The Basics

I know within a few minutes of meeting someone whether or not I want to fuck them. Something in their smile or their posture or the way they greet me either gives me a boner, or it doesn’t.  I usually need to hear a hello or a few words to warm me to the idea of being intimate with someone – but when The Engineer walked into our dorm room in Rwanda, one glance was all it took.  I’d been restlessly horny all day, and I thanked the universe for dropping a tall, handsome man conveniently into my room.

We were the only two in a twelve-bed dorm; he asked if I wanted to join him for dinner, and I fantasized about him in the shower beforehand, sliding fingers through my slippery folds. When, after two beers, he asked if I’d like another, I said, “No, and I don’t think you should have one, either – I think we should fuck first and then have another.” The bed creaked and banged against the wall as I rode him; I’m 100% sure the entire hostel staff heard my moans and whimpers, and I didn’t care. We went back out and had a celebratory beer before bed while chatting about our travels.

It was supposed to be a one-night stand.  He was supposed to go off on a hike the next day… but he stayed.  We spent the day walking along Lake Kivu, coming back to the hostel to fuck in the shower and on a bunk bed ladder (great for the height difference!), then changed rooms and fucked in the bay window, in the bathtub, on the huge bed.  We slept next to each other, waking up early to have sex one more time before I walked to the Congolese border.

I came back to our guesthouse in Rwanda three days later, then shortly took off for another hike the day he was returning from one; he stayed.  When I returned, he was sitting in the common area; he didn’t expect to see me, so when I ran in and flung myself into his arms, it took us an hour to get off the couch.  We went to Kigali together and spent four days mostly eating, drinking wine, and exploring each other’s bodies instead of the city (corporal tourism?).

He took me to the airport at midnight, and it was a hard goodbye; when you develop feelings for someone while in a novel or challenging situation, the feelings can be pretty intense.  We stayed in touch every day after that; when I messaged him asking him to come to Barcelona in July, he said that July was too far away and he wanted to see me sooner… and then proceeded to spend four days traveling overland by boat, bus, and minivan from Zanzibar to the southern end of Lake Malawi, where we spent a week on the beach, drinking cocktails, swimming, fucking like field mice, and being super handsy in public.  By the end of that week, after telling folks in the guesthouse that we were on our honeymoon (it sure felt like it), I was in deep.  We both were.

He took me to the airport again in Lilongwe, and the goodbye was much harder, even though I was sure we weren’t done seeing each other – and we weren’t. He called me when I was in Spain to tell me he was coming to Ireland with me at the tail end of my trip.  He flew over his home to travel with me in a country he’d never been to, even though he was homesick. He met me at the airport with roses; we rented a car and spent eleven days driving through the countryside, staying in bed and breakfasts, cooking for each other, listening to amazing live music, and playing.  We dropped the L word on day five after walking along the Cliffs of Mohor, and when we parted, he gave me a framed photo of us that he’d taken with his phone on the second day we’d been together back in Rwanda.

I’m not someone who believes in fate.  I don’t believe in soulmates, and I certainly don’t believe in The One. But I do feel pretty lucky that we happened to be in the same place at the same time.  Being with him is so easy; I feel emotional security AND physical lust at the same time, which is strange and wonderful.  I feel prioritized, valued, and deeply cared for, and that’s something I haven’t experienced since the last time I lived in the US.  This is good.  It’s really good.  And it’s not over yet – not by a long shot.

Gratuitous sex stories to come!

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Transitions

I’ve mentioned this briefly in a lot of posts over the last six months, but here it is again for good measure: I’m leaving South Korea.

After seven years of living in this beautiful country that has become my second home, I’m packing a few boxes to ship back to the US and selling / giving away everything else in my apartment.  I’ll be leaving the country with one backpack, four crossed fingers, and a thousand memories.

Seven years.  Typing these words leaves a lump in my throat.  I’ve developed some of the closest relationships in my life here, and although the world is getting smaller and my friends are only a Skype call away, it’s not quite the same as hopping on the subway or walking down the street to meet someone for a beer spontaneously.  In the past few months, I’ve felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life because when you part from the people you love, you tend to tell them how much you love them. There’s a Korean word, 정 (jeong), that describes how I feel about Korea – it’s indefinable even in Korean and has no matching English word – but encompasses feelings of love, attachment, affection, community, and giving.  Korea sometimes feels like a big family, and I appreciate that more than I can say.

