Sunday, December 6, 2009

Your Sex Life and Mine

L J is having sex. A lot of sex. With multiple partners. What investment could I possibly have in her sex life?

I am way out of the loop as regards women and their sex lives. I don’t have many women friends who talk openly about it anymore. Once our sex lives, or lack of them, were topics of discussion nearly every time any of us got together. When I was a teenager we worried about orgasms --would we know if we had them? These were the days when women were called frigid if they didn’t respond enough sexually, according to their husbands, and we were really frightened of it—frigidity. We didn’t know that men could be bad in bed.

In my twenties and thirties, talk about sex, what we liked, didn’t like, hadn’t done and wanted to do, was conversation over coffee, while waiting to pick up the kids from nursery school, and of course in consciousness raising groups. We learned to demand satisfaction, to demand good sex.
My friend (the one who is having all the sex) and I talk about sex frequently now that she is doing it so often. Previously, we talked about it only cerebrally, or as part of another longer discussion. But these days we talk about it straight up.

I haven’t had sex in years. This makes me a freak if it comes up in conversation with women; not a freak exactly, but definitely someone to be pitied, and a bit scared of. It could be catching.
The thing is this kind of conversation does not happen much among women anymore. I have asked around, and it seems to be true. I think women are afraid of not fitting in, even in feminist circles. Is there such a thing as the good feminist?

I think we are talking about authenticity. Or at least partly.

One can buy in. For instance, in the 90s people covered themselves with tattoos, perhaps identifying with an ancient or indigenous culture. I have them; I wanted them since I was an adolescent in the early 60s. I was told that only criminals and sailors got tattoos. People will align themselves with cultures (not necessarily ones they were born to) as identifying markers, to create belonging. Witness how many white kids are enveloped in hip-hop culture, taking on the language of black culture, even to the point of tying to assimilate the n-word.

The thing about being genuine is that too often now it is mistaken for standing out, or being an outsider. People like to think of themselves as outsiders, as though there is power in it. Being an outsider carries a kind of cool cache, and this has become the problem, especially if all that is required for membership can be acquired with the flip of a credit card.

Why is “Sex and the City” considered good feminist viewing? Think about it. There is something shallow about what pretends to be alternative (for lack of a better word) culture now. It was of course existent (in ways) as banal and shallow always, but underneath there seemed to be a kernel of authenticity to those who could not (stress could not) fit into normal society. As these zones of authenticity stretched to bring lesbians, gays, the transgendered, into a society already being demanded to acknowledge the rights of the “other” in society we became nations within a nation. This supposedly should have given us immediate entrance into a tribe of belonging, a home in the world; it actually may have given us less to push against and brought us more (welcome or not) into the mainstream.

This is not necessarily a good thing. For women this may be especially problematic. If a woman is not only not asked to the table, but does not continually recognize that there is a table, that there is a place where she is not welcomed or acknowledged, she clings (often without realizing it) to what she has been allowed. She desires Jimmy Choo shoes for her feminist feet, and a smoothly veneered image of a free sex life.

Without the press of the absolute need to be genuine, to inhabit our authenticity, we stop talking about the things that are nearly impossible to talk about because they seem so big and unwieldy, or worse, embarrassing. The things that are easier to discuss like theories and political agendas, and voting, have moved out the original idea of women and politics: the personal is political.

So I am personally invested in LJ’s sex life. It is the power of her personal struggle, and her honesty, that binds me to the tribe I am searching for.