Thursday, September 8, 2011


I heard my new roommate (I have a new roommate, by the way) masturbating today. She had a vibrator going and was making surprisingly loud grunts and gasps by masturbation standards. I don't think she meant for me to hear; she just has a not-very-soundproof door and probably didn't even know I was home.

What I felt, hearing this, was absolute neutrality. It was just "Oh hey, masturbation. Fancy that." I wasn't aroused, nor awkward, nor grossed out. It was like noticing that she was brushing her teeth. Look, it's a thing people do, and there's a person, doing it!

I only noticed my lack of reaction because that's a relatively new thing for me. It used to be that other people's sexuality always provoked something in me, whether it was jealousy or lust or head-under-the-pillow "oh god tell me when it's over" avoidance. The further back I go in my memory, the worse it was; when I was past puberty but not yet having sex, it was agonizing sometimes, even when it wasn't actual sex, even when it was just seeing someone wearing a little less clothes than normal. Sometimes that agony was horror and sometimes it was fascination, sometimes it was uncontrollable giggling; but it was always a reaction. It was always emotionally heightening and attention-monopolizing.

I've seen a lot of naked people since then.

And each time, it's dulled my response a little. Each time I'm in a room (or a bed) with people fucking, it's gotten a little less "OH MY GOD SEX" and a little more "oh. sex." Each time I've had a conversation with a buck naked attractive person, it's gotten a little easier to maintain eye contact. The fact that they're attractive registers with me, and it still makes me happy, but it's a level-headed and low-key happiness, the kind of happy you might get from a pleasant cup of tea. The enjoyment is still there, but the excitement is gone.

I think that's a good thing. And I think that it's a good thing even though I've lost something in the process--I've lost a lot of the frisson of sex, the pounding pulse of anticipation, the electric intensity of even the suggestion of sexuality. But what I've gained in exchange is much more important--I've gained the ability to think rationally about sex. Not losing my shit over the mere idea of fucking has made me much better at negotiating sex, at thinking lucidly about sex, at accepting other people's sex lives even when they're not my cup of tea, and... well, at not losing my shit.

I don't think our problem as a society is being oversexed or undersexed, exactly. I think our problem is valuing the frisson over the ability to keep ahold of our shit. We value passion over companionate love, and wonder why relationships always seem to go cold. We value spontaneity over clarity, and wonder why our sexual communication and safety suck. We value innuendo over education, and wonder why kids grow up with completely fucked-all-to-hell ideas of what their sex life as an adult is going to be like. We make sex into a Big Hairy Deal, into practically all the good and bad in the world, and then wonder why it causes Big Hairy Problems.

By a nudity taboo, by a language taboo, by slut shame, and by terrible education, we've created a world where sex keeps its dark, intense mystery--and good fucking luck coherently negotiating what kind of dark, intense mystery you want to experience.

The feeling of still being hyperaroused by sex is delicious (or was), and it's a genuine sacrifice you make when you start thinking and talking lucidly about sex. But I can tell you this: when you're used to seeing naked people and don't make a big deal about it... you get to see a lot more naked people.


  1. OMG... you are such a good writer, your words keep my imagination dancing Tango effortlessly, mind you, my imagination is a naturally horrible dancer. soo Kudos. Yes, i think you are right about the fact that the US has a very warped view on Sex and they keep a mystery shrouded around the very topic of sex. It leads to a lack of proper judgment and as you said, it makes people lose their "shit".

  2. When I first started reading this, I thought 'why would anyone want to be desensitized about sex?' But your are dead on about how fucked up it can get and about people's expectations. It is such a delicious part of life that I still love lust and sex. I don't ever want to lose that but you make very good points. well said.

  3. Since we no longer need to worry about having enough children to support a retirement, our emotional valuation of sex has gone through the roof.

    Frequent exposure should lead to more rational and mature approaches to sex that come from a place of experience and it will. For we're still too close to that dark era for it to be fully expunged from our consciousness.

    The problem arises not from people treating sex like a big hairy deal, but from failing to follow through on what that means. Essentially, the Monty Python "Nudge, Nudge, Wink Wink" [] approach to sexuality. In which much is implied, but little delivered or it's prom night every night.

    For a positive example of sexual education in media, see 'Malcolm in the Middle' the "Long Drive" episode.