I’m nervous about going home… I’m expecting the reverse culture shock of coming back to the US to be much more difficult than the original culture shock of moving to Korea, especially given the current political climate! That being said, I have a LOT to be excited about – seeing family and old friends, forging a new and more meaningful career path, probably moving to a new city.  I’ll be traveling for six months (in Africa, Spain, and the UK) before I arrive in the US and definitely looking forward to grand adventures!  My future is uncertain, though: Will I be able to find a job?  Where will I end up?  Will I have to have roommates again in order to be able to afford living in the US?

Also uncertain is the future of this blog.  I don’t use my phone to do anything blog-related for privacy reasons, and as I’ll be backpacking, I’m not taking a laptop or iPad with me.  I don’t know how often I’ll have access to internet cafés or if the ones I come across will be places I feel comfortable posting in.  I will try to post / check into Twitter when I can in the next six months, but it’s likely that posts will be few and far between.

So before I embark on this journey, I’d like to say: I feel so incredibly lucky to be a part of this blogging community.  Writing this blog has given me an outlet to uncage a creativity I didn’t even know I had, and I’m grateful for that every day.  The ways in which sex bloggers support and encourage each other inspires me and fills me with joy.

I’ll be coming through Barcelona, London, Edinburgh, and Bristol this summer; if you happen to live in one of those places or know a trustworthy person who does and will provide a sleeping space on their floor in exchange for some good storytelling, please shoot me a message on Twitter or an email (@teachershavesex / teachershavesex@gmail.com) and let me know!  As you can imagine, traveling for six months is going to be pretty expensive, and even hostel dorm rooms add up!

I’ll be posting one more Sinful Sunday and one more non-fiction story before I take off; for now I just want to say thank you so much for reading (and for posting the hundreds of gorgeous photos and pieces of writing many of you do that put ideas in my head!).  May your 2017 transitions be positive and peaceful ones, and I hope all of you will experience your own grand journeys this year, even if they happen in your own home.

xx

Jo

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Over My Head

I’ve been waiting to post this for a long time; it was inspired by this Girl on the Net post.  When I saw that the Wicked Wednesday prompt was “Follow Your Heart,” I thought: it’s time.  It’s non-fiction and not very wicked, but I can’t think of a more appropriate prompt for this piece.

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At the time I met Banger*, I was deep into lesbian territory.  I hadn’t been physically intimate with a man for four years and wasn’t planning on it anytime soon; however, when I opened my door and saw him standing there one cold February afternoon, I felt my heart leap in my chest.  He was my type: Tall, bespectacled, bookish.  At least – he was the type I’d had before I stopped dating men.  I panicked and reacted to how handsome I thought he was by being overly cheerful and energetic.  I didn’t really know what to do with my sudden and strange urges; it had been so long since I’d had them.

Over the next year, I developed a massive crush on him, but never said anything; he was always dating someone, and I was supposed to be gay.  We became close friends and confidants; we worked together, shared an office, and lived in the same building, so I saw him all the time.  We’d go out for kimchi stew or barbecue together and chat; a couple of times we went to a noraebang (private room karaoke), just the two of us, drunk on rice wine, and sang songs late into the night.  He made me giggle.  Not laugh – giggle.  The kind of laughter you share with someone when you have inside jokes or find something hilarious that no one else would laugh at.  We could be silly together and really honest with each other because we weren’t trying to get into each other’s pants.  It was brilliant.  Spending time with him was so easy – a breath of fresh air.

He went home for vacation that summer, and I found myself acutely missing his company.  I could feel a kind of dull ache inside of me at his absence.  When I went home for Christmas, he kept in contact with me the whole time I was gone.  The night I got back, there was already a message on my phone welcoming me back to Korea and asking me to dinner.  We spent the next three nights on his bed, watching 90s movies and drinking boozy hot cocoa.  It felt like those times in uni where you’re trying to be physically close to a crush without admitting you like like each other, because what if the other person doesn’t feel the same?  The second night, I asked if I could put my head on his shoulder.  I couldn’t even remember the last time I had cuddled with someone, and it ignited something in my body that I was wholly unprepared for.  My insides exploded with an unstoppable force, and my panties were literally soaked by the time I got back to my apartment.  The next night, as I was stroking his arm, my brain stopped working and my body took over; I grabbed his face and kissed him, and it felt like everything fell into place in that one moment.  My lust was a champagne bottle uncorked.

