Shame, Ignorance, and Fear: The Quaffing of a Pubescent Cocktail
When I was a kid, I thought I invented masturbation. Move over Bettie Page - I was the new patron saint of hedonism. I could show you things, baby. I could take you places.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. I happened upon my discovery in the shower when I was eight or nine. I didn't much dig on showers when I was a kid. I hated water because you can't breathe through it, and I had a hard enough time breathing as it was. Plus, like most boys, I just liked being filthy.
I'm not sure why, but one day my gear needed a good scrubbing. Rousing games of tag can leave you pretty chafed, I suppose. However, unlike the rest of my body, the budding gearbox was pretty hyped on the attention. Right painfully hyped, actually, though only for a short few minutes.
After, I gaped at the showerhead. "Really? For me? What wonderful gifts you bestow."
And the showerhead looked at me, and it said: "I bet you can do that twice, kiddo. The drain does, too. And the faucet just anteed in."
So I did, and ran up the family hydro bill until the day I moved out. Went through a lot of shampoo, too. Might as well, right? It's not like I was legally allowed in the liquor store.
"Paul, you take a lot of showers," my mom said once.
"Can't be too clean," I told her.
Because I invented it, I figured I could market it. I'm like that. I'm an entrepreneur, man. Nothing can stop me. In a colossal bout of creativity, I decided to call it "The Feeling." I had no idea about masturbation, so I figured I was breaking new ground - lucrative and fertile ground at that. I could retire at 17 and spend all my free time showering. But I was too scared to present my business plan to anyone other than my cousin, who seemed to have figured it out on his own. How anticlimactic. How ordinary. Better jump in the shower and hatch another plan.
As it turns out, researchers say 94 per cent of men pull it off, while 70 per cent of women are happy to get flicky with their funky little buttons. Common though it is, I had never heard of it. And, once I did, for a variety of reasons involving everything from church doctrine to social taboo, I was deathly ashamed of it. Liberation, as it so often does, eventually came at the bottom of a bottle, when me and a bunch of friends stumbled around some park benches at 3 a.m. and told the entire neighbourhood in loud and slurring tones just what we were up to in our showers.
My first time having sex with someone other than myself? I faked it, all thespian, produced some caricature of ecstasy, mimed what I thought were the crashing pelvic undulations of virginity sent packing. Had to. We were both newbies, both right shaky with desire and anxiety, each of us on the threshold of some yawning carnal expanse, but both of us with our backs turned to that heady spread, both of us with our eyes fixed firmly on the comforting dust of the familiar.
And isn't that the problem with sex? It's natural. It's necessary. It's fun. But it's oh so mysterious, so whispered and verboten. At the same time, it's right there in our faces, all the time, bellowing at us from billboards, TV sets, newsstands, the Internet and store fronts. People drape themselves in those facsimiles, slink around with salacious abandon, flirt their way through a torrid - but so often vapid - fog.
The distance between those two phenomena - the fun and the façade - is called a spectrum, see, and somewhere in the middle lies a landscape of pleasure, intimacy, companionship and outright, all-inclusive, uninhibited joy.
It's just that sometimes you need directions.
To What People Are Privy
The clocks of mid-morning do not tick sexually. Especially on a Monday, when the sun is warm and bright, when bank tellers are swiping debit cards, grocery clerks are scanning soup cans, district busses are wheezing to and from curbsides, and people are moving through the streets with careerist intentions. Forget the magazines, the billboards and mannequins in shop windows. There's no room for sex out here. This, let's not forget, is the great Western routine, and it's approaching full swing at the beginning of yet another work week. Sex could destabilize all that. Just ask Aldous Huxley.
A pane of glass separates that world from the one inhabited by Eric Armour. Owner of Trinity Romance Shop in Squamish, he lives in a jungle lushly foliaged with perversion. Anal beads. Vibrators. Candles shaped like dicks. Costumes. Whips. A fish tank with dildos rising from the bottom (insert Herman Melville joke here). Clearly, there's more than one routine.
It's a threshold, that window. Outside, car engines turn over in tribute to the mundane. Bike tires whisper off the pavement. A woman on Cleveland Avenue, dressed business casual, crosses the road in an absence of desire. A man with a backpack strides along much the same.
Oh, but that's pretentious, assuming - and naïve. Everybody has that thing inside. It's always there, hard and awkward, right down there, sunk deep in the primordial ooze. And every time it moves, whenever it twitches or throbs, it sends up a string of bubbles, and those bubbles rise through the tapestry of human anxiety, rise to the surface and form domes, and those domes are translucent, massive, waiting, patiently and not, for the right time to pop.
