Donal's picture

    Extracurricular Activity

    Quite a long time ago, I got a part in a local production of Widows and Children First, the third play of Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy. It was my second play as an actor. I played Ed, a bisexual man torn between his straight and gay relationships (and not too successful either way if you ask me). I was both excited and nervous because there are only four characters in the play, and Ed was onstage most of the time. He had a lot of lines and even a bed scene with Arnold. My wife took me out to buy pajamas.

    I wasn't too worried about ramifications. I was living in a conservative city, but most of the people that would disapprove of such a production never attended theatre. As it turned out, some of the folk in choir looked at me a little funny for a while, but all the people that really mattered to me were very supportive. Dr Sheila Addison wasn't so lucky:

    Two JFK Profs Take it Off But Woman is Fired

    A professor claims John F. Kennedy University fired her illegally for appearing in "a burlesque show" called the "'Hubba Hubba Revue' ... which provides political and social commentary on gender, sexuality, and body image stereotypes." But it did not fire a male professor who at the same time was doing a one-man show "which included disrobing and partial nudity on stage."

    Seems cut and dried to me that the woman should be held to the same standard as the man, and that what they legally do away from school is usually their own business. But at what point does either gender of professor cross the line *in* school? If you've seen Barbarella or Sleeper you know that sex machines are not a new idea. Some time ago, porn producers took a pedestrian route using common power tools - a reciprocating saw or a drill - to make a cheap handheld device. Recently, a professor at Northwestern allowed an engaged couple to demonstrate a sex machine for his student's edification.

    The topic for the day was bondage, swinging and other fetishes but, after the class was officially dismissed, students were told they could stay for a demonstration of sex toys and the female orgasm.

    About 100 students were in the auditorium when an exhibitionist couple offered to perform. Most stayed to watch as the woman undressed and her partner brought her to orgasm with a device that looked like a machine-powered saw with a phallic object instead of a blade.

    Student Justin Smith, 21, said once the demonstration began there was a lot of covering of the mouth like, "Oh my gosh."

    "It was pretty quiet . . . I didn't really see people take affront, but they were engaged with the experience," he said. Faith Kroll, 25, said she had planned to simply answer questions and show off her sex toys but decided to demonstrate live after students were shown an "absurd, clinical" video.

    "One of the students asked what my specific fetish was and mine is being in front of people, having the attention and being used," she said.

    Psychology professor John Michael Bailey said "my decision to say 'yes' reflected my inability to come up with a legitimate reason why students should not be able to watch such a demonstration".

    The university defended the risque display.

    In defending the display, the university said it "supported the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge".

    Well that was before Bailey decided, or was convinced, to apologize for doing something he still doesn't think was wrong. Everyone was over 18, and these days I'd bet most of them had seen porn vids before.

    On the Awl, a former student defended Bailey:

    Pardon the digression; commence the defense. I arrived in Northwestern in the fall of 2003, smart-assed and smug, from the halls of a criminally overpriced prep school in northwest Washington, D.C., which for all of its faults taught me that everything should be questioned, that good argument dignifies everyone and that being intellectually boring is sort of a sin. Let us say that these were not the values I encountered at my new home.

    To understand Bailey’s worth to Northwestern, you need to understand a little bit about Northwestern. First, it's full of very smart and very driven people. Second, it's not a place where young people go to have their assumptions challenged. It's not the sort of university where young people go to experiment and find themselves and dabble in campus radicalism and psychedelics and maybe let someone of the same sex or someone in a body suit rub up on them. Due to its prestigious undergraduate programs in theater, journalism, engineering and business, it has an entrenched and sometimes suffocating pre-professional streak. In every way, geographically, intellectually, socially, psychologically, it's the opposite of our South Side rival for academic supremacy. It's also really, truly, appallingly cold. Which is all a way of saying that it's the sort of place that might benefit from a fucksaw every now and then.

    Now I took a course in college called Sex and Death. Professor Peter Stearns compared attitudes towards those two preoccupations from preindustrial times until the present. There were no live demonstrations, but Stearns was engaging and we did read some of the latest attempts to explain the nuts and bolts of human sexuality.

    I'm all for the advancement of knowledge, myself, but have not found that pornography was particularly instructive with respect to human sexuality. Porn shows, and perhaps teaches, a very public way of doing something that was usually private. Porn sex tends to be as mechanical and repetitive as the sex machines. Most disturbing to me, though are the articles about men who fake orgasm because they don't find it as stimulating as their porn.

    He’s Just Not That Into Anyone

    Why would I, a healthy guy in his thirties, need to fake an orgasm? It was mystifying. I wasn’t on antidepressants, which I’d heard could decrease sensation. I got plenty of exercise. It didn’t seem to matter which woman I was with, or what kind of condom we used, or whether I’d downed one glass of whiskey or ten, or if we listened to Neil Young or Al Green, as I learned through trial and error (mostly error). Over the course of months, I picked a dozen suspects out of the lineup and gradually cleared each one. Except, perhaps, the most obvious.

    “Pornography? It’s a new synaptic pathway.” This is what John Mayer said in a candid interview with Playboy. “You wake up in the morning, open a thumbnail page, and it leads to a Pandora’s box of visuals,” he continued. “There have probably been days when I saw 300 vaginas before I got out of bed.”

