Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference
A Feminist and Gender Studies Course
Bryn Mawr College, Fall, 2002

Archive 5: A Range of Language

Name:  Anne
Subject:  Ranging Across Language
Date:  2002-09-14 15:29:46
Message Id:  2677
This week we will be exploring the range of (academic) languages available to us for thinking/talking/teaching about sex: those of science, of social science, of well as the language of humor. How effective is each, what does each tell us, invite us to feel/think/know/do? Which do you find most effective, for what reasons? Which speaks most clearly to you? Teaches you the most? Speaks most evocatively to you? Puzzles you? Draws you on? Are there some languages representing sex that you think we might be better off without? Do some impede rather than facilitate understanding? What other languages might we draw on, aside from those listed here? There's film. Jenny mentioned music. And there are Sharon's watercolors....) Are there other languages for representing sex which we should be sure to include in this course? (What "counts" as a language, anyhow?)
Name:  Bea
Subject:  sex & language
Date:  2002-09-14 21:11:21
Message Id:  2679
I also believe that it's necessary to at least attempt to put sex into language. Each person may relate better to a different medium. That probably contributes to the varied opinions about what best conveys sex. I agree with Jenny about music being a language for sex. I feel that, even in certain music, there are various aspects that make it seem sexual. Sometimes the words themselves don't matter, and we're led to consider the music sexual simply by the instruments, arrangements, or rhythm. Being a music junky, this is something I've thought about often. Again, I agree with Jenny that "no two performances are the same." The musicians almost become storytellers. If they have no emotional connection to the story, then that becomes apparent. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that the medium as well as the "storyteller" are important when attempting to put sex into language.
Name:  Maggie
Username:  mscottwe
Subject:  cold-hearted slut??
Date:  2002-09-17 15:52:04
Message Id:  2730
I just came from Tuesday's class, and the comment that someone made referring to all the emotional attachments and problems that frequently result from having sex, especially for the first time, stuck with me. I was thinking about my own experiences, and at the risk of sounding like a cold-hearted slut, I don't remember becoming emotional, or growing closer, or really thinking it was that big of a deal after the first time I had sex. And I especially didn't have any difficulty when I ended the relationship. I know that stereotypically, we tend to think of the girl and how attached she will become after having sex, and that one of the silences in sex-ed curricula is that they don't talk about the 'emotional side effects' of sex. I almost felt guilty that I didn't think I experienced them, and so I asked around. Turns out, the first three women I discussed it with felt more like I had than what might be expected.

To make us sound less heartless, my friends and I all agreed that caring about the person and trusting them was important before having sex. I am sure that none of us fall into a category of people who would have sex casually. Which makes me curious about the disparity between expected reactions and, thanks to my spur of the moment and extremely limited research, the reality. Are the women who I happened to talk to unique in that they are strong, independent and secure in themselves? (For the record, they didn't ALL go to Bryn Mawr.) So are other girls/women who are not so self-confident the ones who have emotional issues after having sex? Or does that lack of a strengthened bond reflect how my friends and I felt about the individual person we were with at the time? Because, at the risk of being too personal, I know that right now I have feelings (sexual and otherwise) for someone and thinking about sexual activities with them is certainly a big deal, and I think that it would be extremely emotional and meaningful. Unfortunately, I can't remember if I thought the same thing before my last relationship or not. So I'm not sure if I just think that it will be a big deal and when it happens it won't be, or if is dependent on the partner.

I was just intrigued by the differences between what I felt like was expected of young women in our situations, and how we really reacted. If anyone has comments, explanations, ideas, etc, I'd be interested in reading them.

Name:  2002 TS student
Username:  2002 TS student
Subject:  Language
Date:  2002-09-17 20:06:40
Message Id:  2738
i was in class the other day and we were watching a movie about art...and it was sculpting, and the dialogue went somewhere along the effect of "the building was then erect..." and people broke out into hysterical laughter. what is it about words that make people respond in such a way? is it the way the word is socialized in society? is laughter a way we cope with personal insecurities on some level? hmm...just interesting....
Name:  2002 TS student
Username:  2002 TS student
Subject:  One common language?
Date:  2002-09-17 20:11:59
Message Id:  2739
[sorry for multiple posts, but i think they go in multiple folders]....

on another note...a group of students from all the cultural groups were meeting last night to discuss communication within and among cultural groups and how to gel this process. and what we came up with was that as a campus we have a multitude of ways to communicate with one another about events, flyers, mailbox stuffers, emails, postings, announcements, today@brynmawr, white board in campus center, word of mouth. instead of agreeing on one common language to communicate events we spend all our energy trying to speak 2-10 different languages, and in a way such energy seems so counterproductive and more so very frustrating.

thought this was interesting, especially in light of todays discussion regarding which is right/most appealing: biological, social or humanity approach...because it seemed like what was being said was that they were all necessary.....maybe what is not needed is seperate disciplines, but the formation of a language that encompasses all the aspects we discussed.

