Wednesday, March 19, 2014

30x30: Sex

I grew up mainly Catholic so sex conversations were always taboo. 

My Catholic high school sex ed basically consisted of being shown graphic images of various STIs (they were called STDs in my day) and being told that we were becoming women now and should shower regularly. Other than that, sex convos were pretty much avoided and referred to as something dirty, dangerous, and sinful.

Growing up, sex was so taboo that even today I, as a liberal-minded, sex-positive urbanite, am still trepidatious to write a post about it. Still, in reflecting on the ideas and experiences that have been significant parts of my last 30 years, I'd be remiss and not a little prudish to leave out (*whispered*) sex.

It wasn't until I heard Paula Cole's song Feelin Love from the City of Angels soundtrack for the first time that I even began to recognize myself as someone to whom sexuality was applicable. I was doing a movement exercise in a theatre workshop, and I found my movements becoming sensual in a way over which I felt I had no control. I couldn't even make out the lyrics at the time, but there was something in the music that moved me in a different place. It was like suddenly being...awake. And aware. Was that what it was like when "Eve ate the fruit?" If so, who could blame her?

As I got older though, needless to say, all the STI pics from sex ed made me very cautious, and my initial ideas about sex were very Puritanical. As a kid, I once vowed that I would never have sex except in instances when I was actively trying to conceive a child. (I know; I've always been a bit of an extremist). And I thought of all of the more creative things that one might do with a partner as, at best, questionable, and at worst degrading.

Luckily, by going to college and spending lots of time with theatre people, my ideas about what's good and healthy and beautiful came to include a lot more than they did when I was in Catholic high school. Where before sex had simply been a necessary means for procreation and the gay kind was practically a capital offense, I slowly got to recognize sexuality as a way of connecting with, enjoying, comforting, and loving another person deeply, viscerally, and without the need for too many words. I got to appreciate its immense and varied potential for expression and meaning, among consenting adults who respect one another.

Aside from the anatomy and physiology of it, which we had also learned in high school, I finally got to understand sex in and of itself. Paula's lyrics started making sense.

Still, I've been a something of a serial monogamist, and growing up as I did, I've never had sex with someone new without having a conversation about it first. Salt-N-Pepa's Let's Talk About Sex must've had a strong impact on me. My tendency toward caution pretty much ruled out one-night-stands and other such Millennial and Gen X merit badges. But then again, having been born in the panic of the AIDS epidemic, mine is the first generation for whom sex has always carried with it the risk of death.

I've never once been sexually attracted to someone without first finding them appealing in my heart. That's just how I work, psychophysically. Perhaps because of that, I've been fortunate enough to have all of my experiences carry meaning, trust, and vulnerability. Where before I worried that I was missing out on the fun of less...measured experiences, I now recognize that with my temperament, I might not've had that much fun anyway.

I'm grateful now to be married to someone with whom I have a multifaceted and unparalleled connection. You couldn't convince me that I'm missing out if you had me brainwashed A Clockwork Orange-style. As for any activities that I never got around to, I'm happy to have any and all of them vicariously through the advice-seekers of Savage Love.

Original illustration by Isabella Rotman

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