Introduction – Part 3

Even if these diverging opinions and mentalities do not necessarily have to result in open clashes within the couple, they can cause women to feel bewildered and get caught in dilem­mas. “Is it acceptable to sleep with a guy I like, although I have no intention of getting married to him?”, “Shall I tell him that I want him to satisfy me orally?”, “Should I buy myself this sex toy?” are the kinds of questions that ladies may ask themselves. In the past, the answer would have been quite simple: “No”. Nowadays, it is all the more important to commu­nicate as a means to understand oneself and one another. Candidness can help resolve the confusion many people are confronted with. This blog is here to enlighten perplexed readers, and to guide them on their path to determine what is right and what is wrong – for them. In the end, lust, love and lechery are personal matters, and everybody should ascertain and decide for themselves what they want.

As many of us may have learned from John Gray’s popular book series, men and women come from two planets far far away.[1] They are different in many sexual aspects, including their desires, impulses, motivations, fantasies, responses, preferences, behaviours, etc. In order to get a better understanding of each other, it can be useful to compare these facets and to realise what these polarities are and where they come from. Sometimes, it will seem that there is no real distinction in their urges and orientations and that both genders want the same thing after all. While a certain convergence may be observed, it is rather unlikely that the process is going to continue forever. Sexual selection is the result of an intra-sex struggle (or a game). As males always need to fight harder in order to reproduce, they grow increasingly stronger, more beautiful or smarter, while the manoeuvres and tricks they employ to gain access to females also get more and more vicious. The latter then adapt to these unfamiliar methods by evolving novel devices and mechanisms meant to counter them (and vice versa, i.e., males adapting to females’ developments). With all these changes taking place in the last 50 years, it is quite probable to see men and women displaying more dissi­milar lust patterns again in the future.

Meanwhile, this blog attempts to sensitise the public to these fundamental contrasts and to examine the reasons for their existence. This should help readers acknowledge them, raise atten­ti­ve­ness, and avoid misunderstandings. I sincerely believe that those who are perce­ptive, cognisant, conside­rate, and tolerant enough of these gender differences can make better choices, thus enjoying better as well as longer and more successful relationships. It is my hope that this blog will have such an influence on people, especially on those who are open-minded enough to embrace the ideas presented here.

As Jared Diamond writes in the preface of his work Why Is Sex Fun?:

The subject of sex preoccupies us. It’s the source of our most intense plea­sures. Often it’s also the cause of misery, much of which arises from built-in con­flicts between the evolved roles of women and men.[2]

The present publication is based on the same premise, and also seeks to provide answers. Luckily enough, proverbs turn out to come in extremely handy in this endeavour. One will be surprised how much insights about men, women, sex, desire, passion, temptation, pro­mis­cuity, etc. these locutions contain in particular. Thanks to these maxims, the nature of intimate relationships suddenly becomes graspable. As we are about to discover, the most incom­prehensible thing about sexuality is that it is comprehensible. This alone should be good news for most of us.

Notice, however, that the purpose of the blog is to clarify who we are (men and women), what we want, and why that is so. With some rare exceptions, it does not show how to solve problems. In other words, reading this blog will neither introduce any sex tricks nor explain how to seduce men, turn on women, spice up foreplay, deal with adultery, etc. What it may have an impact on is how both sexes differ and on why human beings are behaving or reacting the way they do. At this, the discussion covers various forms of information that could be interesting or futile, ranging from known knowns (“women like sex”) through known unknowns (the exact time of the “first time”) to unknown unknowns (“what does a woman want”). At any rate, it is up to each reader to determine how to act on this knowledge in order to attain his or her objectives.

