Reflection.

I Have A Vagina and I Have Sex, But Talking About Them Is Considered “Coarse”

“I miss a time when there were powerful imprecations instead of mere obscenity—or at least when sexual innuendo, because it was innuendo, served as a delicious release of tension between our private and public lives.” This is the crux of an argument made by journalist Lee Siegel in this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, in which he argues that the culture has become too coarse. Too many ‘empty’ curse words, too much gratuitous sex, he posits in the piece, titled “America the Vulgar.” I wasn’t inclined to disagree with him, but the deeper I ventured into the article, the more dated and close-minded his reflection began to feel.

It reminded me of a recent experience I had with one of my own (female) relatives, who smugly stated that the “language I used on my blog” (presumably the occasional curse word or the jokey-yet-vivid descriptions of intercourse, or, god forbid, the word vagina) was really unnecessary, exhibited “a lack of self-respect,” and was unusual (which is to say: not common in my age group, a statement which–as I’m sure you know–is totally naive). I racked my brain for moments where my word choice depicted a lack of self-respect, but I came up empty-handed. If anything, I string words together to promote the opposite, for myself and for others. I don’t use curse words or sexual language in a demeaning way, and to assume that a girl can’t say words like “fuck” without doing so is to submit to supremely dated gender stereotypes.

LOVEMORE 18

What I do do is take language and make it my own, just like everybody else does. That freedom to choose, to bluntly talk about my vagina (yes, I have one!) if it serves a point–and, frankly, even if it doesn’t–might make the older generations uncomfortable, or more likely, lead them to consider me as (gasp) unladylike. But this is a freedom to be celebrated, rather than taken for granted or written off as used purely for “shock-value.” After all, women haven’t been talking on their own terms for all that long—and obviously many still aren’t. What I’m not doing is running around referring to my friends as “bitches” or allowing men to call me one–though people seem to be grouping all of these experiences together.

I grew up in this so-called “coarser” environment, where words like “fuck” and “suck” were thrown around much more freely, and became less taboo. I certainly saw more graphic simulated sex scenes before age 12 then my parent’s generation did. Am I arguing that all of this was mentally stimulating and highly beneficial? Absolutely not. But the implication in Siegel’s piece is that there is a grave difference between coarseness of yore and today’s current MO, and I totally disagree. Perhaps the space has widened, feeling less “safe” to the older set. But to assign this vague “power” to the behaviors of the past—he references Elvis’s apparently groundbreaking-in-a-good-way hip gyrations in comparison to Miley’s supposedly useless twerking, for example—is absurd. So, what, Elvis’s dance moves were slightly more subtle, not to mention put forth by a good old male? The shockwaves they sent at the time were surely pretty similar to the silly shockwaves that Miley’s twerking still managed to send across the globe today. But I’d argue that her twerking was actually more powerful in its ability to generate numerous strains of discussion and analysis regarding sex, gender, race, and, just generally, “the way things are.” Do I think this was Miley’s goal? Nah, not exactly—but even if she was just aiming for shock value, she was inherently inspiring people to talk. Do I think Miley’s goal, then, was to demean women, or blacks—to water both groups down to clichés? No, I don’t think she’s smart enough to be that evil.

Where Siegel’s insight really fails, though, is in his claim that the onslaught of coarser culture is unlike the less-prevalent crassness of years past, in that it’s not “a delicious release of tension between our private and public lives.” Indeed, it is exactly that! It’s indicative of an increased willingness to make what’s private public, to not let stilted and outdated social mores suppress human expression and discussion in the manner that they used to. Sure, sexual innuendo is great, as he notes, but to claim it’s totally disappeared from the cultural sphere is ridiculous. And who wants to live in a world where all we see is the innuendo, but no sex? I don’t. And not on the simple basis of pleasure, but because it’s what’s honest.  I find it laughable when adults who fuck on the regular (yeah, I said it) are so put off by sex scenes in movies or film. Sure, some might not be entirely necessary (and, uh, you could say that about virtually every aspect of a film), but a lot of them are—many of them are vital to the story, advancing the plot in a way that only sex can.

Being too sheltered has its setbacks, and belittles the lives we truly lead. It drapes certain facets of existence in shame, making it harder for those growing up in that environment to come into their own—to own themselves (every last inch, which includes their sexual organs). My younger siblings arguably know more about sex, drugs, etc. than I did at their age, and are also arguably more innocent than I was—so the whole corruption-via-culture argument doesn’t entirely hold weight either. If anything I envy them, for when they decide to have sex they’ll actually be somewhat acquainted with what’s supposed to go down, rather than playing some guessing-game. They’ll have grown up in a time where a celebrity’s coarse actions lead to important discussions and help us to see our own hypocrisies. They’ll know that there are much bigger fish to fry than someone casually dropping the “f-bomb.” After all, when you stub your toe and say, “fuck,” is that really any different than saying “oh shucks?” Nope, but I’d bet you get more of a release from saying the former (and this has actually been proven).

So, my dearest adults, do me a favor and get off your high horses for a moment. Indulge me, and yourself, by trying to widen your perspective just a wee little bit. Because I’d bet you’re starting to sound a lot like your parents, and well, what would your younger self have to say about that?

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