Why I’m the Jonah Lehrer of Fucking (And So Are You)

By Chelsea G. Summers
Illustration by Mike Perry


I’ve lain on my back as a boyfriend poured maple syrup across my breasts, down my abdomen, and over my genitals, and then licked it off (it was in Vermont, so it was topical). I have given fellatio with grapes in my mouth. In a bed and breakfast on Cape Cod, a young man made real his fantasy of eating ice cream off of my ass — it was, if memory serves, chocolate. Both ginger and ice have seen the inside of my ass.

I have had sex on the beach, on a bus, on the tarmac, and in a Macy’s dressing room, and I have pulled from my intimate recesses grains of sand, bits of asphalt, and fuzz of indeterminate origin. Once, on a train, I reenacted a scene from Fear of Flying. It involved orange segments and genitalia; the young man I finger-fed was confused.

I have shaved, waxed, grown, and dyed my pubic hairs. I have answered the door wearing nothing but Saran Wrap. I have reenacted Ravel’s Boléro scene from 10 (with a girlfriend) and the refrigerator scene from 9 1/2 Weeks (with a boyfriend). Once during a lunch hour, I was the second girl in the world’s fastest threesome; were it scored, it would’ve been to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.” This threesome occurred in one of the seedier midtown hotels, and over time, my memory has layered this hotel with an uncanny sheen. Today, I remember it more or less like a set from Supernatural, minus the demons.

None of these supposedly erotic acts, not one, arose from my own fecund imagination. Every one is entirely lifted from something my partner or I had seen, read, or heard about. I can claim no originality. I am the Jonah Lehrer of sex, a serial plagiarist of stunning bravado and insouciance. So are you.

Sex is weird. Sex, we like to think, is this grand intimate experience of skin upon skin, naked mucous membranes pressing rhythmically together in the joint pursuit of metaphysical pleasure. If it’s not that, it’s this atavistic primal dance, this gutter utterance of primordial urges so ancient they’ve yet to be named. Or it’s the perverse play of sybarites, sating sophisticate appetites through the calculated release of…whatever.

Sex, we like to think, follows a clear narrative. Sex is a story we like to tell — to ourselves in the cadenced solitary squelching of a Wednesday night, to friends in anecdotes, in the guidance we give to our kids, should we have any. We like to imagine sex holds inherent dramatic structure. To our cinematic thinking, sex has a recognizable beginning, middle, and an end — usually climactic, often celebratory but sometimes unsatisfying. Even Aristotle would recognize the dramatic arc of your average everyday pornos.

You could make an argument that the fucking narrative arrived tongue in groove with storytelling. In the Paleolithic era, humans carved cunts onto cave walls; they painted pricks; they drew humans in coitus. The Kama Sutra, still the best-known illustrated poetic guide to sex, has been around for more than 2,300 years. The epics some erotic Virgil told might’ve been lost to the sands of time and propriety, but by the time that full-on pornography entered the novel in John Cleland’s 1748 Fanny Hill— read its second half and tell me you don’t recognize every discursive porn you’ve ever seen — the sex was already part of the narrative fabric. You can tell a story without fucking, but you can’t talk about fucking without a story.

Every time you fuck, every time you suck, every time you penetrate an ass or consent to someone penetrating yours, there is always already a story.

You do this to me, one two; I do this to you, three four. Sex may feel like a dance (which is itself a form of narrative, even those of Pina Bausch), but there’s a rub. Your body feels the tug of not only his or her or their hands but also that scene you half remember from reading Delta of Venus that one time in graduate school or the letter about the maid and the incredulous conventioneer from the Penthouse Forum you once found in your father’s dresser. You might be nice and slow as Usher, tossing salad like your name was Romaine, popping your pussy and putting your neck into it, or finding yourself too drunk to fuck — but you are feeling in part what you’ve been programed to feel. However, the truth is that whatever story you’re telling yourself is a necessary fiction.

Stories are so integral to our lives that we like to think of real, lived experience in narrative terms, but real life is like uncut reality TV; there’s no narrative until the editor chooses one. Don’t for one moment believe that sex is an exception to this. Your fucking has been televised, even if no one else has seen it. Fiction and friction go together like condoms and lube.

What’s truly fucking jarring about the inextricability of sex and storytelling is how much real life can come up wanting. I read The Story of O at a formative age. To have this seminal BDSM novel as a cornerstone of my erotic self is problematic. There is no fantasy I treasure more than O’s introduction into her sexual servitude — limo kidnapping, the blindfolding, the skirt hiked up to reveal her stockings and her lack of underwear, the tacit consent to being fucked by countless unseen men, the eventual reveal, the long-awaited cunnilingual orgasm at the scene’s end. Every detail of this chapter speaks to me in a voice that sounds like Jean Reno, and it feels good.

I would love to make real flesh O’s fiction except I can’t. In theory, I could try. I could corral a bunch of stalwart men, rent a limo, buy a blindfold, find a flat, give the willing dudes the essential script and let them have at it, but it will never be what I want it to be, and what I want it to be is a scene from a novel. A fiction. A story. That came from the brain of Pauline Réage (whose name is another fiction).

I can’t help but wonder if the men who ate various things off my body experienced that vague disappointment that settles into the gap between the imagined and the real. Maybe they did; maybe this erotic melancholy is unique to me, but I doubt it. Real life will always pale in comparison to the imagined. Sallie Mae never calls in the middle of Stoya’s filmic three-ways. That said, I’d still give O’s initiation a go. I’d rather die knowing I’ve tried a baroque gang-bang and disliked it than let my fear of disappointment keep me from trying.

We should always try. Just because you or I and anyone we know can’t be fucking original, just because we cannot escape the fucking anxiety of influence, just because fucking plagiarism will ever indefinably suck, just because the real lacks the seamless, poreless, zipless perfection of the imagined doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Art is long, life is short, and sometimes two bodies slap-slopping indecorously in the dark is all the sense we can make.

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