Baseball is Creepy!

The baseball metaphor, that is.

While messing around on the intarwebs tonight, I came across this article about finding a positive sexual metaphor. I’d highly recommend that everyone go take a look! In the first part of the article, the author examines baseball as a metaphor for sex in American culture, and just how insidious this metaphor really is:

Baseball is fundamentally oppositional. Both teams can’t win. One team wins and the other loses. As sex, that’s about one partner “gaining” something, and the other partner “losing” something. In our culture, women tend to lose status when they have sex, and there’s a lot of hubbub about women “losing” their “precious virginity.” Men, on the other hand, gain status and respect from sexual experience. This aspect of the model also serves to reinforce gender stereotypes, which are rarely conducive to safe, empowered and satisfying sexual encounters.

Could this have had anything to do with my own fairly intense fear of rape? I was born into the losing team, after all. And the message that I will lose out if I have sex is everywhere, as is the message that the “opposite team” is out to get me–to force or coerce me into having sex without regard for my own feelings about it. In a lot of cases, that really does happen to people, and when it does, doesn’t the baseball metaphor for sex provide the perfect excuse for the assailant? After all, it’s just how you win the game. No wonder there are so many rape apologists!

In its literal sense, baseball can be a fun game, but unlike its literal counterpart, when we’re talking about sex as baseball, there is almost never a switch-up between which team is batting and which is on the field–there is not supposed to be; you are born as either a batter or an outfielder, and that’s where, at least in theory, you stay.  That takes all the fun out of it, doesn’t it? Because if sex happens, somebody loses, and that loser is determined before the game even starts. It’s a predictable, rigid social role. To win the game says nothing about whether the sex was enjoyable for either party. It’s just about whether or not it happens.

This underlying way of thinking has shaped my experiences with heterosexual men, and that’s not to say that they all thought that way themselves, but that this unhealthy power dynamic exists at all has made me extra wary of dealing with “the opposite team”–to the point that I, for the most part, choose to simply opt out of dealing with them entirely, and instead I generally only play with the queer team. It just removes that whole level of uncertainty, that vague sense of wondering whether this person is playing against me, that sense of always having to be vigilant, just in case. Queer people can’t play the game like everyone else anyway; they aren’t allowed to be included in it in the first place.

The article goes into a lot more detail about that, and also proposes an alternative metaphor for sexuality: eating pizza. It’s definitely a much more ace-positive model, since nobody assumes that everybody must eat pizza; while they may be rare, there are just some people who don’t, and that’s fine.

I do think, however, that the metaphor starts to break down a little here:

Eating pizza with a partner is also not a radically different experience from eating pizza alone. The pizza model deflates the myth that masturbation is a lesser sexual experience than partnered sex. Eating pizza alone encompasses the complete pizza-eating experience, just as masturbation is a complete sexual experience. When we do it it with someone else, the fullness of the experience doesn’t change, we simply add communion with our partner(s) to the experience. What’s different is the companionship, intimacy, variety, and possibly the fun of having someone feed you for a change.

I am not sure whether we should classify masturbation as a purely sexual experience. After all, there are plenty of asexuals who masturbate but do not necessarily consider the experience sexual. To some, it may be. To others… the very reason it might be considered okay is because it seems to be a lesser sexual experience (though even then, many find it bothersome). It really isn’t all that involved, when compared to partnered sex, whereas when eating pizza, aside from the initial negotiation of toppings, the actual act of eating the pizza is not different when doing it alone or with a partner. More is required of the person who is having sex with a partner, as opposed to the person who is masturbating. In many cases, a lot more is required. I just don’t think the difference translates well, when we use this metaphor as a vehicle for expression.

I guess the question is really about whether we consider something to be sexual based on sexual appetite, or whether we consider it to be sexual based on which body parts are involved. It seems that people define things as sexual using both of these determinants in different situations. For example, some people think that kissing is sexual–for them, perhaps, it arouses a sexual appetite. But then, to continue the metaphor, people can still eat something even if they have no appetite. Is it the physical act of sex that defines it? If so, which physical act(s) are we talking about, here? Or is it more about the mental aspect of it, the desire/appetite? In some cases, it’s clear how to define it, but in other cases, like this one, it really isn’t.

I also usually have a problem with food-based metaphors for sex because of the idea that having sex is a need, in the same sense that it is a need for humans to eat. I will admit that there is a need for people to procreate, but it is not an individual need, it is only a collective need. Every individual member of a species does not need to procreate in order for the species to survive. However, every individual must eat in order for the individual to survive. So you really have to be careful not to take a comparison of sexual desire with hunger too far. In this case, though, I think the metaphor of sex as eating pizza works okay, on that level, because it refers only to a specific kind of food, and not to food in general. People who don’t eat pizza can thoroughly enjoy other foods, and that’s not weird at all. Likewise, people who don’t enjoy or engage in sexual activities can get plenty of fulfillment from other activities in life!


Edit from the future: For further reading, check out this post by figleaf.

13 thoughts on “Baseball is Creepy!

  1. I never understood the base metaphor, I feel just as confused as this Just the absurdity of it always makes me think of Clone High, a TV cartoon, a reoccurring gag was ‘first and a half base; under the shirt, over the bra’. As much as I love a good metaphor I feel this situation is too complex to to have a single one, that does not collapse under deeper scrutiny.


  2. I remember reading that article a while ago and really liking it.

    I think the thing you have to remember about metaphors is that they can be stretched too far. From what I remember of the article, earlier on, the writer adresses the problem that, among men, masturbation is seen as ‘loosing’, while sex is seen as ‘winning’. Which is stupid, and an integral part of everything that’s wrong with the baseball metaphor.

