Monday, March 1, 2010

Coitus Interruptus

Shame performs a useful function from an evolutionary standpoint. The notion of covering the genitals goes back to the Adamic myth and The Fall, but how can one make sense of this prerogative in a liberal, rationalist or Enlightenment context? Surely there is no sense to the notion that men and women must cover themselves up. Why are the vagina, breasts or the penis any different from other elements of the flesh, like the heart, the eyes, the ears? Why are orifices like the nostril, the belly button, and the mouth freely revealed, while the vulva and the anus are considered off limits? What is so sacrosanct about the nipples of women that they must be clothed with a bra?
Further, why do we have secrets at all? Why is there a disinclination to reveal things about our selves, particularly those things that relate to areas of the body that are covered up? Why are defecation and micturition activities that are not discussed in so-called polite company, and why do we employ clinical-sounding words when referring to these activities, instead of saying shit or piss—in polite company that is? Why do college educated people insist on using latinate words like coitus instead of fuck?
Let’s take the breast. The breast is a source of fascination because it provides the nourishment for the infant. Thus, it is not surprising that for Homo sapiens, blessed or afflicted with consciousness, the breast would have extraordinary significance. Attachment for an infant becomes a signal for mature love in the adult. When a woman shows her breasts to her lover, she is offering the prospect of a vintage form of attachment, distilled from the emotions of motherhood and infancy. The breast is not simply epidermis surrounded by fatty tissue. In the mind, it performs another function. There are many breasts, of many shapes and sizes, and, from a rational standpoint, there should be little shame in showing and appreciating each and every one of them.  Go to any nude beach for an hour and breasts, however perfectly formed, become as uninteresting as the gulls or the seashells. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. St. Tropez is legendary for its topless beaches, but the only extraordinary thing about an afternoon of breast gazing in St. Tropez is the stiff neck that results from the head moving from side to side too many times. On the other hand, a woman walking into a room with a tight-fitting blouse that emphasizes her endowments has a great effect. She covers herself because without covering she might be cold, but she also dresses in alluring ways to hold out the possibility of that form of irrational engagement known as sexual attraction and love. The privacy and sacredness of sexuality performs a naturally selective function for the human species. It makes no sense at all and yet it is the humanized expression of man’s animal nature. Ironically, it is nudism that is unnatural for man and woman. 

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