Name:  Michelle
Username:  mmcgrath
Subject:  musicdrumsex
Date:  2002-09-18 03:13:10
Message Id:  2744
I've been considering the idea of music as a wonderful language for sex. Just this second it occured to me that drums drive sexual energy for me. This summer i did a lot of traveling in a musical enviornment and danced to countless drum jams performed by fans in drum circles after shows, and by professional drummers doing a rythm section for 15min+ in the middle of the set at a concert.

As i learned to lose my body to the rythm of the drums i began to feel a connectedness to earth, engery and sexuality. I would be reminded of a song lyric "drums keep the rythm of the human race, you see only reflections of your own face." Leaping, swinging my arms, waving my torso, in a rythmic flow, they all made me feel sexy, and sexual, occasionally even turned on. I always feel the pounding of the drums as centered in the middle of my torso between my belly button and gentials - about where my uterus is located. There it would drive my hips to movement.

As the lyric alludes to, rythm and sex are common to all the human race, something we all feel on some level. The drums bring out a sexual facination/connection with everyone participating and even with oneself. I included the "reflections of your own face" because perhaps in a way the practice is even masturbatory - dancing until you reach the orgasmic moment where there is no distinction between self, body, drums, hands, skin (on bodies and drums), sweat, heartbeat, rythm or nature. The orgasm is you and within you and in front of you and you see "only reflections of your own face."

For me at least, the drums speak a very particular kind of sexual language, perhaps my favorite. I have found the expereince difficult to express verbally so hopefully this hasn't been too abmiguous or far out. I think i have at least succesfully *hinted* at what the experience is like for me.

Name:  Sarah H.
Subject:  Sex Languages
Date:  2002-09-19 00:45:46
Message Id:  2765
OK, first i'd like to say that i just posted something about a reading and then read everyone else's comments and realized that the postings aren't centered around the readings. My apologies. So now for my posting about sex as language...

I like body language when it comes to communicating about sex, and dance. Body language, when carefully stated (no mixed signals!) seems to communicate desire to other people better than awkward verbal confessions of "I want you" or "Let's do it!" As for expressing sex to others, or communicating experiences, I think dance is one of the strongest mediums for this. For example, anyone who might be in hip hop class right now, or has ever seen someone on a dance floor really break it down... The sheer physicality of the art of dance seems to draw it closer to what its trying to represent. It's kind of like the idea that you can get a better understanding by really going through the motions rather than hearing about, or seeing about it, more passively. Anything that grabs sex unabashedly and throws it onto the bed for close examination, and perhaps even a domination of understanding, seems to capture its essence most readily.

Name:  ngoc
Subject:  Response to Fine
Date:  2002-09-19 09:53:50
Message Id:  2767
Fine's article consistently speaks of the lack of discourse of female desire in sex education today. In class discussions are also concentrating on the missing pieces and the need for us to alter focuses in sex education. I truly feel that although we are criticizing today sex's ed we're forgeting to explore why and how we've arrive at this state. While the bio paper allow us to acknowledge the biological function of sex, Dorthy Allison demstrate to us our potential as sexual being. If and when our emotions and beliefs are free to roam in the sexual far will we go? Are there limits? When, where , how will we define these limits? Will sex be the focus of our lives? In reality, I don't think that it is. Sex should be something natural as the act of breathing... It is true today's sex ed seem to concentrate on too many negative aspects. There is a reason to this, however. Even though we don't say it or acknowledge it, there is a fear of letting sex go free. People fear of the blur lines, dangers, accidents, etc...that could happen as a side effect. We don't yet know of when the day where all would be responsible enough, care for each other enough, understand one another enough to not to let accidents, violence, etc happen... therefore, the little that can be done in sex ed today is to give out warnings... it maybe true that certain group may be jammed w/ warnings (which may lead to oppression) than other group. But that's the least that can be done. It would be great if we somehow eliminate the bad and retain only the good in life. But until that day, sex edu is legitimate in addressing this fear.
Name:  Elisa
Subject:  sex & langauge
Date:  2002-09-19 10:49:01
Message Id:  2770
so, i was a villian last week and didnt post. it wasnt intentional. i have just been having such a hard time with this whole "can sex be put into lang.?" the good news is that i am starting to break into something in terms of my thoughts on this (finally!)

