Celtic Riverside – The Online Journal of James Keenan

Sure, Sex is Great But…

I want to share a personal story today about my relationship with sex and women. This has nothing to do with #MeToo or feminism, specifically, but the topic came up and it started a ton of thoughts in mind that I’ve wanted to share for awhile. This was just an opportunity to coalesce those ideas into something from which others might benefit reading.

It all began with a Tweet:

Sure, sex is great, but have you ever spent time with someone kind, considerate, and attentive that you really like? The warmth of just being together is pretty amazing.

I have, as one might have gleaned from reading other entries here, a complicated relationship with sex. As a boy, I wanted to be a husband – that just seemed like the greatest thing in the world to me. I didn’t even know what sex was. Women were great and I liked the idea of being with a woman for the rest of my life in a special relationship.

Without venturing too far of course, I must confess a few things here to explain. Aesthetically, women have it all over men in my mind. They smell wonderfully, their voices are like music to my ears, there’s a cleanliness about women, and they are visually stunning (all in generalities, of course). Women are more agreeable, especially with men, because of the pressure placed on them. That makes it easier to get through to the warmth, intelligence, humour, and confidence for me because not every aspect of the interaction feels like a competition (which is exactly how it can feel with men).

Men always seemed dirty to me. We are constantly sweaty it feels and smell, somewhat complementary to women, like all the worst things outdoors. Our voices are deep and percussive, and our figures seem blocky and uninteresting. Add to that a pervasive culture of objectifying women as sexual objects and “bro-hood”, and I’ve generally found men more off-putting. Generally, and as a matter of preference (I know I’m still going to catch heat for this).

This all had the effect of putting women up on a pedestal where they did not belong. Women do not need praise. Some men hoisting women onto an artificial pedestal while still contributing to behaviours that make women second-class citizens is wrong, as are all of the people who just flat out treat them like second-class citizens (or sexual objects). But I was very nervous around women as a boy and I did not want to cross any sexual line that might upset a woman I liked.

What that meant for me personally was the near absence of intimacy until my senior year of college. I had a “girlfriend” in the 4th-6th grades (which I discuss elsewhere), but that was about being friends who exclusively attended school dances together. My last year of high school, when a classmate pursued me through a mutual friend, was my first experience dating. She initiated my first kiss and several of my other firsts over the course of our 10-month relationship, before an awkward breakup (it all worked out as we are best friends today).

Things went awry in the wake of that breakup. I now had sexual experience and felt awakened in that sense, so was truly single for the first time in my life. I met a woman through work who was beautiful and fun, and she asserted herself sexually around me. I felt thoroughly attracted to her, so when she asked me (yes, for those keeping track, this is 2-for-2 with the women approaching me – that’s important later on) I agreed to date.

Within the first two weeks we were having sex and it was mind-blowingly good. Not only was she technically proficient about things, I truly felt that she wanted me specifically. She had an urgency and insatiability about the way she approached me that was a huge turn on. I felt connected with her in a profound way.

Until we started having sex.

As great as it was, all of that feeling of connection vanished from me. She was the same woman – I had not discovered something off-putting about her and I did not regret the sex, but the relationship felt hollow. We continued for another week as I sorted through that in my head, but I realised quickly that I enjoyed the sex but not the relationship. At that point, she had become a de facto sex object to me and I knew I had to end things. That is not how I wanted to treat anyone. It felt best to end things now and grant her the freedom to pursue a relationship with someone who felt wholly available to her.

To this day I regret that relationship through the hindsight that my attraction must have been purely sexual from the start; my desire for a relationship so strong that I overlooked any signal that nothing deeper existed when we pursued things.

That made me even more cautious around women, and I continued the practice of waiting for women to indicate their interest in me. With online dating that was easier to setup dates, but it did not help with the sex part. Most of the women I dated involved no sex or even kissing – I had no fear of “accidentally sexually assaulting” someone (consent is a crazy simple concept to understand), but I feared the relationship between my sexual interest and my interest in women as a partner. I needed to confirm the latter before I could pursue the former.

Might I have regained my passion for her as time progressed? Possibly – but the air had gone so swiftly from my enthusiasm that it seemed unlikely, and I did not want to discover months or years later that I had basically used another person for sexual gratification (with the understanding of fidelity between us) only to end it then. That is when I resolved to build the emotional connection between having sex.

