Saturday, March 12, 2005

Lust Be a Lady

The latest profanity-ridden column by sex columnist Rachel Kramer Bussel, the Village Voice's "Lusty Lady," is an attempt to debunk what the author calls "Casual Sex Myths." [Note that the article is NOT work-safe and includes explicit sexual language with liberal use of the f-word—not for kids' eyes.]

What I find interesting is that Bussel feels that casual sex is under attack. She opens by stating, "Casual sex gets a bad rap, even in these supposedly liberated times. While books like The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005), Brief Encounters: The Women's Guide to Casual Sex (Vision, 2005), and My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands (Bloomsbury, 2005) abound, several myths about casual sex still need to be put to rest."

Nowhere does she say who's actually giving casual sex a bad rap. This, and the myths and comebacks she offers, suggest to me that the individual to whom she feels the greatest need to defend such behavior is herself. She writes:

I have higher standards when it comes to relationships. I will offer my body much sooner than my heart, because I can walk away from casual sex, no matter how strong the connection, and not find myself crying, waiting for the phone to ring, or contemplating the other person's mind-set. If we both agree to keep things light and friendly, low on drama and high on nakedness, there's more short-term payoff.
But elsewhere in the same article, she writes:
I'm not looking for another decade, or even another year, of just casual sex. I desire a relationship with someone I love, care about, respect, am compatible with, and want to f---. But finding that perfect symbiosis isn't easy. There are flaws and complications, and it's much easier to forgive those quirks when you're not planning to spend every weekend together....

I've spent the last year searching for someone who is worth the bother, with whom I can have mind-blowing sex and build something greater than the two of us, but every potential candidate has simply not been into me or otherwise fizzled out.
I find such rationalizations all too familiar. The fantasy of being able to have casual sex and not find oneself crying after the inevitable separation is enticing. After I became sexually active, it didn't take long for me to learn how to stop those tears—at least some of the time. But I found that the more I did so, the more blunted I became.

I became less attractive to potential boyfriends, because I was hardened. The ones who had depth—that is, the ones I most desired for a serious relationship—quickly sussed that I took sex far too lightly. I was so used to perceiving myself and potential partners as objects of physical desire, that I couldn't give of myself. Against my own heart's wishes, I always found myself trying to drag new relationships to the lowest common denominator—and then wondered why the most sensitive and feeling men wouldn't stay with me.

Part of me still envies women who can be free with their physical affections, be it drunken kisses at parties or casual sex with bar pickups. It's an easy, druglike thrill to suddenly break down the physical barriers with a stranger or a secret crush. Too many times that I can count since I changed my lifestyle, I've talked with a handsome man while thinking how easy it would be to suddenly shock him with a boundary-smashing smooch. From that standpoint, my life lacks the kind of excitement that Bussel describes in her own no-strings encounters.

But I still slept alone more often than not when I was having casual sex, and those nights were lonelier then than now because of the feeling that, after every pseudo-relationship, I was back to square one. Over time, I was finessing the art of hooking up, but I wasn't getting any better at having a real relationship—and I knew it.

You can't control when the your lifetime love will arrive. What you can control is what you're doing—and how you're living—when he or she comes along. The first way to do that is to make a decision that you will no longer compartmentalize your sexual energy into "sex without feelings" and "sex with feelings." You can't go from one straight to the other, any more than you can feel sensation in your mouth right after getting a shot of Novocaine. It takes time for the sensation to recur—and you don't want your potential lifemate to be scared off by your emotional numbness.

I still have a lot to learn at making a relationship last over the long term. But I firmly believe that during the time I've spent working at chastity, the intangible hardness that men perceived in me has been gradually melting away. In its place is an openness and vulnerability that makes me more susceptible to being hurt—but infinitely more capable of attaining and sustaining the lifetime marriage for which I long.