Here, in the grey, puffy, flaky days of a cold Canadian February, it is hard to believe that somewhere else – L.A, naturally, and Miami – women are slick, toned and shaking un-chilly posteriors. But the Internet says it's true: In those cities (and less sun-soaked ones, like Minnesota and Colorado) it is now possible to partake of a new fitness trend described as a mash-up of "Miami Booty Dance, Brazilian Baile Funk, Hip-Hop, Crunk and African Tribal" called Buti (pronounced either "booty" or "beauty," not "butty," as in the French fry sandwich I once had in England).
While this bag of sweaty cultural appropriation hasn't yet come to Canada, it's possible to take Buti classes online or simply stare slack-jawed at a two-minute, 48-second YouTube video (82,000 hits) in which wild-haired women in micro-shorts shake and leap and thrust. And thrust again. So. Much. Thrusting.
Really, Buti looks pretty much like one-person sex. In fact, a lot of working out is overtly linked to sex lately, and my liberal go-girl instincts are giving way to profound irritation. Suddenly, exercise – which is supposed to be a feel-good act in and of itself – has become another site of female inadequacy.
Pole dancing and striptease workouts have been around for years. In Toronto, a studio called Flirty Girl Fitness offers classes with names like "Pole Tricks," "Rated R" and "Babes With Balls" (wait – that seems to refer to medicine balls). I understand how pole dancing could be a fun workout: It seems difficult and a little naughty, with some artistry required. But then again, Ryan Gosling is always right, and in Crazy, Stupid Love he said: "The war between the sexes is over and we won. We won the second women began doing pole dancing for exercise."
At least pole dancing for sport sounds playful, unlike a slew of finger-wagging articles putting pressure on women to use exercise to improve their sex lives. Woman's Day advises 10 Exercises for Better Sex, suggesting squats because "many women need a little physical help with arousal to get blood flowing to the genitalia." Online, Discovery Fit & Health offers another 10 tips, familiar exercises – push-ups and cardio work – ascribed a new motivation: "You'll have more endurance and be able to perform that other form of exercise – sex – for longer." Great – now I have to start thinking of every bicep curl as a sex thing, which adds a new layer of stress to my workout, and is slightly icky because of that weird guy staring from his perch on the StairMaster.
Certainly, the decline of the female libido is a favourite topic of talk shows and women's magazines. But the reality may be more complex. A 2006 article in the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine criticized the very term "female sexual dysfunction," citing a lack of agreement amongst scientists about its definition and manifestation. New York University professor Leonore Tiefer wrote that FSD is a "textbook case of disease-mongering by the pharmaceutical industry and by other agents of medicalization, such as health and science journalists, health-care professionals, public relations and advertising firms …" As pharmaceutical companies scramble to bring to market Viagra for women, drug stores and online sites sell women off-label oils, herbs and supplements that vow to "fix" the female sex drive. Over and over, the message that women receive about their sex lives is: Who you are and how you feel is not enough. And now we have to think about it at the gym, too.
That said, there's nothing untrue about the maxim that more-good-sex-is-good. It's a win-win if sexercise can help women feel less prudish about our bodies and find the connection between health and a vigorous sex life.
I know that, yet I find all this sexing up of my workout counterintuitive. Exercise provides silence, solitude and invisibility. To me, a good workout is an ugly one, as evidenced by the fact that I've been wearing the same pink "Muldoons Pasties, Munising, Michigan" T-shirt for years; the recent purchase of a tank top seemed like a radical, showy move.
Sexercise moves exercise into the realm of cosmetic surgery – an act that passes for self-improvement but smacks of self-loathing. Once regular exercise is rebranded this way, the goal is no longer physical fitness but sex appeal. Athleticism is erased. Who seems stronger and more empowered: Brandi from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills working the pole or Canadian heptathlete Jessica Zelinka sprinting the Olympic track? (The latter is also sexier; incredible discipline will do that.)
Over-associating exercise with sex shifts the end game of exercise from feeling good about oneself to pleasing someone else. Yes, women benefit from good sex, too, but female pleasure hardly seems the focus of that Buti video, which is surely watched as much by porn enthusiasts as gym bunnies. Get your rocks off as you like, I suppose, but anyone who is going to stick to a regular fitness program will do it because of a commitment to the self; an inward gaze, not an internalized one.