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The joys (and hilarious fumbles) of sex

/ Source: Self

Woody Allen once said sex and humor don’t mix. Apologies to Mr. Allen, but sex and comedy most definitely do go together. It’s damn near impossible to wrench them apart. For starters, just look at the penis. The shiny bald head, the squat shape, the way it jerks around like a puppet on a string. How did the first sentient chimp-woman hybrid keep from snickering at the sight of it? When my 8-year-old daughter saw a penis for the first time (Graham Chapman’s in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”), she turned to my husband and me and asked, “Is that what it really looks like?” We told her it was. And then she burst into a great guffaw of little girl laughter.

Think of the funniest sound in the world. A fart? A burp? Slurp? Squish? Plop? If you don’t make at least three of those noises during sex, you’re not doing it right. How about the silliest positions you could get yourself into? Ankles around your ears? One leg sticking straight up like a cat? On your palms and rear in the air like a camel? Now you see my point: Sex is universally the stuff of comedy.

Like everyone else, I started out with fairy tale notions of what sex should be: two people with clean, trim, hairless bodies (in soft focus, of course) moving with the fluidity and flexibility of Olympic gymnasts. I clung to this vision for years, inevitably feeling a crushing disappointment when sex turned out to be badly lit, sweaty, stubbly and fumbling, complete with feet caught in the sheets, wet spots, flying boobs, goose bumps, stomach flab and the humble homeliness that is pubic hair. Take the afternoon I lost my virginity. My deflowerer took me to his uncle’s house in a neighboring town; his uncle was away and we’d have privacy, he assured me. We went out back to the pool — our plan was to do it on the lawn so as not to leave evidence on the patio. We’d only just begun when the uncle, plus his wife and their two kids, arrived home unexpectedly to find us in flagrante delicto (like you didn’t see that coming). The uncle hurled accusations at us as I scurried around, clumps of grass in my hair, hunting for my shorts in a juniper bush. “I’m not a slut,” I said in my own defense. “I’m an honor student!”

Things didn’t get much better once I was out of school and living in the adult world. As long as I clung to my romantic vision of sex, I wasn’t doing much laughing. Where was the soft focus? I wondered. Where were the simultaneous orgasms? Where were my solo orgasms, for that matter?

Once, in my early 20s, I went to see a friend’s band at a New York City club that no longer exists. I met a guy there who bought me many drinks, which I greedily accepted. The band was two hours late. By the time it hit the stage, I was hammered, dancing frenetically and starting to feel green around the gills. I told the guy I needed air, which he thought was code for “a screw in the back stairwell.” We started making out there, until I warned him that I felt a teeny, tiny bit sick. He told me to relax and unbuttoned my jeans. When his hands pressed against my exposed belly, I returned every drink he had bought me in a colorful, explosive arc onto his shirt, pants and combat boots. I still remember the stuff trickling gently down the stairwell wall like drops of rain. That was the end of that.

Even my first honeymoon lacked all conventional sense of romance. My then-husband, Glenn, and I were on an Alaskan cruise, and we’d brought along some massage oil as a special treat. It was apple scented and thick. I rubbed a ton of it on him and began what I intended to be the erotic massage to end all erotic massages. About three minutes in, he asked, “Is it supposed to tingle?” I said, “I don’t know,” and continued. A minute later, he asked, “Is it supposed to burn?” and I noticed that his skin felt hot under my hands. He jumped in the tiny cabin shower, barely tall enough for him, and washed off what he could. He started to break out in hives everywhere, and we had to rush to the infirmary and wake up the ship’s doctor to get Benadryl. Glenn recovered in a day, but he was scented-oil phobic forever after. Turned out, for him, it had been the erotic massage to end all erotic massages. As for me, it is entirely possible that I was born to be sexually accident-prone.

The funny reality of sex

Eventually, thanks to a rutting dog-man of a lover, I realized that the fantasy of picture-perfect sex did not mesh with the grunting honesty of colliding genitals. This guy wasn’t satisfied until we were both covered in fluids, our hair tangled, the covers on the floor. He made snuffling sounds and offered an endless stream of coarse commentary. I couldn’t help but laugh at how unashamed he was of his swinging balls; I even appreciated it. Once I accepted the squalid, seamy, earthy reality of sex, it suddenly got a lot more fun — and funny. The revelation was like being hit over the head with a rubber chicken. Satisfying sex should never look like a Hollywood movie, unless it’s one starring Will Ferrell.