  4. Over the past decade or so I've managed to transcend my conventional, slut-shaming, gender-policing, monogamy-by-default upbringing and become pretty open minded. I'm okay with lots of things now that I wouldn't have been before. But play parties and group sex have been kind of a sticking point for me. Why? Because if I'm in a roomful of naked people, my nakedness won't be "valuable" or special anymore. It'd just be "Oh look, another set of tits. Huh."

    I think this post just got rid of the my last vestiges of orgy squick.

    Yeah, I like feeling as though my nakedness is some kind of special novelty to my partner. But I hate feeling like I can't walk around outside in certain outfits without random guys being all "OMFG BOOBS! BOOBS, EVERYONE! LOOK, BOOBS!" And those two reactions to nudity are just different points on the same continuum. They're both the result of conflating nudity with sex and sex with mystery.

    So fuck yeah, let's de-special-ify sex and nakedness. The pros far outweigh the cons.

  5. "Sometimes that agony was horror and sometimes it was fascination, sometimes it was uncontrollable giggling; but it was always a reaction. It was always emotionally heightening and attention-monopolizing."

    This explains so much to me, thank you!

    I've always had a very low key response to sex (it's not that interesting unless I'm the one doing it), so until now I never really understood that what you describe was an uncontrollable reaction. I tended to assume people were attention seeking.

    This description makes some of my acquaintances' behaviour a lot more understandable.

  6. What I love is that even if you're like "oh, boobs, eh, whatever" about naked, seeing the person you totally wanna bone naked is still the awesomest shit of all the awesomeness. :)

  7. The bottom part of this post should be a PSA on TV, read by the president.

  8. Yeah, related to what Ozy said -- while I'm now capable of being chill about sex and other people's bodies, I *still* get the magical frission with a new partner I'm really attracted to. And it still does all the things it usually does, up to and including make me make some really questionable time management choices (homework? OR BONERS!) I still have to change my panties like five times a day and if that person so much as breathes in my direction I will end up halfway to panting with lust.

    And then that fades, by a similar desensitization process -- and you start moving in to the kind of wonderful trusting boundary-pushing sex you can get to with a partner you know and trust intimately.

    I have both at the moment, and it's a really interesting situation/comparison to be in.

  9. Candice - Emotional hyperarousal as a response to sex is a real thing for some people. However, it can also be a social thing, an expectation to make a big deal about sex whether you feel it or not. So it's hard to say if everyone who turns into a hooting monkey at the mention of tee-hee-you-know is being sincere or not. It's kind of a gray area.

  10. I do have a companionate-love relationship, but I have never (or very, very rarely, or maybe to a much smaller degree than the general population, as far as I can tell) felt this frisson for anyone. Hearing about other people's sex lives just confused me and made me feel left out for the longest time. Now it's more like a vague squick, and then eh, whatever -- in fact I kind of feel the same way about my own most of the time. However, I absolutely have the "tee-hee gigglefest" reaction in sex discussions 1) as a form of social bonding and 2) to prevent myself from feeling like such a freak all the time. As a result I'm pretty sure my friends (those who don't know the reality) think I have an above-average sex drive. Or am just really immature, who knows.

  11. Oh, I know it can be a social thing since I definitely felt that pressure when I was a teenager.

    I just never considered that it could be sincere at all, since it never was for me.

    But I can also imagine that the genuine feeling & social pressure would create a sort of feedback loop in the right circumstances.

  12. Another thing people rarely mention is that that kind of hypersensitivity can be unpleasant. Beethoven played at a hundred decibels stops being a symphony and just turns into OW NOISE.

    Because my first exposure to sex was so nonconsensual and sucktastic, when I finally DID experience attraction and sexuality in a nice way, I couldn't handle it. The pleasure was so intense that it came out the other side to OW NOISE. So yeah, sure, my nervous system lit up like a Christmas tree every time I got kissed... but sex would be completely overwhelming and painful because I couldn't handle the overload. For the first six months or so, I went through all kinds of contortions to try and dampen the sensation to a point where it was actually bearable.

    These days, things have calmed down a lot. Sure, I don't go to pieces as easily... but it also means I can have sex the way I want to, instead of swathed in bubble wrap. I might be "desensitized," but I feel a lot freer. And though that kind of sensitivity was educational and fun in its own way, I'm glad it wore off.


