Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: It's Not Sex, and It's Not Education

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  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    how long some perfectly sexual people have gone without orgasm because of the nature or quality of their chocolate.

    Or because they had to eat it with the wrapping paper still on!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I don’t think that’s entirely fair, Deborah, when Max has said:... acknowledging that for some people, chocolate will never interest them

    You're right - I missed that part. I guess I heard a message to the effect of, "if only you would try *this* type of chocolate, it would all be fine. To be fair to me, 'there was quite a big emphasis on all the chocolate possibilities, and only one mention of really just not caring at all.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1446 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose,

    Sorry Deborah, I really wasn't trying to erase the experience of anyone who is asexual or has a fundamentally low sex drive. That part of it was more a response to a certain sort of babyboomer feminist columnist who boldly claims that "women don't really like sex": I can't point to specific examples right now, but there were some being discussed online not long before I wrote that column.

    Sure, the trials and tiredness of family life can make the whole thing seem like too much to be bothered with. But I have to wonder whether for some of these people it might be at least as much to do with the possibility that the sexual spark has gone out of that particular relationship, or in some (perhaps many) cases that one's partner is just plain crap in bed. And people who didn't have much sexual experience before "settling down" might judge all sex on the basis of a few terrible lovers.

    I know it can sound patronising to suggest to people that all they need is a hot new lover and they could (re)discover the delights of sex. But I know from personal experience how it's possible to convince oneself of a low interest in sex. At a certain stage in a long relationship I found myself telling my partner, when she asked me about our decreasing frequency, that "I'm really not that much of a sexual person. I'm just happy with snuggles really". And I actually found myself believing that, despite the fact that I was rampantly fantasising about my colleagues, finding excuses to go to strip clubs and furtively seeking out porn. I just had too much invested, emotionally and socially, in the relationship, and besides, I didn't feel attractive.

    Then I met someone who helped me rediscover my sexual nature. I'd just bought into the narrative that it's normal for the passion to fade, and you're supposed to live with that because there's something wrong with you if you can't sustain a long-term monogamous relationship. I had ceased to be attracted to my partner, so of course sex wasn't particularly great. Finding someone new changed my entire attitude to sex, and since then I've been much more aware of and honest about the importance of sexuality in my life.

    So, while I can't extrapolate my experience to everyone, I'd be extremely surprised if there weren't a lot of people out there who think on one level that sex isn't all it's cracked up to be, but just aren't having the right sort of sex (for them) with the right sort of people (for them). I certainly don't mean to deny the existence of asexuality, or to lecture people by standing up with a megaphone and shouting "Hey! You there! Have more sex and enjoy it!" I'm just saying that sex is awesome, and for most people it is or could be the source of great happiness, so for some people who think it's all a bit meh they could benefit from thinking more broadly and adventurously about what sex can be and what it can mean to them.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Hmmm... yes... but:

    I’m just saying that OPERA is awesome, and for most people it is or could be the source of great happiness, so for some people who think it’s all a bit meh they could benefit from thinking more broadly and adventurously about what OPERA can be and what it can mean to them.

    To be honest, if we replaced the word, "most" in that sentence with "many", I'd be happy.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1446 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to James Butler,

    One thing you notice growing up in a nudist club is that boys from the time they came walk will wander around holding their penis. Not so much playing with it, holding. Like a security blanket.

    Evolution put it an easy arm's reach away for a reason, right?

    Oh, sure. We didn't suggest a room change for just holding the penis. Dudes be holding penis all the time. But there are stages of more vigorous intent.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22763 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to Deborah,

    Well, I haven't looked at any surveys, but I wouldn't think it's a great stretch to say that for more than 50% of the adult population, sex is something that they do or could enjoy.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Deborah,

    If opera were even a fraction as compelling as sex (or chocolate) it wouldn't require such large performance subsidies, would it?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Sacha,

    But Sacha, you just don't get opera, and if only you did, everything would be just fine and dandy! Here, why don't you try some?

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1446 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Deborah,

    I’m just saying that OPERA is awesome, and for most people it is or could be the source of great happiness, so for some people who think it’s all a bit meh they could benefit from thinking more broadly and adventurously about what OPERA can be and what it can mean to them.

