Jack’s Naughty Bits: Lucretius

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Jack's Naughty Bits

I pose this as an open question: What constitutes sexual addiction? Is it like drinking, where four or five a day signals a problem? Is it like heroin, where you get so you’d have to do it at any cost? Or like cigarettes, where going without for a whole plane ride is a problem? I ask because I don’t know, and occasionally fear that the propulsion of enthusiasm might cross the line into obsession. Sex is a glorious thing to dedicate much of your life to, and yet, there is a point where sex stops being about sex, where the meaning and experience of the act is replaced by the compulsion of doing. That, I would say, is the point of addiction.

Now, it is important in the discussion of sex addiction to make a distinction between sex and what one might term seduction addiction. Sex addiction is a calculus of numbers, not of people. Sex addiction leads to anonymous encounters, to porn, to prostitutes, to whatever is capable of releasing the juice — and the vehicle is irrelevant. Seduction addiction is a different thing: it’s about affirmation, about being liked, about being able to persuade. It’s about power. If, in fact, I am concerned at all with the history of my libidinal behavior, it just might be that seduction addiction is what scares me more.

But who doesn’t want to be liked? It’s a rare person who can ignore the opinions of others, and who doesn’t seek to reinforce the ego by pleasing. And yet. The seduction addict takes this logical, human impulse to a somewhat absurd extreme. There have been times in my life when I needed the constant ego massage of a steady stream of new lovers. Their appeal was not novelty, the usual explanation, nor even variety. It was safety. Safety in numbers, safety in the accumulation of intimacy that — as it is not centered in a single person — seems not to be as precarious, not at the mercy of one beating heart.

Seduction addiction creates an illusion of intimacy that seems safe — that is its appeal. Lucretius, in the first century B.C., advocates promiscuity as an antidote to the stinging barbs of love. Perhaps, he indicates, one can distract oneself from the true source of pain. I suspect seduction addiction is very much about distraction, trying to forget the loneliness that motivates the frenzy of the quest itself. We hunger, we gaze upon the pastries and hunger all the more. The snake consumes its tail.


From The Nature of the Universe by Lucretius

Translated by Ronald Latham

The thing in us that responds to the stimulus is the seed that comes with ripening years and strengthening limbs. For different things respond to different stimuli or provocations. The one stimulus that evokes human seed from the human body is a human form. As soon as this seed is dislodged from its resting-place, it travels through every member of the body, concentrating at certain reservoirs in the loins and promptly acts upon the generative organs. These organs are stimulated and swollen by the seed. Hence follows the will to eject it in the direction in which tyrannical lust is tugging. The body makes for the source from which the mind is pierced by love. For the wounded normally fall in the direction of their wound: the blood spurts out toward the source of the blow; and the enemy who delivered it, if he is fighting at close quarters, is bespattered by the crimson stream. So, when a man is pierced by the shafts of Venus, whether they are launched by a lad with womanish limbs or a woman radiating love from her whole body, he strives toward the source of the wound and craves to be united with it and to transmit something of his own substance from body to body. His speechless yearning is a presentiment of bliss.

This, then, is what we term Venus. This is the origin of the thing called love — the drop of Venus’ honey that first drips into our heart, to be followed by a numbing heartache. Though the object of your love may be absent, images of it will haunt you and the beloved name chimes sweetly in your ears. If you find yourself thus passionately enamored of an individual, you should keep well away from such images. Thrust from you anything that might feed your passion, and turn your mind elsewhere. Vent the seed of love upon other objects. By clinging to it you assure yourself the certainty of heart-sickness and pain. With nourishment the festering sore quickens and strengthens. Day by day, the frenzy heightens and the grief deepens. Your only remedy is to lance the first wound with new incisions; to salve it, while it is still fresh, with promiscuous attachments; to guide the motions of your mind into some other channel . . .

In love there is the hope that the flame of passion may be quenched by the same body that kindled it. But this runs clean counter to the course of nature. This is the one thing of which the more we have, the more our breast burns with the evil lust of having . . . In the midst of love, Venus teases lovers with images. They cannot glut their eyes by gazing on the beloved form, however closely. Their hands glean nothing from those dainty limbs in their aimless roving over all the body. Then comes the moment when with limbs entwined they pluck the flower of youth. Their bodies thrill with the presentiment of joy, and it is seed-time in the fields of Venus. Body clings greedily to body; moist lips are pressed on lips and deep breaths are drawn through clenched teeth. But all to no purpose. One can glean nothing from the other, nor enter in and be wholly absorbed, body in body; for sometimes it seems that that is what they are craving and striving to do, so hungrily do they cling together in Venus’ fetters, while their limbs are unnerved and liquefied by the intensity of rapture. At length, when the spate of lust is spent, there comes a slight intermission in the raging fever. But not for long. Soon the same frenzy returns. The fit is upon them once more. They ask themselves what it is they are craving for, but find no device that will master their malady. In aimless bewilderment they waste away, stricken by an unseen wound.

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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.