The recent debate over what we might call “non-reproductive rights” has, as so many things do, led me to question the meaning of life, which, in turn, reminded me that I don’t watch nearly enough Monty Python. And so it was that The Boy and I found ourselves sitting at the kitchen table, watching musical clip of “Every Sperm Is Sacred,” from Monty Python and laughing ourselves sick in between efforts to sing along, with full vibrato and faux cockney accents. We’re easily entertained.
Of course, once that song gets into your brain there’s no way short of major surgery of removing it, so we were singing it again on the way to school this morning. We lost some of the tune, but the vibrato and accents sounded better. So we pull up at a stop sign and shift into “talk” mode.
“Sperm is just such a weird word,” I say. “It sounds like tapioca. And uvula sounds dirty. And I’m not the only one to notice that–remember Monster House?”
The Boy doesn’t remember, and we are at the school, anyway, so he makes a hasty escape before things get really, really strange. He knows me well.
I drive thoughtfully around the block to Burger Hut.
“The usual?” asks the jenniferlady who owns the place. She knows me well, too. She knows that I always order the exact same thing for breakfast, so I don’t have to wast brain power mulling options–brain power that could, oh, for instance, be put to observing and mourning the fact that “spay” sounds like an operation performed with a shovel, by the dead of night, at a deserted crossroads, while “neuter” is the sound a small red economy car overloaded with a large unshaven man and far too much dirty laundry might make as it creeps around town.
“Five thirty five,” says the jenniferlady, hasping her window open.
I slick my credit card out of my purse and scritch my signature with a pen that is nearly dry.
And then I drive away, shifting gears to ponder why it is that the medical equipment people, who certainly should know better, would choose to name their company Siemens. The reason the farm and garden company named itself Onan is obviously–these are tools for people who spill their seed upon the ground. It makes an unfortunate kind of sense.
It strikes me that words dealing with sex and reproduction are often like that–words that (if you’ll pardon the metaphor) feel funny in your mouth, and conjure strange images. “Penis,” is a small red-headed clown in big bulbous shoes (all right, that one makes sense), but why would “testicles” sound like something you would keep in the freezer? And why does clitoris sound like a hairstyle that involves lots of bobby pins, hairspray, and rhinestones? And think of ovary. It sounds like a room where owls hold concerts. Prostate is a car part–part of the fuel injection system, I think. Scrotum sounds like something you’d use to scour burned beans out of the bottom of a kettle. And intercourse is something that occurs on freeways, at the National Mall, and in airports.
Associations like these make discussing sex a mirth minefield in our house. Not that it isn’t a mirth minefield, anyway. When we discussed birth control we ended up blowing up rubbers like balloons and flying them around the house. All of which brings us back to Monty Python’s song, and why it’s so very, very memorable–and, I contend, appropriate.
I think I’ve mentioned before that Medieval medical charts associate a Muse–the divinities associated with inspiration for the various arts and sciences–with each area of the body. Guess who got the groin? Yep, Thalia–the muse of comedy. Perhaps it’s a reminder that for all its power, and for all the sublimity that can be a part of it, sex is also us at our most human, our most bumbling, our most vulnerable, our most comic. While it is lovely in many regards, esthetically pleasing it is not. It’s strange. There’s a reason why children’s first response to the subject is often, “Ewww.”
So what’s the point? Maybe it’s time that the loudest mouths in the debate over who has the right to regulate sexuality and reproduction remember that sex isn’t something we goose step through. It’s lovely, and squishy, and awkward, and smelly, and let’s face it, sometimes it’s darned funny. It’s a subject that brings with it a whole boatload of associations, and beliefs, and fears, and needs. Sex is an incredibly intimate act, not only because when we do it we are quite literally putting our lives into one another’s hands, but because it lays us open, makes us vulnerable, exposes us in a way few other things do.
Perhaps that’s why hearing anyone laying down the law about how we should deal with this very intimate part of life seems like a sort of rape. It takes something profoundly personal and precious and strips it bare in the marketplace. And how is that different from Monty Python making songs about sacred sperm? It’s all the difference in the world. There is a reason sex and humor are linked. Both celebrate us at our most human. Both thrive in a world where individuality, creativity, and spontaneity are respected. And both are diminished, and ultimately destroyed, by those who hate and fear individual expression–those who refuse to accept our common humanity, our frailty, vulnerability. They are destroyed by those who cannot laugh at themselves.