Let's Read About Sex
Everyone who read the above title and clicked away to watch a Salt-N-Pepa video, just know that I forgive you and understand your plight. Regardless of which Salt-N-Pepa video you chose.
As for the rest of you, welcome to this column about sex. I'm hoping this qualifies me as a "sex columnist" and maybe even a "sexpert." Two goals met with one column? Not bad.
Here's the problem: most books have some sex in them. Wait, no. That's not the problem. Most everything has some sex in it. Most movies, books, songs (the good ones, the Salt-N-Pepa songs), comics, visual art pieces, and when you get right down to it, most real lives have a sexual encounter thrown in here and there.
The problem is not that sex exists or that it exists in art. If that's the column you want to read, the one where some dude is alarmed about sex being a thing, I'll suggest reading something from a little column you might know as THE BIBLE.
No, the problem isn't with the sex. It's with me.
In other media, sex scenes don't bother me. In movies, I spend a lot of time wondering how things are strapped down or covered or what have you, how the actors make it look real. Real-ish. I wonder if there's a sort of anti-Viagra one can take. I wonder if anyone's ever done one of these fake sex scenes and in the middle of filming, everyone stops and says, "Eew, you do it like that?" And by the time I wonder about all this stupid stuff, the sex scene is over.
In songs, well, if you can't take a song that talks sex, then you probably have to avoid pop music going back to...I'm no historian, but whenever pop music was recorded on wax cylinders. Maybe even a little further back.
I'm good with movies, songs, all of that. What I'm not so good with is reading about sex.
When I read a sex scene, when these acts show up in a book, I get a little squirmy. Or it seems silly somehow. Or like I'm doing something wrong. Not the fun, naughty kind of wrong. It's a bad wrong. Less like a kinky thing with a little element of possibly getting caught, more like peeing in the shower. It's not something you're proud of. It just sort of happened.
Uh, this is probably a swell time for a warning. This gets gross before it gets better. Buckle up.
I enjoy reading, a lot of books have sex scenes, and I should be able to enjoy reading about sex on some level, right? Or at least be able to get past it without tittering or being embarrassed somehow?
I just moved into a new apartment. It's weird. And it's uncomfortable. How does it get comfortable?
Well, not by thinking it over in my mind, that's for sure.
When it gets comfortable is when I feel like I've lived in it a while. When I know where the light switches are in the dark. When I stop trying to open the one cabinet in the kitchen from the wrong side (although some asshole definitely put the hinges on the wrong side of this thing).
One morning you're standing in the kitchen, you've got no pants on, and you're eating a bagel over the sink. At that moment, you've gone from foreign place to home. It's not a single event that brings the naked bagel kind of comfort. It's a bunch of tiny events.
To that end, I'm going to try some different experiments with erotic readings in hopes that I'll feel a bit more at home. Live in the erotic world and see whether I can get comfortable. Why exactly I can't enjoy sex scenes is hard to say, but let's go shotgun approach, try a series of experiments and see if we find any cures.
The Story Cure
I like my porno with a little story to it. Sorry, everyone. Sorry that I'm horny for narrative. I don't know if you've heard the news, but here's a bulletin: Bestest Sex Organ? The Brain.
How do I know that I like story? As a fella who is me, I've availed myself of some of what the internet makes available. Specifically, the kinds of short films one finds when one types in a web address that begins with an English word and ends in "tube." Seriously, the number of sex tubes is astounding.
In the case that I am partaking of a short erotic film, let's call it, I like a little story. Not just clicking onto a video where the action has already begun. Let's take our clothes off. Get comfortable. Maybe discuss some alternative economic and payment systems involved in the sale of delivered pizza.
It's possible that I've just been reading the wrong kind of sex scene, right? That I need a little story to get me more involved?
For a story-heavy sex scene, I went with a sex scene from Neil Gaiman's American Gods. It's a book I've read and remember pretty well. I've got a lot of context, so let's see what happens.
I blew it.
The sex scene in American Gods is a little atypical. For me, anyway. I don't often have sex with cat women in some sort of dream realm. But it seems to work for Neil's character, so if you have the chance, I'd say go for it.
