Most people have enough trouble figuring out the meaning of love, so let’s see if we can figure out the meaning of sex.
You would think that everyone knows the answer. What with the constant public conversation about all things sexual, everyone must know what sex is all about.
Given the ongoing war on shame our airwaves are filled with discussions about sex. Not just everyday sex, not just loving sex, but the most vulgar and profane sexual behaviors we can find. This year’s presidential election has been a treasure trove of depraved sexual experiences… on both sides of the widening political divide.
If you are theoretically sophisticated you will probably first think that sex is all about pleasure. We have a constitutional right to pleasure, to as much pleasure as we can fit into our busy schedules. Sex is just an especially intense pleasure… designed to reduce stress and to enhance our well-being.
Many people will find that definition to be on the money. And yet, it is not really a definition of sex. It is a definition of decadent sex…the kind where two organisms are seeking the maximum pleasure, even if it takes a maximum of effort. The pleasure-seeking or lotus-eating version of sexual experience does not involve human beings and does not really engage anything like a human relationship.
Let’s see if we can do better.
Why not say that sex is an expression of love? We will ignore the fact that there are several different kinds of love and that not all of them lend themselves to erotic expression. Be that as it may, serious people believe that having sex is making love. It may sound quaint, but they see it as the most serious adult expression for the act.
In truth, if memory serves, during the Victorian Era the phrase “making love” was more likely to mean: declaring one’s love for another person. Today, we have surpassed that quaint custom. We make love before we declare anything like love. If we are young and trendy we make love before we find out each other’s names.
To be fair, hooking up is closer to pleasure seeking. Or at least, it would be if both parties were obtaining a quota of pleasure. In most cases they are not. They are really doing it to show off how uninhibited and shameless they are.
We have gotten this far without recognizing that sex for a man and sex for a woman are not really the same thing. When a men and a woman make what Shakespeare called “the beast with two backs” they are not doing precisely the same thing. I trust that you have noticed. That is why there is and has always been a double standard. Two people doing two different things are going to be judged by different standards. As long as this situation persists, we will have double standards. Stop whining about it.
I think it fair to say that, for women, there’s always more to sex than the pleasure, or even the bestiality. One has been told, on excellent authority, that this something more is a spiritual dimension, a dimension that is redolent of meaning, a dimension that places the coital act within a social context.
In less portentous terms, this means that women do not, as a rule, engage in sex with men they do not know for no other reason than getting off. I trust that this is not news to anyone who has attained the age of adult reason.
One is painfully aware of the fact that today’s educators and media lights have pounded a slightly different message into today’s young women. They have told young women that sexual pleasure is their birthright and that they ought to acquire as much as possible as often as possible. And they have added that the greatest risk to life and love and career success, the curse that threatens all women’s creative self-actualization is, you guessed it: pregnancy. The second greatest threat is true love, because it might lead a woman to want to get married and to get pregnant, thereby ruining her life by limiting her career prospects.
When it comes to sex, women are told, anything goes. Anything, that is, but pregnancy. There are several ways to limit this danger.
First, engage only in sexual acts that constitute foolproof contraception. If you engage in these actions it does not matter what time of the month it is, you will not get pregnant. I guarantee it. God only knows why women do not limit themselves to such activities, but one supposes that the fault lies with men and the patriarchy.
The second solution is—you guessed it—free contraception. For reasons beyond everyone’s ken, today’s self-sufficient, financially solvent young woman cannot—you heard it directly from Sandra Fluke (rhymes with luck)—afford a $9.00 monthly expense for birth control pills. Fluke insisted that the government pay, because payment shows these women that the nation supports their lifestyle choice. Otherwise you would hurt their feelings.
The third solution is, of course, abortion on demand. A woman who is dumb enough—scratch that—who has been coerced by her boyfriend into having unprotected sex and who suffers the indignity of pregnancy must have a way to end the pregnancy as quickly and expeditiously and cheaply as possible.
