Human beings like to think we’re far more elevated, intellectually, than our close genetic relatives in the animal world, but when it comes down to it, we’re not much better than dolphins enthusiastically masturbating with fish, or a pack of chimps having an orgy.
Such is our continued collective fascination with sex that you can almost set your watch by the regularity with which a “my sexless marriage hell” tale will captivate readers.
Last weekend a number of people shared their experiences of sexless relationships in Sunday Life magazine, with stories that ran the gamut from sex lives that vanished overnight to the dreaded dwindling of sexual intimacy.
Through all these narratives there is a common thread: the notion that a “sexless” relationship or life is something tragic, and something that needs to be fixed immediately. (You need only look to the erection-adjacent pharmaceutical business to know that.)
Scratch below the surface, though, and the real woe is more often a lack of intimacy, affection or respect rather than a lack of certain sex acts. Yet the mindset persists: an absence of sex is something to be ashamed of or worried about.
Perhaps I’m an outlier here: I’m not asexual, but at the same time, my interest in maintaining an Active Sex Life is fairly low. Like World Of Warcraft, smoking secret herbs and spices, and other enjoyable activities, I can go months or years without sex before I realise it’s “been a while”.
(In fact, I resent the notion that someone who doesn’t often have sex must be asexual, as though there are no nuances when it comes to human sexual attraction.)
That naturally leads to the sorts of conversations that suggest I “just haven’t had great sex yet”, but just like Sally Albright and Sheldon the wonder-schlong, you’ll have to take my word for it. (I also own a number of incredibly fancy vibrators and the Brotherhood Without Banners are back on Game Of Thrones; what a time to be alive.)
Part of this relative lack of interest in any sort of bodacious bonkfest is the knowledge that casual sex tends to be, shall we say, not the best sex in the world; or at least, it’s not been in my experience. I do know people having full-tilt In The Mood For Love-level sensuality festivals enabled by Tinder, and good luck to them.
So, in a way, the lack of sex in my life is informed by experiences of bad sex. Better to have no sex at all than waste a night mopping up after another disappointing roll in the chaff.
But then, what is “good sex”? It’s certainly not the heteronormative piledriving that most glossy gendered magazines would have you believe it is.
When we talk about sexlessness in (predominantly hetero) relationships, I suspect we are in fact talking about a lack of “sex” in its most reductive, penetrative form. There are so many forms of sexual intimacy that measuring our success, or lack thereof, in the bedroom based solely on a universally accepted “fourth base” is heartbreaking.
The late, great Kat Muscat wrote eloquently about this in her essay, So your dick isn’t perpetually hard. “These attitudes are the true boner killers of our time,” she wrote.
“Even the idea of foreplay as something guys do to girls so we will be happier bedpartners directly feeds into this. The playtime becomes a means to an end, instead of a back-arching activity in its own right.”
(As a recent episode of Game Of Thrones demonstrated, despite some optimistic feminist readings of the scene, only eunuchs go down on women, AMIRITE!!)
And when we’re not talking about “sex” in the context of “what comes after foreplay”, we’re wading into territory where sex is actually code for emotional labour; where without sexual validation, our self-image crumbles.
“I felt unattractive and unworthy, and this led to feelings of resentment about why I didn’t deserve to feel that way,” as one of the Sunday Life interviewees put it.
Imagine a world in which these worn out heteronormative notions of what constitutes a Healthy Sex Life go out the window! Imagine a world in which sex is less “Lynx ad” and more “contemporary poem about slugs”!
Perhaps the newer generations, raised on queer theory and first-person essays rather than Cosmo’s 69 Ways To Blow His Mind (“Scrape a fork on his thigh!”), will begin to unpick some of the knots we’ve tied ourselves in on our way to a very limited sexual nirvana.
And perhaps, one day, we won’t even know what the word “sexless” means anymore.