can be put into language? my stance on it right now is: "at least the attempt is there." think of the success of romance novels! and if you doubt them as effective in their purpose, think of how many people's sexual lives are changed just by reading them! even if it doesnt improve their sex lives literally, romance novels open people up to a world of fantasy and imangination regarding sex that they might not have access to elsewhere. they teach people that it is ok and fun to fantasize about sex and sexual acts (even something as simple as holding hands can become charged and exciting in these books!). though i dont read them myself, i think the consistent sales of romance novels show that sex being put into language CAN be effective for some people.

furthermore, i think there should be an ongoing attempt by people to put sexinto language. think of language as a sex toy. they are both there to enhance pleasure, help you think outside-the-box in regards to sex. though communication between people may fail sometimes, the times where people are able to communicate--- sexual experience, desires and/or dislikes--- to one another can in turn improve the pleasure of the experience overall.

Name:  Elisa
Subject:  sex and language
Date:  2002-09-19 10:51:18
Message Id:  2771
as for the langauge that speaks to me personally, i would have to agree with sarah and say body language.

i think body language is a very tough language to decifer and interpret. but, at the same time, i see it as unique and expressive because it origniates from an individual. no two people move their bodies the same way. we may be taught different techniques by magazines, friends, etc.--- (for example, winking or when youre sitting next to someone you like, turn your body in toward them so that you communicate you want to be close to them)--- but no matter what we are taught, they are never executed the same way by people or with people. the way i hug is different then the way you hug. the way i hug you is drastically different than the way i hug the person i am dating.

even then, body langauge becomes a marker of the progression of time and the change in emotion. the way i hug the person i am dating when i am in a happy mood will be completely different than the way i hug if i want to be intimate, or if i have had a bad day, or if i am upset.

difficult, ever-changing and transforming--- i like the energy i have to put into both interpretng others actions and communicating my own desires.

