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Dorothy Parker – I require only three things of a man. He must be handsome, ruthless and stupid.

I require only three things of a man. He must be handsome, ruthless and stupid.

Fiction

Black and White: New Fiction by Don Stoll

Doctor Stephen Frost and Doctor Rachel Davidson were two of the most esteemed residents of Indianapolis, Indiana.

They devoted themselves to causes praised by other residents, whether they stood left or right of the centre. They supported the arts and the restoration of historic neighbourhoods. They supported college scholarships for worthy young people from low-income families of all ethnic backgrounds. But their principal philanthropic interests were medical. Stephen, an orthopaedic surgeon, devoted several hours of one Saturday each month to performing free surgeries for the indigent. Rachel, a cardiologist, spent several hours of one Sunday each month in the same way. She was Jewish. Though generally not observant, she treated Saturday the way Christians treat Sunday.

Because they avoided politics, other people thought they lacked strong opinions. In fact, Stephen and Rachel took their own black and white view of the world. It’s simply right to do what one can to help people, they agreed, and simply wrong to refuse to do so. But they had made the prudent choice to keep this opinion to themselves in a world that other people had made grey, filling it with grey, wishy-washy excuses for bad behaviour.

Stephen and Rachel had limited their philanthropic activities to Indianapolis—or, rather, to the greater Indianapolis area. In truth, they were esteemed residents of Indianapolis only if Indianapolis is broadly construed. They had grown up in different Indianapolis suburbs and attended different high schools: Zionsville Community in Stephen’s case, Carmel in Rachel’s. They had pursued postsecondary studies in the city, meeting as seniors at Butler University and becoming engaged while at Indiana University School of Medicine, yet all of their increasingly larger houses had been in the suburbs. They told themselves they were not the kind of people who would refuse to live in the city, and they disdained such people. But living in the suburbs came naturally.

By the time they were in their late forties, Stephen and Rachel had started to talk about reaching beyond greater Indianapolis, into the wider world. They thought they had established sufficient credibility so that no one would dare object that there were plenty of people at home who needed help. Helping people who lived far from greater Indianapolis would not entail turning their backs on their home region. They possessed the hearts and the means to help the needy both within and without greater Indianapolis.

So they happily accepted the invitation from a former patient of Stephen’s to meet a Maasai husband and wife who had traveled thousands of miles to raise money to drill a well in a parched area of Tanzania.

The former patient was a retired schoolteacher named Esther. Stephen’s replacement of her knee had enabled her to fulfil the lifelong dream of visiting the continent of her ancestors. Lacking knowledge of the exact part of West Africa from which they’d been stolen, she had paid tribute to the victims of slavery in Ghana. Then she had gone to see the great animals of East Africa. On safari she had met a Maasai couple who explained that in their part of Tanzania, access to fresh water was becoming desperately scarce. The couple and their neighbours had spoken with a water engineer from Dar es Salaam. He had assured them that for a hundred thousand dollars, he could drill a well that would solve their problems. He had laughed and asked if they had a hundred thousand dollars. Then he had laughed again, advising them to contact him when they did.

Esther did not have a hundred thousand dollars, either. But she had told the Maasai couple that she knew some rich people. If the couple’s community could come up with half the money needed to bring them to Indianapolis, she would pay the rest of their fare.

Thus, one fine spring evening Stephen and Rachel found themselves crowded with some twenty other members of the Indianapolis philanthropic community into Esther’s modest single-story home on the fringe of Ransom Place Historic District. Stephen and Rachel had passed the word to their friends after receiving Esther’s invitation.

All the philanthropists were ready to be solicited, and many had come ready also to be entertained. But one, devoted to support of the theatrical arts, had not. She shouldered her way between Stephen and Rachel as they stood in the schoolteacher’s living room and as the Maasai couple explained that they wished to perform a traditional dance.

“I understand theatre,” she said under her breath. “Those are costumes that have nothing to do with how these people really live. They’re here as dancing bears.”

She finished her wine and left.

Stephen and Rachel moved together, filling the gap left by her departure. They cared less about the authenticity of the performance than about the couple’s need. Stephen and Rachel had decided to write a check for twenty-five thousand dollars.

However, as Stephen observed the dance, he realised that he cared also about the beauty of the Maasai woman, Victoria. He imagined her still festooned with jewellery, but no longer clothed in her spectacular scarlet robe. He imagined her bouncing up and down not on her toes in the schoolteacher’s living room, but on her knees in his own bed.

“Don’t Maasai men have many wives?” he whispered, wondering about the others.

“Esther says they’re Christians,” Rachel answered. “Lutheran.”

Both disturbed by his thoughts and eager to reward Victoria’s beauty, Stephen brought out his chequebook. On the top check he wrote “50,000.” He showed Rachel and she nodded.

