March14,2012

Are We All Sex Addicts Now?

When I was growing up there were two women I thought were more beautiful than any others: Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch. (Well, three if you count my brief affair with Linda Evangelista). I loved old photos of Welch so much I told my mom I wanted to be white. To that she responded, “well, baby, why don’t you pray about it and it will happen.” After praying for whiteness for a few days, I finally gave up on that and satisfied myself by putting a towel over my head to pretend I at least had white girl hair.

I’m fully in love with being black now, but my admiration of Welch’s beauty remains. Although I admit that, up until a few years ago I didn’t know much about the woman who is known for the one photo in the leopard print body suit that sent me over the moon as a kid. A couple days ago I ran across an interview she gave Men’s Health and I thought she said some really interesting things about how explicit our culture has become when it comes to sex:

Raquel Welch: (Laughs.) You’re silly. The guy who did that, Maurice Binder, he also did the title sequence for Barbarella, where Jane Fonda’s floating and taking off her spacesuit. And he did a few of the James Bond title sequences.

MH: With the gun barrel?

Raquel Welch: Yeah, and the women in silhouettes. I think he understood what was sexy and what wasn’t. He knew how to be sexy without being profane about it, and without being too graphic. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand it at the time. When we were shooting that opening moment in Fathom, it seemed silly to me. They had to explain it to me, and even then I was like, “Okay, fine, whatever you think.”

MH: Why aren’t more films like that anymore? Are modern audiences just not smart enough to pick up on some well-placed penis symbolism?

Raquel Welch: (Laughs.) Well, I don’t know about that. But I remember Jimmy Coburn once said to me, “You know what’s the sexiest thing of all? A little mystery.” And he was so right about that. When you put it all out there, there’s nothing left to the imagination. So where am I going to participate? I’ve said this before and I still agree with it, the most erogenous zone is the brain. It’s all happening there. Otherwise, it’s just body parts.

MH: You once said that you think sex is overrated. Could you elaborate?

Raquel Welch: I mean just the sex act itself.

MH: Really? Are you sure you’ve been doing it right?

Raquel Welch: I think we’ve gotten to the point in our culture where we’re all sex addicts, literally. We have equated happiness in life with as many orgasms as you can possibly pack in, regardless of where it is that you deposit your love interest.

MH: Okay, admittedly that doesn’t make sex sound very appealing at all.

Raquel Welch: It’s just dehumanizing. And I have to honestly say, I think this era of porn is at least partially responsible for it. Where is the anticipation and the personalization? It’s all pre-fab now. You have these images coming at you unannounced and unsolicited. It just gets to be so plastic and phony to me. Maybe men respond to that. But is it really better than an experience with a real life girl that he cares about? It’s an exploitation of the poor male’s libidos. Poor babies, they can’t control themselves.

MH: I cannot dispute any of what you’re saying.

Raquel Welch: I just imagine them sitting in front of their computers, completely annihilated. They haven’t done anything, they don’t have a job, they barely have ambition anymore. And it makes for laziness and a not very good sex partner. Do they know how to negotiate something that isn’t pre-fab and injected directly into their brain?

MH: You make some good points, but it could also be argued that railing against kids today and their sexual obsessiveness could come across as a little over-the-hill cranky and prudish.

Raquel Welch:I know it does, and I’m fine with that. I don’t care if I’m becoming one of those old fogies who says, “Back in my day we didn’t have to hear about sex all the time.” Can you imagine? My fantasies were all made up on my own. They’re ruining us with all the explanations and the graphicness. Nobody remembers what it’s like to be left to form your own ideas about what’s erotic and sexual. We’re not allowed any individuality. I thought that was the fun of the whole thing. It’s my fantasy. I didn’t pick it off the Internet somewhere. It’s my fantasy.

What Welch said about all the graphic images “coming at you unexpected” really hit home for me. It’s become very hard to filter a lot of that stuff out especially while surfing the web. If a complaint about the amount of “bodies” that seem to be revealed at every turn makes Welch sound like a prude, imagine what it makes me sound like. But I don’t care. I maintain that, while I’m comfortable with nudity–mine and others–sexualized nudity is entirely something different. And I think it’s overdone.

The other day when NY Knicks player JR Smith decided that the world MUST KNOW he is having sex with a desirable mens’ magazine  model, he tweeted a picture of her lying on his bed with her ass completely exposed. What Smith did is no different from what lots of people do on twitter timelines on a daily basis. My first instinct was to shrug it off for that reason. After all, ESPN has a “body” issue in which famous athletes pose naked. And, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue is a blatant attempt by a sports magazine to capitalize on the fact that sex sells.

But when I thought about it, I agreed with the NBA’s decision to fine Smith for the photo. Maybe not the $25,000 the league decided on, but something. A little decorum when you’re representing a company online wouldn’t hurt anything. The problem is Smith didn’t just tweet a photo of an ass, he tweeted us his sexual desires and habits. And I think those things are okay to keep to yourself every once and a while.

And increasingly I’ve found myself wondering why people don’t. I agree with Welch’s point that the porn industry has a lot to do with why our culture has changed. But I don’t blame them–porn folks were doing their thing when publications and web sites and the like decided to steal a piece of their audience. Then somehow down the line we became comfortable with sexualized nudity but not nudity itself. And that’s why there can be bare asses everywhere and it’s okay but an accidental nipple like Janet Jackson is a horrifying experience much less a woman whose blanket happens to slip while she breast feeds.

So no, I don’t think we’re all sex addicts. But I think we’re obsessed with sexual attention. Obsessed with the prospect of having our own little place in the world where people desire our bodies or desire what we have–or who we have– in the bedroom. Selling sex in a graphic manner minus the silhouettes and plus spread legs and thongs can’t go far without people who are willing to share themselves for a piece of the ad money, those who want to have others desire them the way they desire women in magazines/porn, and those who want people to know they can obtain the women they desire.

And that’s where I think Welch has it right about everyone wanting to be told what’s okay to fantasize about. You can’t impress others if there’s more than one standard. Everyone has to be on the same page about what’s sexy.

That includes what’s prudish and what makes one a freak. Before we became obsessed with the attention and therefore the meaning of sex people privately decided what was “normal” outside of whatever religious boundaries they were beholden to. Now porn and mens’ magazines are the barometer for everything from how people moan during sex to how much hair they leave on their vaginas. And although the media has always set the trend for what’s in as far as female bodies are concerned, that trend is fiercer and includes less realistic bodies than ever  (since most of those bodies have been put together by Mr. 90210!).

Social conditioning happens in every facet of our lives but right now, in our bedrooms, the social conditioning gear shift is in over drive. And that’s the one place I’d like to be left to my own devices.

 

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