What a Shame


What words does good sex bring to mind? Luscious, hot, beautiful, exciting... those are good words! But what about wicked, nasty, dirty... are those on your list of sex words? And isn't that interesting? Because those are not nice words.

I think it was perv-auteur film director John Waters who thanked his uptight conservative parents for his strict Catholic upbringing, because it made sex illicit, sinful, shameful... and therefore more fun.

Dirty nasty sex can be fun. For example, I'm obviously fascinated by masturbation, my own and other peoples', and there's no doubt that a part of what makes wankery--especially talking about it, watching or being watched--so exciting is that doing so can feel naughty and subversive.

But Water's remarks imply that sex without shame would necessarily be less fun--would lack the edge that shame gives it--and I'm not sure that's true. Shame, power, control, humiliation, are all ingredients that can make for a very sexy recipe. But let me suggest that these should be voluntarily added, a choice, like wearing a fur teddy or not, like deciding to play "prison shower," or not. There are other possibilities.

For a lot of people (especially Americans and others with puritanical backgrounds and families) the notion that sex is inherently shameful is so deeply imbedded in their psyches that they can't see it any other way. Not only is sex then shameful, but shame becomes sexualized. Shame, a sense of transgression, becomes a necessary part of a peak sexual experience. (I suspect that this is one of the reasons that porn is so increasingly obsessed with power and degradation.)

Let me suggest that sex, with the specific example of wankery, can be great without shame. In my life I have talked about sex and masturbation enough, masturbated in front of lovers, friends, strangers, men, women, couples, groups; had sex with a man, a woman, men, women, men and women, couples, had sex in front of friends, strangers, lovers... and you know what? I'm just not generally that shy about it any more, nor do I ordinarily suffer from shame. And my pleasure, the thrill, the fun, are different, but not at all diminished.

Has anything been lost? Maybe. There are certain activities that I used to find exciting that I find less so now. I used to get a buzz just from going into a dirty bookstore or a porno theater, because they seemed so wicked, shameful, illicit... such seedy dens of iniquity. Now when I find myself in such a place, it's to look for something I want or need; I expect to be able to flirt with the other wankers, or have a friendly exchange with the person behind the counter like I would anywhere. I'd rather the other customers not be hunched, avoiding eye contact, embarassed to have sex drives and an onanistic life.

Getting past shame, or getting past the need for shame, opens more doors than it closes. More and better sex become possible, because finally shame is a source of inhibition. It is the constant association of sex with shame that makes us think that the one requires the other, when it really doesn't.

My request and suggestion: Try sex without shame. Don't let hostile gonzo porn dominate your collection. Imagine that cocks are beautiful and friendly, and that nice, sober women see them with pleasure. Imagine that an erection is not a weapon, a threat, or a demand, but rather an organ of passion and caresses. That semen is not nasty, but a healthy, beautiful extension of a man's sexual body. That decent people love to be covered with one another's juices, without any of the excitement coming from degradation. That socially responsible, loving men look at sexy pictures and get erections and masturbate, and there is no hypocrisy or contradiction. That socially responsible, loving, reliable women can have vast sexual needs and desires without it being a secret life. Try thinking of sluttiness (male or female) as an entirely positive quality, compatible with real love, a family life, career as a doctor or teacher, a respected position in a community.

I'm not denying the power of shame. By all means, let's keep in around, in the prop closet, on the spice rack. But I encourage us all to appreciate the levels of experimentation, kink, sluttiness, and imagination that are possible without shame or transgression of any kind.

Try this: Masturbation is beautiful.