On Trying New Things… And Re-Trying Old Ones

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Naked sushi
I was eating sushi the other day… yes, I promise, this is about sex.

I was eating sushi the other day, and it sparked a mini-revelation about trying new things — and about re-trying old things I think I don’t like. And it’s occurring to me that this mini-revelation could apply to lots of things other than food. Like — oh, say, just to pick one example completely at random — sex.

I’ve been trying of late to expand my horizons about food. I’m a mildly picky eater, and I really don’t want to be. There’s a huge world of food out there that millions of people take tremendous pleasure in, and I don’t want to be closed off to it. (You can start drawing parallels with sex anytime.) And if other people are enjoying some culinary delicacy, then… well, that’s certainly no guarantee that I’m going to like it. But it’s a pretty good guarantee that I’m not actually going to die from it.

So I’m trying to expand my horizons. Which means trying new things, obviously. But it also means re-trying things I’ve tried before, and decided I didn’t like.

And I had a mini-revelation about a specific strategy for doing that… a strategy that I think can be applied to sex as well.

So back to the sushi. I was eating sushi the other day; my dining companion wanted to order a sushi variety with salty plum paste (ume, I believe it’s called); and he asked me, “Is it okay if we order that? Do you like it?”

My immediate instinct was to say, “No.” I’d tried salty plum paste; I hadn’t liked it one bit. But then it occurred to me: I hadn’t actually tried the stuff in years. And my tastes have changed since the last time I’d tried it. More specifically, my tastes have broadened since the last time I’d tried it. I like stronger flavors, and stranger flavors, and a wider variety of flavors, than I did when I was younger. (Again…you can start drawing parallels with sex anytime.)

So instead of saying, “No, I don’t like that,” I said, “I don’t know if I like it or not. Let’s try it.”

I mean — what was the worst that could happen? I wouldn’t like it; my dining companion would eat all the salty plum paste sushi; I’d eat the other sushi. Big freaking deal. Little to be ventured; potentially a new pleasure to be gained.

None of this is the revelation, by the way. This is all just preface. The revelation is this:

On first taste, I didn’t like the salty plum paste. It was really strong, and somewhat bitter, and salty as hell (obviously), and just… weird. Like nothing I’d ever tasted before. Which my lizard hindbrain was interpreting as, “Bad, bad, bad!”

But instead of just choking it down and refusing any more (and glaring at my dining companion for foisting this vile stuff on me), I thought, “Let me just sit with this for a moment.”

My lizard hindbrain was telling me that this was new and weird, and therefore probably poisonous or rancid and I should spit it out immediately. But I knew that my lizard hindbrain was almost certainly wrong. The chances that this stuff was actually poisonous or rancid were minimal. My dining companion was munching away on it happily. Clearly, this was what the stuff was supposed to taste like.

So I just sat with it. Let myself experience it. Let myself engage with it, and explore it. Let my tongue get familiar with it. Let myself think, “This tastes kind of nasty” — without immediately following that up with a reaction of, “I must therefore immediately push it as far away from me as I possibly can, and never eat it again as long as I live.”

And I found, after sitting with it for a few moments, that I rather liked it.

I don’t think I’ll be running out and buying a jar of the stuff and spreading it on everything I eat. But I rather liked it. It had a sharpness that woke up my tastebuds, like fiery whiskey or hot pepper. Once I got past the strong, salty bitterness, it had a richness and complexity that was very satisfying. And once I got past the “This tastes weird and therefore might kill me” lizard hindbrain response, the strangeness itself became a pleasure: a way of waking up my tastebuds all on its own. I won’t be eating the stuff at every meal… but I’ll be happy now to include it in my repertoire of occasional pleasures.

And I’m really glad that I decided to just sit with the flavor, instead of letting my first visceral “Ew!” reaction be my final one.

And that’s the revelation. That’s the philosophy I think I’ll be applying to sex.

I’ve written before about trying things twice: about how first times with a new kind of sex often don’t work, and if we want to keep ourselves experimenting and open to new pleasures, we need to be willing to try them, not just once, but at least twice. I’ve written about how there’s often an awkwardness with new kinds of sex, a learning curve; how we often try new things when we’re younger and not as informed about sex or as skilled at communicating about it; how our high expectations of sex can make any disappointment with it feel devastating and not worth risking again; how our shame and negativity about sex can lead us to reject experiments as failures far too quickly. And I’ve written about how important it is to get past these reactions — or to just be willing to sit with them and let them be without immediately basing final decisions on them — if we want to keep our sex lives from falling into a rut.

But I think this mini-revelation adds a new dimension to this idea. If my initial reaction to a new kind of sex is, “Hm, no, I don’t think I like this” — but it’s not actively excruciating or nauseating or traumatic, it just seems at first to be not exactly my thing — then maybe I need to sit with it for a few moments, before making up my mind. Maybe the “This isn’t my thing” reaction is just a reflexive rejection of the newness itself; just my lizard hindbrain, reacting with fear to the unfamiliar. Maybe I need to let myself engage with the new experience, explore it, let my tongue get familiar with it… without immediately pushing it away, and deciding that I never want to try that again.


