Is Sex Interesting?

From an essay, “Writing About Sex,” by Wallace Shawn from Harpers, August 2009.

Sex is of course an extraordinary meeting place of reality and dream, and it’s also—what is not perhaps exactly the same thing—an extraordinary meeting place of the meaningful and the meaningless.  The big toe, for example, is one part of the human body, human flesh shaped and constructed in a particular way.  The penis is another part of the body, located not too far away from the big toe and built out of fundamentally the same materials.  The act of sex, the particular shapes of the penis and the vagina, are the way they are because natural selection has made them that way.  There may be an adaptive value to each particular choice that evolution made, but from our point of view as human beings living our lives, the various details present themselves to us as arbitrary.  It can only be seen as funny that men buy magazines containing pictures of breasts but not magazines with pictures of knees or forearms.  It can only be seen as funny that demagogues give speeches denouncing men who insert their penises into other men’s anuses—and then go home to insert their own penises into their wives’ vaginas!  (One might have thought it obvious that either both of these acts are completely outrageous or neither of them is.)  And yet the interplay and permutations of the apparently meaningless, the desire to penetrate anus or vagina, the glimpse of the naked breast, the hope of sexual intercourse or the failure of it, lead to joy, grief, happiness, or desperation for the human creature.

I thought that the essay in its entirety was very interesting and made many points worth thinking about on a topic which is so tantalizing, yet is treated as such a source of taboo.