Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex life: not at length or in great detail, but a little. Family members and others who don't want to read about that stuff, use your judgment on this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
Does familiarity with sex breed contempt?
Some years ago, I worked for a seven- year stretch for a mail-order sex products catalog. (The one I blog for now, in fact.) It's a small company, and was even smaller when I was starting out there: the sort of company where everyone did a little bit of every job that needed doing.
So in the years that I worked there, I packed orders, received shipments, argued with vendors, stocked shelves, talked with customers about their orders, did product reviews, and wrote product descriptions... of porn, sex ed materials, lube, and sex toys. I sat at a desk within a few feet of the stock shelves... fully stocked with porn, sex ed materials, lube, and sex toys. For eight hours a day, five days a week, my day- to- day working life was spent surrounded by -- indeed immersed in -- porn, sex ed materials, lube, and sex toys.
Almost everyone I knew was aware of my work. Most of them approved. But even among the ones who approved, a surprisingly large number asked me the same question:
"Don't you get jaded working here?"
I remember, in particular, the time my brother asked me that. He was in town for a visit, and came by to see where I worked -- right at the moment that I was unpacking a big box of dildos and buttplugs and receiving them into inventory. He wasn't shocked, exactly, but he was definitely a bit startled. Partly by the big box of several dozen dildos and buttplugs... but more, I think, by the casual, matter- of- fact manner in which I was taking them out of the box and checking them off the invoice. And he asked me the question:
"Don't you get jaded working here?"
It's a question I got asked a lot when I worked at Blowfish. It's a question I still get asked as a sex writer. And my answer is this:
In the years that I've worked and written about sex products and sexual issues, I have not become jaded about sex.
I have become relaxed about sex.
And jaded and relaxed are not the same thing.
Being jaded means you've lost your capacity to be excited and moved by something. It means that you've been made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by surfeit (to quote Merriam Webster). It means you've seen so much of something that you just don't care about it anymore.
Being relaxed, on the other hand, simply means being at ease. It means being comfortable. It doesn't mean that you've seen so much of something that you don't care about it anymore. It means that you've seen so much of something that you think of it as normal.
I'm fascinated by the assumption that exposure to sex will make people bored with it. After all, sex is one of our deepest, most fundamental animal drives. Our interest in it is not going anywhere. I mean, we're exposed to food every day, several times a day, and we're not showing any signs of becoming jaded or bored with it. Why do we think being exposed to sex all day would make us jaded or bored with that?
Here's what I think.
In American society, our interest in sex is often very tied up with anxiety, and forbidden-ness, and secrecy. True, we have a popular culture that's saturated in sexual imagery. But it's sexual imagery that heightens our anxiety about sex instead of diminishing it. It's sexual imagery that's all about how sex is for the young and beautiful and fashionable, and none of the rest of us are good enough. And our popular culture also has the fucked-up paradox of being saturated in sexual imagery -- while, at the same time, being pathetically lacking in sexual information. We have exposure... but I don't think we really have what I would call familiarity.
So our interest in sex is often very tied up with anxiety, and forbidden-ness, and secrecy. Sex is seen as forbidden and bad; so exploring sex gets all tangled up with the thrill of crossing lines and exploring forbidden territory. Sex is seen as something that should be kept secret; so our fascination with sex gets all tangled up with our fascination with secrets and mysteries of all kinds. Sex is seen as something to be anxious and frightened about; so the excitement of sex gets all tangled up with the fear of it.
And I think a lot of people are afraid that if all these tangled threads get de-tangled, our passion for sex will vanish.
I think that for a lot of people, these tangled threads run so deep that they themselves are confused about which part is the mystery, and the frisson of fear, and the thrill of the forbidden... and which part is the pure, raw, animal libido, hard-wired into us through millions of years of evolution, via billions of ancestors who successfully reproduced because they were horny.
So I want to reassure these people:
Sex isn't going anywhere.
First of all: I've been working and writing about sex for almost 20 years now. And my libido still has plenty of tangles with secrecy and shame, fear and the forbidden. (Anyone who's read my more fucked-up porn will attest to that.) Those threads are woven in deep, and they're not going away. I've just spun them into rebellion and kink, like straw spun into ornery, perverted gold.
But more to the point: As I've become more familiar with sex, more immersed in it, more informed about it, more accepting of my own desires, more understanding of other people's... my libido has not diminished. If anything, it's done the opposite. And that's true for pretty much everyone I know who works with, or writes about, or is otherwise immersed in, sex and sexual culture.
Being relaxed about sex is like being relaxed about playing the piano, or meditating, or playing golf. It doesn't detract from the experience. It enhances it. It helps you focus, keeps you in touch with your body, makes you less prone to distraction, makes it easier to stay in the moment.
Being relaxed about sex doesn't make sex boring. It makes it that much easier to fully experience just what it is that's exciting about it.