Sunday, September 16, 2012

Salacious Shades of Meaning

I have been thinking about words lately. I have noticed that sometimes we humans treat words as if they have an intrinsic almost sacred meaning that is fixed in concrete, when in actuality the meaning of words is much more fluid. It helps to remember that every word that exists at one time was "made up" by us humans.  How we use words and the "meaning" of words gradually (or sometimes rather quickly) shifts, shaped by our culture, interests, attitudes, and beliefs. Words that describe bodily functions or anything sexual in nature are particularly susceptible to shifts in meaning and sometimes multiple meanings, or shades of meaning.  Sometimes so called "nice" words are corrupted and their meaning shifts after being used as euphemisms for things we think of as not so "nice". However, lately I have also noticed another trend. Words that have historically had a derogatory or negative meaning are being re-claimed and used to express something positive and strong. I kind of enjoy this trend. This feels empowering to me. It makes me smile when I hear someone refer to themselves, for example, as an ethical slut, a massage slut, or any kind of self proclaimed slut, when it takes on this beautiful meaning of being enthusiastic in their complete love, infatuation and appreciation for sex or whatever the chosen activity. Words can be so empowering and uplifting when used in a conscious way.

Once while I was completely enjoying kissing a particularly charming and delicious gentleman, he referred to me as “salacious”. Actually I think he asked me if I knew how salacious I was. Although he said it as if it were a compliment, I had not heard that word used in a very long time, and never as a compliment. The associations I had to that word were not altogether positive. This was a word I thought you might used to describe a particularly unappealing, perverted individual; scandalous, obscene, lecherous, pornographic, grossly indecent, and “slutty” (which is a word I still have mixed feelings about) is what came to my mind. He seemed to be anxiously awaiting my response to his assessment of me. I noticed that this triggered a bit of old insecurity in me, wondering to myself if I had been out of line in my outward expression of pleasure and bliss, so I told him that I wasn’t really sure what salacious meant (not an altogether untruth.) He proceeded to say something like: Inspiring of desire, highly sensual, arousing or appealing to sexual fantasy. Oh, I said with a sigh of relief. That sounds like a good word. I like that! It is kind of like a mix of sexy and delicious!

So this same word, with a similar yet different shade of meaning was now experienced by me in a whole new way. The main difference being the second definition came out of a more positive attitude about sex, than the initial critical judgmental attitude that colored my first impression of this word.   I made a point of using this newly rediscovered word several times over the next few days.  

I also believe that the meaning and power we give words can really hurt at times, in spite of the childhood rhyme to the contrary. Adolescence years are particularly vulnerable, confusing times for many. When I was growing up, there were many mixed messages out there about what appropriate behavior was, particularly when it comes to our bodies, dating and sex. There were clearly gaps between the expectations values and beliefs passed on by my elders and what was considered cool and embraced by my peers, but there also wasn’t really any clear consensus among my peers either, so it seemed inevitable that no matter what I did, or people imagined that I did, someone was not going to approve. I would be judged and I would be called names.

It was particularly challenging for me growing up as a girl. Society taught me that I should care about my appearance, and put energy into making myself attractive and appealing, yet somehow, as a “good girl”, I should not make myself too appealing. I should be friendly and approachable, yet never overly forward or easy. I should look cute, attractive, and sexy, yet not too sexy or slutty, or people might think I am a whore. This was not an easy distinction to make at times, especially for a teenager. I would often take an exceptionally long time to get ready to go anywhere. Putting on makeup was tricky. Sometimes it would take several tries of putting it on then taking it back off, because somehow I had crossed the line from tastefully accentuating my eyes the way the magazine described, into the realm of looking like a hooker. It was common for girls in my day to ask each other things like, how does this outfit look? Do I look cute and sexy or slutty and whorish?

My father was a minister for awhile, during these particularly vulnerable years when I was beginning to date. It felt as if the weight of responsibility about being careful how I dressed and behaved because I might inadvertently “cause” a boy to “sin” was amplified.  I was given the strong message that somehow it is up to me, as a girl, to keep the boys in line and keep my virtue in tack. Boys, as it was explained, had “urges”. Hormones, I was told, coursing through their veins somehow made them a little crazy and unaccountable for their actions. Girls, however, seemed to be held very accountable for every action and even the appearance of an action. If a boy crossed the line, then it was just a boy being a boy, and you can’t blame a guy for trying. If a girl crossed a line, “gave in” to a boys advances, or god forbid, if she was so bold as to make advances, she would get a bad reputation and be labeled with harsh words.  The message was always some version of be a good girl and some day you will get rewarded with a husband and a family. I was told that boys may pay more attention to the bad girls now but they do not “respect” them. They may play around with the bad girls but when they want to get married, for some strange reason, they suddenly want a good girl. Did it never occur to anyone back then that healthy girls, both bad and good, had hormones coursing through their veins as well?

