While visiting my parents, I stopped at a drugstore. The free publication rack at the front of the store near the exit featured a local magazine called Family Health & Wellness. This is the sort of publication that covers health topics such as choosing the right optometrist, coping with menopause, and the importance of eating dinner together as a family. People read the well-meaning advice, feel better about themselves, and patronize the magazine's sponsors. The status quo is maintained.
The headline "10 Reasons to Have More Sex" caught my eye. And why wouldn't it? It was placed conspicuously on the cover, in glaring yellow type. People are repressed, especially in the overwhelmingly conservative locale where my parents live. Said people will pick up a free magazine that has the word "sex" on the cover. Though I didn't expect to read anything particularly salacious, or for that matter anything I didn't already know, I nonetheless took a copy. I could admit to being skeptical before I read the article, or for that matter before I even opened the magazine. What sort of cutting-edge sexual advice could I possibly glean from a free magazine I got in one of the most conservative parts of California?
The first thought that ran through my head upon seeing the headline was, Why do people need to be given reasons to have more sex? I can think of numerous reasons why more sex is a good thing, though the physical enjoyment I take from sex itself will always trump any others. Fucking for cash? Hey, that's great. I'd love to try that. Fucking to save the world, or to end war or global famine? Talk about noble, selfless reasons! Fucking to spite someone else? Hate to admit it, but I've done that. More than these or any other conceivable reasons, though, I love sex because it's fun. Even were that the only reason to fuck, it would be enough.
The article opened on a two-page spread showing a middle-aged couple about to get busy: Bland, white-collar husband runs his hand through the hair of his bourgeois forty-something wife as she tugs on his loosened necktie. Their faces are close, though not close enough to kiss. Nothing against the two models who presumably met the day they posed for this photo, but it features all the romance and eroticism you'd expect from a Viagra commercial. The caption in the corner of the photo promises "10 Mind-Blowing Reasons to Make More Love." They are obviously talking about sex in the context of a stable, committed relationship. That's understandable; a publication that focuses on health and wellness (family health and wellness, for that matter) is probably not the place to seek advice on late-night bar hookups.
The introduction makes evident the tone of the article:
It's been a long day and you're wiped out. Your boss was breathing down your neck all day, the kids have a science project due tomorrow, the dinner dishes are piled in the sink, and you just want a minute to relax. The obligations of everyday life are wearing you down, and nothing sounds better than an hour on the sofa with your favorite television program. But the feel of your significant other's hands caressing the back of your neck [suggests] he or she has other, more intimate, activities in mind. Before you mutter an unenthused, "Not tonight, honey," we have 10 reasons you should turn off the TV and turn down the lights for a little "somethin', somethin'."
This, in and of itself, is the crux of the problem. People don't prioritize sex. They're too tired or stressed out. They're stretched too thin. Television is the higher priority for much of society. Heaven forbid we miss American Idol because we're engaging in recreational, non-procreative sex. Yes, we all have DVRs and can watch it anytime we like, but if we don't watch it tonight someone on Facebook might spoil who was eliminated, and that would ruin the whole season.
I'm not going to bother listing the ten reasons to have more sex according to the article. Suffice it to say that the reasons involve things like exercise ("it's like a workout...in bed"), boosting one's self-esteem, and general health concerns. Some of the advice is fairly common-sense: Reason #4 is that during sex endorphins are released, which create euphoric feelings, making it a natural anti-depressant. Reason #7 is that sex is an investment in one's relationship, and that by having sex a couple reconnects physically, and strengthens their bond. Reason #9 is that regular sex can lead to greater or more visible affection between partners, demonstrating to the kids that romantic love is healthy.
Not all the advice was necessarily correct. One of the reasons listed is that frequent sexual intercourse reduces the risk of heart disease. While this is technically accurate, the article states that it's not solely sexual activity but rather any increased physical activity that curtails such ailments. Additionally, the article cites studies that claim that regular orgasms (two or more per week) lead to increased prostate health. The article then acknowledges that the studies' findings are actually inconclusive but recommends more frequent orgasms just in case.
Look, I'm not one to complain about non-harmful sex advice. Whatever reasons people want to use to justify frequent sex, I'm all for it. The way I see it, if more people were not only having regular sex but actually enjoying it and not feeling guilty about it, the world would be a better place. People in general would be happier, there would be less war - or none at all! - road rage would be a thing of the past, and you'd have far fewer overcompensating dickheads making public policy that affects the lives of the disenfranchised.
The biggest problem I have with the article, though, is that "It feels great!" is the tenth and final reason. It's not the first reason. It's not even the ninth reason. It's the last one! The article treats it like an afterthought, stating incidentally that "sex is a normal part of being a healthy person, both emotionally and physically." And while this is undoubtedly true, that should have boosted it a lot higher than #10.
Why does "It feels great!" have to come last, after all the bullshit cajoling of the previous nine reasons? Everyone reading the article is aware that sex feels good. In fact, it's probably the first thing that most people think when they hear the word "sex", if their minds aren't clouded by a lifetime of societally-imposed shame and guilt. Trust me, no thirteen-year-old in the midst of puberty wants to have sex so that he or she can enjoy a life free of atherosclerosis and hypertension.
Do we really have to tell people to fuck their spouses so they won't die of cardiovascular illness at age fifty? Are we really telling people to fuck their spouses so they will be confident enough to excel at work and be promoted? Sure, these are semi-valid reasons to have sex. But I've got to think that if this manner of persuasion needs to be employed, the recipient isn't really into it in the first place.
I'm all for positive representation of non-procreative sex in the media, especially in the religious-conservative community where I found the magazine. But while articles like these are promising, we have clearly not moved past all of our hangups. Why can't we simply acknowledge that sex is fun and that it feels great? Why must we placate the masses by rationalizing that sex is about anything other than physical and emotional pleasure? Why must we first tell them that it'll fix what's wrong with their marriage, get them into shape, and facilitate good health before lowering the boom?
Ultimately my disappointment is not in the article, its author, or the publication itself. My disappointment is, as always, in the society that has made tiptoeing around the issue of sexual pleasure somehow necessary.