Critics may argue that the content is nothing more than new wine in old wineskins. Admit­tedly, such an objection is not incorrect. Nothing in this blog has been invented. On the contrary, most of the ideas were adopted or quoted from existing publications, including research studies, academic papers, relationship guidebooks, maga­zine or website stories, Wiki­­pe­dia articles, etc. Consequently, no claim is made that the present work is scientific in nature, despite the numerous citations and references. The footnotes and quotes are there for further reference only, not to prove the theoretical rightness of my statements or argu­ments. The notions conveyed here are merely models explaining how men and women feel and react sexually when exposed to certain triggers or impulses. Although they seem to be amazingly accurate for the people I spoke to during my research, it does not imply that they are universally applicable. The discourse is meant to trigger reflection, and should not be interpreted as practical advice like the ones you would find in a relationship guidebook.

Another point of criticism may reside in the fact that the text neglects Chinese cultural aspects. Based on the title, one would expect more historical or etymological facts as well as anecdotes about each proverb. Although such background stories would undoubtedly add some flavour to the discussion, they would also divert the reader’s attention away from the main theme of the blog – which is the relationship between men and women, not Chinese culture. The thirty-six pro­verbs are not the object of the investigation itself, but simply constitute the vehicle to make some key notions more apprehensible. This is the reason I consciously refrained from developing into too much detail the primary meaning of the proverbs and from recounting their origins. While such details would be interesting to many readers, I chose to offer a rather pragmatic than a historical treatment of the subject. Furthermore, after many years in the country, I tend to think that, in general, it is much more important to learn from the Chinese than about the Chinese. The blog serves precisely that former purpose.

Nevertheless, I hope that Chinese readers will forgive how I sometimes treat their beloved pro­verbs. A few distor­tions are intentional, while others are rather due to my misinterpre­tation of them. I apologise in advance for any offence or discomfort this may cause. Like­wise, as many of the explanations and justifications I provide are based on Western ideas (most of the sources quoted were originally published in English by Western authors), the whole work must appear somewhat Euro- or Ameri­cen­tric.[3] Given the title, a sino­centric approach would have been more logical or meaningful, but it finally proved impracticable, mainly because of the lack of literature about the principal subject. That being said, I trust that non-Westerners will find the Book of Sexes equally interesting and relevant for themselves and their partners, irrespective of their country of origin.

The same apology shall be expressed to whomever (representative of any of the sexes) will feel displeased about the blog’s style. Some passages may indeed raise outrage, for example when the topic of sex is handled in a rather open or crude way. Moreover, readers may be annoyed by my biased views, which more often than not favour sexual openness, forni­cation and pre-marital promiscuity. Admittedly, such behaviour can be considered as a betrayal of traditional ideals and may lead to the destruction of family values. At the same time, I demon­strate that sex and sexual freedom carry countless benefits, for instance in terms of improved health, physical and mental well-being, reproductive fitness, and so on.

People may also deplore that the work was tainted with sexist overtones or is plainly phallo­go­centric, that is, privileging “the masculine (phallus) in the construction of meaning.”[4] If so, I wish to clarify that it is definitely not my intention to discriminate or insult anyone. Rather, my objective is to make the text interesting, pertinent, entertaining and accessible to as many men and women as possible, even if it requires including petty statements or cheap humour. By the way, I am not sure how much bearing the text can have for homo­sexuals, but I wish to straightforwardly disclose that it would make me divinely proud to know that some gays or lesbians are following this blog. Although I did not write it with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community in mind, I hope that some of the insights will be applicable in the context of homo­eroticism as well. I believe in questioning and flamingly encouraging everyone to be curious about the “last great minority”. From the point of view of sexual selection, it is my absolute conviction that homosexuality is actually beneficial for straight individuals, speci­fically by attenuating competition in the mating game. Taken in this light, the only thing we should not queer are queers themselves.

 


Notes

[1]    For example, Gray (1993), Gray (1995), Gray (2009), Gray (2012)

[2]    Diamond (1998), p. ix

[3]    In this context, eurocentrism shall be defined as “a worldview centered on Western civilisation” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurocentrism) and americentrism as “the idea or perceived bias to judge other cultures and nations by American standards” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americentrism).

