A couple of months ago, I was having sex with someone who had broken up with his girlfriend quite recently. I found something in the specificity of his movements—the pressure he applied, the timings of things: pleasure, yes, but also the traces of the woman who came before me and how she liked to be touched.
His confidence, I understood immediately. He moved like someone who was used to having sex, who was settled in his place in it—following the impulses of his body, unthinkingly. Towards the end he put me into a position I’d not been in for a while and, rather than relaxing into it, I tensed up. I struggled to get my balance and find a rhythm and, rather than trying, I slipped back down onto the bed, his shadow moving over me.
Being with him made me think back to what I was like when I first started having sex with new people after my relationship ended. You’re supposed to be nervous to start over again, and I was, but I was still more confident than I am now. I’d been having sex most nights for five years, so being that close to someone didn’t seem like a big deal, nor did saying what I wanted and how I wanted it. I could get to a place where I completely forgot myself, which is impressive for someone who cares about how they look as much as me, sucking in my cheeks in the mirror to see what it would look like if I had buccal fat removed and buying Lots of vibrating anti-aging devices that probably don’t work. I could escape myself to that place outside of time, and come back into myself when it was over to find my vision blotchy, the skin on my chest pink, and my mascara running.
When I have sex now, there’s this voice in my head second-guessing everything. I don’t just do things, I think and then I do them, or not—often, when you’ve had time to think, you’ve given yourself long enough to talk your way out of it. I can’t forget myself anymore. When I’m on top I wonder how I look from that angle. An earring falls out and I have to resist the urge to go and pick it up. After it’s finished, I’m so overcome with neediness I want to crawl inside the pajama top they just put back on and pop my head out the other side .
I think this is partly because sex feels like a bigger deal when I’m having less of it, but it’s also because of the society I’m having it in. bell hooks writes in The Will to Change, “If women have been taught through sexist socialization that a journey through the difficult terrain of sex will lead us to our heart’s desire, men have been taught that their heart’s desire should be for sex and more sex.” Under this model, women are encouraged to use sex as some sort of bargaining tool they can wield to trick men into being closer to them, a carrot they can dangle. Even if you don’t want to go out with the guy you’re having sex with, there’s this feeling after it’s done that you lost some power, that you’ve given away something you shouldn’t have, and now you’re worth less. It’s what Carrie experiences in the sixth episode of Sex and the Citywhen Mr. Big takes her out to a Chinese restaurant—thinking it’s a sign that he doesn’t see her in a serious way because she slept with him too quickly.