This column was originally published in the Feb. 19, 2008 issue of The Daily Californian. It has been edited for clarity.
I want you to try something. Get up and get undressed. No, not in front of me, and yes, you can wait until you get back from class.
Walk to the nearest mirror. Make sure the light is bright enough, and give yourself a good, hard look. Now, run in place until you’re flushed and sweating. Bounce up and down rhythmically. Contort your face so that your expression falls somewhere between blissful and pained. This is what you look like during sex.
Relax — this is what everyone looks like during sex. It’s also one of the main reasons we tend to do it with the lights off.
I think the character Dorothy Zbornak from “The Golden Girls” said it best: “Can’t hide anything in the daytime. At night, I could be Godzilla — you’d be thrilled.”
Even for those of us who don’t look like Godzilla — or Bea Arthur, for that matter — the idea of exposing oneself completely during such an intimate act can be daunting. You might be comfortable with your own body, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready for your partner to get up close and personal with parts of your anatomy you’d have to strain to see.
OK, maybe that’s not the reason you have sex in the dark. The dark is sexy, you say. I guess you’re right. But isn’t there also something sexy about you and your partner being able to see every inch (pun intended) of each other?
Whatever your reasoning may be, if you’ve never had sex with the lights on, you really ought to give it a try. I’m sure for many of you this isn’t uncharted terrain — some of you probably even do it on a regular basis. But for those timid naysayers, I ask you to keep an open mind.
Why? Here’s a better question: Why not? If you’re having sex with someone, chances are you’re turned on by their naked body. The visual stimulation of seeing them completely out in the open can be almost as arousing as touch. And if you’re worried about them seeing you, think of it like this: Do you really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to see you the same way?
Becoming comfortable enough with someone else to show them every part of you will do wonders for your self-esteem. Just to know that someone else appreciates you, even with the stretch marks below your boobs or that weird mole on your ass, can make you appreciate yourself more.
Then, of course, there’s a practical reason for leaving the lights on: checking your partner out before getting groiny.
When it comes down to it, you should be using condoms or other prophylactics no matter what, but most contraceptives don’t protect against all sexually transmitted infections. So even though inspection can be awkward, it’s important for your health and well-being. With the lights on, you can look for warning signs casually, as opposed to whipping out a flashlight.
If you’re a sex-with-the-lights-on pro, by this point you’re probably rolling your eyes. But trust me — it’s not common sense for everyone. If you’re still unsure about this foreign concept, there are some simple ways to ease yourself into it.
Say you’re having sex at night. Try opening the blinds. You may not be able to see everything by moonlight, but at least it will give you a sense of what sex with all the lights on is like. Plus, it’s generally considered to be pretty romantic.
Here’s another idea: blindfolding. It’s something you should try anyway, so really, you’d be killing two birds with one stone. If you blindfold your partner, you’ll have the upper hand, and it should help you get used to how things look when you’re going at it.
The next time you’re about to flick off that switch, think twice. Don’t be shy — go toward the light.
Louis Peitzman was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley and is a former Sex on Tuesday columnist.