02.27.17 | Masters and Johnson Revisited

We last encountered the subject of sex a mere decade ago at our book club (double) session where we discussed Jared Diamond's "Why Is Sex Fun?" and pondered the following:  

The book title begs the question. Sex. Is it? Fun? It certainly runs the cosmic gamut from the most sublime to the punchline of a dirty joke. 

Is the subject simply the sum of all those things, or even greater than the sum: a gestalt of every fantasy, release, anticipation, pursuit, seduction, rejection, reptilian urge, and candlelight cliche; the sum of all fears animating every Portnoy complaint and Woody Allen anxiety; from bell-ringing ecstasy to the ultimate source of profound loneliness; a cruel biological trick to propagate the species; the very concept of oneness yet sometimes the mere substitute for talk; faded memories of past loves, both requited and unrequited? All that, is all that, rolled into the word "fun?"

(Attached below at the bottom, under "Member Monday:Sex" (Pdf), is the full introduction to that book club discussion, including the Diamond book along with a take on Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel "Lolita").

We are honored to have some adult supervision in this next Member Monday (2/27) session with the guidance of Marty Kaegel. Of course, we already know her as this wonderful, outgoing, active, caring, politically-connected gem of a club member. But there is another side to Marty.

Underneath the unassuming exterior you see today is the wild child of the sexual revolution. Or, perhaps more accurately, a woman who had a front-row seat to the great awakening of the 60s. Consider this:

Marty's early career was centered around Nursing (B.S.) specializing in Human Sexuality (M.A.). She studied and practiced her profession in St. Louis. That's not just an idle fact -- that happens to be home of the Masters and Johnson Institute from where she completed her training as a Healthcare Professional. Those studies (along with courses at The Kinsey Institute) led to her National Certification as a Sex Educator and Sex Counselor and a teaching career at St. Louis University School of Nurse Midwifery, Webster University, Mary Institute, Planned Parenthood plus extensive GYN clinical practice throughout the St. Louis area.

But, circling back to Masters and Johnson, everyone of a certain age is familiar with their seminal 1966 work, Human Sexual Response (for those unfamiliar with the work of Dr. Masters, see link to his 2001 obituary http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/19/us/william-h-masters-a-pioneer-in-studying-and-demystifying-sex-dies-at-85.html). Well, Marty was his GYN patient. Talk about street cred.

May we all benefit from Marty's expertise as we embark upon this sometimes-delicate topic.

Why Is Sex Fun?, Jared Diamond

The book title begs the question. Sex. Is it? Fun? It certainly runs the cosmic gamut from the most sublime to the punchline of a dirty joke. 

Is the subject simply the sum of all those things, or even greater than the sum: a gestalt of every fantasy, release, anticipation, pursuit, seduction, rejection, reptilian urge, and candlelight cliche; the sum of all fears animating every Portnoy complaint and Woody Allen anxiety; from bell-ringing ecstasy to the ultimate source of profound loneliness; a cruel biological trick to propagate the species; the very concept of oneness yet sometimes the mere substitute for talk; faded memories of past loves, both requited and unrequited? All that, is all that, rolled into the word "fun?"

Two questions here: is the topic worthy of discussion in the "safe" CC environment; and, what book(s) do you have to supplement Diamond's.

As to the first, the question is whether the subject even lends itself to analysis. Maybe it's like humor and how its essence is lost if one has to explain the joke. In addition, there may also be a kind of Heisenberg uncertainty principle at work here in that the very act of trying to measure it may change that which is being measured.

The limitation of the Diamond book, despite the promise implicit in the title, is that his approach is somewhat utilitarian.  Human sexuality is described mostly with reference to the strategies and coping mechanisms found over the millennia in the rest of the animal kingdom. Sex as game theory.

It works pretty well as a start, as a base for discussion, especially applied to the macro level, with the emphasis on the propagation of the species.  We learn, for instance, the reason the woman offers ongoing sex is to keep the man around to protect the brood and change the oil. But perhaps the notion of animal wisdom hard wired human sexuality goes too far.

Analysis at times threatens to morph into a Gary Larson cartoon world: one sees off-the-leash humans chasing, circling and sniffing each other as they romp in the park. (Hmmm . . now that would make for a special CC outing,) Not everything in this area (I believe) can be answered in atavistic terms.