(P.S. to regular readers: No, I’m not going to apply this philosophy to broccoli. That stuff is pure fermented essence of evil. Don’t even ask.)

On Trying New Things… And Re-Trying Old Ones
The Bolingbrook Babbler:  The unbelievable truth is now at freethoughtblogs.com/babbler

12 thoughts on “On Trying New Things… And Re-Trying Old Ones

  1. 2

    I’ve heard that some people have an inbuilt genetic aversion to broccoli. I must look that up some time and check whether it’s real or an urban legend. I rather like it, myself.

  2. 3

    Actually.. A bit of an experiment was run a while back, in which people dining where given things they didn’t order, but the experimenter *knew* from prior questionnaires they didn’t like, and then an attempt was made to trick them into thinking they had in fact actually ordered the item themselves. When successful, there was a near 100% success rate of then deciding they liked the item, even if it was something they couldn’t stand previously. The perception that they had, themselves, made the choice to order it again distorted their responses enough that the outcome differed from what would have happened even 24 hours earlier, when it was delivered to them while they *knew* they hadn’t wanted it.
    Take what that may mean to the situation as you will. 😉

  3. 4

    I have taught myself to like lots of foods, mostly vegetables, one at a time. I take a small amount of the food and cook it with the rest of something I do like. Once I am used to the flavor, I add more. If it’s something that can be eaten raw, I then start with small amounts raw in something I like, and increase the amounts once I am used to the strange new flavor. I feel like learning to like new foods is really learning how to experience the flavor and texture and how to use it in your own cooking. I am so grateful that now I can enjoy hot peppers, green bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, avocados, and pretty much everything but eggplant is tolerable. Learning to appreciate the flavors of nutritious foods has also helped me appreciate the good things certain foods do for my body. I also have foods that I used to eat in abundance (Pringles, soda, fake cheese, Yellow #6, etc.) that I would never eat again unless it is just to taste it and remind myself that their flavors do not make it worth consuming the empty calories, extreme amounts of sugar, and chemicals that do not exist in nature. I really like the idea of comparing this to sex. I used to only have straight sex, lots of it, convinced that it was the best sex in the world. When I stopped being attracted to men and realized that I wanted to sleep with women, I started with what I knew from sex with men and myself and slowly incorporated acts that I’d never tried but was then in a position to explore. I have had sex with men a few times as a lesbian, and just like with the food I used to enjoy, I’ve learned that what I liked about straight sex does not make up for what I don’t like, or what is not healthy, and it makes me celebrate my bravery in exploring new flavors instead of sticking with what I had always done, out of habit, without questioning whether it was the healthiest thing for me do be eating/doing. After being willing try foods/sex that I had been convinced in the past weren’t for me, those past tastes are undesirable by comparison. Maybe someday I’ll even be able to eat out an eggplant.

  4. 5

    I’m like that with music… I don’t know what my ‘taste’ is really, I just usually like whatever is familiar to me. As soon as I’ve heard a song a few times, I start to like it more.

  5. 6

    I am senior at a Christian University. I have an assignment where I have to email with a non-believer about God. I was wondering if you would be willing to do that with me just for about 3 or 4 times. If not and you are busy that is totally fine but I am interested in what you would have to say. Please just let me know. Oh and I tried to email you but it wouldn’t let me so this is what I am doing. Thank you!

  6. 7

    Careful now! If this kind of thinking becomes the norm, we might end up with a world full of open-minded, non-prejudiced people who are happier, more satisfied, and open to new experiences as well…

  7. 8

    Jennifer, I’m sorry, but between my writing and my day job, I really don’t have time for a private email correspondence. However, if you want to comment on one my of my blog posts, I or other commenters might be willing to engage with you. Thanks for asking, and best of luck.

  8. 9

    I think the “Green Eggs and Ham” illustration is perfect for your post. I couldn’t stand that book until I learned to read it with a salacious tone, emphasizing parts like “Say … in the dark, here in the dark, would you, could you in the dark? (and then a frigid sounding, “I would not, could not, in the dark!”) And then, “Would you, could you, with a goat?” etc. Fortunately, perhaps, I didn’t come up with this re-interpretation until my kids were grown …

  9. Ian

    Hi Jennifer,
    If you’re still looking for help with your assignment I’d be willing to have a short dialogue with you through e-mail. I’m an atheist and a recent university graduate living in Canada. You can reach me at ian-m (at) live (dot) com

  10. 11

    Dear Greta,
    Appetite is directly tied to olfactory sense. You can train your brain to take in more smells without adverse reaction, and you can train your sense of taste at the same time.
    Start with spices and move to fruits and vegetables. The move to condiments. Smell several different things each day, inhale, imagine color and taste, imagine food combinations.
    Once your senses have been broadened, your tastebuds will be prepared for new flavors and you will be able to short out complex flavors more adeptly than just “good” or “gross.”

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