Pavlov Explains Lingerie

I once attended an underwear-themed all-female bridal shower (not bachelorette party; the bachelorette party was yet to come.) By “underwear themed,” I mean that everyone gave the bride-to-be lingerie, and then we all tittered and pretended to be scandalized as she opened the presents.

Clearly I was not drunk enough to enjoy watching a woman show off thong panties to her mother-in-law to-be and other elderly female relatives. (Technically, I wasn’t any drunk.)

I felt rather like an anthropologist who has trekked all the way to some isolated village deep in the bush, where the natives are happily waving chicken cloacas over the bride to-be, and the only explanation you can extract from anyone is that they’re celebrating the marriage, so you end up writing some bullshit about the villagers attempting to transfer the chicken’s fertility to the bride via sympathetic magic and the patriarchal commodification of women’s bodies into their genitalia, except that the lingerie is real and the bit with the cloacas I just made up.

I did one read an anthropology/folklore article arguing that the bullroarer (basically a stick on a string that you swing around to make a whooshing sound,) actually represented anal sex among Aborigines and other folks.

I consulted with my kids, and they claim that underwear is approximately the lamest present ever, (unless you don’t have any underwear, the eldest noted.) And yet, grown people seem to actually like giving and receiving underwear.

Why?

Think about it. When would you even wear any of this stuff? It’s not functional or practical. You wouldn’t wear it in everyday life, because it doesn’t really accomplish the basic point of underwear (covering your butt and keeping your clothes clean. It doesn’t look particularly comfortable. Clearly the point of lingerie is not function, but something to do with sex–but not to be crass, but I’ve generally found that people remove their underpants during sex, not put them on.

The answer is not that these people were just dumb (or sluts, at least not within the usual bounds of American society, although American society is obviously pretty slutty since it is considered socially acceptable to show off one’s thong underwear to one’s elderly relatives.) Everyone involved was probably of above-average intelligence, and quite a lot of work went into this party. It was truly a labor of love (and happiness) by the family and friends of the bride.

Nor can the answer be any typical anthropologist claptrap about sympathetic magic or inducting the bride into the ways of married life, because no one involved is naive enough to think that after living together for years, these two have never had sex. (Which indicates, btw, that we should be wary of such explanations in other cases.)

After a great deal of discussion with people not at the party, I’ve determined that lingerie seems to work like Pavlov’s bell. Your brain, sensibly enough, associates underwear with genitals (and it associates fancy lingerie with the genitals of sexy lingerie models,) and of course you associate genitals with sex.

So you see a tiny pair of underwear, and like a dog salivating after a ringing bell, your reptile brain starts yelling “Sex! Sex!” and so you buy the underwear, even though the underwear isn’t actually going to result in any change in your likelihood of having sex or not.

This is the principle by which a lot of advertising seems to work.

This explains why lingerie exists, but it still doesn’t explain the party. I suppose for now I shall have to remain confused.

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