Jack’s Naughty Bits: Aristaenetus

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Jack's Naughty Bits

Of the many stages in the heterosexual human mating ritual, my favorite might be the Everything But. When the doors of physical expression have been thrust open — all save one — the participants enter a pas a deux of tremendous intricacy, a push-pull negotiation that, conducted correctly, can give more pleasure than an any-point-of-entry free-for-all. Poets have long noted that restriction enhances beauty; love sonnets would be less sublime if written in free verse. Further still, restriction demands creativity, and this demand, when taken seriously, pushes the artist further than he might have gone otherwise. Longstanding couples often find that when sex, due to pregnancy or disease, becomes suddenly impossible, the myriad ways of compensating can reinvigorate what had become old hat. And thus the early-stage lover, still in the jonquil fields of courtship, should not despair when held up at third, but rejoice in the possibilities thus afforded (yes, those possibilities were there anyway, but who would think to slow the little engine when it can?).


For men, at least, one of the prime advantages of being trapped within the Everything But is the ability to employ that potent weapon of the female arsenal: The Tease. We men are normally so busy trying to fulfill our phylogenetic injunction to mate (and to prove to the male horde that we can), that we forget how effective a bit of stalling can be. Indirection, dalliance, loitering, lingering and luxuriating are the craftsman’s tools of seduction, shifting the woman into the role of the aggressor. And this is where true eroticism lies. For nothing, nothing, is sexier than enticing someone to break their own prohibitions. To have established Everything But as the policy and then to have that policy quaver under the licking flames of want. And thus, the borders of the Everything But should be traced, the possibility to transgress hinted at (obliquely), the intensity of the waiting heightened and heightened until the resiliency of the resolve jellies. And then? Well, either you do it or you don’t, but the brow is sweaty either way.

NB: Apparently, not all men agree with me on the erotic power of restriction. Take this poem by the Late Classical Greek author Aristaenetus, as a conspicuous counter-example.


From the Love Epistles of Aristaenetus

Translated by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (translation somewhat modified)

Epistle XXI: Cruel Companion

The god of the love-darting bow,

Whose bliss is man’s heart to destroy,

Oft contrives to embitter our woe

By a specious resemblance of joy.

Long — long had Architeles sought

The fair Telesippe to gain:

She coolly his passion denied

Yet seem’d somewhat moved at his pain.

At length she consented to hear;

But ’twas done with a view to beguile:

For her terms were most harsh and severe,

And a frown was as good as her smile.

“You may freely,” says she, “touch my breast,

And kiss, while a kiss has its charms;

And (provided I am not undrest)

Encircle me round in your arms.

“In short, any favor you please,

But expect not, nor think of the last:

Lest enraged I revoke my decrees,

And your sentence of exile be cast.” —

“Be it so,” cried the youth, with delight,

“Thy pleasure, my fair one, is mine:

Since I’m blest as a prince at your sight,

Sure to touch thee, will make me divine.

“But why keep one favor alone,

And grant such a number beside?” —

“Because the men value the boon

But only so long as denied.

“They seek it with labor and pain;

When gain’d, throw it quickly away:

For youth is unsettled and vain,

And its choice scarce persists for a day.”

— Thus pines the poor victim away,

forced to nibble and starve on a kiss.

Serve worse than e’en eunuchs — for they

Can never feel torture like this.

last week next week

Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Introduction ©2000 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.