Name:  Chelsea
Date:  2002-09-19 20:02:13
Message Id:  2783
Ok, so I am going to post my joke, but I was just thinking about Sarah (H)'s comment about body's so true!! I mean, at least for me, the need that some men (maybe women too) feel to verbalize an act before they do it is just frickin annoying and ruins the mood. I want to be romanced, I want to be so irresistable to someone that they can't even speak, they just kiss me!! I want PASSION for the love of all that is good, not "so, um, yeah, i was wondering if you maybe wanted to fool around for a little bit" How romantic. Wahoo. Oh baby oh baby. There is a point when the emotions choke out the words and two people look at each other and feel like they might explode and the only thing to be done is to make their own language, like music. I just want to be there, don't you?
Name:  Lindsay Updegrove
Subject:  so many languages
Date:  2002-09-20 14:22:07
Message Id:  2796
Body language, I think, speaks as the most honest of languages in communicating sex because we have little control over it. Our bodies make feelings known through movement and gesture subconsciously more often than not.
Humor, then, is a less honest, more indirect language when it comes to sex. It generally finds a way to communicate an idea without actually saying it point-blank or demonstrating it. Whether this idea was intended to offend or flatter is often left to interpretation. That is where the language of humor falls short, at least for me. In thinking about yesterday's class discussion about jokes, different things were brought to mind for each of us. I suppose this is because we all have different "senses of humor"; it would not be possible for all of us to relate to one another through a medium of humor.
When we lack the words to communicate a sexual feeling, we generally revert to making a noise. I'm not sure what this language would be called--the "language of noises" maybe? For some reason, this audible but wordless language is used almost solely between lovers--is this because when we feel close enough to someone, we don't feel the need to hide behind our often circuitous and veiled words?
And while we are on the subject of speaking without words--what about the things people communicate through their eyes? That can be a very passionate language, too, although I guess it qualifies as a very refined and intimate sort of body language. Now that I am thinking about it there is really no end to the number of ways to communicate about sex. Oh dear.
Name:  Kathryn McMahon
Subject:  more, more, more!
Date:  2002-09-20 15:53:16
Message Id:  2800
I'm taking Anthro 103 at Haverford, which is an introduction to cultural anthropology. Recently one of the readings that we've done is by an anthropologist name Rosanne Stone and an excerpt from her book, "The War of Desire and Technology." There's a number of things that she discusses which I feel are pertinent to our discussion about putting sex into language. Stone looks at a group of lesbian separatist collective that ran a (heterosexual) phone sex business in San Francisco. To paraphrase Stone, the sex workers take all of the senses used in sex and compress them into audible form. They use taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing, etc. and "translate" the experience into speech, thus putting sex into language. Furthermore, she challenges the concept of what constitutes the physical body. Stone argues that what was being transmitted over the phone lines were bodies, just not existing what we normally call a physical form. While not present in the flesh, this interaction is still tangible, still physical, and only possible through language!
Later on, Stone also discusses the beginning of virtual reality communities, specifically "Habitat." Instead of approaching technology from the angle in "What is Sex?" such as the development of superorganisms, Stone looks at the inhabitants of this community, 1.5 million of them, who were unable to achieve "vanilla sexual positions" because there was no code to describe characters lying on top of each other, or any other intimate interactions. Therefore they had to be inventive. I am the most technologically illiterate person of my generation, but I think what she's saying is that these people had to create new codes for sexual activity because it didn't exist in the computer's language! I think that if it's possible for people to communicate sexual activity in such an innovative way, we can do the same in a language that is more commonly shared (although that means it's even more guarded), meaning a spoken language. In fact, I think we already do. Because we agree on so many codes for sexual activity, or we because we can infer them, we can read between the lines if something sexual is being censored. We hear what isn't "said." Some of the most titillating phrases are coded, as exemplified by blues music (and demonstrated in class by a song from Etta James). While the language might not be explicitly sexual, it is still sexy and sensual, and therefore still contains elements of sex. We hear the unsaid, so it is therefore still spoken, still communicated. Its absence IS its presence.
Name:  Iris Dickerson
Subject:  sexual music
Date:  2002-09-20 16:58:56
Message Id:  2803
I was sitting with someone whom I am extremely attracted to, talking, and listening to classical music. A piece began that was naked in its harmony and had only this exposed, beautiful deep cello playing. It was purely sexual and I felt as though it was screaming out what I was thinking. There is no doubt that music can be a profound language with which to communicate sex. Just think of some slow jazz and a sexy saxophone lazily meandering through the song. Music also has a wonderful way of incorporating the sensual and emotional nature into those sexual sounds.
Name:  Emily
Subject:  What languages do we have for teaching sex?
Date:  2002-09-20 21:04:43
Message Id:  2810
I've been thinking about all possible Praxis sites and though it's a little late to get this one set up, I feel that putting a production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues at a high school, coed or single sex, would be incredible. Even while twenty-somethings and college women are finding new liberation through new conversations and literature about female sexual satisfaction, high schools still seem so full of mystery. The confusion extends to not only to realistic portrayal (if there can be such a thing) of female sexuality, but homosexuality, and there seems to be some conflicting ideas on male sexuality as well. Though it's amazing to see college women discussing sex in a classroom, or performing with unrestrained emotion pieces about the evils of tampons, pubic hair, sexual abuse and birth, I feel that real growth in female sexual liberation will happen only with an overhaul of the sex-ed system. Good thing we're taking this class, huh?
But seriously folks, I believe that there is definite need for active encourage of young women to know themselves their sexual desires, but also their expectations for their relationships- which will hopefully lead to a community of happy, secure, well-adjusted women of whom no one will be able to take advantage.
So that's my dream- I doubt that it would work quite that smoothly, especially at first- but I'm sure that there would be a few brave souls who would stick with it as a learning experience, albeit one with a curriculum that includes the word CUNT. Hopefully it would also include encouragement of hands on activities, meaning contraceptive fun day where everyone gets a purple baggie filled with condoms, dental dams, lube, gloves- the whole works. Perhaps a day would be to have the class each bring in a fruit as a method of learning actual proportions of internal organs, "Janice, that pear is about the size of your uterus right now..."
I don't's not perfect yet, but it's a few ideas...hopes perhaps, that when we're finally comfortable with redefining sex-ed, we do it with more breadth than anatomy texts (perhaps I should turn to my classmates for suggestions). And by acknowledging that there's a certain amount about individual sexual response that parents and teacher won't be able to tell students. It may be an anxiety-ridden conversation, but that dialogue is necessary.
Name:  Nia Turner
Subject:  Sexual Experience:In/Outside Language?
Date:  2002-09-20 22:29:01
Message Id:  2814
Is it possible to "put sex into" language? Sex is in itself a language, because individuals communicate through the senses. I believe that because touch,smell,taste,sound, and sight are an intergral part of what forms a sexual experience, that an alternative language fails to convey or recapture the reality of the sexual experience.Furthermore, because sex is its own language,no other language can articulate sex! However, it becomes necessary to attemppt to put sex in an alternative language,because as humans we desire to share the experience with other individuals.In addition we seek to understand our own sexual experience for ourselves, and an alternative language allows one to analyze, question,and explore sex.The unattainable goal being to fully comprehend sex.
Name:  Nia Turner
Subject:  A Range of Languages
Date:  2002-09-20 23:15:15
Message Id:  2817
What languages do we have for thinking/talking/teaching sex? Sex is thought of,talked about, and taught in an array of communities. Communities can be subdivided into class, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc.Perhaps there are cultural, body, and artistic languages for thinking/talking/teachng sex.I have the tendency to tap into different language paradigms in order to effectivly provoke thought,conversation, and learning about sex, because the language(s) one chooses to use depend on the audience one is trying to reach.
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  More Randomness
Date:  2002-09-21 11:51:09
Message Id:  2826
Okay, so after this I think I need to start focusing on the questions that Anne is asking, or at least the readings or class discussions. But yesterday in my Biology class my professor was talking about this concept of 'clumpy diversity'. It basically means that things evolved (or were created, if you prefer) with certain characteristics and that there are large gaps in between the different groups. I didn't really agree with that, and I was thinking that scientists just divide things that way to make it easier on themselves. Apparently, I was having trouble concentrating and my mind drifted to sex... heehe. But the thought occurred to me that people can't deal with the things that DON'T fall into those pre-defined 'clumps'. For example, there is a clump of males. People outside of that clump were ignored or worse for years, and still are. But even as a new clump develops, like females, and starts to become more accepted as legitimate, there are other characteristics that people don't allow an individual clump. For example, people still have difficulty giving transsexuals a clump of their own. I guess this kind of goes back to the inside/outside discussion, and how Fuss was complaining about the insides/outsides, but she herself was only listing two options, instead of trying to show how many 'outsides' there can be.
Name:  Sarah H.
Subject:  Language of Sex in the Classroom
Date:  2002-09-25 21:37:59
Message Id:  2900
I actually wrote my paper in part about how the absence of sex language in the classroom made me skeptical of the amount of knowledge teachers actually had about what went on. In this way, I think it would bridge a generation gap and open discussion to introduce explicitly sexual terms in a classroom setting, or at least do an exercise where the kids list the ones they know. Of course, this kind of system would have to be age appropriate, but I think by introducing sex in a language kids can understand for their age is crucial to opening discussion between generations. Another question that comes to my mind -how realistic is this idea? Most of my teachers were uncomfortable with the topic altogether, and preferred to skim it as quickly as possible. Before it could be a real part of curriculum, it seems that the adults would need to be comfortable. However, beyond using a specific vocabulary or being comfortable with one's own sexuality, I think its most important perhaps that the language be positive and open.
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  MoSex and the City
Date:  2002-09-26 09:02:09
Message Id:  2906

