Sex and RevolutionPosted: April 10, 2011
Oh good, I was hoping the title would get your attention. If you have been following along, you now know about the Briefcase Test, a handy way to measure the feasibility—and sanity—of any religious or social group you may come into contact with. But that is not the only tool you will need in order to stay sane here in California.
The story I am about to relate happened a few years ago in the midst of my divorce. Divorce is a process I recommend highly to those who wish for something even more painful and longer lasting than childbirth. It is an excellent way to change your life completely—provided, of course, that you survive it. And some of the biggest challenges you must survive during a divorce are those moments when what had been a jumble of half-conscious thoughts and suspicions suddenly comes together in your mind to form a shocking new picture of reality. The force of truth in those moments can lay you flat.
In my case, I had been through a series of betrayals: my husband cheated on me, then admitted it, then denied it, then refused to stop it, then promised he would stop, then broke his promises. All garden-variety stuff. By the time this incident took place I had been living on my own for over a year, while he was engaged to the woman he still claimed he hadn’t been having an affair with. Meanwhile, our teenage daughter traveled back and forth between the two houses each week and pretended everything was okay.
While I was glad to be rid of him by then, I still couldn’t quite figure out what had happened. Each incident had been horrible, but taken together they didn’t add up to anything I could recognize from the normal psychology of relationships. There must be something missing, some larger truth lying in the rubble of our long marriage that would help me understand what had gone wrong. That day, the truth finally arrived for me, and now I will share it with you: never trust anyone who believes that sex is a superpower.
Sure, there are religious fanatics that believe sex is evil and that celibacy is the only way to get to heaven—why would you even attend a spaghetti dinner with these people? No, what I am talking about are those who think the opposite: that sex is so sacred it transcends the actual people involved. Like a cult unto themselves, these folks believe that having sex with each other is so cosmic and powerful that it heals the planet.
There are a lot of planet-healing, bed-hopping believers around here, where the local wines have clouded people’s minds even more than the great marijuana everyone grows in their bathrooms. The sales pitch is pretty effective too, because who wouldn’t want to have better sex on a regular basis, especially if it meant you didn’t have to donate to Save the Whales anymore? Just shtup your partner under a Greenpeace banner, and bam! It’s like having sex with a rewards card.
But I digress. That day, I drove into town to drop off my 14-year-old daughter at her father’s house. After helping her bring her things inside, I left the house through the open garage and came upon—almost bumped into—an enormous…sculpture.
It was a three-dimensional thing, its heavy wire frame mounted on a wooden base and standing about eight feet tall. The frame was maybe three feet in diameter around the middle, narrowing to a point at the top and bottom, and was wrapped in deep magenta crushed velvet.
I was looking at it from the back, and even from that angle I started to have a bad feeling about it. Slowly I circled to the front of the structure, fearing the worst. Sure enough, the front had a long vertical slit down the middle, almost from top to bottom but not quite, and it was lined in purple velveteen and bordered with a purple feather boa. Yes, a purple feather boa. At the top of the slit was a white flower made of fabric petals, decorated with rhinestones or beads or something—I seem to have blocked out the details.
I stared at it as the realization sank in: I have just dropped off my daughter at a house with a giant plush vagina in the garage. What possible explanation could there be for its presence here? Was it a prop for a Code Pink action? Perhaps a piece of scenery from a play—The Little Shop of Horrors (feed me! feed me!), or a remake of The Velveteen Rabbit?
But I knew it was none of these things. It was, in fact, made by people I knew as part of a ritual Goddessy-womanly-sacredy-sexuality altar. And as surely as I knew that its presence was an embarrassment to my daughter and her friends, I also knew that any critical mention of it would lead to the accusation that I was not “sex-positive.”
Now, being sex-positive used to mean you liked having sex. Then it meant you were in favor of people of other persuasions having sex and liking it too. Later, it meant that you knew teenagers were having sex, and thought it was a good idea to give them useful information and condoms. Lots of condoms.
So far so good. But somehow the stakes kept getting raised on what sex-positive was. Were you in favor of people cheating on their wives in order to have wild, climate-changing intercourse? No? Sorry, but that’s not a very sex-positive attitude—not to mention the harm you may be causing to the very survival of life on earth.
What about taking your daughter to a sacred womanly rite in a tent festooned with colorful scarves, with gently undulating women and men in either flowing clothes or nothing at all, dancing around a giant vulva? No? Then apparently you are against healing, dancing, meeting in tents, soft fabrics, and probably womanhood itself.
These are the thoughts that streamed through my stunned mind as I beheld the colossus before me. And yet, it would do no good to question out loud the presence of giant genitalia in my ex’s garage. It would only make him more self-righteously determined to keep it there, and more certain in planetary terms that lying to me had been the right thing to do.
My predicament seemed especially unfair since I had spent the better part of my 20s and 30s coming to terms with sexuality, intimacy and all the rest. By this point, in my mid-40s, I felt like it was time to move on to more pressing matters. Besides, it was my policy to never attend anything where I had to stare into people’s eyes, use words like “lingam,” or pull a Meg Ryan in groups of any size.
Over the years I had adopted an “it’s just not my thing” attitude toward sacred sexuality workshops, which at least kept people from accusing me of oppressing them. But after my close encounter with the Velveteen Vagina I realized that in leaving my crumbling marriage, I had not just broken free from a narcissist, I’d successfully eluded an entire exhibitionist cult. What they were doing wasn’t revolution, it was reality television.
Sex can be empowering, liberating, ecstatic, life-changing. Sex can get you through the greatest traumas of your life. But I am here to tell you, even great sex does not change the world. There is still plenty to be done once we rise from the sheets.