Archives o f Sexual Behavior, Vol. 21, No. 5, 1992
Sustaining Passion: Eroticism and Safe-Sex Talk Mara B. Adelman, Ph.D. t
It is axiomatic that communicating effectively is important for good sexual relations. In light of the AIDS epidemic and the necessity for safe-sex practices, the topic of caution and prevention is an emerging and critical discourse for the sexual encounter. Yet if this discourse is not to defy passion but rather complement it, then the study of sexual linguistics must be grounded within the realm of erotic reality. Three themes of eroticism and their implications for sexual interaction are explored in this paper." identity, context, and danger. Linguistic and relational constraints for enacting such a discourse are identified, accompanied by a critique of the treatment of erotic discourse in educational programs and the media. KEY WORDS: sexual communication; safe sex; eroticism; sexual discourse; sexual scripts.
INTRODUCTION She spoke openly about her sexual practices, describing in candid terms her preferences for foreplay and certain positions. When she had finished her graphic description I asked her, "So what do you say to your partner during sex?" She laughed nervously and replied, "Oh, now you're getting personal." --(interview by author)
This paper grapples with the discourse of intercourse, that sexual conversation that occurs between two people prior to, during, and after sex. It is a conversation that, in light of the AIDS epidemic, is increasingly regarded as more revealing than the sexual act itself. In her analysis of the plague metaphor of AIDS, Sontag (1989) speaks of the intrusion of the "social sphere" in the erotic experience of sex, since the fear of AIDS, "Sex no longer withdraws its partners, if only for a moment, from the social IDepartment of Communication Studies, Northwestern University, 1881 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois 60208-2236. 481
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sphere. It cannot be considered just a coupling; it is a chain, a chain of transmission, from the past" (pp. 160-161). Sexual abandonment, this "experience of pure presentness," is now pervaded with media images of sexually transmitted diseases and proclamations for safe sex---warnings that are undoubtedly greater "turn-offs" than "turn-ons" in the journey through erotic reality. Today, partners can no longer remain silent about their sexual pasts, nor can they fear to voice their concerns about a mutual sexual future. Clearly, this is an emerging discourse for the sexual encounter--a discourse that often defies passion. Those partners negotiating the border between preventative thought and the lure of sexual abandon are left astride that border with what at this point is a wholly inadequate tool: language. The available lexicon for sex talk is not only constrained, it is impoverished. Thus, in this article, I argue that if sex talk were eroticized--made sensual rather than clinical, playful rather than grim it would hold both more appeal and more effective appeal as a discourse for the sexual encounter. To this end, I argue that we need to reimagine, in the hopes of sustaining passion, a sexual vernacular better than the one that, when we need it most, is failing us. We need to rethink, and rigorously, the discourse of arousal and safe sex so as to reeducate our thinking and research and, in so doing, ground sexual linguistics where it is so urgently needed--within the realm of erotic reality---within that "lascivious shift" during which "someone who is sexually aroused experiences the world much differently from someone who is not" (Davis, 1983, p. 12). THE EXPERIENCE OF EROTIC REALITY I don't want realism, I want magic. (Blanche Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire), Williams, 1947, p. 117) The essence of eroticism is at once primitive, transcendental, and highly idiosyncratic----magical, as Blanche put it (Davis, 1983; GonzalesCrussi, 1988; Money, 1986). While eroticism clearly takes the individual beyond self and the bedraggling reality of everyday life, many have argued that eroticism extends beyond even the sexual worlds of lovers, that "It is invested in whole environments, in vibrations and fluxes of all kinds; that it is essentially nomadic. It is always with worlds that we make love" (Lingis, 1988, p. 249; quoted from Deleuze and Guattari, 1977). Volumes have been written on the phenomenological experience of eroticism; most, however, deal primarily with the sexual, and do so most frequently from the experience of the lover (Davis, 1983; Gonzales-Crussi, 1988). While these works reveal little about the accompanying discourse of the erotic experience, they do manage to impart an understanding of
the vernacular's potential and limitations. Most important, these works affirm that erotic discourse is imbued both with shared collective meanings for sexual episodes and with intrapsychic scripts of individual motivations (see Simon and Gagnon, 1988). In the remainder of this section, eroticism and its implications for sexual discourse unfold around three central themes: identity, context, and danger.
In her book On the Contrary, McCarthy (1951) affirms the momentary loss of personal identity during sex: In the climax of the sexual act, moreover, we forget ourselves; that is commonly felt to be one of its recommendations. Sex annihilates identity, and the space given to sex in contemporary novels is an avowalof the absence of character. (p. 276) This notion of transcending self is a recurring theme in the phenomenological works on sexual arousal and orgasm. According to Simon and Gagnon (1988), everyday presentations of self must become "suspended" for the erotic to occur. In their earlier treatise on adolescent sexuality, these authors refer to this shift as "disjunctive identities"---the shifting of identity as one moves from the everyday experience into sexual arousal (Gagnon and Simon, 1973). Since orgasm is upheld as the ultimate goal of sex, we can look at how this experience is coded to reflect the underlying tension of self-identity. Not surprisingly, the language of orgasm is imbued with images of shifting, ambiguous boundaries that regulate and suspend self in sexual performance. The language of orgasm is "more often than not, a language of achievement, a language of surrender, a language of being overwhelmed, a language of abandonment" (Simon and Gagnon, 1988, p. 371). Clearly, the relational goals of the sex partners shape the intrapsychic and behavioral tension that accompanies sexual arousal and orgasm. For those seeking communion, lovemaking may be a mingling of identities where mutual absorption and abandonment are mysteriously achieved. For those seeking ingratiation, high levels of self-monitoring may prevail, whereas self-absorption would govern those seeking personal gratification and libidinal release. However the pendulum swings, sustaining the erotic synapse inevitably entails a tension between self-absorption and selfmonitoring. Calibration of mood and movement are considered the sine qua non between good lovers. As Davis (1983) argues, "Erotic time must be synchronized more closely than everyday time . . . otherwise accelerating dysrhythmia will soon shatter the entire experience" (p. 15). Subsequently,
the individual experiences a "dialectic self" that carefully monitors self and other while also experiencing sexual arousal and orgasm that necessitates "disattention," a partial abandonment of self-consciousness (Gagnon and Simon, 1973). Various types of self-conscious viewing are offered in cognitive approaches to the erotic state. Walen and Roth (1988) distinguish between observing or spectating sexual or expressive behaviors. While engaging in sex, observation entails detecting and labeling various acts, literally a mental noting of what is. They define spectating as a "self-rating process that has a goal-oriented focus. When the individual is spectating his or her performance, the here-and-now experience of pleasure will be lost, and sex becomes work rather than play" (see work of Kaplan, 1974). Although the proliferation of instructional and descriptive books about sex within the last 20 years has been interpreted as an indicator of liberalizing attitudes toward sexual behavior, the emphasis on techniques appears to propel rather than dispel the notion of sex as performance with the accompanying effect of increasing self-consciousness about being a "good lover." Davis (1983) suggests that the consequence of such self-consciousness is "over involvement in the cosmic contradictions of copulation produces too much tension to sustain sexual arousal" (p. 230). Examinations into the discourse of lovers suggest that language may pose difficulties due to the inadequacies of everyday talk in sustaining the shift to erotic reality. Drawing upon historical documents, Gonzales-Crussi (1988) recounts how Victor Hugo and Jonathan Swift found alternative codes for expressing their sexual passions. The former, a man of renowned sexual appetite, would use Spanish in writing erotic passages. Spanish, being in vogue at this time, may well have served Hugo in transforming and elevating sexual expression above his native tongue. And Swift, a man of great eloquence, would use "baby talk" for describing his affections. GonzalesCrussi speculates that this regressive language may be a way of our "turning back the clock." Others have suggested that these personal idioms serve as a private code for couples' relating their desire for sex (Bell et aL, 1987; Hopper et al., 1981). From the perspective of self-identity, these forms of code switching and idiomatic usage appear to facilitate the transformation of self from the everyday plane to erotic heights. To date, little is known about linguistic expression during sexual arousal or if/when code switching might occur. Works on eroticism suggest that a critical function of erotic sex talk is to transcend the mundane. Obviously, then, efforts to discuss safe sex may garner resistance, since concerns about condom use belong to the everyday reality.
Attention to the physical boundaries that encompass the sexual encounter indicates the importance of contextual constraints and influences on erotic reality. Davis (1983) notes that as people move into sexual arousal, boundaries of space begin to shrink, spatial zones narrow to bed and body. Expressions like "to lay," "going down," to "lie with" suggest the move from the vertical to the horizontal. Violation of this context can jolt the erotic reality; intrusions of others, phones ringing, leaks in waterbeds suggest the fragility of sexual space. There are liminal, suspended spaces that heighten the erotic: "motel and hotel rooms have an erotic aura because they impose no spatial barrier between living room and bedroom" (p. 23); but they also detach individuals from mundane cues signifying home or work. Conventions and vacations become spots for the "sailor on leave syndrome," in which sexual liaisons occur, due in part, to geographical novelty as well as social opportunity. Seemingly unsexy settings b e c o m e domains for fantasy and enactment. Films that depict passionate sexual encounters often draw upon the nontraditional bedroom, thus expanding norms for actual performance. The film Risky Business added new meaning to the term "risky" as the young lovers fulfill the woman's fantasy of making love on the "el" train in Chicago. The scene would become ludicrous if one were to imagine them trying to enact safe sex--not only would it be impractical, it would also have been anticlimactic. The scene represents an intriguing integration of eroticism and innocence in the genre of teenage rites-ofpassage films. Context provides, in other words, the "interaction membrane" (Goffman, 1959), framing the encounter. In describing a poker game, Humphreys (1975) illustrates the membrane passage: "Within the boundaries of the game, one world of rules, roles, strategies, and goals is in operation; outside the membrane, another world is in effect" (p. 54). In his description of tearooms (public bathrooms used for homosexual encounters), Humphreys writes on how privacy in public places is afforded by physical boundaries that encompass the action, "taking care of much of the need for tension management or boundary maintenance." Broken windowpanes, cracks in the door (for lookouts), urinal stalls, and booths are the physical features of the interaction membrane for tearoom sex. If then context not only frames but also triggers the erotic, how then does discourse become synchronized with physical boundaries? If talk or silence is sanctioned in certain settings, investigation of safe-sex talk must understand and utilize those contextual influences that promote or hinder its enactment.
The term "safe sex" might be construed as an oxymoron, as an actual contradiction in terms, if, as some writers suggest, it is danger that actually underlies sexual excitement (Stoller, 1979). Repressed thoughts, secrecy, disguise, and mystery are some of the forms that generate arousal, not only in fantasy and enacted sexual perversions but also in the seemingly normal scripts of sexual behavior (Stoller, 1979). If unprotected sex is perceived as a "risk" and a "danger"---a kind of Russian roulette copulation---then how can the promotion of safe-sex practice communicate excitement? Currently, unprotected sex is treated as a risk-taking behavior, a portrayal that conveys a sense of recklessness and irresponsibility on the part of its participants. In contrast, abstinence and condom use imbue individuals with moral attributes, exemplified by "Just Say No" campaigns. Such assaults deter us from understanding the mechanisms or erotic associations that inhibit safe-sex practices: the subjective sexuality that associates unsafe practices with danger. Money (1986) uses "lovemap" as an expression for the highly idiosyncratic image or template for the idealized sexual relationship. If danger is inherent in the lovemaps of erotic imagination or scripts for sexual stimulation that foster unsafe sex, then we need to further understand danger's appeal. If safe-sex talk was eroticized, perhaps it would better serve as an antecedent for safe-sex practice. For example, forms of discourse such as humor or metaphorical imagery may enable lovers to sustain leaps from one plane to another. Koestler (1978) uses the term "bisociation" to describe the central feature of humor, to make the distinctionbetween the routines of disciplined thinkingwithin a single universe of discourse---on a single plane, as it were---and the creative types of mental activitywhich alwaysoperate on more than one plane. (p. 113) Here, humor enables consistent but incompatible frames of reference to occur together. If so, then humor in erotic discourse may enable lovers to sustain the tension between risk and safety, the sensual and the clinical, the playful and the serious, the spontaneous and the preventative---to reconcile seemingly incompatible states or frames of reference in the safe-sex encounter (Adelman, 1991). While the following discussion of sex talk is limited to language usage, much of erotic communication is conveyed nonverbally. Givens (1978) found that nonlinguistic communication was more powerful than the verbal mode for the flirtation, courtship, and seduction phases of sexual relationships. This sexual signaling system can entail subtle voluntary (e.g., touching) and involuntary (e.g., pupil dilation) behavioral cues. When nonverbal cues such as paralanguage, proxemics, and artifacts are considered,
a highly complex interwoven system of cues must be recognized in understanding sexual communication. According to Knapp (1980) "Nonverbal behavior can repeat, contradict, substitute for, complement, accent, or regulate verbal behaviors" (p. 11; see Ekman, 1965). Clearly, in sexually charged situations, subtle physical actions can convey highly erotic messages, often substituting for verbal messages. Although the analysis of this interplay between verbal and nonverbal communication is beyond the scope of this paper, this interplay must be recognized in understanding erotic communication. The emphasis on verbal communication, however, seems warranted given the necessity of such talk in facilitating safe sex and the taboos surrounding discussion of sexual practices. Such taboos are revealed in the most basic unit of discourse: the vocabulary of sex talk. VOCABULARIES OF SEX TALK Sex talk may be highly vocalized or silenced between partners. Regardless of the relational involvement, the range of sexual expressions between partners reveals the taboos and excitement associated with this discourse which may range from "talking dirty" (e.g., fucking) to sexual slang (e.g., doing it) to romantic euphemisms (e.g., making love). Preferences for explicit sexual terms also demonstrate gender differences, with females more likely than males to report using romanic euphemisms and vague terms (Sanders and Robinson, 1979). In short, the available lexicon represents a continuum ranging from direct/graphic speech to indirect/nongraphic speech that is shaped by private understandings and public norms for expression. Spear (1981) notes in his dictionary of slang and euphemism that "for some people certain words assume a kind of magical or mystical p o w e r . . . 'dirty words' seem to have that kind of power for some people" (Introduction). Spears argues further that the fears surrounding human sexuality have served to greatly inhibit the development of sexually oriented speech. "The area of sexual and excremental meaning have played a major role in developing and sustaining verbal taboos, but once a social convention is established, breaking it is a social violation" (Introduction). Additionally, the lexicon for sex is not devoid of class barriers. Davis (1983) contrasts sexual vocabularies associated with class distinctions, "vulgar terms implying that sex is a lower class activity (prick, fuck, suck) and Latin terms implying that sexual activity is confined to the educated upper class (penis, intercourse, fellatio). It is also clear that we censor as obscene the lower-class words" (p. xxiii). The use of Latin or medical terms provides a veneer of sophistication and objectivity serving to distance the
speaker from the subject. Kon (1988) provides a sociocultural explanation for the duality of the clinical and the profane in sexuality: The interpretation of sexuality as something "dirty," "obscene," or as "smut" is not a natural phenomenon, but only a particular case of several other similar symbolic inversions of sacred objects (for example, blood). When something sacred is profaned, it immediately becomes "dirty" and "indecent"; it is very difficult, except in science, to find "neutral" words for its designation. (p. 276) Kon's contention that scientific terms are essentially neutral is misplaced. Davis (1983) argues that words like "coition" and "genitalia" have the aura of the upper class and "make sex seem like an engineering problem rather than a human experience." There are no neutral terms for discussing sex. With the increasing association of sex with disease, it is inevitable that medical and clinical models of professional-client interaction pervade the sexual encounter. Perusal of the popular press suggests a doctor-patient relationship, where sexual partners take diagnostic histories of each other's sexual pasts. The model is revealed in prescriptions on how to quiz one's partner on sexual histories, select compliance-gaining strategies, and engage in preventative sex. Discussion of passion, eroticism, lust, or the subjective experience of desire is ignored in the emergent medical imagery for sexual interaction. Even discussions of sexual fantasies, a rich topic for sex talk, remain taboo. Fantasies act as reprieves from the routine and sources for sexual arousal. Yet despite their frequent appearance, strong social taboos inhibit individual expression of these fantasies, a censorship that confirms and insures their highly private nature. In short, the lexicon for sex talk is not only constrained but seemingly impoverished. In their recent work on sexual scripts, Simon and Gagnon (1988) contend that if public discourse on sex seems rampant, access to a private discourse is minimal: Despite what appears to be the continuouslyescalating amount of public discourse about the sexual, there is very little talk about the doing of sex---frequently,least of all with those with whom we "share" our sexual experiences. Moreover, despite a virtual avalanche of literary efforts, little appears as a creditable vocabulary of the private experience except in literatures that few admit to using. (p. 373) RELATIONAL CONSTRAINTS IN EROTIC DISCOURSE Verbal and relational competence, the ease and skill with which partners discuss sex, is restrained by several factors. Foremost is the taboo surrounding explicit discussion of sex with a sexual partner. In a study of taboo topics in dating relationships, Baxter and Wilmot (1985) found that 32% of the respondents (n = 90) indicated that sexual behavior was a taboo topic because they found it embarrassing. Such discussion may be even
more difficult in the initial dating phase. Parks and Logan (1988) found that metacommunication, discussion between partners about their expectations for the relationship, was less likely to occur in couples with romantic potential than in those with established romantic relationships or platonic relationships. Where relational commitment and expectations are uncertain and tenuous, sex talk in initial dating and mating relationships can raise concerns for self, partner, and the relationship. Such talk not only revolves around what each finds sexually desirable but, in context, can engender comments about past sexual relationships, current sexual partner(s), and degree of commitment--topics that may well be threatening in first-time sexual encounters. The cliche "Will you respect me in the morning?" epitomizes the uncertainty for self and other, particularly for women. Both media and public-oriented health campaigns repeatedly target sex with transient or new partners as high risk for sexually transmitted disease (STD) and unwanted pregnancies because sexual history, trust, and commitment have yet to be explored or developed. Edgar and Fitzpatrick (1988) identify several reasons for this lack of compliance in safe sex: Couples (i) are not prepared, (ii) fear the presumed association of safe sex with homosexuality, (iii) are reluctant to discuss the topic lest the activity appears mechanical, and (iv) employ personalization of risk whereby they seek to detach self from the danger. Presumably, such reasons would be more apparent in newly formed relationships than among established romantic couples. PRESCRIPTIONS FOR SEX TALK In sex therapy, the ability to talk about sexual matters with a partner is touted as a foundation for facilitating compatibility and meaningful relationships (Masters and Johnson, 1970). Counseling texts and even popular books on human sexuality stress that sexual maladaptation is both rooted in poor communication and seemingly resolved by better communication. In discussing the role of sex talk, one psychiatrist notes that "in any rewarding, meaningful relationship, free-flowing and positive communication abounds . . . . Communication about sexual interaction is no exception" (Berkey, 1979, p. 125). Sex manuals exalt the importance of openness and candor about sex as a route to physical gratification and interpersonal intimacy. Little research or discussion on the form or limitations of such openness surrounds this advice, however. Moreover, heavy emphasis is placed on "nonverbal communication" in which partners seemingly decode each other's thoughts through such channels as touch and eye contact. Even among the foremost
sex experts, this form of nonverbal communication is exalted over linguistic expression, "so much is said by tone of voice or facial expressions or a look in the eyes, that the words are often secondary" (Masters and Johnson, 1970, p. 229). Popular cookbooks on sexual behavior are devoted primarily to anatomical descriptions, techniques for mutual arousal, and endless tips on rejuvenating sexual play ("J," 1969; "M," 1971; Comfort, 1972), subsequently biasing notions of sexual gratification in action rather than interaction. In the art of lovemaking, verbal competence becomes supplanted by digital and physical dexterity: the s u m m a c u m laude of sex. While prescriptions for sex talk for sexual compatibility are underscored yet rarely explicated, advocation of and research on this discourse have implications for safe-sex practice. Avoidance of open discussion of sex has been linked with failure to take contraceptive precautions (Byrne et al., 1977). Similarly, there are many reasons to suspect that safe-sex practice would follow conversation about it. A survey of consumer trends reveals that women account for 60% of all condom purchases (Trojan Study, 1988). Unlike other forms of birth control used by women, condoms tend to be more awkward, more visible. This is especially true as their use generally occurs just prior to vaginal insertion. Since condom use requires male participation, its initiation by females may necessitate some discussion. If condoms are part of sexual arousal or play, males may suggest or request female participation in their application. Obviously, talk about condom use is not necessarily an antecedent to safe-sex practice. Those experienced, skillful, and comfortable with condom usage may find little to discuss with their partner. Moreover, high levels of sex talk may not insure safe-sex practice since it may be used as a substitute (e.g., willingness to talk may be interpreted as an indicator of a low risk partner) rather than an antecedent for condom use (Cline, 1990). However, concerns about safe sex, face-saving issues surrounding condoms and their application suggest that some-sex talk, regardless of its tone (e.g., serious, playful, clinical, erotic) is an emerging discourse in sexual activity. EDUCATION AND MEDIA: THE ABSENCE OF EROTIC DISCOURSE If popular and therapeutic prescriptions for sex talk applaud its importance, it is equally true that educational institutions and mass media work hard to suppress it. While educational institutions insidiously negate the sensual, the mass media glorify passion, ignoring its negative repercussions. In an incisive ethnographic study of sex education in public schools, Fine (1988) outlines the antisex rhetoric in these programs and the absence
of the discourse of desire. She identifies four major discourses of sexuality that weave their way from national debates by such leaders as Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and Secretary of Education William Bennett, infiltrating public high school curricula and classroom. A brief summary of these discourses reveals the ways sex education serves to control and define discourse on adolescent sexuality and to "structure silence" around adolescents' subjective experience of desire: T h e first discourse, sexuality as violence, is clearly the most conservative, and e q u a t e s a d o l e s c e n t h e t e r o s e x u a l i t y with violence . . . . T h e second discourse, sexuality as victimization . . . [in which] young w o m e n (and today, men) learn of their vulnerability to potential male predators . . . is the language of defense; defense against disease, pregnancy and "being used." . . . T h e third discourse, sexuality as individual m o r a l i t y . . , values w o m e n ' s sexual decision making as long as the decisions made are for premarital a b s t i n e n c e . . , the language of self-control and self-respect reminds students that sexual immorality breeds not only personal problems but also community tax burdens. (pp. 31-32)
Finally, there is the discourse of desire, which "remains a whisper inside the official work of U.S. public schools . . . . The naming of desire, pleasure, or sexual entitlement, particularly for females, barely exists in the formal agenda of public schooling on sexuality" (p. 32). Fine argues that "a genuine discourse of desire would invite adolescents to explore what feels good and bad, desirable and undesirable, grounded in experiences, needs, and limits" (p. 33). Regrettably, the primary focus in sex education courses is on the anatomical, not the relational (courses on "intimacy" are generally reserved for psychology, sociology, or communication studies courses which are devoid of the anatomical). In a college syllabus on human sexuality, emphasis is placed on the anatomical, pathological (disease, dysfunctions, paraphilias, and victimization), therapeutic, and preventative arenas of sex (M. Williams, 1988). Attention to the psychosocial factors influencing human sexuality--- nonpathological responses such as desire, arousal, eroticism, and ecstasy--is disturbingly absent. If sex is not necessarily "sick," there is little in our educational programming that suggests "good news" for its promotion. Even instructional films on this topic ignore the relational dynamics that contribute to sexual pleasure. Sex education films tend to ignore conversation between partners; instead depictions of sexual encounters are accompanied by "guitar music and birds chirping" (M. Williams, personal communication, 1988). The mass media offer few scripts for safe-sex talk, much less depictions of erotic discourse. On television, portrayals of sex scenes usually dissolve into commercial breaks, trains going into tunnels, or waves breaking on the shore. At best, the viewer is left with tidbits of nonverbal tease or muted, highly censored pre- and postcoital commentary. Media representation of sex talk has not progressed very far from the days of Mae
West, when sexual invitations had to be coded in analogies to bypass censors (e.g., "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"). Ironically, such lines may be censored today because they are so overtly playful and sexual. In a recent study of 52.5 hr of soap operas presented on major television networks--an arena with greater sexual content than prime-time programs--Lowry and Towles (1989) found that although sexuality occurs in the "fast lane, no one ever comes down with a sexually transmitted disease" (p. 81). Their findings support the increased depiction or suggestion of sex in the media, where instances of sexual behaviors were up from 6.58 instances per hour in 1979 programs to 7.35 in 1987. References to intercourse included such expressions as "an affair," "cheat on me," "roll in the hay," "shack up with her," "unfaithful," and "make love" but there "were no instances (either verbal, implied, or physical) of anything to do with pregnancy prevention and STD prevention." They note that the portrayal of sex is predominately for unmarried partners, "a dream world" where contraception and unwanted pregnancy are a rarity. In short, television's depiction of human sexuality is pervasive but caution is not. CONCLUSION If there is one underlying theme in this article, it is that we must begin to address the experience of passion, eroticism, sensuality in examining safesex talk, and ultimately in promoting safe-sex practices. There is an inherent tension in safe-sex discourse: The everyday reality of condom use, a reality made necessary by the threat of disease and death, must be reconciled with the erotic reality of sexual pleasure. We need to investigate a range of potential communication strategies for facilitating safe sex that might be conveyed in a prearoused or highly aroused state. Most important, we need to understand how safe-sex talk can be a turn-on, not a turn-off. Kegeles et al. (1988) reported that among sexually active adolescents, information and knowledge about STDs and the value and importance of condoms did not influence their actual intention to use condoms. Subsequently, these researchers advocate interventions that target perceptions of personal vulnerability in contracting disease in order to increase adolescents' motivation to use condoms. In light of contemporary media coverage linking sexual activity with disease, death, incest, abuse, and rape, it is clearly time to consider interventions that dangle carrots, not swords, before lovers. Perhaps we need, as Blanche might say, to discover the "magic" of safe sex. To this end, we must target research and interventions that question, serve, and enhance perceptions of personal pleasure with condom use as a way of motivating safe-sex practices.
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