What, for instance, compels the middle-age man with a bad comb-over to hit on the Hotties? We read lots about the male seed-spreading compulsion while Clinton was in heat but the explanation seems woefully inadequate.

Fortunately we have past studies from which we can draw. Remember Philip Roth’s novel Everyman? Remember Everyman’s low-level, unconsummated pass at the young girl on the boardwalk? What was that about? Sounds like a microcosm of the mosh pit called middle-age dating. Participants are no longer breeders, having been relegated by nature or otherwise to become mere sports models.

No. there has to be something else going on here. How would hard-wired evolutionary procreation account for homosexuality, for instance?

That something else may be the exact same element we've contemplated in previous sessions: life being the mosaic of layered illusions and concepts accumulated over a lifetime. Sixty-something-year-old Everyman tapped into some formative picture, say a grainy 16 mm movie he watched as a horny adolescent, saw the girl and said to himself, "You da man!" (Just like he saw himself as a kid riding the waves at the Jersey shore.) The image then devolved into some sort of a reptilian perversion of  Descartes: I screw; therefor, I am.

Anyway, just a theory. Would like any book suggestions to support or refute.

The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine

The recent report (9/7) from the Health and Spirit Group presents a wonderful opportunity. Let's take the cited reference -- The Female Brain -- and add it to the Jared Diamond book for an expanded two-month session. There would also be a third work, introduced below, to help us triangulate on the fascinating but elusive topic of sex, intimacy, and gender differences.

The Diamond book addresses the subject from the perspective of the need for species propagation. That's interesting but at times the book reads like one of those old National Geographic articles with pictures of the bare-breasted African women. It didn't really get into the how it happens -- show me the wiring diagram.

That's the province of neuroscience (so far as it goes) which, in fact, seems to be the key to many of our other past subjects: religion; evil; (attitude toward) death. Much in life may be little more than a neural construct. Perhaps all reality is, in a sense, virtual.

Virtual or not, many of us have seen how the Shakespearean power of love, passion, and the sexual imperative can go well beyond the cute and the cuddly, transcend rationality, and oftentimes suck all the oxygen out of the room.

That's the subject of the third book, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Some of you may recall this as a "dirty" book.  It's not, in the usual sense. There aren't any steamy sex scenes or even any four-letter words.  In fact, it's easy to miss the actual consummation (accomplished in a series of three times, no less) of the relationship between middle-aged Humbert Humbert and twelve-year-old (but precocious) Lolita.

Following Humbert's obsession with his "nymphet" is a little like driving by a car wreck -- you want to avert the gaze but something keeps drawing you back to sneak a peek. What makes this novel so compelling is the unflinching perspective of Humbert, this testosterone-marinated Female Brain (as all males apparently are).

What neural wiring could account for the "bubble of hot poison in your loins" that results in a "love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives?" One reaches for clues from his formative years -- maybe something up with mom; details of his early formative sexual experiences -- but nothing Freudian jumped out for me.

There's plenty of Freudian chit-chat, however, as Humbert's hyper-active Id continually ricochets off the Super-Ego. Humbert regularly beseeches the reader, as his "judge and jury," to understand, even if not to fully accept, that fire in his loins.

What jumped out for me was the absolute bleakness of Humbert's world outside this single blinding passion. Take Lolita out of that lengthy, passion-laced road trip and the rest of the world sounds like a description of the surface of the moon. But maybe that's the point -- this one flower colored the universe. But, seen another way, even an oil slick is iridescent when the light strikes it right.

What happens when the light shifts?

Having earlier poked fun at the National Geographic, I'd like now to reference its February 2006 cover story: Love -- The Chemical Reaction. This was a compelling read at least to this lay person interested in the how and why of an otherwise mysterious phenomenon.

The chemical profile registered in the brain of hot love is similar to that of one suffering an obsessive-compulsive disorder, giving special meaning to "madly in love." Particularly interesting is the post-chemical stage, when the dopamine then somehow morphs into the dope-of-mine. The answer, it turns out, is the big "O" -- no, not that -- but rather Oxytocin, the attachment chemical.

Now we're getting somewhere.

Steve SmithComment