Without getting into the thick underbrush of the abortion debate, we recognize that modern feminists have glorified abortion as the ultimate liberation from femaledom. The right to have a taxpayer funded abortion has become confused with women’s rights. One notes that purely individuated liberated female beings must, according to the pro-abortion crowd, have the right to make the decision without any feedback from the male who was involved in the act of conception.
So, one thing is sure. For modern women, the meaning of sex can never be procreation. Unless, of course, they choose for it to be so. And they are not allowed to choose for it to be so until their careers are firmly established and they are approaching the age of 40.
In order to induce women to live their lives as feminists want them to live their lives, women’s magazines have been peddling the notion that women can get pregnant whenever they wish… even when they are over 40.
For that reason, Jane Brody in the New York Times has taken the pain to explain to young women that the notion of late pregnancy—recently touted as the road to being a better mother—is something of a lie. Or, as she puts it, is “misleading.” True enough, some women do get pregnant when they are nearing or over 40, but the risk of infertility grows with age. Only a fool would ignore the facts. And the facts have been out there for decades now. Yet, many women ignore them.
Brody, no less than I, is not telling women what to do. She is alarmed, as is Miriam Zoll, a woman who waited too long, and as is Dr. Mark Sauer, former director of the I.V.F. clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. They are all alarmed because women are being lied to about how easy it is to conceive using I.V.F.
Medical science can do wonders, but it cannot consistently allow you to produce a baby, regardless of your age. One feels constrained to notice that the rage for I.V.F. suggests a rejection of the old fashioned way of procreating. Postponing the process places it all in the hands of physicians, and, dare we notice, it is not the most romantic way to conceive.
Brody wants women to be well-informed about the probabilities of late conception. Pregnancy and childbirth can be engineered, but the failure rates are high:
Her [Miriam Zoll’s] story prompted me to check the latest federally mandated statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease and Prevention from the nation’s nearly 500 fertility clinics on I.V.F. procedures done in 2013. Using fresh (that is, not frozen) eggs or embryos from women trying to conceive, at age 40 fewer than 30 percent undergoing I.V.F. became pregnant and fewer than 20 percent gave birth to live babies as a result.
The success rate was somewhat better when I.V.F. was done with frozen embryos from a woman’s own eggs: about 42 percent became pregnant and 30 percent delivered live babies.
Dr. Mark Sauer believes that these statistics are being distorted in order to promote what has become a money-making industry. And they completely distort other risks that come with late pregnancy.
Dr. Mark V. Sauer, former director of the I.V.F. clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center who has been using the technique for three decades, corroborated Ms. Zoll’s frustration with the industry’s self-promotion.
“Programs will brag that they are the best, with extraordinarily high rates of pregnancy even in women over 40,” Dr. Sauer said in an interview. “There’s hardly any age that the clinics now turn away.” He cited reports in both the lay and medical literature of even postmenopausal women giving birth through I.V.F.
On clinic websites, he said, “There’s a lot of massaging of the data, often combining data from several years to make the results look better. And clinical pregnancy rates do not necessarily reflect live birthrates. Live births are what really matter.”
Furthermore, he said, “The younger women are when they undergo I.V.F., the better the pregnancy rates,” adding that younger women are also more likely to have healthy pregnancies that end with the birth of healthy babies.
In a report he published last year in Fertility and Sterility, Dr. Sauer wrote that “advanced age” is a risk factor not only for female infertility, but also for “pregnancy loss, fetal anomalies, stillbirth, and obstetric complications.”
Although these risks have been known for centuries, “women are delaying childbearing to pursue educational and career goals in greater numbers than ever before,” he wrote. “Data from the United States demonstrate a dramatic rise in births to mothers once considered ‘elderly.’ This is particularly evident in women older than 40,” an age at which there is a significant rise in infertility, as well as higher rates of miscarriage among women who succeed in getting pregnant.
There’s more to sex than pleasure. Thinking that the meaning of sex is not procreation can often turn pleasure into pain.