I went away for a couple of days after that; when I came back, we spent hours making out and exploring each other’s bodies before falling asleep.  At first morning’s light, I told him that I desperately wanted him inside of me.  I hadn’t had penetrative sex with a man for five years at this point; I thought I would need to take it a bit slow or that it might even hurt, but because I was so highly aroused, it felt so. fucking. good.  Like eating an ice cream cone on a scorching summer day.  Like the first time you try ecstasy and you find yourself floating in joyous spacetime.  Like the first day of spring after a long, hard winter.

He called me; he asked me to spend time with him; he held my hand in public, and that’s when I think I fell.  I moved to another city shortly after we first hooked up; it was hard going from seeing him every day to seeing him twice a month, especially now that we were being intimate.  I found myself feeling lost in the behemoth of all these feelings I hadn’t felt in years – overwhelming waves of love and desire.  I had a real libido for the first time in forever.  I was drowning in hormones, and I didn’t know how to get to shore.  I felt crazy.  Suddenly I was being cautious with every word I said to him, scared that if I said or did the wrong thing, all of my joy would vanish.  He would disappear like a magician into the void of a magic box.  I tried to stop myself from feeling, tried to put tape over a waterfall, but I had already contracted emotional ebola and I was bleeding out.

Over the next couple of months, we had the most incredible sex I’d had in a decade, and I experienced orgasms I couldn’t even believe were real.  We fucked everywhere in my apartment, cuddled next to each other on the couch to watch videos, and only came up for air to go out to eat and build up our energy reserves so we could make love again.  If oxytocin is sex vodou, he was a houngan and I was ready to dance with snakes.  He brought me back from the dead.

My friends were baffled.  They said:

“I’ve never seen you this happy.”

“I’ve never seen you this way!”

“You’re glowing!”

“I’m surprised at how… mushy you’re being about this.”

“I never expected to hear you being so sentimental.”

“I’m impressed – not because it’s a guy, but because you like him.”

“It’s kind of nice to hear you say that you feel something again.”

And suddenly, I wanted to know what we were.  Not where it was going – I knew he was moving back to England in the summer – but I wanted to know that he had romantic feelings for me like I did for him.  That I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t crazy.  I told him that I had real feelings for him and that it was freaking me out.  He said he hadn’t had romantic feelings for anyone in years and didn’t know if he could.  I, meanwhile, was feeling ALL THE FEELINGS ALL THE TIME, and it was so completely isolating.  I tried meditation, breathing, yoga, sleeping pills, processing with friends.  Nothing could take away the anxiety of loving someone when I didn’t know how he felt about me.  My pain started to become stronger than my joy, but I held on because the high was so powerful.

When I told him that I felt like I’d changed from someone he actually cared about to someone he was just sleeping with, his response was, “Yeah, I guess that’s just part of the changing nature of relationships, you know?”  When I asked if I could say that we were dating, he responded, “I don’t know.  I mean, you can say whatever you want, but I don’t know.”  When I said that that had hurt me, he said he was sorry I felt hurt.

We kept having these amazing weekends together, but I was in pain all the time.  It’s hard work loving someone who doesn’t love you in the same way; it takes everything from you.  Confidence, dignity, pride, joy, sanity.  Laughter.  Self-worth.  I knew that he cared about me a great deal; he wasn’t good at expressing that with words, but he showed it by doing things like serenading me with a song sacred to my heart that he learned just to play for me, or by choosing to spend his last weekends in Korea with me.  But I was in a different place.  I understood for the first time why people want to give up everything to be with someone.  Why they’ll move half a world away.  I wanted so much to spend my life loving him despite knowing deep down that we probably wouldn’t be compatible in the long run, and that was unnerving.  He told me shortly before he left that he loved me – and I truly believe he did – but continued to introduce me as his friend, which was confusing at best and devastating at worst.

The day before he left, he asked me: “What now?”  I don’t know, I said.  I wanted to say that I wanted to be in a long-distance relationship with him while continuing to date other people here, but the idea of him saying no to that was too crushing to consider.  So I just said that we’d keep in touch, keep loving each other, and hopefully one day down the road we’d meet again and create a second chapter in our story.

