I took my thirteen-year-old son and his friend to lunch today and, as a sexologist, it is my firm belief that this should entitle me to at least five continuing education credits from an accredited institution of higher sexological learning.
Let's make that six — for hazard duty — because at times I nearly choked on my enchilada (enchilada, choking, get it?!) as two adolescent boys turned almost everything about the restaurant and the meal into a barrage of non-stop sexual references. Or as they put it, things that are "so wrong" (such as the paintings of upright cacti sprouting twin cactus fruit, behind us).
Even the menu was "wrong" since it featured chips that "wake up your mouth," desserts with "rich, creamy toppings" and "sauces" that "we make ourselves." In lavishly praising the fajitas (or the margaritas-I forget which) the menu encouraged us to "open wide and say 'aahhh!'" The "XX" label on the Dos Equis beer bottle was just too obvious.
So why worry about Internet porn when teenage boys can get just as excited over restaurant menus and traffic signs? On the ride home "One Way Entrance" gave both boys the giggles. Thank goodness we did not encounter "Slippery When Wet" — I might have lost control of the car. However we did pass a "Happy Donut Shop" that happily sold hot dogs too, and a billboard that read "Do Your Car."
Poetic metaphors, double entendres, puns, and innuendo are all ways to convey a sexual point or image, while pretending conversational innocence. Teenagers use these to amuse themselves at the expense of a teacher or parent, who inadvertently says something risque, as well as to develop a convenient short-hand of sexual references and slang. I can admire my teenager's mastery of this form, but sometimes I weary of constant references to penises and all that they can do.
My teenager has sex on the brain. It's so pervasive that I can't even complain about the ugly textured vinyl wall covering in a doctor's reception area without my son snickering about the activity that he imagines has produced the white, lumpy portions of the panel. So forget it, no more trips to the hardware store, with gallons of lush, fresh Spackle and large, furry paint rollers to tempt us. As with a tantrum-throwing two-year-old, the list of places I'm willing to take my kid has dramatically shortened. Okay, so maybe that last statement is a little dramatic. I probably will continue to take this kid to Mexican restaurants and the doctor's office. However, as with a two-year-old, I have to remind myself of what I'm getting into and keep one eye on the exit. Alas, that crayons are no longer a significant distraction. Except (oh god!) for the shape...
As a mother, I find this stage challenging. It seems that when I open my mouth (open, mouth, get it?!) to speak to my youngest son, no matter how innocent in intention, my words unfailingly morph into a double entendre. My teenager will snort, "that's what she said," which apparently means anything a woman could possibly say during sex.
During a recent camping trip, we unpacked the Thermarest sleeping pads along with our tents and the rest of our gear. Like any good mother, I couldn't help but state the obvious: "It'll be more comfortable if you blow yours up." My teenager looked at me and snickered, "That's what she said!" This delighted his friend. Sigh.
According to my teenager, "That's what she said" is a frequent punch line in a television show I've never seen, The Office. There are plenty of other examples online, like the dialogue in this Cyanide and Happiness cartoon. You can find similar examples splattered all over the Internet, like Daniel Dickey's blog and on tight t-shirts worn by nubile young women and hipster guys.
I sit writing my column, while in the next room the kid spews references to dicks, cream, anal sex, Michael Jackson, masturbation, and other things his mother never told him. Why did I never tell him? Well, by the time I thought he was ready, he'd already heard all about it and then some, watching Family Guy and American Dad and "Machinima" videos online. He got the references before he ever got the context, so my job now is to kind of mop up around the conceptual edges and provide opportunities for more balanced conversation. Which does happen sometimes.
It's curious though. Right now most of the jokes are phallic. I wonder about the lack of pussy references. Are they more underground and less apparent to grown-ups, or are they just not important at this point? Is this intense phallic focus is a way of coping with the first stages of rapid physical development? Or an indication of sexual orientation? Or all of the above? Most teenagers are sex and body-obsessed. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
My main point is, erotic references are where you find them. Just like a little kid raised without war toys will take a stick and turn it into a gun, adolescents (and grownups) will take a baseball bat or a watermelon and imagine all kinds of things. Right now I'm re-reading Cold Comfort Farm, a spoof of rural English life written by Stella Gibbons in 1932. Mr. Mybug, a minor character, bores the heroine during their country walks by finding sexual imagery in the birch trees and everything else he sees: "The stems reminded Mr. Mybug of phallic symbols and the buds made Mr. Mybug think of nipples and virgins... there were few occasions when he was not reminded of a pair of large breasts by the distant hills... God! those rhododendron buds had a phallic, urgent look!"
Even as I write, my teenager is up in his room, giggling. However, I'm pretty certain he's not giggling at footage of rhododendrons, unless enormous "phallic, urgent" buds — carrying heavy artillery — are being animated and blown apart in a Machinima video. Machinima are animated videos created through online games, or as Wikipedia says, "real-time virtual 3-D environments." If you want to know the true state of mind of the average American male, at least those under age thirty, spend ten minutes watching snippets of Machinima for one heck of a reality check. The humor is puerile, crude, violent, homophobic (and sometimes homo-erotic), misogynistic, scatological and phallo-centric. Machinimas abound with references to dicks, especially smelling them. My teenager finds this screamingly funny. That's why he's giggling upstairs.
Dr. Daniel Amen, who writes books showing brain SPECT scans and how an overactive anterior cingulate gyrus or basal ganglia can really mess up your sex life, is a proponent of gender-based brain differences. He says, "testosterone beefs up the area of the brain that is interested in sex. This area is twice as large in men as in women. He really is more interested in sex." Judging by everything I've just written about teenage males, I could say, "maybe, maybe." But it's such a gender-binary statement that I really have to wonder what subtleties are missing here. And obviously, we all know tons of women (cis and otherwise) who have very, very strong sex drives, thank you very much!
Though I do find Dr. Amen's work really interesting in other respects, I have to wonder about the cultural biases of some of his interpretations. Is it really true that the general category of "men" really are more interested in having sex? Or is it that a larger number of their brain cells are actually more interested in cracking sexual jokes, discovering prurient interpretations of restaurant menus, and making ribald Machinimas? Only our pre-frontal (get it, frontal?!) cortex-or maybe our corpus callosum (rhymes with "cum")-really knows for sure.
Image via Wallenrock/Shutterstock.com.
Want to see your work here? Email us!