Watching the dance, he imagined the Maasai man, Lucas, also shorn of his scarlet robe, appearing in the bed along with Victoria. One hand played with her breasts as she bounced up and down. He would catch a breast as it descended, then impart to its upward flight an extra boost. Meanwhile, Lucas’s other hand caressed Stephen.

Stephen became agitated. He was about to tell Rachel that they should leave the check with their hostess and go home when the dance ended. Rachel pulled him by the hand so that they could present their gift to the Maasai couple, who stood with Esther. The husband, the wife, and Esther were overcome with gratitude.

With the possibilities of giving thanks exhausted, Esther changed the subject.

“You should dance with them,” she told Stephen and Rachel. “You’re so fit.”

Stephen and Rachel ate healthily and exercised avidly and looked ten years younger than their age. The compliments directed at them sometimes hinted that their dedication to fitness was self-indulgent. They were sensitive to the criticism, but they argued that good health would enable them to give better and longer service to the needy.

Esther had made Stephen blush. He glanced at the shoulders and arms of the Maasai man, left bare by his robe. Stephen had never been as fit as this man.

Lucas asked if Stephen and Rachel had ever visited Tanzania.

“But you must come on safari,” he said, and Victoria said, “You must.”

“Absolutely,” Rachel said.

“You must also visit us and see where we will have the well,” Lucas added.

As easily as that, it had been decided that Stephen and Rachel would go on safari. Stephen wasn’t worried about finding temptation in his way. He would find a reason why they would be unable to visit Victoria and Lucas.

#

        The Maasai couple had advised Stephen and Rachel to drive themselves on safari. But they were unprepared to get stuck in a pothole in the bush while darkness approached as swiftly as the lion they’d seen kill a zebra that morning.

“We’re literally in the middle of nowhere,” Stephen said.

Rachel didn’t tell him that he’d misused “literally.”

“There’s smoke from cooking fires to the west,” Rachel said from atop the Land Cruiser’s hood. “And pretty close.”

“Sun’s in our eyes if a lion attacks,” Stephen said.

He’d meant to laugh, but he realised that it wasn’t a joke.

She looked at the Land Cruiser.

“I know a way to relax so we won’t worry so much about lions. And if we are going to die it would be nice to do it one last time.”

“Five minutes,” Stephen said, his eyes on the descending sun.

Rachel kept her eye on her watch. After four minutes, she said, “Not going to happen for me, so you go ahead—but quietly, because of the lions.”

“I can’t,” he said, stopping abruptly. “I keep thinking about the lions.”

Luckily, the cooking fires were very close by. They soon found themselves in the only café in the village of Ngula. The owner spoke some English. He explained that he had no beer left and that he needed to close because of the approaching darkness.

He led them to the home of a man named Ibrahim, who had a wife and six children. The family spoke no English. They smiled without cease as they shared their dinner of rice, beans, and tea with Stephen and Rachel. The guests were never told the wife’s name, but they memorised the names of the children.

The café man had said that Ibrahim made furniture. So he could work in the rainy season, he’d attached a shed to his house. It was the dry season and the shed was empty.

“I suppose we’ll sleep out there,” Stephen said.

With her fingers, Ibrahim’s wife had given the age of the youngest child, Shakila, as two. When the child became hungry, she pulled up her T-shirt and nursed the little girl. Stephen and Rachel looked away. Then they realised that the mother was not self-conscious and that Ibrahim himself did not expect them to look away.

Ibrahim’s wife finished nursing. The little girl was asleep. Mother and children went out to the shed. Ibrahim led his guests into the only bedroom. Stephen and Rachel tried by means of gestures to insist that they should take the shed. Ibrahim insisted more strongly that they shouldn’t.

Lying on the bed of Ibrahim and his wife, Stephen finally said, “They’re asleep.”

He reached beneath Rachel’s T-shirt. She intercepted his hand.

“Not in their bed.”

He’d anticipated her reply. He swung his feet onto the floor and stood up.

“Like this,” he said, lowering his pyjama bottoms as he switched on his phone’s flashlight to shine upon himself. “Come sit on my steel girder.”

“The shed’s the other side of that wall, and. . . well, culturally. . .”

“Culturally?”

“Africans are extremely religious.”

Stephen remembered that Ibrahim had prayed for a long time before dinner.

“But we can be quiet.”

“Not that quiet,” she said, turning her back on her husband. “Put it away.”

Stephen obeyed. He returned to bed with a plan about what he would do once Rachel had fallen asleep. The memory of the nursing mother would inspire him. But he fell asleep before Rachel did.

