Wet Dreaming: What Randy Newman, John Mayer and Beyoncé Teach Us About Sex


Despite the variety of sex portrayed in popular media, from Game of Thrones to Trainwreck, there is one sexual situation that is conspicuously absent. The dry spell. What happens when a couple goes through a period of sexual inactivity?

Usually this type of problem, where two willing lovers find themselves sexually constipated for whatever reason, is relegated to scenes between old married couples who are too tired or uninterested for intimacy. Whether our media reflects it or not, our sex lives cannot be relegated to the simple distinctions of ‘young and horny’ and ‘old and desperate’.

Art is valuable because it shows us that we are not alone. Someone’s been there before, no matter how unique our feelings may seem in the moment. Art allows us to relate and empathize with people from all walks of life, and to learn from others’ experiences. So, where does the sexually frustrated man or woman turn for helpful examples in art? Everyone around us appears to be riding the sexual wave, leaving the afflicted feeling ‘abnormal’ and ‘unhealthy’. Enter the fearless Randy Newman.

Songwriter Randy Newman tackles the subject of sexual inadequacy head on in his song ‘Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong’. I recommend the version on Randy Newman/Live (1970), because you can hear the audience laughing. I was on a road trip with a friend when it came on in the car. As the song ended, he smiled and said, “I think we’ve all felt that way.” I know I have. Here are the lyrics:

Maybe I’m doing it wrong, maybe I’m doing it wrong

Just don’t move me the way that it should

Maybe I’m doing it wrong

There ain’t no book you can read, there ain’t nobody to tell ya

I don’t think I’m getting what everyone’s getting

Maybe I’m doing it wrong

Sometimes I throw off a good one

Least I think it is — no I know it is!

I shouldn’t be thinking at all, I shouldn’t be thinking at all

Newman nails the compulsivity of our internal dialogue when we’re feeling sexually vulnerable. Our negative feedback can start with something minor. Maybe we hopelessly recall a bad sex experience, or feel a twinge of guilt, or an onset of ‘stage fright’. From there, our mind begins to spiral out of control in self-doubt and insecurity.

The phrase ‘maybe I’m doing it wrong’ stands in for any number of mental boogiemen: what if I never have normal sex again? What if I can’t get it up this time? What if I take too long? What if… and on and on. The mind spins its wheels and before we even realize it, we’ve forgotten all about the situation right in front of us. All this thinking is magnified, of course, by our realization that we shouldn’t even be thinking about it! We try frantically to steer our thinking back on course, but the train is off the tracks.

We may know from experience that thoughts can’t really be controlled very well by other thoughts. This is what Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki means when he wrote (in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind), “To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.” Patterns of thought, like sheep, don’t respond well to excessive shepherding.

But in the moment, we feel powerless. We’re worried that we can’t have sex. We’re vulnerable, afraid, and tormented by our own weakness. Worst of all, this frenetic worrying isn’t helping us do a damn thing about it.

If Randy Newman shows us the problem, then I propose that another songster shows us the solution. John Mayer, whether you like his music or not, undeniably connected with the public with his 2001 hit ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’. Here are the opening lines:

We got the afternoon

You got this room for two

One thing I’ve left to do

Discover me, discovering you

One mile to every inch of

Your skin like porcelain

One pair of candy lips and

Your bubble gum tongue

And if you want love, we’ll make it

Swim in a deep sea of blankets

Take all of your big plans and break ‘em

This is bound to be a while

Your body is a wonderland

Your body is a wonder, I’ll use my hands

How different are these lyrics from Newman’s? Instead of a vexed internal monologue, we are grounded in time and place. Mayer sets the scene for us, leaving room for suggestive anticipation. One afternoon, one room, two people — yet much more.

His description is both realistic and metaphorically grandiose. From up close your lover’s body becomes miles of candy-coated porcelain, and the world recedes as you sink together in a sea of blankets. A sense of discovery is implicit in Mayer’s lyrics.

Think back to the last time you had great sex. What was it like? In my experience, it’s hard to describe. It’s like… falling into another world. A mysterious, hyper-sensual, ultra-focused world, where everyday problems are so distant as to become invisible. What from the outside looks like two bodies writhing on a bed, to you is an engrossing, transcendent release.

John Mayer introduces us to the wonderland, but inspiration for the explorer within requires something a bit more extreme. The song ‘Rocket’, from Beyoncé (2013), explodes our double entendre language bomb all over us. Here are some excerpts. Some sexy, sexy excerpts.

Rock right up to the side of my mountain

Climb until you reach my peak baby, peak baby, peak

And reach right into the bottom of my fountain

I wanna play in your deep end, your deep end, deep

Then dip me under where you can feel my river flow and flow

Hold me ‘til I scream for air to breath

And wash me over until my well runs dry

Send your sins all over me babe, over me

Rock it ‘til waterfalls

She leads us off the map, from the wonderland to the forbidden paradise. We forget there ever was a freaking map. Passion overcomes us as we’re fairy-led into a torrential river. There’s no chance of resisting in the slightest. Nature shows us its indisputed power, and we go with the flow, over the cliff.

Beyoncé’s metaphorical language changes our perspective on sex by pulling us close. We’re suddenly down on the floor, where the action is, not caught in cerebral judgment, measuring ourselves against some theoretical standard. Really, what are we gonna do with that ass all up in our face?

Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Sex sometimes feels impossible, and it makes us feel like failures. As Randy Newman points out, worrying compulsively only leads us around in circles, instead of supplying practical answers.

We know the solution: we need to let our bodies take over. The brilliance of Mayer’s ‘Wonderland’ and Beyoncé’s ‘Rocket’ is that they change our perspective. They bring us down to Earth, leaving our controlling thoughts in the clouds. Up close, our bodies are transformed to natural, beautiful, inevitable processes.

The ‘waterfall’ flows, because waterfalls always flow. It’s in their nature. All we have to do is trust nature to do as it does. Next time you’re not in the mood, but want to be, or you’re getting lost in a spiral of self-defeated thoughts, remember that there is a jungle of unknown delights to be explored, not conquered.

So, go get lost! Don’t jump to conclusions. Just see what happens out in the wilderness. Lots of things may rise, but the nagging fear, ‘maybe I’m doing it wrong’, won’t be among them.

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