On Tuesday, I had the chance to sit down over lunch with author Rachel Hills (you might know her from her blog Musings of an Inappropriate Woman) to talk about sex, identity, and relationships in preparation for her forthcoming book The Sex Myth (Simon & Schuster, 2013). A couple of months ago, I’d responded to Rachel’s call for interviewees, and when she was making plans to be in Boston she contacted me and we were able to carve out an hour to talk. I had a good time talking fan fiction, gender independence, and sexual scripts over pizza — although conversational interviews always seem scattered to me in relation to my thought process in writing. I knowÂ I wander and fail to complete thoughts.
Still. Such conversations are always thought-provoking. One of Rachel’s questions revolved around what makes for “good” sex — both what we collectively imagine as the script for “good” sex, and what we ourselves are looking for as a satisfying sexual experience. On an even more basic than what good sex is, we also talked about what simply counts as “sex.” In so many sexual scripts, the dividing line between sex and not-sex is the moment at which a penis penetrates something (anus, mouth, vagina). I notice in the m/m erotica I read, mostly fan fiction, penetrative anal sex becomes the goal for sexual relationships, or the ultimate sign of commitment and sexual intimacy. And obviously for hetero sex there’s the truism that “sex” equals penis-in-vagina intercourse and everything else is foreplay.
I don’t want to imply that sex-with-penis is therefore somehow de factoÂ oppressive and should be done away with, because that would be super sad for all the people in the world who happen to have penes and enjoy sexytimes (and the people who enjoy sexytimes withÂ people who happen to have penes). But I do wish we could move away from this idea thatÂ some forms of sexual intimacy are somehow more sexually intimate or valid than others simply because of what bits are involved.
As for what makes sex “good” … I thought I’d share some of what I came up with for my interview with Rachel — and then open the floor to y’all to chime in!Â
Rachel asked, “What does good sex look like?”
My initial responses:
- Iâ€™d prefer to ask â€śwhat does good sex feel like.â€ť For me, the best sex happens when I’m focused on sensation, rather than on the set piece as a whole.
- Good sex is about good communication and connection, about listening and being heard. Physical touch is a form of communication, so in a way sex is non-verbal conversation.
- Partnered sex, in my experience, is different every time (even with the same partner), about being in the moment, about attending, you always learn something new, itâ€™s the details that are heartbreakingly beautiful.
- I think we put too much emphasis on novelty in our narratives about sex. In my experience, physical intimacy (with the right persons/people) never gets old.
- In terms of what makes for bad sex,Â Iâ€™ve discovered how much body insecurity can get in the way of sexual intimacy. My partnerâ€™s feelings of shame about her body, her sexuality, her beauty, can sometimes make it impossible for her to experience sexual intimacy as something other than a performance for which she will be judged. I feel so much anger toward the people and the cultural climate that have encouraged her to feel this way.
- I’ve come to see Â sexual narratives that are grounded in performativity and attention to other peoplesâ€™ needs at the expense of your own as a form of grinding trauma. It frames sexuality as something that’s solely about other people’s pleasure, about success or failure, rather than your (and your partners’)Â experience of physical pleasure and connection to others.
- While I really love orgasm, I’m wary of the myth that good sex is necessarily about reaching orgasm. I’ve seen “reaching orgasm” thrown out there as a possible alternative definition of “sex” (as opposed to “penis enters vaginal canal”) … which, okay. Improvement. But still leaves out a lot of really great things people can do together!
- Also the myth that in order to be â€śsexyâ€ť or experience desire, you need to feel an instant and overwhelming arousal. Something overpowering. Iâ€™m sad that we donâ€™t see slower, more exploratory, open-ended sexual intimacy as equally valid.
So there are some of my good sex/bad sex “notes to self,” Harpies … how would you add to and amend that list?
… hands over the mike …