What an absolutely awful time for sex

PHido PHreaks PResent:
The National Standard
by Robert McKay
typed in  by Thomas Covenant
from CINCINNATI Magazine, September '87

   What an absolutely awful time for sex. I mean in general, not this instant.
And I'm not referring only to that silly, vastly overpublicized "I Want Your
Sex" song, banned by so many radio stations. No, it's much more than that. Sex,
whose biggest problem used to be a headache, has become one. And in a time when
sex could use a good publicist, it gets -- Dr Ruth. With friends like this, who
needs enemies?
   They are out there aplenty and they have lots of ammunition, some of it
deadly. Nearly all the talk about sex is bad. There is talk about providing
sex education in public schools at the fourth grade level. The incidents of
illegitimate births among high school age women continue to rise. Abortion
remains a searing issue. The joke "Love passes, but herpes is forever" has
taken on new meaning with the advent of AIDS.
   Poor, poor sex. And if technology continues to advance, in a few years the
dictionary will list sex as "n. obs. primitive form of coupling and disease
transmission". In this time of "safe sex", we are already at the point where
phrases such as "free love" and "recreational sex" seem to be not distant
memories, but cruel hoaxes or absurd inventions.
   And on top of all this, so to speak, sex has of late been cheapened to the
point where its value as an activity ranks about even with staying out in the
sun too long. It's insane the way people compare everything to sex. For years
now, Arnold Schwarzenegger has made the talk show rounds telling audiences that
pumping iron is better than sex. No wonder it took him so long to find a bride.
   "Hey Arnold, come on you big lug, come to bed!"
   "Not chet. One tousant tree, one tousant vor --"
   Now he's married a Kennedy. Well, a near-Kennedy, a Shriver. She's keeping
her name, isn't even thinking about the hyphen. By the time she got it out, the
show would be half over. And people will ask him: "Arnold, what's it like to
marry a Kennedy?" And he'll think about it and chuckle and say: "It's better
than sex."
   We compare everything to sex. They ask Robin Williams what it's like when
he's on stage, doing his live act, and he says: "When it's working, it's like
sex." Huh? So I guess we have a good picture of Robin in the sack. He's all
over the place -- he's Popeye, he's Garp, he's Mork, he's doing Groucho, then
he's Bette Davis and Jacque Cousteau with the bends. "Hey," his wife says, "hey,
Robin, what about me?" So he does her too. And she's lying there waiting
patiently while he's being shaken by a tremendous multiple simultaneous orgasm
   Athletes started this. Sports scribes hungry for a sensational quote would
come up to the hero of the game, the guy who hit one out or ran one back all
the way and ask him: "What did it feel like?"
   The guy is sitting there naked as a jaybird in front of his locker, drinking
a can of cold beer, and he thinks about the question. What did it feel like?
He's an inarticulate fellow, does his thing in the stadium, on the playing
fields, not in his brain, isn't long on feelings, and he gropes for a suitable
expression to sum this up. It felt pretty damn good and he searches his meagre
experience for something to compare it to. He's not going to compare it to a
Bach cantata, a rose or the sweet scent of a summer's day. There are about three
things he likes to do in life. One of them is illegal. The other is catch fish.
So, draining his beer, scratching himself, and heading for the shower, he picks
the third. Yeah, that's pretty much what it felt like.
   The reporter notes this down, cleans it up when he transfers it to his VDT,
and in the morning all the paper's readers are informed that their hero's
exploits please him more than sex. The readers, most of whom are not heroes and
have practically no sex life to speak of, either, are mightily impressed. Here
is a guy who is hitting the long ball and getting laid on a regular basis. Quite
a fantasy, and very flattering to some jocks.
   Sex has become the national measuring rod, if you'll pardon the expression.
I took my car into the shop to have it worked on the other day. I went in to
pick it up and it wasn't quite ready, so I was standing there shooting the bull
with Ray, the mechanic. I told him I didn't know the first thing about engines
and asked him what it was like to work on one. Ray had his head buried under the
oil pan at the time and his voice floated up to me: "It's a lot like sex."
   "Oh, yeah," I said, not wanting to appear ignorant about that. But all I
could see was him tightening his wife's lugnuts, adjusting her timing, advancing
her spark, seating the piston, checking the belts and lubrication, coaxing out