On their first date, twenty-five years earlier at Butler, Rachel had delighted Stephen with her candour regarding certain sexual experiments that she’d undertaken as a high school senior and as a freshman and sophomore at the university. She had also assured him that they were only experiments. On this night in Tanzania, she was less candid about her fascination with the nursing mother. Once Stephen had fallen asleep, she took advantage of his slumber in the same way he had intended to take advantage of hers.

#

        In the morning, Ibrahim introduced the foreigners to his neighbour, Paul Nimokate. Paul was a schoolteacher who spoke English.

“Can you tell us the name of Ibrahim’s wife?” Rachel said.

“Mrs. Abdi,” Paul said. “She is the wife of Ibrahim Abdi.”

Paul and Ibrahim talked at length. Paul finally spoke to Stephen and Rachel.

“Ibrahim is worried about his friend: a certain Timothy.”

Paul and Ibrahim talked some more.

“Ibrahim will find men who can help with your Land Cruiser,” Paul said. “We will go to see Timothy.”

Stephen told Paul that he and Rachel hadn’t wished to see Ibrahim’s family relegated to his shed.

“Ibrahim says white people only know how to sleep on a bed,” Paul laughed.

#

        Timothy’s appearance startled Rachel. She tried to imagine his features sheathed in black skin.

“You understand the danger?” Paul said, and Stephen and Rachel nodded.

Days before, near the border with Burundi, an albino man had been beaten to death for his body parts in front of his children. Another man, not an albino, had tried to intervene. The Good Samaritan was killed with a machete. The children were young, but on the basis of their statements the police were looking for four men in a large white car.

“Everyone in Ngula hopes that Timothy can find a wife here,” Paul said. “Here he is safe because he is known, but not in other places.”

“Does he understand English?” Stephen said.

“He is shy to speak, but he understands.”

Paul cleared his throat.

“He has found a wife here. But there is a problem. The young woman, a certain Stella Ntutu, is a teacher. The children love her, but this is not her home village.”

He paused.

“The parents must be consulted. And Stella’s father is not well to travel.”

Rachel looked at her husband and then at Paul.

“So Timothy hopes we’ll drive him to see Stella’s parents,” she said.

“After the men have removed your Land Cruiser from the pothole,” Paul said.

Stephen looked at his wife, who said, “As soon as the Land Cruiser’s ready.”

“God will reward you,” Paul said.

Rachel wasn’t sure about that. She had misgivings about the way she’d ended the night. It smacked of exploitation, given the wealth of Stephen and herself and the poverty of Ibrahim’s family. Rachel and Stephen had hoped that they would never exploit the poor. But she might make amends for her nocturnal slip with the good deed of driving the young albino to speak with the parents of his would-be wife.

“The distance is not one hundred kilometres,” Paul said. “It is close to Burundi.”

“Burundi?” Stephen said. “Is it close to where that albino was. . .”

“Timothy can stay in the Land Cruiser with the window up,” Paul said quickly. “People will see three white people. He will not get out even to help himself.”

Rachel looked at her husband.

“I think that means he won’t pee the whole way,” Stephen smiled.

“Three white people will be safe,” Paul said. “Even bad men are afraid of what your government will do if they kill white people.”

Neither Stephen nor Rachel had noticed the dirt-coloured overnight bag sitting on the ground behind Timothy. He picked it up.

“Shall we find the Land Cruiser?” Paul said.

Rachel allowed the Africans to walk ahead. Stephen fell behind with her.

“If Timothy ever moves away,” Rachel whispered, “he should wear blackface.”

Stephen looked at her sternly. Rachel apologised as she thought again of her bad behaviour during the night and reminded herself that she was performing a good deed.

#

        Ibrahim’s men had extracted the Land Cruiser from the pothole.

“Should we give them money?” Rachel asked Paul.

“Your kindness is their payment,” he said.

Stephen looked at Rachel. She nodded and he gave the men money.

“Timothy knows where to go,” Paul said, adding “Jesus will reward this kindness.”

One of the Africans spoke.

“This Muslim boy says that God is with those who serve others,” Paul said.

#

        The travellers were alone. Stephen started the Land Cruiser.

“Got to help myself,” Rachel said as she unbuckled.

She took a few steps and looked back at the Land Cruiser. The men had turned their heads. Seen in profile through the dusty window, Timothy’s face looked white.

Wanting to avoid the mistake that had put them in the pothole, Stephen drove fast and the Land Cruiser flew over the potholes. After a little while, Rachel asked him to open the top. He stopped. The three of them opened the top and Stephen drove again. Timothy remained seated while Rachel, boots off, stood on her seat.

“I love fucking Africa,” she shouted.

She glanced down at Timothy.

“Sorry,” she said.

They left behind the isolation that had enveloped Ngula. Rachel was exposed to the dust kicked up by passing cars. It became too much and Stephen laughed as she sat down.

