Not pleasant dinner conversation perhaps, but this trifecta—sex, birth, excretion—are the essence of life. Yet for a long time I found myself unable to view them without a certain degree of disgust. Sometimes, I still do. Each one, after all, involves muscles and tubes concentrated in the genital area, and I don’t even like to look at my own genitalia at the best of times. Thus, I tried to get to the root of my own disgust, and in many ways society’s collective repulsion towards each of these three acts, in order to live as a more “complete” being, who sees these natural acts as beautiful instead of repulsive.
Let’s start with sex, the less visually unpleasant one compared to the other two acts. Outwardly, society seems to accept, even glorify, this part of the process in the creation of life. It is used to sell products, features in films on a frequent basis, and is an acceptable subject of conversation amongst friends, sometimes even acquaintances. Culturally, we are a great deal more open regarding sex than a few decades ago. Condoms and contraception are discussed openly, as well as alternative forms of sex, such as anal and oral, between both homosexual and heterosexual partners, and watching porn, though frowned upon by feminist groups who believe the videos objectify women’s bodies, is socially acceptable, at least amongst men. Almost everyone has a sex drive to some degree—how else was the world populated?–and intercourse, the “normal” way to have sex, whereby a penis penetrates a vagina, when done with the consent of both parties, preferably in a long-term relationship, is seen as an intimate and beautiful act.
Nevertheless it is still a struggle for me to accept the existence of sex, in all its forms—in fact, it’s sometimes difficult for me not to find genitalia, including my own, as less than pleasant, a sentiment echoed by many in today’s society. At first, I thought this was merely due to the look of them. Both the penis and vagina tend to be a deeper red than one’s skin tone, and often hairy and wrinkled. If baring our genitals was seen as ordinary as showing our arms or neck, then perhaps the disgust would fade, and it would simply be viewed as another part of our body.
Nude benches, for instance, are one of the few places in the world that exist to desensitize people to the “shock factor” of nakedness. After all, clothing is a man-made construction. In some cultures throughout history and the world today baring one’s breasts is not seen as socially inappropriate; therefore nakedness itself, genitalia, and the stigma and lascivious surrounding them are merely expressions of a society’s choices.
As I probed a little deeper—excuse the pun, if there is one—I began to realise it wasn’t the unattractiveness of human genitalia which made me find them, and therefore sex, repulsive. Instead, it was what they implied, or, more accurately, resembled: the genitilia of our closest living relatives, DNA-wise: the great apes.
Why did the similarity between human and ape genitalia incite aversion? Because everything else we do and create in life— creating art, music, building cities, new technologies—seems wondrous and exalted enough to make us forget that we are animals, part of the kingdom, subject to the same core motivations, to avoid pain and obtain pleasure. Our intelligence and progress leads us to believe we are not mere mortals, flesh-and-blood like other organisms, but tiny gods. This same desensitization to our own animal nature is also most likely what allows us to treat animals with such cruelty and guzzle meat by the millions of pounds around the globe.
But when faced with our own nakedness before the mirror, the clear evidence of skin and flesh and bones, and our genitals, so like those of other primates, we are forced to remember that we are indeed, at least physiologically, nothing more than animals. We hate this, because we are idealistic, and want to think we are more than our bodies, hence the extreme focus on religion and the soul in almost every culture in the world. What’s more, to be reminded of our link to the animal kingdom brings us in closer kinship with death, our own mortality, another blow to the exalted view we have of ourselves.
This, then, was the true reason I felt disgusted by sex, and by default also the act of birth and excretion. It was the reason I did not like the idea of bodily products, semen, urine, blood, pus, faeces. It is the reason people find “pooping” out in the open, at least in Western world, as some are forced to while camping, so unpleasant: it’s an act carried out by nearly almost every creature in the world, the plainest reminder that we are not so different from animals. As someone who is a self-proclaimed idealist, who believes fervently in the soul and the mystery of life, the trifecta of life, in all its unpleasantness and bloodiness, insulted my concept of life, myself, and the world. I wanted to be a small, glowing goddess, imbued with magical powers beyond the ken of mere animals, and my own body—its fluids, its reactions, its fleshiness—did not meld with this ideal.
Yet why should this ideal exist in the first place? What is it about animals that make me, and society, so loathe to draw a comparison to? Animals are beautiful creatures, just like us, with their own thoughts, emotions and feelings–perhaps less complex than our own, but they do certainly have them. They deserve to live, just like us (which is why eating meat repulses me to the degree it does). The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I shouldn’t be feeling disgusted by the “animal” within me, or outside of me, and instead embrace and love my link to the web of life and the animal kingdom. This single alteration in my thinking helped me in trying to overcome my aversions, and embracing the part of me that produces flatulence, burps, excretes and spews out blood once a month. In the past, I would feel the most excruciating shame for passing gas, and stare at my own menstrual blood with a mixture of disgust and fascination. Now, all bodily processes, even excretion, which is, you must admit, unpleasant, at least to watch, seem to me fascinating and marvelous.
Of course, some disgust still remains. It’s impossible to eradicate it entirely. I still feel immense disgust at the idea of pornography– though that might be more due to the way it commercializes and distorts a beautiful and natural act, rather than disgust at the sex itself–and a twinge of repulsion whenever I sit on the toilet to do my numbers twos (pooping, in case you’re not familiar with the term). And, perhaps because I’m still young, and very, very inexperienced (well, I have no experience; I’m still struggling with the leaving-the-house-and-talking-to-people-part) in the realm of sex and dating, and have little contact with males except for my brother, penises, though they do not exactly disgust me, still make me feel uncomfortable to look at (I did finally pluck up the courage to search it up on the Internet, and Wikipedia was nice enough to provide an assortment of images; and, of course, I’ve seen my brother’s, once or twice, much to his mortification).
It’s still not easy, and I’m still a long way from being able to watch a birthing video without wanting to cringe and avert my eyes. But the extreme disgust is no longer there, the beauty of life has become more prominent—though my desire for human contact and love, after marveling at the wonder of living beings, has increased, my loneliness become more marked, and that, unfortunately, is something far less easy to resolve.