Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sex is Stupid

I've mentioned before that I used to have some serious problems with sex and romance. Then things improved, but not drastically. I've spent some wonderful time with some wonderful women, but at the risk of sounding sorry for myself, that was pretty much all thanks to dumb luck and/or hard work on their part. I am not a natural at this sort of thing, I never have any idea where wooing begins and my ability to do it on purpose pretty much doesn't exist. Some people get shy or nervous, but at least they know what needs to be done. To me, the whole process remains a mystery, despite years of analysis. I don't "just do" what seems to come naturally to most people.

A new thought has gradually been building up in me though, in reaction to a few things, and while I'm still fuzzy on some of the details, the core of the thought is very clear: The instincts behind sex and romance suck, and I'd gladly accept celibacy in exchange for not experiencing those annoying urges anymore. Sex itself is quite nice, and I'd be happiest with occasional optional sex without the constant urges. But instead, I get constant urges without much sex, the crappy polar opposite. I'd get so much more done if my mind wasn't always wandering, and I could certainly do without the stupid things that my sex drive makes me think, say and do.

Complicating things further, I've also recently realised that I am not at all suited for or interested in a happily-ever-after relationship. I've spent something like 95% of my life single, it's very much what I'm used to. Relationships make me uncomfortable, make me feel trapped and overburdened. That may not be reasonable at all, but it's how I always feel, after the initial excitement dies down. I'm just sorry I couldn't learn that without practical experience, making a nuisance of myself to past partners.

So now I'm trying to work out how best to deal with all this crap for the next couple decades, or however long it takes for my sex drive to die out. Thankfully, the adolescent years are done with; I'm sure I'm not alone in remembering nights where lack of sex felt almost physically painful and sleep never seemed to close in fast enough. Evolution is a cruelly clever process. But I digress.

I'm trying to list and weigh my options. Many of these possibilities have weird social stigmas attached to them, which can add extra complications, but I'm not going to worry about those for now. What other people accept is not relevant if I haven't even figured out what I'll accept yet. I'm also assuming throughout that baby-making is not an option, so this is just recreational sex.

1. Rely on pr0n. Speaking from experience, this doesn't work. Granted, you'd struggle to survive a celibate decade without it, and after the '00s I have now seen all the porn. All of it. But while it gives some temporary relief, we're just not evolved to be solo creatures and there are always instincts clamouring for some real company. Until they can simulate that, this is not a decent option.

2. Bite the bullet and settle down. Those who know me well will agree that I'm not a bullet-biter. Besides, monogamy just doesn't appeal to me at all, and even spoils the appeal of the reliable source of sex it represents.

3. Polyamory. Nice in principle; I like the idea of exploring and keeping my options open, without cutting out the nice emotional stuff. I don't have a "type" or any specific fetishes, and I'm not a full Kinsey zero, so I like the idea of being able to try new things with new people. On the other hand, if I had the ability to induce not just one partner, but several at once, I wouldn't be writing this in the first place.

4. Random flings. Like polyamory, but over too quick. I may not appreciate long-term stuff, but I do still enjoy getting to know people. On the plus side, this seems to enjoy wider public acceptance and should be easier to organise, if you aren't me. I'm also given to believe that this becomes less of an option with age, which is something I happen to have been accruing. (Having botched my randy young bugger years, this seriously annoys me.)

5. Prostitution. Random flings that are virtually guaranteed, if you have money. I don't have money. My research team informs me that I could spend anywhere between half and five times my monthly income on a single session with a prostitute, making it a completely moot option.
5.a. Be a prostitute. This would solve the money problem. But I'm not actually sex-mad, I don't need it all the time, and so I'd have a problem having to give it all the time, especially under pressure of refundable contract.

6. Serial monogamy. A polyamory conga line. All the feeling trapped of monogamy with the hard recruitment effort necessary for polyamory or flings.

7. Swinging. Monogamy pretending to be polygamy, or vice versa. I guess if I lucked out and happened to find a partner who was already into this and already had a nice network built up, it might work for me. Except that might also exacerbate my commitment problem, since I'd be dependent on that one partner to access everyone else, perhaps. But if I had to get a partner into it first and still pick up other couples, it'd be a nightmare.

8. Fuck buddies. This has always sounded like the greatest idea ever to me, apart from spaceflight, vaccinations and the ability to carry the internet around in my pocket. Most of my friends are very attractive, and why shouldn't sex be just a fun pass-time, a game to share and enjoy, then pack away at the end of the day and forget about until some other time, when everyone feels like it again? It really should be that simple, and it pains me to admit that maybe, possibly, perhaps, it might not be possible. And again, it's all the fault of instinct. There's a very high chance that sleeping with someone will cause you to develop romantic feelings for them. Some people are better at shutting that out than others, but generally it's bound to sneak up on most of us, which makes some sense from an evolutionary point of view, for a social species like ours. Daddies who immediately abandon mommies may get more chances to breed than those who at least stick around to help with the pregnancy, but their offspring will each have a lower chance of survival. So this has the potential to get more complicated than intended. (I've also seen it go the other way, where massive annoyance suddenly springs up from somewhere. But I don't know how to explain that.)

9. Beg. Instead of putting in effort to make a real connection with someone, one person at a time, I could just throw myself out to the world and say, "Available for shags, apply within," and see if anyone bites. I've never seen it work, and even with my pretty head, I'd be surprised if partners fell into my lap very often, because I don't go out of my way to appear attractive.

10. Total celibacy. Not just relying on porn and masturbation, but cutting all sexual practices out of my life completely. I can't even imagine this in practice (see point 1), and yet I'd be ok with it in principle. I suppose some sort of surgical intervention could make it feasible, but that seems drastic.

Overall, it seems like I have a problem. Instinct and culture are against me, and I'm lazy. I may also be inconveniently picky (despite my openness to new things); for example, a woman on a dating site I occasionally use utterly wrecked her opportunity to offer me free sex, when she insisted on yammering on about her homeopathy and energy healing. I guess everyone has their turn-offs.

Have I missed any options? Have I misjudged any possibilities? Is there an obvious solution that I'm not seeing?

(EDIT: Also note this little bit of follow-up.)


  1. I am loathe to wade into someone else's intimate psyche, especially since we have never met, but if you are happy to put this sort of personal stuff out there, and I applaud that level of courage, then I feel initially confident to respond. I am also hesitant, and would preface this with the serious admission that I am no paragon of knowledge, and no expert in relationships (as if such a thing could exist). We all make mistakes, and have our work to do to be better, to love better.

    So, this all depends on your problems with monogamy - what exactly makes you feel trapped?

    All I could suggest here, with the caveat of the other choices you present being just as viable as relationship models with the right participants, openness etcetera, - but with regards to monogamy - there are conceptions of the arrangement that should not leave one feeling trapped. More on this later.

    Firstly though, a relationship of any form begins with participants - most importantly you.
    Whilst running the risk of lapsing into the tropes trotted out by most self help quick fix tomes, what is your relationship like with yourself?
    Do you know who you are as a person, or are you hiding the real you in there to please other people, to live up to the requirements of social situations, historical ideas about what is / was expected of you and how you "should be"?

    Part of knowing oneself is to be in touch with what you feel on a moment by moment basis. Very often smart people, and I count you in that set quite easily, are highly capable of processing experiences intellectually but woefully inadequate at actually being present to the feelings tied up in experiences. How "present" are you to each moment in the day - in other words, you may be riding the roller-coaster, and watching the graceful curves of the physics in front of you, remembering all the times in the past that you rode roller coasters, thinking about the next bend in the track and what might happen if there is just one bolt loose. Through all this, you may be "in your head" and not actually being present with the signals of the viscera, the "felt experience", the phenomenology of the moment. My phenomenology usually involves copious degrees of terror and vomiting when on roller-coasters, but beyond my specifics perhaps you can grasp the general idea in the example. Perhaps a therapist familiar with Rational Emotive therapy can assist you with this.

    Part of development as a person is our connection to ourselves, our journey, never ending, to figure out what and who we are. As a Humanist, I firmly hold to the idea that we struggle constantly to delve deeper and more accurately into ourself, to discover what it is that makes us unique, what our contribution to this world can be, where we can find opportunities to love ourselves, and share that love in ever more mature and mutually beneficial ways. To find our own self defined purpose.

    Do you love who you are as a person? When you truly look at yourself, and maybe write out what you like and dislike about who you are right now, can you find it in your heart to look upon yourself with kindness, forgive yourself the mistakes you have made (whilst still taking responsibility for the effects they have had on others, of course), and can you accept and love yourself today just as you are?

  2. Continued from previous comment...

    When you understand that to a large degree we are the products of our histories, you can get a hold on your expectations in relationships, and the convoluted and complex patterns underlying your interactions with others. Here Psychology and specifically, Transactional Analysis helped me. Perhaps this is part of why you felt trapped, why it felt unsatisfactory in some way? Have you felt trapped before?

    Relationships can be open structures - open in the sense of being a holding environment, not a suffocating one, - here I am not talking of open as in orientation, as in poly-amorous setups - I mean open as in The Prophet - Gibral - be two trees, next to each other, but not so close that your shade overwhelms and suffocates the other. Very often, we expect too much of relationships, and they become battle grounds for old and new disappointments. A relationship, in a healthy conception, is appropriate for the satisfaction of 25% of your needs - emotional needs we are talking here. Part of being a mature, healthy relationship is to know yourself enough to know when you are expecting too much (very not easy, but possible to learn), and to self soothe when the relationship, and the other person/s fail to meet all your needs; this last event is a surety of life and relationships. So in the other 75% of needs meeting, you have your work to do - work as in, filling your life with things that enrich and fulfil you, your hobbies, friends, activities, rest and relaxation. This other 75% enriches you so that when you come back to the relationship, you bring more than you expect, you feed a growing and thriving open structure, rather than the habit of drinking too deeply from a finite well of connection and need fulfilment.

    Part of what makes a structure of relationships like the one described above work, is being with another person who has done "their work", and continues to do so, someone with good boundaries and a good understanding of their own issues, triggers, mental and emotional states, someone honest enough and adult enough to take responsibility for their side of the joint 25% and their own 75% self based work. Perhaps you have yet to meet this person - I recommend looking in places, and at people who initially do not strike you as your type, and who initially do not strike you in the face with a great overwhelming passion, but rather seem to have a wholesomeness about themselves. Look for intention and evidence of real kindness shown to others, and to animals. Kindness cannot be more attractive, and more recommended as a basis for goodness and the likelihood of a good experience with a person. Although no person is perfect, or kind all the time, a good basic kindness is as good a sign as you will ever get of the future behaviour of a person.

  3. Continued from previous comment...

    Finally, and this is the kicker, I would posit that perhaps it is not sex that you are craving. As men we are percolated in a heady soup of images and often unspoken expectations and prescriptions about what we should feel and how we should feel it. This is often in the lexicon of physicality at the expense of real intimacy - a connection between a you and an I, a perception of an-other, as they truly are, with the reciprocity of being seen as you truly are (this ideal picture is clouded by the reality of our interactions though, which are always partly true and partly constructed with a peppering of our projections and assumptions). Often, as men, we feel horny when truly we are feeling something else - sad, lonely, disconnected or unloved, perhaps even unlovable - and we have been told and acculturated to express this emotional need as a sexual need. So I put it to you, perhaps you need connection more than you need sex?
    Sex as a salve for emotional needs can be, and is usually a hollow fix, a quick glimpse of the connection we really crave bound up in the body, divorced from a self who is not really present to join another in that moment. This is not disregarding the male propensity and capacity to really just need sex without intimacy - possible, oft practised, but not usually fulfilling in any meaningful and lasting way.

    The only way is through. I'll say that again - the only way is through - making space, and time to go inwards, to get into greater touch with yourself as a feeling, sensing being, and then to bring that inner knowledge, that greater sense of personhood to the table with another person/s, and start from there on the crazy ride called a relationship. Or do nothing, stay exactly where you are and do not change anything at all.

    I can recommend some books to you in a private email if you like.

    1. Having thought this over some more, I think I'm still pretty sure what I do and don't want, in a general sense. It's the specifics that are tripping me up. I don't intend to "do nothing, stay exactly where [I am] and do not change anything at all," but I'm afraid not much of what you describe feels relevant.

      You're right that I want more companionship, and I've been mulling over a separate post on my thoughts about friends and friendship. This post might have come out a bit differently if I'd written them in the opposite order. The short version is that I do like people and their company, and I'm not always as good about maintaining friendships as I should be. But I don't think that latching on to one particular person is, for me, a smart or healthy way to deal with that.

      I do like myself. I have some things to sort out, same as anyone, but I don't loathe myself for them. So wouldn't guess that this is relevant.

      What frustrates me is that I don't really get the conventional ways of dealing with sex and relationships. I'm not a great romancer or a player or a steady spouse. I used to tell myself that I was completely and absolutely incompetent with women (see link about my varisty years) until I remembered I'd actually had some shocking successes in high school, and had somehow blanked them from my memory because they didn't fit the self-pitying self-image I had. So now I accept that I can meet and interact with women, it's physically and mentally possible, but I'm very uncertain what I actually want from them.

      I know I don't want the duty and routine of a formal relationship; I'm bad enough at running my own life with a modicum of order and progress, and I don't enjoy having to worry about someone else's schedule and complications and mundane needs. I'm quite happy to do things for friends, but it's the feeling (often explicitly affirmed) of compulsoriness of boyfriendy-girlfriendy relationships that makes me absolutely not want to be involved with it. As I say, I'd actually be quite ok with no sex ever, if only my hormones stopped making me feel miserable about that (even when I'm feeling full of friendship and companionship).

      The purpose of this post was to ponder aloud (and gather outside opinions on) how to cope with this. I think your input is off in a few key places, but I appreciate the thoroughness of it and I'll continue to churn this all over.