Sex is a sport – it’s a game of inches.
There. That’s the kind of opening you wanted, wasn’t it? The joke (a good one) doesn’t express any great truth about sex, and yet, all joking aside, there might be something essential about humour that allows us to talk honestly about it. Talking about sex with hardhearted seriousness might seem more appropriate when one considers the recently-elected-most-powerful-man-in-the-world. However, the recently-elected-most-powerful-man-in-the-world is not representative of most men in the world, and his comments as he said them can be found in none of the world’s male locker-rooms. Anyone can talk with seriousness about pussy grabbing. It’s much harder to talk with seriousness about the common man and his common penis.
Embarrassing as it may seem, it is with laughter that we must come at men and sex. To make my point, I can think of no greater clarifier than the surreptitiously knocked-over box of cheerios and its circumstantial message in the discharge. These rib-tickling ‘SEND NUDES’ videos get at an essential truth: that humour, and specifically self-deprecating humour, is the crutch men often rely upon to get sex. It’s well known that the male Tinder game counts for nothing if it isn’t funny. Making funny is an ancient tactic but the medium through which it now occurs is very new. Social-media has changed sex, and, while a social-media presence is not a pre-requisite for sex, the online world complicates an already complex foreplay. It’s one more thing – multifaceted and in flux – that must be navigated else it become more of an obstacle to and less a facilitator of, sex.
Us boys often choose to navigate this new landscape alone. Why? Because to admit any sexual ignorance with your fellow brother is essentially to imply that you were once pre-pubescent. And that is fundamentally uncool. Don’t misunderstand me here – most guys do talk very openly about sex. What we don’t do is have earnest talks. At our most earnest, we’ll skim over studies which claim that young people have less sex nowadays than they used to, shrug them off as a dodgy hack job, spend the rest of the day wondering if everyone else is having much less sex than we are or much more sex than we are… it’s always one or the other… it’s a testament to how seriously we treat the issue that we are left unsatisfied by the persistent falsehood that ‘the truth lies somewhere in between’. Guys talk sex, but not in earnest. We don’t ask each other questions like: how do we get better sex?
Wanting to have better sex is not the same as wanting to get better at sex. Better sex is an elusive compound requiring something beyond what you or your partner can as individuals bring to the party. The problem is that the traditional method of sounding this out – that of the date – is a deuce of an ordeal. There’s the fiscal shudder, there’s the risk of lost time, and then there’s our very own national psychosis of low expectations. Even if at times we overcome this rosy pessimism, lapses are recurrent as we paradoxically contend with both our own Hollywood standards and an online saturation of attainable looking people (why make an effort when there are so many?) Caught between these two poles, we delay better sex by turning small subjective faults into the biggest things in the world.
Funnyman Bertie Wooster best described this process of deterioration. “You know how it is when you’ve had one of those lovers’ tiffs and then go off to a solitary dinner. You start brooding over the girl with the soup and wondering if it wasn’t a mugs game hitching up with her. With the fish this feeling deepens, and by the time you’re through with the poulet roti au cresson and are ordering the coffee you’ve probably come definitely to the conclusion that she’s a rag and a bone and a hank of hair and that it would be madness to sign her on as a life partner.”
If the answer to getting better sex is that men and women alike need to give their time to better people, then we all need to pull our own weight and for that a better understanding of the male defect is required. Ladies – and at the risk of mansplaining men to you – the majority of us really are simple creatures. Other than recognising this, stumbling upon better sex probably has something to do with accountability. In medieval times, high-born maidens weren’t passive sleeping-beauties and prudery was not considered a virtue. Women were expected to be sexually active and would publically demand the same from their husbands. In the twelfth-century the young student Héloïse fell into a tremendous passion for her teacher called Abelard and her famous attempt to seduce him succeeded. Admittedly, their story is not a textbook parable. It all ended in disaster for her and castration for him.
Sex, as poor Abelard found out, is the most serious of sports. But this is exactly why it’s so funny and why it’s surprisingly sage of us dudes to talk about it without much seriousness. At times it may be prudent to recognise the importance of being earnest, but we must never forget that ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was a comedy of errors. Laughing about sex offers an educational release. On sex specific to our generation, it’s become something of a cliché to say that “every generation thinks they were the first to discover sex.” This parental boast fails to take into account the new mediums through which sex is discovered. And other such challenges to premature and ejaculatory clichés can be found if you only know where to look; they invert notions of chastity, they subvert the holiness of marriage, they prove to be fallacious the claim that for love to be true love it must be enduring and even everlasting or whatever other fairytale we suckle on to get ourselves off in the night.
These are not generational challenges but challenges from a genre. Humour illuminates the absurdities in ourselves. In the 1950s comic novelist Peter De Vries made the sexually frustrated Reverend Mackerel say: “Show me a man who doesn’t marry again and you’ve given me a pretty good idea of what the first one was probably like.” To respectively much greater and much lesser extents, this applies to women as it does to men, and for sex as it does for marriage.