|November 27, 2010
The Great Orifice Shift
Guess which part of this human
is less popular than it used to be.
When I was in graduate school, I was compelled at knifepoint to study
and—however briefly—actually care about something called The Great Vowel Shift. Over the course of three centuries in the middle of the last millennium,
don’t you see, the way English vowels were pronounced over yonder in England
underwent a profound change leading to………
Sorry—must have dozed off. Maybe you did, too.
I invoke the Great Vowel Shift today because my recent reading leads me
to conclude that Western civilization is currently undergoing a new Great
Shift, one with far more cataclysmic consequences for us and our progeny
than whether we pronounce the word beak so as to rhyme with geek instead of with break. In case you didn’t already glean it from the subject line of this blog,
I refer to The Great Orifice Shift, and by this I mean the fact that (if
aforesaid recent reading is any indication) no one is using vaginas for
sex any more. I’m not sure just what people are using vaginas for these days—dyeing Easter eggs, for all I care—but when
it comes to sexual gratification, both men and women have moved on to greener
When I say “recent reading,” I use the term loosely. The first sign of the Great Orifice Shift that came to my attention appeared in the Esquire Survey of the American Man conducted way back in 2002. Here is the stentorian, all-caps survey item and its results:
YOU ARE FACED WITH A TERRIBLE CHOICE: BLOW JOBS OR SEX--A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF ONE, BUT NONE OF THE OTHER--FOR THE REST OF YOUR DAYS. YOU CHOOSE
Blow jobs 20%
Eight years later, along comes the redoubtable William Saletan of Slate with his report on the big boom in anal sex, the upshot of which is that not only men, but women as well now derive greater satisfaction from the "chocolate speedway boogie" than from vaginal sex.
Now, suppose you are a Vagina. I realize it may be a stretch, but humor
me. Just suppose. How would this news from Slate make you feel? You’ve been gradually losing ground to the smarty-pants
Mouth for decades, and now it turns out that even your smelly, low-rent
cousin who lives on the dark street around the corner is more popular than
Any way you slice it, it appears that in the coveted 18-to-49-year-old
hetero demographic, the vagina is losing audience share faster than FlashForward. We’re heading into an era in which the vagina will ultimately be regarded
as something akin to Route 66: an obscure, dusty pathway with a sort of retro chic; a side-trip taken
mainly by old folks trying to recapture memories of youth and youngsters
ironically checking out what grampa is always rambling on about.
Who would have imagined that the vagina could fall so hard and so fast,
given all its advantages? After all, virtually all the provocable lady-parts
are clustered around it—your clitoris, your G-spot, your AFE-zone, your
Great Red Spot, your Phantom Zone and what have you—so common sense has always held that if a man wants
a satisfied partner, and maybe a nice sammich later on to boot, well, there
would seem to be no getting around that darned vagina. And yet, evidently
not so. Women have lost interest in their own vaginas, it seems, as much
as men have.
But if you think about it, the vagina has been asking for it for a long
time now. There’s that unpleasant bleeding business, for one thing. The
other orifices have been known to bleed too, but not spontaneously nor
regularly, the way the vagina does it. And of course vaginal penetration
can bring a greater number of serious health consequences to both partners
than some of the alternatives, including HIV, HPV, and—as the Gosselins
learned all too late—a nasty outbreak of fetuses.
Small wonder, then, that the vagina has fallen on hard times: it simply
failed to adapt to changing tastes and needs. It is the Chrysler of orifices,
and it needs to study its competition to rebound.
Competition 1: The Mouth
Okay, so, in the 2002 survey cited above, “blow jobs” [sic] got “blown
out” in a “head to head” matchup with Sex. Still, 20% doesn’t “suck.” (Okay,
okay, enough of that.) It didn’t take much more support than that for challenger Eugene McCarthy to drive an incumbent president out of his race for reelection back in
1968, after all, and I guess that goes to show just how abominably old
I am, that I would actually use Gene McCarthy’s insurgent campaign as an
analogue for the popularity of “blow jobs.”*
I suspect that one aspect of the mouth’s relatively low support in that
survey was its lingering image as primarily a homosexual orifice. Consider:
Just exactly what would likely go through the mind of a typical American
man receiving fellatio back in 2002? Well, most likely: “Goooooood. Blowjob goooooooooood…” That's basic. But after that, I mean. As the procedure dragged on, this
hypothetical felatee might have found a fleeting moment to reflect, “You
know, at this point, it could be anybody down there, sucking away,” meaning not necessarily the vivacious redheaded
waitress on break at the I-80 truck stop but maybe, say, Donald Rumsfeld
instead. “And that ain’t right!”
