Tool: Prison Sex Meaning
Song Released: 1994
Prison Sex Lyrics
1TOP RATED#1 top rated interpretation:anonymous Nov 1st 2007 report
It is generally regarded that the song is about child abuse, specifically of a sexual nature, but the song's theme of the cycle of violence can be applied to almost any type of abuse. The abused grows up to become the abuser. The 'prison' in question is clearly metaphorical, as implied in the video when we see the small mannequin's legs hung on the wall, indicating that he is a child and unable to run away.
Considering the artist's well known disdain for religion, and the references in the song such as "I am your witness," "my lamb and martyr," and "only this one holy medium brings me peace of mind," I began to reconsider the song from a religious perspective. From this viewpoint, the lyric "I'm treading water" can be seen as a resistance to baptism and acceptance of religion in general.
The "sodomy" in question is also a metaphor, and refers to how people use their position of authority over young impressionable children to force their religious beliefs on them while they are still too immature to consider all factors and make up their mind for themselves. They, in turn, do the same to their own children - "do unto others, what has been done to me," a reference to Luke 6:31.
The real clincher for me is the verse "I've got my hands bound, my head down, my eyes closed." Try assuming the position; get down on your knees, hold your hands in front of you as if they're bound together, bow your head and close your eyes. Does this seem familiar? The next line, "and my throat wide open" is about the willingness of children to accept as 'gospel' whatever their parents teach them.
You look so precious:
2TOP RATED#2 top rated interpretation:anonymous Jun 4th 2007 report
I think the song is entitled prison sex, not to be taken as a literal meaning of having sex in prison, but just to signify that the song refers a lot to anal sex. Because the only sex you can get in prison is anal.
the song at it's whole, in my humble opinion, is about a man who was sexually abused by his father, and is now sexually abusing his son or "lamb" (lamb could signify some other important person in his life)
"It took so long to remember just what happened.
I was so young and vestal then"
-to me this is referring to when the man singing the song (maybe maynard, maybe a character he invented)about how he was suppressing a traumatic experience, but has now figured out what happened.
"you know it hurt me,
but I'm breathing so I guess I'm still alive
even if signs seem to tell me otherwise."
-this is a little more straight forward I believe. "it hurt me, but I guess I should just be thankful that I'm alive, even though I can hardly believe it myself"
"I've got my hands bound,
my head down, my eyes closed,
and my throat wide open. "
-this is how he was positioned during the abuse and also signifies how, now all grown up, he feels mentally trapped in this state.
"Do unto others what has been done to me,
Do unto others what has been done to you."
-His repressed anger from the experience is making him want to perpetuate the cycle. The only way he feels happy is by making others feel what has been done to him.
"I'm treading water,
I need to sleep a while."
-he's having a hard time accepting what has happened to him "treading water", and needs some time
"My lamb and martyr, you look so precious."
-i love this part of the song. I think this is him turning into the abuser that his father was. The person is a lamb and martyr because he's sacrificing this person for his own personal feelings. Lamb's get sacrificed, whereas martyr's sacrifice themselves. "you look so precious" is just him lusting after the person (maybe his son).
"Won't you come a bit closer,
close enough so I can smell you."
-i think this is obvious, still cool lyrics though
"I need you to feel this,
I can't stand to burn too long.
Release inside of me.
For one sweet moment I am whole. "
-in order to help him cope with what has happened to him, his only release is by actually doing the act to someone else. He needs to make them feel what he felt. When he cums into the person it's a release, and it makes him feel whole.
"Do unto you now what has been done to me,
Do unto you now what has been done. "
- I think he may just be talking about the feelings he gets while sodomizing someone are caused by the person he's raping. These feelings are similar to the feelings he experienced while being raped. So by raping someone else, he's actually raping himself emotionally. One of those pleasure from pain things.
"You're breathing so I guess you're still alive
even if signs seem to tell me otherwise."
-explained this before, except now instead of talking about him he's talking about his "lamb".
"Won't you come on a bit closer,
close enough so I can smell you."
"I need you to feel this.
I need this to make me whole.
Release inside of me"
-He's sunk into this state of mind now where he needs to rape in order to feel whole. He needs to get feel this release inside of him.
"For I am your witness and
blood and flesh can be trusted.(X2)
And only this one holy medium brings me peace of mind."
