Last week I went to Tokyo to speak at World Sexual Health Day. Coordinated by the World Association for Sexology, the Japanese Society for Sex Education, and others, the program featured an impressive array of national and international speakers. Some are now new friends.
My talk was the last event of the day, and in a different location from the rest of the program. And so at 6pm my Tokyo host (whom I’d met the previous day) and my sexologist-translator (whom I’d never met) picked me up at my hotel, and after a short taxi ride we arrived at a sort-of nightclub, which had been booked for the evening.
Inside there were dozens of cocktail tables, at which most of the chairs were already filled. As my host had predicted, it was a pretty well-behaved crowd with very little drinking (I’d been concerned about the latter, not the former).
After several short welcomes (including one from the nationally-famous gynecologist who has written a forward to the Japanese edition of my current book, which my Japanese publisher didn’t tell me about—but don’t get me started on that), my translator Daisuke and I were brought up to the little stage, and just like that we began.
Miraculously, the guy is fantastic, the crowd responds to my (our?) jokes, and we’re off and running. My theme is Sexual Intelligence—don’t look for perfect functioning, perfect bodies, or perfect sex. Decide how you want to feel, communicate that with your partner, relax, and together create an experience that simply feels good.
Or something like that. Who knows what the talk was like in Japanese. In any case, I give lots of examples involving food and sports, which seem to resonate. I inform the audience that this talk isn’t going to be perfect, and say that once I decide that, I can just relax and be present. If I expected to give a perfect talk, I might be nervous, and I certainly would enjoy the experience less. Get the analogy?
I also discuss how sex itself has no meaning, and so people construct its meanings for themselves. And in Japan (I assume) as everywhere else, people construct meanings that create pressure, constrict the experience, and define things arbitrarily. I give a few common examples (if he doesn’t get erect, he doesn’t love me; if I let him go down on me, I have to go down on him to be “fair;” a real woman climaxes from intercourse; etc.), which the audience recognizes. I casually throw in a few more myths about sex, layering the depth of the presentation.
Ninety minutes later, people are still attentive, and still smiling or nodding or obviously thinking. Virtually no one is looking at a mobile phone, and two dozen people are taking notes. We come to a close, get way more than polite applause, and I call for a short break. Upon resuming, I thank Daisuke publicly, and we have a lively question period.
When it’s over, drinks are poured, mobile phones are checked, books are purchased, and people crowd around wanting autographs, photographs, or advice. One young couple sort of surrounds me, clearly concerned about something. The guy asks in perfect English, “We have a problem. She’s obsessed with condoms and I don’t want to use them. What should we do?”
Obsessed? Yes (I am not making this up), she has decorated her apartment with them, hundreds of them, everywhere. Why? “Because they’re so colorful and they help so many people,” she says through his translation (did I mention I’m not making this up?). And why won’t he use them? “Because sex should be done naked.”
Now I’ve heard a lot of reasons for not using condoms, but this one’s a bit unusual—a philosophical- ontological objection. So I say to the guy, “I see we both wear beards. I guess you don’t have sex naked, since you wear a beard.” No, he says, a beard doesn’t count because it’s natural, it’s part of who he is. He needs for sex to be done naked. OK, “What about the winter time—what if your feet or her feet are cold, do you have sex wearing socks?” No, he says, feeling their bodies in their various states of warmth and coldness is part of intimacy. I’m not sure she agrees with this (she’s wearing a shawl while I’m sweating in the crowded club), but I can see that our young philosopher is no amateur.
So I ask, “Don’t you ever have sex under a blanket?” He says Gee Doc, you’re really focused on this naked thing. I point out that much of my talk has just been about the constructed nature of sexuality; how ideas about “normal sex,” “sexy,” “undignified positions,” “men,” etc. are a big part of how people complicate sex and undermine their enjoyment. I note that his “naked” is just another arbitrary construction, which he’s carefully designed to rule out condom use.
He measures me carefully, then breaks into a big smile. “Well, you got me Doc,” he says. “I use that “naked” thing mostly as a justification. I hate how sex feels with condoms, but that wasn’t getting me anywhere. The “naked” thing sounded much better. You busted me, Doc.”
And with that he shook my hand, she thanked me, and they left. The irony of him displaying the very constructed nature of sexuality that I had spent the evening discussing (including how people create unnecessary struggles during this process) is, apparently, completely lost on him.
Can someone get me a drink please?