Usually, I hate Michael Aaron’s blog on Psychology Today, Standard Deviations. He’s the guy feeding you drugs and pressuring you for a threesome with a sex worker, while hitting you, and defending those things as the progressive recommendations of a “nationally certified sex therapist and clinical sexologist.” Harm reduction, even. I guess he managed to eat psychedelics and be dead to the experience and not learn anything? Insensate brute?
I clicked on The Vulnerability Hangover: A Fresh Take on Modern Eroticism expecting the usual crap, but instead he posted the best thing ever! He didn’t write it, of course. Amanda Luterman did. He subtitled it “A sex therapist explores the ‘vulnerability hangover,’ a new sexual phenomenon.
Unlike him, she writes true things and deobfuscates:
To call the current state of casual sex empowering for most is like calling potato chips salad because they contain a vegetable. Just because you had casual consensual sex certainly doesn’t always mean you are left feeling empowered. In fact, if you had casual sex last night, upon reflection, you’d probably agree that the passively dreaded morning after ‘down’ isn’t caused by substance use or lack of sleep. It’s the ‘vulnerability hangover’ — the harsh realization that you have no faith in the person you just had sex with to acknowledge your vulnerability with care or compassion. That is the harshest form of “I-cant-get-out-of-bed”. Vulnerability is the new debilitating indigestion we are carelessly medicating with the junk food of sexual encounters.
It’s new to her, too, because she’s a self-described sex-positive feminist. They don’t know about Andrea Dworkin, who wrote this back in the 1980s:
In sex there is the suffering of those who can love, and the more terrifying despair of those who are loveless, empty, those who must “narcotize themselves before they can touch any human being at all.” These are the people who are the masters in a social and sexual master-slave hierarchy, and what characterizes them is that they “no longer have any way of knowing that any loveless touch is a violation, whether one is touching a woman or a man.”
In the United States, the cost of maintaining racism has been a loss of self-knowledge (and thus love) for those who refuse to know what they have because others suffer. What they have includes a sense of superiority that substitutes for a real identity. Maintaining racism has required an emotional numbness, a proud and fatal incapacity to feel, because that is the cost of purposely maintaining ignorance: one must block life out–the world around one and one’s own emotional possibilities.
For that reason, in this country there is “an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep” that most Amerikans lack “the most elementary and crucial connections.” Missing especially is any connection between sex and the complexity of identity; a vital connection without which the fuck is an exercise in futility, going from nowhere to nowhere, no one fucking nothing.
Even the youth seem “blighted,” “a parody of locomotion and manhood.” Despair and violation (each no less terrible for being unconscious) and narcotized touch predominate; and the young appear “to be at home with, accustomed to, brutality and indifference, and to be terrified of human affection.” This is the sexuality of those who risk nothing because they have nothing inside to risk. “Of rending and tearing there can never be any end,” thinks one character in Another Country about life in this country, “and God save the people for whom passion becomes impersonal.”
Passion becomes impersonal when there is no person inside, no complex human being who is willing to know and to feel. It is not knowledge of someone else that makes passion personal; it is knowledge of oneself. Self-knowledge creates the potential for knowing a lover in sex.
And also this:
Having an interior life of wanting, needing, gives fucking human meaning in a human context. “All my life,” Williams wrote, “I have been haunted by the obsession that to desire a thing or to love a thing intensely is to place yourself in a vulnerable position, to be a possible, if not a probable, loser of what you most want.” Without that inner fragility and fear, fucking is likely to become, as Williams wrote in a later play, “quick, and hard, and brutal…like the jabbing of a hypodermic needle…” Being stigmatized by sex is being marked by its meaning in a human life of loneliness and imperfection, where some pain is indelible.
And this, too:
In fucking, the deepest emotions one has about life as a whole are expressed, even with a stranger, however random or impersonal the encounter. Rage, hatred, bitterness, joy, tenderness, even mercy, all have their home in this passion, in this act; and to accept truly another person within those bounds requires that one must live with, if not conquer, the fear of being abandoned, thrown back alone…
Luterman describes an archetypal modern hookup in great detail, from Tinder to conclusion:
After a few drinks, John mentions that he lives close to the bar and Jane smiles, “Ok.” That remains the only conversation in which Jane and John discuss anything about their imminent vulnerability exchange and looming sexual encounter. Upon walking through John’s front door, they defer some awkwardness by locking lips right away and readily allow the very predictable sequence of scripted sexual acts to unfold.
John’s erection validates Jane, and Jane’s lubrication reassures John. Jane has never loved her labia and is self-conscious of body hair. Her lubrication stems more from tactile stimulation than arousal. Though John is grateful he is taller than Jane, he struggles to feel confident until they’re horizontal. Neither know anything about how they’d each like to be touched nor do they sexually guide one another at all. There is no mentioning of recent STI testing. There is little eye contact, foreplay prematurely begins at the genitals for both. John matches the vulnerability inherent in Jane’s noticing his erection with the permission to touch her vulva.
Jane is relieved John uses a condom. John reaches orgasm, though rather mechanically, and wishes he’d lasted longer. Jane does not orgasm and is unable to request or continue clitoral stimulation. John leaves the room to dispose of the condom and they briefly lie together. Jane mentions grabbing an Uber and John walks her out, saying “I’m happy we did this. Let’s talk soon.” No promises.
They don’t see each other again.
That’s exactly how I picture normal people’s sex lives. How could it be otherwise?
When you don’t think you’re attractive or adequate, or when you’re behaving from performance and a fear of being compared with, talked about, or abandoned the moment you are no longer there for the purpose of immediate sexual gratification, chances are you quiet your needs, go with the organic yet superficial and societally scripted flow of mediocre assisted-masturbation unlikely to be satiating for anyone involved. What these two were missing wasn’t a lack of chemistry so much as a lack of mutually communicated vulnerability. And tah dah – just like that, you have the disconnected sex barely meriting a proper g’bye, nevermind a second date.
I was using psychoanalytic theory about schizoid people to understand myself before I knew I’m autistic. Walter Guntrip wrote about this topic back in the day, as well:
So cultural attitudes drive them to feel ashamed of weakness and to simulate strength…The reason why there is a taboo on tenderness is that tenderness is regarded as weakness in all but the most private relations of life, and many people regard it as weakness even there and introduce patterns of domination into love-life itself. The real taboo is on weakness; the one great crime is to be weak; the thing which none dare confess is feeling weak; however much the real weakness was brought into being when they were so young that they knew nothing of the import of what was happening to them. You cannot afford to be weak in a competitive world which you feel is mostly hostile to you, and if anyone is so unfortunate as to discover that his infancy has left him with too great a measure of arrested emotional development and a failure of ego-growth in the important early stages, then he soon learns to bend all his energies into hiding or mastering the infant within.
“A competitive world mostly hostile to you” is almost the definition of capitalism, isn’t it?
As long as BOTH genders insist on emotional retardation as the definition of masculinity, our sex lives will stay terrible. We’ve made masculinity incompatible with intimacy, so everybody is lonely to death and spends their lives doing addictive things. When you realize that obesity is best conceptualized as an addictive disorder (40% of adults?), you realize how lonely we are, and that there’s no love in this country. The Old Ways are forgotten. The loneliness and stress themselves make it hard to be flexible and proactively change our culture. That’s the task life sets before us. The culture is nothing but our own actions. This is why Foucault is important. We’re doing it to ourselves:
Humans are essentially too stressed out to breed. You’d have to be crazy to be vulnerable under current social conditions.