The Sensual Perks of Being an Introvert

This is safe for work – PG-13 at worst. Still, it has to do with discussing intimate, even sexual things and even though I am agnostic I was raised Irish Catholic.

You need to dress like you have a job; and parents who raised you in some kind of shame-based, American, religious tradition.

~ Liz Lemon,  30 Rock

Discussing things related to sex does not come easy for me. It’s not due to immaturity but rather an awareness of how taboo the subject is for many people. Pair that with my sensibilities as a writer and one may as well be having the “birds and the bees” talk with Fred Rogers or Jimmy Stewart.

The reason the subject comes up today is that I have been off working on my fiction and the subject of sexuality arose. While nothing in my writing would come close to pornographic (after all, “show don’t tell”), I still wrestled with the idea to which it might be necessary to depict a level of passion between any two characters. Might it be important in some circumstance to relate that two characters have a sexual relationship and, if yes, to what degree should the writing discuss it?

The rabbit hole took me down memory lane, as rabbit holes often do for introverts. That is the nature of the introvert: introspection. People sometimes misuse the word introvert, substituting social anxiety or some degree of misanthropy in its place because they mistake introversion for an “aversion to people”. That is not necessarily true. Introverts merely have a mental focus that is inwards and the social interaction drains their energy. We need time alone to recharge – but introverts can love people in general.

As I ventured down the rabbit hole I came to a realisation that might have universal application but seems uniquely fitting for introverts: the role of sex in communication.

Sitting on a sofa one evening with an ex (at-the-time girlfriend), she kicked off an interesting conversation. She had a thought to share with me but it first prompted a more general observation that people have a distinct way of kissing. If one were to don a blindfold and have each of their exes kiss them, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that one could probably identify each person. Taste, technique, and so forth – they vary with each person.

It was on her mind because we had kissed a few moments before and it left her thinking, “You have, like, three distinct kisses. I’m used to guys having just the way they kiss, but you have one that is intensely sexual and I feel this warm tingle all through my body. Then you have one that sweet and reassuring and comforting. Then there’s one somewhere in between that’s romantic but familiar. Little variations with each, but it’s like three distinct personalities.”

The thought took me back to my first kiss, sitting in a restaurant at a school play afterparty with my first girlfriend. She leaned over at one point to kiss me and I had zero idea what to do, so I settled on an academic strategy: observe what she is doing and mirror it. That became my strategy with most first kisses in life – adapt to whatever she does. How firmly does she press? Mouth open? How much? Are they quicker or longer?

For the comic book fans: it’s like the scene in Civil War where Cap is pummeling Stark and he has Friday analyse his fight pattern.

Take in terabytes of kiss data, analyse, and output. The same was true of hand placement. Some women love a hand alongside their face. Some women enjoyed feeling a hand slide into their hair. Some like feeling a hand on their hip. Some women just seem to enjoy the hand being there, the simple touch. Others seemed to enjoy a gentle pull bringing the bodies together.

There was no universal technique because women aren’t a monolith and the focus in the moment was not “I’m kissing!” It was “don’t be terrible because she’ll hate it.”

Therein we find the beauty of introverts – that is the inward focus. Even when dealing with other people, the focus starts inwards to achieve the best outcome.

Sexually (this is where it gets a little Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – I said it might get awkward) it’s the same. My biggest physical turn-on is my partner being turned on: the crazier I can make them, the better my experience. If the issue were that I felt aroused, my normal inclination is to take care of it myself rather than to have sex. In fact, the idea of seeking out someone else because I felt turned on seemed wrong. It felt too much like using the other person for selfish reasons, even if that person was my committed, monogamous partner.

Sex, for me, has always been about communication and connection. I wrote before about the psychological and emotional stimulation being paramount to a good experience. Any aptitude I have in the bedroom derives from a basic knowledge of anatomy and attentiveness rather than a generic technique. Even with a single partner (about to begin year four of marriage!), the specifics can vary over time.

The more I focus on her experience in my mind (introversion) the more I can adapt what I am doing in a positive feedback loop. It seems counterintuitive to many (as introversion in general is less common), but this inward focus, not a selfish focus, means more attention paid to the other person.

Those three distinct kissing styles my ex referenced derive from this as well. The point is not the kissing – the point is the communication. I promised this was not a lewd topic.

It seems in communication that many have a tendency to wait for their turn to speak rather than actively listen. We all know people who do it and are often guilty of it ourselves, at least on occasion.

A related point is that when communication we often regard the interaction as starting with one party communicating whatever is on their mind to the other party. If my wife and I are sitting in silence and something pops into my head that I want to share with her then I say it. This begins the conversation and she will respond.

But like the idea that the only people present in a photograph are the subjects of the photograph, it ignores the meta reality that a photographer is also present. That spontaneous communication did not occur in a vacuum. We already have an established relationship and the communication began in a place where we have wants and needs with some overlap.

Part of the reason I had those distinct approaches to kissing that my ex indicated was that I reacted to what she was doing; however, another part was understanding what she needed and wanted so that I could communicate back. What could seem like the initiating part of the conversation was actually a response. It was a subtext (show, don’t tell) to the already existing subtext, articulating our relationship more clearly.

As an introvert, much of my mind engages with that subtext. Even if other people do not give explicit thought to the subtext, it exists. In fact, it may be why we are able to see problems in others’ relationships before they do or why some people look back on failed relationships and start to notice them afterwards.

Everything we do is communicating something to others, deliberate or otherwise. That might result in ambiguity if the other person has an incorrect read of the situation, but this is where introverts shine. We give so much consideration to how others will receive our words, actions, or even thoughts that it drains our energy – hence the need to get away to recharge, even if we like the people involved.

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