How I Learned To Approach Sex From An Imperfect Perspective
After a year of dating, my partner and I stopped connecting sexually. We had sex, but it felt fine. Just fine. I looked at my partner and saw the same I’ve always seen before: handsome, beautiful, sexy. Then why couldn’t we connect as we did before? I felt incredibly anxious. As someone who’s a control freak, and who’s a proud perfectionist, I was appalled that my sex life with my perfect(ly imperfect) partner was suddenly… just fine.
Slowly, I began blaming him. I looked at him and imagined that he probably fell out of love with me. Paranoid thoughts crawled into my brain, leaving me certain that his desire had completely dissipated. And that feeling nearly broke me. But instead of letting resentment harbor and fest within my heart, I told him everything I was experiencing.
The conversation wasn’t easy. We both cried, and grieved the loss of our sexual chemistry. He didn’t know why he felt disconnected. I didn’t know why I felt disconnected. But through talking, and opening up about that feeling we slowly began retracing all the circumstances that had gotten us there.
I had just lost a family member, one of my favorite people in the world, to a horrible illness. Due to that illness, I had spent the last 20 days in another country visiting my family and grieving. I was a wreck. Most days, I cried for hours straight. I could barely eat anything. I didn’t go to work. I didn’t feel motivated to do anything. All I wanted was to drink and cry.
As for my lover, he had gone on a long trip as well, for work. He had no days off, and toured in many different parts of China, barely sleeping. He had a busy schedule when he came back, and we had just moved into a new apartment and adopted a cat who suffered from chronic illness. Our lives were completely upside down. Once we traced back our steps, it wasn’t hard to understand just why sex wasn’t a priority.
But you see, I’m a very sexual person. For me, sex is a healing practice that helps me immensely through these disturbing time. I’m somebody who enjoys physical touch as almost a form of therapy. As for my partner, he’s different. He needs to communicate, he needs to recharge, and he needs to be in a calmer state of mind. I find it fascinating that people’s desire can be so unique to their own personality - and once we addressed all of that, we became much more open to adapt to each other's' style.
As we opened all those layers of revelations about our true selves, I realized a fundamental problem with my own understanding of Sex Positivity.
As a feminist, I’ve spent most of my adult life advocating passionately for sex positivity and consent. I thought that I had it all down: You have to say yes when you mean yes, you say no when you mean no, you set clear boundaries about likes and dislikes, and you communicate about STDIs. Prior to meeting my partner, I thought my sex life was perfectly adequate. For the most part, I had a pretty enjoyable experience and I felt confident showing people what I wanted and what I liked with no shyness or awkwardness.
I almost had to congratulate myself on just how woke and smart I was. Until I was faced with somebody who’s experience of sex and intimacy are completely different than mine in many ways. While for me communicating directly about my wants and needs is completely expected and natural; for him things need to be processed one by one at his own pace. In ways, my form of blunt consent can even be a source of stress when the person I’m communicating with doesn’t have the same tools as I do, or when that is simply not their style of navigating and exploring sexuality.
That’s when I questioned myself on my own shortcomings. I was equating sex positivity nearly exclusively with my own very personal experience of it, almost ignorant to the fact that there’s plenty of people who experience that same concept in wildly different ways. I knew asexuality is a part of sex positivity. I knew having a lot of enthusiastic sex was a part of sex positivity. I didn’t understand that there’s a vast grey area of human experiences that are also part of that exact experience.
Humans are complex, and we have been discussing and learning about ourselves since the world has existed. We’re constantly learning and relearning what it means to be responsible with ourselves and with those around is. Through realizing all of that, I realized that sex education and sex positivity are an ongoing practice of processing and rearranging needs.
Addressing sex is addressing mental health, physical health, spirituality and cultural practices.
To practice consent you must also take in consideration the person you’re speaking to. Does this type of communication suit them? Do they find it challenging to respond to direct questions? Do you both need to take it slow and figure things out as it goes - with mutual agreement?
The deeper I became intertwined with my partner, the clearer it all seems to me. Our sex lives contains separate experiences we both had had in our past, plus our own individual needs, and our mutual wants combined. Our sex life incorpasses our physical health, our daily routine, our emotions and our needs.
How can I expect from my partner to get clear answers about all his wants, needs, fantasies, when I myself am constantly learning something new about what pleases me? All I can do is to create a relationship which welcomes room for growth and failure, pleasure and frustration.
Although sex is a precious aspect in many people’s lives, there’s far too much pressure within our world to have the perfect sex life - and unfortunately, this pressure has spread to the sex positive community as well. I’ve stumbled upon activities in which there’s a list of sexual activities and couples fill it up with things they’d want to try and do. In my mind, sexual consent and connection was as easy as filling up said paper.
But although those resources are amazing, and can help ignite a lot of dialogue between partners, they aren’t a quick fix. While in pop culture, and looking on the surface, sex positivity seems like a solution to a problem, it’s truly more of an ongoing practice of self education and constant learning and unlearning about ourselves and the world around us.
Often credited as the one who coined this term, Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich stated that sex is actually a good and healthy thing. Civilizations across the world have produced countless work of art dedicated to honoring sex, and in many Ancient civilizations sex held a divine power - a connection to god. What is truly important to keep in mind, however, is that ultimately sex is an intimate experience which is unique to every individual.
Looking through screens, witnessing people boasting about their amazing sex lives, consuming porn that perpatuates unrealistic and problematic stereotypes, and joining the world’s quest of the perfect orgasm are all habits that can be quite damaging, if not, sex negative.
Touching ourselves and finding our most pleasurable spots is also just one side of that journey inwards towards self exploration. There are other layers to be peeled. For example, how much time do you dedicate to your body? Aside from maybe exercising and feeding your body with healthy foods, do you look at yourself in the mirror? And when you do, what do you see? And most importantly, what do you feel when you touch yourself with kindness and gentleness? Does that feel strange, or does it feel good? Or both?
When we begin to explore eroticism in sex, it’s often important to seek out eroticism in life. What are pleasurable sensations in your body? What feelings you seek out in your day to day that keep your heart pounding in excitement?
As we start asking ourselves these questions, we begin to notice how disconnected we often are from our own body, and our own experiences. We often don’t realize how much tension we’ve been carrying in our bodies, or how exhausted we truly are, or just how much we particularly enjoy the feeling of ice cold water running down our throat. What does the cold breeze against our face when we go for a bike ride has to do with sex?
It’s tough to demand from ourselves to have the most incredible sex life when we don’t allow ourselves to experience pleasure in our day to day. As we begin facing sex in a holistic way, understanding how pleasure plays a role in our lives.
I learned from my experience that communicating about sex doesn’t mean telling someone what I like done in bed, or how I want to be touched. I learned that listening to someone’s daily concerns is just as important. Understanding how somebody processes touch and intimacy is important. Encouraging my partner to seek their own pleasure, or respecting their privacy to process it on their own time is just as important. And being honest about what sex means to us, now that’s a conversation that is truly important.
So, if you have one or multiple partners, and you engage in sex activities - I encourage you to ask your partner what makes their heart beat. What are the most enjoyable moments they experience on their day to day? What creates in their soul that itching of wanting more?
Maybe that’s the beginning of a beautiful exploration of a sex positive relationship.
Art by Mikka Bea