Dance, Dance

One of my former students invited me to a dance performance at her university last week; she’s a member of an auditioned dance troupe that performs choreographed songs once a semester.  I sat down next to her parents when I got there, excited to see them and catch up.  As I looked around the auditorium, I realized there weren’t other parents or family members there – the audience was completely comprised of other students.  And as the students started dancing, I understood why. 
When the lights dimmed, twelve young women came out onto the stage wearing denim cutoffs and midriff-baring white tank tops and started popping and dropping to a recent K-pop hit, and the audience went wild.*  My student’s mom laughed nervously next to me and gripped the arms of her chair.  And I have to admit, I was a bit uncomfortable.  I was uncomfortable that these students – that these young women – were moving so sexually on stage.  And then I was unnerved by my own discomfort; these students were really good dancers, obviously cared a lot about what they were doing, and put a lot of effort into it.  They danced with power and attitude, and they nailed it.
There is a longstanding and ongoing debate about societal expectation and oppression vs. personal empowerment and expression when it comes to women and sexuality; I have a lot of mixed feelings about expectations put on women to perform sexual roles for men and women taking control of their own bodies and lives through embracing and voicing their own desires.  I just started reading Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex; she has a lot to say about the subject, and there’s a review forthcoming.  For me, claiming my own desire is empowering – but it wasn’t until recently that I started being the sexual person I wanted to be and not the sexual person I thought other people wanted me to be, and most of that has to do with the ways in which women are socialized to please men and ignore their own needs and pleasure.  I’ve had a lifelong struggle with loving being that woman who talks about sex all the time versus wanting to be seen as a whole human being whose entire identity – whose entire value – isn’t wrapped up in her sexuality.    
Talking about sex and being sexual was a big part of becoming an adult for me. Watching my student dance, I thought about how my parents reacted (or, rather, didn’t react) to my very open candor about sexuality when I was a teenager.  I distinctly remember singing along to songs like “Freak Me” and “Anytime, Anyplace” with my friends in middle school and making sexual innuendos in all of our letters to each other.  Popping on the basketball court in a stepping group at thirteen.  Teaching other students in my school how to use a condom as part of an HIV 101 lesson.  Inviting my mom and uncle to come to Rocky Horror with me at seventeen and shouting out dozens of audience participation lines that I can only assume were horrifying for my mother to hear come out of my mouth.  My folks didn’t try to suppress my overtly sexual words and world; they let me be who I was.  They let me figure my shit out, and they were there to support me if and when I needed them to.  And I am forever grateful for that.  They also never talked to me about pleasure, desire, safety, consent, respect, or communication… and I desperately wish they had.  Or that someone had. 
Now that she’s an adult, I’m having conversations with this young woman about sex and relationships because she’s not having them with other adults in her life (talking about sex isn’t common in Korea, even among friends).  Being a part of her life means telling her things I wish someone had said to me while also letting her be who she is and supporting her.  I want her to think critically about the world she lives in while also experiencing joy and beauty and yes, pleasure.  If dancing brings her pleasure and fills her with joy, then I want her to dance the fuck out of those dances. 
*Videos produced by the multi-billion dollar K-pop industry have become much more sexualized in the past couple of years; this video is pretty tame, and perhaps it’s just shocking because of the move from aegyo(acting cute in order to be attractive)-based videos into videos that have more sexualized choreography and clothing.  There’s definitely something in my reaction to this that’s rooted in structural / institutionalized racism and cultural perceptions of the intersection of race and sexuality.  Speaking of – I’d love to comment here on the blatant cultural appropriation / token black guy in this video, but that’s covered by a LOT of other blogs.

