How Much of Desire is Really about Danger?

Okay, I’m not going to embed the infamous video of Moe and Tracie from Jezebel drunkenly disclaiming on pulling out as viable birth control, unwanted pregnancy, and how it’s okay to be reckless in Williamsburg because the guys there are pussies, but I will link to it.  

Because I think it’s relevant to this conversation we’re having about sluttiness and regret: how much of sexual adventure is about knowingly putting yourself in danger?

I’m thinking: some.

That sure-I-was-raped-so-what video sparked an uproar about third-wave ladies having reckless, unprotected, casual sex and getting date-raped and not thinking it was such a big deal. 

Of course it delighted the stereotypical-second-wave finger-waggers, who finally had tape on this dubious trend they have been condemning. (*Cough* Linda Hirshman *cough*.)

It also illustrated a neglected reason for sluttiness, a subset of curiosity: wonderment over how much danger you can put yourself in and survive.

I had the writer Anna Davies do a piece for Nerve a few years ago when I was an editor there called “Death and the Maiden: Reflections on another young, female murder victim.” It ended: “When I see a drunk girl dancing by herself at a bar near closing time, I never wonder how she could be so foolish. When I hear about a girl who disappeared late one night, I don’t see her as an angel destroyed by the city. I think: she knew she was in danger. That was the point.”

I wrote an essay for Nerve, too, about running around New York as a teenager, drinking and hanging out with strange men, called “Gods of New York.”

Nearly every night, Asia and I would go out and throw ourselves on the mercy of the city. How did nothing horrible ever happen to us? Asia says it’s because we were smart. “Sure, we’d take pills from that twenty-six-year-old MTV dancer who was our new ‘friend’,” she says. “We just wouldn’t take them right then, with him. At the end of the night, we’d empty out our purses and compare notes. ‘I think that’s ecstasy, but it might be a roofie,’ you’d say. I’d nod back and solemnly reply, ‘It’s hard to say. Let’s split it.'”

What am I trying to say, Kara? I think just that emotional and also sometimes physical danger is often part of sex. And does that suck, especially when it comes to teens who are just figuring stuff out? Kind of. And would I rather not have seen those girls on that video bragging about being irresponsible like so many posts on circa 2008 Jezebel seemed to? Yes. But maybe all these articles about how slutty young girls are bad should bear in mind the psychological fact that pretty much everybody at some point or other is turned on by danger?

I’m reminded of that book Cigarettes are Sublime and how it explained why telling smokers they’re going to die doesn’t make them want to quit, because deep down cigarettes feed into a primal death wish, our desire to experience pleasure that we know is bad for us.


Filed under Ada

2 responses to “How Much of Desire is Really about Danger?

  1. Yay, I loved Cigarettes are Sublime. The entire appeal of The Sublime is precisely the exhilarating fear that it might destroy us. I used to write papers on this stuff back in my lit crit days long ago. There’s a wonderful little book by Tom Weiskel, who died in a skating accident (as my old friend George Bradley put it in a memorial poem, “thin ice, no air”), on The Romantic Sublime. The diff between the RomSub and the classical one is that the romantic subject fights back instead of surrendering. Maybe that’s part of the psychology of sluttiness – the pleasure is a kind of fightback.

    • Meghan

      Def agree. With my own twentysomething sluttiness there were always gray areas where part of it was empowerment, but yup, definitely another part was recklessness and a little self destruction (as Kathleen said we “been programed to self- destruct!,” not to mention boredom and pushing boundaries. And yes also to the not quite date rape, but wow, he really wasn’t paying much attention to me to not notice how not into it I was type situations. It does sort of suck that sex is never 100% safe and we’re always at risk, but I agree that’s a part of the appeal beyond the whole “it feels good” part, and it goes back to just educating kids about how to be as safe as possible and responsible without having to completely shut out real vulnerable situations that, with the right amount of confidence and knowledge, they can get through with at least fewer scars than if they just went it alone.

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