Monday, 11 June 2012

New Adventures in Sex

I watched a show last night called Tell Me You Love Me. I’d just watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall and on failing to locate my Get Him to the Greek Dvd a friend and I opted to watch a light comedy show. Duly progressing through the BT Vision free TV section to the comedy genre, being an unabashed lover of romantic comedies, I chose the WRONGLY CLASSIFIED aforementioned show, in heady expectation of one-liners, mistaken identities and double entendres. What did I get? Graphic sex. Actually the most graphic sex I’ve seen on TV.

What was interesting about the startlingly candid hand-held all angles presentation was that it suddenly made you realise how weird the rest of television and film’s depiction of sex is. I once watched a great black comedy, which has since proved impossible to get a copy of, called Amanda and the Alien, which had a very typical hollywood love scene. The amusing thing though was that through it, at the bottom of the screen, a stop-clock was running. Being a predictable movie romp the scene was over in about 23 seconds. As the voyeur, this seemed quite natural and right - after all, unless you’re basically after porn, that’s about as much sex as you need to see to get the point. Interrupting a romantic movie for 40 minutes of fumbling about until both parties are finally satisfied is likely to disrupt the standard rom-com plot. Anyway, in this scene, the woman rightly bemoaned her partner’s lack of stamina - and, though I only vaguely remember the film, probably murdered him or took over his body.

Well Tell Me You Love Me at least shows sex without the soft lighting and smoothness - a sort of ‘bollocks and all’ approach which acts as a demystifier of the hallowed glamour given by most of the industry - even the explicit and violent fellow HBO shows True Blood and Game of Thrones. If anything these shows are shown in greatest relief; mythologising rape and abuse in soft lighting, scarless, bruiseless, ecstasy takes us a long way from reality.

Anyway, the motif of this episode seemed to be that when couples stop having sex they start hating each other. A young couple basically screwed their way through an issue which clearly is set to destroy their relationship further down the line. A childless couple covered their inability to communicate with robotic child-begetting sex. A couple with children had stopped having sex and had lost their zing, and an old couple were merrily screwing and seemed happy. Clearly taboo busting is in on this show as again seeing old people have sex on TV was another first for me - shocking but not for any obvious reason than its novelty - you’d need very good lighting to make old-people-sex holly-woodable.

The moral of the story then? Keep having sex. This got me thinking about how people attempt to sustain their sex lives with more and more exotic/taboo eroticism - you see it in films like Bitter Moon (Hugh Grant’s finest/weirdest hour), 9&½ Weeks, Last Tango in Paris etc. It struck me though that really it’s a peculiar thing to do. Maybe when you’re a teenager and you have no idea what your body is capable of, but this reversion to fetish looks very much like the sort of fantastic mythologizing you get in Hollywood sex scenes - an attempt to make sex something it’s not - some transcendent, meaning giving end in itself. It’s notable that all the above films end kind of badly (though they are films!), but sex really is a finite pleasure - even when suffocating in a suitcase or hanging from the ceiling with a slice of lemon between your teeth - and attempting erotic transcendence seems more likely to end in death than ecstasy.

All this is not to get prudish about whatever fresh sexpressions you’re into, but my suspicion is that trying to reinvigorate your relationship by having new adventures in sex seems to be putting the cart before the horse. The reason sex is so good in the first six to twelve months is that you’re still learning someone, there is mystery, you anticipate a reaction but you don’t know what it will be. You’re negotiating, you’re trying to impress, you’re pushing and pulling at the boundaries that define where one stops and another begins. Love involves a wrangling of intimacy and difference. The reason sex stops being interesting is that you get lazy and those boundaries get set. But the boundaries are not just sexual - they’re psycho-sexual! If you’re only interested in penetrating a new part of someone’s body you’ll get left flat - you have to penetrate their soul. The laziness isn’t about sex, it’s about staying interested and involved in someone. Somehow staying alive enough in yourself and in the other person to sustain a passion that, however expressed, is still connected to the emotional relationship that’s going on out of the bedroom.

The same is evidently true of spirituality. Last Sunday I got asked if I prayed in tongues and someone came over and, without my consent, started praying for me - grievous spiritual harm - in what I thought was a mainstream Anglican church. Not cool. But I think a lot of people are into New Adventures in Spirituality and this easily becomes a grotesque spiritual tourism. Whether this is better or worse than sex tourism I don’t know. In any case, I think Tell Me You Love Me’s right - metaphorically or not: keep having sex; but don’t just do it for the sake of it: wake up and smell the citrus. ‘it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Which is to say that the externalities are not the real issue; it’s the inner characters involved, and how they relate, that makes it work: ‘Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me’.

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