-Even though he's raping this person, I think, in his mind, he believes this person is martyring themselves for him. And that's why he's a witness to the martyr. Since he's a witness that implies he needs evidence of the martyrdom, and blood and flesh can be trusted. "And only this one holy medium brings me peace of mind." is obvious I think. This is the only thing that brings him happiness now. The medium is anal raping, and he loves it so much it seems holy to him.
"Got your hands bound, your head down,
your eyes closed.
You look so precious now."
-obvious, talking about the person he's raping now. It's been clear for a few lines now that the man in this song has gone completely insane. Needs to feel power over someone else by raping them in order to feel happy.
"I have found some kind of temporary sanity in this
shit, blood, and cum on my hands. "
-he's admitting he's insane, and the only way he feels normal again is by sodomizing someone.
"I've come round full circle.
My lamb and martyr, this will be over soon."
-He's become whoever did this to him. He's come full circle. He's comforting his victim by telling them it'll be over soon. (because he's crazy now and believes that the victim is a martyr and, that even though it pains the victim, the victim is willing to go through this pain for the singer to feel happy. Thus he is comforting him because he actually does feel a sick sort of caring for the person he is raping)
"You look so precious.(X6)"
-complimenting the person he is raping, cause he's insane now
This whole song tells this story about a man who sinks down and perpetuates this cycle of raping and sodomy. It's more about power than just sodomy. Sodomy is just the medium. It's about gaining complete control over someone, so complete that the person feels utterly helpless. How this utterly helpless victim grows up, and is now obsessed with doing the same thing to others. He was victimized and now, in order to gain back (in a small way) what was taken from him, he must now do this to other people.
whether the person being raped at the end of the song could be his, then, future son is up for debate. Personally I don't know. It's actually more of a minor detail in the whole song, and doesn't change the meaning of it really.
i'd like everyone to know that this is just my opinion, I don't claim to be 100% right on all this. But I really do think that this is where Maynard/Tool was trying to go with this song.
3TOP RATED#3 top rated interpretation:anonymous Mar 24th 2007 report
It absolutely is about child abuse. It refers to a man who rapes his own son, the son grows up with the same insatiable hunger for molestation. (It took so long to remember just what happened I was so young and vestal then...I'm breathing so I must be still alive even if signs seem to tell me otherwise... do unto others, what has been done to me...) So the abuse passes to a third generation (the son's son...the one he refers to as a "precious martyr"... "so come on, come closer, close enough so, I can smell you"). He struggles internally with the fact he wants to ass rape his own son ("I'm treading water, I need to sleep awhile"). Also, and the most blunt remark to prove my point, "I have found some kind of temporary sanity in this; shit blood and come on my hands." It's pretty obvious.
anonymous Sep 15th 2017 report
I think this son is about any kind of sexual abuse, not just that of a child. The words "my lamb and martyr" are referencing the person the abuser has power over, and the words "this will be over soon" are about the abuser trying to delude their victims about their situation being not as bad as it actually is or that there is no need to get out of this situation clearly. It is also definitely a case of the victim becoming the abuser since in the beginning of the song it sounds like the larger figure is talking about how he was abused when he was young and the words "I do onto you now what has been done to me" and "you'll do onto others what has been done to you" definitely imply the cycle of abuse transferring from one person to the next.
anonymous Aug 19th 2017 report
Everyone always assumes Maynard is singing about ass sex. This isn't high school for crying out loud. C'mon people. When looked at in the context of his mother, this song makes much more sense. Maynard's pissed about the debilitating stroke his mother suffered. "I was so young and vestal then... but I'm breathing so I guess I'm still alive. Even if signs seem to tell me other wise." His mother was young, pure and... BAM! The stroke didn't kill her, but he questions what kind of life it is when you're a spiritual invalid. Maynard then questions the Lamb and Martyr as to why his deeply religious mother "head down, hands bound, eyes closed and throat wide open" was afflicted like this. Head down symbolizing subservience, hands bound in prayer. Eyes closed blindly following. Throat wide open meaning she openly spoke the gospel.