We tried to be friends after that, which in hindsight seems like the biggest mistake ever.  His responses to me became less frequent and shorter; we still talked, but it wasn’t the same.  I finally told him right before Christmas that I was deeply in love with him and that it was too painful to try to be his friend.  That I needed a break.  We talked for a long time and hashed things out – then emailed a week later and talked for hours again and hashed more things out – and in the end, he said he was still attracted to me, but didn’t know if that translated into romantic feelings.  That he just assumed I was over him.  That it would be logical to have romantic feelings for me, but feelings aren’t logical.  That he didn’t know if he could be emotionally supportive of me.  I got angry about it all and my anger hurt him; he thought I was diminishing the ways he cared for me just because his feelings weren’t as intense as mine.  He loved me – just not in the way I wanted to be loved.  We left the conversation on a positive note, and agreed that the friendship we’d had before was worth working on.

It took a long time and dating other people (and a thorough reading of More Than Two) to wade through the layers of love and loss I felt… but I made it to the other side, and when I did, I came out stronger.  Not that defensive kind of stronger where you swear you’ll never let anyone in again, which is where I was before I met him, but the kind of stronger where you learn how to open your heart and love completely, accept and really feel your feelings, and vow to work on knowing what you want and how to communicate that.  Where you breathe deeply and let your walls crumble to the ground around you in tiny pieces.  Being that vulnerable and crawling through the darkness that came after were both transformative experiences.

I started writing this blog while I was seeing him because I wanted him to be proud of me for doing something creative; it has since turned into something I’m proud of myself for doing.  I’m grateful for that.  We’re still friends, and the friendship feels easier now.  My heart feels so much lighter when I talk to him.  He lives with someone he’s dating now; that was hard to cope with at first, but a month or so ago I suddenly found myself feeling genuinely and deeply happy for him out of the blue.  We should all get to love in life and be loved in return – even the people who have hurt us.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

 

*Not his real name, obvs.  This is what a few of my friends started calling him after I initially and hesitantly told them I was “bangin’ a dude.”

 

Catching Feelings

I have this very distinct memory from my junior year of high school of being angry at my high school sweetheart because he wouldn’t let me have a threesome with a girl I’d had a crush on for years and her mega-hot boyfriend (ungh that dude was ripped).  I didn’t understand what the big deal was – it was just sex.  It wouldn’t change the way I felt about my boyfriend; he would still be my love.  A year later, I broke up with him because I had a huge boner for someone else, and society says the rule is that you only get to have one romantic relationship at a time.  I was devastated; he was completely heartbroken.  I still loved him deeply and didn’t want to end things, but I wanted to explore a relationship with this other guy and didn’t see any other way that could be possible except to cheat, which I wasn’t willing to do (yet).  The cheating part came later when we started sleeping together again while he was dating one of my good friends.  Teenagers.
Looking back on this now, it’s quite obvious to me that I was never a monogamous-minded individual.  In my early twenties, I cheated on multiple boyfriends with multiple people; I always tried to justify this by telling myself that something was missing from my relationships.  Sure, I couldn’t identify that thing, but something must be broken to make me stray, right?  But… nothing was broken.  I just loved two (or three) people at once.  I can’t imagine how my relationships would have been different if I’d had a vocabulary or framework to deal with and understand those feelings.
Coming off of a gutting post-cheating breakup, I decided that I just couldn’t be in romantic relationships anymore if it meant I was going to keep hurting people.  So I did what any hot young twenty-something would do: I banged a LOT of people and told them all I just wanted casual sex.  I didn’t, though.  I wanted to love and be loved.  I wanted to sleep next to the same people on a regular basis.  I wanted to spend holidays with partners I cared about.  I just didn’t see that as being a possibility when I wanted to be with multiple people. 
I built a fortress around my heart.  Even when, years later, I accepted that I was ethically non-monogamous, I still wouldn’t identify as polyamorous, joking that I was “barely amorous,” so how could I be poly?  But two years ago, out of the blue and much to my consternation at the time, I fell in love – hard – and my heart cracked open just enough to believe that maybe this poly thing could work.  Aaand then it got emotionally sucker-punched by the first person I’d had a real relationship with in years.  The first thought I had in my devastated state (my devastate?) was that I was right – poly wasn’t for me because love wasn’t for me.  Emotions are too complex and uncontrollable.  Tears and anger are for the birds.  I should just have sexual relationships without making myself vulnerable, even if it meant I’d never have what I wanted in my relationships.
And then this miraculous series of events happened.  After Sucker-Puncher left Korea, I read More Than Two over the course of a couple of months.  I stopped talking to him for a spell so I could build better boundaries and do some heavy self-reflection and healing (and when we started talking again, I came to our conversations from a more honest and aware place).  I spent a week on a beach in the Philippines writing out answers (by hand!) to questions from the book to reflect on what I wanted in my relationships, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there.  I had this incredible travel affair with a lovely Welsh gentleman, during which I came to appreciate loving connections and successful short-term relationships.  And two months after I came back from vacation, I met The Texan, who loved me in a way I’ve always wanted to be loved and let me be exactly who I am.  I finally figured out that being vulnerable is essential to getting what I want, even if it is trying at times (and it’s really fucking trying at times).  It wasn’t that poly wasn’t for me – it’s that my needs weren’t being met and I didn’t know how to ask for them to be.  Now that I’m able to vocalize and advocate for my needs and desires (and have given myself permission to do so), I’m starting to get what I want out of my romantic and sexual relationships… and it only took twenty years to get here!
I came out to my mom as polyamorous when I was home for Christmas; she seemed completely unfazed.  It was way easier than coming out as bisexual (Her initial response to that was, “But I want grandchildren!”  Sorry, mom.); this time, she just said, “Okay, honey.”  I still haven’t told her that my long-distance boyfriend is married, ‘cause, you know, one step at a time.
2015 was a phenomenal year; it was the year I finally came to love and accept myself wholly as I am (most days, anyway – I am still human), which allows me to love those around me more freely and compassionately.  It was the year I figured my shit out.  It was also the year of the ass!  Really – what more could someone want in a year?  My parents always told me and my sister when we were growing up that thirty-five was the best year of their lives, and so far, it’s been absolutely lovely.

