Do you get the quickie?



Sex on the Brain

According to my teenager, "That's what she said" is a frequent punch line in a television show I've never seen, The Office. There are plenty of other examples online, like the dialogue in this Cyanide and Happiness cartoon:

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

You can find similar examples splattered all over the Internet, like Daniel Dickey's blog and on tight t-shirts worn by nubile young women and hipster guys.

I sit writing my column, while in the next room the kid spews references to dicks, cream, anal sex, Michael Jackson, masturbation, and other things his mother never told him. Why did I never tell him? Well, by the time I thought he was ready, he'd already heard all about it and then some, watching Family Guy and American Dad and "Machinima" videos online. He got the references before he ever got the context, so my job now is to kind of mop up around the conceptual edges and provide opportunities for more balanced conversation. Which does happen sometimes.

It's curious though. Right now most of the jokes are phallic. I wonder about the lack of pussy references. Are they more underground and less apparent to grown-ups, or are they just not important at this point? Is this intense phallic focus is a way of coping with the first stages of rapid physical development? Or an indication of sexual orientation? Or all of the above? Most teenagers are sex and body-obsessed. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

My main point is, erotic references are where you find them. Just like a little kid raised without war toys will take a stick and turn it into a gun, adolescents (and grownups) will take a baseball bat or a watermelon and imagine all kinds of things. Right now I'm re-reading Cold Comfort Farm, a spoof of rural English life written by Stella Gibbons in 1932. Mr. Mybug, a minor character, bores the heroine during their country walks by finding sexual imagery in the birch trees and everything else he sees: "The stems reminded Mr. Mybug of phallic symbols and the buds made Mr. Mybug think of nipples and virgins... there were few occasions when he was not reminded of a pair of large breasts by the distant hills... God! those rhododendron buds had a phallic, urgent look!"

Even as I write, my teenager is up in his room, giggling. However, I'm pretty certain he's not giggling at footage of rhododendrons, unless enormous "phallic, urgent" buds—carrying heavy artillery—are being animated and blown apart in a Machinima video. Machinima are animated videos created through online games, or as Wikipedia says, "real-time virtual 3-D environments." If you want to know the true state of mind of the average American male, at least those under age thirty, spend ten minutes watching snippets of Machinima for one heck of a reality check. The humor is puerile, crude, violent, homophobic (and sometimes homo-erotic), misogynistic, scatological and phallo-centric. Machinimas abound with references to dicks, especially smelling them. My teenager finds this screamingly funny. That's why he's giggling upstairs.

Dr. Daniel Amen, who writes books showing brain SPECT scans and how an overactive anterior cingulate gyrus or basal ganglia can really mess up your sex life, is a proponent of gender-based brain differences. He says, "testosterone beefs up the area of the brain that is interested in sex. This area is twice as large in men as in women. He really is more interested in sex." Judging by everything I've just written about teenage males, I could say, "maybe, maybe." But it's such a gender-binary statement that I really have to wonder what subtleties are missing here. And obviously, we all know tons of women (cis and otherwise) who have very, very strong sex drives, thank you very much!

Though I do find Dr. Amen's work really interesting in other respects, I have to wonder about the cultural biases of some of his interpretations. Is it really true that the general category of "men" really are more interested in having sex? Or is it that a larger number of their brain cells are actually more interested in cracking sexual jokes, discovering prurient interpretations of restaurant menus, and making ribald Machinimas? Only our pre-frontal (get it, frontal?!) cortex—or maybe our corpus callosum (rhymes with "cum")—really knows for sure.

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Amy Marsh
July 14th, 2010
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As Carnal Nation's wondrous publishing spree sinks slowly into the sands of time, I invite you to scroll down for links to all my "Love's Outer Limits" columns - a year's worth of weekly writing -...