"Do unto others what has been done to you..." Maynard now blames Jesus. Jesus suffered and died and, for reasons he can't understand, now inflicts his suffering onto Judith. He then openly questions his mother's faith with "you're breathing but I guess your still alive..." Maynard simply cannot believe his mother has remained devout after how she has suffered. "Shit, blood and cum on my hands", grotesque as the image is, is Maynard pointing a finger squarely at God and letting him know all his mother's suffering rests on his hands.
There's my two cents for what it's worth.
anonymous Mar 16th 2017 report
It's definitely about bringing awareness to all forms of sexual abuse and their cycle.
anonymous Feb 21st 2016 report
The song is definitely about having sex in prison. Most of you are listening way too hard. If you've ever been fucked in prison, this song meaning should not be a question to you. I know from experience. "You know it hurt me, but I'm breathing so I guess I'm still alive, even the signs seemed to tell me otherwise" (the person was raped) "I do unto others, what has been done to me. Do unto others, what has been done to you" (the person liked the prison sex, and starts a cycle of it) "release in sodomy, the one sweet moment I'm whole" It's an overwhelming feeling of completion to make love to another man. You feel as if half of your soul was missing and you found it within the sodomy. It feels like your floating into a euphoric orgasm over your entire body... THIS SONG IS NOT ABOUT CHILD ABUSE ITS ABOUT EXACTLY WHAT THE NAME SAYS...you internet philosophers should be executed for clogging the internet with your bullshit theories.
anonymous Jan 28th 2016 report
Wow. This one is as easy a song to interpret as any ever written. The molested becomes the molestor, at least in this case. Even as he waits for the inevitable he relishes the ability to have control over something weaker than himself. Thus the incarcerated bee he cherishes. Now wether this is something personal to Maynard or someone in the band I haven't a clue. Some have commented here that his dad abused him. I hope he isn't owning up to the other message in there. The predicated became the predictor.
anonymous Oct 30th 2011 report
To people who say this is completely literal, no. just no. learn what literature is. and no.
Anyway, i think it can be interpreted on many levels (just not a literal one) and this is mine. First is the song title, I think there is a huge emphasis on religion and i think prison has a dual meaning -- one being anal sex, as someone else said, and the other being a sort of mental prison, one that priests are in. This being said, i think this song mostly revolves around a priest raping an alter boy.
In the first verse:
its got the more literal stuff like 'so young and vestal' (vestal means pure or relating to virginity for those too lazy to google if you don't know) but i think the deeper meaning lies in the hands bound line. By saying "I've got my hands bound and my head down and my eyes closed, half-closed, wide open." I think up to the half closed wide open part it is supposed to signify the prayer position, and the significance in the trust one has with god at that point, and the 'half closed wide open' is the mistrust the character has -- in the realization of the surrounds, no longer trusting in god but looking to see if you really are safe.
I'm sure there is significance in treading water but i'm not all that up to date with religion nowadays, however, if you notice the change in perspective, its using the opposite character (kind of like foster the peoples 'pumped up kicks' if you get the reference) anyway, in saying my lamb its that this is the lamb herder, sheep herder, thus the priest-line is officially established. Saying that he is both HIS lamb AND martyr its saying that he is the priests follower (e.g. alter boy) and in taking the pain, followed by precious, you get the sense of bad jujumagumbo about to occur. Release in sodomy. While this line is about anal sex, i think the release is the release from this mental prison, where the priest is sexually repressed and otherwise oppressed, and the release and engaging in sin comes in raping this kid. Which is supported by the one sweet moment i am whole portion.*
now notice that its using the line from earlier, but again from the opposite character, its just going over how he is using his priestliness to seduce and rape this kid, especially in the "for i am your witness and blood and flesh can be trusted." both running off of trust and -- in the witness portion, describing how he is HIS witness and not gods witness. therefore describing the lack of god and the focus that this priest has with this kid (supported by the recurring precious line when referring to the child). in the only this one holy medium brings me peace of mind, its only in this release that the priest feels freed from his 'prison' (refer back to title).*
the little bridge:
when saying "got your hands bound, your head down, your eyes closed. you look so precious now." its got a lack of grammar clearly missing in the first verse (a subject). and while this is probably pushing the literary deeper meaning, I'd like to think it was intentional not to include that to show the whole brute-ness of it all, and lack of order, or religion. Even without this, possibly pushing it, meaning, its clear its talking about raping a kid and its using that precious line again.
