I watched a couple of straights have sex the other day. It was broad daylight and they were in a car parked behind my apartment. I knew they were having sex because she was bouncing up and down on top of him. Otherwise, you couldn’t tell. They were both fully dressed.
What is it about straights and genital contact? Clearly, the only thing going whumpa-whumpa in this encounter were their genitals. That would seem to leave a lot of flesh untouched and uncherished, which surely defeats the point of the encounter. Or does it?
Maybe this was just an aberrant example of bad public sex and, really, what do I know? I’ve got zero experience with straight sex. Except that this kind of thing seems to go on all the time — at least in the movies.
Consider some of the more egregious examples from the last few years. Josh Hartnett fucks Kirsten Dunst on a well-lit football field in the Virgin Suicides and when they’re through there’s still not an inch of flesh exposed. Not a breast, a butt or even a male nipple. I suppose this is supposed to symbolize the corrosive casualness of the act (as though doing it on a football field were not enough), but it just struck me as, well, not fun.
In the opening episode of Six Feet Under, Nate and Brenda fuck in an airport broom closet. She urges him to fuck her, but doesn’t even touch his ass. She’s got the very cute Peter Krause within arm’s reach and she doesn’t even make a grab for his ass. She holds it through his shirt. It’s like she doesn’t really want him, just his cock.
In the BBC murder mystery A Likeness In Stone a murdered woman’s best friends fuck beside the reservoir where she lies buried. The girl has barely touched the guy’s neck before she’s ripping at his pants and sitting on him. I don’t think he even had time to get a proper erection.
The 17-year-old hero of the 2002 indie hit Igby Goes Down has even less opportunity to enjoy his time in the sack. Kieran Culkin’s Igby is asleep in a trippy New York loft when his godfather’s troubled girlfriend (Amanda Peet) pulls down his pants and sits on him. Again, I’m not quite sure how that works. Surely, he needs at least a moment to achieve arousal? Again, it leaves me wondering, Why do straights always keep their clothes on during sex?
The simplest answer is that it’s an easy end run around the censor, a way of suggesting sex without actually showing too much. As long as the characters keep their clothes on, you don’t have to worry so much about getting an R- or an X-rating.
But it also suggests a certain prissy, cold-blooded approach to sex, an approach that values efficiency above enjoyment. Watching some of these scenes you begin to realize why straights had to invent the concept of foreplay. It was the only way to convince some people that there was more to sex than an efficient orgasm.
The best thing you can say about all these encounters, after all, is that they’re down and dirty. They all remind me of Erica Jong’s famous phrase, the “zipless fuck,” and her very 1970s commitment to the pleasures of uncommitted sex, except that there doesn’t seem to be much pleasure involved. It’s more like slipping a letter in the mailbox and slamming the lid. Call me an old-fashioned sensualist, but I need a little more skin-to-skin contact.
I know it’s a bit rich for gays to complain about the perversity of any other group’s sexual peccadillos. We, after all, are the people who invented the parkside blowjob, the backroom fuck and other efficiencies too grotesque to mention.
Nor do I mean to suggest that homos are better lovers or even more sensual (although some of us pride ourselves on trying to widen the, uh, parameters of the genre).
But heaven forbid an impressionable youth should see these wham-bam scenes and think that’s all there is. They give sex a bad name. Great sex follows a narrative arch of attraction, attention, intimation, development and delay, with the whole cycle repeated again and again until the tension is too high to sustain. In other words, it takes time and in taking time you sometimes step outside time — and always out of your clothes — and into a different, more sensual dimension. The worst thing about the slam-bang scenes is that they collapse a myriad of subtle pleasures into a single, ruthless act. Perhaps it’s cinematic shorthand, but it does all of us a disservice.
It’s enough to make you long for the days when movie stars gave each other smouldering looks. At least then you could pretend they were having great sex.