When we’re having sex, I’m often thinking about how not lost in the moment I am. It’s not all that I’m thinking; there are other things, like that it feels pretty good, or that I want you nearer or that your skin is soft or that you look pretty or that I want you to go on top.
But sometimes I’m so preoccupied with trying to achieve that sense of being in the moment that I end up getting stuck outside of it. Partaking in a physical union, with you, can be easy, but my mind can get a bit left out, standing to one side and wondering what it’s supposed to be doing. Feeling a bit of a creep, noticing details it feels like I’m not supposed to be noticing, and questioning every aspect of our actions, even as we are performing them. What are you really thinking? Why do you want me to put your fingers in my mouth? Doesn’t it look really silly and embarrassing and also kind of gross? Are you really enjoying this as much as you look like you are, or are you kind of tired and thinking your penis is a bit sore and this is a lot of effort? Even as I’m licking your penis or putting your hand around my throat for you to choke me, I’m conscious of wondering why I am doing this. Am I really comfortable with it, really enjoying it?
For the most part, I think I am. I love having sex with you, at least my desire to do so would seem to indicate that. And we’re comfortable together – sex feels safe and caring much like the rest of our relationship. So it’s not a serious doubt about the activity that leaves me feeling uncomfortable lately. It’s an unacknowledged doubleness of sexual experience, the awareness of taking a leap from questioning what’s going on to enthusiastically partaking in it, without ever indicating that gap. It feels like sex hangs on a balance between passion and performance that must be maintained – and I’ve never been comfortable with performance. It makes me feel shy, and fraudulent. I don’t want to parade myself for you; a lot of the time I’d rather hide behind a pillow. Sometimes when I’m on top and you’re looking at me I notice myself biting my lip so that my face won’t break into a more awkward expression. And then there’s the whole issue of talking dirty – I just don’t get it. I mean, I might want you to come on my face from time to time, let’s say. But I can’t imagine ever wanting to beg you for it, or express it verbally at all, as if I’m imploring someone to give me some of their sweets. One could try being really honest, I suppose; when you gasped something like “are you a good little girl?” as you were about to come I could respond with “well, maybe. I’m not sure really, what exactly do you mean?”, but that would seem to defeat the point of the exercise.
It feels like sex hangs on a balance between passion and performance that must be maintained – and I’ve never been comfortable with performance.
There is nothing particularly objectionable to a bit of performance – I don’t dislike answering you with you want to hear. It seems to be an element of sex that people really enjoy, as illustrated in a more extreme way by various fetishes where playing a role is the explicit aim of the game. Much like smiling to make yourself feel happier, entering into the performance of sex can no doubt make you feel sexier, or more aroused. It’s just that it makes me feel detached from the experience, and then I start to wonder of you feel that way, too. Positive expressions of sex in culture are variously portrayed as passionate animal activities, divine expressions of love, and fun games, but one thing is usually present in the myriad characterizations – its all-consuming nature. If sex is going well, you’re not supposed to be thinking about whether you should put broccoli or courgette in your quiche later, like you might be when cleaning the kitchen, or writing an assignment. You’re supposed to be Having Sex.
When you’re having sex with someone who you know and love, there is the added notion that it should be, and certainly a desire for it to be, on my part, an emotional as well as a physical coming-together. The aspect of performance that sex often entails is not bad in itself, but when it feels like a necessary and unavoidable part of (my subjective) sexual experience, it presents a barrier to that sort of union. When I look into your wide blue eyes and see you looking into mine I sometimes close them or look away because I don’t know what’s behind yours, and I don’t want you to see me trying to find the answer – it feels like it would break the spell. Maybe the feeling is caused by self-consciousness, or simply a difficulty in communicating about physical aspects of experience. But what I’m really thinking, when we’re having sex, is how neither of us knows what the other is really thinking.
Illustration: Mariam Ahmad