Sex and Not Sex

It’s ok not to have sex. It’s ok not to have sex even if you get turned on, and it’s ok not to get turned on at all. It’s ok to not be able to find a partner to have sex with. It’s ok. It is all ok.

However, to me, it often seems like it’s not ok. In the words of Andrea Dworkin:

In Amerika, there is the nearly universal conviction – or so it appears – that sex (fucking) is good and that liking it is right: morally right; a sign of human health; nearly a standard for citizenship. Even those who believe in original sin and have a theology of hellfire and damnation express the Amerikan creed, an optimism optimism that glows in the dark: sex is good, healthy, wholesome, pleasant, fun; we like it, we enjoy it, we want it, we are cheerful about it; it is as simple as we are, the citizens of this strange country with no memory and no mind.

To not want sex is highly suspect – a sign of poor health, either physical or mental. It is counter-evolutionary! After all, the human race relies on sex. However, we also only ever use the “naturalness” argument to justify *having* sex, never not having  it.

While having sex is undoubtedly a human urge, there are also times it is natural to not want sex. In animals, we see sex drive decline during food shortages or other times of high stress. Additionally, it is natural for humans to age out of high sexual desire – with menopause being the most obvious example. However, there is never any discussion of sexual normalcy with respect to low desire during menopause. In this case, we have produced a bunch of *unnatural* medical interventions to help women extend the life of their high sex drive, and to help men maintain potency. Which isn’t to say any of this is wrong – I just mean to point out that our culture’s investment in sex is far deeper than an expression of “natural” human urges.

And, despite our overt obsession with sex which seems to be getting worse, American are having less sex than ever before: ( which is apparently extra true if you’re white or Asian ( or if you’re young (

What’s going on here? Let’s start with the assumption that humans are not broken. For me personally, this has been a big assumption. Nearly all of my relationships have ended after a period of sexual anorexia due to my own lack of desire, of which I am always deeply ashamed. Usually, my partners have encouraged my belief that there was something wrong with me, because it was more palatable than considering that there was something wrong or undesirable about them.

But, what if there’s nothing wrong with me? What if there’s nothing wrong with us?

Then, we perhaps we are having less sex because we are in an environment that does not foster our sexuality. All of that porn, and all those tits, and asses, and slutty halloween costumes are making us less horny even if we pretend otherwise. Despite our nation’s declining sexuality, I only ever hear my friends talk about HOW GOOD their sex life is. Public displays of affection are on the rise, as are sucking face facebook photos. We may be having less sex than ever before, but we certainly feel need to publicly project the rare occasion when we actually “get lucky.”

Thanks to the internet, by the time the average American loses their virginity they have probably seen many depictions of sex without ever experiencing it. Not many accurate depictions, of course, many pornographic depictions – with big hard dicks, big hard tits, blonde heads, and hairless chests. They have seen sex that judges 99% of the public wordlessly by excluding them. Pornographic culture conveys the message that sex is not for you to have, only to watch – a message it is within the industry’s best interest to foster since less actual sex and more virtual sex leads to more profit.

In this environment, sex becomes about ego reinforcement rather than connection. People care more about being one of the “sexual haves” than they do about seeing the deep truth about who their partner is. People care more about having sex with someone beautiful because it reflects their own perceived worth back to them, not because they have an innate appreciation for this beauty. We have become isolated from each other through our own narcissism.

I remember once, some guy was going down on me, and I said “I feel like I’m going to cry,” and he said “Don’t cry!” He didn’t care how I was feeling, he cared about “being a good lover.” My crying would contradict that in his head, so he said “STOP STOP STOP” when I tried to connect my authentic experience to his. After that, my body froze up, and we ended our sexual relationship soon afterward. However, nothing was *wrong* with me. My body was protecting me. As soon as I realize that the person I am with doesn’t care about my experience, my body refuses to cooperate. When I was younger, I have tried to override it – but now I understand it’s saving me. I have wasted years with people who didn’t give a shit about me, and my mind may not have been willing to admit it, but my body knew and wouldn’t fuck them.

Our bodies are saving us from this culture. This culture is toxic, and our minds are ignoring it, but our bodies know it and they are refusing to play along. Sex without connection is not worth it, sex where we are resented by our partners is not worth it, sex we do not enjoy is not worth it. It is better to be abstinent. Our minds pretend to enjoy it, but the body doesn’t lie.

Not So Queer Friendly

Yesterday I was hanging out with a bunch of straight people and talking about burning man (I’ve never been.) There is apparently some survey afterwards you can opt to take that asks people how many new sex partners they have acquired over the festival. It differentiates between “sex” aka penetrative sex and “foreplay” which apparently also includes oral sex.

I asked why they gave this survey, was it to track STDs or something? And they said no, it seems to be more about getting a sense of the depth and type of connections people had with each other.

I made some comment like, “That’s not really very queer friendly because a lot of lesbian sex would be dismissed as foreplay by that definition.”

At which point, one of the guys said “Oh no, burning man is very queer friendly.” And I’m all, “Who are you, Mr. Straight Man to define queer friendly?” Only, I just thought that instead of said it because I was surrounded by straight people and didn’t want to make a scene.

Can any event where straight people outnumber queer ever be *really* queer friendly? We will not be able to approach the majority of people there romantically for fear of being rejected *because of our sexuality.* Sure, we don’t get beat up, but we are still seen as the “other,” as dismissed without consideration. As slightly subhuman, in a way. It’s a weird feeling, it’s hard to describe, but it’s different from being rejected (or pre-rejected) by a gay man. In my experience, most gay will still have a fundamental respect for your sexual orientation (perhaps because they also understand what it’s like to be attracted to men.) I don’t get that same feeling from straight women.