“It’s like you’re part of that tribe where the women coat themselves in mud instead of wearing clothes.”

“I think they wear ochre and butter,” Rachel said.

Stephen imagined the pictures of the Himba women that he’d seen on the Internet. He had wanted to visit Namibia, but it would have been far out of the way.

Rachel looked back at Timothy.

“I hope he’s watching where we’re going.”

She closed her eyes as they approached a huge pothole. The Land Cruiser struck the earth on the far side and her teeth rattled in her head. She heard Timothy shouting.

Kushoto.”

Stephen looked in the mirror, but Timothy didn’t point.

“Left,” Rachel said in time for Stephen to choose a direction at a fork in the road.

She looked at Timothy.

“I wasn’t sure about kushoto,” she said. “But he’s smiling that beautiful smile.”

She was trying to convince herself. She wanted Timothy to have black skin.

Timothy gave fair warning ahead of the next fork.

Kulia.”

Rachel turned and raised her hands.

“How much farther?” she said.

She showed Timothy five fingers, then ten.

He showed ten. She told Stephen ten kilometres.

After about five, the Land Cruiser abruptly pitched to the left.

“Do we have a jack and a spare?” Rachel said as she climbed out. “Should Timothy get out? Take some weight off?”

“No one to see him here,” Stephen shrugged. “No traffic since the last fork.”

But Timothy had noticed the white Land Cruiser coming up from behind. It stopped parallel to them.

Mzungus,” the driver said. “What are you doing here?”

Rachel tried to count the occupants of the shadowed interior.

“You are needing a shower,” said a different man. “I can’t see your white skin.”

“White skin can be pretty if it is washed,” the driver laughed.

“She forgets how to wash,” the other man said. “But we can wash her.”

“A big white car,” Stephen said quietly, and, to the men, “Jambo.”

Rachel thought that his false cheer wouldn’t fool them.

Four men climbed out. The driver took a tire iron from the back of his Land Cruiser.

“We have only this, mzungu,” the driver said.

“We have a jack,” Stephen said. “We can change your tire before I change ours.”

Rachel noticed the other vehicle’s flat.

The two men who hadn’t spoken approached Stephen and Rachel’s Land Cruiser.

“There’s nothing in there,” Rachel said.

She worried that by raising her voice, she had amplified the sound of her fear.

“They don’t know English,” said the one who had talked about washing her.

He wore a Yankees cap. He said something in Swahili. The men laughed, and the two who had approached Stephen and Rachel’s Land Cruiser turned around.

“Ready to change your tire?” Stephen said, the false cheer gone from his voice.

The driver fingered the top button of Rachel’s khaki shirt.

“Hey—” Stephen said as he took a step toward the driver.

The man in the Yankees cap shoved Stephen to the ground.

“Give that to me,” he said, and the driver handed him the tire iron.

He raised the tire iron above his head and swung it toward Stephen. He stopped his swing halfway and laughed. The driver laughed and unbuttoned Rachel’s shirt.

“I think when this shirt is off, we will see white skin.”

“We like all kinds of white skin,” the man in the Yankees cap said.

The driver removed Rachel’s safari shirt and touched the hem of her T-shirt. She shut her eyes and he said something in Swahili. She opened her eyes.

“I told them to see what you have in your Land Cruiser,” the driver said.

“There’s noth—” Stephen said, but the man in the Yankees cap raised the tire iron.

The two men who had approached the Land Cruiser went toward it again. Rachel turned her head and saw them peer through the windows, but she closed her eyes as she felt the hem of her T-shirt rise above her navel.

One of the men said gonjwa: the word for “sick,” Rachel had learned.

“You have some sick man?” the driver said.

An ugly cough erupted from inside the Land Cruiser.

The driver and the man in the Yankees cap joined the other two next to the Land Cruiser. Stephen remained on the ground while Rachel followed the men.

Timothy lay on his side, head and arms covered by his jacket.

“He’s cold and he has a rash on his face,” Rachel said.

The cough exploded again. From beneath his jacket, Timothy spat on the floor.

The men retreated and climbed inside their Land Cruiser. One of the men who didn’t know English jumped back out. He spoke in Swahili to the driver, who nodded. All of the men climbed out. The other one who didn’t know English had a machete.

“Jesus,” Stephen said.

The man with the machete circled Stephen and Rachel’s Land Cruiser and hacked at its tires. The others took its spare tire and jack. As he and his friends left, the man in the Yankees cap matter-of-factly swung his tire iron at Stephen, who ducked out of the way.

The men drove off. Timothy came out of the Land Cruiser.

“You’re fucking brilliant,” Rachel said. “I mean, brilliant. If Stella can’t marry you, I will.”

“From here it is five kilometres,” Timothy smiled. “We can walk.”

