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Contributing Op-Ed Writer: What a Greek Prophet Can Tell Us About Sex

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Another major factor, when it comes to the measure of pleasure, is the type of sex that’s being had: straight men and gay men, for instance, have about the same number of orgasms. Lesbians, meanwhile, have about 20 percent more than straight women — perhaps because lesbian sex tends to go on longer (30 to 45 minutes for the average lesbian couple, compared to 15 to 30 minutes for straight ones).

As for me, I have almost 20 years of female orgasm under my belt now (since transition), and before that I had an equal number of years of having male ones. Without going into detail, I can attest that the experiences are distinct. Sometimes I think of it as the difference between Spanish and Italian. Sure, they’re similar. But jeez, che differenza!

Still, sex is less important to me than love. This was true when I was a boy of 15, and it’s true now as a woman of 59. Then, as now, all I wanted was to desire, and to be desired.

I might be the experiment, rather than the control, but I’m not alone in that feeling. A recent poll found eight things Americans would rather have than sex, if they had to give up one for a year, among them a good night’s sleep, their cellphones, their youth and, yes, bacon.

I could probably survive without bacon, for one, but in my life — as is the case for most men and women — love and sex are mysteriously wrapped together, like the pair of entwined, enchanted snakes that transformed Tiresias, or like two versions of a single image, reflected in a funhouse mirror. John Barth’s great short story “Lost in the Funhouse” plaintively asks, “For whom is the funhouse fun?” And suggests an answer: “Perhaps for lovers.”

By the final page of the story, though, having gotten himself good and lost, that story’s lovesick protagonist reflects on the glittering, confusing world that now lies before him. “He wishes he had never entered the funhouse,” Mr. Barth writes. “But he has. He wishes he were dead. But he’s not. Therefore, he will construct funhouses for others and be their secret operator — though he would rather be among the lovers for whom funhouses are designed.”


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