    Also, I'm not sure that's quite the right analogy. Sex is music, surely? Some people, like me, will never really get it. (Music, that is.) They'll be happy with the worst pop, comfortable with what they know. They'll have a handful of tunes they love deeply, the rest just being background noise. They might occasionally stray onto a little bit of opera, and decide it's not for them. Or, they might hate opera with a fiery passion, but be consumed by a love of hip hop. Maybe they're deaf, and can't enjoy it as much as they'd like to, or just are not interested at all. Or, they might voraciously consume anything they can get their hands on, delighted by notes and melodies and voices and rhythm. They might be willing to experiment with different artists and genres and spend a lot of their time and money trying to find new and interesting ways to appreciate music. Maybe they'll spend years learning an instrument.

    And now, there's nowhere I can take the analogy without making many instrument puns, so I'll stop before I gross everyone out.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Deborah,

    I’m just saying that OPERA is awesome, and for most people it is or could be the source of great happiness, so for some people who think it’s all a bit meh they could benefit from thinking more broadly and adventurously about what OPERA can be and what it can mean to them.

    My parents were mad keen on classical music, and thought that my sister and I should be, too. So we spent many long and tedious weekend matinee sessions and evenings being dragged to various operas and concert performances.

    As soon as I could exercise free will and spending power, I bought my first Iron Maiden album, and rapidly progressed from there to Slayer, Metallica, Black Sabbath, and so on.

    It's taken around 25 years for me to start revisiting classical music, and acknowledge that perhaps, but only just perhaps, there is some merit in 'Don Giovanni', 'Tosca', et al.

    So, the moral of the story is: if you don't want your kids to grow up as pervy deviants like me, don't force the chocolate on them. Or something...?

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich Lock,

    As soon as I could exercise free will and spending power, I bought my first Iron Maiden album, and rapidly progressed from there to Slayer, Metallica, Black Sabbath, and so on.

    Heh, so all that classical exposure did have an effect after all. Heavy metal has a deeply operatic vocal style. I think I liked it for that as a kid too (and I don't like opera much).

    The first complete song my son learned was "Hallowed Be Thy Name" - he especially loves the transition from the first stanza, and the final "yeeaaaeaaaaeaaayeaaaaaaaaaaah!", which spans 5 notes across an octave. He also learned about improvisation when I opted to give him less macabre lyrics:

    I'm waiting, in my cold bed
    when the monkey opens its eyes
    reflecting on the last day
    and ripper rugby tries
    Cause at 6:45
    They take me to the living room
    The sands of time, for me, are coming soon

    Coming sooooooooooooooooooonyeaaaaahaaa
    <uptempo transition to screaming falsetto with much hand flapping and giggling>

    etc.

    He often invents his own lyrics now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Sex, penis-holding, personal experience, evidence, porn, chocolate, music, opera.

    I love this thread.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to George Darroch,

    I love this thread.

    This is rapidly approaching my favourite thread _ever_.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    This is rapidly approaching my favourite thread ever.

    perhaps we should copyright it ....
    ;-©
    (I'll get me coat and hide before I'm pelted...)

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7902 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to George Darroch,

    I like how you distinguished music from opera :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I like how you distinguished music from opera :)

    I also distinguished sex from chocolate.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to George Darroch,

    to be safe :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson, in reply to George Darroch,

    But you forgot to mention the atheism ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 615 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to BenWilson,

    Heavy metal has a deeply operatic vocal style.

    I have recently spent far, far too much time thinking about developing a metal opera based on the music of Black Sabbath, telling the story of our hero Ozzy, a young lad from Wolverhapton who missed out on the swinging sixties, but who just wants to rock out. The first act charts his triumphant rise from grinding poverty to fame, success and drugs, and the inevitable spiral into addiction and near-madness, before being replaced by Ronnie James Dio (boo! hiss!). The second act would chart his rise from the depths, his meeting and marriage to his manager Sharon, and his triumphant solo career.

    Seriously, I've got it all worked out. It's called 'Sabbath bloody Sabbath'. All I need is some funding. Who's in?

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose,

    Continuing the sex = music theme, the standard socially-acceptable model of human sexuality might be a bit like this.

    You start with the standard hits that everyone knows about, and while you're young it's normal to be excited by new bands. You have intense obsessions, breathtaking epiphanies and brief flirtations with obscure genres that don't really go anywhere. But sooner or later all of that seems a bit undignified, and music isn't supposed to arouse the same sort of passions that it did when you're a teenager. Society puts pressure on you to find a nice, reliable, inoffensive band, one which is not so much about excitement as comfort and familiarity, and you never stray from that band or get tempted by new music. In the end, it's so bland that it's not really music at all, and if it all goes silent then, so what? Music's not all it's cracked up to be.