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The Lobster: A Movie Review

SPOILER ALERT!  This film will be released in the UK this Friday; a shitload of plot spoilers lie ahead.
In the past ten years or so, it’s seemed to me that pop culture has become saturated with dystopia – books, films, and television shows that would have us believe that the future is a dark, desolate, desperate place with scarce resources and no humanity.  The Lobster, a new film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, is a light in that darkness. 
Image result for the lobster movie 
The film opens with the main character, David, played by Colin Farrell (in a mustache strongly reminiscent of 1980s Bruno Kirby), being dumped by his wife.  In the next scene, he’s checking into a hotel, where he is informed that he has forty-five days to find someone else in the hotel to pair off with – no grieving period for his lost relationship; no time to heal his broken heart.  If he doesn’t find a partner, he’ll be (through some future scientific miracle) transformed into the animal of his choosing.  In case you didn’t catch that: all that separates us from the animals is monogamy!
What ensues is a process of calculation by all hotel guests in terms of potential choices: Find someone you can tolerate and pair off in order to get out of the hotel.  Commit suicide.  Escape from the hotel and live in the woods with a ragtag band of loners – but then live a life of celibacy (or face extremely severe consequences).  Or, in the case of one hotel guest, get really good at hunting.  For each loner that a hotel guest catches in the woods, they get one extra day to find a mate.
When two people announce their official coupledom, they are literally given privileges – bigger rooms, better meals, time on a yacht, access to sports and hobbies that require pairs.  Guests are further motivated to partner up via a series of hilarious skits – woman alone is raped.  Woman with man is felt alone.  Man alone dies by choking to death.  Man with woman is saved.      
How does one find a partner, then?  It seems that people pair up based on physical and psychological maladies.  Characters feel that they are adequately matched based on the fact that they get nosebleeds or that they have a limp.  There’s a telling scene in which David asks the woman he’s sleeping with (played by Rachel Weisz) a series of questions to find out if they have anything else in common besides their bad eyesight; they don’t.  We hold onto tenuous threads a sign of destiny when first meeting someone – “Wow!  This person also likes Miles Davis!  We are SOULMATES!” – and Lanthimos nails it.       
His presentation of the intersection of sexuality and partnership is also fascinating; in the hotel, partner sex is encouraged, but masturbation is banned (and there’s a horrific physical punishment in place for breaking that rule).  Guests are forced into a state of arousal but then forbidden to jack off.  On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Loners are encouraged to masturbate, but partnered sex is forbidden.  Even flirting is punishable by physical deformation.  It’s here where the dystopia (and the main point or the film, I believe) really took hold for me: There’s a Manichean binary between monogamy and dying alone. 
And so people in this imaginary world, not so different from our own, couple up in order to avoid transformation or being hunted.  In what is my absolute favorite scene in the film, the Loners hold the couple who run the hotel (and enforce the rules) at gunpoint, asking the husband how much he loves his wife.  From the bottom of his heart, he claims.  They then ask him to choose whom they should shoot: Himself or his wife.  Shoot her, he says; he can live alone. She can’t.  So much for true love! 

The Lobster is not a very subtle allegory, but it gets its point across in a hysterically deadpan, macabre way that left me eager to see it again.  It is wonderfully strange and presents a delightfully different vision of dystopia.  This movie is comical satire at its finest, even when what it’s satirizing – the serious social pressures we face to become we instead of me at any cost – isn’t so funny.        

Under the Rainbow

Switch Studies posted an excellent blog post this week about bisexuality; it struck a chord with me because it’s something that’s been on my mind as well.
When I moved to Korea six years ago, I had been exclusively dating women for a couple of years and publicly identified as gay. No one questioned my sexuality; in fact, everyone I met completely embraced it – even my Korean friends who’d been brought up in a country where homosexuality “doesn’t exist.”  My straight male friends bantered with me about dating women (and said some pretty horrific things to me because they weren’t trying to get in my pants); my lesbian friends accepted me as one of their own and made jokes about wanting to date “real” lesbians and not bisexuals.
Last year, I hooked up with a guy I’d been crushing on for a year and ended up dating him, then falling in love.  It was hard to tell this to my lesbian friends, but they accepted me and were happy for me at the time.  It was much harder to tell my straight friends, most of whom were super confused.  “But… you’re gay,” they’d say (surprisingly, this is the same exact thing my mother said).  “Actually,” I’d reply, “I’m bisexual; I just haven’t dated men in years.”  Even after a year of being aware that I was dating men again, I still had straight friends come up to me after seeing me make out with a guy in a bar and say, “Hey – what’s that about?  I thought you were gay.”  Or worse – they’d assume that now that I was bi, I would fuck anyone.
Public Service Announcements:
Bisexual people don’t want to fuck everyone.
Non-monogamous people don’t want to fuck everyone.
Standards!  I have some!
In the last year, most (but not all) of my sexual partners have been men.  This has more to do with the availability of dating partners than my desire to date men versus my desire to date women; there are just a lot more single straight and bisexual guys where I am than gay or bisexual girls.  To complicate things, I am non-monogamous and really up front about dating multiple people, which a lot of ladies aren’t so down with.  For me, having sex is not as important as being honest.   
I’m feeling a bit confused myself.  There’s a philosophical question that gets posed to Dan Savage every week: If I’m not currently fucking someone of the same sex, am I really bisexual?  (In a similar vein, if I only have one partner right now, am I really non-monogamous?)  The answer is yes, of course… but sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my queer cred, if that’s a thing.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t get to hold the queer umbrella over my head because it’s raining men.
Image result for rainbow umbrella

There have been times when a woman expressed interest in me but I wasn’t interested in her (because someone showing an interest in you doesn’t necessitate reciprocation); at these times, I felt like I was failing as a queer lady for not prioritizing being in a relationship with *any* woman over being with someone I was actually interested in dating.  My lesbian friends would actually tell me to date someone in the community simply because she was available without consideration of compatibility.
Where I’m at right now is that I want partners who I’m compatible with.  Other people who already identify as non-monogamous.  People I have chemistry with and share interests with.  And that means that right now, I don’t have a female partner… but I’m still sexually and romantically attracted to women.  On days like this, I miss San Francisco. 

