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Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: Sex, Not-Sex, and Love by Pierce Timberlake

Sex, Not-Sex, and Love is Pierce Timberlake’s exploration of that one subject we can’t resist obsessing over. The inexplicable thing that we nonetheless spend endless time and resources attempting to explain... to each other... to ourselves. Timberlake treats the subject with the perfect balance of serious investigation with what is always lurking beneath: amusement. The essay is leavened perfectly with a subtle humor that never speaks its name yet is always present, trolling just beneath the surface.

As the title’s punctuation suggests, the essay is sectioned into three parts. The first part deals with the nature of sexual attraction, the second—the most intriguing of the three, and what I comment on in this review—attempts to uncover the source of sexual repression inherent in all human societies, though mainly focusing on its manifestation and source in the U.S.  Lastly, Timberlake ruminates on how love relates to its spirit animal, sex.

The launching point for the essay is something Timberlake heard from a friend which he calls “Mark’s Axiom.” I have it on good authority that he mis-remembered the conversation slightly, and can confirm that it is actually Mark’s “Corollary”—to an axiom regarding male sexual behavior that has been stated in many forms. In fact, this axiom is the very same notion imparted by the senior doctor who castigated the junior one for not giving a pregnancy test to a particularly homely female ER patient. As Timberlake relates, it is standard procedure to test any female patient for pregnancy before any other work is done because of the injurious complications that may arise from a particular treatment or medication if she happens to be pregnant. In the book, Timberlake substantially softens the language, though, again, I have it on good authority that what the crude doctor actually said was this:

“She's ugly, she's fat, she's a pig.  And that's why you didn't order the pregnancy test.  Listen!  For every pig, there's a pig f*#ker!  Always order the pregnancy test!”

And this concept is what was related to Timberlake by his friend Mark as an axiom that he phrased thusly:

“Show me the ugliest woman in the world and I’ll show you a man who’ll f*#k her.”

And then Mark’s corollary is this:
“Show me the most beautiful woman in the world and I’ll show you a guy who’s tired of f*#king her.”

Rest assured that Timberlake thoroughly sanitizes both the axiom and the corollary ...but I just thought you should know...

Timberlake begins his exploration of our apparent need to repress our sexual passions (to an ever-diminishing degree, one might argue) just where you’d expect: the Puritans. He goes through the list of all the usual suspects: religion, society, Freud’s wacky death vs. sex theory, all in scholarly fashion (though always we sense that tongue firmly in cheek). Each is eventually found to be unsatisfactory, and Timberlake concludes by offering to replace Freud’s death impulse as the opposing force to sex with a “restraint instinct.”

I tend to think that unrestrained sexual behavior is simply incompatible with an organized, healthy society. The orderliness of our civilization is built upon the nuclear family unit. I cannot imagine a society maintaining order if people randomly engaged in sex like the infamous bonobo monkeys. Our religious strictures (attempt to) constrain sex within marriage not because “God” ordained it, but rather, because the survival and prosperity of human society requires it, our “Gods” then demand it.

Of course, we have observed massive changes in our sexual mores in just the last few generations. It is not a stretch to say that the entire edifice of established norms of human relations has been flushed down the toilet, and if this is the case, we may be on the verge of finding out if human society can indeed survive if its sexual morals “progress” to those of the bonobos.

But of course, there is no real answer to be found to the mysteries of sex. The attraction between man and women ultimately defies explanation—as it should, in my opinion. I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure it out... to figure out women... and came to the conclusion that we are intended to be mysteries to one another. Ultimately, that’s what makes it work.

Sex, Not-Sex, and Love is an absolutely delightful read. I have now read all but one of Timberlake’s fine “meditations,”—as I refer to them. I found this one the most enjoyable of the lot.

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