Comes Naturally #46 (June 1, 1996):
This Thing We Call Sex

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Spectator Magazine - June 1, 1996
(c) David Steinberg

This Thing We Call Sex

So much noise all the time about sex. I don't mean discussion of sex, or thought about sex-related issues. I mean just plain noise. Background noise. Yammering. Static. The kind of constant, ongoing noise pollution that does nothing more than make it difficult to focus on anything that really matters anyway.

It's like living next to the freeway, a city sort of thing. You get so used to the constant sound of traffic that you don't even realize there's a real racket going on all the time. Then one day you find yourself somewhere in the country. You wake up to real quiet, different from city quiet, and the absence of sound is deafening. It knocks you over. You breathe differently. You look around you differently. You notice things you never noticed before, or you notice familiar things in unfamiliar ways. Maybe you go running back to the known quantity of the bright lights and the noise. Maybe you just sit still and enjoy the way the noiselessness seeps into your bones.

Bob Dole is on Bill Clinton's case for being soft on child pornography because a federal prosecutor in Arizona had reservations about setting up a government sting operation to catch viewers (not producers) of gay pornography. The prosecutor (a woman, by the way) allegedly felt that gays were being singled out unfairly. Despite the prosecutor's objections, the Justice Department's Project Special Delivery went on to arrest 70 men in the name of destroying the market for child pornography. But Bob Dole is running scared and can't afford to pass up an opportunity to put the words "children," "pornography," "unaggressive," and "Bill Clinton" in the same sound bite. Sex noise. But, hell, it's nothing more than Electoral Politics 101: When in doubt make noise about something everyone is scared of. Like sex.

Two prosecutors in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office have sex on a desk in an office after hours. Someone walks into the office at the wrong time and, omigod, it's a scandal. More sex noise. The two insufficiently discrete ones, their supervisor, and District Attorney Terry Hallinan all take heat. The upshot is that two people are out of a job, and neither of them is the person that Herb Caen, sensible at 80, correctly identified as the villain in the caper -- the intruder who didn't have the good manners to simply close the door, and quietly go on his way.

A man named Doug Blackie who lives in the town of Scunthorpe, Ireland, found that when he tried to register with America Online, AOL's indecency screening program would not allow him to post the name of his home town as part of his member profile. Can you guess why, dear smuthounds? I'll give you a hint: The situation was resolved when improperly racy Doug agreed to enter his town name as "Sconthorpe" instead.

The New York Times reports that "in a striking measure of changed sensibilities in school and society, showering after physical education class, once an almost military ritual, has become virtually obsolete." The Times article quotes one 18-year-old senior at a suburban Chicago high school: "Standing around together naked? Oh no, man -- people would feel really uncomfortable about that."

It's an old and boringly repetitive story, and I suppose there's no need to bitch and moan yet again about the whole antisexual mania. It's a little like complaining about gravity because it would be so nice to just be able to fly. I do know that antisexual noise is as much a fact of everyday life as is gravity, but my sex noise sensitivity seems to be on high these days, and sometimes the frustration that comes from years and years of having to struggle uphill about nothing at all just gets the better of me. How can anything so fundamentally nourishing and so simply delightful get so completely twisted and confused?

The annoying thing is that all the noisy antisexual fussing (and the accompanying hypersexual noise as well) has the effect of distracting us from the heart of the sexual matter (ok, one heart of the sexual matter), something so uncomplicatedly profound and quiet that it easily gets lost among the various raucous commotions. Namely that underneath all the noise, sex is about some fundamental, primal, and universal needs of the human organism -- things like love, intimacy, and the simple (though not easy) necessity of connecting deeply with other people.

Purple is the color of the longing
tucked into the folds of pulpy organs
soft and vulnerable.
A finger could pierce like a bullet
this swollen pulse.
An uncaring touch would tear to pieces
the soft fiber of its nest.

Defenseless it hides
in the soft warm dark
safe and alone
and dreams silently
of the most gentle hands,
hands that part the flesh with trembling care inching open the egg,
hands that breathe, warm and moist,
attentive to the quietest heartbeats,
slow patient hands that touch
with no shadow of demand,
fingers that explore hinted textures
radiating wonder and discovery,
bridges delicate enough to join
one time
under the noise of aching lives
the being of one
with the presence of another.

Stan Dale, who has been leading sex workshops for twenty or thirty years, likes to ask the fundamental question, "What is sex?" and to marvel that after a whole lifetime of attending to the sexual perplex he still doesn't know the answer. At all.

I don't claim to have the answer either, or even to think that there is any one answer to the question of what lies at the heart of the sexual matter that makes sex so incredibly strong and powerful. Jack Morin, in his delightful new book, The Erotic Mind, observes that people's most intense sexual experiences derive from a process of overcoming various forms of sexual resistance or impossibility. Morin's basic erotic equation reads "attraction + obstacles = excitement."

