August 13, 2010

Sex! Sex! Sex!

Now that I have your attention… But seriously, this post is about sex. More specifically, sexual positions, which isn't always the same thing. Our culture—our pop culture, more specifically—is suffused with images and intimations of sex, but most of it seems curiously divorced from the sex act itself, with its inevitable fumbling and gracelessness. Sex isn't always sexy. (I'm reminded of the words of a pornography-averse friend who shall go unnamed: "Why in God's name would I want to watch other people have sex?")

So let's talk sexual positions. And let's talk about one of the seminal (heh) trivia books of all time, 1977's The Book of Lists.
I discovered this amazing little volume in the back of my parents' bookshelf at the age of 15, and its clever distillation of information and obscurities rocked my trivial world. (Though I've since discovered some problems with its credibility—it uncritically reports a number of "facts" that are highly unquestionable, including the unkillable rumor that Anne Boleyn, second of Henry VIII's wives, had 11 fingers, three breasts, and, perhaps, the ability to hammer nails into her nostrils.)

But the single greatest list was on pages 315–16: "6 Positions for Sexual Intercourse—In Order of Preference." Sure, it was taken from the famous Kinsey Reports, specifically the surveys of married women, so the stats were at least 25 years old and collected by a weirdo. Some of the commentary is frustratingly vague, but the details here were a major psychosexual revelation for me and the dozens of classmates I passed this around to. Let's jump right in.

We're told that one sexual expert estimates 4 million possible positions for intercourse between men and women (presumably one man and one woman). The Kama Sutra lists many of these, in many imaginative ways and under many fanciful names, such as "Two Dragons Exhausted by Battle." In other words, odds are your sex life is fucking boring.

And the rankings:
1. Man on top: In Kinsey's survey, 100% of married women reported this as their favorite position (and the only one used by 9%). Until I was about 13, I don't think I could even conceive of any other position, so this pretty much makes sense. But there's nothing inherently superior about it—as its nickname, "the missionary position," suggests, it's not very popular among non-Western cultures. What this blurb ignores is that even within the broad rubric of "man on top," there can be a lot of variation—there are a number of different things you can do with the lady's legs, for example. Also, I have no evidence, but I like to think the position has decreased somewhat in its ubiquity since the 1950s, as American women have generally become freer in expressing their sexuality, and thus probably not as many feel like it's their wifely duty to lie perfectly still and just take it. The book says chances of man-on-top conception are good, which tons of unfortunate teenagers have discovered over the years.
2. Woman on top: Popular among 45% of married women. It says that idiots don't like this position, since it seems to make the woman more masculine and the man more feminine, which is only slightly less stupid than the myth that going down on a woman makes a man gay. This one was really big among ancient cultures, judging by surviving works of art. It says it's good for women in that the man can caress her, and she's got a better chance of reaching orgasm, but it may be "too acrobatic for some women," which relies on an often broad definition of acrobatic. Chances of conception are "not good," perhaps because of gravity.
3. Side by side: Popular among 31% of women. "Good for tired or convalescent people, and premature ejaculators, as well as pregnant women." On the downside, "Doesn't allow for easy entry." As I say, sex isn't always sexy. (Chances of conception: "OK.")
4. "Rear entrance (or 'dog fashion')": That's how they term it. Frequently used by 15% of married women in the survey, though keep in mind this was in the early '50s, before watching TV became the constant leisure activity. This is the No. 1 position among our primate brothers, which leads some Americans to reject it as too animalistic and lacking in intimacy (though I bet plenty of other people love it for the same reason). Some nice notes about how it's "good for males with small penises, women with large vaginas," and that it's "exciting for men who are turned on by women's buttocks." Unfortunately, the "penis tends to fall out." Good chance of conception, though, despite the fact that Snoop Dogg has only three kids.
5. Sitting: Popular among 9% of married women. Learned by a lot of people while making out in cars, it says. (It puts "making out" in quotes.) Good one for intimacy, and apparently helps the man hold off orgasm. It also says it's helpful for pregnant women, though that can't possibly be the case if you're sitting in the backseat of a car, unless it's a limousine, and I don't think too many pregnant women fuck in limousines. The position can be tiring, and penetration is too deep to make for good odds of conception.

6. Standing: Used by 4% of women. The commentary here seems to think this is an especially "exciting" position, using the word twice (1) "Exciting, can flow from dancing, taking a shower." (2) "Has echoes of 'quickie' against alley wall with prostitute, therefore exciting." To each his/her own.


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