American Sex in the 21st Century

Watching a television documentary. Making someone’s research into entertainment.

They say since Kinsey’s landmark reports were over 50 years ago. Would they call them seminal reports. (Computer thesaurus didn’t offer that word.) She had a client who was chastised for using it in a meeting. When he told the story, she was taken aback at first: how could anyone object to using the Seminole Nation as a metaphor for importance? But would it fit a study of sex? Maybe Kinsey’s reports were not just seminal but orgasmic. Someone even believes Kinsey’s studies “helped usher in the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s.” Although some people didn’t get the invitation, weren’t ushered. That can be her name: Some People. Shortened sometimes to Someone.

Kinsey endeavored to replace the long-standing Puritan orthodoxy of what constitutes normal (or the more renowned category of abnormal) in sexual behavior with a scientific one: “Nearly all the so-called sexual perversions fall within the range of biological normality.” Some people still fall outside the parameters. Usually this deviation is blamed on the far reach of that old societal orthodoxy, still making a stand in cultural politics and even public policy in 2008. Some of us — liberals, Democrats, from a non-religious upbringing — still don’t fit that explanation either. We just don’t understand. Someone here is trying to figure it out.

On Kinsey: “His great accomplishment was to take his pain and suffering and use it to transform himself into an instrument of social reform, a secular evangelist who proclaimed a new sensibility about human sexuality.” She would name herself Kinsey if she thought she could even get close to that template. Or if her “pain and suffering” were anything more than selfish whining. What’s the affliction in having food, clothes, housing, a car, fulfilling work and absorbing hobbies?

Kinsey’s second book, like the first, two years earlier, was a media sensation, and with a savage counter-offensive. A congressional investigation of the grants funding his research. And we think this tea party bullshit is new? Keep people from knowing anything and they won’t do anything, is that the theory? Well, some people have been reading all of it — the stuff that came after Kinsey’s 800-page tome — including The Happy Hooker (didn’t she do a study too?) — and still didn’t do …much. Didn’t, or couldn’t? Tried, or stopped trying? Someone has to accept culpability. And no, you shouldn’t be thinking about him when you say that. Why are you thinking about him?

Back to TV documentary. What she learned: Everybody loves sex. Everybody is shedding their workday facades and frolicking in their bare-animal selves, enjoying the hell out of the primal joy of visceral ecstasy. Passing it back and forth. Everybody is having (giving and getting) it orally. With orgasms. Of course they are. Everyone is (are) having orgasms. In books, magazines, movies, television dramas, blog postings, Facebook and Twitter updates. And getting there by themselves if no one else is around. Her bedside drawer of books had already told her she was supposed to. Or if she hadn’t learned how by herself, very young, maybe she wouldn’t. Ever. Maybe that would explain why she hadn’t, ever.

Watching television, from where she runs her one-employee (herself) business scheduling in-home dog-training sessions. A dog has always been serene, at rest on the floor, during this, her other “research.”

Every health or medical or psychological or sex-advice site flickering in the ether explained the causes of “anorgasmia.” Not very many (as in none) of them included a person, as in a case study or volunteer; nothing in first-person or even as an example, of a person who appeared, otherwise, in physical health and built normally and psychologically/emotionally okay — but who’d never had one. Everyone is spraying their intimacies on this cybernetic wall expecting everyone else to care, to tag them as the cool girl, the successful girl, the it-girl. But no one revealing (or bragging) that they never come. That they never have.

More than a few times she turned (back) to her drawer full of books. From where she’d researched during years before her first computer. Books about sexual fantasies and the conclusions drawn by the psychologist (or sexologist) who compiled them. It takes oral stimulation, many proclaimed. None of the only three men she’d ever had sexual activity with had offered or tried to go down on her.(Yes, she’d given blow jobs. No, she hadn’t asked them to reciprocate, who did that?)

“In college,” one anonymous subject wrote on her survey form for the psychologist-author, “there was this girl in my dorm that hadn’t, so we locked her in her room with a vibrator and told her she couldn’t come out until she had one.”

What would they have done if she was still in there three days later? Or three weeks? Or she might have faked it so she could go get something to eat (and them off her back).

Nevertheless, that particular session of research managed to get her into the car, to shop for a vibrator.

So she was in her room with the vibrator, but not locked inside, and no one outside the door saying she couldn’t come out until she completed the task. The buzzing was loud. The vibrator pale beige, hard plastic. She held it against where she knew she was supposed to, and it felt good, it did. But it didn’t go anywhere from there. It sounded like she was drilling something. And she was doing it to herself. She couldn’t even begin to imagine the buzzing plastic phallus was part of a phantom person who loved her.

The current dog slept beside the bed. Slept undaunted by the mechanical drone. It sounded a little like grooming clippers, but dogs were situational, so, since this moment had none of the other accouterments of a grooming session, no fear response.


Cris Mazza’s latest book is Charlatan: New and Selected Stories. Mazza has seventeen other titles of fiction and literary nonfiction including her last book, Something Wrong With Her, a real-time memoir; her first novel How to Leave a Country, which won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction; and the critically acclaimed Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? She is a native of Southern California and is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.