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Cory Silverberg

Your Favorite Sexual Metaphor

By January 22, 2013

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The headline read "Drug abuse impairs sexual performance in men even after rehabilitation." It was at the top of a short press release describing a study that assessed the "sexual performance" of 605 men, most of whom had been diagnosed with some sort of drug addiction. We learn that four areas of "sexual performance" were evaluated: sexual desire, sexual satisfaction, sexual arousal, and orgasm. The term "sexual performance" appears 6 times in a 267 word press release. It appears 0 times in the article (which is around 4,000 words). If you're getting annoyed at seeing those quotes around sexual performance then you know a little of how I felt seeing that term over and over and over again.

It's one I'm used to. It's commonly used in discussions of sexuality which are primarily medical, which includes most public health and sex education conversations about sexuality. It's such a common term that I think most people who use it don't even notice that it's a metaphor. But it is. The term they usually mean is the one that the researchers use in their study, sexual functioning. The way the body functions, what observable and measurable things are happening when someone is doing something that they (or in this case the researchers) define as sexual.

As far as metaphors go, sexual performance reflects a few things I think most people feel about sex. It's an event, it's something that comes with expectations, and it's something we do for others more than for ourselves. These are common ideas about sex, but I'd argue they also lead to a whole lot of really bad sex.

To the extent that a good metaphor doesn't just describe a thing but creates an opportunity for us to understand that thing in new ways, sexual performance is a metaphor I wish we could put out to pasture.

Which got me thinking about other metaphors for sex. One's that don't rely on performance at all, or as much. Sex therapist and activist Leonore Tiefer has, for years, argued that dance is a much better metaphor for sex. More recently sex educator Al Vernacchio shared his pizza metaphor in a New York Times article about sex education for teens. I'm partial to metaphors that evoke spirit and resistance. I'm not sure what to do with some of these sexual metaphors in music.

How about you? Do you have a most or least favorite metaphor for sex? If you do, share it with us on our Facebook page, Twitter feed, or in the comments below.

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Comments
January 22, 2013 at 6:46 pm
(1) Sean says:

Hi Cory,

You’re right. Performance is a terrible metaphor for sex and way out of hand. I’m sure it was intended for pharmaceutical marketers to cultivate fear — an important marketing tool. The word creates anxiety as by nature performance requires eventual evaluation — not something we want very often associated with our sex.

Function, on the other hand, is a word that works in terms of medicine. It refers to little more than hydraulics, and that’s likely all that the medical profession is equipped to handle in our sex lives. We’ll appreciate them staying far away from the pleasure aspects of our sex.

Dance brings skill to mind, and that’s something that many of us exclude in our sex lives. Few sex educators encourage us to acquire new sexual skills or develop sexual skill in the same way a dancer would refine their artistic moves. When I think of skill in my sex life, as one thinks of skill in fine art, sex takes on an elevated quality of beauty.

Play, is the word that I would add to sex metaphor. Play is only done for play’s sake. You don’t perform in play or function in play or even succeed in play. Play spans and joins all classes, ethnicity, ability and choice. When play is done… well… you’ve just played.

January 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm
(2) Glenn says:

The phrase ” sexual performance” is so bland,very technical -it is similar to saying such and such a thing interferes with ones golf swing hence your,whole game is destroyed,perhaps one should abandon golf altogether .”Performance” infers a show an Act an Athletic Act and most important “Judgement” and by whom?.Sex,t he word infers so much technicality, the soulless mechanics of how IT aught be done, targets or infers shame or defeatism unless the performance accords certain standards – how utterly terrible

Replace “Sex” with “Amorous Passions or even just ‘Passions” how pleasant sounds the phrase” Affecting the passions” notice the plural.
It seems to cover all ,the infatuation the charm of the attraction, the pleasure of interaction, joy, intimacy ,excitement ,flirtation seduction,submission gratification contentment enjoyment and
comfort – difficult to interfere with much of these and where did the sex come in ??

February 25, 2013 at 7:03 am
(3) Tan Ann Jee says:

A motivating discussion is worth comment. I do believe that
you ought to publish more about this topic, it might not be a taboo
matter but generally people do not discuss these issues.
To the next! All the best!!

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