Secondary

Fuck.  I mean, it’s right there in the title, right?  It’s right there.
When we first met, everything was giddy and sexy and I want you and fucking all the time.  When we first met, everything was feelings are messy and I’m protective of my heart and I’m not really looking for an emotional relationship.  When we first met, there were broken wine glasses and watching the red wine seep into my couch and stacks of papers for a moment before putting his cock back in my mouth, not caring.  When we first met it was literally fun and games – we went to an arcade on our first date and I beat him at everything.
And then.  And then I said, “I read recently that you’re not supposed to talk about feelings after sex because your oxytocin levels are through the roof.”  He laughed and said, “I like you, too.”  Later I said, “At the risk of being emotionally messy, I have romantic feelings for you.”  And he said, “I was so relieved when you told me that you had feelings for me because I’ve been feeling them, too.”  And then on a very, very drunk night, he said, “I feel crazy, like I need you.”  He said, “You feel dangerous.”  He said, “I’m so into you that it feels like cheating.” 
And now.  And now I’m so into him that every second spent with him, my heart is soaring.  When we’re together and his phone rings and I know it’s his wife telling him he needs to come home, my heart cringes.  Now I want a say in things.
I’m doing what I can.  I’m feeling and accepting and owning my feelings, not looking to him to fix things – figuring out how I can get my needs met and how he can help me get my needs met and actually telling him.  Telling him how I feel when I feel it and not letting negative emotions corrode my insides.  This is all new for me, but I trust him with my heart because he makes me feel emotionally safe.  Because he tells me all the time how he feels about me, and I never have to wonder.  He asks what I need and how he can help me meet those needs (and I do the same for him), never getting defensive.  He makes me feel loved, beautiful, and valued.  He makes me feel like he’s proud to be with me.  
There are things I can do to protect my heart – asking him to negotiate times with his wife that are just for us and asking her to respect those times.  Prioritizing myself before the relationship.  Dating other people, having lots of amazingly supportive friends, being active and engaged in the world around me.
But what can I do about the fact that I don’t feel like a flesh and blood human being?  That I don’t feel like a whole person because our time together is entirely subject to the whims of someone I’ve never even met, someone who kicks her husband out of the house when she wants time alone with a paramour, then calls him the next morning while we’re in a deep slumber to tell him, alright, come home now?  That I only get to spend time with him when it happens to be convenient for his wife?   
Seriously.  What do I do about that?

