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In the now notorious interview with Attitude Magazine, Stephen Fry may or may not have been joking in saying that straight men feel they “disgust” women, who only have sex because that “is a price they are willing to pay for a relationship.” Apparently Fry is on record as also being of the opinion that women don’t really like sex. If they did, they would “go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush.”
The remarks and the uproar they’ve caused make me wonder how much value can be placed on any comment about women’s attitudes toward sex without taking into account the fact that biology is a bitch.
Women are practical. Women count the cost. And with the biological cost so high, it’s not surprising that women’s approach to sex tends to be a little more cautious then men’s. I’d like to mention just two of those biological biggies that should be taken into consideration before attempting to expound upon woman’s attitudes toward sex.
1. Women can, and often do get pregnant, while on the other hand, men do not. It takes a man… well not very long, to father a child, an act he can easily and often repeat at will with very little consequence.
Biology, however, has designed women with a propensity toward pregnancy. That same pesky imperative to pass on the genes to the next generation which may compel a man to scatter his seed far and wide demands that a woman incubate and nest and raise. For women, that involves nine months of carrying a child inside her body at considerable danger to her own health. And that’s just the beginning. According to an article in the Guardian, in the U.K. the cost of raising a child to age 21 is now a staggering ₤200,000! Not wonder most women aren’t anxious to tackle this alone.
2. Size is everything! Men are bigger, and stronger than women. Women are only about half as strong as men in the upper body, and about two-thirds as strong in the lower. Top that off with a good dose of testosterone for added aggression, and it’s not too difficult to see why most women would think twice before joining a shag fest in the shrubs.
For women sex will always be a calculated risk. It sucks, but it’s true. It doesn’t mean we want it any less, or think about it any less often, or need it any less than men do.
The tremendous rise in sales of erotica for women is evidence to just how much women do think about sex. Biology may be a bitch, but erotica is our friend. And, being practical, women are aware that ertocia is a sexual outlet for which there is no risk of pregnancy, no risk of rape or violence, and no ₤200,000, twenty-one year price tag. Women may not be shagging in the shrubbery, but it’s pretty clear, women most definitely DO love sex, and think about it often.
Friday night we celebrated the launch of The Initiation of Ms Holly in style at Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium, Hoxton. The traditional Sh! pink fizz and cupcakes were the grazing fare of the evening, along with a lovely, and appropriately pink and scrummy banana cake that my dear friend, Helen Calaghan, made just for the occasion.
Carl Jung saw symbols and rituals as containers for numinous power. It’s a small step from our need for ritual to the idea of sex as ritual. It infiltrates our myths, it permeates our literature, and it fills our fantasies. Many of the earliest religious rites were fertility rites involving either the sacred prostitute or the sacred couple whose sexual union insured abundant crops, cattle and children for another season. Certainly it’s not hard to see the ritualistic aspect of sex in the natural world. We’ve all watched birds or badgers or elephants going at it on nature programs. There are often complex courtship rituals before actual copulation.
Jung’s definition of ritual as a container for power intrigues me. The power contained in sex is astounding. It’s the power to pass on life. It gives us the ‘little death’ and the out of body experience. It elevates us to the level of heaven while bringing us back to our most primitive animal nature.
Sex is the ultimate mystical experience. The closest we can get to a power beyond ourselves is the power within ourselves. I chose to write The Initiation of Ms Holly as a modern day retelling of the Psyche and Eros story with that in mind. In the Greek myth, Psyche must undergo ritualistic tasks before she is allowed to be with her lover Eros. In achieving these impossible tasks, Psyche so impresses the gods that they not only allow her to be with her lover, but grant her divinity as well.
In Greek mythology sex usually involves one of the gods, most often Zeus, coming down to earth and ‘seducing’ a mortal female, who then gives birth to a child destined to do great things. Sex as the representation of the creative force permeates the Greek myths. It’s there in the Christian myth as well, the child of divinity and humanity destined to save the world. Tragically the power of sex is omitted from the Christian myth.
More than a procreative force, sex is a creative force. Its ritual act allows us contact with the power, contact we can have no other way. But who controls the ritual? We’ve all seen lories transporting heavily reinforced tankers bearing CAUTION: HAZARDOUS MATERIALS signs in big red letters. We know a breech of containment would be disastrous. The purpose of ritual is to keep the power contained so we mortals can interact with it safely. Religions have always tried to control the rituals involving sex, to dictate with whom the act may occur, how, and even when it may take place. Property and inheritance rights depend on controlling women’s sexuality. Even the Facebook practice of unilaterally deleting sex positive pages is an effort to control sexuality.’
These days the ritual containers set in place by religious superstition and prejudice are being breeched. Those vessels can no longer contain and control sexuality in all its vibrant varied guises. The ritual is being taken out of the hands of institutions and reclaimed on a more individual, more personal level. That means the creative force of our sexuality is being freed in ways we could have hardly imagined a few years ago.
Yesterday was Coming Out Day. My Facebook page was full of well wishers and messages reassuring our young people that it gets better. Now more than ever there are safe places to learn about, understand and explore all aspects of our sexuality. And we are much less likely to settle for some ‘authority figure’ telling us what is sexually acceptable. Taking back the power is never easy. The journey is a long one, and we’re not there yet, but I’m delighted to say, I see reason to hope.