I remember years ago going to see Frank Langella in Dracula on Broadway. The only thing I can recall about the play now is the scene just before the curtain ended Act I:
As I remember, there were just two people still on stage – the Count and his female prey, standing toe to toe in eveningwear. The kind of close-up between two consenting adults that ordinarily results in a climactic kiss.
As in a conventional kissing scene, the female lead seemed to stand there in a kind of expectant trance. But instead of kissing her, Dracula leaned his head back, bared his fangs – and then suddenly fell upon her, plunging his teeth into her exposed neck.
I still recall the collective breath of excitement from the audience at that moment. Particularly the women, who seemed to swoon as one.
And as a young man I wondered how and why a woman could get pleasure from watching another woman being eaten.
Now, of course, it wouldn’t surprise me. Women being physically consumed by their demon lovers – or at least the thrilling danger of that happening – are now more or less a media staple.
The psychology of why this continues to attract has been parsed at length. How being the prey of a paranormal alpha-male might activate a female cue for sexual submissiveness. Which may be hard-wired, or a remnant from early childhood trauma, or the product of centuries of oppression — depending on your viewpoint.
I’ve spent some time on these pages myself discussing these issues– Whether men are inherently sexual beasts (“The elements of desire”). How sexuality and aggression play out in the world (“Eros, thanatos, and Sunday afternoon”). And how the enormously successful “Twilight” books and movies succeed by offering a transformative sexual fantasy — one that soothes some of the ordinary frustrations of modern heterosexual mating (“Twilight and the art of foreplay,” “Sex therapy and Twilight: Eclipse”)
When this week’s New York Times magazine arrived, featuring Alex Pappademas’ cover article, “We Are All Teenage Werewolves,” I had to check it out to see what new pathways the paranormal alpha-male current had found. According to the article, there’s going to be a new show on MTV called “Teen Wolf.”
I’ve never been much of a werewolf fan myself. I loved books 1 and 4 of Twilight – the vampire volumes – but found the werewolf-heavy books 2 and 3 pretty slow going. The Pappademas article explains that werewolves are more of a blue-collar sexual paranormal phenomenon – much like the Boston Red Sox. hereas vampires are more like the Yankees – debonair in pinstripes.
I found the article informative, though. Especially in its depiction of how the teen werewolf thing captures “the weirdness of adolescence — of waking up one morning with uncontrollable urges, new and troubling hair growth and a sense that the whole world hates and fears you.”
Even more interesting was something the article only suggested in passing: How the switch from human to werewolf might serve as a metaphor for sexual excitement. Indeed, the article cites several instances where it was the act of becoming sexually aroused that caused a young werewolf’s long hair and fangs to make an appearance.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, “Open Secrets about sexual arousal,” the physical transformations that accompany genital arousal have been exhaustively researched over the last several decades. But the psychology of sexual excitement has yet to find its Masters+Johnson.
Common experience, though, tells us that psychological sexual arousal has its own natural laws which can be readily identified. For instance, that it involves a regression to a more infantile state of mind. Less considerate, more focused on immediate gratification.
There’s a basic selfishness to good sexual relationships. We might feel more connected to our partners during sex, but at that moment we don’t necessarily want to hear all about their day. The image of a wild animal isn’t surprising. Provided a couple feels basically safe with each other, the enactment of a predator/prey relationship might be just the ticket to erotic delight.
Too much civilization tames the wildness out of this beast — as we can all at times attest. On the last page of the new book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts” (which I’ve reviewed at length in these pages recently, and which I promise to return to as soon as The New York Times stops publishing these juicy wolf articles), the authors quote Edward Abbey’s statement that for most modern people, sexuality is “the only realm of primordial adventure still left to us.”
For most of us, sex may be the last wild place on earth.