Come As You Are: A Book Review

Image result for come as you are nagoskiIt’s rare that a book about sex makes me cry, but this one did.  It’s not just a book about sexuality and neuroscience, although it is that — it’s a call to action to women everywhere to see themselves and their sexuality as normal.  To understand that they are not broken.  To listen to their own bodies and desires instead of to harmful media messages about what they’re expected to feel and desire.  To connect with themselves and their partners as women who (surprise!) have sexual characteristics of women.  To reject male sexuality as standard sexuality and to claim agency over their pleasure and joy. 

You’d think that it wouldn’t be such a radical idea to accept yourself where you are and practice self-compassion — but it is.  

I’m getting ahead of myself, however. 

The book opens with a chapter on anatomy and explains in great detail the homologous features of male and female genitalia, which is absolutely fascinating.  It also discusses  at great length the variant features of vulvas and how we’re taught to see them and talks about the myths we perpetuate regarding hymens.  

Nagoski goes on in subsequent chapters to introduce the key concepts of her book one by one: the dual control model of sexuality (we all have a sexual inhibition system and a sexual excitation system, and everyone differs in the sensitivity of both); the One Ring in our brains that controls our emotional and motivation systems; sexuality in context and responsive desire (as opposed to spontaneous desire); sexuality as it relates to the stress cycle; sexual non-concordance (when arousal doesn’t match genital response); the brain mechanism that controls goals and expectations, which she calls the little monitor; and how meta-emotions (how we feel about our feelings) affect our sexual lives. 

Even if you’re already familiar with some of these ideas, having them all intertwined and presented with stories from peoples’ actual relationships is effective at making everything sink in.  Throughout the book, Nagoski keeps referring back to previously-discussed concepts in order to link them together and show how they affect each other.  She uses the same central metaphor (a garden) in different contexts to make complex scientific concepts relatable, and continually comes back to examples, analogies, and stories that end up creating a kind of sexy neuroscience schema.  She also uses millennial shorthand (I could have done without it, but I use standard punctuation and whole words in my text messages, so that’s just me…) as a way to draw in a younger audience.    

And there are worksheets!  She provides actual worksheets, available on her website, that you can fill out and use to improve your sex life.  As a teacher, I can’t not love that.

Important Takeaways from Come As You Are

  • Your sexuality and your body are normal.  You are not broken. 
  • Everyone has the same parts, organized differently. 
  • We all have a sexual “accelerator” and sexual “brakes,” and everyone differs in how sensitive theirs are. 
  • How we perceive sensation is dependent on the context in which we experience it; the same experience can feel different in different contexts.
  • Stress has a negative impact on desire and arousal; it reduces sexual interest and pleasure.
  • Self-criticism creates a buttload of stress.
  • Our responses to sexuality are learned, not inherent.
  • There is only a ten percent overlap between women’s self-reported arousal and their genital response!  For men, it’s 50%.  Sexual arousal does not necessarily lead to genital response and genital response does not necessarily indicate arousal. 
  • Sex is not a drive – you won’t die if you can’t get your sexual interests (not needs) met.  Instead, sex is an incentive motivation system. 
  • Only 15% of women have a spontaneous desire style; 30% of women have a responsive desire style, and about half of women experience a combination of both.  As more men experience a spontaneous desire style, spontaneous desire has come to be viewed as standard in sexual narratives.
  • Novelty, a focus on pleasure rather than outcome, and ambiguity can increase sexual desire.
  • 70% of women do not reliably have an orgasm from penetration alone.  Women most commonly orgasm from clitoral stimulation.
  • How we feel about our sexuality has a profound impact on our sexuality.  If we let go of where we think we should be sexually and accept ourselves where we are (which takes a lot of hard work emotionally), we can start to heal.  Better emotional and mental wellbeing leads to a better sex life!  Noticing our feelings instead of judging our feelings is a start to this process.

In the introduction of Come As You Are, Nagoski says that the “purpose of [her] book is to offer a new, science-based way of thinking about women’s sexual wellbeing.”  I feel well.  Read this book, you guys.    