#

        Stella Ntutu’s parents gave Timothy permission to marry their daughter. They said they worried for him, but that Africa was changing. Soon there would be no more bad men killing albinos. All Africans would be Christian and there would be no witchcraft.

Stella’s mother started preparing a lunch of rice, beans, and tea to share with their guests. She also heated water for Rachel to pour over her head. Stella’s father had said she needed to wash so that she would look like a white woman.

Love & Sex

How Cultural Myths are Screwing with Sex by Karin Jones

Years ago I was, like many of us now during CoronaVirus isolation, getting to know a man I’d met online through text and phone conversations. Our schedules took weeks to mesh, so in the interim we shared our dating histories. Always honest to a fault, I told him how much I’d been enjoying sex at fifty more than any other decade. He got quiet. “Do you think you have a sex addiction?” He then suggested I read a book called Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power.

Rather than piss me off, his question triggered an ice cold wave of shame. I hadn’t, until that moment, considered my midlife enthusiasm for shagging to be anything but a normal reaction, and well-deserved reward, for years of un-excavated erotic curiosity. I couldn’t see pathology in what I was doing. But because I was rather enamoured with this relative stranger, I allowed his judgement to color the way I felt about myself rather than recognize his question as a reflection of our cultural upbringing and his own fears. What I wish I’d had the guts to say in the moment was, “Maybe you need to read a book called Male Insecurity Over Female Sexual Exuberance.” Needless to say, we did not go on to have a relationship.

I recalled this brief liaison as I was reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. As Harari attempts to condense the 500,000 year history of Homo sapiens into 500 pages, he highlights the largely fictional beliefs we grow up with, the myths that bind us into cohesive tribes. Cultures form around collective myths; the son of God was born on earth and walked on water. Or the aryan race is superior both physically and mentally than any other. Myth creation is unique to Homo sapiens, who evolved to “speak about things that don’t really exist and believe six impossible things before breakfast. You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.” (For an eye watering 15 minute analysis of The Bible, watch Ricky Gervais take the piss out of God and the Devil).

Long before primitive hunter-gatherer societies understood embryology, it was believed “a child is not born from the sperm of a single man, but from the accumulation of sperm in a woman’s womb. A good mother will make a point of having sex with several different men, especially when she is pregnant, so that her child will enjoy the qualities not merely of the best hunter, but also of the best storyteller, the strongest warrior and the most considerate lover.” (Sapiens) Polyandry was considered a good and normal thing in most early clans. And, because there was no known singular father, child rearing was a collective act.

The myths we believe, when traced to their origins, have little to do with biology and everything to do with the narrow opinions of a few influencers. Of course, religion was by far the biggest influence over our moral values. Now we have the Kardashians to contend with. Norman Rockwell portrayed the putative myth of American freedom through his paintings; heteronormative, happy family scenes of the “good life” worth fighting for in World War II. This was despite the fact that Rockwell’s first marriage ended in divorce and both he and his second wife wound up in psychiatric institutions. The myth that you can make a stronger baby through sex with multiple men is every bit as legitimate as the notion that monogamy is “natural” in the 21st Century. Let’s face it, only 3-5% of mammals are monogamous. I’m not arguing against monogamy. I’m only pointing out that it’s a cultural myth, not a biological imperative.

When my sexual curiosity was deemed an addiction, that was simply a prevailing cultural myth: women do not let their sexual appetites become a focus of their lives and men are, by nature, the more sexualized. Harari puts it most elegantly when he writes, “Biology allows. Culture forbids.” That’s just about the truest, most devastating statement I’ve ever read.

Indeed, our bodies are wonderous playgrounds. We can stimulate and penetrate any number of zones and orifices alone or with partners. When culture passes judgement over what we do with our biology, that becomes the myth around which we attempt to legislate behavior, both other people’s and our own. When we acknowledge our judgemental attitudes around sex should be just as suspicious as racist stereotypes, women, especially, might allow their bodily desires a voice rather than a muzzle.

In the book Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free  Wednesday Martin, like Harari, argues that sexuality is defined by culture, not biology. But Martin wades deeper into the muck of cultural evolution. She takes a terrifically feminist look at how our departure from nomadic life to agrarian civilizations was a bum deal, especially for women. In primitive cultures, society revolved around matrilineal bonds and men and women toiled for sustenance equally. Low body mass naturally prevented pregnancies from piling up one after the other. But once agriculture became dominated by tools and machines that required brawn to operate, women were relegated to the home, bore more children as food storage became abundant, and saw themselves transformed into objects of men’s wealth. Through the rise of myth, religion, and economic dynamics, women lost their previous social status and became defined by men, even owned by them.

