Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cemetery Lovers: Sex and Death

You were waiting for this, weren’t you? I mean, how could I write a blog about cemetery travels without discussing sex? Well, I have, on occasion, but not as directly as I am now. Whatever could sex and cemeteries have in common? Turns out sex and death are very closely related in our psyches. We seem to be simultaneously death phobic and sexually driven - death and desire seem to conjugate in some fashion in our minds, a philosophy of opposites. But do they conjugate in our cemeteries? That is, does live sex (I mean, between people) occur in our memory gardens? On our hallowed grounds? Sure it does. I’ve seen it, I’ve heard about it, I’ve done it. (There, I finally said it. Happy?)

While teenagers may use our cemeteries as trysting places because it’s the only way they can get privacy, adults do it for many other reasons. Its exciting, its forbidden (sort of, I guess, though I’ve never actually seen any signs posted …), and it is the closest many of us can get to experiencing human nature’s two basic instincts at the same time: Eros and Thanatos. Sure there’s autoerotic asphyxia (strangulation during sex), but that’s going off the deep end. Most people don’t need to go to such extremes to get off. Sigmund Freud theorized that Thanatos, the instinct of death, or aggression, drives us as strongly as Eros, our instinct for life. Eros drives us toward attraction and reproduction while Thanatos drives us to our destruction.

Found in a cemetery
If you accept this, it explains why so much of our entertainment (movies, books, and television) keeps us riveted with a teetering balance of sex and death. We enjoy this, for the most part. Sometimes, real life mimics fiction. Take for instance the couple who shows up at the cemetery’s “night photography” event without cameras. As the group heads off into the cemetery with the instructor, the couple disappears. (Do I need to draw you a picture?)

Doing it in a cemetery must be titillating to a rather small portion of the population. I can’t imagine that hordes of people would WANT to do this, although sometimes, business demands it. Take for instance the prostitute who recently approached several cemetery grounds keepers (separately, but on the same day) while in the course of their duties. This was her line: “Are you single? Because I don’t want any wives involved in this. My apartment has ghosts. Can you come with me to check it out for me?” After her third attempt failed, she left. She was making house calls, so to speak.

Old Camden Cemetery
So while some of my research depends on secondary sources, my primary research corroborates the data. Also, I trust my sources. I’ve written about being solicited by prostitutes in Camden, New Jersey cemeteries, and this is a weird experience, I must say (read more about that at this link). Being solicited, that is. (Happy to say my actual sexual encounters in graveyards did not involve prostitutes! And I was between marriages, for the record.) I realize that prostitution in graveyards is strictly business - the parties are not looking for thrills, its just cheaper than getting a room. (Do you know that some no-tell motels offer rooms by the hour!? If it does not appear to the clerk at check-in that you and your companion will be spending the night, the clerk might actually offer you an hourly rate!)

So, maybe cemeteries should have “No soliciting” signs on their gates? Or “No Engaging” signs …. I know of another cemetery where guys have driven onto the grounds with prostitutes in their cars, found a secluded spot and ….. you may think I’m going for the full Pinocchio on this topic but its true - I’ve seen this. I’ve unfortunately and accidentally, driven by this. Several times. A friend of mine who volunteers at a cemetery saw a taxi parked on the grounds recently, so she approached it, and then noticed that it was bouncing up and down! Two people were on the back seat while the DRIVER sat patiently behind the steering wheel! (No doubt the meter was ticking away.)

The author, photographed by Frank Rausch
But getting away from the business at hand, let us return to the Eros versus Thanatos thrill of sex in a cemetery. Personally, I was too scared of being caught to be, shall we say, effective? A partner and I were actually arrested once in a similar situation, having to pay a fine only for trespassing – they dropped the indecent exposure charge as there were no witnesses other than the cop who caught (and was no doubt watching) us. So while I’m a bit more careful these days, others obviously find the inherent danger of sex in cemeteries to be very stimulating. Not only because of the chance of getting caught, I suppose, but also because of the very real possibility of being eaten by zombies.

Then of course, there is nude cemetery photography. It happens. On occasion, I’ve seen exhibits of such work, though you’d be hard-pressed to find any examples of it were you to actually search (try searching the Internet right now, unless you're at work, that is!). It’s a rather taboo subject, for all the reasons you can possibly imagine.We seem as obsessed with death as we are with sex, but less openly. We fear death, though it fascinates us. These inner drives, as Freud says, both coincide and conflict. I know a guy who works at a cemetery and he occasionally sees a clandestine shoot here and there. He politely asks the photographer and model to pack up and leave, as it may upset other visitors who may be at the cemetery for other reasons. In one instance, he chased a vehicle from spot to spot over the course of a day as a woman dressed only in a cape would throw it over herself, jump into the passenger side of the vehicle and the driver would speed off.

If I was attending a burial ceremony or visiting the grave of a loved one I would not want a photo shoot of any kind happening nearby. Maybe those cemeteries who have signs saying “No Photography” are really trying to stop nude photography. I know of one cemetery in northern New Jersey that has a “No Photography” policy simply because the unauthorized rock band photo shoots and the motion picture crews do damage to the grounds and the monuments.

So obviously, nude cemetery photography is titillating to some, but then what do you do with the photos afterwards? Like I said, you very seldom see any in public. I’ve never done this myself, but then who would want to see photos of me naked in a cemetery?

Psyche, wakened by Cupid, her lover's kiss
So the life force in us is as strong as the death force, and while the drives may not be equal in everyone, they are certainly present, and often intermingle. This was never so prevalent as it was in the Victorian era, when artists had seemingly free reign to sculpt nude or partially nude statues for use as cemetery monuments. I've written about this in the past (see The Art of Sensual Statues in Cemeteries), and while the sculptures aren't exactly arousing, sexually, they are indeed suggestive. Perhaps their intent was to get our minds off dismal death, and to think rather about life and its beauty, and the joys of reproduction.