P.S.  Dear Emily Nagoski,
Thank you for the intense orgasm I had last Saturday night.  Focus on sensation indeed.
Love,
Jo

Intentional Dating

On my 27th birthday, my best friend (who at that time was just a guy I’d recently re-met after we’d both moved to San Francisco a month earlier) drove me up to the top of Twin Peaks and stopped his car.  We looked out at the beautiful lights before us and the city we’d come to call home, and he told me to wait a minute, then went to his trunk — and came back with a birthday cake, full of lit candles.  He sang “Happy Birthday” to me, and my jaw dropped — my friends never remember my birthday, let alone bring me cake.  He then went on to tell me that over the last month while we were getting to be good friends, he realized that he had more than friendly feelings for me and was wondering if I felt the same.  It was an incredibly romantic gesture — but I felt no romantic or sexual feelings for him at all.  Zilch.  I was very honest with him; I’m sure it stung a little, but he got over it and we remained great friends.

Over the next two years, I watched him fall for the same girl over and over: charismatic, energetic, full-of-life women who wanted to sleep around and be rootless.  Which would be fine – except for that what my best friend wants more than anything in the world is to be a married father.  He’s a traditional guy who believes in traditional gender roles.  And he will be the best dad ever — that is, if he can ever manage to fall for a woman who wants the same things he wants in life.  He’s not doing anything to seek out this woman; rather, he’s putting his happiness in the hands of fate, as most of us do.  As we’re told to do by every romantic comedy ever made.

He complained to me for years about how no women ever liked him back because he was just “too nice.”  He’s not a Dr. NerdLove Nice Guy ™ — he actually is a nice person — but he chooses the wrong people.  He looks for his “type” instead of women he’s actually compatible with.  I finally told him this recently after he and his fiancée broke up because she’s not ready to get married.  And while I was telling him that he should specifically be on dating sites looking for women who want a serious long-term relationship and children, it hit me: I am absolutely fucking terrible (I’m sure most of us are) at taking my own advice.  My whole life I, too, have been dating people who I was immediately physically and mentally attracted to because they were my “type” instead of looking for people who want the same things I want.  And as I was recently forced to figure out exactly what it is I do want*, I thought it might be an excellent idea to use that to my advantage.

This year I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with a couple of men who I would never have pictured myself with, and they’ve both been really wonderful experiences.  I feel cared for and valued, and much happier because of it.  I finally started seeking out people who have a similar communication style to me and who want similar things in a relationship instead of just expecting people to fall out of the sky in front of me.  And surprise!  It’s working.  Intentionality is a beautiful thing. 

The moral of the story is: Figure out who you are and what you want, and specifically and purposefully look for people who also want these things.  Because amazing things can happen when you do.

*I used the questions at the end of the chapters in More Than Two; seriously, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Relationship Research

I love reading sex and relationship research findings; usually, I come away from them feeling enlightened and even more curious than when I started reading.  However, once in awhile, they leave me feeling completely horrified.  I happened upon two old articles recently that, as a woman who sometimes dates men, left me feeling kind of screwed.  Not in a good way.   (Sorry for the obnoxious heteronormativity of all of this; most of the time, relationship research is aggravatingly only focused on heterosexual couples).

The first, called “Upset Men and the Happy Women Who Love Them,” comes from NPR; it focuses on a study from the Journal of Family Psychology that found that men are more satisfied in relationships when their partners express joy / happiness, while women are more satisfied in relationships when their partners express anger, grief, or sadness.  The idea is that women feel comforted that their partners are willing to share conflict with them in an attempt to connect, while men see the sharing of conflict as a “threat to the relationship.”  I’m already someone who has a freakishly hard time sharing with male partners anything that might be upsetting me in a relationship because I want to be perceived as being easy to be with (I know, I know…), and this study has really just confirmed my worst fears
 
I was talking to a male friend last night, and he started telling me about an upsetting experience he’d had the night before with an ex-girlfriend; a minute into the story, he cut it off with, “So, I mean, whatever.  It’s not a big deal.  It’s fine.”  I had to say to him, “It’s not fine.  It’s okay to be angry about this.  Feel your feelings.”  Research findings in action!

