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September 30, 2007

Three Letter Word—September 28, 2007

I was awkward and sunburned in the Hamptons in August, sitting on a poolside veranda with an artsy, middle-aged couple and a gangly teenage boy. The adults were interrogating him about his love life, and when they found him reticent, they felt obligated to push. Finally, he blurted, “I’m considering banging this girl.” I laughed at his choice of the word “considering.” The couple was appropriately shocked. He muttered to his Chucks: “Hey, I said I was gonna say it in the most ho way possible, you got what you deserved.” His freckles blushed, and he loped out. I hoped I wasn’t next; I drank more. I imagined trying to talk to these people, real adults that I know must have sex, trying to discuss...what? Difficulties, preferences, advice, just some verbal acknowledgment that yes, we have bodies, and we enjoy them. I couldn’t think of any comfortable place to start.

I sometimes feel as though everywhere there are gaps, straining out silences, making things awkward. There are so many ways—generation, gender—to feel different from and thus weird about each other. There are so many even more terrifying ways to see yourself in someone else and get creeped out by it. You can lose the way of talking because you know too well what someone else might say. People do, of course, talk. As one of the editors of Vita Excolatur, the campus sex magazine, I’ve heard and read lots of it. But, perhaps unsurprisingly in a place like this, discussion can get a little too abstracted, too far from the sweat of things. For examples, sleep with philosophy majors.

I’m looking for a way of talking about sex that falls somewhere between dissection and pornography—there are a whole lot of words thrown around that feel either too heated or too cold. To quote Dodie Bellamy’s Pink Steam, “Kinkiness as a cerebral exercise pisses me off”—raging intellectualism is not particularly attractive. But then again, sex talk without any other grounding is equally masturbatory. I want to hear people say what is genuine, what is communicative, while maintaining intellectual and aesthetic appeal. My standards are perhaps a little high.

Realistically, this is not the way college kids generally talk about sex. The roundabout nature of flirtation, the whole stupid game, is based in an unwillingness to communicate directly. This unwillingness may be acknowledged, played with—maybe with less game and more neurosis—but it seems to be a guiding factor in a lot of the would-be preludes. Some hypothetical and I meet by chance. We have our two-second conversation about something inane (non-sexual). We’re both so enthusiastic, and it’s obvious I want to sleep with him/her, and once s/he leaves again the room is markedly quiet. Everyone can tell, but no one does. And I certainly don’t say anything

I keep coming back to this same problem, how to talk about sex. Talking, sincerely and concretely, has always been more difficult than getting off. I’d like this column to help me better understand some of the obstacles in talking about sex. I’d like to open up an avenue of discussion that isn’t some horrific O-Week obligation or relationship train wreck. I want to know what you want to talk about. I don’t mean to elicit questions that should have been answered by your mother or the Student Care Center—even my time should not be wasted. I’m looking for inquiries that I am, along with everyone else, not especially qualified to answer. I want to know the things you haven’t thought enough about directly but linger on when you tell dirty jokes in mixed company. To steal from Bellamy again, I am a “female body that has sex writing about sex,” and I’ll do my best to respond, and not be awkward.

—Sid Branca Cook