Ten years ago I was on the phone with my friend Bill, talking about what it was like to be a sex educator, and I said, “The longer I do this, the more convinced I am that there’s no such thing as normal.”
Ten years ago.
But what are we going to do about it, dearies? Here’s the rub: the whole CONCEPT of “normal” is misapplied to sexuality, and yet the most common question I am asked is some variation on “Am I normal?” The answer is virtually always, “Yes,” yet people virtually always feel totally unhelped by that answer. They want to know how they compare to others, as though others’ sexuality provides any kind of meaningful metric for one’s own sexuality.
So I’ve just read Blink and Outliers, both by Malcolm Gladwell. Normality is, I think, something Gladwell explores in different ways in all his books. And maybe one point he makes could be an answer to the “normal sex” problem. Here’s an important bit:
(Watch the whole thing. It’s worth it.)
There is no mustard hierarchy, no spaghetti sauce hierarchy… and no sexual hierarchy.
Not the perfect “sex,” the perfect “sexes.” Sex to appeal to vast diversity of human tastes, inclinations, and preferences. Zesty pickles, visible solids in your spaghetti sauce, and spanking, if you like.
I mean, with pickles, spaghetti sauce, and cola, we have preferences, right, and we can even build identities around those preferences. It’s also true that our preferences can change over time, and our identity changes with them. And sometimes you don’t know what you want until you TASTE it.
So far so good, right? Just like sex.
Let us “confront the notion of the Platonic dish,” or, in this case, the Platonic sexuality. There is no “form of the good” for sex. There are only sexes. I love it!
But there’s a snag, see. The immediate inclination when you think about “sexes” is to sort out some sort of heuristic for sexuality, to break folks up into “sex clusters,” like the coffee clusters in the video.
And we kind of HAVE clusters (gay, masculine, feminine, straight, bi, kinky, vanilla, etc etc), and look how well that works. Not at all well, I mean to say. There’s just too much diversity; we’d need a heuristic with so many different categories it would hardly be worth paying attention to. Categories are a failure with regard to sex, and don’t we end up putting those clusters on a hierarchy, which defeats the purpose?
But humans, we NEED categories. It’s our shortcut, quick-and-dirty way of making sense of the world.
Hell, what’s the answer? I don’t know, I don’t know.
There’s no such thing as normal. But there’s also hardly any such thing as abnormal, ya know? And even worse, there’s not even a good system for horizontally segmenting human sexuality. It’s just a mess, a chaotic, teeming swarm of hormones and bodies and ideas. Here we all are, and what are we going to do about it, as Peter Wimsey says.
Sort this out, would you, and let me know what you come up with. There’s no such thing as normal. Stop worrying about it and just enjoy the sex you’re having, even if it’s just with yourself. Be your own cluster. Discuss.