* - SEE HERE
So the asterisk is referring to the perspective change i called up on earlier, what i think is pretty inception of this song is that in the lines "Thought I could break the circle if I Slipped right into your skin So sweet was your surrender We have become one I have become my terror" I think that the song is calling on a cyclical approach, in that the alter boy is now becoming what the priest was, a pedophile, and is raping another alterboy. In saying so sweet was your surrender and we have become one he is talking about his experience in raping the new alterboy, and i have become my terror is the rape he experienced as an alterboy. this brings up kind of a cyclical inception type view of who is really speaking from those different perspectives, as it could be the priest or the original alterboy. now, in saying And you, i think he is changing reference to the alterboy, which supports the cyclical theory. This would explain the i have found some kind of temporary sanity line, and i've come round full circle line, and the repeated precious lines, each precious line symbolic of another passed cycle. All referring to the idea of only being free through this act, and the repeating of this in prison sex.
so yep. thats my interpretation. long, but if anyone cares to read it there it is, let me know what you think, its just one interpretation, dont hate if you dont agree, hate the game. yep
anonymous Apr 26th 2011 report
I agree that the song is about sexual abuse. I don't think the "do unto others" and "do unto me now what has been done to you" means the victim becomes the abuser. I think it means that after the victim has these acts done to him the abuser forces him to perform the same acts on him. The "temporary sanity in this" could be shock or emotional disconnection. "I'm breathing so I guess I'm still alive" relates to this disconnection. A person identifying with their abuser is not as common as many of you make it sound.
anonymous Jan 27th 2011 report
A lot of Tool's lyrics remind me of Crowley,
ie; there is a first reading which is perfectly valid and teaches the reader about that interpretation but there are other readings which can be found, if read in another state of mind.
This song can be read very literally and becomes quite a damning comment on the nature of prison, throw the monsters in with monsters and it doesn't make them more gentle.
The child abuse interpretation also works, as psych-reports of child abusers will testify, but...
It could also be read as a general comment on the nature of state-sanctioned power, those who desire control over their peers crave it because they were bullied themselves during the developmental years.
If you think about the nature of the English language you realise you can create many "statements" with one sentence because it can be structured in a way that allows anyone a valid interpretation.
just my tuppence worth.
anonymous Apr 5th 2010 report
i heard a interview with maynard and he said at one point where the song has a meaning of victimizing yourself. like the line "Got your hands bound, your head down,
your eyes closed.
You look so precious now. "
thats just one of the many meanings of this song that ive heard.
anonymous Jan 13th 2010 report
i agree with the first interpretation, if you listen to opiate, put the two together, sounds like his religious step dad forced religion onto him and used that to force himself into his step son.
anonymous Oct 5th 2009 report
This is about all our cultural shortcomings and how we transmit them to our kids, just they were taught to su, without thinking. We dont think about food, we dont question our Drs and scientists, govenment decided what is taugh and what we think about 'outsiders' etc. Religion is a kind of violation of your childrens future right to make their own decisions. A frame of reference is imposed, by gentle force, while they are still young and trusting. We remain trapped in what we have been taught all our lives, in all matters even intimacy aka sex...
Yvonne S Bon
anonymous May 20th 2009 report
While questions remain as to whether or not rape/incest occurred, to me this is about religion and to address the lyrics -
"I have found some kind of temporary sanity in this shit blood and cum on my hands"
The shit blood and cum are the vices of organized religion, the "mess" it mentally projected..
The temporary sanity is the realization, him finally identifying the mess religion had made of his mind, soul, and life..
The next step would be resolving the situation.
anonymous Mar 12th 2009 report
Alright. This isn't an interpretation,this is a question and I hope one of you could help me out.
I think this song is about religion too but why would he say,"I have found some kind of temporary sanity in this shit, blood, and cum on my hands?"
anonymous Jan 23rd 2009 report
there's a youtube video from a Tool concert in Montreal, 11-29-1996 and this is what Maynard states..from the horses mouth:
'this song, seemed to cause a little controversy up here...this songs about recognizing, identify, the cycle of abuse within yourself. It's the first step of the process, realization, identifying. The next step is to work through it, but this song is about the first step in that process which is recognizing'
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