Sex is, above all, entertainment. Yes, it perpetuates a species. Yes, it can be an expression of affection and intimacy, an addiction, a tool, and a weapon. But the bottom line is, after all the fireworks, in a healthy sexual relationship, you’re supposed to feel really, really, ridiculously good.
For reasons I cannot explain, I have discussed sex lately with an amazing variety of people, in entirely unrelated circumstances and from every perspective I could have imagined. I have no professional training in psychology, or sex therapy, but I have no issues discussing sex and, for reasons I’ve stated below, I’m fairly knowledgeable about it, so people tend to feel comfortable talking to me about it. The one thing that stood out – and yes, I am keenly aware of the comedy in that phrase – was that people STILL just don’t know how to talk about it to one another. One would think that such a simple problem is easily solved, but with everyone boiling in their own tea kettle, it’s a problem that seems to require an interpreter in nearly every case. As I listened intently in every conversation, I began to see patterns.*
I had concluded that there was broad scale on which opinions and emotions fell, but in discussing this with another friend, we agreed that it is much more than a simple scale. It is more of a two dimensional grid. It operates almost exactly like the spectrum of political opinion, and I find it entirely plausible that there is a correlation between the two, but that is fodder for another post.
During the conversations, I secretly catalogued how many comments were moral opinion, how many were body image insecurities, and how many were related to a sense of adventure. Most, it seemed, could easily define their moral limits, but few could separate sex from love, which is where we humans begin to define betrayal. Even in those couples for whom morality is not an issue, body image still keeps many from simply enjoying the pleasure of sex. But the most complex is the scale on which taboo falls. It’s so akin to food, that the analogy is almost too obvious to use in this piece.
In all of these discussions, the people who had what they professed to be healthy sexual relationships also had no trouble talking to each other. If you are too embarrassed to say to your partner, “that feels good,” then it is entirely your fault if you are not getting what you need. If you are saying it, and he/she is not hearing it, then it is entirely your partner’s fault. Most people cannot read minds. Granted, smart partners will listen, pay attention and learn. Over time, there should be a natural improvement for both people. But if you and your partner don’t fall at least close to each other on the “grid,” then there is little hope you will both end up satisfied. I’ve seen marriages fail over this enormous impediment.
Those that believe that sex should be limited to the marriage bed fall into the “moral” area, but that does not necessarily mean that their sexual relationship is staid. The opposite end of the spectrum, which I have distinguished as “amoral,” NOT “immoral,” are people who do not ascribe a traditional “marriage bed” morality to sex but who may have no sense of adventure, sexually. They’re perfectly okay with boring, mechanical sex.
However, no matter where on those two scales an individual falls, his or her image of him or herself is the underlying issue. In some men, there a battle between a powerful animal desire for sex and a profound sense of guilt for feeling that way. Occasionally, I meet a man who is obviously and painfully insecure, and it handicaps him in every relationship attempt he makes. In any conversation with a woman, there will be at minimum one “body image” comment. It is hardly news that we see ourselves so much differently than the world sees us. But men, especially young men, can’t seem to understand how that one thing affects our perception of ourselves as sexually attractive. I didn’t truly understand it until I began training as a professional photographer. I’m sure, as you’re reading this, you’re wondering what one has to do with the other. I’ll explain. As a photographer, I am looking closely at you. I am listening to you, as you go on and on about the thing you want me to Photoshop out of the image. It doesn’t matter that that “thing” is hardly noticeable to me. In fact, I didn’t notice “it” until you brought it to my attention. But to you, it is the thing that you think about every time someone is looking at you. I have a “thing,” too. It’s a three inch scar in the middle of my right cheek. I get it.
Over time, I realized I started to see people differently. I didn’t force myself to do it. It simply evolved. I started to see eyes, skin, hair, smiles as the “pieces” that appeal to others. Most importantly, because I was photographing women in a varying degrees of undress, I started to see women as men do, and at the same time, I began to understand how we women sabotage our own sexuality by worrying about things that men just don’t see. I had always been intellectually aware of it, simply because I’d had conversations about it with men. But I really began to feel the difference each time I looked at a woman and focused on what made her beautiful.
My sexual education was never an “issue.” My mother was an OBGYN nurse and as far back as I can remember, I have known the mechanics of sex and reproduction. I have always understood that it is a biological imperative and is entirely separate from intimacy and affection. For that reason, I’ve never been shocked by the behavior men exhibit when they are even mildly attracted to a woman. Now in my fifties, and in exceptional shape, I can easily abandon the things that drove me insane as a young woman.
For a couple to actually build a lasting relationship, they have to agree on and live an honest sexual compatibility. It doesn’t matter where they fall on the “orientation” scale, either. This applies to hetero and homosexual relationships. There will never be a time when each point on the scale is the same for both partners in a relationship, but it absolutely has to be close. Gentlemen, remember that we ladies worry about things you actually don’t see. I know, I’ve asked, because I have zero problems discussing sex, in detail. Ladies, do yourselves a favor and stop worrying about things your partner won’t notice. Let yourself enjoy sex as the entertainment it is.
Lastly (and most importantly) do a little research. Female sex organs are incredibly complex and have lots of little bits that make us go “ooooooo” and “ahhhhhh.” It’s true. The clitoris alone has 8,000 nerves-endings. The penis, despite what men say, is not a battering ram. It has secrets, too. In the world of the interwebs, information on how to properly handle the equipment is readily available. In fact, there is a wealth of information on how to make it more fun, too. Ask your partner questions as you would a friend, because essentially, that is what he or she is. If you plan to spend the rest of your lives having sex together, you’d better know what you need from one another. If you still can’t seem to enjoy it, then please, seek professional help. The world is full of awful things, let this be a part of your life that brings you joy.
*If I get enough response to this post, I’ll elaborate on the conversations. But I felt it would have made this piece too long.