Clarice van Houten
What is sex compared to love? Well, um, what is love? What is biology and what is soul-magic? How much is cultural role definition and how much is your true self? What is animal and what is human?
What follows is a lot of rambling through things I’ve learned by reading science blogs and cultural reflections. I’m going to pursue a different distinction: what is the limbic brain, the mammal brain, as compared to the pre-frontal cortex brain? And how are they extended, restricted, distorted and otherwise affected by gender roles.
1. Everything evolves, even the mechanisms of meiosis, the molecular and higher strategies that unwind that double helix, exchange half, and wind it back up again — then gets the new creature gestated, born, and raised until it is able to do that again, creating the next generation.
2. Whatever evolves comes out of what went before and will preserve it all as much as possible, but maybe find new uses.
We probably need to start with pheromones, since that must be how the one-celled creatures recognized each other and merged long enough for the exchange of information. Once the smell was probably a signal for food, but then — when the swallowed one offered a chromosome and escaped — the result was the earliest intercourse, a creative ingestion of a different kind than mitochondria.
Arrangements for protecting eggs and fetuses, and then the hatchlings, have worked out lots of ways. Seahorses with babies in their pouch. Overwhelming the predators with sheer numbers like the baby sea turtles. Keeping the babies in nests and bringing them food. So on. The birds added song to pheromones, sound to smell. We’re told that maiasaurus brought food to her nestlings. Babies learned to attach to the mother, following in single file. Even kittens do that. Mammals stay close to their mother’s milk and thus to mother until they're kicked off the nips. Cuddling and licking are probably the source of a certain kind of mammal lovemaking, but the shrieks and kicks and grips of necks go back to kinky cats as well.
Behaviors persist in adulthood at a basic level with many names: coupling, attachment, devotion, pairing, bonding. It’s about the reassurance and increased safety of being with another. At the basic level it is the pure pleasure of another creature’s temperature, attention, responses, smell and taste, the instant surprise of recognizing their voice when they are unseen, or finding their belongings in a way that triggers one’s knowledge of them. This phenomenon can happen without restrictions on age or gender or even species. A cat can get attached to a race horse or a hen can follow a dog. Humans attach to toys, esp. dolls. Harlow’s monkeys craved hugging a terry cloth surrogate or each other. Eating and sleeping together, traveling together, taking risks together, all trigger attachment.
Maybe pedophilia comes out of what was originally a nurturing impulse, or maybe it comes out of the instinct to kill some other tom’s kittens. Or maybe vulnerability triggers a prey instinct. They are all lodged in the brain somewhere in the basic mammal configuration, before there were foreheads. The nearly grown kittens beside me as I type slide back and forth between grooming each other and throttling each other, kicking each other’s bellies until they cry out.
This stuff is hard to think about in part because we are so conditioned to whatever gender roles the culture has imposed or drawn out of the pre-frontal cortex in the forehead, that we assume pretences are true. Much of sex has nothing to do with fancy stuff. It becomes blunt, blind instinct at a certain point and any sweet young flirt who thinks it can be turned off by saying “no” is deluded. One of the deadliest notions among young people is confusing sex with love, which is an enculturated, gender-assigned set of protocols and meanings.
Sex can easily slip from coitus to competition so that a partner becomes a rival and penetration becomes punishment. What the couple is doing with bodies is almost irrelevant because the real action is in the limbic brain, the autonomic nervous system that without consciousness controls the functions from the waist down. Rage. Devouring. Evacuation.
Exploration reveals that there are many possible delicate small stimulations of the human body. Licking. Blowing. Persuasive sex can employ them all. My computer presents me with ads for the internet Onyx and the Pearl, which add vibration. Interestingly, the new improved versions add voice communication because words are the most erotic techniques there are. Conversation is also called intercourse.
Words can be rape.
Once sex becomes mixed with love which can be perverted to competition, revenge, punishment, desertion, blackmail and a thousand other human interactions -- the psychological element, the cultural violations, the impulse to pleasurable secrecy (just we two) -- come into play so that the whole field of human interaction spins story after story. If one can develop a relationship with a pet, why not with a machine; if with a machine, why not with an alien; if with an imaginary entity, why not with oneself, the most portable lover possible, going even into solitary confinement with you. People who like to flirt with the idea of prison rape entirely neglect the practice of mental self-fucking, which can be a far more tormenting imprisonment.
But mental fantasizing about emotional bonding can be just as dangerous. The child’s surrender of all responsibility to the adult can be an invitation to torture. A failure to pay attention can create bad habits and numbing that will be hard to overcome when it’s time to accept delight. Money and pain get woven into what originally evolved to be a different kind of reward/punishment system, so that it’s out of proportion and gradually destructive if not soon fatal.
One would expect the gullible to be weeded out, but they are useful. The sly ones, the betrayers, are the ones we’d like to eliminate. But in our times it takes strategy and awareness to survive the near-microbial (but not meiosis) bumping up against each other in passing. Maintaining boundaries, tolerating briefness, never achieving the animal comforts of familiarity, recognition, remembrance. We are impoverished in the midst of wealth. Birth rates are falling. Male impotence resists even pills. All the wrong people have babies — “wrong” simply because they cannot nurture to survival.
(Disclaimer: This is written under the influence of the movie called “Black Book” which is not a record of sexual clients, but of betrayal for greed. The context is WWII, which seems to be rekindling.)