3 min

Shut up & work it

The act is made real in the telling

Credit: Xtra files

A prominent New Yorker critic recently complained about the lack of “gratuitous sex” in contemporary cinema. And if you extend that comment to include TV, he’s bang on the nose.

Look at shows like Ally McBeal or even Queer As Folk. There’s a lot of posing, not much sex.

I don’t know about you but I’ve pretty much had to stop watching The West Wing. That holier-than-thou prig of a president, he doesn’t even have time for his spitfire wife, let alone an intern. It’s enough to make you wish him an inter-office blowjob.

And it’s not just the “straight” shows. I watched a couple of the new Queer As Folk episodes with a mixed group of people, men and women, and when Brian tried to fuck a crippled and traumatized Justin without benefit of foreplay or even a romantic word, as though the kid were some kind of pneumatic doll, I felt obliged to explain to the women in the room that this was not exactly gay sex at its best.

Though of course it is typical of the sex on Queer As Folk where you’re always more conscious of the choreographed limbs – pancaked legs covering more delicate body parts – than you are of any animating desire.

Things are so bad these days that even the homophobes have to make do with a wink and a nod. The night I saw Lord Of The Rings, a couple of straight boys sat in the row in front and kvetched about the affectionate nature of hobbits. Every time the boys with the big ears got googly-eyed, the boys with the limited world view made cracks about homos and queers.

Considering the Sunday school tone of the film, this showed considerable imaginative reach. But I suppose I could understand their frustration. Clearly, they were disappointed. I mean the posters of Hobbit Number One (Elijah Wood) and his blue-eyed innocence were selling a little more than Middle Earth actually delivered.

What we have these days instead of sex is sex talk. A lot of it. Artists are forever deconstructing gender and sexuality, while primetime TV is one long post-coital gab fest. From sex columnists like Josey Vogels to sitcoms like Will And Grace, everybody is talking up, down and around sex.

The problem is that sex is not a verbal experience. No matter what the therapists say about the importance of communication, sex is a resolutely non-verbal act. That’s its great appeal. When it’s going well, when it’s down to the touch and slick and smell of the other person, you don’t have to explain anything. More to the point, it doesn’t translate. It can’t be experienced outside itself.

Years ago, a very academic friend tried to brighten a come-on letter with a tasty bit of French/Freudian theory. By writing this letter, he suggested, he was in fact sublimating some of his desires. “Which raises the question,” he wrote, “of whether I am not fucking you now.”

Well no, honey, actually you’re not.

One night a couple of months ago, one of U8TV’s Lofters (on the Life Network) was interviewing some rock god dripping with post-performance exhaustion.

(Don’t ask me which Lofter or which rocker – the Lofters is not a show which commands commitment.)

But the inarticulate rocker, hyped and out of breath, said by way of explaining his silence that rock was like sex. It was all about shooting your load. It put you in a different place, beyond words.

Beyond words. Exactly. So why has sex become all about words? Blame it on AIDS and the need to “negotiate” or maybe the late, great Michel Foucault who maintained sexuality (if not sex) was all in our heads – society’s head, actually – constructed from our words and labels and power arrangements.

Or maybe it’s just part of the human project to discuss the ineffable ad nauseum. More than one jaded homo has discovered that the best part of tricking out is describing the disaster the day after to a crowd of curious friends. The act is made real in the telling, its meaning increased by narrative structure.

Which is why a show like Sex And The City may be more important that, say, PrideVision’s hardcore erotica.

It’s almost all talk, and loose funny talk at that, but that talk creates a space where people have more room to manoeuvre. By talking about things like threesomes and butt work and sour spunk, the four babes on Sex And The City take the guilt and the guesswork out of sex. They push past private neurosis into the social realm where taboos can be examined and perhaps dissolved.

Even in a world over-run with sex and its simulacrums, we still need post-coital gab fests.

Doing is more fun, but talking creates the space that makes it possible.