Faking It While Making It?
I’ve been listening to way too much Dan Savage lately. For those of you who aren’t aware of the Savage Love podcast, it’s a weekly show where people call in with questions about every facet of sexuality. There is a lot of talk about fetishes and polygamy and activities far beyond the realm of what we consider “normal.” There are also a lot of questions about the most mundane and boring elements of human sexuality. This is a show for everyone. Well, everyone except children and my 95-year-old grandmother.
Savage is considered a controversial figure by some because of—among other things—his encouragement of polyamorous relationships, or what he calls “monogamish” relationships. He argues that most people will stray, and even if they don’t, the temptation will be there. A monogamish relationship doesn’t just allow for extra partners, but gives sexual partners the freedom to discuss their fantasies and concerns openly and honestly. It’s the kind of relationship where agreements are made, contracts are figuratively drawn up, and both parties are consulted before any actions are taken.
It is a very adult idea of sexuality—and by “adult” I don’t mean anything as titillating as porn. Having sex on the kitchen table can be sexy. Rationally discussing your sexual issues over coffee at the kitchen table usually isn’t. Dirty talk is hot. Talking about your therapist’s recommendations with your partner isn’t.
So, sorry to disappoint you. When I say that I’ve been listening to too much Savage lately, it has nothing to do with riding crops or clear heels or threesomes. If it was, I could be totally honest and happy to purchase some shiny new items from Smitten Kitten or Adam & Eve and call into work for the next week or so. It’s that open and honest thing that makes me want to wrap my body in a nun’s habit and a five-fold saffron robe.
Sexual honesty makes me feel filthier than a Jenna Jameson DVD. It’s why I spent most of my adult life avoiding it—faking it while I was making it. Down through the years, I’ve had a lot of Meryl Streep moments in the bedroom. I’ve acted interested when I’m not. I’ve acted disinterested when there is nothing more I’d rather do. I’ve feigned satisfaction and disappointment and transcendence and an overwhelming need to get a good night’s sleep. I’ve pretended to feel desirable while stealthily removing my Spanx. I’ve pretended to desire my partners even when they reeked of Jacked Smoky Chipotle BBQ Doritos and Miller Lite.
I’m sure I, and billions of other people, could offer up our sexual relationships for the Academy’s consideration. Our childhoods are filled with fairy tales and mythology and movies and pop songs. We spend our teenage years painfully realizing that all those stories either aren’t true, or just aren’t true for us. We become disenchanted, angry, vulnerable. We listen to a lot of music and experiment with a range of substances to deal with that reality. Then we grow up and have to date. By adulthood, we are wounded veterans with bloody hearts and haunted brains and a declining ability to tolerate alcohol.
At least, we should be. There are, out there, adults who believe that Sleepless in Seattle was a documentary. That you complete me is an endearing and positive statement. That you can meet someone once and put a deposit down on a U-Haul. I’ve been on unsuspecting internet dates with some of them and marveled at their hopefulness, otherwise known as codependency issues. Sex usually wasn’t a concern with these hapless fellows. Getting through a beer without giving them a wake-up call was.
But then you get a live one—a person who does get you but doesn’t want to be 50 percent of you. Someone with complimentary wounds and a well-stocked first aid kit. You begin letting down your well-reinforced guard and, almost accidentally, being your true self. It feels strange after all those years of learning what other people want and being that, to just being.
Some people never get there. I’m terrified I might be one of them.
As I’ve already admitted, it isn’t that I have that much to reveal when it comes to sex. I have a past, yes. I’m a 34-year-old woman who has been essentially single and sexually active her entire adult life. There have been some cringe-worthy, dangerous, salacious, very satisfying moments with more than a few partners. And as a woman, I’ve been violated and mistreated by men during several hellish periods of my life. I know very few women who haven’t been, though. So many women I know harbor some incident from their past in the deepest part of their souls. That place of the unforgiven. That mute place.
I’ve always believed that silence is, indeed, golden when it comes to sex. I’ve been able to ask for what I want and to prevent what I don’t want, but that’s because I feel it’s my feminist duty to educate and enlighten men. That voice comes from the confident, politically aware part of my libido that demands that I enjoy sex because my foremothers didn’t have to the right to.
This orgasm’s for you, Grandma!
But then there’s that amphibian me who is dismissive of intellectual thought and self-help books. It’s the part of me that fears men and fears myself. Some of my fear of men is founded, but in my current relationship, the fight or flight response only leads to another night of Parks and Rec re-runs and some low-sodium popcorn. I’m running away from him, running toward any kind of distraction to avoid talking about it or having it.
There are all my fears of sexual inadequacy; the montages of bad porn and Angelina Jolie and bony hipbones that plague my mind are Hollywood-slick. Several years ago, I stopped telling men that I was a yoga instructor because they expected Kama Sutra. They expected handstand blowjobs and chakra explosions. Not to sound self-deprecating, but chakra explosions aren’t in my repertoire and, in spite of several inversion workshops, my handstand is a wall, cushion, and experienced instructor assisted situation. Keep your expectations low, boys.
Just being honest.
I am in a “monogamish” relationship—except the other partners are memories, imaginations, spooks and nagging self-doubts. There is the fear that I’m not enough of a freak, and the fear that I’m far too much of one. And most of all, there’s the fear that I have to admit all of this to another person. That we are so close, that the smoke and mirrors that made dating so mysterious and fun, make our relationship distant and confusing.
The truth about sex is that it can be just sex and be fulfilling. No harps or roses or promises of eternal love are required. When you are in love, though, sex becomes a way to communicate with your partner. It’s non-verbal (sometimes), but the loudest statement about where your relationship is and where you are within it. To silence yourself is to remove the pleasure and spontaneity in favor of the mask and bad dialogue.
In sex, in yoga, in business and in relationships, truth is always the answer. Sometimes we need to do 50 warrior poses in order to speak boldly. Sometimes we need a vibrator and a Susie Bright book. Sometimes we need a weekly hour of Dan Savage. Staying open and honest takes practice, but there are thousands of lights along the way to guide you.
And if you find yourself feeling free with your mouth and your body, don’t ask me what happened on the last few episodes of Parks and Recreation. I’ve been otherwise occupied.
Ed: Brianna B.