I suspect that no matter how sophisticated we become about sex in the abstract, there’s some half-hidden, unacknowledged suspicion within most of us that sex—or at least the way we personally experience and think about it—is peculiar, if not downright bizarre. As Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfeld recently pointed out in a Networker interview, “Sexuality is weird. After all, we make new human beings by licking and touching and inserting one part of a body into another and squirting little tadpole things. But it’s also fantastic because we can lose ourselves in love and touch the timeless and the infinite. It’s magic. It’s wonderful. It’s also strange.”
All this became very clear as we worked on this issue. Over the weeks when we were most involved in producing it, things sometimes got a little giddy and, well, weird. Double entendres abounded in our editorial meetings, which zigzagged between funny and strained, as we kept revealing our sense of common awkwardness around this loaded topic.
At one point during a conference call to discuss the contents with not just the staff in the office but several editors in other locations, a technical glitch suddenly cut off the phone connection. But those of us face-to-face around the table were so caught up in the conversation that for almost half an hour we didn’t notice the unusual silence from the people on the phone. It simply seemed to us that the strain of discussing such a taboo-laden topic—SEX!—had caused our out-of-office staff to swoon dead away, like Victorian maidens of an earlier era.
There were some other memorable moments during this process. My wife, Jette, ever the studious couples therapist and trainer, was interested in watching the videos of my conversations with Susan Johnson, Esther Perel, and Michele Weiner-Davis that are excerpted in this issue. I emailed her a link to the recordings, and one night after dinner, instead of the two of us hanging out together, I had the curious experience of watching my wife go off to watch me talk about sex with three other women.
Perhaps the heightened atmosphere in the office around this topic was due to our age—most of us at the Networker are decades past being 20-somethings. And, it’s true, our young assistant editor Chris, when asked for his take on sexual attitudes among his peers, brightened right up and exhibited far more comfort with, not to mention arcane knowledge about, the hookup culture than any of the rest of us could command. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that even the young male and female leads on the HBO hit Girls—who regularly and freely engage in and talk about sexual behaviors my generation could never have imagined—are shown experiencing in their sexual relationships the same old susceptibility to mixed signals, confusion, disappointment, excruciating awkwardness, and emotional pain that my generation knows only too well.
Overall, putting this issue together was an oddly touching experience, because as much as with any other subjects we’ve discussed for the Networker, I felt that there was a deep sense of camaraderie, common discovery, and shared vulnerability. I had the sense that whether we felt uncomfortable, exhilarated, or just fascinated by what is, after all, an endlessly fascinating topic, we were all in this project together. And by “this project,” I mean not just this issue on sex, but in the whole human project. Whatever our inhibitions and uncertainties, we’re all sexual beings—“not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Jerry Seinfeld used to say.