As a girl, I was somehow supposed to suppress my own desires and keep the boys at bay. But it was more complicated than that. I also knew that if a girl was too guarded with her chastity, and not willing to play around, she would get called other names. These names were just as hurtful, if not more hurtful than the ones used for the so called bad girls. I tried to ride that thin line between good girl and bad girl, but it was not easy. I recall a time when I was only in seventh grade. I had developed early, so my breasts seemed to draw a lot of attention as well as to lead people to wild assumptions about my character and behavior.  In the course of the same school day it was not uncommon to be called a slut, a tease and a prude without doing a thing other than to walk around with breasts.

As a young woman, I went to a Christian school. I remember distinctly watching a particularly disturbing film that the faculty had us watch; sort of as a warning to us young women to guard our virtue. Now it was the early eighties, but the film seemed to be set perhaps in the late fifties. The story focused around a young woman who had fallen head over heels for a young man. I can’t remember the names, but our heroin was a very cute seemingly happy and bubbly girl, so I will call her Joy. Joy and Mark were dating, spending a lot of time together. It seemed to be a summer romance, with walks on the beach and rides in a convertible.  According to the story teller’s point of view, at some point Mark began to “pressure her” for sex.  She seemed ambivalent, but did not want to lose him, so she was struggling over what to do.

Joy talked with a girlfriend, who seemed to be one of the “good girls” you hear about, a Sandra Dee type. Imagine the before version of Sandy on Greece before the makeover. That was what the friend appeared to be like, so I will call her Sandy. Sandy advised Joy not to do it. She told our heroine that if she went all the way with Mark, that the young man in question would not respect her, and advised Joy to wait for marriage.  Well, she held out for a while, but she must have realized at some point that she really shouldn’t be taking advice about her sex life from her inexperienced, naive friend who obviously had no boyfriend of her own, so she “rationalized” that since they were “in love”, it would be all right to “go all the way” and she did.  Although they did not show us the graphic details, it was somehow implied that they had sex.

It seemed disturbing to me that this character seemed to be more concerned about having sex as a way to keep her boyfriend, rather than for the sheer bliss and pleasure of it, but this movie was set in the fifties, apparently before women realized or dared voice out loud, that they liked sex. Well at first everything seemed to be going swell for Joy and Mark. They seemed to be having a great time together throughout the summer.

Finally the summer is almost over and Joy is getting ready for a very special date. Joy, all smiles, confides in Sandy that she thinks her boyfriend Mark might propose tonight. Mark was taking her to a fancy restaurant and he had told her that there was something important that he wanted to talk to her about. She was obviously excited as she sat across from him at dinner all smiles, in her perfect outfit that she spent hours picking out for this special occasion.

However, the story takes an unhappy turn at this point, and instead of proposing, he breaks up with her. She is crushed! He says something lame about how they were just having a little fun. To add insult to injury, he tells her that he is planning to marry someone else. Someone he has been involved with for some time now, but who he was apparently separated from for the summer. Although I can’t remember all the details, it was implied somehow that the girl he plans to marry was still a virgin. So I will call this mysterious fiancĂ©e Mary. Our heroine Joy comes home, tears streaming down her face, feeling hurt, ashamed, upset, and betrayed. You can just tell that her smug friend Sandy is dying to say “I told you so”, but instead she just gives her one of those piteous looks that says, “oh you poor dear miss guided slut, now that you are no longer a virgin you will probably never land a nice man”.

The story ends with Mark and Mary having a lovely wedding. Joy is alone and devastated, and sadly without her precious virginity. The story tellers paint her as someone apparently doomed to live the rest of her life alone and in shame. I had the feeling that I was supposed to learn a lesson from this film, but I couldn’t help but think that the lessons I gleaned were not really the ones intended.

I remember talking and laughing with friends about this silly film afterwards.  The consensus among my friends was that we felt most sorry for poor naive Mary, not so much for Joy. Yes, Joy had a bad disappointment, but she dodged a bullet with Mark. He was an asshole!  Joy had a fun summer fling. Yes, it ended badly, but now she was free to move on and hopefully find someone honest and loving.  Poor Mary, who seems to be in the dark about the whole summer affair, and what kind of asshole her new husband is, is now stuck with this cheating lying jerk “till death do them part”!  We joked about the possible future for each of the characters. Here is my version of the rest of the story.

