Note: this is a reprint of an article written for SafeWord Magazine. Many thanks to food blogger Emily for the suggestion. Please note this is more explicitly about sex than other Love posts on this blog. However, it’s still pretty PG-rated. Enjoy!
Seriously.Â Want better sex?
Learn to make better pancakes.
Pancakes are my totem food. Like any totem (or, if you prefer, like the Hogwart’s Sorting Hat) I didn’t so much choose it as much as have it permeate my life in various ways, teaching me lessons whether I wanted to learn them or not. But like all good teachers, pancakes revealÂ truths not by doctrine but rather through examples. Pancakes have taught me much about sex, believe it or not, and not only because they’re both hot and sticky.
1. Directions do not trump experience. “As God is my witness, I shall never make pancakes again!” The memory is hazy, but very Tara-esque: my mother in the kitchen, making pancakes for the first time. She’d read the directions carefully, measured well and mixed thoroughly, but the box of Bisquick was unclear on the exact time to flip each cake. At the same time, it did say quite specifically: each pancake should only be flipped once. As a result, her pancakes were either batter-filled or black-charred. The poor woman was literally in tears.
Years later, she taught me to make my own pancakes – including the secret of flipping them when the bubbles on the topside were popped to ensure a perfect golden-brown circle of yumminess. However, she couldn’t teach my eight-year old dexterity how to flip a pancake in a smooth, easy motion. Things fell apart, the center did not hold, mere anarchy was loosed upon the griddle, and it was my turn to stand there in frustrated tears as I ruined pancake after pancake.
When teaching relationship and sexuality workshops, I am quick to point out: you can talk and read and follow every step that someone else lays out before you to the letter. But there is never a substitute for actually doing something – at some point, you have to dive right in. Prepare all you want, but in sex or pancakes, until you’ve done it, you don’t really know how.
2. There is always more. A friend of mine once wrote that sex is much like owning a lousy car; most of your problems can usually be solved by more lube. A scarcity mentality is not helpful when making love, nor when making pancakes. My eight-year old self had to make three batches of pancakes before I mastered the art of the flip, but that’s ok – that’s why pancakes are made in bulk. It’s not because one isn’t enough – it’s because if you want more, you can make more.
Pancakes are a great example of the philosophy of abundance. Raising my four daughters on a single income meant a lot of hungry mouths, and pancakes were the one thing that I was always sure I could make enough of to satisfy their ravenous appetites. If there was time, I could use Grandma’s Recipe and make them from scratch, but if it was a cold wintry school day the “just add water” Krusteaz mix was devoured with as much, if not more, eagerness. We were not wealthy; we ran out of a lot of things in those times. But we always seemed to have enough pancakes.
Many times I hear from people who are nervous about what they consider “failures” in the bedroom, especially if they are trying to expand their sexual horizons. There is this strange idea in our culture that if you aren’t good at sex instinctively, there’s nothing to be done. I’m not sure why that is, because love is like pancakes, you can always make more. You don’t have to get it right the first time, or the thirty-seventh – it’s a renewable resource. As long as you have the raw ingredients, all you have to do is mix it up.
3. Learn the basics, then learn the art. Shortly after leaving the USMC, with “no job skills valid outside of Croatia” according to the jobs counselor, that pancake-flipping skill helped me clothe, shelter, and feed my four daughters. I worked as a line cook at Denny’s for a year and a half, a great job for an adrenaline junkie. In the twenty years since then I have yet to match the sense of accomplishment I felt when I got fifteen breakfast orders filled simultaneously and perfectly. The griddle was large, hot, and a perfect canvas as I shot batter onto it in even rows of polka-dot pancake patterns. Every pancake perfectly measured, a spatula in each hand turning four cakes at a time, every one perfect and golden. That was when I moved beyond the mere act of pancakes and into the art. When I was in charge of that griddle, there was nothing in the world but me, my tools, and the pancakes we created together.
Strictly speaking, sex is not complicated. Tab A, slot B, rinse, repeat. Just about anyone can do it. But through practice and attention, you can learn to do it well. It can go beyond the basic activity of procreative practice to the touching of souls, the revelations of vulnerability and intimacy. It just takes attention and focus to what you and your partner are doing and feeling. And practice, practice, practice.
4. Try something new. Over the years, I’ve tried many varieties of pancakes. Some were the common and obvious varieties – bananas, M&M’s, blueberries, chocolate chips. Peanut butter on pancakes, nutella on pancakes, orange juice and applesauce in the batter instead of milk and eggs for a Vegan lover of mine. Tiny bits of fresh-cooked bacon, drizzled with pure Canadian maple syrup that soaked right into the cake (a sure sign of perfection). Some have been delicious experiences, shared with others. Some have been not-so-delicious, such as the time I won a “Waffle Awful” contest by taking a bite covered in oil, mustard, and hot salsa.
The point is, the only way I learned which varieties I liked was by trying them. Sexuality can be the same way – there are so many ways to express that part of yourself and your relationship, but you’ll never really know unless you try. You don’t have to try more than a bite to be pretty sure – but if you steadfastly refuse that bite, you might be cheating yourself out of a whole world of delight.
5. Go with what you like. There’s also nothing wrong with going back to the basics. There is a word used often by sex educators – “vanilla” – that is considered to be “normal” sex. In fact, it’s often used as a pejorative term, implying that it is boring, dull, and somehow less. My friend and teacher Midori is quick to point out that vanilla is a spice, a flavor, and a quite expensive and valuable one, at that. It is something to be cherished and enjoyed. Me, I remember a sunday morning brunch after one of the first “unconferences” I organized in Madison, WI. I was going to make my World-Famous Cheap-Ass pancakes – that is, just add water, with maple-colored fructose corn syrup in a generic bottle.
My good friend W, though, is a foodie, and a good one. He had fine-ground spelt flour, organic free-range eggs, milk from an ebony cow with hooves of gold, the works. We both worked over the stove, batch after batch of pancakes for all the people at the event who were sharing their food and their ideas about life and love with each other.
Guess whose pancakes were more popular?
Neither. People ate them both, with equal gusto, mixing the maple syrup with the not-so-maple and happily conversing about subjects both naughty and nice in gustatory bliss.
The final lesson learned was one of two things, I think. It’s either
Â Â Â In sex or pancakes, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do it how you like.
or, perhaps something simpler:
Â Â Â With sex or pancakes, syrup makes it yummy.