I think I went too much story on this one. There was so much story outside of the sex scene that I kind of wanted the story to get back on track. There's a revolution of GODS brewing here. I find that more interesting than a dude and a lady getting it on. Hey buddy, how about we get you laid AFTER you save existence? Do you think you can keep it in your pants that long? Long enough to save EXISTENCE?
Too much narrative just made it worse. It was distracting.
But you know what? It's cool. There's an alternative option on the other end of the Derk Scale of Pornographic Narrative.
The Derk Scale of Pornographic Narrative is a measuring device I came up with that places anything porn-y on a spectrum. If there's a lot of story, it scores high. If there's no story, it scores low.
By the way, I just want to point out that I have a professor brother, a chemical engineer brother, and a neuroscientist sister. They share my last name, and the Derk Scale is about narrative in pornography. You're welcome, siblings!
Something high on the Derk Scale, an entire epic Gaiman novel, didn't work. So I'll try something lower, something with almost no story at all.
For a zero-story experience, I just went for a piece of flash fiction that ended up being about a dude whose wife walks in on him very much in media res, if I can use such a fancy term in such a filthy context.
That didn't seem to help either. I think with NO story, it's hard for me to hear a voice and understand, to be cool talking about such personal stuff. Maybe I want to hear a sex story from a voice that I already know and like, something a little familiar.
Experiment one was a failure. It didn't seem that knowing the characters made much of a difference. The Derk Scale, though very informative and possibly destructive to the careers of my siblings, didn't hold the answer.
The Monster Porn Cure
A good way to make sexy real-life stuff weird is to take it too seriously. Maybe what I need is something where I can get outside of my head a little bit. Something that distorts the lines so badly that they don't even make sense anymore.
Monster porn to the rescue!
I had a lot of options on Amazon. Werewolf, alien, bigfoot, orc, Nessie, Cthulu, leprechaun, phantom, Minotaur. Whether or not having sex with a monster is popular, reading about it on a Kindle apparently is.
As a fan of old VHS horror, I went leprechaun. Hell, those guys have been to space, the hood, they've harassed pre-nose-job Jennifer Aniston and they've gone back to the hood for a second round. Is there anything they can't do? Why not take a turn for the erotic?
Oh, that's why.
Well, there's a novelty here. But the leprechaun is a bit...rape-y. Okay, he's more than a bit rape-y. He's a lot rape-y.
Not a judgment call. People can read whatever they like. It's my fault, really. How would a person and a monster have consensual sex, anyway? How would Cthulu go about properly courting a human? That doesn't seem like a thing. Does Cthulu have a schwang? And if so, why?
Also, I know this is nitpicking, but the leprechaun was about five feet tall, which turns out to be a result of being a half-leprechaun, half-human love child himself. A tall leprechaun? Is that still a leprechaun? He DID, however, posses the sexual powers that leprechauns are granted, which are vast and mostly unmentioned in fiction.
Maybe it was the rape narrative. Maybe it was the fact that the leprechaun was clearly a stand-in for an ideal man, a typical fantasy: Murderous cereal mascot in the streets, sexual leprechaun in the sheets.
Monster porn is not going to work for me. I thought that by amping up the ridiculousness, I'd get somewhere. But it looks like I may have jumped into the very deep end of a very deep pool, and in that deep end I found the creature from the black lagoon, and he was aroused and scary and just get me out of here.
The Drunk Cure
I'm not advocating the use of alcohol to lower one's inhibitions. Inhibitions exist for a reason. Such as preventing a person from entering a domicile with Greek letters stuck on the facade or breaking into a spontaneous dance party inside of, say, Circuit City.
However, I have to admit, my personal inhibitions may be set just a bit too high to really enjoy sex writing. And so, it was in a safe environment that I helped myself to a drink or two and got down to reading.
When I say it was a safe environment, I mean that relatively. You can only be so safe when it comes to spontaneous dance parties. Cameras are abundant and of high quality these days.
That old saying, "Booze makes everything totes rad" was proven true. Mostly.
Drunken erotic reading was a lot better than sober erotic reading. It worked. I still laughed a little and got a little squirmed out, but things were noticeably better. I daresay I enjoyed the erotic tale set before me just a bit.
