I’ve been spending a lot of time recently discussing sex, and in particular my sexual choices and their implications. It’s something I find quite difficult, because sometimes it seems as if the way I make said choices is both relatively unusual and relatively unassimilable within any of the subcultures with which I associate myself. Namely, I’m NOT poly, despite that being the standard assumption by anyone outside the cultural mainstream. (tl;dr version = open is ok, but I can only be in love with/seriously commit to one person at once, and I find sharing Partners, capital P, difficult, as anyone unfortunate enough to be a close friend atm can testify.) Neither am I the culturally codified monogamous standard, exactly – although I’m generally pretty good at monogamy (when given the opportunity with someone I am or could be in love with, a strikingly rare occurrence), I certainly don’t necessarily limit sexual contact to within a single codified Relationship, and am probably a little too open to alternative relationship constructions for the Daily Mail’s comfort. And I’m not promiscuous, either, not that there’d be anything wrong with it if I was. I can’t do casual sex, or rather I can’t take sex casually – I can’t do one night stands with strangers, or with people I don’t already know and trust and respect (and probably in some sense love), or sex with people I feel casual about, or sex whose meaning for both of us isn’t discussed and openly consented to.
So. Where does that leave me? Well now. For me, sex is primarily and profoundly about connection. Obviously, I’m pretty appreciative of the sheer physical glory of it, my body’s pretty well wired that way. But more significantly, I’m an intimacy junkie, closeness to and understanding of others is one of my most fundamental driving forces, and sex is a unique and powerful means of achieving that. It’s a very quick way of getting under someone’s skin – finding out what they need, who they can be, whether you could love them, learning how to be with them in a fairly profound sense. And for my sins, I’m (mostly) entirely comfortable with people (or at least people I’ve decided I care about enough to want to share those aspects of myself with) having that knowledge of me – I’m at peace with my own emotional vulnerability, as or at least as much as I’ll ever be. And I trust my own judgement.
That said, I don’t, and never have, navigated my way though life trying to avoid pain, because that’s impossible – life and pain are inextricable, you can’t defend against illness or accident or death or any of the myriad tragic coincidences that echo around us simply as a result of living in proximity to others. Life is suffering. There’ll always be pain. The trick is – and oh, how tricky it is – accepting that, and where you have a choice, choosing to be honest, and learn, and hope. And be kind. So, I’m totally with Bob Marley on finding the ones worth suffering for. People I choose to fuck (and we’re not talking big numbers here – except in cases of accident or genetic variation you have more digits than I’ve had lovers, although it depends somewhat on definition) are in some sense open door people – people whom I feel instinctively can teach me stuff about myself, about themselves, about the world. There has to be other stuff, too – physical attraction, and intellectual chemistry, and trust, and emotional resonance – but that sense of possibility is crucial. Desire itself is an open door. Of course, sometimes behind an open door there’s just a wardrobe – but sometimes there’s Narnia, and like I said, I trust my judgement.
And part of that judgement, whatever my acceptance of the possibility of pain, is by and large selecting people who will retain and act on respect for me, whatever may happen between us. Within or without a conventional ‘relationship’ situation. For my sins, I’m big enough and old enough and ugly enough by now to know that feelings and fucking are not in any way necessarily correlative; how I choose to relate them is just that, a choice. I’ve been passionately and later functionally in love with people whom for geographical/life reasons I couldn’t fuck, and slept with people I couldn’t be ‘in love’ with; in the latter case, sex wouldn’t change that, however close it brings us. My feelings for a person are what they are, and while mutual desire may open doors and/or expose lovable bits of someone it wd otherwise be very difficult to access (and these days I tend not to fuck people I couldn’t and/or don’t love in any sense, even the most diffuse) they’re not, baseline, going to change. I’m lucky enough to have a fairly if not infallibly accurate sense for how deep my feelings for someone could potentially run, regardless of whether emotional circumstances (and the inbuilt mutuality clause in my heart) allow them to do so. It’s not always easy, but I know myself well enough to know that for me, self-knowledge, fleeting joy and genuine connection are often more than worth the pain of losing them. And I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing people who understand and empathise with my reluctance to let sexuality either define or limit the bounds of emotional intimacy, which has been incredibly rewarding in terms of love, insight and support.
Thing is, thinking and living thus comes with consequences. For a start, as my opening paragraph would imply, I don’t fit into any culturally defined categories – I’m not a serial monogamist, exactly, or poly, or promiscuous, or casual. I’ll have sex outside relationships, but with people I care about, and mostly as an expression of what for me is a genuine impulse towards sustained closeness of some kind, even if not a traditional ‘relationship’-bound one. See previous re. trusting judgement in such situations, but it’s unavoidable that I’m therefore open to, well, getting fucked over, as they say. Secondly, people make all sorts of inaccurate assumptions. Usually along the lines of I’m wilfully promiscuous so I’m ‘easy’ – I’m not – and relatedly that sex and/or my relationships with my partners are unimportant to me, but also (in relevant circles) that I’m poly so should perforce be cool with all manner of things I actually find quite difficult. Regrettably, this sometimes includes potential lovers, although doing so tends to remove one from that category pretty quickly – but even outside that kind of emotional loading, it’s hard to explain, and I end up on the wrong end of a number of problematic cultural schisms. The divide between girls you fuck around with and girls you go out with in the cultural mainstream, for example, that dreadful why buy the cow when the milk comes free thing – easy to say I wdn’t want to be with anyone who thought like that, and that’s undoubtedly true, but it’s never pleasant finding out one’s entire emotional capacity has been summarily negated by the willingness to express desire. The assumption that either my body or my emotions – intense as they are if you know me, hah, in both cases – are somehow worth less because I share them on the basis of closeness rather than commitment. The loss of good girl privilege – I mostly lost that a long time ago, right about the time I started talking about sex and subbing and the erotics of violence on the internet, or publishing papers on hardcore BDSM porn, but nevertheless I’m very aware that should I, gods forbid, get raped, or more seriously sexually assaulted that I already have been, it’s going to be even more impossible/traumatic to exact any form of legal retribution. (The inevitable vicious interrogation and undermining of my sexual choices/morality/selfhood would hardly encourage me to try). Being an openly sexual subject in a culture where (female?) sexuality is relentlessly objectified was never going to be a stroll over Hampstead Heath, but it’s ten times more difficult if you’re doing so outside culturally codified boundaries.
I’m not complaining, exactly. My notes for this point consisted of ‘SO, IS IT WORTH IT?’ at the top of a notebook page; within half an hour said page was covered in tiny scribbled notations of things I felt I’d gained from doing things this way. Insight. A number of close and loving friendships. Understanding, both from others and of others. Forgiveness, awareness, acceptance. Joy, contact, connection. Support and reassurance. The delight of an instinctive bond with others, lovers or otherwise, who’ve also examined themselves and their needs and their desires closely and constructed their own ways and means of working amid and around and across the monolithic cultural categorisations of acceptable, ‘normal’ sexuality.
So, is it worth it? For me, for connection, for closeness, yes. But only just, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come at a price. And sometimes a highly personal one. For every person who’s reached out, there’s been another who’s dismissed me, or disapproved, and sometimes they’ve been people I liked or respected or desired. For every person who’s shared themselves or their stories or their experiences there’s been someone else who’s shaken their head in dismay or raised an incredulous eyebrow. Certainly I can entirely and genuinely understand and sympathise with those friends who conduct themselves otherwise.
It’s not easy. But then, what ever is?
 Essentially, more than I want *any* particular person I need to feel both wanted and able to give, so if neither of those exist, the feelings can’t either.