A reflection on vanity sex

KATHERINE FEENEY
Last updated 12:55 17/07/2013
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MIRROR MIRROR: Who is the fairest in the bedroom?

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GEORGE MARKS
ADMIRING GLANCE: Admiring one's sexuality in front of a mirror is nothing new, as this 1940s photograph shows.

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Does desiring sex in front of a mirror make you a bad person and a terrible lover?

Katoptronophilia. Of course the Ancient Greeks created a word for doing sexy things before looking glasses.

They come from the region of the world thought to have invented the speculative devices.

They also enjoyed robust sex lives. Practitioners of Hellenistic mystery religions gave birth to the ecstatic ritual of orgia.

Bacchanalian attitudes spawned from the Dionsyia festivals of ancient Athens.
But the Greeks also gave us democracy, and so it's unsurprising they developed an idea in opposition to katoptronophiliac behaviour.

In a word, narcissism, from Narcissus, the exceptionally proud, and extraordinarily beautiful, son of a nymph and a river god who fell in love with his own reflection and died because of his obsession.

Narcissus represents all that is wrong with staring too often or too fondly into a mirror.

Useful though they may be, mirrors can distract the living from living life. They are plainly planes that echo the light of the world, not a source of light themselves.

So it is dangerous to spend too much time at a mirror.

There's nothing to see there but what exists around you. It is far better to go and enjoy the real thing, rather than idle away hours appreciating a shallow reflection of it.

Of course, we all know what we're really looking for when we go to a mirror. We're looking for ourselves. We're looking at our bodies. We're looking at the external representation of our internal being. That physical thing we live inside of, but can't see so easily with our own eyes.

We made mirrors to try and see who we are. And since that time, our society has become increasingly obsessed with that superficial manifestation of self. To our detriment, some would say.

So what about people who enjoy having sex in front of a mirror? Or doing other sexy things in front of a glassy image?

Katoptronophilia extends to masturbation or "enacting stripping fetishism" after all.

Are you vain, and therefore bad, for wanting to do any of this? Should we shun those who do?

It's funny how antiquated sex in front of a mirror seems in an era where photography and film make watching yourself performing erotic acts so much easier, re-watchable and, dangerously, shareable.

In that sense, mirror sex seems relatively innocent. A kinky twist without the risk attached to making a recording of your performance.

But you're still watching yourself doing sex. Does that distract you from the act of doing, or can it enhance?

And, presuming the sex act in question is good old fashion intercourse with a partner, is the mirror a welcome aid or an awkward third wheel?

In other words, does a mirror on the wall indicate you're a superficial, selfish person more interested in your own pleasure than anything else?

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I don't think so. Not necessarily. I think sex before a mirror can be fun, because a diversity of sexual experiences is fun. So I believe that desiring sex in front of a mirror may mean you're a good lover, interested in having a fun time while watching the fun time enjoyed by your partner.

Of course, the spectre of Narcissus is a handy one to raise - one wouldn't want to get caught out by looking for satisfaction too keenly in a cold piece of glass.

A mirror won't love you like your lover.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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