  13. I think the whole as you say "OMG nekked people!" thing should tone down a bit, and this is a good thing.

    But losing the thrill altogether is IMO a bad thing, this leads to seeking more and more thrills and ends up with hanging yourself in a closet somewhere... (auto-asphyxiation, for those missing my reference here).

    I'm in my forties and still get at least a little excited, and that's good, but it's different for different people.

  14. wrm: I think there's a certain personality type that seeks bigger and bigger thrills, but not everyone is like that. And I suspect the thrill-seekers have huuuuge expectations of sex (even more so than the rest of us) and are disappointed, hence the need to constantly search for better and more exciting things.

    If we as a society treated sex as a fun activity instead of an exotic mystery, that would help people like that. They wouldn't set the bar so high in the first place.

  15. wrm: I'm pretty sure most of the people who are into choking aren't into it out of a desperate search for thrills. I mean, I think vanilla missionary-position heterosexual sex is Teh Awesomes; I just happen to also think having someone's hands wrapped around my throat is Teh Awesomes.

    Auto-asphyxiation is a bad idea, guys, don't do it.

  16. This makes a lot of sense of the US double-standard in relation to sex, e.g., "NO! IT'S BAD! IT WILL LEAD TO BAD THINGS! (unless you are straight-married and want to have a baby) vs. OMG...tits! And the naked = sexual thing is very North many other cultures (like my sauna-loving Scandinavian one), nudity is not directly tied to sexual expression or sexuality, in that everyone has a body and it's not that remarkable. Also, North American culture does not distinguish between "sensual" and "sexual", probably due to Puritanical/historical reasons, but it makes nuance difficult.

    And amen to the fact that even if you're totally cool with other people's sex lives and displays of such and random nakedness and all kinds of partnering arrangements and kinks, it is sooo cool that THE person you're hot for revs up the frisson and gets the giddyness going out of sheer anticipation.

    Which is why I'm not that interested in judging or policing or analyzing anyone else's sex life...I'm far too deeply interested and wrapped up in my own ;) It's a positive form of self-interest!

  17. I'm now 40 years (!?!) past hitting puberty and I guess I have finally got over the "gee whiz" stage these past few years. You're right, it doesn't take away from the good stuff to desensitise.

    (I've been reading your blog in most free moments since finding it through a Facebook link a few weeks ago and think it's time to tell you that I find your posts inspiring, empowering, often hilarious, and inevitably thought-provoking, as attested to by your regular commenters. Blog on, please!)

  18. Been lurking for awhile and am a huge fan of your writing this post was amazing and I'm sending it to several friends as soon as I finish commenting.

    What I think a lot of people do not realize about sex, is that sex that has a lot of thinking built into it can be worlds better than the looking at a stranger bodies light up walk into a dark room. Because that frisson is amazing but it will not lead to great sex if the people in the dark mysterious room cannot open their freaking mouths and speak about what they want. Or even know what they want.

    Innuendo over education is perfectly put and drives me nuts. Thinking analytically about sex means you can give yourself the distance to actually ponder about what you want to do and try with a partner and that imo leads to experiences that beat the pants off of any frisson.

  19. I know that the "OMG BOOBIES AND OTHER BODY PARTS I HAVE TO FREAK OUT!" reaction is related to slut shaming and other messed up attitudes about sex and bodies, but I wonder if it's connected at all to the way that people often freak out when they see something different from what they're used to. When I was younger I liked to experiment with how I looked/dressed, but I hated dealing with people's reactions to how different I looked. I'm a lot less experimental with stuff like that now, and I think it's at least partly because I'm tired of not knowing what to say whenever someone offers an unsolicited opinion on how weird I look. Sometimes people just need to experiment with things, like sexuality and how they dress and also probably other things like cooking and decorating their living space and what they study in school and where they work and a bunch of other stuff, and it can be really hard to do that when the people around you make you feel like you're a big weirdo for trying.

  20. Great post. Being hypersensitive about sex leads to many bad decisions, like getting back together with exes as "friends with benefits" (guess how long that's long to last), and otherwise getting way too emotionally involved with people just for the sake of sex. :x