    Porn’s allure and ubiquity isn’t exactly titillating news. The question that still remains, however, is how this tsunami of porn is affecting the libido of the American male or, more selfishly, mine. First I came across a post on Sanjay Gupta’s blog by Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor, who wrote that he noticed a distinct rise in the number of men approaching him with concerns about delayed ejaculation. Kerner went on to attribute much of the problem to a “rapid proliferation of Internet porn” which leads to “over-masturbation,” something I’m very familiar with. Then I read about a University of Kansas study that found that 25 percent of college-age men said they’d faked orgasms, which, I’ll admit, was oddly comforting to hear. But it wasn’t until I interviewed dozens of men with varying porn-watching habits (and a few very open-minded women) that some unexpected themes began to emerge. Porn is not only shaping men’s physical and emotional interest in sex on a very fundamental neurological level, but it’s also having a series of unexpected ripple effects—namely on women.

    I remember my early, fumbling sexual experiences with great fondness. I had seen centerfolds and some frankly pornographic films, but being with a real person still seemed far more exciting. I wonder, though, how either of us would have felt after witnessing a classroom demonstration of mechanical masturbation.

    And so a conundrum emerges. Men, oversaturated by porn, secretly hunger for the variety that porn offers. Women, noticing a decline in their partners’ libidos, try to reenact the kinds of scenes that men watch on their computer screens. Men, as a result, get really freaked out. They don’t want their real women and their fantasy women to inhabit the same body.


    When I was in Nurse Practitioner school there were several classes that we took with the medical students. There was one week set aside as "sex week" that we all anticipated because we heard it was unlike anything we'd ever seen. It was.

    We watched a movie "Misty Beethoven," several porn flicks, and had interview sessions with prostitutes, physicians who deal with sexual dysfunction, and happily married couples. Part of the idea was to over-do everything to such a degree we would not be embarrassed at anything we would see or hear clinically.

    It actually helped me quite a bit. I definitely would not have wanted to see any kind of live demonstration, though.

    Having watched St. Elsewhere and House, I can understand your view on these things.

    People have the strangest inclinations.

    DD, are you sayin' I'm strange? I consider that a major compliment!!!!

    Sex (the act), sex (the anatomical description), gender, identity, arousal, intimacy, and power (to name a few) have been and always will be mix together in some strange brew, individual particulars side by side with the commonalities.  Toss in the relation to morality, religion, shame, and spirituality and it's no wonder things get all messed up when someone tries to bring it into classroom.  Just as it is no wonder that we can't get to any kind of consensus on how we should approach something like porn.  

    I remember one time when there was going to be a "take back the night" march in my community. First a rift occurred between those who thought males who were "allies" should be on the march and those who opposed that (don't know if someone threw in the transgenders to really muddy the waters) basically on the grounds that all men are in the end unable to be allies.  Then they also planned to start (or end, I can't remember) the march with a rally at the local porn store downtown (it was a smallish college town).  But the uber social conservative religious right folks caught wind and were planning to show up to protest with them.  Politics, esp social politics, makes for strange bed fellows (pun intended I suppose). 

    I have to say that after reading the blog, I think maybe the Buddhist monks had the right idea.

   said you wanted a [sexual] revolution...

    I do not know but assume NY Magazine is or at least fancies itself a trendsetter.  That would make the porn ennui article and another there, Emmanuelle Alt’s French Vogue to Include a Lot More Clothes, a Lot Fewer Boobs, very intriguing.   Vogue is very much a trendsetter.  

    Is the Sexual Revolution nearing an end?  


    BYU suspended it second best player, in keeping with fact we are in the midst of March Madness, for having premarial sex.

    (am I being too pomo?)

    In the different accounts of people becoming detached from sex with real partners because of their fixation on readily available images, there seems to be a general consensus that not indulging in such activities would guarantee the bond they sense has been lost. They end up creating a dual fantasy world. They think the diversion of energy into self stimulation is parallel to what they could have had experienced in another place.

    But I don't think life is like that. The self-consciousness of being sexual is not an insurable thing, either in the most romantic conception of one's person or the most lucid rejection of that ideal. To my ears, the moral views of those who feel excluded from imagined benefits of what they have denied themselves are fabulous by definition.

    I don't know how much should be "permitted" in the way of demonstration, art, and media. Whatever the right answer may be, it isn't directly tied to the range of lifestyle choices that should be allowed to made by people. 

    Was Tolstoy right when he said that happy families are very similar to each other and only unhappy families are peculiar? It is a question central to our experience. But I don't want social polity to be based on a consensus of what the answer might be.

    On a long drive this weekend, I was thinking there might be a parallel between an eating life too rich in fructose without fiber and a sexual life too rich in fantasy without reality.

    I think there is a parallel. As mentioned in your food blog, there is a point after which eating is not about eating any longer. Sexual gratification can also be about something other than sex.

    How much the two things relate to fantasy is hard to get a handle on. In one sense, those "addicted" to pornography are not imagining something so much as having something imaged for them. It is the way the images become equivalent to real memories that isolates the vicarious sexual adventurer from actual people. But if that is true, the adventurer is also alienated from the images. 

    Where the parallel breaks down is that there are people who actually sleep with a lot of people. Comparing the vicaraious to the actual behavior seems to require something different than the ideas of compulsion and obssession that the food question brings up. On the other hand, when I have heard sexual adventurers talk, it does remind me of someone talking about a meal.

    I think you're right. The sweet, fructose-like part of sex is the orgasm, not the fantasy. And that can be just as disconnected with a one-night stand as with a porn vid.

    Every time I scroll past this post, I think your illustration should carry a disclaimer: "Device not exactly as shown" or maybe "European model."

    Assault and Battery not included.

    Latest Comments