Sex life

Pamela Stephenson-Connolly has a new book out, Sex Life. I was talking with her about it last night on Night Waves. (It wasn’t a wholly happy experience…)

Her central message is learn to enjoy the pleasure of sex, and to be safe, sane and consensual. So far, so vanilla. She is also keen on how sex extends throughout life, from childhood (and possibly before) to the grave. That’s a more daring thought.

She doesn’t really push at what sex is for, beyond the successful exchange of satisfying pleasures. Here, Freud is a much more racy read – as I found, flicking through a copy of the Three Essays before the programme. (Well, almost.) He noted that what’s odd about human sexuality is that the instinct to have sex can attach itself to pretty much any object. It might be hair or feet, leather or latex, and not just in foreplay, but as ‘genital replacements’. Other animals apparently don’t do this at all. Animal sex is pretty straightforward.

Why should this be so? In a word, imagination. In sex, we humans imagine who, what, how and why we are. It’s not primarily about procreation. It’s not very natural. It’s about understanding our place in the world – at first, the world of the mother; then other people and things. It’s not so much that anything goes. Rather, anything might be tried, at least imaginatively.

The law of safe, sane and consensual sex therefore, somewhat, misses the point. Sex takes place much more in our heads than between our legs, as has been said, where it is precisely not safe, sane or consensual. That we might chose almost any sexual object mocks all three stipulations. Or to put it the other way round, such stipulations have to be repeatedly asserted to hold people back from pursuing their fantasies. (Which is presumably also why sex therapists like Pamela Stephenson-Connolly have work.)