that final ounce of horsepower, taking her out for a spin. Come on, Ray, give
me a break.
   There isn't a single activity in this country, from skydiving to spelunking,
that isn't being compared -- favorably -- to sex. No wonder the birth rate has
leveled off. People are pursuing more interesting, and less dangerous,
activities. Freud would be stunned.
   I have before me an article which quotes the literary agent Irving "Swifty"
Lazar. He is describing how he once made a sandwich at 2:30 in the morning and
got carried away, added sixty-eight ingredients and wound up with an experience
that was, yep, better than sex. A sandwich? Irving Lazar? The picture of this
guy looks like a publicity still from _The Fly_. This is Gresham's Law of Sex
in operation. Who is this man to judge? How do you think he got his nickname?
Next we'll be hearing from Emmanuel Lewis on the merits of playing jacks.
   It's not a healthy situation. I come home, pick up the paper. We've signed
a new treaty with the Russians. The paper doesnt tell me about the terms of the
pact, but it does tell me what it's like. "It's better than sex." That's a
direct quote from a highly placed source in the State Department. I sit down,
turn on the TV, and the weatherman tells me what it's going to be like outside
tomorrow. You guessed it.
   It's the same with everyone: painters, poets, concert violinists, aerospace
engineers, open-heart surgeons, bird watchers, janitors, teachers -- all of
them compare their work to sex. It's better than sex or it's just like sex.
Advertising picks this up. They've been using gorgeous girls and moody hunks of
beef to sell their products for years. Now they're going to be more direct
about it. Forget the subliminal jazz. Get a famous person like Mary Lou Retton
to endorse something, she'll hold it up and say: "This battery is better than
sex!" We'll have bread that beats sex twelve ways; cars that are more fun to
drive than sex; TV mini-series that are "Better than six nights of sex!"l and
McDonald's will invent the McQuickie.
   Enough is enough. Sex is no cure-all, but it should have a place. I don't
want to hear some guy who is writing computer programs tell me it's like sex.
I don't want to hear the guy who makes donuts tell me it beats sex for passion.
   Maybe all of these people are doing it wrong. That's possible. Let's take
Dan Rather as an example, not to pick on him, but he's known to everyone. Maybe
he's terrible in bed, pathetic, a consistent flop, a two. And when somebody asks
him what it's like to do the evening news and he says, "It's better than sex,"
we have to put it in context. The guy is a horrible lay. He needs a whistle to
get his wife's attention. His wife is sitting right next to him, and she's
smiling and nodding her head in agreement. That's right, he's much better on
the tube than in bed. If we asked him about his morning glass of orange juice,
he say it was better than sex, and he'd be telling the truth.
   So this Sexual Standard -- not to be confused with the old Double Standard --
can be deceiving and would be much better off forgotten. Maybe the sexual
revolution made us too casual. We took sex for granted. It became like a cup of
coffee, a reliable watch, a piece of toast, a song on the radio, mowing the
lawn. We need to recover, not information or even innocence. We need some of the
old reverence.
   I'm waiting for some deep-down man or woman to be asked if what they've done
was better than sex. And they'll laugh, gape at the interviewer like he's
completely out of his gourd and say: "Are you kidding? Hey, it was terrific,
but --" It would be the first step toward putting things back in their rightful
order. Civilization needs the sex drive. How are we going to raise a red
blooded generation of American lads if they think that building sandwiches late
at night with Swifty Lazar is better than sex? Sex should be a real benchmark,
something to shoot at. Put it up there where it belongs, not like some casual,
offhand diversion. If someone asks you, "How was it for you?" -- a question that
has traditionally been difficult to answer -- after a serious sexual encounter,
try, in the interests of our future on this planet, to frame a significant
   "It was like a loop and roll in a P-38."
   "It was like shooting the Colorado rapids in a kayak."
   "It was better than a 700-pound clean-and-jerk."
   "It was better than being the CEO of IBM."
   "It was like playing lead guitar for the Boss."
   "It was better than beating McEnroe in straight sets."
   "It was better than a hostile takeover."
   "It was like a free meal at Chez Louis."
   "It was like discovering Niagara Falls."

   Make up your own peak experience. Let's "save sex".                        []