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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Harold Brodkey

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Jack's Naughty Bits

We try. Not all of us, not all the time, not necessarily with grace or effect — nor do the two seem particularly aligned — but we men try sometimes to make women come. It’s a noble, exquisite, maddening, often misguided mission, one we probably failed to take note of in our early years of sex and then spent many of the subsequent years overcompensating out of shame. (Am I revealing too much?)

    

Furthermore, trying to make women come is one of those rare situations where good intentions do not assure success, and, contrary to the American spirit, effort and confidence can actually work against you. In this, it is like parenting — one can kill as easily by smothering as by neglect. The two cardinal traps of parenting are overtrying and thinking you know what you’re doing. So, too, in the attempt to please women. The first error is likely to put undue, distracting pressure on the recipient (and can either prevent her orgasm or encourage her to fake it); the second leads to inattentiveness and keeps you from responding to the idiosyncrasies of the woman at hand (so to speak). It’s hard to abandon the idea that what worked with one woman might work again — a belief that can get in the way of learning what it is that the new woman likes, and how even she herself can vary from one day to the next.

    

Both errors point back to the same source: making it (note to self) all about you. Instead, it should be about the plural you: the vous with two backs, and two psyches merging into one. New-Agey though it may sound, the best way to ensure that is to just — be. And sometimes, to fail. Or better yet, to realize that there is no such thing as a failure, and that these stumbling moments of exploration are — as in parenting — just part of the process, elements of that larger motive (above ego or performance or altruism or feminism or tantra or égalité or even eros itself), which is to say, love.




NB: The excerpt is from a short story that is certainly among the finest bits of sex writing ever penned, Harold Brodkey’s “Innocence.” The story consists exclusively of a man’s extended attempt to make a woman come (a scene played out again with the same characters in Brodkey’s later novel The Runaway Soul.) Brodkey seems to be of a Pelagian or Protestant school of boudoir busy-beavering, to which, clearly, I don’t entirely subscribe. But it is true that no writer has given us such a window into the mind of the male sexual performer as “Innocence.” For yes, men can be thinking while we’re having sex, and this, my dears, is what we’re often thinking about.

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From “Innocence” by Harold Brodkey

I suddenly realized how physically strong Orra was, how well-knit, how well put together her body was, how great the power in it, the power of endurance in it; and a phrase — absurd and demeaning but exciting just then — came into my head: to throw a fuck, and I settled atop her, braced my toes and knees and elbows and hands on the bed and half-scramblingly worked itit was clearly mine, but I was Orra’s — worked it into a passionate shove, a curving stroke about a third as long as a full stroke, but amateur and gentle, that is, tentative still; and Orra screamed then; how she screamed; she made known her readiness: then the next time, she grunted: “Uhnnn-nahhhhhh . . . ” a sound thick at the beginning but that trailed into refinement, into sweetness, a lingering sweetness.

    

It seemed to me I really wanted to fuck like this, that I had been waiting for this all my life. But it wasn’t really my taste, that kind of fuck: I liked to throw a fuck with less force and more gradations and implications of force rather than with the actual thing; and with more immediate contact between the two sets of pleasures and with more admissions of defeat and triumph; my pleasure was a thing of me reflecting her; her spirit entering me; or perhaps it was merely a mistake, my thinking that; but it seemed shameful and automatic, naïve and animal: to throw the prick into her like that.

    

She took the thrust: she convulsed a little; she fluttered all over; her skin fluttered; things twitched in her, in the disorder surrounding the phallic blow in her. After two thrusts, she collapsed, went flaccid, then toughened and readied herself again, rose a bit from the bed, aimed the flattened, mysteriously funnel-like container of her lower end at me, too high, so that I had to pull her down with my hands on her butt or on her hips; and her face, when I glanced at her beneath my lids, was fantastically pleasing, set, concentrated, busy, harassed; her body was strong, was stone, smooth stone and wet-satin paper bags and snaky webs, thin and alive, made of woven snakes that lived, thrown over the stone; she held the great, writhing-skinned stone construction toward me, the bony marvel, the half-dish of bone with its secretive, gluey-smooth entrance, the place where I was — it was undefined, except for that: the place where I was: she took and met each thrust — and shuddered and collapsed and rose again: she seemed to rise to the act of taking it; I thought she was partly mistaken, childish, to think that the center of sex was to meet and take the prick thrown into her as hard as it could be thrown, now that she was excited; but there was a weird wildness, a wild freedom, like children cavorting, uncontrolled, set free, but not hysterical merely without restraint; the odd, thickened, knobbed pole springing back and forth as if mounted on a web of wide rubber bands; it was a naïve and a complete release. I whomped it in and she went, “UHNNN!” and a half-iota of a second later, I was seated all the way in her, I jerked a minim of an inch deeper in her, and went: “UHNN!” too. Her whole body shook. She would go, “UHN!” And I would go, “UHN!”