The Sex Column #3: How to Be Good
The following question was posed to me: ‘I know all modern sex havers have to be GGG (good, giving, and game), but at what point [in a relationship] can one stop being GGG?’ The writer refers to a specific kink of their significant other’s that they just don’t feel like accommodating. Not because they find it offensive or degrading—simply because it doesn’t happen to turn them on. It doesn’t matter what the kink is, although in this case it is innocuous. I think, in general, one should accommodate a partner’s desires on occasion as a mark of generosity, which is what being GGG entails, above all. However, it has led me to consider broader philosophies of how to exist as both a sexual object and subject.
' ...in desire I make myself flesh in the presence of the Other in order to appropriate the Other’s flesh.'
— Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1943)
Sexuality is fundamentally an existential subject. Our anxieties, our temporality, and our concerns of the flesh tied up with being-in-the-world all come into play. Sartre was a well-known fucker—I don’t know what the contemporary term for ‘philanderer’ might be—but all in all, he wasn’t very sex positive. He thought that a sexual act was a constant sadomasochistic battle, between satiating one’s own desire as an object and satiating the other’s desire as subject. Looking at sex as an existential battleground is interesting, but ultimately, perhaps, unhealthy. Sex should embrace the conflict of ‘reciprocal incarnation’ that Sartre refers to. A person should simultaneously be capable of taking pleasure in being subjected and in subjecting the other. While hungover and watching the Netflix show Big Mouth the other day, I witnessed the animated ghost of Prince say, while licking the strings of his guitar, “Pleasure begets pleasure.” God, I love Big Mouth. You should watch it. And I also think the ghost of Prince, in this instance, is right.
For the essentially liberated and liberal, being giving and game comes naturally. But I would suggest that being good requires something other than spontaneity and a well-stocked toolbox of toys and skill. It requires a little more thought and a little less action.
To return to the writer’s concern: you don’t want to perform the task that your partner requests because you find it labour intensive and unsexy. Still, I would assume you do, generally, want to provide pleasure. Consider requesting that your partner vocalises their pleasure to you and encourages you to perform the tedious sexual roleplay, beforehand and during, by expressing their intent to satiate your desires too. After all, many sexual acts when reduced solely to their mechanics are fairly dull. It is only the response of the receiver that elevates the giver’s experience, which fully aligns with ‘being-in-the-world’, Heidegger’s existential concept of understanding ourselves through how our environment (in this case another human being) responds to us. It is seeing our essential, innermost selves become external through intent and action—I love you, and I want to bear witness to you being loved.
Communities dedicated to specific kinks make useful playgrounds because they give desire a vocabulary, and allow a person to identify a role and assert themselves within its boundaries. These communities also encourage good communication, clear expectation setting before sex, and more marked rules of consent than can be found elsewhere. Consider a relationship as a sub-community, and with this in mind make sure to establish your own desires, expectations, and rules. Develop a vocabulary that allows you to communicate easily and without shame. Especially discuss sex and desire in day-to-day life, not just in bed (or wherever you fuck one another.) You don’t necessarily have to consider yourself kinky—all desires, no matter how vanilla, deserve to be listened to and treated with thoughtfulness and respect. Do you secretly hold your breath, waiting for the moment that your partner takes hold of your hair in their hand? Why don’t you tell them, over breakfast?
I’ve heard people say that discussing sex seems to rob it of its power. I don’t really like that sort of magical thinking. Why would you hope, each time, that by some luck your partner has noticed through their own sex-drunk haze that you respond particularly well to a certain action, when you could tell them, just once, and know that they will remember? And why would you value instinct, hope that the planets are aligned and shift your body in a certain way, over and over again, when you could just open your mouth? You are already insisting yourself on a person in the most fundamental way, making yourself known in a world that refuses often to acknowledge your presence, attempting to become whole by disappearing into another person’s body. You can’t make it any weirder. Talking about sex also often leads to having sex—for this reason alone, it makes sense to talk about sex often.
You probably think that you are good at what you do. Consider sex in existential terms and you will become better — E.