"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sex Or No Sex–That Is The Question

The personal columns of today have more categories than people to fill them.  ‘Men Seeking Women’ is by far the leanest section.  “Black Dwarf Transvestite seeks like-bodied person of color to share elm trees, the Sunday Times, and Bette Midler.  Age no bar. Just be ready to party” is much more like it.

An all-time favorite is the following:
“Nun on the Run” looking for fun with any real gentlemen.  Early, flirty 40s, pretty face and a behind you could kneel down and pray on.”
Despite its unusual theme it is still oh-hum conservative male-female, one-on-one sex.  No threesomes, foursomes, midgets, dominatrices, queens, bears, and pump house jocks.  The combinations and permutations are impressive.  A sexual smorgasbord.

Yet everything gets old quickly.  Fashions in clothes, food, and sex start in California, take root in New York, and then infiltrate the heartland.  A recent personal column in the Buford (AR) Gazette (pop. 4280) which, although still very conservative and read-between-the-lines, was racy by local standards.
Christian man seeks devout woman who will never have to worry. Her soul will be filled and her tank will never need topping off.
This was the photo he attached:

There seems to be nothing left in the sexual closet. Plain and exotic offerings have been exhausted.

Enter celibacy.
In a culture that clamors with the noisy public narratives of sexual desire, the implacable silence of sexual refusal is the last remaining taboo. At least, that is what the journalist Sophie Fontanel felt when she composed the opening sentence of her bestselling memoir, The Art of Sleeping Alone. “For a long while, and I really don’t wish to say when it was or how many years it lasted, I chose to live in what was perhaps the worst insubordination of our times: I had no sex life,” she wrote. (Jane Shilling, The New Republic, 11.2.13)
It was only a matter of time.  For women celibacy is a powerful feminist statement – they do not need men, never have, and total rejection of the male is a powerful and elegant expression of the true female spirit.
Fontanel soon found that she had hit a nerve.  Although many women were overjoyed that a sister had finally taken the ultimate step towards complete liberation; others were not so sure.  Lesbians assumed that she had just given up men, not sex, and approached her for favors. More surprising were couples who saw her rejection of men and sex as threatening to marriage.
Fontanel swiftly realized that her elective singleness felt like a dangerous reproach in a world of couples who seemed to want her to be as miserable as them. Even “the marginal couple, Sabine and William, doleful swingers who absolutely had to stay together to have someone to swap—even they found me peculiar”, she writes, adding with a certain complacency, “I was discovering conventional behavior in the most liberated milieus.”
Critics found every possible motivation behind Fontanel’s celibacy – everything from feminism to a sublime rediscovery and celebration of the human body to a post-modern assessment of traditional institutions.  Not so, said Fontanel.  It was just bad sex.
But while there are moments of exaltation in Fontanel’s memoir, on the whole her embrace of chastity seems to have been prompted not so much by a desire to explore a new philosophy of living, as by a deep ennui with bad sex: “I’d had it with being taken and rattled around,” she writes. “I’d had it with handing myself over . . .”
Fontanel found that giving up sex was not a simple matter. It meant readjusting her entire life.  Modern society is based on sexual relationships. Whether we pair off for an evening or for life, we couple. ‘Old maids’ and ‘confirmed bachelors’ are outcastes.  Once it is realized that they have given up looking, they are marginalized.  They are of another breed. Incongruent puzzle pieces.  They don’t fit anywhere.
In each case, it seems that the experiment in solitary living was not so much a route to a recalibration of the author’s intimate relationships, as a kind of protracted emotional spa break. Fontanel’s period of single living was the more extreme renunciation: It lasted from her late youth to early middle age and seems to have included some distressing epiphanies. At one point she got rid of all her books: “Their contents served no purpose. All they did was tell stories.” At another, she felt that she was losing her identity: “Overnight I had become a vague, blurry shape . . . My being had lost the solidity of things.”
The hardest thing about celibacy is ignoring sexual desire.  We are all programmed to want to mate, and although we would like to think that God created us in his image, at least in sexual terms we are more akin to animals than angels. All men want to do is to have sex. Teenage boys can think of nothing else; and girls, although more discriminating about their sexual partners, are just as anxious, expectant, and excited.

All experiments in celibacy have failed.  Look at the Catholic Church, the last bastion of official sexual withdrawal.  Centuries ago priests, although taking the vow of chastity, never thought that it meant no sex at all.  French curés and Italian padres had sex regularly and treated their mistresses well thanks to the overflowing coffers of the monasteries. It was the Irish Church which somehow convinced priests and lay people alike that sex was bad.  Although Irish American priests obviously weren’t thinking of their own same-sex relationships when they hectored the rest of us about impure thoughts, words, and actions, the made a good show of sexual propriety. 

Image result for  images medieval monks having sex with young women

Sophie Fontanel’s dalliance with celibacy ended after five years.  She threw in the towel.
All a mistake, apparently. Suddenly, celibate Sophie was transformed back into seductive Sophie; her clothes chic, her nails red-lacquered: “I was back . . . My solitude had been an infirmity . . . Walking along the street, I saw nothing but possibilities.”
So much for a noble experiment, an ideal, a cure-all for aggression, jealousy, abuse, deceit, and greed.  Albee disliked marriage, thought it a debasing bourgeois institution; but understood that it was the crucible of maturity.  Unless men and women had sex within the confines of marriage and were forced to deal with both their sexual ambitions and fears and the social dynamics which stem from them, they could never leave adolescence.

The apostle Paul reluctantly accepted marriage as necessary within God's procreative world, but he urged men to hold off as long as possible perhaps forever, for the unsullied celibate life was certainly less complicated and more spiritually enriching:
Now concerning the thing whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.  But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband… But I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment. For I would that all men were even as myself [unmarried]: but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I…(1 Corinthians, Chap. 7)
 Image result for images st. paul

Better to be celibate, but if you are married, stay the course.  There was no Song of Songs in his mind: 
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouthFor your love is more delightful than wine.Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;Your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you!Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers.
 Image result for images king solomon

None of this matters much, Paul, Fontanel, the monks of Carthusian abbeys and Himalayan ascetics notwithstanding.  Few can resist the enticements of the opposite sex, most indulge quickly and often.  The greatest of God's ironies is that he made men to think of sex all the time but gave them only a limited and very finite time to consummate it.


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