    Imagine how ridiculous it would be if music really were like that! ... though come to think of it, it explains Coldplay.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    This is rapidly approaching my favourite thread _ever_.

    It was in my top ten or so when I had to go back and re-read the column because I had no idea what I'd written.

    Okay. This could be a massive pre-coffee meander, but I think it's important that I say this before my better judgement sets in.

    I've been writing about sex on the internet for some years now. One of the things this means is that people talk to me about sex. Quite a lot. (This might be a bit chicken and egg now I think about it: people always talked to me about sex, just not quite this much.)

    And that slightly bewildered look on someone's face when they catch themselves and say, "I don't know why I'm telling you this," is one of my favourite things in the whole world. Because, for all we like to pretend we live in a sex-obsessed culture, there are precious few people you can talk to about these things and feel safe. That column that the chocolate manifesto comment is on? Is about the joy of being able to talk about sex and feel safe doing it.

    Now, in the last year or so, since I started being more overt and doing those porn and BDSM posts at The Lady Garden, I've had three people tell me that I've improved their sex lives. And inherent and inextricably tangled with that, their relationship with themselves and their self-esteem and their peace of mind has improved. "That thing you wrote made me feel so much better about myself," that's why I'm in this game. That's why I do this, not the infamy and not even the lulz.

    It's not easy, though. It's very, very draining. I said on Twitter the other day that if I wrote a column about cats, I wouldn't get people complaining that I was erasing people who don't own cats. Our cat-love discussion wouldn't be squashed by people complaining that I was being insensitive to people who are allergic to cats, or who can take or leave cats, or who are really into dogs*. Imagine if you really loved cats, and every conversation you tried to have about cat-love was like that.

    And yeah, I'm quite attached to Max's writing because it does the same thing for me that I do for other people. For all the confidence the two of us might seem to project, we've made each other feel better this year. The dominant note in the chocolate manifesto is not nagging, when I read it, it's joy. It's hope. Yes, there's a lot of talking about chocolate in the chocolate manifesto. Odd that.

    And I know that some people feel left out of those conversations. But our conversations, sex-positive, kink-celebrating, devoid of any concept of "unacceptable sex", are not the dominant narrative. Far from it. We're still hiding away in corners and having them under pseudonyms. Please accept that when we speak, for all the air of carelessness and joy, we are speaking from long, painful, hard-won experience. We still operate under fear of being judged and condemned. I have to live with the knowledge that my decision to be open about my sexuality certainly leads people to come to conclusions about my partner, and that makes me really uncomfortable.

    But I'm not going to stop doing what I do, and I'm not going to apologise for how I do it. Because I wouldn't give up those "thank you" moments for the world.



    *I really want this to be true. But being the Internet, I'm not entirely sure that it is.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Rich Lock,

    I have recently spent far, far too much time thinking about developing a metal opera

    I give you Aeterno Elementum.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 823 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    I love this thread.

    This is rapidly approaching my favourite thread _ever_.

    I, too, am full of hot, chocolatey love for this thread.

    I have wondered in the past about setting up a discussion about sex so that people can choose a temporary pseudonym that would let them frankly share feelings and experiences in a fully anonymous fashion. That would be the next level.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22763 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Emma Hart,

    We're still hiding away in corners and having them under pseudonyms. Please accept that when we speak, for all the air of carelessness and joy, we are speaking from long, painful, hard-won experience.

    One of the things I most treasure about knowing you, is how much more open about this stuff you have made me. There are times when it still makes me uncomfortable, but the more often I do it, the easier it gets. Um. So to speak.

    For all that I made you start calling you a feminist, you made *me* the sex-positive part. Talking about it _is_ important. Owning what you like, is important. If only so other people can feel better about owning what they are into. Because the more people that talk about sex and relationships, the easier it'll get for everyone - to bring it back to the original column. That's a huge deal. But then, so is having the space to do all that in your own way, and on your own terms. (ETA: Which is where the difference between how I wish life was, and how it actually is, lies.)

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,

    leads people to come to conclusions about my partner

    only increases my admiration. fine man, that

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

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