I wrote, recently, about a complicated and interesting (to me, at least) night at a sex party. A reader asked me, in an e-mail, if I had “enjoyed” myself at the party, and it got me to thinking.
Part of why I started writing this blog, a big part of what keeps me writing it, is that I find sex – sex, sexuality, desire – endlessly fascinating. In the way that some people find sports endlessly fascinating, and others, celebrity, or gossip, or movies, or theatre.
In the form of meditation I practice, I strive to pay attention to what’s happening. I use my breath as a tool, but the truth is, it could be anything: a spot on a wall, the sun, a candle, a mantra. The advantage of my breath is that it changes a lot, and its changes are, on examination, closely related to my mental state. And, it’s always with me.
On first blush, my breath seems very uncomplicated, very straightforward – I breathe in, I breathe out, what more is there to it? But on further examination, it turns out, there’s a lot to it, a ton of complexity, and the complexity rarely is what it seems. My chest is tight? My breaths are shallow? I feel my lungs expanding into my back? My belly rises and falls? My breathing is high in my chest? Deep, below my diaphragm? All those things happen, and they all tend to be correlated with mind states. When I’m angry, agitated, unhappy, my breaths are shallow and quick, my chest feels tight. When I’m relaxed and at peace, my breaths are diaphragmatic, deep, slow. And so on….
I’ve occasionally been told, when meditating in groups (something I don’t do often), “Enjoy your breathing.” This is a particularly common elocution among followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, a prolific and gifted writer, Buddhist practitioner, and peace activist. This wish feels extremely disconnected from my experience of meditation: I enjoy being deeply engaged with the observation of my life. Often, however, meditation, or breathing, is anything but enjoyable. The instruction that I should “enjoy” my breathing feels to me like a demand, or at a minimum, an establishment of a potential goal. And for me, what’s most magical and helpful about meditation is precisely the absence of goals, the commitment to experiencing things as they are, rather than in comparison to how I might wish them to be.
This is a long parenthetical, but there’s a point: when my reader asked if I had enjoyed the sex party, I had a strange reaction. For a moment, I thought: Huh? Enjoy? In much the same way that I react when told to enjoy my breathing.
My longer, more thoughtful reaction, was this: I enjoy having sex be at the center of my field of vision. I enjoy challenging myself by putting myself in complex, unfamiliar, challenging sexual situations. I enjoy the extent to which my reactions in these situations can be instructive to me. I’m endlessly intrigued by just how much there is to learn about sex, about sexuality, about desire – about my desire and sexuality, and about those phenomena in particular. In short, I relate to sex much as I relate to my breath. And on this night, this night when the sex I had was mediocre, and punctuated by genuine unpleasantness, sex was interesting.
Often, a given sexual encounter or situation isn’t all that enjoyable. The truth is, if you read this blog closely, you’ll see that I rarely enjoy myself in any conventional sense of the word when I’m at Le Trapeze, or at a sex party. When I do really enjoy myself, it’s invariably with my partner, primarily, and more often than not, my enjoyment is almost in spite of, or in opposition to, the club or party.
And yet, I keep going back. I keep going back because, as I have said more than once, I enjoy being a tourist of sex, confronting interesting, unfamiliar, challenging circumstances, and seeing how they affect me.
There’s an OK Cupid question: would you rather your life be filled with good things, or with interesting things? For me, it’s a no-brainer: I’d prefer interesting.
Did I enjoy that evening? In the end, the answer is, yes. Maybe not so much in the moment, but in the moments afterward, in the thoughts I’ve had about it? Shit yeah. I’ve learned about myself, about my thoughts and feelings about gangbangs, about men.
And that – that thinking after the fact – that’s where the real juice of sex is for me. Not in the moment of, but in the anticipation and the reflection, the learning.