And, it is also different from being rejected by another queer woman who just isn’t into you. I guess most obviously, gay women are better about not unconsciously leading on other gay women, because they see romantic potential between two women. Straight women just don’t see romantic potential there, and I can feel really not-seen by them.

For me, in the end (perhaps as a bisexual) it always comes down to invisibility. When I told this guy “that’s not queer friendly,” he didn’t see why it wasn’t. He refused to witness my experience, and that is where most of the pain lies.



I just found out a girl who lived in my dorm in school committed suicide. I didn’t know her very well, but honestly, what I did know I didn’t like very much. One of my few memories of her was from when my suite stole the stove from her suite. She sent an angry email to the dorm, demanding to know what had happened with the stove.

I responded, saying we should meet with the house mediators and discuss stove distribution because I was not entirely convinced their need for one stove was greater than our need for two. She responded back with a furious email, clearly unaware that I was trolling her. I laughed with my friends about it.

Now, however, I realize she was probably an unhappy person even then. We found her inability to take a joke funny at the time, but it haunts me now. In addition to having no sense of humor, she was also a conventionally attractive girl with a countercultural style. Apparently, she was also extremely good at math, taking on an immense workload while working to pay her way through college. I had no real sense of the person she was, or the type of stress she may have been under, that led her to reacting the way she did to our juvenile behavior.

When I was first told about her suicide, I remember feeling a deep blankness inside me. I didn’t know her well, or have much affection for her, but I just wanted her out in the world, doing her thing. She was supposed to be *there* working hard and responding humorlessly to emails. What does it mean that she isn’t? What does it mean that she’s gone?

When I ask myself these questions, there I just feel the nothing that is her future. I remember watching her as she worked at the front desk doing her work, and thinking unkind thoughts about her. What if I could go back in time, and whisper in my younger ears “she will die when she’s 31.” How would that have changed anything? Would I have walked up to her one of the many times I walked past her and said hello?

Yes Means Yes Bill

A new law in California is expected to pass that would require affirmative consent on college campuses receiving public funds – see here. Notably, it doesn’t criminalize sex without affirmative consent, it simply requires disciplinary action at the academic level (which could include expulsion.)

I like the sound of the law, but it is definitely not the mindset I grew up with.

I remember reading this Dan Savage letter answer a while back that totally blew my mind.  It’s a letter from a man who tried to have a sexual encounter with his girlfriend and another couple.

The man describes the situation in his letter as such:

The minute the date started, it was clear she was having problems. It was nothing the other couple would have noticed, but I could tell she was not having fun. I must have asked her 20 times over the course of the evening, “Are you OK? Do you want to go home?” Each time she gave a monotone, “I’m fine.” When it came time to decide whether to go to their house, the same thing happened. I gave her as many opportunities to gracefully exit as possible, and she said no at each one. So, as you can probably guess, when it came time to actually taking off the clothes and getting down, she froze up, wouldn’t do anything, and we had to go upstairs.

I feel that, by not taking any of my opportunities to bow out, and then freezing up at the crucial moment, she completely destroyed the fantasy of mine. I think that what she did was enormously unfair to me and the other couple, and she should apologize. She only talks about how dirty and wrong it felt to her. I think that is fine that she felt that way, but then why the hell didn’t she bow out before agreeing to go over to their house?

And, Dan responds with:

I definitely could’ve guessed that your girlfriend would freeze up. I could’ve guessed that and I wasn’t there and I don’t know your girlfriend.

Your girlfriend wasn’t okay that night, CIC, and you knew it.

She was telling you what you wanted to hear, CIC, and you knew it.

You should’ve called the whole thing off, CIC, and you know it.”

When I read this, the idea that our sexual partners should be actively trying to act so that *we are ok* and not simply trying to get “whatever they can” out of us was totally mind-blowing.  I remember once, one of my ex boyfriends with whom the sex was routinely painful, said to me with frustration, “I can always tell when you’re about to ask me to stop having sex.” What he was essentially saying was, “I can tell when you are in pain, but I keep having sex with you anyway, hoping you won’t say anything this time so I can finish.”

I felt ashamed of myself for needing to ask to stop, so I would usually try to endure it as long as I could. However, his priorities seemed natural to me – that his pleasure should trump my pain.

Another ex of mine said “if you’re not willing to finish, don’t start being sexual with me” This had the effect of essentially ending our sex life, since I was always afraid to start something I may not want to finish. However, it also had the effect of revoking my ability to withdraw my consent if things took a wrong turn (another part of Dan’s letter which blew my mind: “Each of us has an absolute right to bail—to withdraw our consent—at any time.”) The few times we did start making out, I would continue with sex even if I didn’t want it because I felt like we had a “bargain” where my time to reject sex had already passed. One thing this ex never said was, “Why is it that you often don’t want to continue having sex with me? Are you not enjoying our sex life?” or “What can we do so you enjoy sex more?”

And, I don’t think we can really address these issues with a bill, but I think so many objections to it are based on a similar mindset that me and my boyfriends had. In an earlier version of it that was implemented on Antioch College, one of the young men said “If I have to ask those questions I won’t get what I want.” And, how do we move on from that?

I guess I’ve now taken the mindset that it would be better to be single and celibate than to be with someone who doesn’t care about your experience, which is a peaceful place to be. But, if decide to start doing things again, I think I’d ask for radical consent. One of my friends hooked up with a girl who asked for radical consent – before every sexual act, they had to ask the other one “can I do this?” say “can I kiss you?” or “can I touch your breast?” etc.

However, I think I’d change my question to be “do you want?” as in “do you want me to kiss you?” or “do you want me put my hand down your pants?” I don’t remember any time in my sex life where I was able to give enthusiastic consent, without worrying about what it would lead to. I might like it.