AM I NOR­MAL?

For 17 years, I have made a lIv­Ing an­swer­Ing thIs ques­tIon. sort oF.

NOW Magazine - Love & Sex - - The Survey - By SASHA

That’s Sasha the sex colum­nist’s most fre­quently asked ques­tion, and she’s ready to an­swer it.

W

ri­tiNg a sex cOl­umN is a lit­tle like be­ing skilled in the lan­guage of in­ter­na­tional dis­tress codes. The sit­u­a­tion is ur­gent and com­pli­cated to the wounded but of­ten re­quires very sim­ple and spe­cific mea­sures. Yes, i can see you. No, you are not alone. Here is a book, a video, a com­mu­nity. Th­ese are your life­lines. use them to your best ad­van­tage. Bon courage.

A ques­tion that in­evitably leaps to my mind when i re­spond to this query in all its pre­dictable and un­pre­dictable man­i­fes­ta­tions is this: why are we so of­ten in dis­tress when it comes to sex?

“i think it’s for two rea­sons,” says Jim Pfaus, who teaches psy­chol­ogy at Con­cor­dia univer­sity. “First, we are crea­tures of habit, so when we do some­thing that vi­o­lates our ex­pec­ta­tions, even when it’s good, it freaks us out. sec­ond, we live in a cul­ture that’s con­stantly try­ing to de­ter­mine what is ‘nor­mal’ and im­pose it on ev­ery­one. i re­mem­ber a quote from Wil­helm Re­ich’s book lis­ten, lit­tle Man!: ‘ How you tor- ment the life out of your chil­dren try­ing to make them nor­mal like your­self.’”

in the years i’ve been an­swer­ing peo­ple’s in­ti­mate queries, the one thing i’ve found that truly char­ac­ter­izes erotic nor­malcy – as de­fined by what makes us sex­u­ally sim­i­lar – is the per­sis­tent im­pulse to ask this ques­tion about our­selves. The fear of be­ing judged for our de­sires is prob­a­bly our most common trait. The source is of­ten an op­pres­sively pi­ous up­bring­ing. As sam Har­ris writes in let­ter To A Christian Na­tion, “Your prin­ci­ple con­cern seems to be that the cre­ator of the uni­verse will take of­fence at some­thing peo­ple do while naked.”

Pfaus spec­u­lates on who gets to set the def­i­ni­tion: “Your peers? The dsM (di­ag­nos­tic And sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal dis­or­ders)? some shrink? The po­lice? epi­demi­ol­o­gists? some clos­eted politi­cian who is try­ing to pro­tect his dark se­crets? it seems like ev­ery­one has a stake in mak­ing a def­i­ni­tion that no one re­ally fits. it’s the most pro- found ques­tion we have about sex other than ‘ What do i like?’ – both of which tend to change over time and with ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The mu­ta­ble qual­ity of hu­man de­sire – what you want at 16 may change vastly from what you want at 25 or 43 or 67 or 81 – con­trib­utes un­de­ni­ably to mak­ing nor­mal dif­fi­cult to clas­sify, since a widely ac­cepted trait of nor­mal is con­sis­tency. This sur­faces in let­ters that in­evitably in­clude the phrase “and then the next thing i knew… ,” the im­pli­ca­tion be­ing, of course, that the writer was sim­ply go­ing about his or her usual rou­tine and then sud­denly found them­selves with a garlic press in their be­hind.

“if i take the cur­rent in­car­na­tion of the dsM’s def­i­ni­tions of sex­ual dis­or­ders,” says Pfaus, “i can de­duce that hav­ing gen­i­tals that re­spond to stim­u­la­tion with en­gorge­ment, hav­ing a brain that gets me all horny when i see some­thing i like and that al­lows me to have an or­gasm or sev­eral in re­sponse to sev­eral min­utes’ worth of gen­i­tal stim­u­la­tion, makes me ‘nor­mal’ or at least not dis­or­dered. How­ever, if i have any dis­tress about any of it, then i have a prob­lem that may or may not need treat­ment.”

When it comes to in­ti­macy, we crave as­sur­ance – as­sur­ance that when we re­veal and revel in our de­sires, we will be re­spected and sat­is­fied. With our in­her­ent ten­dency to re­flect on sex­u­al­ity pes­simisti­cally, we are of­ten our own worst en­e­mies in this quest. We don’t de­serve what we want, and when we get it, ret­ri­bu­tion surely awaits us.

“My con­clu­sion echoes that of Kin­sey,” says Pfaus. “There is no nor­mal. There is just be­ing happy and whole and hav­ing enough peo­ple around you who love you and ac­cept you as you are. Any­thing less de­nies hu­man­ity, im­poses men­tal and emo­tional dis­tress and sup­presses the di­ver­sity that is so nec­es­sary for the sur­vival of our species.”

in Karen solie’s poem dog star, she writes of some mis­for­tune, “There is luck and there is luck and if there is any other les­son here i will never get used to it.”

Though solie seems to take a weary tone, i feel the same way about sex. if there is any les­son here, i will never get used to it.

At least i hope i don’t.

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