The complexities in the simple

Sex on Tuesday

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I change into my pajamas and finish up some homework. Once he walks out the door, it’s like he was never there. He’s something that happened that is no longer happening; at most, he will be a somewhat entertaining story I’ll tell my friends the next day, or maybe he’ll even acquire an amusing nickname derived from a strange characteristic by which he’ll be referred to on the rare occasions when he comes up.

Once he leaves, he is utterly insignificant to me, just as I hope to be to him. And while he may only pass through my mind again once or twice, during the short time that he’s there with me, he’s all I’m thinking about. Actually, I may not even be thinking at all.

Casual sex is wonderful that way. When I meet up with someone — a stranger — we’re surrounded by an electrified anticipation. It’s not clouded by anxiety about what I say or how I act because I know I’m never going to see this person again. It eases my mind and lets whatever energy that would have been allocated to my thoughts fill my body. 

That’s what this is about: my body. His body. What is normally simply the vessel through which I live my life is now the center of my attention. For the night, I let it lead and please itself how it wants, my mind completely quiet.

So when he leaves — or when I leave, or however it goes that night — I am almost immediately jolted back into reality. My mind takes back over. My body secedes back to simply being its home and transportation. My life shifts back into focus.

It’s a little disorienting to reenter your own head. My thoughts after he leaves are often louder, more intrusive than I remember them being. They’re not necessarily bad thoughts; suddenly, they’re just all I can focus on. My brain is like a TV that was shut off the night before and is turned back on to disrupt the quiet morning. The volume is the same, but somehow, it seems so much louder.

I think that’s why I often find myself finishing up late-night homework not long after a one-night stand or contemplating my past decisions. It’s hard to ignore your mind when there’s nothing playing over it.

And that kind of shift in emotion is complicated, especially when my instinct is to jump to society’s demonization of casual sex and think I’ve made some guilt-ridden mistake. But that’s not it at all.

That’s why I don’t like to describe casual sex as complicated, because I feel like that gives people the wrong impression. An impression of heartache, guilt and loneliness surrounds the boy who just left. As if he was what complicated it, when really, in terms of discussing the complexities of casual sex, he’s not even significant enough to have a name. He has many, each as interchangeable as the next. Each as insignificant when it comes to the intricacies of my post-fuck emotions. 

It’s not lost on me that a lot of people would see this detachment as depressing. It doesn’t bother me, though, either. I get that some people try to respect sex as an act and hold a lot of significance to it. I do too, when with the right person. But that’s because I respect them, not sex itself. And I have to remind myself of that when I’m sitting in my room as the door closes behind him, sore in the best way possible, slowly sinking back into my own mind.

But I’ve started to sort of warm up to the mental shock I feel after a one-night stand. It feels a little like splashing cold water on my face. I love allowing my body to take over, to give it the importance that my education-centered, now-online life often neglects. But I can learn to love the same refreshing phenomenon when it happens to my mind. I can appreciate that it was still there waiting for me, even if I shut it off for a few hours.

I get nervous about being left alone with my head, especially when my body is tired and shuts down. When that happens, it can feel like my thoughts are all that make up my existence. 

But while I used to do homework or write or distract myself with whatever I could, I haven’t been doing that recently. I’ve just been letting it run. I let it reflect without scrutiny, wander without boundaries. My mind is simply giving my body time to relax and recuperate. It’s not taking me over; it’s lending a hand.

So when he leaves, my body has exhausted itself, but my mind is just starting back up. But I don’t worry. I had sex because I wanted to. Because I love having sex and everything that comes with it. Because I deserve to let my body take over once in a while. Because my mind needed to sleep to wake back up.

Helen D’Orazio writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]