And when the bubbles pop, Armour is there. He looks nice and approachable, has a blue button-down shirt on, slacks and a smile. He's generous with his laughter, has about him that vitality you find in people who can't be bothered pretending.
Armour can hold a string of anal beads, and he can cut that smile and say,
"You pull them out slowly during orgasm. It lengthens and strengthens the orgasm. And the nerve endings around the rectum go ding, ding, ding." And then he'll explode with laughter.
Laughter is a good teacher. It invites and comforts. It disarms. And teaching is ever necessary.
"As far as porn goes," says Armour, during one of his frequent bouts of insightful thinking, "in North America, we get the porn we deserve. It's made by guys for guys, with little respect for women."
Trinity is the antithesis of that.
In Whistler, the vibe is a little different than in Squamish. The Village Stroll is something of a counterpoint to Cleveland Avenue. Yes, it's often a yuppie zombie shuffle, a glitzy, glossy hoorah for the over-privileged and under-burdened. But it's inherently more vibrant than downtown Squamish. It's a point of convergence, and people prowl accordingly. This is a flower just waiting to blossom, a vein begging for blood, a red sun rising.
And so there's a role for the Love Nest to play. Part of a Lower Mainland chain, the store is located on Main Street, far from the crowds of Mountain Square, but still steeped in the culture of fashion on foot. Inside, you get the typical fare, that lascivious mosaic of harnesses, palm pussies, vibrating bullets, body gels, books, Japanese bondage ropes, condoms and whips.
No shower, though. Alas.
Caroline can only use her first name for personal reasons. She's the store manager, friendly, like Amour, and equally knowledgeable.
"A lot of the time, I have to show customers what toys do," says Caroline, a vibrator in her hand. "Sometimes, I have to pop the batteries in and show them how it works."
Also like Armour, Caroline has spent due time thinking about that crazy coital collision that defines so much of our lives. And, again like Armour, she has a fair bit of wisdom to impart, especially regarding the internet.
"The internet has done a lot for education about sex," she says. "But I hate the internet right now. I lived with someone who became a porn addict. It's too easy to access."
And then there are those social networking sites. The benign, like Facebook and My Space, or the malignant, like Ashley Madison, where infidels meet and breach.
Of course, that's not all Caroline knows. Both Trinity and the Love Nest strive to be classy and sex positive resources for people of any gender or orientation. Part of that is creating a comfortable space for women to kink and learn. But it's not always easy for the fairer sex, perhaps because of the male-dominated porn apparatus Armour described.
"A lot of women have trouble achieving orgasm just because of what's going on in their minds," says Caroline. "Because it's in your head, you have to change the way you're thinking. A lot of women can achieve orgasm on their own, or with a toy. But they can't do it with a man."
So how do you rise above that miasma of insecurities? That sometimes impenetrable matrix of social programming, guilt, fear and shame? How do you allow your desires to penetrate that mess?
You could start at either of these two outlets. Or you could read on, and then read further. There's no end to how-to books. Some of what follows is gleaned from personal experience. Most of the rest comes from The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans. You should buy that.
Finnigan Was so Vanilla
Dressing up is something everyone is familiar with. Whether Halloween or playtime in preschool, we've all donned a costume at least once in our lives. So dressing up in the sack is really just a natural extension of all that.
In a way, it's well-trod territory. Trinity and the Love Shop have a standard selection of costumes, most of which are for women.
"Your staples are always good," says Armour, "your schoolgirls, your maids. It can be a little tired, but people dig 'em. They're your classics."
So if you've got an urge to look like a warpath goddess, then, hey, give 'er 'till you shiver. Same goes if you feel like being a cheerleader, Frauten girl or G.I. chick. But, if all that bores you, maybe get some make-up and deck out like an extra from a George Romero movie. Hey, they're not actually dead, so you're not actually a necrophiliac. That's what I'd probably do.
Shake, Rattle and Roll
Anyone who's ever seen Dead Ringers knows that some people will dream up the weirdest stuff to stick in someone else's body. But you don't have to be a maniac about it.
The vibrator is possibly the most common of sex toys, though it comes in a plethora of shapes, sizes, textures and oomph. The first of the first emerged in 1869. The invention of an American doctor, it was billed as a steam-powered massager. By the turn of the century, they went portable and battery operated. See, there was a time when the medical community thought female hysteria was the womb's way of begging for sex. So vibrators were like an early Prozac - minus all the added craziness people on Prozac get to experience.
