Now that I’m teaching again I have the pleasure of writing lecture notes. What is nice about the practice of writing lecture notes is that one is afforded the opportunity to experiment with different readings of texts that, at this point at least, I have read 3 different times in the context of teaching this course. Last week it was Nietzsche’s Second Essay of The Genealogy of Morals. I read his essay on bad-conscience formation, and thus, also of morality, against the horizon of sexual difference, and with a gesture to Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Tootsie”. The students, who were initially lost, immediately gravitated to the idea of understanding over-coming social norms once it was transposed out of the romantic and hyperbolic prose Nietzsche is (in)famous for and into the language of sexism. That is always very satisfying as a professor: to see your students respond, begin to engage, and become attracted to the pro-ject of thinking through ideas that, as they come to realize, affect them.
Keeping it fresh isn’t always easy, however. Sometimes you really need to get yourself in the mood, and that usually entails turning a chore into a pleasure. Yes, I’m still talking about writing lecture notes, but not for long…
A number of my friends, some of whom are older, who have been in long-term relationships all attest to the same phenomenon: after a while, sex can get rather routinized, and thereby get boring, start to feel like a chore, and then, as it were, the metaphorical dust begins to build on the drawer that stores the condoms, lube, and toys. “Lots of solo action,” one friend says, at which point his boyfriend immediately chimes in: “And, lots of porn!” Of course, this is merely anecdotal but, while there are always rules, it’s the exceptions that prove to be the most interesting phenomena, and which, at the same time, tend to illuminate the rule in general. To that end, it’s important to attend to those relationships that stretch over time, that evolve, grow, and change as the people that compose the relationship itself grow, evolve, and change.
When we speak of “relationships” it is so easy to fall prey to essentializing the spacial metaphor–to be “in” a relationship–as if one were in a room, or in a computer game, governed by inviolable laws and logic: up-up-right will only ever produce the same flying jump kick, just as the door to closet is on that wall and will only open to the right. We forget, I think, that relationships do not exist independently of the people who _are_ (not “in”) them. I can’t help but wonder if the people who see the fiery passion of their love-life dissipate into a dwindling afterglow aren’t succumbing to this problematic.
Another mistake, I think, that plagues many people in relationships is the false belief in “self”-sufficiency. Many people see toy-play as a last-ditch effort, or, at best, an attempt to “try something new” as if their sex-life was on a respirator and needed resuscitation. Do we think this way about new positions, new settings, or even different types of play (oral, massage, light or heavy bondage, anal, et cetera)? Of course not! We realize that the intimacy of the missionary position affords a different kind of pleasure than, say, doggy style, just as oral sex brings a different kind of orgasm from the other two aforementioned positions. Would it make any sense to say, “We’re doomed! I want to do it doggy style–there’s no going back now! We should just accept our love life is on its way to a slow death…” Well, I suppose one _could_ say something like that, but what a failure of imagination!
Well, the same holds true for toy-play. Integrating a vibe or a dildo or a cockring or a prostate massager into your play is not a sign of your love life’s slow death. Quite the contrary! Nor, in fact, is it a sign of “inadequacy” in either partner. Boys, get over the idea that because your girlfriend wants a vibrator she thinks you aren’t good enough to bring her to orgasm (this goes for us boys who fuck boys, too!). And girls, don’t see your boyfriend’s interest in a prostate massager as a sign of nascent homosexuality–it just feels good, like your g-spot feels good: boys, too, can have “both/and”, thank you. The fact is, couples who play together stay together. Of course, everyone has their list of “Won’ts” and sometimes even, for certain reasons, “Can’ts”, and these should be clearly articulated. But unfounded fear of inadequacy should never qualify to make that list.
Speaking from personal experience–which is always only anecdotal–my boyfriend and I have been known to enjoy an assortment of lotions, potions, and toys in the course of our sex. At first I was apprehensive, like most people I think, fearing that this sort of play would become the norm from which “the real thing” (whatever the hell _that_ is) would pale by comparison. That hardly turned out to be the case. In fact, toy play brought us closer and opened up a new dimension of pleasure for both of us. Of course, like the chocolate souffle I so very much enjoy, such play is a “treat,” which by no means diminished the joys of our almost daily Ben & Jerry’s sex (to run with the metaphor).
To make a long story short (though, perhaps that’s too late!), I would encourage you, dear readers, to challenge your conceptions of what pleasure is. We must always deal with social norms that tell us what “normal” is–or, and more to the point: what is _abnormal_ (funny how we never know what “normal” really is, only what it isn’t)–but that is no reason, or at least not a very compelling reason in my humble opinion, to limit yourself or your partner to the narrow confines of fear-based rules about what “real” sex isn’t. Real sex, let’s face it, is what’s good for you (typically you can recognize it by hearing yourself say, “That was _really_ good!”). So stop wringing your hands, get over the fear of inadequacy, and have some good old fun!