It’s been a while since I’ve posted in the blogosphere, but I would be remiss if I let the month of October go without discussing the scarier aspects of human sexuality. I mean, let’s face it—there is something intrinsically unsettling and wholly tantalizing about the death of a season that seeps into each and every one of us. If I didn’t know any better I would swear it was the ancient magic of our pagan forbearers surfacing as the veil between life and death thins and we are brought face to face with our own mortality.
I am talking about my most favorite time of the year, Halloween, or the feast of Samhain, as the ancient Celts called it and many practicing pagans refer to it today. For pagans, Samhain is a deeply regarded religious rite in which life and death are celebrated in tandem with joy and thanksgiving.
And sex, of course!
According to Lysander on the website heathenharvest.org, Samhain is a time of “heightened sexual awareness and activity…the seed and fruit of human beings connecting with the seeds and fruit of the harvest, the power and energy raised by sex being seen as a portal through which the dead are able to return.”
Death and sex hold an interesting dichotomy in the human psyche. Like sexuality, death is a taboo that goes largely undiscussed in a culture that places such high emphasis on eternal youth and beauty. It’s as if the whole of society is the eternal pond and we are all Narcissus forever enamored with the smiling, taut-skinned faces of our sexual youth. Maybe that is why when faced with a life-or-death situation—war, famine, disease—we humans have a tendency to fuck like the evolutionary bunnies we are. So, in a way, death becomes the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Terror management theory is essentially the idea that humans are equipped with a series of built in defense mechanisms designed to combat our fear of death. “Research into terror management theory,” as Christian Jarrett writes, “has shown that people respond to mortality reminders by bolstering their own cultural view, derogating opposing views, and shoring up their self-esteem.” And what better way to bolster our self-esteem than with sex? Especially soft, meaningful sex, as Gurit Birnbaum suggests in her 2011 study into death and sexuality.
Jesse Bering, on the other hand, expands on terror management theory, defining it as “any disgust reactions we have to sex [that] actually stem from the fear of our own mortality” (Bering 40). In his book Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, Bering draws comparisons between “sexual disgust” (i.e. vomiting after eating a bad piece of fish) and political “moral disgust” (i.e. gay marriage = something poop related). In other words, whether it turns us on or makes us go on sexual hiatus, all depends on what trigger responses remind us that we’re going to die.
In the end, it all comes down to fear.
Halloween, however, is a time when we celebrate fear. When the veil between the mores of gender and sexuality and death—three of humanity’s most driving forces—are put away and we are, in a sense, free. A time when we dance with the “devil” we see in ourselves, and walk away feeling pretty damn good. So in celebration of Halloween, each week I will be paying tribute to some the darker sides of human sexuality—fetishes which might trigger your own terror management system, remind you that you, too, will one day die. But never fear, my pretties. That day is not today.
Or is it…?
Bering, Jesse. Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Print.