A new metaphor for sex

A new metaphor for sex

What’s the first metaphor that comes to mind when you think about sex? My guess is you’ll say ‘baseball.’ In this metaphor, baseball terminology becomes code for sexual activities: for example, ‘rounding the bases’ denotes sexual activity progressing in a very specific order, using the labels ‘pitcher’ and ‘catcher’ tells us there will be a giver and a receiver, and we all know what scoring a ‘home run’ means.

But in his TED Talk, Al Vernacchio argues that using baseball as a metaphor for sex is a bad idea. It can lead to unhealthy sexual relationships among both teenagers and adults because it sets us up to think about sex as competitive, goal driven, and male-dominated. We need a new metaphor, he says, and he offers one:


A bit strange at first, I agree. But give it a chance: what would it mean to think about sexual activity like we think about pizza, instead of how we think about baseball?

One way the baseball metaphor is problematic is that playing baseball (and playing it well) takes a very specific set of skills and abilities. What if you’re not a good at baseball? Or you think that you are, but someone doesn’t want to play with you?

Instead, eating pizza is about pleasure and desire, about discussion and agreement. Sometimes you want to eat pizza by yourself and sometimes eating pizza is about sharing a meal with another person. Are we enjoying our pizza? Who would like some more, and should we order the same thing or something different?

Comparing the two metaphors shows us how different thinking about sex in these ways can be:

Baseball: Externally driven Pizza: Internally driven
Where there is a game scheduled, it’s “game on!” Someone plays offense, someone plays defense.
Partners have little choice, whether it’s prom night or an anniversary, and they play on opposing teams.
Desiring pizza takes exploring how both partners feel. Am I hungry for pizza? Are you hungry for pizza? Is this a good time for us to share pizza together?
Partners ask questions of themselves and each other.
There isn’t a need to discuss the rules or expectations beforehand; both teams know how to play baseball by the rules. You can’t hit the ball and then run to 3rd base or you can’t get to 2nd base and decide to stop.

Sets partners up for a rule-bound experience that follows a very specific and predetermined script.
Thousands of different ways to order (which toppings?) and eat pizza (what size slice and how many?) Enjoying pizza with someone is about negotiating, and even if you’ve been sharing pizza with someone for a very long time, you’d still ask “should we get the usual?”
Sets partners up for a mutually satisfying experience that takes cooperation and invites exploration.
Finishing baseball is about winning by scoring as many runs as you can.
Ending sexual activity is outcome-directed, rather than experience-directed.
Finishing pizza is about satisfaction, fulfillment, and shared enjoyment.
Ending sexual activity is experience-directed, rather than outcome-directed.

What do you think about pizza as a new metaphor for sex?