    Taken in context, the whole thing about eating pizza alone isn’t saying ‘masturbation is inherently sexual’. It does assume that for the metaphor to work, but for a lot of people, those who use the baseball metaphor and those who protest against it included, that’s a natural assumption to make. The point it’s making is ‘masturbation is not inherently lesser than sex’. Which is a point I think a lot of asexuals would agree with.

    I do like your idea that sex requires more negotiation than which toppings to have, or how much pizza you’re each allowed. I dunno, maybe you could stretch the metaphor. After all, a pizza without the toppings you like is pretty bland and uncomfortable to eat with someone else, if the other person’s clearly enjoying it. And a pizza with toppings you hate can be a pretty bad experience.


  3. I agree that a baseball metaphor for sex isn’t a positive one, but I think the article might be taking the idea a bit far. I feel like Americans (and probably other people too, but I can’t say from experience) conflate everything with sports, and sex is just one instance of many. Especially in the workplace, the language of “team-building” seems to come directly from the sports world.

    So I agree with the article that the baseball metaphor is damaging if we internalize it, but I don’t understand why they have to counter it with a better, but also imperfect metaphor about pizza. Why does sex need a metaphor at all? If we’re trying to talk about sex in an open, honest way, which seems to be the intent of the author, why cloak the experience in pizza? Obviously, the “men are studs, women are sluts” idea needs to be dismantled, but I don’t see how further metaphor is an effective way to do that.

    It’s also worth mentioning that I have been forced to eat pizza by overbearing Italian relatives. If a metaphor has no room for negative experiences of sex, it isn’t accurate either.


    • PS– I just wrote to someone, “Can you give me a ballpark figure?” and had to come back here and mention that ;-) Every damn thing is baseball here!
      Yes, it is embarrassing that I use such cliches but oh well…


  4. I felt like the article was intentionally misinterpreting the baseball metaphor, especially about one team winning and the other losing. In that analogy, there is a sense of hierarchically structured value of different experiences, but I have a suspicion that this ranking stems from the fact that a lot of people do experience them in that order–they carry significance for people. This could be seen in a context of adversarial gender goals in sex, but it can also be seen (and often is) as two people using a shared script to assess the present state of their relationship. Of course, I’m not going to object to the idea that different people rank things differently. But I don’t think the one team winning and the other losing is something that the baseball analogy is intended to convey, at least in many of its uses.

    As for the pizza analogy, there seems to be a strong drive for getting people to not devalue masturbation. I suspect that a big part of this is to get people who masturbate to feel less guilty about it and people who don’t masturbate to consider trying it. But the fact is that for a lot of people, they do experience partnered sex as being better than masturbation. In a lot of approaches to challenging social norms, I get the sense that some writers aren’t all that interested in actual people’s experiences (or general tendencies in people’s experiences) that may well play a substantial role in creating those norms. I suppose that it’s because it’s easier to condemn “society” (as though society were remotely even homogeneous) than to attribute things to tendencies in people’s experiences, tendencies in how people reason and form categories. I guess it’s because there is a sense that one of these can be changed and one can’t.


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  7. I rather like the pizza metaphor. Personally, I enjoy pizza more if I’m sharing it with a friend, but some people prefer the single-serving kind. And then there’s the wonderful aroma… wow, I just enjoyed pizza without even touching it! It was a good pizza experience. Is it better if you actually eat it? Maybe more satisfying, but some people don’t like the gassy feeling… that’s one versatile metaphor!


  8. I find the pizza metaphor a bit weird, mainly because I get the mental picture of the guy from the Dogeball movie stuffing a slice of pizza down his pants. I think also just realize that might have been using the pizza metaphor for him masturbating.

    Anyway, I was thinking people could use dancing instead of pizza? You technically do not need to dance to remain living, but for some people dancing is their life and is very important to them, to the point that it’s like the air they breath. But not everyone likes to dance. Also there are lots of different kinds of dances! Some you do by yourself, some with a partner, some with multiple partners, some with large groups of people! And a dance can be very innocent and not sexual at all or it can be very sensual and very sexual. Also both parties win in a dance, it’s very hard to do a two person dance by yourself. It’s next to impossible to dance with someone who does not want to dance with you or does not trust you, I mean you can try to but it wont be very much fun for anyone.

    There is so much to dancing, I doubt it would fit in one message, but I think it’s something that asexuals and *sexuals can both get and it isn’t creepy sexist or comparing sex to food. I also think it would work as a way to describe different kinds of relationships not just sex.


  9. Hello,

    This might be a bit older, but I also wanted to add an idea about this:
    “I also usually have a problem with food-based metaphors for sex because of the idea that having sex is a need, in the same sense that it is a need for humans to eat.”
    Recently, someone who commented in a german blog compared the sexual orientation and the libido (they confused this for going hand-in-hand) to the need to urinate, meaning that it´s something you´re born with, something you can´t control by free will and something that you might not like to have. Sounds like a better metaphor to me.
    Though I have one that´s hunger-based when it comes to explaining sexual people how sex is to me: Everyone can imagine eating, say, a pizza when they are really hungry – it tastes awesome, is the best food of the world – compared to eating or trying to eat it when they are full – one might force the pizza down the throat and it most probably won´t taste that good if at all.
    I hope I´m making sense because I´m not a native speaker. So, if there are any terms/vocabulary I use incorrectly, please notify so I can improve.

    Carmen / Das Tenna


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