I am trying not to blink or burst out laughing.
There are two of us sitting opposite each other in what is now a mostly empty carriage on a British commuter train on a warm day.
As always, I alternate between sticking my nose in a book and looking up every now and then to daydream and appreciate the scenery. The train is traveling down to the South Coast where I live, going through Kent — the garden of England — and West Sussex, all lush, green rolling hills.
The man sitting across from me is also enjoying the journey, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he has been flashing me since we left London.
Sir looks very comfortable indeed. His legs are crossed with one ankle resting on the opposite thigh, just above his knee, the supporting leg perpendicular to the floor. This position allows his nether regions to get as much air as possible and presumably avoid a case of what Brits fondly refer to as “betty swallocks.”
Those shorts are wider than they are long and the family jewels are spilling out, something that is quite impossible to ignore as they are at eye level. Much as I will spend the rest of the journey trying to avert my eyes, I cannot unsee what I have seen; this is why I still have perfect visual recall all those years later.
Because this is England and I am much younger, the stiff upper lip prevails and I do not trust myself to blurt out a heartfelt “Put it away, love.”
Alerting him to an underwear malfunction would be pointless as he has clearly elected not to wear any.
I am not in the least shocked though.
As a native European who was once briefly employed as an account executive in the adult entertainment industry, human body parts are just that. Unless they are attached to the man I adore, testicles and a penis are like elbows to me, and about as attractive.
Similarly, while I can appreciate the production values and the script of a porn film, the editorial and technical sides are all I focus on. Standing in the editing suite of one of my then employer’s production facilities in Amsterdam, I felt nothing at all.
Porn, to me, is just another medium; the sex industry is just another industry. This attitude isn’t uncommon among Europeans; this is why prostitution is legal in the Netherlands for example. We may be hung up about our bodies but we aren’t hung up about sex, as Allan Milne Lees notes with great wit.
I am reminded of this train incident when discussing sartorial comfort with my friends in the Netherlands. We are so comfortable with one another that we do away with any clothing that might constrain dangly body parts when we’re home.
No, we’re not naturists; the Dutch climate isn’t conducive to living naked, even indoors.
In my case, this means “freeing the boobies” and going braless under my shirt. Although I did away with scratchy underwired contraptions years ago and favor sports bras and bralettes, they’re not great. My male friends feel similarly about boxers and will do away with them the minute they get home before donning a pair of sweatpants.
Come to think of it, going commando is standard for me when I’m home because even the most diminutive of underwear bothers me.
Like the man on the train, I appreciate ventilation in my nether regions but unlike him, I’m not in the habit of flashing anyone.
Going outside braless is another matter altogether.
For some reason, it is still frowned upon so I don’t tend to do it unless I’m wearing a spaghetti strap top with a built-in shelf that keeps things in place. Alas, my mammary glands aren’t exactly of a size that enables them to roam free without being noticed; 36Cs in the wild are a sight to behold, no matter how firm.
Gravity, as men will confirm, does tend to make the presence of dangly body parts more noticeable and accident prone. Trying going for a run without wearing a boulder holder and you could end up with a black eye.
Then again, the freedom to go braless without having to worry about attracting the attention of lecherous males would be great. To some extent, we Northern Europeans already do this on beaches where many of us have no qualms about going topless. This isn’t always possible as it can be perceived as culturally insensitive by the host country so it depends on location.
We might be topless when sunbathing on our front but will put a bra back on when we turn around so as not to offend. I have no problem with this as the last thing I want to do when I’m abroad is to impose my culture upon those who are hosting me so mutual respect is paramount.
This isn’t just common sense but also a matter of street smarts and personal safety in certain circumstances.
If men can do away with underwear when wearing trousers or shorts then women should be free to enjoy the same privilege.
The only time women can is when there’s no risk of it getting noticed, which I have done on occasion during this summer’s brutal heatwave. Going to the corner store in Amsterdam to get ice creams while wearing a maxi dress with a built-in shelf and no panties was purely a matter of comfort.
And I was still way too hot; we all were.
But I won’t go braless to make a statement even though I wholeheartedly support women who do, and why shouldn’t they?
I understand human biology means arousal is sometimes irrepressible and, gentlemen, I take it at as a compliment, not as an insult so long as you do not draw my attention to the fact. Or provide a running commentary about how your boner came to be.
Any man turned on by a pair of braless boobs could do worse than think about elbows instead to get unwanted upward penile mobility under control.
Simple solutions to simple problems make life easier for everyone and free us from the tyranny of fashion constructs.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.