Recent weeks and months have seen the proliferation of media prominently featuring sexuality as a theme, a phenomenon that has worked its way into the mainstream with the recent television success of the program Desperate HouseWives. This is just the latest splash of a new genre in pop culture’s affair with sexuality — the awakening libido of women who are at least 30 years old, premised by the cable success of Sex and the city.
Other factors, such as the guerilla sex video of Paris Hilton, with Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s a few years before, are just a few reasons why sex scholar Camille Paglia writes in her book, Sexual Personae, “Sexuality and eroticism are the intricate intersection of nature and culture.”
Paglia’s book created controversy amongst literati when published in 1990 with her sensational views on sex’s hidden role in western society.
“In western culture,” she writes, “there can never be a purely physical or anxiety-free sexual encounter. Every attraction, every pattern of touch, every orgasm is shaped by psychic shadows.” In her observations, she intends to show the “fragility of social institutions and the barbarism of nature.” Paglia uses sensationalism as a means to an end, a method of scholastics most influence by Freud, like the exploitation of sex in media.
Pop music has always been loaded with sexual connotation. From Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes,” a sugar-coated ballad of polygamy circa ’66, to 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” to themes of sexual anxiety currently found in indie bands Interpol and The Faint, the music industry has been more progressive in connecting sex as a point between man and nature, as Paglia writes, “where morality and good intentions fall to primitive urges.”
Wet from Birth, The Faint’s recent release, is almost a concept album animating sexual courtship and the cycle of life. The album’s final track, “Birth,” features a line that could be taken from Sexual Personae, with “I should have noticed the beauty and not how it hurt, wet like a cherry in the bloodbath of birth.” In the book, Paglia is keen on reminding us of St. Augustine’s quote, “We are born between feces and urine.”
Another book, Mantalk, by Irma Kurtz, focuses on much the same dynamic discussed in sitcoms such as Friends, featuring the sex life between men and women, only without the sentiment. She writes, “Men are finding it ever more difficult to squeeze themselves and their erections into the shrinking maneuvering space between being a wimp or being a rapist.”
Mantalk, published in 1986, criticizes the side in women who want to change men for romantic ends by being brutally frank, “For a man, sex is always to some degree an edgy performance, more ritual than romance, a sport with conscience as an indulgent referee … Women think their own loving, languorous way of sex is better, and so it is … for them.”
The book form, much less a priority of censorship than television’s airwaves, can afford such luxuries of boldness almost 20 years before programs like Desperate Housewives.
In much the same way pop culture uses sex as a commodity to aid sensationalism; Paglia argues that the west has objectified people, and “personified objects.” Paglia, too, has done both, paralleling a woman’s tolerance of ambiguity to that of her mysterious body, and charging men for the opposite, due to a marked definition paralleled to the quantification of a penis.
With this logic, then, society may be called a big penis that forces its standards onto individuals, domestic and foreign, and feigns certainty in an uncertain universe.