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Imagie of an underwear with the word 'grindr' written all over it
CategoriesClass and SexualityThe I Column

Does the Underwear Brand Really Matter?

As I scroll through the box-sized photos of different faces, torsos, and several pictureless profiles on a dating site (Grindr) cruising for a partner, I can’t help but ponder on how desires are woven by class. How does my own upper-middle-class position derive meaning from my subjective experience? The composition of a picture, the quality of the camera and the aesthetics of the shot subliminally curate my desires. I recollect a conversation many years ago, with a man who exclaimed that he instantly lost his erection on seeing his partner’s unbranded underwear! The comment left a bad aftertaste for years…until I reflected on my own unuttered list of expectations of a partner, ranging from smells, hygiene, and profession, to the way a person speaks.

After the underwear slips off, does the underwear brand really matter? The underwear may mean different things for different people. It may evoke desire or may hinder access. It may be eaten out of a lover’s body or it may be ripped apart or it may appeal to one’s aesthetic delights. It may feed into the fantasy of power or it may diminish desire. Should a person be reduced to their brand of underwear? Are our attractions governed by an aesthetic currency alone? Or by an economic currency? Or by an emotional currency? Or perhaps a mix of two or all three?

How do two bodies perceive each other in their nakedness? During the act of sex, shod of clothing, there’s this constant giving and receiving of power, there’s force, there’s touch, there’s power and there are thoughts outside the moment of being in each other’s presence. Even in those most primal moments of being together, of living in that moment, our thoughts and language and gestures, come from a space of our sociality, the class position that we occupy. Our use of language, the tone of our voice and our very articulation of our thoughts reflect our social upbringing. Our bodies are mediated through our privileges that affect the size of our bodies and the tastes, texture and smell of our skin. While some bodies have access to certain nutrients in their diet, health conditions and emotional and physical wellbeing, other bodies may not.

Our emotional, material and subjective experiences are embodied by our class position. Perhaps, even the intensities of our orgasms are shaped by it. The feeling of a conquest, of having scored with another body, and consuming it, has a utilitarian and a transactional aspect. There may be different scripts, performances and acts which are a prelude to the climax, through our social interactions which are steeped in economically structured social relations.

And while there are different layers of covering, from the branded or unbranded underwear to the expectations and preferences of our lovers…there is the face-to-face, body-to-body, skin-to-skin of individuals immersed within their libidinal urges. The desire for the impending orgasm overpowers everything…celebrating the moment of being. Two (or perhaps more) bodies, force and resistance, thrust and acceptance and the jouissance of togetherness. At some level, the act of sex surpasses class, and celebrates the sensations of the moment.

The different modes of cruising have changed our attitudes towards our sexual partners. Online cruising offers a choice of bodies, virtually, while the public cruising spots offer bodies, real, present, tangible. The online space offers a shield from rejection, while the cruising spot makes one more vulnerable, emotionally and physically. Both can be dangerous, yet an online space offers an illusion of safety and control. The wooing on an online space may be ongoing, while in a cruising space, it’s time-bound. In both, the skills and the script while engaging a potential partner are different. In online cruising, it’s also about sustaining interest. In cruising spots, real-time interactions are expected. Both these modes of interacting with partners are distinct, yet they offer the illusion of possibility, and maybe of plenty, particularly in an online space, because of the proximity of the profiles in a grid on a single screen.

Moving from an offline/online cruising space to a moment of actual physical contact, being together may be different for different people. Some seek an experience, some a moment of climax, some a story-in-the-making or a moment to remembered! Do each of the stories end with the climax? How did the persons bid farewell or go their own ways post the encounter? Was this story just the prelude to a bigger story that is yet to unfold? The meanings we create in such moments fashion us as persons. We may approach a person for different reasons and with different feelings. It could be lust, respect, fear, hope, trepidation, uncertainty or boredom. Depending on our emotional states, the feelings may differ for each person at different points in time.

There are often unstated patterns of how we interact with people, of what is said and unsaid. Those invisible scripts govern our interactions, and are deeply enmeshed within our class position. Some of us feel entitled to a person’s body or to perform certain acts or behaviours. Some of us assess people according to a hierarchy and relate to them accordingly. Some of us regard a partner we’ve cruised online differently from one we have cruised in a physical space. Ultimately, the manner in which we interact with each other reflects a lot about ourselves and of the culture around sexual encounters that we create. Perhaps, it might really not matter if there is any underwear at all, knowing that the other person might be radically different from what’s on our desired wish-list, and yet being open to the unknown, trusting that all shall be well, even in our uncertainty and vulnerability.

Cover Image taken from RageOn!

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Article written by:

Andy Stephen Silveira is an assistant professor in Goa and teaches Business Communication. His research interests include Storytelling, Rhetoric and Sexuality. He loves fitness; be it moving on all fours, to hanging from trees to running, swimming or dancing.

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