Now it goes without saying that in a culture that defines sex so fundamentally as something to be feared and suppressed there is tremendous emotional mileage to be made from the excitement of breaking antisexual taboos, both taboos that are externally imposed and those that we have internalized. But even if what people describe as their hottest sexual experiences often involve being bad in one way or another, there's something even more fundamental about sex that has nothing to do with breaking rules. Some very simple, very basic, stuff -- large issues that ironically find expression through the smallest of particulars. Something as simple and complicated as finding one's way to some genuine, honest, caring contact between one human being and another. Something as fundamental as confirming to ourselves that, when all is said and done, we are not really alone in this lonely world. Something as essential as being able to create passing moments of unmistakable meaning and beauty as we make our ways through a world that is so largely dominated by meaningless ugliness.

Underneath all the noise, as far as I'm concerned sex is about having the opportunity to bring real pleasure to someone we care about, to be able to communicate how much we care about them by participating in pleasure with them -- physical, emotional, and even spiritual pleasure - - in a way that reaches beyond surface wantings to something more basic, something more fundamental. It is through sex that we remember at some primal level that touch is love and warm is wonder, and through sex that we get to share that intimate recognition with people we care about.

You ask what I want
as if we are in a doughnut store,
as if I could say: two glazed,
once chocolate old-fashioned,
or a jelly roll to go.
Always I am without words.
I move my mouth, say nothing.
What is this want?

It's not like that, I say finally,
as if I don't want.
Yet I do. I go away empty,
the vacuum sucking at me.
I am hungry to put voice to the void
and still the words won't come....

I want to see the bottoms of your eyes
looking into mine
beyond all images
beyond all history
beyond all wishes
beyond all hopes.
I want to feel all of your connection to me in the tips of your fingers
in the texture of your mouth
in the flow of your breath
in the pulse of your blood.
I want to be with you
all the way up the mountain
and all the way down the other side.
I want to touch you
spirit to spirit
aura to aura
just to feel the colors mix and swirl.

If you are with me, I will feel it.
If you love me, I will feel it.
If you run away, I will feel that too.
The body never lies.
That's what makes sex so vulnerable.
Don't you know?

Aside from all the frenetic activity that takes up most of our days, what has real meaning when push comes to shove? At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, a little love, a little attention, a little caring, a little generosity, go a long way toward putting some solid ground under our feet in shaky times, and all of these are things we feel (at least on good days) when we're being sexual.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a profound sexual observer before he degenerated into a Rolls Royce driven media phenomenon, once said that if everything in your life can be expressed in words, you haven't really lived. Sex, among other things, is a language that allows us to communicate feelings that can't really be adequately expressed in other ways. Certainly not with words. I mean, how can saying or writing the words "I love you" really compare in eloquence to being touched or held or kissed or fucked in a complexly loving way? Some of the most important messages get communicated brilliantly through the smallest of gestures -- a finger's touch, a hug, the way a palm shapes itself to a shoulder or a hip, not to mention the momentous connection embodied in the way a cock rests in the dark warm damp of a cunt.

In the forgivably heterosexual words of William Everson -- Catholic monk, erotic poet, general eccentric, and sometime university professor, recently deceased at age 80 or so: "The phallos is holy and holy is the womb: the holy phallos in the sacred womb. The man, listening to the meaning of woman, hears her sound, for he is within her. And her womb and her body, murmuring, sing the feminine meaning, and they too listen. They lie with only their sex together, they taste communion. This: the whole of intentness now, this melting. The phallos loses all life of its own, at one with the woman. Her fire is his. In the vaginal dark, her body has wrought its meaning of meld. He becomes that meaning."

It is 5:45 in the morning and even in the city there is relative quiet. First light is coming into the sky and the first bird of the morning has the stage all to itself. The razzle-dazzle of another day is about to begin and with it the opportunity to forget everything important we have ever known. The mystery of sex and its quiet wisdom will continue its subterranean wandering, drowned out as usual by the noise of a thousand new sexual rantings and ravings. It is the way of the world.

Face to face across the mirror
we dance slower than I have ever moved before, staying exactly together
from first touch
to night
to morning
to noon.
We wait for one touch to be done
before even imagining the next.
We bleed into each other.
We drink each other, drop by drop,
miss nothing along the way.
Everything I give in my touch you receive, and your fingers answer with all of you. There is no coming or going,
only being here,
totally alive, totally aware.

[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]

David Steinberg
P.O. Box 2992
Santa Cruz, CA 95063
(831) 426-7082
(831) 425-8825 (FAX)

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