Somewhere, a restroom echoes with moans of relief from impatient lovers, fighting their way out of tight clothing and cramped space to reach each other. They desperately grab at warm flesh and cool porcelain for leverage for fear of losing any ounce of pelvic pressure.
Somewhere, a man meets a partner for the second time. They walk into a dark parlour where performance and spectatorship blend together. Ten men surround one and offer their pulsing streams of milky semen to drizzle and drip down the bare chest of an ecstatic lover.
Somewhere in Berkeley, two bodies writhe together and sweat in a room hazy and pregnant with perfumed smoke. One partner bends her body to supplicate another wooden kiss, groaning in agonized pleasure at every stroke of the hairbrush. The crack of the handle on greedy skin — skin crying crimson joy from its broken capillaries — is the final gasp of their lovemaking.
For most of you, I’d imagine, this is the sex you aren’t having. And for some of you, it’s the sex you wish you had.
Most conversations about sex typically concern the sex you aren’t having, whether that pertains to literal sex acts that don’t actually involve you or, more abstractly, to a misrepresentation of the realities of sex.
The sex you aren’t having is the sex you constantly think about, the sex that emerges from the twin shadows of desire and shame.
The sex you aren’t having involves acts you wouldn’t deem “appropriate” or “normal.” But these judgments on certain sexual acts are really just the residue of moral and societal proscriptions. When whittled down, most issues of sexual “taste” take their cues from religious doctrine aimed at controlling and repressing carnal urges. When sexual acts are submerged and hidden by moral authorities, they will always become the focus of your curious obsessions.
The sex you aren’t having is better than the sex you are having, to the degree that you envision it to be so. Doubt and uncertainty can make you chafe and rankle at a concept such as monogamous sex, which becomes your fetters. Or the opposite happens with polygamy, and you end up feeling worn down and depleted by the “casualness.”
The sex you aren’t having is the sex you believe that you are somehow owed, which fuels misogyny and the mistreatment of women. Our sexualized culture objectifies and teaches women to believe that their personal value somehow derives from their desirability. Control over sexuality is too often viewed by people as the only path to power. But men (and even other women) disparage and deride any woman who takes back her sexuality. These same people who rail against women for not responding to their advances — who berate them in public or online forums, who resort to rape and violence — create a climate where the only sane response is fear and mistrust of men. In this model, people don’t get fucked the way they want to be.
The sex you aren’t having is the sex you could be having if you learned to love your body and the body of your partner. Instead, you use alcohol or darkness or even abstinence to shield yourself against the possibility of experiencing embarrassment. You worry about your penis size, your weight, your freckles, your frizzy hair or the way your breasts look from certain angles. You worry about your breath, your sweat or the menstrual blood that for some reason still needs explaining. You worry about whether eating out or blowing your partner will be kindly reciprocated (and with at least a little enthusiasm).
The sex you aren’t having is the sanitized stuff of the San Fernando Valley — hairless, odorless and flavorless. It doesn’t come with strange squishing sounds or sudden farts from too much straining. It doesn’t wriggle, tingle or pulse. It doesn’t laugh from being ticklish when you kiss it. It doesn’t get yeast infections, soreness or tire out. It isn’t alive. It follows a script. It caters to a specific audience with specific wants.
The sex you aren’t having is simple, straightforward. It never has trouble coming. It really doesn’t involve much more than one penis and one vagina, and it certainly didn’t think to ask for consent. It doesn’t have to address contraception, abortion or pregnancy. It doesn’t have to talk about past relationships or past experiences to foster trust and understanding in an intimate setting.
But for all its polish, the sex you aren’t having will never be as nuanced or as revelatory as the sex you are having.
As my friend Adonay proposes, “the sex you aren’t having is a site of aspiration because there’s a duality to the ideals we have concerning sex. It has repressive and prescriptive aspects, but it might also act as a site of sexual reformation.”
And maybe by acknowledging and examining the sex we do have, we stand a chance not only for sexual reform but also for sexual revolution, where media and society no longer tout some untouchable fantasy but openly embrace a reality free of shame for all the reasons that make sex worth having.
Zion Barrios writes the Monday column on social topics that rarely enter open conversation. You can contact him at [email protected].