images, legends, and myths surrounding sexuality. Even if you figure it out, good luck finding a partner who's figured it out.
Sexual myths and misconceptions go a long way towards damaging healthy sex relations between men and women. For instance, take the myth of penis size. Men seem to be in agreement that the size of their wanker is critical not only to their status as a man, but to a woman's pleasure, and the bigger, the better. This is horseshit. Size has nothing to do with sexual pleasure unless a woman's vaginal opening is as wide as the Holland Tunnel (and if it is, I hope you guys are getting checked for STDs afterwards--that condition doesn't happen by itself with one or just a few partners, unless she's had a few babies). Women's pelvises are different sizes and shapes--sometimes everything is tilted, or shifted in one direction or another, and the man who is considered a great lover is one who can carefully and respectfully navigate that landscape, regardless of size. A big dick on a man who is inexperienced and/or showing disregard for the female anatomy is a bit like a 2-year-old running around with a flamethrower--it's not going to end well, and not without damage. A big dick on a man who is really good looking and knows it is deadly--I would run, not walk, away from such a man. Why? Because such men tend to have an ego that matches their dick size and opinion of their Adonis-like beauty. Which means they don't care about the woman at all--they just think by gracing her with their presence she should erupt into orgasm. In the meantime, the woman is grimacing in pain because her partner is taking that oversized joke of a member and stabbing her repeatedly in the bladder, or some other organ that lies in that part of her body. By the time he's finished, she's rushing to the bathroom to see how much blood comes out from being stabbed repeatedly in such a manner. (Sounds funny, but I'm not even joking about this). In short--that kind of sex is about as much fun as having a corkscrew shoved up your ass. (And if that sounds enjoyable to you--don't call me. Ever.). The man will either be basking in the delusion of satisfaction, thinking that the woman's screams were of ecstasy and not agony--or he will be puzzled at her post-coitus response and assume that she's a frigid bitch. And the cycle of deception goes on. especially if the woman is too afraid to say anything because she wants to hang on to the relationship. Why would she? Because she's a moron. Many women are morons when it comes to relationships. And I'm not exempting myself from that, though if you've had as many bad relationships as I've had, you tend to get jaded and distrustful, which is not good either. (And since you're wondering at this point--yes, I have had good sex before. ) Healthy relationships are possible, just not plentiful.
I'm sure there are many other examples, but I have to stop somewhere. John's points are well taken--and certainly, if there is no healthy image of loving and sexual relationships to look to, then what does one have to emulate? Even religions have images, and those images don't show you the reality of "God" or whatever--they're just ideas. But portrayals of sexual love are so schizophrenic, one wonders if they can be successfully put together, not just on an individual level, but on a collective one.