Write me: rjn@richardjnewman.com
I Know I’ve Had Orgasms That Changed Me

A friend of mine who does not like jazz–especially any­thing that has a sax­o­phone in it–told me once about a con­ver­sa­tion she and her ex-hus­band, a seri­ous jazz-lover, had over din­ner with a cou­ple, the male half of which also loved jazz, while the female half felt sim­i­lar­ly to my friend. This sec­ond woman defined her dis­like by say­ing some­thing along the lines of, “I don’t need to sit and lis­ten to a bunch of men mas­tur­bat­ing,” a ref­er­ence both to the empha­sis in jazz on the impro­vised solo and to the fact that most jazz musicians–or maybe most well-known jazz musicians–seem to be men. My friend said she felt an imme­di­ate click of right­ness when her din­ner guest made this state­ment, which led to a long dis­cus­sion about the com­par­i­son between music and sex, between impro­vi­sa­tion and solo sex–though, of course, jazz impro­vi­sa­tion is not usu­al­ly done in soli­tude. I have writ­ten else­where about the con­nec­tion I made ear­ly on in my own sex­u­al awak­en­ing between the orches­trat­ing of sex­u­al plea­sure dur­ing love­mak­ing and music, but what my friend’s sto­ry made me think about was how, say, a cer­tain kind of jazz solo, where the musi­cian explores sub­tle nuances of melody and har­mo­ny, or the var­i­ous ways in which you can slice up a beat to cre­ate dif­fer­ent rhyth­mic tex­tures, cor­re­sponds to the kind of mas­tur­ba­tion in which you use the plea­sure you are giv­ing your­self to explore your­self, either through the fan­tasies that arise while you mas­tur­bate or through the dif­fer­ent kinds of aware­ness your solo love­mak­ing gives you of your own body; and then I thought about how rock solos or blues solos or the large solo con­certs that Kei­th Jar­rett once gave all have an ana­log in mas­tur­ba­tion, from the kind that is just a release of sex­u­al ten­sion to the kind that is an affir­ma­tion in deep sad­ness and/or joy–and/or the entire range of emo­tions it is pos­si­ble to feel dur­ing sex, which means pret­ty much all the emo­tions of which human beings are capable–of the fact that you are alive, which for me is what defines the sound of the blues, to the kind that is large and com­plex­ly moti­vat­ed and that you may nev­er ful­ly under­stand.

Mas­tur­ba­tion is, as all sex is, a work­ing through of who we are and how we feel about our­selves, of what we wish for, of what we wish to avoid, of the his­to­ry of our bod­ies, of every­thing that makes us human in the capac­i­ty of our bod­ies to expe­ri­ence that human­i­ty; and there is a way in which sex is the cre­ation of a sym­bol of that human­i­ty: in the plea­sures we move through on our way to orgasm, not because orgasm is the only and nec­es­sary goal of sex–though in mas­tur­ba­tion orgasm usu­al­ly is the point–but because each orgasm, whether we are con­scious of it or not, is some­thing to which we have to give mean­ing, and mean­ing requires his­to­ry, not only the spe­cif­ic his­to­ry of the sen­sa­tions that brought you to this par­tic­u­lar orgasm, but the larg­er per­son­al and cul­tur­al his­to­ry that each of those sen­sa­tions taps into. I know I’ve had orgasms that changed me. Some were soli­tary and some were shared, but all of them cap­tured a truth about myself that I need­ed to face if I was going to grow, sex­u­al­ly and oth­er­wise.

This sym­bol­ic aspect of sex–which may or may not be an accu­rate way of talk­ing about these things, but which makes sense to me–reminds me as well of some­thing I read a long time ago in Suzanne Langer’s book, Feel­ing and Form about how music is the sym­bol­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the process of human emo­tion and that it is this sym­bol which the com­pos­er cre­ates on the page and that the per­former plays into exis­tence when he or she per­forms; and so it occurs to me that sex, solo or oth­er­wise, is the play­ing into exis­tence of that part of our­selves that is wait­ing to become, and some­times we will under­stand what we are becom­ing in and through sex, and some­times sex is what opens us up to the fact that this under­stand­ing is what we need to find.

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