I keep coming back to Nick’s last comment, and although I don’t disagree, I keep wondering, “why?” I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, but I can’t let it go. Bear with me, will you?
I don’t think it’s as simple as “men and women are different,” although sometimes they are. Sexuality is too amorphous a thing, and far too malleable. Besides, there’s too much intra-group variation for the statement to hold, or at least for it to tell us anything more than what we already know.
Sex is a biological impulse that acquires form through culture. We learn sex in the world as it is, which is why those first glimpses are so important, and so memorable. They are our first encounters with an experience we are inexplicably drawn to, but which has no pure form except as a refraction of the world as we encounter it, in real bodies and in real time.
Boys live in a world of erotic images that are meant for them; they attract that vague impulse and shape it, refine it, pull it toward the visual realm. Girls have fewer images, and those that exist are a thousand times more elusive: the video image in China Girl that escapes in an instant. Quick, rewind, did you see it? No? Then rewind again. There, and then gone.
So that itchy, insistent need draws some of us elsewhere, to sounds and smells and the written word. The blind senses. And so we learn to respond to the colour of a voice, the rhythm of breath; we catch that smell on someone and it’s game over. Oh yeah, the smell thing. That goddamn smell thing...
More than anywhere else, girls find sex on the page. In less than a decade we make our way from teen magazines to Harlequins to real novels, and eureka, we’ve found it: a few passages by Miller or Lawrence, more by Anais Nin, or whole genres of erotic fiction. And so we learn sex in narrative, even when it’s macho and ridiculous, or frustratingly femme; we can still imagine this world and ourselves in it.
I’ll let you in on a secret, though: sometimes, we look too. The shirt that rides up, exposing the crest of a hip; the calf that tightens as it bears down on a bike pedal; the faded jeans that hang just so. But I think the way we look is more idiosyncratic; we catch glimpses of sex in a thousand places because that’s what we’re used to, because no one thought to direct our gaze. Girls have wandering eyes – consider yourselves warned.
Clearly, I’m obsessing. It must be spring.