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Expert reveals 'incredibly problematic' issue with common metaphor: 'We need a new model'

Alex Lasker
·5-min read

Why is it that when talking about sex, we cannot seem to exclude baseball terminology?

First base, second base, home run, pitching, catching, striking out, etc. It’s just so … what’s the word I’m looking for here … unsexy? Yeah, let’s go with that.

The baseball metaphor falls short in so many ways when attempting to illustrate the individual acts that make up physical intimacy — and sexuality educator and high school teacher Al Vernacchio has a rather satisfying replacement for the antiquated analogy.

In an eye-opening TED Talk, Vernacchio explains why we should talk about sex the way we talk about pizza (delicious, iconic, beloved around the world) rather than baseball (boring, rigid, regional).

“This baseball model is incredibly problematic,” Vernacchio points out. “It’s sexist, it’s heterosexist, it’s competitive, it’s goal-directed and it can’t result in healthy sexuality developing in young people or in adults.”

“We need a new model. I’m here today to offer you that new model — and it’s based on pizza.”

‘It’s not exactly your choice’

Vernacchio explains that not only is pizza universally understood (anyone can eat pizza, whereas baseball has a hard set of rules that not everyone knows), but most people also associate pizza with a positive experience. Baseball simply lacks that ubiquitousness.

Beyond that, Vernacchio says one of the baseball metaphor’s biggest issues is that it sets up sex to be a competition. This is inherently bad, since games have rigid expectations of their players, who can either end up winners or losers. Not exactly compatible with the idea of healthy consent, eh?

“When do you play baseball? You play baseball when it’s baseball season and when there’s a game on the schedule — it’s not exactly your choice,” Vernacchio explains. “So, if it’s prom night or a wedding night or at a party or if our parents aren’t home, it’s just ‘batter up.'”

“When you show up to play baseball, nobody needs to talk about what we’re going to do or how this baseball game might be good for us,” he adds.

This type of expectation creates problems, as it not only removes communication about sexual intimacy from the equation, but it also creates more pressure surrounding one’s freedom to say “no” in the heat of the moment.

“Can you imagine saying to your coach, ‘Not really. I think I’ll sit this game out.’ That’s just not the way it happens,” Vernacchio says.

‘It starts with … internal desire’

This is where pizza comes into play, which, thankfully, “everybody knows the rules” for, according to the educator.

“When do you have pizza? Well, you have pizza when you’re hungry for pizza,” Vernacchio says. “It starts with an internal sense and internal desire or a need. ‘Huh, I could go for some pizza.’ And, because it’s an internal desire, we actually have some sense of control over that. I can decide that I’m hungry, but know that it’s not a great time to eat.”

Swapping America’s pastime for the delicious Italian snack also removes the competitive aspect from the sexual metaphor and leaves the door open for communication between consenting parties.

“When we get together with someone for pizza, we’re not competing with them,” Vernacchio explains. “We’re looking for an experience that both of us will share that that’s satisfying for both of us.”

“When you get together for pizza with somebody, what’s the first thing you do?” he continued. “You talk about it. You talk about what you want. You talk about what you like. You may even negotiate. ‘How do you feel about pepperoni? Not so much. I’m kind of a mushroom guy myself. Well, maybe we can go half and half.’ And, even if you’ve had pizza with somebody for a very long time, don’t you still say things like, ‘Should we get the usual or maybe something a little more adventurous?'”

‘That can’t help but produce unhealthy sexuality’

Whereas in baseball you’re supposed to round the bases in order with the goal of making it to home plate, with pizza, there are a million different flavor combinations and ways to enjoy them — and none of them are wrong.

“In this case, different is good because that’s going to increase the chance that we’re having a satisfying experience,” Vernacchio says.

So, what might a model of sexuality education look like when paired with the pizza metaphor instead of the classic baseball one? Loads and loads healthier, according to Vernacchio.

“A lot of sexuality education that happens today is so influenced by the baseball model and it sets up education that can’t help but produce unhealthy sexuality in young people,” he says. “[Instead], we could create education that invites people to think about their own desires, to make deliberate decisions about what they want, to talk about it with their partners and to ultimately look for not some external outcome, but for what feels satisfying.”

When you put it like that … I’ll take two slices.

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