Sex Games

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On average, Canadians have sex 150 times a year, placing us fourth in the world. From that initial come-hither glance to the frustrating rules and the gratifying end, the McGill Tribune explores our obsession with one of the nation’s favourite pastimes.

You gots to be a playa, man” proclaims Master P. The real one, that is, of the album The Ghetto is Trying to Kill Me fame, not this one–as much as I would like to refer to myself as ‘master’–though rent in the McGill Ghetto may very well kill me. This P-Diddy, however, has seen all too well the effects of self-professed ‘players’ at work on their favourite pastime.

Inevitably, this gives rise to the question of whether sex is indeed a game.

Magazines such as Sports Illustrated and their legendary swimsuit issues suggest that women can be considered a sport to be played. References are made in everyday conversation to ‘winning over’ one’s lover. Sex is seen as the objective end to a game for the ‘playboy’ who ‘conquers’ his prey. A night out on the town with the boys finds many of them preoccupied with getting lucky and ‘scoring’.

“[Such language] reflects a traditional attitude that sex involves a conquest: a predatory, sexually aroused male getting his way with a reluctant, chaste female,” observes Dr. Charles Boberg, an assistant professor in McGill’s Linguistics department. He believes that the language a society uses about sex reflects its attitude towards it.

“To some extent, this is a cultural construction of traditional western European society; it also reflects a biological fact, being that male sexual excitement and aggression is a precondition for intercourse, whereas female excitement is not,” asserts Boberg.

Cultural historians, scientists, game theorists, philosophers and economists have long pondered and debated the qualifying conditions of a game. Noted German game designer Wolfgang Kramer defined it, however, as being made up of several components: a goal, rules, competition, and moderated by the underlying truism that the course of the game is never certain, as chance gets its say.

The goal of the game of sex appears to be fairly obvious.

“Sex, as perceived by most people, is very goal-oriented,” notes Tara McKee, a workshop facilitator at Good for Her, a Toronto-based sex shop that holds seminars on topics relating to sex and sexuality. “You have to get to orgasm, you need to give the best blow-job.” While she disagrees with this school of thought and prefers to think of sex as a journey, she says it is hard to change prevailing attitudes and work the angle that sex should not be mission-oriented.

It appears as though societal pressures have reduced the act of sex to purely quantitative measures. Over breakfast with the girls after a wild night of the horizontal tango, the questions of how big, how long–time, that is, you perverts–and how good are unavoidable.

“In society, women are considered the holders of sexuality. They’re withholding it from men and men have to get it. It’s about achieving her,” says McKee. “There are a lot of games happening between couples. Women will play into [this view] and try to hold sex from men, and then men will try to get it.”

Beyond the physical, however, the psychological goal of the game is often ambiguous and personal. Validation of self-worth and confirmation of ability and prowess are but two of them.

Rules of the game, another qualifying condition according to Kramer, seem to have permeated Western consciousness with regards to sex. Self-help pundits for women advocate mind games, encouraging women to abide by standard rules in order to get their man. One only needs to look at the success of the Ellen Fein and Sherri Schneider duo, authors of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, to realize people seek rigidity and structure in this often-confusing game. Rules seminars and workshops conducted by the authors have become increasingly popular.

Rule No. 5, according to Fein and Schneider, is “Don’t call him and rarely return his calls.” These rules have been criticized as a hindrance to gender equality, as they reinforce negative sexual stereotypes. Leaving such contention aside, however, the success of this desperate-single-woman gospel confirms that people actively seek and want to be guided by such rules, in the hopes that it will increase their chances of success in the game. Anyone who has seen Swingers knows that the wait-three-days-before-calling rule has become something of a tenet in the realm of dating. Loathe those that adhere to such rules? Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Competition rears its head in the form of all the pretty people out at the bar. Primping and priming for a big date is not alien to most. With the final goal in mind, the path may be uncertain, but an overriding principle stands out: you gotta look good to get there.

“I dress up when I go out clubbing,” shares Jen, a U1 Arts student. “Everybody else is and you don’t want to just be another face in the crowd. You want to stand out.”

Finally, toss in a dash of fate for good measure and all the conditions for a game have been satisfied. As every player or playette worth his or her little black book knows, the locus of control isn’t always within one’s reach and, like it or not, luck will take its course. And what do the games themselves reveal about their participants?

“All games require at least some degree of abstract intelligence, while many also require sophistication, judgement, creativity, or a combination of these,” says game inventor and President of Polymath Systems Kevin Langdon.

A certain level of sophistication certainly distinguishes the average Joe from a smooth-talking Don Juan. Creativity shines through in such charming pick-up lines as “Are you a parking ticket? Because you got fine-fine-fine written all over you” or “I wish you were a carousel at Wal-Mart so I could ride you all day long for just a quarter.” Judgement calls require some brainwork–was she winking at me or does she have something in her contact?

It seems sex has literally become a game in some senses with role-playing, fetishism and dressing up all becoming the norm.

The playing of games is a defining character of man, notes Langdon. “Thus, [games] have come to occupy a prominent place among the metaphors which have been employed for human life.”

Some men may define their masculinity in terms of how they play the game and their results from engaging in it. Each woman is perceived as another notch on his belt of machismo.

The quest to find the trophy husband or wife consumes some once they feel they’ve hit their marrying prime. The lament “I’m too old for this game [of dating]” is heard and the goal then shifts to one of marriage and the quest for Mr. or Mrs. Right begins. Indeed, the success of Bridget Jones’ Diary suggests a collective desire to be a ‘smug married’ rather than a ‘shameful singleton’. Attainment of this revised goal then becomes validation of ourselves and the mate with whom we end up, which is a reflection of our own efforts.

“Sex games are as dangerous as playing cards,” asserts Fareed Ramezani, a second-year Political Science student at Concordia University. “You might sporadically play and that’s fine, but then you might get carried away and, before you know it, you’ve become addicted to gambling.”

Is sex a game of seduction? Or does it run deeper and become a precarious game of conquest? It boils down to a person’s expectations of the game and motivations for playing it.

“Sex is a game of Risk,” said Christian McGuire, U1 Management. “Through the chaotic battlefield of desire, one collects trophies and conquers the world.” On the front lines, people get hurt and hearts get trampled on. As individuals struggle to make sense of the seemingly arbitrary and senseless rules of the game of dating and sex, frustrations can run high.

Between rules, mind games and playing hard-to-get, we’re all equally confused and thus concede to playing the game in order to try and make sense of our own desires, organize our actions and maximize our chances of ‘winning’. Bottom line? Don’t player hate, participate.