Most men I know figured this out long before I did. Take farting in bed, which, I concede, is embarrassing. You have a choice there: Either cry about it or laugh. Guys will laugh every bit as hard at the hundredth fart as they will at the first. They have no hang-ups about being the ridiculous human animals that we are. Perhaps their acceptance of bodies as gassy, lumpy, leaky amusement parks is why men have orgasms as easily as they say, “Pull my finger.” Men know they’re imperfect. They embrace their imperfections. Any guy would be pig-in-mud happy to do the goofiest, stupidest thing in bed, as long as it felt good.

I’ve come to feel the same way, which is why my now husband, Steve, and I are a sexual match made in Catskills heaven. We tend to conduct ourselves with a certain abandon that makes us forget where the edge of the bed is or that a shower curtain isn’t weight bearing. I’ve pulled leg muscles, sprained my neck, nearly dislocated my jaw. My husband has bloodied his eyebrow, twisted his knee and bent his glasses. We’ve broken lamps, a lawn chair, the towel holder in the bathroom. I’ve had splinters in my elbows. He’s endured bruises and bug bites. We’ve both had rashes, chafed skin, cramps and carpet burns.

Neither of us intends to harm the other, or ourselves. We’re not into bondage or S&M. The most outré we get is light spanking, and even that we do with affection and witty mockery. Apologies to sadists and masochists everywhere, but I don’t see how pain wormed its way into pleasure. I suppose if you really are a very bad boy and need to be punished, fine, then bend over and take the paddling you deserve. But my husband is a well-mannered grown man. He deserves kisses and clenches. If, during a position change, my elbow happens to fly directly into his nose, the Pow! is an accident of passion. And I feel much worse about it than he does. You might not be able to tell from the tittering, but really I do.

Just this week, we started kissing in the hallway — hot, steamy, with blazing intensity. In an energetic fit of passion, Steve picked me up, threw me down on the bed and lay on top of me, pinning me beneath him. If I were writing a sex scene, I’d describe how I then exposed my vulnerable throat for his delectation, swooning and writhing beneath him, already eager, urgent for the dizzying, shattering release of long-built-up tension. What actually happened was when Steve lifted me in his arms, his back gave out. Throwing me down on the bed? It was more of a drop. His release of long-built-up tension? It arrived a day later, under the ministrations of a chiropractor.

Even worse, at a friend’s party one night, where we both drank too much to compensate for the fact that we didn’t know anyone, I friskily pushed my game husband into the powder room and knelt in front of him. The crunch of my kneecap on the tile floor should have been a warning. But I was feeling no pain (yet). I reached for his belt and started to unzip. I tried a super sexy move of pressing my cheek to his bulge, only to ensnare my hair in the zipper of his jeans. The disentanglement took forever — longer than the blow job would have, had we ever gotten to it. I eventually had to yank out a clump of my snarled curls to free myself. By the time we left the bathroom, a line had formed. Each smirking person assumed we’d begrudged his inalienable right to bladder relief for our own selfish pleasure. The next day, I hobbled to the hair salon for bangs that took months to grow out.

One of my fondest romantic memories is of an evening we spent in the Bahamas a few winters ago, when my intrepid husband and I took off from our hotel after dinner in search of a deserted strip of beach. The moonlight bathed us softly. The waves lapped. We started going at it. Before long, a rock was digging into my back, and my husband’s knees were shredded on the sand. Beach fleas savagely attacked. Still, we completed the act on principle. Then we tried to clean off in the ocean, wading into the water in the darkness, stepping on broken shells that cut our feet. Sexually speaking, it was OK. The recollection, however, of the two of us limping back into the resort lobby, feet oozing, limbs covered in sand, clothes wet and torn, flea-bite welts surfacing, busboys and guests staring as if we’d just been resurrected from a shipwreck, always makes me laugh. It’s a shared treasure from our past, a sexy, funny home movie of the mind that, whenever we replay it, bonds us more deeply than if we’d had some majestic, music-swelling “From Here to Eternity” moment. Because when it comes right down to it, nothing is quite as life affirming as reaching a rousing climax while accidentally head butting the man you love. When our bodies find each other, I don’t care that I’m not trim, hairless or gymnast flexible. I don’t care if I’m seen from my best angle — and, God knows, neither does Steve. The ultimate secret of our unique chemistry: Much as we love sex, we love to laugh even more. We are real (clumsy) people, having real (sloppy) sex and very real romance together.

Quite possibly, we’ll die in some bizarre sexual mishap. Given the options, it’s not such a bad way to go.

Essay excerpted from “Behind the Bedroom Door: Getting It, Giving It, Loving It, Missing It,” edited by Paula Derrow. Published December 30, 2008, by Delacorte Press.