Sex and Sensibility

Sex on Tuesday

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Nothing I find sexy makes any sense to me.

For instance, I think smoking cigarettes is a noxious, indefensible behavior. But for reasons I cannot explain, I find it terribly attractive when I watch someone smoking (ideally from a distance). I find it inexplicably arousing to see them blithely disregarding their better judgment, defying the science everyone knows, exhaling a sensuous plume of vapor. And smoking isn’t the only thing: Things that repulse me intellectually often attract me sexually.

This occurs most dramatically with people. In high school, a boy I simply couldn’t stand was also often the person I fantasized about most. I would roll my eyes when he disrupted class to talk about soccer, but my heart would race a little when he spoke to me. This embarrassed me terribly. How on Earth could this Neanderthal give me butterflies?

I’m now more amused than humiliated by my irrational attractions, but they still mystify me. As usual, decades of corporate advertising have probably contributed, selecting our status symbols and skewing our social conceptions of beauty. I’m sure psychologists would have a field day with the implications of my illogical sexual desires.

But I actually don’t want to understand. The thing I love most about sex is submission to incoherence. I’m an overthinker, but unlike most people, my incessant thoughts don’t produce anxiety for me; they create distance. Subconsciously, I think about things to avoid feeling things. In the heat of the moment, however, sex makes it hard to think. And even if thoughtless sex can sometimes be risky, I love escaping my head.

Obviously, it would be nice to control what attracts me. I’d rather not be turned on by something that gives people emphysema, for instance. But just as we don’t choose whom we love, we also don’t really get to pick what we lust after. And again, bizarrely, loss of control appeals to me in the same way confusion does: They’re experiences where feelings overwhelm thoughts.

Some of my attractions do make sense. I love hiking, so I get why I’d want to bundle up for a long hike with someone I liked in the lush, misty forests of the Pacific Northwest. That sounds like paradise. I love dancing, so I fully understand why gifted dancers always sweep me off my feet (pun intended). But these things are romantic attractions. These logically enticing things appeal to me intellectually or emotionally, but not sexually.

The only theory I have for my inexplicable lusts is that we’re all drawn to some kind of perversion. Maybe I’m just like the cliché heroine in a ‘90s teen movie, attracted to the bad boy in spite of myself — watching “10 Things I Hate About You,” I always saw myself as Julia Stiles, falling for the Heath Ledger I seemed to detest. Obviously, a little rebellion is the best way to get your kicks. Maybe I’m not seduced despite the perversion, but because of it.

But if that’s the case, it’s a stretch. I think I’m a pretty tame, straight-laced person, and if my mind wants to be into self-destructive things, I’m embarrassed that it settled on smoking or dumb, cocky jocks. I would love if I could tell you I only found sophisticated or upstanding things erotic — film noir, civic activism, recycling, The New Yorker, Aretha Franklin’s early work. But while you’d nail a first date with me if you mentioned any of those, they merely make me happy; they’re not arousing. And they’re not especially hot because I feel perfectly comfortable liking them. It’s no big deal. The eroticism only comes from liking something inappropriate or taboo, something that involves risk.

So maybe I’m incurably hypercautious about everything else, but with sex, I crave danger. Put differently: Faced with danger, I seem to crave sex. And sure, this is nothing new. Men in movies always fall for the femme fatale. Girls like me lose it for the Heath Ledgers of the world. But the cliché tells me something: Nobody else is bothering to make good choices, so why should I? If a motorcycle-riding, cigarette-smoking, hypermasculine football player is my idea of a good time, why hold back? So what if I hate those things? They still drive me wild.

In truth, I’m a hypocrite: I’ve spent each installment of this column describing all the ways to think more carefully and analytically about sex, but I, myself, typically can’t stand forcing my own life into the prudent confines of a responsible framework. If I have any vice, it is sex because I feel — even if I don’t think — that sex should be done with abandon. Sex is escapism. Sex is the high life. Sex is freedom. And if the price of freedom is that nothing makes sense, so be it.

Aidan Bassett writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact him at [email protected].