[4]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phallogocentrism

Introduction – Part 2

The blog is divided into thirty-six chapters, each focusing on one topic relevant to the overall theme of “men, women, and relationships”. Following an initial segment about womanhood in gener­al, providing an overview of the most fundamental differences between of males and females, I take a look at various aspects of sexual selection. The purpose here is to explain the criteria men and women use to assess a potential partner and to see what makes them “want” him or her. Some chapters include details about how sexual­ity is traditionally conceived (namely, as something forbidden), while others provide, more or less explicitly, prover­bial ex­cuses for pre-marital, casual, or simply uninhibited sex, as well as basic advice about how to engage in and to win the seduction game. Special atten­tion is also given to the question of how feelings and affection influence attraction and desire, and what it takes to turn on partners in order to make intercourse an enjoyable expe­rience for everyone involved. The last section deals with the disconcerting problem of adultery, offering in­sights about the moti­vations and justifications of such behaviour.

The chapters were named and arranged in such a way that each of these topics are connected to one another and join into a logical thread. Each chapter is devoted to a given saying and conforms to the following pattern:

  • Literal translation of the proverb:

Three monks have no water to drink

  • English equivalent of the proverb (either established version or best guess):

Too many cooks spoil the broth

  • Original proverb in Chinese (Simplified) characters:

三个和尚没水喝

  • Proverb in pinyin (the system to transcribe Chinese characters into the Roman alpha­bet):

sān gè hé shàng méi shuǐ hē

  • Text body, which includes a detailed explanation of the proverb, and justifies its vali­dity using anecdotal or scientific evidence.

In some instances, readers may get the impression that the proverb chosen might not be applicable in the situation described, or inversely that the story is not fit to ex­plain the true meaning of the epigram. I did try to be careful and not to decontextualize the chosen sayings. Unfortunately, sporadic failure in this regard is almost unavoidable. It lies in the nature of proverbs to be prone to varying interpretations. Accordingly, I acknowledge that my understand­ing of some locutions may be erroneous. It should also be remem­bered that as folk wis­dom, proverbs tend to reflect the cultural norms and physical environ­ment from which they originate. For example, many Chinese aphorisms contain references to ti­gers, which seldom appear in Western ones. In many cases, I took the liberty to render the phrases in a way that fit my own purpose, i.e., to state a lesson more clearly or to sim­plify the message. I did so for instance by placing the content into a specific context or by extrac­ting only one layer of its substance.

The reasons for choosing relationships between men and women as the main theme of the blog are numerous. First, there are plenty of Chinese proverbs that lend themselves perfectly to the discussion. Some can be quite explicit; for others, a little bit of creativity or additional explanations are required to establish the connection. Moreover, it seems to me that the issues of gender differences, love and human sexuality need further elucidation in general. Not that there is a lack of supply in references dealing with these subjects. Thousands of titles are already available, while new ones are continuously being published, with fresh insights based on surveys, experiments or other forms of research enriching the common body of knowledge every day. What is missing, however, is a volume that summarises what men and women need to know about sex and, at the same time, provides them with the means to recollect the information more easily. As mnemonic devices, proverbs are ideal for this purpose. If readers are mindful enough and make the effort to memorise them, it should be possible for them to remember them in any given situation, and retrieve some instant advice about how to react.

The timing of the publication also seems appropriate. For thousands of years, gender roles were very clear: Men acted as the providers and women were considered as birth machines and homemakers. This division of labour also had a major influence on their sexuality. Human males evolved to choose their mates based on criteria such as youth and health (both related to fertility), while females were conditioned to seek partners who had status and power (i.e., who had the ability to acquire material resources). With the emancipation of women and the strengthening of the women’s movement in many regions of the world, many things have changed when they started to enter the work force 50 years ago, hence gaining power and financial independence. As they no longer relied on men for their financial security and lifestyle, the common expectation was that their sexual behaviour and standards for selec­ting a partner would become increasingly similar to those of men. Women were pre­dic­ted to care less about their partners’ jobs or salaries, and would no longer be compelled to link sexual relations to love, security and hopes of marriage.[1] Although many of these antici­pations have not materialised yet, a certain liberalisation of sexual customs is nonetheless under way – not the least due to the introduction of novel, safer, contraception methods. Com­pared to the 1950s, women now lose their virginity much earlier, and have more sexual part­ners over their lifetime. By covering stories about sex, orgasm, birth con­trol, etc. modern media also play their part in this change of mindset. In general, twenty-first cen­tury women can expect more from their relationships than all the generations before them. Modern society allows and encourages them to make choices and decision that their fore­mothers never got exposed to (including that of a “just wanna have fun” mentality). Accor­dingly, their desires, predilections and strategies are now quite different from what they used to be.[2]

