Art Buchwald: Starts With S, Ends With Ex, Washington Post, August 14, 2003


There, I know I have your attention.

The most used and abused word in the English language is SEX. Putting it on magazine covers, mentioning it in the newspaper, advertising it on television and inserting it in a movie are just a few of the places we see it every day.

The Supreme Court has mentioned it in its decisions. The military academies try not to mention it. Priests worry about it. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals practice it.

I first discovered SEX while waiting at La Guardia Airport.

I was looking at the magazine stand and I noticed almost every magazine had the word "SEX" on the cover. It wasn't just Playboy and Penthouse -- every periodical from Cosmopolitan to House & Garden was using it so that I'd buy their magazine.

When I got home I turned on the television and darned if "Sex and the City" wasn't on the air.

"That does it," I said to myself. "It is time to research the word."

I assigned the job to my assistant, Cathy Clark, who usually does my research on the federal budget.

She was reluctant to take on the subject, but I told her she was doing it for her country.

This is her report.

"Originally SEX had something to do with making babies, but because it was forbidden in most cultures for anything else but procreating, it took on a life of its own. Since people found it very pleasurable and forbidden and fun, it wasn't necessary to use it just to produce offspring.

"Soon after, the word took on a broader meaning and the advertising industry picked it up because they found whatever was forbidden in our society sold like hotcakes.

"They said a woman couldn't be sexy if she didn't use a certain shampoo and she wasn't attractive if she didn't wear a certain perfume, and the only reason for a lady/girl to wear a bathing suit was so other people would think she was sexy.

"Different parts of the body attracted men to women, depending on how they were treated by their mothers.

"This is not to say SEX has played a part only in men's lives. Women talk about it as much as men, and possibly more."

Cathy continued her report.

"SEX constantly rears its head in divorce cases. One or the other of the aggrieved parties claims the mate had an extramarital affair or affairs.

"The reason SEX is so popular is that Homo sapiens discovered it was extremely pleasurable. It is even more pleasurable than finding a parking place on Main Street on shopping day.

"The first person who discovered SEX was Hugh Hefner. He was laying out a new magazine on wild birds when he accidentally inserted a pullout of a beautiful unclothed girl.

" 'Watson!' he cried over the intercom. 'I think I've got it. Instead of a magazine devoted to bird watchers, let's do one on real birds.'

"Hefner did, and for the first time SEX came out of the closet."

Cathy handed in her research. She said, "This is all I could find on the subject. Will it be enough for a whole column?"

"It is more than enough. No one knows what an important role sex plays in our culture, and if we don't tell them, who will?"