In the midst of yet another migraine, I’m rereading Lolita and thinking about what happens when one becomes that (to Humbert Humbert, anyway) dull but desirous thing, a “handsome woman.” Bovine, large-bodied, with all the S-shapes curved and grown in. Tumescent, in fact. Off the pill, desire constitutes a persistent and prominent part of my life now. This isn’t an unwelcome development. It is, however, new. The estrogen-progesterone complex had neutralized fantasy and nuked not just the cycles of response in my organs and membranes, but also my sexual imagination.

I write to you, therefore, as a born-again sensualist who’s totally unfamiliar with the female sexual experience as narrated by various women-authored sites on the Internet. I’m thinking of Collegecallgirl, One D at a Time or even Tracie on Jezebel. These women have an impressive understanding of their own pleasure. They tend to report a kind of arousal I’m only barely acquainted with–instantly wet, eager and willing to participate in many acts I find unappealing, or better in theory than practice.

The fact is, there’s precious little for someone like me on the internet. That is, writing that acknowledges that sex is frequently both hot and also hilarious. That there are some ethical issues that go beyond the basics of birth control, disease-prevention and consent. The big winner so far is a blog written by a “prudish libertine” called figleaf. The author writes intelligently and thoughtfully about the odd turns our sexual culture has taken, and how we’ve come to understand the sexual imagination. As a bonus, he includes slightly NSFW pictures of himself in virtually every post, as a way of single-handedly responding to a culture that insists on only sexualizing the female form, even to straight women.

Fantasy’s a dangerous and unpredictable thing, and I’ve decided to pay it some attention this evening. I’m not particularly impressed with Dan Savage’s treatment of it which I find eminently pragmatic in the least interesting of ways. GGG, sure. It’s good in theory; a down-and-dirty Golden Rule. But, like sports films and chick flicks, there’s a familiar arc, a limited number of scripts and a massive oversupply of mediocre writers. I once tried to “chat” with someone online. He wanted to do a doctor-nurse thing, but let’s face it–minus (or even with) the inflammation, heavy breathing and contact, the words “mmm, Nurse, your nipples are hard” are a little amusing. What rescues sex from absurdity is the detail, the specific and intimate and nonverbal forms of sudden attention. It’s the unexpected desiring gaze, the intake of breath, the moment of connected surprise that generates momentum. Here’s where language can help–where crudity can be weirdly gorgeous. When language is all you have and you’re not Nabokov, the words peel off in four-letter chunks as boring and repetitive (and yes, perhaps generative) as the DNA this whole activity is meant to transmit. Cytosine-Guanine. Adenine-Thymine. Cunt-Dick. Wet-Hard.

As far as I can see, the quality of the fantasy must have some correlation to the quality of the sexual experience. (Right?) And it has always been my position (heh) that the quality of thinking is reflected in the language involved.

Take Craigslist’s Casual Encounters. It’s populated by two main categories: requests for specific sexual acts or requests for scenarios. The former speaks for itself, and it astounds me that anyone ever replies. (In fact, judging from the number of “Are there any actual women on here?” posts, not many do.) Some posters are craftier than others, specifying, for instance, that this offer “ends at midnight,” as if they were fairy godmothers to the reader’s Cinderella. Others craft “revenge-sex” stories where they’re great-looking, hung and married, but looking for angry sex since the wife cheated. “Applicants welcome,” they say, as if they weren’t in fact posting their sexual availability in a public forum but rather rationing it out like liquid gold.

As for the latter category, scenarios—I must say I find the practice really interesting. Here’s the thing: the “staging” of elaborate scenarios involving paddles, incest, schoolgirl/teacher-student/dominant-submissive fantasies, seems hopelessly ungratifying to me. And yet, the fantasies don’t. I get how and why they fire the imagination and the nether-bits. But I fail to see—given the lack of imagination that afflicts the adult population generally—how people effect these transformations into their respective “parts.” Even professional actors don’t get into their roles with this much energy and conviction. And people, as a rule, are as bad at acting as they are at writing. How to cross the divide between the imaginary and the real? Isn’t the whole point of growing up realizing that fantasies don’t come true? And yet Craigslist is evidence of the fact that the part of us that believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny is alive and well and interested in getting some Elfin nookie.

It’s interesting to watch this mode of seduction (for that’s what it is) taking place. The challenge is clear: too little, and no one will respond. Too much, and the story—the scripted kink—is all the reader needs. You’ve just contributed some free erotica to the internet. In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem: your readers should read the fantasy through, be amazed, and want to act it out. But they don’t. Don’t Savage’s readers secretly recognize that even if their partner fulfills their greatest dream, straps on a diaper and fills every cavity with croquet mallets, the result won’t match the mental picture? Doesn’t this get in the way? Conversely, isn’t there a point, in the staging of these things, when the person with purple plastic nipple clamps chained to the kitchen sink falls out of character and thinks to him or herself: “What exactly am I doing?”

In other words, how do people expect an encounter to actually proceed according to a fantastic script? Especially when the scripts aren’t fantastic. How could it be anything other than a pale imitation, a deficient version of the glittering ideal? Isn’t this on some level the equivalent of faking an orgasm? And isn’t it interesting that Craigslist posts are forced to use language for non-linguistic (cough) ends?

Then again, maybe the whole point of several of these fantasies—the meta-fantasy, as it were—is just simply to get rid of the detritus that prevents a fully carnal sexual encounter. Maybe the point is to be humiliated, or to dominate, and to have those roles clearly defined. A different set of rules, barred from the small compromises and specimens of tender and irritating humanity. Maybe there’s a relief in that, and the script works itself out.


The author of Figleaf posted on an account—posted on another website—from a dominatrix who worked out the entire script of an encounter with a client. He gave her an detailed set of instructions, choreographed down to the smallest detail and kind of sensation, but that as he was talking his eyes darted around the room and never once met her gaze. She noticed. Once they’d actually gotten going (he was chained to the wall), she told him to repeat everything he’d told her while looking her in the eyes. He couldn’t do it. She slapped him, forced him to meet her gaze, and the rest of the encounter consisted of him, enraged, looking into her eyes, getting angrier and angrier until he came. He later told her it was one of the most amazing experiences of his life.

I mention this story because I think it gets at what these fantasy posters are actually seeking. Freud said we never tell our therapists the unadulterated truth. The fact is, we don’t tell our sexual partners either. We can’t. We can write scripts, we can act out parts. Lolita kisses like the movie-stars she saw on TV. Humbert Humbert plays the role of the outraged husband when Valeria cheats on him. But what we really want is that moment of comprehension, of truth, of understanding, on a psychic and physical level. The real fantasy is spontaneous connection.

Well, the headache persists, and I’m tired. I so enjoyed your list. Maybe we should do slightly random top ten lists every once in awhile.



2 Responses to Lo-lee-ta

  1. Carla Fran says:

    Oh Millicent! What a lovely, vital little labyrinth you just brought to the table of our discussion. One thought that I have after reading is how the role of fantasy mirrors gift-giving. We want the best gift, but it makes it slightly unbearable and tawdry if we have to ask for the ideal gift (be it blender, book, or cheetah print nightgown) specifically. We want seduction and surrender, and maybe only setup such elaborate scenarios a la’ Craigslist in hopes, like the angry eye-contact demanding dominatrix, that expectations will be smashed but still very much addressed?

  2. Carla Fran says:

    Also, for your migraine, try putting on wet socks, and then dry ones over them. My acupuncturist recommended it, and it sometimes helps me when my head gets burny.

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