Martin then makes the case that women don’t necessarily have less desire for sex than men, but cultural myths around marriage and monogamy have us feeling ashamed of our sexual appetites because of the constraints we’ve put around them. And until very recently, the economic fallout of cheating and divorce may be a major factor in why a woman is unwilling to prioritize her sex life. It’s the patriarchy still fogging up our lenses.

So, is the pendulum swinging back now in the age of resurgent feminine autonomy? For sure. And we can see that in how we legislate sex. Marital rape was finally outlawed in the UK and US in 1991 and 1996 respectively. Gay marriage was legalized in 2014 and 2015. Women are gradually narrowing the infidelity gap by making their own money and becoming less dependent on men. We’re also delaying marriage, no longer an economic advantage for many of us. Then why do women still express a sense of shame for their sexual appetites? Martin writes, “When woman after woman in a committed relationship tells you she is unusual, sexually speaking – because she wants more sex than she’s supposed to, because she feels compelled or tempted to stray – you can’t shake the feeling that in matters of female desire, sexuality and monogamy in particular, “unusual” is normal, and “normal” desperately needs to be redefined.”

I feel badly that I’ve suggested in past writing that women will naturally lose interest in sex as they age, obliquely laying the blame for their mate’s infidelity on their low desire. But I think I got it all wrong. Of course, hormones are a factor, but flagging desire may have a lot to do with how we perceive sexuality as a culture and the repercussions of straying outside those boundaries. (There’s also the difficulties of kindling desire for the one you’ve been bonking for decades, but that’s another post.) I’m no stranger to being shamed and condemned for speaking up about cheating . But chances are, in a culture with less inflammatory attitudes towards sexuality, my pieces might have never registered ire. Morality is cultural, not universal.

Having good sex, when you really noodle on it, is largely a byproduct of culture, especially for women. In countries with a greater safety net than we have in the US, one big bugaboo of pleasure – economic insecurity- is largely absent. Health insurance alone in the US can cost over a thousand dollars a month – basic doctor visits are an additional charge –  a fact no person in a country with universal health care has to face. I swear, if Republicans ever overturn Obama Care it’s going to put an enormous strain on my ability to orgasm.

But take a look at the countries where sexual equality is highest and bankruptcies rare, and you’ll find a society that subsidizes the needs of families regardless of whether marriage is present. By supporting families, culture is, in essence, freeing up the time for any parent to contribute equally to the social and economic fabric of a society. Like the hunter-gatherers, child rearing becomes collective and the status of women is one of equals. These are also countries where the roll of religion has become essentially insignificant. “Scandinavia’s secularism decoupled sex from sin, and this worked out well for females.” writes Lynn Parramore in a Reuters piece called ‘Why Scandinavian Women Make the Rest of the World Jealous’.

And Scandinavians might be having the best sex. An often cited study carried out on the data collected by VictoriaMilan, a website for partnered people seeking affairs, showed that Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway topped the charts as home to the most women saying they have a “high sex drive”. Give a woman health care, education and daycare, and not only are you going to grow an egalitarian society, you’re going to see a lot of post-orgasmic afterglow powering the economy.

Of course, it’s not just women whose lives are shrouded by cultural myths. Men also grapple with the messages culture has impressed upon them. The so-called “toxic masculinity” became a talking point in the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and is still discussed today. Toxic masculinity is, according to the sociologist Michael Flood, the “expectation that boys and men must be active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant”. Given that so many boys and men I’ve known over the years ARE active, aggressive, tough, daring and dominant, I’ve no doubt the culture in which we marinate from birth is defining what it means to be a man or a woman. Men may be overall more aggressive than women, and women, overall, more cooperative than men. But myth becomes toxic when these traits become the expectations of gender. And the psychological toll of falling outside these norms affects each of us differently. A woman who loves sex feels she is abnormal. A man who loves cuddling believes himself to be less than a man.

We do, as individuals, have some say in the evolution of sex by scrutinizing the messages we give our kids, partners and, most importantly, ourselves. Being a single mom has allowed me the opportunity to grow my competencies in areas that I would have earlier left to my husband, such as fixing the bicycles and exploring science with my son. This is the first place we can affect change. We perpetuate our cultural myths inside the home; through the division of labor, the way we fight, and the excuses we make for not challenging our stereotypes. Pick these apart at dinner and you’re going to be raising a new generation of cultural critics. Find opportunities to encourage women to be horny and men to be tender. We shouldn’t be telling our daughters to protect their ‘virtue’ and our sons to get to third base on the first date. The message should be the same to both: respect your partners, seek connection and consent, and don’t be afraid of sex – it’s a wonderful thing! God does not kill a kitten every time you masturbate. Don’t negatively judge what someone says feels good or how many people they want to feel good with. That’s culture talking. And sometimes culture talks shit.