"The more you spend," says Caroline 100 years later, "the better a product you get."
And there's some funky stuff out there. Consider one of the Rabbit brand vibrators. They look a bit like something from Dead Ringers , but don't fret - they're perfectly safe. You've got your clitoral stimulator, your penetrater and your column of spinning beads. Odds are, you'll enjoy it - if you have $200. But if you're looking for something cheaper, try the iBuzz. It vibrates to the rhythm of your favourite music. Hope you like Slayer, baby. Ever hear "Dittohead"? Dogs can't even pant that fast.
A little message from the surgeon general: A lot of sex toys have phtalates in them. That can be some harsh stuff. Trinity claims to be one of two phtalate-free stores in the country. Ask Armour about it.
Greasing the Wheels
That book I mentioned? The authors work at sex shop in San Francisco. This is what they wrote about lube: "Every time a customer approaches the front counter at our store preparing to purchase a dildo, butt plug, or insertable vibrator, we ask politely, 'Do you have some lubricant to go with that?'"
Something you should avoid, despite popular mythology, is Vaseline. It's hard to wash off the body, sticks to inner walls and sponges bacteria. Not exactly a party, is it? I thought not. And if you're using something oil-based, but trying to avoid disease, then know you that condoms and oil don't comply. The latter breaks down the former.
The safest bet is a water-based oil. It's tasteless, but doesn't stain or irritate, and you can wash it off like so much shame. To boot, there's no bacterial mine field to worry about. A lot of people think water-based lubes just dry up too quickly. It's all that racy friction. But, because the polymer and glycerine sticks around, all you have to do is add your own water, whether from the tap or, better yet, your mouth.
The Tyranny of Hormones
Unless you're one of those smart, successful, athletic kids with a bunch of sensitive and adoring friends, and all of you have financially stable and cool parents who love you more than life itself, then being a teenager is a shitty, exhausting and traumatizing scene.
You get beat up. You get suspended. You fail driving tests. You flunk out of school. It's hard to sleep. It's impossible to get up. Your family is insane. The cops hate you. You hate them. You're covered in zits. You're stupid. You suck at everything. No one understands you and, ironically, you know absolutely everything.
And no one wants you to get laid. Even though that's just about all you want to do.
But of course they don't. They probably aren't either, right? Why should you have fun if they can't? And so you get indoctrinated with fear, shame and ignorance. And then, when you do get laid, oops, you maybe get yourself pregnant, or, worse, find a lifelong friend in some horrible disease.
Well, ignore those people. If they mean well, they're misguided. If they don't, why would you listen anyway?
Internet to the rescue. Check out the website for Opt: Options for Sexual Health (www.optionsforsexualhealth.org). It's broken down into three sections: Get Informed, Get Involved and Get Help. There's also a Teen Sexual Health site, which is hosted by Vancouver Coastal Health. Like Opt, it's full of information and learning opportunities.
And those are just two of many. Most sex shop workers have more information, though you often have to be 18 to enter. Still, there's no harm in calling. They might set you up with a book. Good Vibrations , for example, has a number of teen-based chapters.
The Pursuit of Knowledge Is Never-Ending
I knew a dude who wanted to get into sado-masochism. He punched his boyfriend in the stomach and threw him down the stairs.
"Did that feel good?'
"Not at all."
Point being? Research and sex may seem mutually exclusive, and that's understandable. You're born with the equipment and the proclivities - the rest just does itself, right? It's not like you have to bone up on breathing before filling your lungs.
To a certain degree, sex is the same. It'll just be crappy sex, that's all. Maybe you want to turn off the lights, go missionary with your face buried in the pillow and then never speak of it again. If that's where your comfort zone is, then that's totally fine. Power to you. But, from oral sex to sensory deprivation - and every last thing in between - the possibilities are as endless as the sensations, to say nothing of the emotional bonding. Ignoring that world is denying yourself. On the other hand, plunging headlong into joyful depravity can be a little sketchy. See your local sexpert.
And what better timing? It's WinterPride gay ski week in Whistler.
Valentine's Day is just around the corner. And who can forget James Bondage? Since 2005, the annual sex-positive tingle fest has been generating money for Howe Sound Women's Centre, and, as of last year, Squamish Off Road Cycling Association. This year's itinerary includes a lingerie fashion show, aerial bondage display, and charity casino. Check it out at the Howe Sound Inn on February 16, doors at 8 p.m.