At the same time, individuals are still driven by the mental programming they inherited from their ancestors. Millennia of evolution are difficult to shake off, especially when they crea­ted deep-seated urges, motivations, and prefe­rences. In addition, not everybody acknow­­ledge or welcome the liberalisation trend mentioned above. Religious groups, politi­cians pursuing their own agendas, or other activists work against this trend and try to perpe­tuate archaic traditions, values and attitudes, such as the importance of pre-marital virgi­nity, the nobleness of abstinence, the obligation to get married after reaching a certain age, etc. Simi­larly, many men still hold on to what they observed with and were taught by their fathers. They find it difficult to get used to the idea that things have changed and that their girlf­riends and wives have the right to enjoy sex as well.


Notes

[1]    Townsend (1998), p. 4

[2]    Pease / Pease (2009), pp. 49-51

Introduction

A few years ago, I discovered a publication with a title that immediately captured my atten­­­tion: Everything I Understand about America I Learned in Chinese Proverbs, by Wendy Liu. As I had been pondering my own oeuvre for quite some time, I found it very appealing to call it Everything I Understand about Relationships I Learned in Chinese Proverbs. Although it would have been an extraordinary tag line, I quickly gave up this idea, for two main reasons: First and foremost, the contrast between the two countries (America and China) so cleverly highlighted in the former title, is not an is­sue in the present blog; and second, it would have been a massive exaggeration to say that Chinese sayings taught me “everything” about relationships between men and women. Given the complexity of the matter, it would be counter-productive to ignore all the other sources of knowledge and experience that allow me, day after day, to have a better grasp of all the factors that play a role in the stimulation and the sustainment of attraction and desire. Finally, I also found out that it would be too ambitious of an endea­vour to cover everything about relationships (love, romance, conflicts, jealousy, communication, etc.). Instead, I decided to focus on sexual aspects, discussing topics such as mate selection, lust, seduction, promiscuity, adultery, and many others.

At any rate, it is undeniable that Chinese proverbs have indeed had a positive effect on this learning process, which for me started many years ago. But before I illuminate the reason(s) why I chose maxims[1] of this particular language and culture, I wish to invite the reader to take a closer look at the word “proverb”, using the definition as coined by the famous pare­miologist[2] Wolfgang Meider:

“A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wis­dom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memo­rizable form and which is handed down from generation to gene­ra­tion.”[3]

I would like to emphasise three basic elements that may help justify the use of such epi­grams when trying to explain and exemplify difficult concepts (including the human libi­do):

  • Conciseness: Proverbs generally employ rhetorical or grammatical and designs, such as ima­gery, rhyme, repetition of key words, parallel structure, etc. This generates the simple and figurative, yet expressive, character of a proverb that makes it easy to re­member;
  • Truth: The message conveyed in adages verbalises a basic fact or practical precept that people can utilise in typical life situations;
  • Common experience: Due to their frequent and widespread use, proverbs are “folk wisdom” and can, therefore, be considered as an important element in the identifi­cation and definition of cultures. As such, they tell much about values and norms (including virtues, sins, vices, “good and evil”), rules (i.e., the proper or expected ways of doing things), or simply people’s traditional ways of experiencing reality.

