My friend’s son is ten and plays baseball twice a week. “You know,” he told me, “the third base is cool but somehow I prefer the first base.”
It took me a lot of self-control not to burst out laughing.
For some reason, says educator Al Vernacchio in his TED-Talk (HERE), when Americans talk about baseball, they do not necessarily talk just about baseball. Scoring, getting to first base or second base or having a hard bat might mean a different thing entirely – namely a sexual activity. Or in other words, if you talk to someone today about sex, this person might pretty soon start talking about baseball, since this game is the dominant cultural metaphor that Americans use to think about and talk about human sexuality. The sports-related vocabulary might confuse non-native-speakers. So here is the sex-baseball glossary:
- A pitcher performs a sexual act and a catcher receives it.
- A switch-hitter is a bisexual person, and gay and lesbian folks play for the other team.
- The first base are the lips, the second the chest and the third the genitals.
- Scoring a run or hitting a home run means having vaginal intercourse as well as ejaculating (for the guy).
- If you strike out, you don’t get to have an intercourse.
- A benchwarmer is either a virgin or someone not in the game – either due to young age, abilities, looks or any other reason.
- A bat symbolizes a penis.
- A glove or a catcher’s mitt is a condom.
- A nappy dugout is a vagina.
- Last but not least – a popular saying goes “if there’s grass on the field, play ball,” which means that if a young person, specifically often a young girl, has pubic hair, she’s old enough to have sex with.
This “baseball metaphor” is incredibly problematic, since it frames sex as a power game, with a wining and a losing side of the rivalty. It’s competitive, goal-directed, sexist and discriminating. There is no way such an approach can help young people develop healthy sexuality.
Instead of talking about scoring and getting to any base at all, Al Vernacchio suggests a new metaphor. Comparing sex to food means focusing on tastes, agreement, enjoyment and shared pleasure. The food he uses as metaphor for sex is… pizza.
Let’s talk about pizza
This Italian dish is popular around the world. Most people associate it with a positive and pleasant experience. Compared to baseball, pizza seems to be perfect to talk about sex. Here is why.
Baseball vs. Pizza – The Trigger For Sexual Activity
How does one initiate baseball? Well, they don’t… Players get together when it’s baseball season and when there’s a game on the schedule. And that means that you cannot play baseball whenever you want. It’s not exactly your choice. Consequently, you cannot refuse playing baseball, if you do not feel like it. Just imagine saying to your coach, “Uh, I’m not really in the mood today, I think I’ll sit this game out.”
So if it’s a party night, a summer weekend trip, a wedding night or if our parents aren’t home, hey, let’s just batter up!
When you show up to play baseball, nobody sees the need to discuss or agree on what they’re going to do or how they would like this game to be. They just take their positions and play the game by following the rules. There are two opposing teams, one playing offense, one playing defense. One is trying to move deeper into the field (a boy), one is trying to stop the opponent from ‘scoring points’ (a girl).
Baseball is competitive. It’s not about playing with each other, but against each other.
Pizza, on the other hand, is a whole different story. First of all, you can have it whenever you want or need it. Because it is an internal desire, you can control it better, by deciding that yes, pizza would be fantastic, but the timing is not right. It’s better to postpone it and enjoy pizza later. There is no obligation to eat pizza if you are not hungry. No pressure!
Once you get together to eat, the usual thing to ask is “How do you like your pizza? Would you like some mushrooms? Ham or vegetarian?” There is space for honest discussion about preferences and tastes. You negotiate and reach an agreement, which might be something along the lines of “Well, maybe we can go half and half.”
There is no competition in eating pizza. No winners, no losers, no scoring points.
Baseball vs. Pizza – What Happens During Sexual Activity?
How does a game of baseball work? The rules are pretty simple – a player is just supposed to round the bases in the proper order one at a time. Hitting the ball and running whenever you please would result in a penalty. And you cannot decide you like the first or the second base best and would like to spend a bit more time there.
Last but not least – baseball is not for everyone. You need specific equipment and a specific skill set. Not everybody can play.
With pizza, it’s a whole different story! There are thousands of different kinds of pizza with a variety of toppings and everyone can choose their own. There is not one right way to eat it. You can use a fork and a knife, you can eat with your fingers… None of the various ways to consume pizza is wrong. They are just different. The idea is not to eat pizza according to any predefined rules but to have a satisfying experience. Pizza – unlike baseball – is all about hunger and pleasure.
Baseball vs. Pizza – The Expected Outcome Of Sexual Activity
Baseball is all about commands and exclamation points, all about being faster and better than anyone else. The objective is to score as many runs as possible.
Pizza does not have any winners or losers. There is no competition. You don’t aim to “win” in pizza, but to enjoy it – ideally together.
Pizza is not about commands, but about questions. You get to decide how you like your pizza and how much of it you wish to have today.
Nowadays, sex education is pretty much based on the baseball model – there are two opponents, specific equipment and you should only have sex at appropriate times and according to clear rules. No wonder this type of education produces unhealthy sexuality in young people and the mentality of “scoring points”.
However, if we take the pizza model and use it to talk about human sexuality, the whole narrative changes. Suddenly we focus on natural hunger, diversity, taste, pleasure and satisfaction. “The pizza model” invites people to reflect on their desires, choose from a spectrum of possibilities and discuss the preferences with their partner(s). With pizza, not the end result counts but the tasty experience along the way.
So remember, when talking about sexual activity, baseball is out. Pizza is the way to discuss healthy, satisfying sex and explain it to young people.
Who is the TED-Talk-Speaker, Mr. Vernacchio?
Al Vernacchio teaches English as well as comprehensive sexuality education (as alternative to abstinence-only education) at a private Quaker school just outside Philadelphia, USA. He also serves as the faculty moderator of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and a seasoned wedding officiant. His humorous and positive approach to Sex-Ed has made “Mr. V.” a popular speaker and brought him to the attention of the New York Times Magazine in 2011, which resulted in the cover story “Teaching Good Sex”.
Vernacchio believes that “Sexuality is a force for good in the universe and the best thing about being human.” And we could not agree more.