Performing desire

(crossposted from Facebook)

I started seeing a sex therapist last April, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have a lot to say about that whole experience, but one thing that’s particularly come up for me lately in conversations is a session we did where we were cuddling and she asked me, playfully, “so what do you want to do?” and I had a clear experience of

  1. knowing the answer, which was “I actually just want to keep cuddling,”
  2. feeling embarrassed and a little ashamed of it, and
  3. noticing this and promoting it fully to conscious attention.

The narrative I absorbed growing up of what it meant to be a sexual man was that I was supposed to constantly want all these sexual things with women, and was supposed to just be waiting for yeses to immediately dive into doing all of them with gusto. But that has basically never been my experience. I also absorbed a narrative that men who expressed sexual desire were monsters, so I never felt safe even feeling sexual desire around women (as opposed to porn), let alone expressing it. My first clear experience of feeling sexual desire for a woman in front of me was a few months ago.

Before sex therapy, what I sometimes (often? I have no idea, honestly) did with partners was perform desire; touching them in ways that I thought would make them feel desired, because if I didn’t then they’d feel bad and I would have failed in my role as a loving partner. And it’s not that I didn’t know that this dynamic existed, but I only knew it as a thing that happened to women; I had never heard a man describe it happening to them. (Actually growing up I never heard a male friend describe any sexual problems whatsoever. It was just not something any of us ever talked about.)

Closely related, for me, is performing dominance. I have a history of being attracted to submissive women but having no idea how to dominate them because I had absorbed all these narratives around male dominance being toxic. The result, as far as I can tell, was that I faked it and I didn’t make it. I experimented with choking and hair pulling and none of it really felt like it was coming from a real place in me; I was doing it to make my partners happy and that’s about it. And based on conversations I’ve been having recently I’m not alone in this.

Anyway, I hereby consign all of this to the flames. I release performance and the narratives that give rise to it. There’s so much more richness and vulnerability and beauty available in the moment-to-moment dance of physical connection with another human being.

My sex therapist and I ended up cuddling for another 10 minutes or so and it felt great.

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