Love, Karin

Write to me: relationships@ermagazine.org

Twitter me: @mskarinjones

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Galleries

Patpong – Bangkok After Dark

 

This gallery showcases the faces and bodies inside Bangkok’s infamous Patpong neighbourhood, a street where foreigners and locals alike gather to share in the revelry. These four acres of vice arose in the 1940s around the city’s airline offices and continues in the same tradition to this day. The photography has a unique and candid perspective on a nightlife where all inhibitions have been shed, in an environment where partygoers can feel comfortable exhibiting themselves amongst like-minded hedonists.

Taken by C. Flower & Mr Flash, this small selection of photos, on show for the first time, reflect an intimate portrayal of Patpong Road in its heyday — the late 1970s to the late 1990s, a time never to be seen again.

There has always been a strictly ‘no photo’ policy at Patpong, but these two photographers, being Thai and spending most evenings at Patpong, managed to sidestep this rule. They worked selling Polaroid snapshots to tourists but both took their own personal photos using 35mm cameras and analogue film. Over two decades, they gained the trust of not only the bar owners, security guards and the girls who worked in the bars, but also the regular foreigners who frequented the bars.

This unique photo collection, unobtainable by anyone else, captures the eroticism, the celebration and the crazy spirit of this most recognised road; a road frequently talked about, but up to now, only ever seen by those who were there.

© Private collection, courtesy of www.nickyakehurst.com

Please visit https://anyoneyouknow.wixsite.com/patpong to learn more.

Latest Articles

Puppy Love by Emily Ingram

When we talk about the depiction of sex in Britain before, say, the second World War, the visions are of starched collars coupled with a very prim and prudish morality. In fact, the truth is quite different.

In terms of visual erotica, the pornographic themes recognisable from the home pages of Pornhub and Brazzers haven’t changed all that much in 300 years. Exhibitionism and voyeurism, threesomes, BDSM and urolagnia were all commonplace in forbidden novels, pamphlets and prints. Whilst it was impossible to peddle such articles overtly (with the possible exception of London’s notorious Holywell Street) because of their shocking content, many were circulated surreptitiously among friends in supper-clubs and public houses.

But there were some themes that are rather less familiar. During the late 18th Century, the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson created dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of erotic images for the future Prince Regent and his more decadent subjects. Most of these scenes were, as biographer Art Young rather charmingly puts it, ‘notoriously of free tendency as regards subject’. Almost anyone could make an appearance in these bawdy watercolours and prints: including, oddly, man’s best friend.

Thomas Rowlandson A young man and woman have intercourse in a stable

Some of Rowlandson’s dogs are purely ornamental (see example right). They stretch and doze in the foreground, oblivious to the debauchery occurring around them. However others are more directly involved. Small, shaggy hounds can often be seen embarking on their own sexual conquests or yapping indignantly at their beloved (and very preoccupied) masters. Either way, the placement of these creatures renders it difficult to escape their presence within the erotic sphere.

There are several explanations for Rowlandson’s liberal use of the canine companion: perhaps their inclusion was a sign of the times, a symbol of the increasing popularity of domesticated pets across social and economic boundaries.

Thomas Rowlandson Jolly Gipsies

It’s far more likely, however, that Rowlandson included these animals as part of his satirical view of Regency England. With the advent of the industrial revolution, Britain’s fortunes were advancing at an alarming rate. As slums overflowed and cities were darkened by the smoke that belched from factory chimneys, aristocrats and politicians became richer and more debauched by the day. As such, these rutting canines were a symbol of man’s stifling domestication; or, alternatively, his increasingly animalistic desire for wealth and flesh.

Rowlandson was not the only erotic artist with an interest in dogs. In the latter part of the 18th Century, the French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard painted several works depicting young women and their adored pets. Each piece is strikingly intimate, particularly Young Woman Playing with Dog: a private scene that radiates softness and sensuality.

JH Fragonard Young Woman Playing with a Dog

Whilst the subjects themselves are not inherently sexual (unlike those within Rowlandson’s etchings), they do serve to depict an element of passion in the bond between a woman and her lap-dog. In her essay on the works, Jennifer Milan argues that such relationships were the beginning of a new kind of human-animal bond: ‘situated in private enclosed spaces, contained within a circular flow of pose and gesture… the intimate relationship between doggy and woman is presented as mutually determined by interspecies sensuality’.

This playful interspecies relationship was not entirely innocent. It’s true that these young women saw their dogs as playthings or companions, just as today we might refer to our pets as ‘fur-babies’. But, if this really was the case, why was there such a strong element of sensuality in Fragonard’s depictions of these women?

