When I look back on my choice of fiction I have always been turned off from literature that did not leave me a little hot under the collar. However, the sex involved in the books I read tends to be a slow burn of surmounting tension that climaxes just before anyone has to use creative idioms for human sexual anatomy. If anyone has seen the film A Girl with a Pearl Earring you will know that the height of titillation is created with the young lady being asked to repeatedly lick her bottom lip. The novel version of this is equally devoid of sexual acts but the effect is enough to get me breathing heavily. So if I go to the bookstore for my sexual inspiration then surely it is the equivalent to boys watching porn? Or is it?
I can remember clearly when my reading list began taking on the titillating. Judy Blume’s books concerning teenage angst were prolific in my youth. From as early as ten years old, maybe even before, me and my best friend Jen would fiend on the hot topics of periods, boobs, scoliosis and first kisses. We then found out that in existence was a book by Judy involving the protagonist losing her virginity! At twelve this was big bloody news. I remember Jen’s mum bought her a copy and had to sheepishly ask my parents if I could get one. They were happy to oblige but embarrassingly we all went to the book shop together. My pubescent self dying on the inside. Judy Blume had a good reputation of teaching us girls about sensitive topics in an entirely inoffensive way so I think our parents were, if anything, a little relieved at letting us discover the truth about sex in this way.
This was my first exposure to sex in literature and since then I have definitely considered a hot love story integral to a good read.
There are so many authors that do it well. Carefully entwining satisfying narrative with sexual chemistry but never going too far so as to make you burst out at ridiculous scenes of odd sexual acts. Phillipa Gregory is an easy favorite because who doesn’t love a bit of historical accuracy. Fifty Shades of Grey has to be mentioned here because, although I have read it, it is not something that fits into my titillating canon. The protagonist is too naive and too naturally skinny to be anything that I can relate too. The beginning of the book promises some seriously unusual acts of sexual S and M that never materializes. Instead you are left with bland, unrealistic sex scenes that are so graphically described you find yourself blushing at their crassness. It leaves you high and dry in more ways than one. My sophisticated preferences in what inspires sexual desire is definitely reflective of how I learnt about sex. Nonetheless, regardless of how explicit, I turn to books for their sexual content.At the same time as my introduction into the world of sexual desire what were the boys up to? Unashamedly my male friends have always been honest that from a young age they were watching porn and masterbating. I heard a comedian once joke about how proud he was when he had his first successful wank. Successful in that it had the desired effect rather than just leaving him needing to pee. He said he walked proudly into school the next day happy to regale the achievement of his self discovery. More than just discourse, the development of male sexuality seems to have its own culture. I do wonder whether this culture is natural to men, are they just more sexually aware and aggressive? Or, does this culture introduce itself into the lives of young boys whether they have gone looking for it or not?
Pornography is a great pillar of male pubescence. The first time I ever saw porn I was in my late teens and I remember looking over to my boyfriend and thinking “Oh God, is this what you were expecting?!”. It was brutal. Judy Blume had presented us girls with a loving relationship supported by a mature narrative which now seemed quite ridiculous in comparison. It unnerved me to think that my expectations of sex were so different to that of boys. Why are the tools for male sexual development so graphic and devoid of emotion? Do young boys watch porn because they need it to gratify a greater sexual need than women, or are they cultivated that way by exposure?
I wonder if men could be conditioned to view sex differently if they were given the same introduction to sex as me. Would my expectations of sex be different if society had prescribed pornography as my Users Guide?
The brutal content of pornography is one thing, especially if that is what turns you on. However, having it as your expected method of discovery makes me think most men are getting a forced education. It concerns me that pornography encroaches on young mens individual pace of sexual development. I went looking for gratification in my own time and I had a wonderful mentor in literature. Does the pressure from society insist that boys look at pornography before their desires lead them to it?
Sex addiction is caused when an individual is exposed to sex too early. It makes them confuse sex and love. Although sex can be an expression of love, it is not love in itself. This leads to an insatiable appetite for the act because one never gets the love they are looking for. I can’t help but think that there are a minority of boys that will suffer from this because they were exposed to sex before they were ready. It is less of a risk in girls because they do not have such an expectant culture ascribed to their sexuality.
Although girls may get exposure to pornography the pressure of expectation is not there. I remember in the early years of secondary school a tale emerged that an acquaintance of mine had watched porn with some male peers at her house one afternoon. It was a pretty shocking story at the time and goes to show its rarity. I am sure that most men would not look back on their youth and feel they were treated unfairly. It would probably be “unmanly” to admit that their first exposures to sexual content made them feel uncomfortable. Sexual awareness and desire for emotionally devoid encounters has become a trope of masculinity and it is not clear which came first, the pornography or the egg.
Both genders do appear to grow out of this stage of development and make up their own minds on what turns them on, although there are definite remnants of our upbringing in our adult preferences. I am writing my dissertation on titillation in eighteen century fiction. I hear the boys enjoy Nude Vista. I do think it is important to consider what society prescribes to each gender. The separation is still vast and it does make me consider if my own exposure was too naive and reassured with romantic integrity. The timings of exposure to sexual content should be sensitive to individuals. I think it is far healthier to discover sex because you go looking for it, rather than having it thrust in your face.
By Lottie Lee-Gough
Image from Lady Chatterly’s Lover, 1981.