That resulted in a 7-year dry spell. I ended my last sexual relationship when I was 21 and went on hardly a date again until I was 28. The first woman I dated for a few months before we decided that, while great, it did not have a future (she, like me, did not want to tie the other person to fidelity no matter how great things were currently if it had little future prospect). The woman I dated after that is now my wife. We worked together for quite some time and then began to hang out socially, so we knew each other extremely well by the time we decided to date.

By the time she and I decided to have sex for the first time, I already knew I wanted to marry her. Less than a month later I bought the ring.

The experience of all of that taught me several things; namely, about myself. During that 7-year sexual dry spell in particular, I of course met women that I found sexually attractive. Even tougher at times was that I met women that I found sexually attractive who found me sexually attractive. The option had been there for casual sex at times, and I am not so prudish that I rail against such things (when safe and consensual – and both parties know that it is casual).

Sex is a responsibility, for men and women (it does not fall entirely to women, guys). I did not like the idea of meeting someone with whom I did have a connection while casually having sex with someone else. That felt, and I know this is irrational, like cheating on the woman with the connection.

“Are you single?” she might ask.

“I am, other than this woman with whom I’ve been having sex,” I’d think to myself.

Shudder.

My Experience with Sex Itself

:Disclaimer:

I’m not going to be particularly graphic here, but I do want to share some detail so feel free to skip ahead if this is TMI. I think it adds value to know for the purposes of this entry, but this topic can make people uncomfortable and that should not be forced on anyone. Just scroll on ahead to the next header.

Men are designed to have orgasms. They occur all too easily in many cases and are all but guaranteed as a man (barring erectile and other sex-related issues – and there is nothing wrong with that). For me, erections have come without much effort and I have, I’m told, an uncommon ability to maintain them. To that end, my personal satisfaction has been of less significance to me. Instead, it felt that the focus ought to be on my partner for whom sexual satisfaction would be harder to attain.

Sex for me is about a slow burn that is more psychological than physical. Physically, sex can take a couple of minutes. Anyone can master the technical aspects of sex. Great sex came from a deeper connection. As referenced earlier, it’s one thing to have a general feeling of arousal, another to feel attracted sexually to a specific person, and yet another to feel so possessed by that specific person that one can hardly stand it.

That last type is worth the effort, and that requires time. It means building the arousal more and more without finishing (which can have the effect of killing arousal for the partner who finishes – which, as pop culture alone would tell is, is often the man). Focusing on the woman is the single greatest way to do that in my experience. This includes the obvious things like kissing, fingering, and cunnilingus, but any degree of attentive consideration works. For example, I have engaged with my wife through completely non-sexual back massages and arm touches.

It also requires attention. My partners have told me in the past they it’s fairly common for guys to just have a sort of playbook: do this, then that, and then that. I’m not suggesting the specific items aren’t arousing, but women are different. What works for one woman does not work for another, and being aware enough to adjust until one finds just the right button for her specifically goes a long, long way. I have also found that it keeps things from getting stale if something that worked previously has lost its charm. Pay attention to signs that she is not into it and change. Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to say what you want either (while bearing consent in mind at all times!).

My goal is to arouse my partner so much before she ever touches my penis that she can hardly stand it. If my wife is squirming and telling me she’s ready to go, I know I’ve done things right and the sex that follows is amazing for both of us.

Developing this attitude towards sex had the effect of taking the charm out of sex itself – it’s 100% about my partner. Sex is great, but way overrated in my opinion. She is the fantastic part – the connection we have is what I look forward to the most. My sexual needs, on a psychological level, are something that I can satisfy myself. I learned that from the self-imposed 7-year break. What I did not want to lose was the connection piece.

And We’re Back

The reason I wanted to discuss that was to provide some honesty, transparency, and background before I discuss the most dubious part of this entry.

When I meet a woman that I like, even if that involves sexual attraction, I have no interest in pursuing anything sexual. Is she physically enticing? Sure. Depending on how I’m seeing her/interacting with her, it may even be enough to cause an erection. But I recall have incredible sex when I was younger, in complete ecstasy during the intercourse, and then feeling somewhat detached afterwards. It’s sort of a cost-benefit analysis. The sex was great, but, given our relationship, was it worth the risk and responsibility associated with it?

