Photo Source: Flickr
One time at a dinner party, a female guest had to leave early. When our host returned to the table (after walking her out), he leaned in very close over the table. We all then reflexively leaned forward as well. “You know what her husband likes in bed?” our host asked. “He likes to put on tight rubber underwear and have her spank him.” Our host then lit up a cigarette and laughed demonically.
It always strikes me as so fascinating that while we are all politely opening doors for each other or grocery shopping, we all casually act relatively sexless (we do have public places such as bars where sexuality is a bit more expressed, but even then, we chastise a person who is being overtly sexual). We also have another world—another hidden reality where we are naked and getting it on. And the two worlds at least in our culture, could not be more separated. Interestingly, in a documentary I recently watched on the history of porn, they pointed out that while the Romans had explicit sexual art all over the walls of their houses, it would not have been viewed as pornography. Pornography requires privacy—where sex and sexual matters were a very private, hidden thing. For the Romans, sex and sexual matters were a public thing. It was obvious to Romans that everybody was doing it and enjoying it and that the Empire could not flourish in numbers without it. In fact, the Romans did not even have a word for privacy. So, it is no surprise that the coining of the word ‘pornography’ was during the Victorian Era where there was a very sharp line drawn between public behavior and sex. The Victorian Era, in a way, invented pornography by labeling it as naughty. Pornography was something you hid from decent, polite society—you would not watch porn with your mom, but a Roman would have dinner with their kids and parents surrounded by frescos depicting just about every sexual position you can think of. (The Secret History of Civilization: Pornography, Channel 4 Television [UK], 1999)
In my research of other people doing it and why we have two worlds, one where we do it and one where we pretend that we are not wildly sexual beings, I came upon a startling discovery. It turns out that the Puritans have been blamed for this shame-based bifurcation regarding sex when really it was the Victorians. The Puritans were actually very open about sex (not kidding!). Now while it is true that gay sex, adultery, and fornication (sex between unmarried partners) were a big no-no, married sex was not only OK— it was encouraged. It appears that they were quite open and talkative regarding the importance of sex not just for procreation but as a way for married people to bond and grow passionately affectionate towards each other. In fact, you were reprimanded from the church if you did not have sex with your spouse enough (three months was the general cut-off before you got in trouble). (Debunking the Myth Surrounding Puritans and Sex, Madeline Bilis, bostonmagazine.com, 2016) It is even on record that a gentleman was excommunicated for not having sex with his wife. (The Puritan’s View of Sex in Marriage, Nathan W. Bingham, ligonier.org, 2014) There are also some pretty spicy love letters between Puritan couples—so much so that in the Victorian Era, when some were published, the editors toned down the heat because it was too hot for their audience. (Debunking the Myth Surrounding Puritans and Sex, Madeline Bilis, bostonmagazine.com, 2016)
Now we are at a funny place in the opening of the twenty-first century. Pornography is rampant. We have very liberal attitudes regarding dress and sexual preferences, and yet there remains a kind of parallelism—a two world system where we are publicly neutered and privately sexual. It is a cultural phenomenon and not a human animal one—throughout history, there have been long periods where sex was not a private matter—in fact, I would say that it was that way for most of our history. Regulation of sexual activity, however, was intensely strict and was enforced socially through religion and group norms. So, perhaps some of the reasons we can be more accepting of different sexual appetites are because sexual activity is considered a private matter.
But we all still do it, and sometimes I wonder if sex as only behind doors, as well as our heavy use of pornography, has also led to sexual insecurity, repression, and, in some cases, abuse. Sometimes I think there is more pressure than ever to be good at sex as if sex were a job. I’m not sure if sex is more fun if you treat it like a performance. So, in the spirit of camaraderie in the secret club of doing it (for which nearly all of adult humanity is a member), I will share with you a story from my private ‘other world.’ It was a spectacular fail.
I was fully in the act with a gentleman when a funny memory crossed my mind, and I started to giggle. The gentleman looked at me quizzically as if to ask what’s so funny? However, instead of dying down, my giggling turned into laughter. The gentleman then paused again, this time his face was flat as if to say really Jennifer, now? And finally, my laughter erupted into full-blown hysteria. The gentleman was by then standing in the doorway of the bedroom, drinking a glass of water with his bathrobe on with me struggling to apologize, as I could not get the words out because I was laughing so hard.