The Sex Column #4: Unfuckedness
A person writes, “I’d be curious to see you discuss sex lives that can feel non-existent … how to feel comfortable with your sexuality when you’ve not been intimate with someone for well over a few years.”
This month’s column is named after a poem by my friend Amy Key, Lousy with unfuckedness, I dream, which was published in the latest issue of Poetry magazine. The entirety of the poem can, and should, be read here.
The reasons for celibacy are significant. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conversation currently taking place around sex and abuse. Perhaps you are questioning your own desires. Perhaps you are recovering from trauma. Perhaps you haven’t met anyone that you felt a connection with for so long that you have stopped hoping for it. In these cases, understanding one’s sexuality is fraught with complication.
Remember times you have experienced sexual pleasure and replay those times faithfully, without retrospective doubt—if possible, without the complication of your present fears. Those moments of intimacy cannot be taken away from you. Remember how it felt to touch and be touched. While masturbating, yes, but also at other times, so that you are not confining your sexuality to a particular place (your bed.) Remember sex, but also remember not sex. Remember a time when you were pressed against someone on the top deck of a bus at the height of summer. Remember kissing in bar bathrooms. Remember eye contact. Remember insinuation and consummation—remember the walk towards a room, silent because your mouth was already too full with the prospect of another body. And remember that the other person’s mouth was full with the prospect of you.
How to feel comfortable with one’s sexuality when without sexual intimacy? There’s no right answer, although the writer also mentions being ‘too scared’ to seek out a sexual partner, which clearly demands interrogation. I can only say that the first sexual encounter you have after a prolonged dry spell needn’t be more meaningful, or profound, than any other. Perhaps there is an idea that the right partner will arrive and awaken feelings of longing so desperate that you overcome your fears through desire, etc. I hope that happens. But equally, if you end up getting drunk at a party, humping in the bedroom and having to swat away a vibrator that’s emerged from underneath a pillow, turned itself on and lodged itself in the crook of your neck—then, whatever.
I will talk briefly about my own experience of celibacy. In 2012, I had quite a traumatic abortion and subsequently had a contraceptive implant fitted, to which I reacted badly. I had a period that started and wouldn’t stop. I bled continuously for half a year. I felt sluggish. Physically, and psychologically, I became alienated from my own body. A combination of events conspired, turning me against myself. I had never, ever, felt so sexless.
I was celibate for eighteen months. I struggled to make sense of myself while this was happening. I drifted away from my own flesh. I was a ghost.
Previously, I had been making money as an artist's model. I was used to being nude, and being seen, on a day-to-day basis, in addition to my sexual relationships. Now, not only was nobody touching me, but I felt unseen. I wanted my body parts named, wanted them spoken back to me like a spell again. It is this unseen-ness that can be the most difficult part of not being sexually active. The letter writer mentions being ‘extremely comfortable’ with masturbation. But masturbation and sex are not interchangeable. Sex (as I have discussed in prior columns) involves the process of affirming one’s partner, and of being affirmed. It involves being witnessed and being useful; surrendering, problem-solving—negotiating complex human needs above and beyond the sating of lust. It is important to find this affirmation again, to seek it out. And the world deserves to see you, too.
Ghostliness is its own comfort. I became protective over myself, over my body, in a new way. I began to be miserly with my body, with my affection. I recoiled from other people. I was my own chaperone, interjecting to make sure that people knew that I was untouchable and then, later, despairing at not being touched. Of course, I didn’t know I was doing it. Perhaps you are doing this too. When the time is right, you will stop.
Date. If you can—if you have the energy, the time, the inclination. You should have someone, ideally multiple people, with whom you can exchange compliments and express desires. Practically, begin to treat yourself like a sexual being. This could involve getting your hair cut, painting your toenails, wearing different clothes, making more eye contact, using the tongue emoji four hundred times a day, etc. Consider your own body. You don’t have to send nude photos, but I do strongly suggest that you at least take some. And then send them to a friend. Or a stranger who you met on a dating app, who you can block from your phone at a moment’s notice. It feels so good to be seen—although, I suppose, an exhibitionist would say that.
These steps may feel difficult and alien at times, and you may feel embarrassed and self-conscious, but you will also hopefully feel excited and full of possibility and blood and verve and spunk. Do you want to be desired? Then you must ask for what you want. Demand more attention from the world. If you are afraid to demand, then ask politely. Ask in a small voice. Suggest that you exist.
Photograph by Eli Goldstone