By Neal Broverman
Originally published on Advocate.com September 12 2013 12:58 AM ET
I get so many ridiculous press releases in the course of a day — announcements about new varieties of Lunchables, for instance, or a reminder about International Clitoris Awareness Week. Many produce a chuckle before they’re sent to the trash heap, but one recently attracted my attention for an impressive 45 seconds or so. The subject line read “Flesh Party” and it contained a picture of three naked guys holding their junk and one clothed man holding another’s business. Syria, what? 9/11, who?
After muttering “that’s ridiculous” while smiling wryly, I trashed the email (which recapped a classy event from an infamous gay party promoter) and scoured one of my favorite blogs, World of Wonder. I came upon Miley’s new video (see below). I instantly liked the song, but clutched my pearls when the 20-year-old hopped on a wrecking ball — nude. When Miley licked a sledgehammer, cradling it with nails out of an ’80s lesbian porno, my mouth downturned in judgment.
That night, I popped in a review copy of Madonna’s latest concert DVD. While checking emails again, I turned my head from an ad for Masters of Sex and saw Madonna singing “Like a Virgin” a capella before writhing on the ground and licking her microphone. “Jesus!” I yelled at my dog. “Why is everything about sex?” My chiweenie had no answer, but she did me the favor of not licking her crotch, for once.
At work, at leisure: Sex is everywhere. Maybe it’s Miley Cyrus and the twerking phenomenon, but either way, it appears the world overdosed on Cialis. Gay culture has always been sex-obsessed, but has the larger, heterosexist culture finally caught up? There’s a good possibility I’m simply getting old and crotchety (get off my lawn, Miley!), but I’m honestly concerned for my nephews and cousins. Will they think emaciation and come-hither eyes are the quickest way to get noticed? Will they realize that kind of attention is not sustainable, or that sex can be more than fleeting sensations and satisfying others? As a gay man in L.A., I have it bad enough. If the world keeps moving in the same direction, male and female straight kids in Pittsburgh will be under the same amount of pressure to appear sexy. That’s simply cruel.
The media’s fixation with sex — and the need to pull in viewers and clicks through salacious headlines and busty/bulgy pictures (guilty!) — trickles down. If you think teenage girls aren’t internalizing the attention that Miley’s getting (guilty!) for fingering herself with a foam glove, wake up. Also, if “Flesh Party” email blasts don’t stir up equal amounts of titillation and body shame, you work out too much. The gay world has been body-obsessed since the first toga dropped at a Roman bath, but never before have we been exposed to so many images of naked and nearly naked male and female perfection.
Body dysmorphia is so widespread among gay people, we should be checked for it when we get our HIV tests and breast exams. I’m a slim guy who’s been called fat by two separate gay men. A nasty New Yorker once muttered something about my alleged muffin top (guess I shouldn’t have eaten that bag of kettle corn) and a guy I dated recently told me that I should quit carbs (maybe he should eat a bagel and get a real job).
This crazy pressure to look perfect all the time may be getting worse, but not everyone thinks the world is growing hornier at an exponential rate. “I don’t think we're becoming more sex-obsessed, but I think every generation ups the ante because we've seen it all before,” Tracy Gilchrist, the editor in chief of SheWired, The Advocate’s sister site, told me. She added that I am, in fact, simply turning into my nana. “In the ’50s it was Elvis and his hip thrusts and then it was Jim Morrison whipping his [you know] out. And then in the ’80s you have Madonna rolling around onstage in a wedding dress.”
Of course, Madonna didn’t writhe inside a gondola naked, as Miley does atop a wrecking ball in her new video. More importantly, kids of the ’80s and ’90s couldn’t instantly access hard-core pornography in their bedrooms. Regardless, Yassi Zarrin, a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, agrees with Tracy that I’m indeed turning into my nana. Miley isn’t doing anything that Madonna didn’t do (and is still doing), Zarrin says, before adding the caveat that sex is becoming a means of connection in an increasingly disconnected world.
“Sex is a form of intimacy, and let’s not forget that,” she says. “It is the beautiful connection of two individuals, not something to be exploited. … We are living in a world of emails, texting, Internet relationships, and fast-paced schedules. People are disconnected from one another and we have lost the essence of true intimacy and vulnerability. We use sex as a vehicle to connect with another, to feel wanted, special, and to somehow at least connect on a physical level. For some, that seems less scary than to actually put themselves out there and connect on an intimate level.”
Maybe it was easier for Miley to expose her body than her soul. Maybe it’s easier to stretch our abs than our minds. Maybe it’s easier to talk about hot pop stars than war, and bury yourself in Scruff instead of striking up a conversation at a bar. Easy can certainly be hot, but sometimes it’s better when it’s hard, right?
NEAL BROVERMAN is a columnist for The Advocate and the editor in chief of Out Traveler. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman.