Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for SeX positivity

(I know, I know. Sue me.)

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.


*** ADULT CONTENT ***

Today, I'll be selecting traditional stories that are sex-positive - and by that I mean they portray sex as something to be enjoyed, something that is natural, and not a deed that is shameful or dangerous. It's not an easy topic; folklorist Dr. Jeana Jorgensen wrote an amazing blog post about why sex-positivity is a particularly underrepresented theme. Still, I wanted to pick a few stories that have some interesting, sex-related themes.

(I am excluding stories where sex is a means to an end - world folklore is full of seductresses who are not to be trusted, and I am not very fond of that trope. I am also excluding tales where sex is a secret, illicit affair.)

Contest in repartee
A folktale type (ATU 853) that relies heavily on symbolic sexual banter between a princess and her suitors. She will only marry a man who can match her in "banter" (and, by implication, in other skills as well). The contest is eventually won by a "foolish" boy who is more observant and empathic than his brothers. The level of symbolism in the banter depends on the version of the story, but some are fairly explicit:
"You have pretty white legs, princess!"
"There is also fire between them!"
The banter usually ends with mutual laughter and marriage.

The princess that became a man
This one depends on the version, but the Hungarian text focuses a lot on the sexual relations between the princess and her female-turned-male husband. First, the disguised husband doesn't have sex with his wife on the wedding night, which angers the princess; when the husband returns, in a fully male body, he immediately initiates sex with the princess, who is incredibly happy about this development, so much so that she "even takes her husband's tongue into her mouth," and they immediately "play" five or six times in a row.
(Read my translation of the Hungarian text here)

The troll that thought he was pregnant
I heard this straaaange Norwegian folktale from Heidi Dahlsveen at the Mysteries of Europe conference. In it, a peasant girl learns what sex is from a handsome young farm hand (he calls it "brushing"), and she likes it so much that when her father chases the guy away, she goes out to find someone else to "brush" her some more. She comes across a bridge troll, pushes him down, and thoroughly has herself "brushed" (yes, this is a folktale in which a girl rapes a troll). The story then goes on to tell how the troll thinks he is pregnant (because, according to troll logic, whoever is on the bottom is the one that gets pregnant).
While rape is not a positive thing regardless of who it happens to, the story relates to sex education (or lack thereof), and the girl's enjoyment of sex.

**Note: There are several folktales where a girl is tricked into sex by calling it something else, and doesn't really know what is happening to her. This is clearly problematic, and sadly, does happen in real life as well. I included the tale above as an example for discussion, but I am not including all the others.**

Adam, Eve, and the dishes
In this Hungarian folktale based on biblical themes, Adam and Eve make a bet about who can last longer without talking (loser does the dishes). Eve breaks her stubborn silence when she sees a kitten trying to attack Adam's fig-leaf-covered man parts, declaring that "THOSE ARE MINE!" The future of humanity is saved.
(Read the story here)

**Additional confession: There are several collections of "bawdy folktales" from various parts of the world, including Hungary. Most of those tales always made me cringe. While they do talk about sexuality, they often involve the above mentioned trope of 'losing virginity without knowing it' as well as rape, slut-shaming, and other questionable themes (not to mention just plain bad jokes). I have yet to find a "bawdy folktale" that I'd like to tell. Also, personally I would not count everything that is sexually explicit as automatically "sex-positive" too.**

Phatman
I encountered this very likable female character in the Panher Skin Knight, the national epic of Georgia. She keeps young lovers and is not ashamed of it one bit; she also helps the two lovers who are the heroes of the story.
(Read about her and the epic here)

Any other sex-positive stories that come to mind?...

12 comments:

  1. The title of the post got my antennae up. I was curious to see if there are any tales that handle sex as something to be enjoyed.
    Wow! I'm lost for words...will be reading them all soon.
    "The banter usually ends with mutual laughter and marriage." Wouldn't this make a fab tag line for marriages..."and the marriage ends with banter and mutual laughter;)"
    Thank you for sharing the treasures you find.

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  2. I wish I knew some sex positive tales, but, sadly, I do not. I like Phatman - she seems very positive and the Peruvian story is sweet. I'm always amazed by the number of stories you find for each topic.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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  3. Eve getting protective of Adam's man-parts - LOL! I like the Amazonian story, bringing the two communities together with physical love.
    Sophie
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

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  4. I have to agree with Natasha; I'm amazed at how many tales you've found for each topic!

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  5. Brushing, huh? I've not heard of that one before.

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  6. Something I came across years ago when I was researching THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE was a story about nymphs called "apsaras" who used sex to heal men who had been turned into beasts through war. The apsaras would take them to their temple, wash them, feed them, play music for them, and also have sex with them to restore their humanity.

    @Kathleen01930
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    #AtoZchallenge

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  7. Some interesting tales from the past today. I have nothing to contribute, but it seems others do.

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  8. Before sexting and sexual innuendo there was the not so innocent sexual banter.

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  9. Some interesting tales! (As always)

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

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  10. Devadasi tradition in India ( as much as it was shamed by the British) was a vibrant sex-positive matriarchal way of life. The women were what modern civilization called prostitutes , but were considered the servants of God. The patronized art like music and dance and usually were the mistresses of rich patrons who patronized their art. The 'Kamasutra' India's book on sexual postures and pleasure depicted a sex-positive way of life until the western influences changed Indian society's perception of what is wrong or right.

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  11. Devadasi tradition in India ( as much as it was shamed by the British) was a vibrant sex-positive matriarchal way of life. The women were what modern civilization called prostitutes , but were considered the servants of God. The patronized art like music and dance and usually were the mistresses of rich patrons who patronized their art. The 'Kamasutra' India's book on sexual postures and pleasure depicted a sex-positive way of life until the western influences changed Indian society's perception of what is wrong or right.

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  12. LOL! I've never heard of Adam and Eve's story, but it sounds such fun :-)

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