This is the title of an article in the The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning (9/26/02) which describes the opening of a new "sin-stitution" in NYC, in the Tenderloin (!) district: The Museum of Sex. You can check it out virtually @ their website . Whoever checks it out actually (it opens this Saturday) needs to promise toreport back to the class when she returns from her field trip--

Name:  LH
Subject:  a range of languages- week 5
Date:  2002-10-29 10:28:03
Message Id:  3407

I realized today that I haven't posted during a couple of the weeks.. So this is my effort to catch up.

I find that emotions and issues like sex are difficult to put into language. No matter what I say to you I can't fully articulate the emotion/experience I had. But by discussing it with another person, I can better understand my emotions. If I process (god I love that word.. ) something in my head, I can get a grasp of it, but I always feel more assured of my conclusions when I can verbalize it. And usually when I verbalize it, I am not really looking for feedback. I am more looking to try and understand what it is I was feeling and that works for me.

Elisa mentioned romance novels as evidence that sex can be put into language. When I read any story that I feel I can relate to the protagonist (or yes even the antagonist) I feel like I am experiencing that same emotions s/he is feeling. I question though if I am making that bridge between my experiences/emotions. Am I creating the character the way I want to see her/him so that I can relate to her/him? And if I am doing this, I think I am not interpreting what they are trying to convey about their emotions.

Maggie spoke of sex and emotion and questioned if having emotional issues after a sexual experience means you are strong and independent, or weak and dependent. I don't think there is a clear answer to that question, but I can say I think it is more important to be comfortable with your reactions to sex. If you don't get emotionally attached you need to be ok with that and if you do, you need to know that if you hop into bed with someone, you are going to be processing your feelings for a while.

Name:  Fritz Dubuisson
Subject:  Finding your own language
Date:  2002-11-20 15:34:44
Message Id:  3820
It was interesting to dsicover that there seemed to be no sub-group of women which contained only one woman in the clas. Was it because we were a group of women writing our experiences or is it that sexuality is so mulitifaceted that the gender of the participant in the disscussions would trickle down to the same subcatagories we started ot with.
Return to Course Home Page