normal, authentic

Not long ago, Ian Kerner sent around some results from The Normal Bar and was like, “So here are some things… what do you think?”

I’ve spent a lot of time lately in Sex Positive Hulk mode (SMASH SHAME, SMASH BULLSHIT SCIENCE, SMASH RAPE CULTURE, SMASH PATRIARCHAL MODELS OF SEXUAL FUNCTIONING), raging against various forms of sex science bullshit (but also noting some of the AWESOME stuff!), so maybe it was just muscle memory for me to go into that mode at this point, so that’s kinda what I did and Ian used some of what I said about it

But because my overriding motivation in life is to do whatever it takes to be effective – to have people listen to what I say, actually hear what I said instead of what they’re afraid I said, and put what they heard to use to improve their sex lives – it got me thinking about the notion of “normal,” and its power to draw our attention.

I’ve been paying attention to mainstream messages about sex lately, in preparing a lecture on that topic for my class and for the talk I’m doing at the Feminist Porn Conference, and I can see how the book would seem like a good idea in that context. Mainstream stuff, tv and magazines and stuff, tends to take the form of “statistic, anecdote, tip; statistic, anecdote, tip” and it is almost exclusively focused on What People Do, with little reference to How People Feel While They’re Doing It. In that context, it seems like a perfectly natural step to conclude that whatever satisfied couples are doing must be what people do in order to be satisfied.

And of course it’s about What People Do instead of How They Feel. On the one hand, culture has many rules about what feelings are or are not okay, so it’s easier just not to talk about them. And at the same time, we’re deep in a transition away from text, to image instead. Mostly, we don’t READ about others’ sexual experiences, we WATCH them. Text gives us the opportunity to learn the participants’ internal experience, in a way an image can’t. We watch what people are doing, rather than reading what they are experiencing. Even with the tepid sentence of last resort, “It felt so good,” we hear that there was an internal experience, not just an insert-tab-A-into-slot-B description.

Look at the two videos below with the sound off, if you like. Compare this, which a student showed me as a joke because it’s Friday:

with this, which my sister showed me because it made her feel hopeful about the future of the world:

You need only watch a few seconds of each to see what I want to talk about.

My sister describes the conductor in the second video as “alive in his body.” And I can’t think of a better phrase. The boys in the boychoir are alive in their bodies, they’re awake inside the here and now. Look at the settled alignment of their spine, the soft relaxation through their shoulders into their arms. At 3:10 when that kid “faints,” he mostly just flops, just loosens his whole body and collapses.

That poor little kid in the Friday video looks dead inside. All those kids in the video are absent. Hollow. That kid is just 13, ya know, and she got a lot of shit for it. But really the difference between the music she’s making and the music the boychoir is making is authenticity. Aliveness.

Internal experience. Not what you do, but how you feel.

When someone worries about what they DO, how they look, when they try to be like what they’ve seen, they will inevitably wall off the parts of their internal experience that don’t fit within the model of “normal” they’ve learned.

People can only show us their internal experience when they are liberated from fear – which very often takes the form of shame. Efforts to conform to some prescribed range of “normal” are inherently shaming; you have to hide some parts of yourself in order to be the person the world expects.

When you accept and welcome 100% of yourself, 100% of your partner, you can be authentic, awake, alive, attuned. And THAT is when the best sex happens. And that’s not normal at all.

Shame, fear, authenticity, aliveness, absentness, are all equally normal, useful in different contexts (there are some situations where walling off parts of yourself is not only okay but necessary). But our lives are most complete, I believe, when there is somewhere we can let all the walls down, soften our spines, and just flop.