In this regard, China and its language[4] are particularly well adapted for cunning proverbs. The fact alone that its writing system is made of ideograms (instead of letters combined to form words) makes it quite an efficient and dense language in terms of meaning. In­deed, a Chi­nese character (or sinograph) is usually part of a polysyllabic word, or may even con­sti­tute a word on its own. Furthermore, as it is itself composed of parts that may corres­pond to phy­sical objects or abstract notions (sometimes elements of pronunciation), every spoken syl­lable is attached to a basic meaning. Thus, such a logosyllabic system can significantly shor­ten the pronunciation time and the space required to put down elementary ideas. In addition, Chinese proverbs are often constructed elliptically, i.e., one or more words are deliberately omitted from a clause for the sake of obscurity or economy of expression. For example, the idiom “杯水车薪” (bēi shuǐ chē xīn) can be translated as “trying to put out a burn­ing cart­load of faggots with a cup of water” and refers to an utterly inadequate measure or at least a minor remedy to a major problem. As one can see, the original version, which liter­ally means “cup water cart firewood”, does without any verb and takes only four syllables to be articulated (compared to nineteen in the English version). Many Chinese say­ings are out­spokenly crisp, packing more depth per word (or stroke) than any other form of locution in any other language to my knowledge. Admittedly, the use of the ellipsis may ob­scure the pri­mary meaning and leave room for misinterpretation. However, in the case of sayings, this risk is certainly attenuated by their popularity and frequent utilisation.

One should furthermore bear in mind that the Chinese civilisation was formed 5000 years ago. Al­though not all proverbs are as old, many of them have survived several centuries of oral consignment. How is it possible to ignore such a long history and not pay tribute to Chinese values, as reflected in their folk wisdom? For an epigram to have persisted in usage for 500 years implies that it contains a strong element of truth.

One final interesting aspect of Chinese sayings is that they tend to come with several lay­ers of depth. While the superficial message becomes apparent quite immediately with the imagery or narrative, the more profound meaning(s) can be discovered after reading the pro­verbs a second or a third time, analysing each of its components and peeling the con­struct down to its essence. Although I will not carry out such exercises in this blog, it can still be quite an entertaining and inspiring process.

Instead, the objective of this work is to provide lessons and instruction, helping people to apprehend love-related feelings and motivations. For that matter, I researched and collected a number of Chinese maxims (as well as a few quotations from books) with a particularly high didact­ic value. If the objective is achieved, readers will not only find these proverbs interesting but also understand why I selected a particular saying to describe one particular kind of situation. In case the occasion presents itself and the reader faces a similar circumstance as one of those described in the blog, he or she will be able to reflect on it, ap­ply in his or her own life, and learn from the experience, hence becoming a better person.

Likewise, mottos may also be referred to when communicating about a specific issue. Some­times, it can be difficult to describe character traits, a human condition or one’s own mood or state of mind (e.g., after a victory or a disappointment from a close friend). Instead of explaining everything in a lengthy fashion, you can just mention the appropri­ate aphorism, and your interlocutor will understand the meaning immediately and with a few sylla­bles or words only. This can also be helpful on other occasions, for instance when declaring love to someone, motivat­ing a friend, or warning one’s children against bad encounters. The simple ability to utter the right proverb at the right time in the right situation can leave a durable impression on people, generating great admiration and sympathy for the originator. As the main character in the film Amélie (Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain in French) says, “a person who knows proverbs can’t be all bad”[5].


Notes

[1]    For the sake of writing style and as a way to avoid repetitions, words as “saying”, “maxim”, “adage”, “motto”, “epi­gram”, “aphorism”, “locution” will be used as synonyms of “proverb”, despite some slight differences or nuances between each term.

[2]    “Paremiology” is the study of proverbs, and should not be mistaken for “paremiography”, which is the collecting of proverbs.

[3]    Meider (1993)

[4]    In reality, there is not only one Chinese language, but seven, respectively fourteen (by convention), for example, Guan (or Mandarin), Wu (which includes Shanghainese), Yue (Cantonese), and so on. Every reference to the Chinese language in this book shall be interpreted in Mandarin (官话, guān huà).

[5]    Original: “Une personne qui connait bien les proverbes ne peut pas être mauvaise.”