what 'normal sex' is like

And back in the world of non-fiction, I’ve been trying to develop a genuinely useful analogy for what I mean when I use a phrase like “normal” sex, compared to what most people mean when they say it – after all, look at the name of the blog.

I don’t know if this is the one I’ll end up using in the book, but I like it a lot:

Maybe think about it this way: most of the time when people talk about “normal sex,” it’s like they’re talking about a person’s sexual accent.

The language you use – accent and vocabulary – is, to you, normal, and others sound strange; some may vary so much from your own that they scarcely sound like English at all. And how did you learn your accent? Mostly from the language you hear around you, both among the people and in the media.

When I was in kindergarten, I had a Delawarean accent. I clearly remember my mother chiding me for saying “banee-ana” instead of “banana.” By the time I got to junior high, I had been exposed to a more “standard” American (and a great deal of “Received Pronunciation” British, via PBS’s imports from the BBC) and my accent had smoothed out to something approaching the middle-of-the-road accent I have now. Then I moved to Indiana, where in some areas people sound like they’re from Chicago and in others people sound like they’re from Tennessee. When I returned to Delaware for holidays, people laughed at my pronunciation of “yeah.” And then I moved to Massachusetts, and “wicked” entered my vocabulary as something other than “evil,” and the “r’s” at the end of words softened. My accent now is a thin soup of midwestern, mid-Atlantic, New England, and RP, in the clear broth of standard American.

Similarly, our ideas about “normal” sex are learned from the voices we hear around us, from images and messages in the media, and all of these change as we travel from place to place, both in space and in cyberspace. There is a standardization that has happened as media has nationalized, watering down regional variation. (This dilution also results in some “dialects” reacting to the perceived threat by holding fast to their local variations and even trying to spread it.) And when someone brings a totally different “normal” with them from somewhere else, it sounds strange to you.

In my house, “standard American” was the prized ideal. My father would speak in his childhood southern accent only when he was angry. My mother perpetually battled her New Jersey accent. To fit in, I was taught to conform to a specific accent, even though it was not accent of my region.

And similarly, “standard American” sexual norms are taught – though often in a more implicit and therefore even more powerful way – so that we come to perceive certain things are normal and other things as “abnormal,” outsider. I am in, you are out.

Opinions about the idea of “normal sex” as being like an accent?