What I do like is the feeling of the attraction. Some women charm me so much that I just want to be around them, not because of her physical appearance but because of her kindness, intelligence, compassion, and humour. Her presence is a warmth and a comfort. It’s something to which I aspire myself, and I feel energised and inspired by the presence to be my best self – to be the sort of person that she wants to have in her presence.

The sexual attraction becomes irrelevant to the equation, whether it exists or not. The idea of introducing sex into the equation and jeopardising the connection is too great a risk for the benefit of the sex, especially when considering that I can manage my own sexual needs.

That equation changed again with my marriage. All of what I said was true of me as a single man (the 7-year dry spell, the history of waiting for women to approach me to indicate they wanted something more than friendship).

Being married did not have the effect of making things easier because marriage is not an excuse for me to say, “I would have sex with you, but that would be wrong because of the person I am already dating.”

For me, marriage complicated the matter. My wife trusts me implicitly and has reassured me repeatedly that she trusts me with other women. However, in a general sense, she has also told me at times that she feels I’m a far better person than she is (not true). My kindness, intelligence, and humour with others will attract other people, and one of them is bound to be better than she is, so she confesses to a secret worry that I might one day ask to leave. This is also not true, but I take extra care to assure her of that through actions rather than words.

Because having sex with another person is only one way of cheating. Emotional infidelity is also very real, and I should not be seeking that degree of intimacy outside the marriage. So even where she trusts that I would not sleep with another woman behind her back, I do worry that she worries about me striking some connection other than with her.

Honesty About Needs vs. Practicality of Sociability

I shy away from discussion this topic because I do worry about what others think of me, and I imagine for some this sounds like, 1) he’s a philanderer who hasn’t strayed yet or 2) he’s a misogynist working hard to cover up that fact.

For example, I’m pretty outspoken about my feelings for celebrity personalities. Lindsey Stirling, Hayley Westenra, Lorde, and Saoirse Ronan strike me as wonderful people, and I would absolutely seize upon an opportunity to spend time with them. To be actual friends with them? I dare not dream. That is especially true of Emma Watson, who is a personal hero. The way she conducts herself has been my standard of conduct for years, quite literally guiding my behaviour with, “What would Ms. Watson think?” at times. When I write fiction, it’s often with her in mind as the audience.

Because those women are young and beautiful, I know this has the effect of seeming like objectification to some. Men in particular seem to like suggesting that whenever it comes up, and I cannot control that. All I can do is display through my actions that I have a warm, cordial attitude towards these women that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with how they present themselves as people.

That exists in more personal circles. There are several women who are not my wife with whom I would enjoy a strong friendship. I love their ideas and, even more important to me, the respectful, empathetic way they choose to express them. Their presence in my life is one of warmth, friendliness, and happiness, whether in person or through social media, and I would like to maximise that feeling, all while balancing my commitment to my wife. While I would not pursue anything, my wife should have the comfort of knowing that to be true at all times (fortunately, she is a very open and honest communicator, so we have had tremendous success in that respect these first several years).

Still, we live in a society where men objectify women for sexual purposes. More insidious, we have men who portray themselves as “only interested in friendship” as a tactical angle to ingratiate themselves with women, only to claim their niceness as a sort of social currency that entitles them to sex. Guys, if you are genuinely nice and cannot figure out why women do not respond, that is it – too many of the sheep are wolves. Building a meaningful, platonic relationship with a woman takes time to earn her trust through action, not words, and then still longer to cement. Once she forges that friendship, you must now reward her faith through continued decency. That is not your “in” to pursue something romantic. (This is probably also why so many men feel “friend-zoned”).

Anyway – this is all one man’s experience. This is not scientific, this is all anecdotal. I needed to get this off my chest and that tweet created the perfect mindset to organise my thoughts. Objectively, how I view this does not apply to everyone, and I do not impose this on others (though if some glaring error exists in my thinking I am open to hearing about it).

4 Responses to “Sure, Sex is Great But…”

  1. James Keenan

    This may seem a little disjointed, but it was not a planned post. I went completely stream-of-consciousness here and put the thoughts down as they came. Apologies if the flow is a little weird.

    Like

    Reply

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