But that was eight years ago. It was a simpler, more naïve era, when people
believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that Ozzie Osbourne
would one day master his TV remote. The 2010 edition of the typical American
felatee is more sophisticated, more open-minded. During his reflective
moments, he is apt to think, “You know, at this point, it could be anybody down there, sucking away,” and then, after a pause, add, “And hey—that’s all right.”
Indeed, with our modern sensibilities, we recognize that this detachment
is the very gist of the blowjob's appeal. More than in any other kind of
sexual activity, the giver is doing all the giving, enabling the receiver to receive his pleasure while simultaneously
appreciating a sunset or a two-minute drill. During a blowjob, you can
close your eyes and fairly easily convince yourself that the party servicing
you isn’t in fact an eleven-year-old altar boy. Contrast this with, say,
anal sex, where it’s much harder to maintain the fantasy that you are getting
yourself some Scarlett Johannsen while trying to hack your way through
all that matted peri-anal hair and hearing groans that evoke Paul Robeson’s
rendition of “Old Man River.” Which brings us to…
Competition 2: The Butthole
I remember an afternoon from my college days in the mid-Seventies spent
watching Family Feud in the trailer with my friend Nielsen.
“Name something that’s hard to keep clean,” drawled Richard Dawson, and before either contestant could respond, Nielsen cheerfully blurted out, “Your asshole!”
I don’t believe that Nielsen had Richard Dawson’s asshole, vile as it no
doubt was, specifically in mind; nor was he referring to the assholes of
the contestants, who were, as I recall, prim and proper young ladies of
the sort that one would expect practices proper anal hygiene.
The point is that, despite the inexplicable failure of the Family Feud studio audience to vote “your asshole” into its top five responses, Nielsen was quite right, as usual. Your asshole is hard to keep clean. Mine too. And his. Especially his.
I think we would all agree that we're talking about one high-maintenance
orifice here. Thus, it is all the more surprising (to both William Saletan
and to me) that 40 percent of women aged 20-24 say they've tried anal sex;
that more than 20 percent of women aged 20-39 say they've done it in the
past year; and that 94 percent of women who received anal sex in their
last encounter said they reached orgasm—“a higher rate of orgasm than was
reported by women who had vaginal intercourse or received oral sex,” Saletan
marvels. Which raises the very good question: Where exactly do women go
to report an orgasm?
I have nothing to add to Saletan's stats but one cool factoid about buttholes:
On my version of Word 2007, the word butthole is deemed an entirely acceptable thing to type. Spellcheck no longer bats an eye. Is this a great era we live in, or what? (Cornhole, alas, evidently still has a hard row to hoe toward lexical respectability.)
Competition 3: The Hand
I realize that the hand is not, technically speaking, an orifice. But if
no one objects, I’d like to elevate it to the status of Honorary Orifice.
As I pointed out in my Pulitzer-nominated essay “Consider the Handjob,”
I am outraged that the handjob—utterly safe, unfailingly gratifying, technically
feasible even for fundamentalist Christians with chastity pledges—retains
such a lowbrow, juvenile profile. I’ve suggested that it hire a new agent,
and would like to suggest Christopher Schelling: He’s done wonders for Augusten Burroughs, and you all know what we think
about Burroughs’s work around here.
The handjob alone frees both giver and receiver to continue their pre-foreplay
conversation if they so choose. “So…what have you been up to since resigning
as governor of Alaska?” one might inquire amid the stroking—with greater
expectations of an intelligible response than one could have during anal
or oral sex.
In short, you can see what the vagina has going against it. We live in
an era of free-market economics when it comes to orifices, and the vagina
simply refuses to lower its tariffs. Look for the mouth, the butthole,
and the hand to topple vaginal supremacy once and for all in the coming
decade. The day can't come too soon.
Of course, all of the above becomes moot the minute the makers of the Rolling Fella Bomber move that exquisite product out of beta and halve the price. From that
day forward, no man outside an Islamic republic will ever know the feel
of any flesh-and-blood orifice again.
|* Taking this 1968 electoral analogy to its logical extreme, cornholing
would be represented by Richard Nixon.