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Michael Winship: Sex and the Silly Season

Michael Winship

Researchers at the University of Texas have announced the number of reasons people have sex — 237.

No more, no less.

Beyond pleasure, romantic passion, procreation, material gain and revenge, they include, "It seemed like good exercise," "I was bored," "The person was a good dancer," and "I wanted to feel closer to God."

Word of this research came last week as the media slid into what is commonly known as "silly season," those final weeks of summer when the news cycle slows to a creep, much of the press is on vacation and editors look for the story that writes itself: whether sex surveys, shark attacks or Lindsay Lohan.

I have no need to wallow in such journalistic jejunity. For one, when it comes to observing vital sex research, a very special silly season plays itself out under the windows of my West Village apartment in Manhattan every day.

I first noticed it a week or so after I moved in. Three or four times daily, buses would pull up below the windows and open their doors.

Upon closer scrutiny, I realized that the passengers who poured out were almost exclusively female, in their 20s, 30s or 40s.

A few days later, I saw that the women were sweeping into a nearby store called The Pleasure Chest, an emporium of erotic paraphernalia.

The final piece of the puzzle snapped into place when I discovered that after the women climbed back on the buses, they circled the block and stopped at a brownstone a few hundred feet from my place.

I slapped my forehead in recognition, hard enough that I may never require botox there again. These congregations of women were on a pilgrimage, a hajj. They were on the "Sex and the City Hotspots" tour.

For 39 bucks a head, visitors see some 40 locations familiar to viewers of the TV show. "Follow in the fancy footsteps of Carrie & Co. as they conquer New York City!" the tour brochure gushes. "Drink where they drink, shop where they shop, and gossip where they gossip."

Unfortunately, they drink, shop and gossip in my neighborhood. The local Magnolia Bakery is "where Miranda stuffed cupcakes in her mouth." The Pleasure Chest is the store at which the character Charlotte bought a certain item. And the brownstone down the street was used as the exterior for the building in which the main character, Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, purportedly lived.

Women line up along the block and sometimes across the street for the opportunity to have their photos snapped on Carrie’s fictitious stoop. I thought the furor would die down once the original series stopped airing on HBO in 2004, but reruns and DVDs keep the pilgrims coming.

You could interpret the series’ enduring popularity, with its frank and humorous dissection of all manners sexual, as a sign that to some small degree America has grown up, that we no longer automatically relate to the slightest matters of the flesh with a dirty smirk or embarrassed look away. But then you follow the recent furor over Hillary Clinton’s alleged display of cleavage on the floor of the Senate. Good grief.

It all started July 20, when Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan reviewed Sen. Clinton’s appearance during a debate on education. "There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was," she wrote. "Undeniable...

"It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far.

No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped!" Good grief.

Then the menfolk jumped in, most ignobly the Wall Street Journal’s John Harwood, who declared on ABC’s "This Week" that for Sen. Clinton "to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil, OK?"

Succeed or fail, Sen. Clinton’s strong presidential candidacy already has put the lie to many of the myths and stereotypes of gender. But until we confront our sniggers, our fears, the discomfort over who we are as sentient, physical, sexual beings, America’s silly season will never end.

Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, is a freelance television writer in Manhattan.