Great solution! Done and done! Excelsior!
I can't read books drunk all the time. God, would that I could. If I could live that lifestyle, you would never hear from me again. It'd just be drinkin' and erotic readin', perhaps an occasional trip out of the house to see what new kinds of energy drinks were on the market that might better fuel my drinkin' and erotic readin'.
But I don't live that lifestyle. I work, I drive places. And sex scenes tend to crop up unexpectedly sometimes. I can't just get emergency drunk when the emergency is that someone wrote something sexy.
While it works, sort of, it's not a sustainable solution.
The Audio Cure
Maybe an erotic audiobook is the ticket. A little audioeroticfixation, if you will. Maybe it's something about the physical act of reading that makes me feel so complicit. But if someone reads TO me, that's a totally different story. If an erotic story just so happens to be read aloud, and if that reading aloud just so happens to cross my ear holes, what can a fella do?
Aaaand that didn't work either. Like a lot of people, I use audio to take my mind off doing other things. I might listen to a favorite podcast while cleaning a bathroom, for instance, or doing laundry. Or, I might end up listening to an erotic story while playing Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Just sayin'.
The story just kind of passed me by. I didn't think I'd ever be bored by a lady talking about doing lady things to her lady stuff, but by golly, I was bored. Which is better than being super uncomfortable, but still doesn't meet my goals here.
The Loaded/Unloaded Gun
This has a bit to do with some gross stuff. Let's just put it this way. Does it matter if it's...been awhile or not? Does one state or the other make the reading a little more interesting? Palatable even?
Let's not get into the gory details on this one. Let's not even make a joke about the phrase "gory details." Let's just move on to results.
I DID learn a little something here. I think that my mistake has been partially about reading erotic stories as the beginning, middle, and end of an experience. But a saucy tale might be better suited as the beginning of an experience. The appetizer, if you will.
Is that flowery enough? Too flowery? Should I have used the phrase "entering the bone zone"?
When I read a story as a prelude, it kinda worked. The only problem is, much like my drinking problem ("drinking problem" being defined here as my inability to be perpetually drunk) I can't know when a sexy time is coming up in a book and then immediately...eat the full meal right afterward (or "do a victory dance in the Bone Zone End Zone" for you filthy people out there).
I suppose I could plant the seed in my mind earlier in the day and then let it germinate. But that doesn't seem like a great idea. I don't think I need an assist in thinking more sex thoughts throughout the day. Doing just fine, thanks.
Between the drinking and this, I'm starting to wonder if I just need content warnings like an easily-offended Homeschool parent or something. Pages that are colored black on the edge so I know when something erotically-charged is on the horizon and I can prep. I'll be the only person at the bookstore saying, "Does this book contain sex? Because totally awesome if it does. I just need to make sure I'm drunk and horny before I dive in."
Did It Work?
Okay, there was a difference. I did feel a little like, just by force of reading a heck of a lot more erotica than normal, I did ratchet up my threshold just a little. When I came across a sexually-charged passage in a book after doing this stuff, the things that bothered me before didn't bother me AS much, or they felt lessened. Like they weren't a big deal.
I do think I might've zeroed in on an answer to my problem.
Sex can be such a personal thing. It is hard to find a compatible partner in real life. Someone you like enough to hang out with and are compatible enough with to engage in insertion or acceptance of their genitalia (I've officially run out of cute ways to say this stuff).
In real life, there are plenty of people who I like, and I do not want to have sex with all of them. We get along in other areas, and that's all we need. In books, there are plenty of authors I get along with, and I need to accept that although we might like the same kinds of stories and writing styles, we might not be compatible with sex.
The good news is, I can read my favorites, my friends, even if they aren't my preferred sexual partners. And the other good news is, when it comes to books, it's cool to have my romantic partners and sex partners, and they don't have to be the same people.
Looks like I'm embarking on my experimental phase when it comes to sex reading. Sorry, everyone. Hopefully I won't be obnoxious about it later.
Quick note: some great stories I read while I put this together were written and/or collected by Rachel Kramer Bussell, who just so happens to be teaching a class here at LitReactor starting next month. I don't know much about this stuff, but if you're going to learn from someone, you should learn from her.
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