The answer lies within the perception of these former hunting dogs as man’s principal love-rivals. Some even viewed the subservient puppy dog as less of a companion and more of a sexual servant for upper-class women. In his satirical poem Bounce to Fop, Alexander Pope embraces this idea with glee:

When all such Dogs have had their Days,
As knavish Pams, and fawning Trays;
When pamper’d Cupids, bestly Veni’s,
And motly, squinting Harvequini’s,
Shall lick no more their Lady’s Br—,
But die of Looseness, Claps, or Itch…’
Fair Thames from either ecchoing Shoare
Shall hear, and dread my manly Roar.

JH Fragonard Lady with Lapdog

So, take your pick: was this slightly absurd image of a woman fondling her lap-dog a conjuration of male hubris, or evidence of genuine sexual deviancy?

Certainly, such an abundance of canine appearances in 18th-century erotic art (and literature) suggests dogs were viewed as little more than potential sexual accessories.  As our beloved pets and even surrogate children, we may see this as shockingly aberrant today. But, as the period saw dogs become increasingly domesticated, there would be one significant and inevitable consequence: they would gradually become entangled in the complex sexual lives of their human masters.

Reviews

Crazy Crowds: review by Bruce Abrahams

The history of how humanity developed its social and political institutions has never been free of violence. Much of this has been to do with power struggles, initially between competing cliques and subsequently between nation states – as evidenced by centuries of international wars. In the European west especially however there has been a parallel struggle for social justice – itself far from pacifist in expression.

The American Declaration of Independence, the revolutionary year of 1848, the abolition of slavery and the advance of universal suffrage among many other recognitions of human rights including of course the UN Declaration of Human Rights marked a general if long drawn out paradigm shift in political consensus about what constituted freedom and democracy for all groups and individuals in society.

On the historical record the prime movers of much of this evolution appear to be Caucasian males. Those who have often participated less visibly and gained varying degrees of benefit but who appear still to be disadvantaged are female and/or people of colour. That much progress has been made for everyone cannot be seriously challenged. Yet it is being – not in terms of a need to build on progress and do better, but through claimed outrage over historic abuses and present perceived oppression. The author of injustice and enemy of the people is White Male, Patriarchal, Capitalist, Privileged.

Douglas Murray in his book The Madness of Crowds invites us to consider whether we are as a society being led down a road of unnecessary conflict by a small group of academic ideologues who seek to exploit legitimate issues for their own purposes. He reflects on the international and multi-campus faculty of victim grievance politics  that has burgeoned in the digital age and threatens to damage much of the healing already achieved by decades of social reform: not least because the assumptions and conclusions arrived at by these soi disant radical activists have infected the thinking of many of our  policy-making, educational and social institutions.

The viral foundation for the belief systems generated is revolutionary Marxism. Like any good virus this one has selected some specific and fertile groups of cells. Race, gender and sexual identity have become the main battle grounds for possession of the body politic – at least in its academic and administrative roles, notably in the USA and UK. In biological terms these arenas are a smart choice. They are already highly sensitized and prone to division and replication.

Murray may not be everyone’s choice of political philosopher but he is a distinguished journalist, a good writer and diligent researcher. He does not question the importance of racial, social and gender equality or the validity of individual choices. He does question (with vividly documented reasons) whether race, gender and sexual identity are, or should be the primary determinants for judgement in a world where it seems individuals can be made or ruined by self-appointed tribunes on the internet  and their anonymous followers on campuses and Twitter. He wonders if black politicians should be declared non-black for being Republican, or if ‘Kill White Men’ and similar on-line invocations by accredited writers for serious journals are constructive in the amendment of wrongs or whether opining that ‘Men aren’t Women’ is necessarily grounds for ‘no platforming’ notable feminists who query the rationale for self-certification of gender identity by men with penises let alone those who are convicted rapists. There’s a debate to be had here but not yet the clear conclusions drawn by the proponents of the ideas that there is only one type of politics for black people, that white men are better dead and that a man can share women’s privacies if he says he is one.

In a notably heartfelt chapter he deals with the current trans issue. His concern is not whether gender uncertainties exist but how they are managed on  a spectrum from real ‘hardware’ – the seriously challenging intersex problem of physiological indeterminacy to the less well-defined matter of whether or not to take a child’s ‘sense of self’ as an inarguable determinant of gender in its own right. This is a worthwhile question to ask given the possible consequences for mistaken diagnosis and the current fashion for embracing gender fluidity. There is a difference between choosing a lifestyle and making an irrevocable life-time choice and too many vested interests with a dog in the fight.

This book is a lot of good things – it’s a challenge to easy assumptions, a warning about the dangers of demagoguery (the hard left is no less prone to violent expression and vicious character assassination than the alt.right) and a reminder that our shared humanity is the most important label of all.

The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray, published by Bloomsbury

…Napoleon’s withered penis was sold in a 1969 auction for $38,000.