Mark and Mary start a family right away; one boy and one girl. They seem to be the perfect little family. However, Mary started out the marriage being completely in experienced sexually, and is still rather reserved in the bedroom. No one every taught her about orgasms and how delightful they can be. Mark, not being a very patient or giving man, doesn’t do much to help Mary discover the pleasures of sex for herself. Mark grows impatient and bored with Mary, who was taught that sex was something you should only do to make babies. Now that they have their perfect little family, she is no longer interested in having sex. Dissatisfied with their sex life, Mark has numerous affairs with women who seem to like sex.  Mark and Mary’s marriage falls apart.  But it is the fifties and they have children, so they stay together in this loveless marriage for the children.

Joy, being not only sensual but intelligent, leaves her small town and gets out into the real world. She focuses on her career and gains a lot of respect for her work as a scientific researcher. She begins to see that there is more to life than she was first led to believe. She gradually becomes the confident woman that she was meant to be. She travels the world and along the way she meets many other interesting men before she finally settles down with a sensual French Artist named Pierre, who loves and appreciates a woman who knows how to embrace her sensuality. He has no hang ups about wanting a virgin bride and makes love to her enthusiastically. He loves to paint provocative picture of Joy in the nude, and they live happily ever after.  

Sandy’s life took some interesting turns as well. She didn’t meet that special boy she had hoped to right away, but being the good Catholic girl that she was, she began to wonder if she had a special calling. Maybe she was supposed to marry Jesus. She became a nun and lived in a convent for a few years, and taught in a catholic school. But after awhile she noticed that it was pretty lonely being married to Jesus. She befriended a young priest named Joseph. It was innocent at first. Doing the Lord’s work together, sharing a pleasant conversation while feeding the homeless, but in spite of all their vows, they began to fall in love. All of their repressed sexual energy bubbled to the surface and they had a forbidden love affair. Their secret was eventually discovered. It was a big shameful scandal. They left the church, left town together and started life over in another city. It was pretty rocky at first because neither of them had many social life skills. Sandy, who had been a teacher at the Catholic school back home, eventually got work as a public school teacher. Joseph, although disillusioned with the church and the priesthood, he still felt a calling to help people and offer comfort and guidance. He got a job at a book store, and went back to school to become a psychologist.  

I now recognize that this film was propaganda produced by those who wished to keep women repressed, subservient and out of touch with their sexual feminine desires and power. Luckily, in my case, it was not entirely successful.

I remember thinking after viewing this strange film that not all of us girls wanted to use our feminine wiles to manipulate and trap a boy into marrying us someday. We actually liked being sexual beings. When I liked someone, every impulse in my body said, “Just kiss the boy!” Perhaps the good girls had enormous self control and virtue, but it occurs to me that perhaps the so called good girls were simply repressed, stifled or damaged girls, filled with shame, not in touch with their bodies or libidos. Would they be able to magically turn back on all the repressed sexual energy they had worked so hard to contain once they said “I do”? If in fact they did get the good husbands, it might not be long before their marriage falls apart because of a lack of passion, and those same good husbands would be out there again seeking a so called bad girl.

As a young girl, I did want to find a good husband someday. I had all the little girl fantasies of the perfect wedding,  but more importantly, I also wanted a good marriage, I pictured that marriage to be filled with passionate love, kindness, maybe children, a nice home, and okay, I will come right out and say it, I wanted to have great sex. I was a little unclear how I would know if we were compatible sexually if we never had sex until the wedding night. I never got a satisfactory answer for this one. The take in on faith line just never rang true for me.

The main point of my story, if I can pick just one, is that words are colored by our attitudes. If we have a positive attitude about sex, our bodies and ourselves, our language reflects that. The meaning and power of our words begins to evolve as well. When I was a little girl, being called a slut was a pretty devastating insult. Now as an adult if someone should call me a slut, I still might not initially jump for joy.  However, I think I might find a clever way of using my words to define for myself the shade of meaning that suits me. I would be inclined to gently correct them by saying; yes, I am a slut. I am a sacred salacious slut. I embody the goddess, and my beloved is a god. If you would like, I could help you to learn how to be a sacred salacious slut too.

If you are interested is scheduling a session with me (or even just curious) please check out my website: