A funny thing happens when you become a sex blogger – or at least, has happened since I did. There seem to be those who take some comfort, or inspiration, or interest, or something, in my journey, in some or other part of it, or in its entirety. I’ve gotten not a few e-mails that range from “Wow – thanks!” to explicit requests for advice. And in response to two of those requests for advice that I got in the last 24 hours, I found myself thinking about the general world of “sex tips.”
There are two basic sex tips – you read them everywhere, all the time. They boil down to, “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” And, “Be good, giving and game (or ‘GGG’).” (There are lots more tips, but they’re all variants of these two, I think.)
Don’t get me wrong – I think these are two great tips.
But I know, as a guy who spent years in a shameful closet, how irrelevant they are to someone struggling to find herself sexually, or to come to terms with a basic alienation from, or antipathy toward, his own desire. I remember reading things like that – encomiums (encomia?) to the virtues of communication – and thinking, “FUCK YOU!”
Communication is a worthy goal, but it’s something like a third- or fourth-order goal for someone for whom sex is a complex, shame- or anxiety-ridden field. In all those years, the idea that what I needed, what T and I needed, was communication was simply inconceivable to me. (And, wrong – both then and in retrospect. If I had communicated, what I would have had to say is, “I’m a miserable, sex-obsessed, addicted, mess, squandering money, time, energy, and I can’t stop.” It might well be that had I said that, had she left me, it would have been the best thing for one or both of us. And I’m not defending my deceptions in any way. I’m only saying that, for God’s sake, communication wasn’t the problem.)
And it occurred to me, maybe I could helpfully write a few tips for people who AREN’T looking to “spice things up in the bedroom,” but rather, who are looking to develop a less compartmentalized, alienated, self-loathing relationship to themselves, to their sexualities, to their desires.
If you’re looking to spice things up in the bedroom, there are lots of great advice sources out there – chief among them, my hero, Dan Savage.
But if you’re looking to escape a prison of shame and misery, loneliness and embarrassment? Who is there, really, to give you that roadmap?
I can’t, for sure.
But I can offer a few lessons that I feel like have guided me on my journey. I’m hopeful they might be helpful to one or another of the people who’ve been writing me in recent days:
1) First and foremost: Don’t waste energy wishing you wanted something different than what you want. Your desires aren’t something you chose; they’re like weather – they happen to you. Feeling guilty for what you want is no different than feeling guilty for the fact that it’s raining. SERIOUSLY. This is a short tip, but it’s the most important one. We spend so much time at war with ourselves, shaming ourselves, wishing we could change ourselves. This is just so much wasted energy. Declare defeat – or better, victory – and move on. (I know this is hard-sounding: because it requires that you let go of the basic organizing principle of your shame. I spent years trying to stop acting out sexually. It was only when I stopped that, and admitted that I couldn’t, that I desperately wanted to be acting out sexually far more than I wanted to stop, that I could begin to move myself in a different direction, toward a direction in which I simultaneously accepted, even honored, that I wanted to act out sexually AND decided, consciously, not to.)
2) There’s a HUGE difference between want and need. For me, with respect both to compulsive sex and smoking – each of which I quit over the last couple of years – the key to my ability to quit was observing, repeatedly, the consequences of my not getting what I wanted. That’s to say, before I decided to quit, I decided to forego, once or twice, here or there. And I paid close attention: did I die if I didn’t get that blowjob? If I didn’t get that handjob? If I didn’t smoke that cigarette? No. Were there consequences? Yes. What were they? (In the case of cigarettes, the more recent habit I quit, the consequences were primarily that my breathing was shorter, my chest grew tighter, and I had a sensation in the back of my throat akin to thirst.) OK then. Now I knew. I even learned that those sensations had a half-life – about ten minutes. Sure, they returned. But they left, on their own, without a cigarette.
3) Any sentence that begins, “I wish I…” is an act of violence against yourself. When you say that, when you divide yourself into a “good” you – the one doing the wishing – and a “bad” you – the one wished away – you engage in an activity that’s, at best, a distraction. For years, I hid behind sentences that began “I wish I….” I wished I could stop acting out sexually, I wished I didn’t cheat on my wife, etc. Or so I told myself. And yet, the evidence didn’t really support those assertions. They really were complicated attempts to allow me to feel ok about myself while I did the very things I professed to want not to (want to) do. Turns out, I wanted a lot of handjobs, and blowjobs. I wanted them from women I paid, women I could conjure at the drop of a hat, at my convenience, to give me the sensations I wanted with a minimum of emotional complexity. And I wanted those things in order to avoid feeling other things. But I wanted to pretend that I didn’t want those things. I didn’t want the shame and guilt that came from wanting them, so I simultaneously asserted the existence of some hypothetical, better, judging “me” to protect me from being the guy who was face up in a massage parlor with his cock in a young woman’s hands.
You know what? Sometimes I still do want those things. The difference is, now, when I do, for the most part (not perfectly – I stumbled into a strip club not too long ago as a result of just such a compulsive urge), my impulse is to observe my feelings, rather than to act on them. The truth that I could observe my feelings, rather than act upon them, was truly a revelation to me – it was utterly transformative. And similarly, the revelation that any sentence that began “I wish I…” was really a denial of what I wanted, rather than an accurate description of my desires, was hugely empowering.
If, for example, I hear myself saying, “I wish I had the courage to…” what I’m really saying is, “I am scared to…” or more likely, “I don’t want to….” And I just don’t want to admit what I really want. In a profound way.
Those are my three basic lessons from years of shame and misery:
Don’t deny your desires.
Know the difference between want and need; just because you want something doesn’t mean you need it.
Don’t deny your desires.
Yeah, I know, 1 and 3 are the same. They’re (it’s?) just really that important.
Go here for Part 2 – a similar post to this one, but on the experience of being within a couple.
Last week, there was an article by Rachel Rabbit White, whom I like a lot, in The Frisky, entitled “8 Ways To Be Positive You’re Sex Positive.” It’s a great article, and you should go read it. But this is more of a “you think you’re sex positive, but are you really” article than a “how to be sex positive if you’re deeply ashamed by your own desires” article.