The study that really freaked me out was one I read on one of my favorite websites, The Science of Relationships; it’s from the journal Psychological Science.  It found that women were more attracted to men who gave them high ratings on Facebook than men who gave them “lukewarm” ratings.  Good news for nice guys everywhere!  Despite what pickup artists say, you don’t have to denigrate a woman to get her to like you!  Buuuuut then it goes on to say that women were even more attracted to men who didn’t rate them at all.  If a woman had no indication of how the man in question felt about her, she was more likely to be attracted to him.  As in, uncertainty leads to desire.  Esther Perel discusses this phenomenon really beautifully in her book Mating in Captivity: “Excitement is interwoven with uncertainty, and with our willingness to embrace the unknown rather than to shield ourselves from it.  But this very tension leaves us feeling vulnerable.”  She’s right; part of what makes new relationships so exciting — and so scary — is diving heart-first into your feelings, not knowing whether or not they’ll be returned.  It’s a huge risk — one which a lot of people aren’t willing to take.   

The author of the article offers this advice to male readers: “The less information she has about how you feel about her, the more uncertain she will be, the more she’ll think about you, and the more she’ll like you. At some point you’ll probably have to tip your hand and let her know how you feel, but if you can keep her waiting a bit (italics mine), it might make her more attracted to you.” 

Edit: When I first read this article, I was really angry that the author had suggested that readers should purposefully keep someone who has allowed her (or him)self to be vulnerable hanging on the line emotionally.  I found it to be manipulative — one of those games people are always saying that they don’t want to play.  However, in the context of an already established relationship wherein desire is waning, distance and uncertainty can be a really powerful tool in re-establishing eros.  More on this when I finish Perel’s book… 
     

#FuckYes

Someone sent me an article a month ago that focuses on doing things in your life that you are enthusiastic about (take five minutes to read it); the thesis of the text is that if you’re not saying “Fuck, yes!” to something, then you should just say no — especially in relationships (sexual relationships, romantic relationships, friendships; all the ships).  The piece begins with the question: Why would you ever choose to be with someone who is not excited to be with you? 

People sometimes stay with partners they’re not that into for reasons of financial or emotional security, sex, a boost in self-esteem, or out of habit.  Or because they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings.  Most people have experienced power imbalances in their relationships, and many of us have been hurt by people who have held onto us while only having lukewarm or ambivalent feelings toward us.  

Someone recently said to me that this is a bullshit binary (not in those exact words), which is a fair point.  There is a lot of grey area between being stoked to be with someone and feeling “meh” about a partner, and it’s hard to be in a state of excitement all the time because, realistically, we have lives outside of our relationships that need tending to.  The ways we feel about people can’t be shoved into a binary, and peoples’ feelings and relationships change and grow over time. That being said, as Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert say in More Than Two, “ambivalence has little place in romance” — it can be and often is incredibly painful.  Which is exactly why “Fuck yes or no” IS a binary (hence the or); emotional purgatory is the worst place to be.

A few important things I took away from this article:
1) Know thyself.  Know what you want in a partnership.
2) If you’re not sure how someone feels about you, ask, and really be ready to hear their answer.  If you’re not sure how you feel about someone else, then tell them so they can make informed choices. If your feelings shift while dating someone or fucking someone or mid-relationship, say something. 
3) When you really feel excited to be with someone, tell them you are, because maybe they don’t know it!  Conversely, if you know someone is really into you and you’re not feeling it, even if you think it will hurt their feelings, be honest about it. 

Basically, just communicate more often, more honestly, and more compassionately.

**A note about the “Fuck, Yes or No” article: I like the premise, but it’s problematic.  It’s heteronormative and it uses war imagery to describe relationships, sex, and love (happiness is not a war).  The author claims that the law of fuck yes or no “instantly resolve[s]” consent issues.  What the what?  Consent is an ongoing conversation that can’t be “solved.”  He says if someone is “pressuring you into doing something you’re unsure about, your answer is now easy.”  No, it’s not.  It’s never easy to say no, especially while being pressured.  Finally, this article (this blog as well) is situated in a framework of privilege.  I have the privilege of entering into and exiting from relationships freely without the threat of violence or coercion, in a community and culture where sexual activity and relationships are choices.  I don’t have financial obligations that require me to stay with someone I don’t want to be with, or children to take into consideration.  This is certainly not representative of everyone, and it’s important to acknowledge that there are people who don’t have the choice to say, “Fuck, yes or no.”