Playgrounds are for everyone!

  I first heard of the Life on the Swingset website in a Sex is Fun podcast six or seven years ago (it isn’t being produced anymore, but you can still listen to archived episodes!).  Although I often directed friends toward the Swingset website, I never took a good look at it myself, mostly because I was not a swinger.  Non-monogamous?  Yes. Slutty?  You bet!  But for me, the word “swinger” conjured up images of wife swapping, key parties, and for some reason, shag carpets.  I didn’t think I belonged because I wasn’t married.  Or living in the 1970s.  It turns out I was wrong!

Image result for my life on the swingsetHands down, the best thing I got out of reading Cooper Beckett’s collection of essays / blog posts My Life on the Swingset is that it challenged and changed my mind about the nature of swinging.  About what swinging involves, who swingers are, and the types of relationships and community that swingers have.  This book forced me to think hard about my preconceived notions and examine my stereotypes.

Cooper’s writing is insightful, hilarious, and incredibly personal – as many reviewers (mostly other sex educators) have written about the book, it’s not theory; it’s practice.  There’s a lovely mix of analytical pieces about topics related to sexuality and relationships (some examples include jealousy, porn, divorce, coming out as a swinger, and risk aware sex) and firsthand narratives; however, even when the writing falls on the analytical rather than the personal side of things, it’s clear that every opinion Cooper includes in his writing comes from his life experiences (it feels weird using someone’s first name instead of their last in a review, but his online persona makes me feel comfortable doing so, which is a beautiful thing). 

And he seemingly has a lot of experience.  Enough to make me think: Man, I am missing out!  Can you be part of a swinging community without a partner, though?  Certainly!  …if you’re a woman.  One of the issues that Cooper tackles gracefully in his book / on the website is the double standard of accepting bisexual women in swinging communities and at play parties but not bisexual men.  This is manifested in part by the fact that single women are often invited and encouraged to come to play parties while single men are banned (I realize there are other reasons for this – some of them very good reasons – but I think that biphobia plays a part in it).  He also includes an essay about another issue of inclusivity in swinging: ageism.  It’s nice that in a body of work that so clearly supports and advocates for its subject, there’s still room for constructive criticism of that subject.

For me, the book’s greatest strength lies in Cooper’s thoughtfulness regarding complex and murky issues.  He writes very honestly about changing relationship dynamics and how we have to let go sometimes in order to grow and change.  About experimenting with polyamory and trying to navigate the amorphous landscape between swinging, poly, and ethical non-monogamy.  About the bullshit hierarchy that some folks in SOP communities try to impose on each other despite the fact that we have more similarities than differences.  About feelings of confidence and fear of rejection and how they relate to being able to engage in open relationships.

He even calls on his readers to reconsider their definition of sex (and tells us in no uncertain terms that sex becomes better when you do, which I would attest to).

There are comic pieces, too – how to install a sex swing; a story about an amazing prostate orgasm, making me wish on ALL the stars that I had a prostate; and lots of funny entries about how not to be a dick.  There are a few long-winded pieces toward the end that were written in the wee hours of the morning after fucking all night at Desire Resort in Mexico; reading them was akin to listening to the high ramblings of your one friend who still has dreadlocks even though he’s 37.  I can forgive those pieces, though, seeing as how sex actually makes us high (see Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are for more about that). 

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who’s considering opening up their relationship OR anyone who just wants to swing along vicariously through Cooper Beckett’s life.  He’s bared it all for us, and it costs less than a fancy coffee house drink, so there’s really no excuse not to read it.  There’s even an audio version if you want to hear it read in Cooper’s ridiculously sexy deep voice.  Speaking of – I had never listened to the Swingset podcast before reading this book, but I do now; I also recommend checking that out!    

Lastly, a personal note: there’s this piece in the book about the joy inherent in making out like a teenager – that kind of making out where your lips hurt afterward.  I had this magnificent two-hour makeout session under a subway station in the pouring rain after being inspired by reading it.  It was all quite giddy and romantic, even when we got yelled at by old men.  Especially when we got yelled at by old men.  So thanks for that, Cooper Beckett!      

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

Office hours just got interesting!

I had a student come to my office hours yesterday for a chat.  As he was talking to me about his girlfriend and whether or not he wanted to marry her (I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to that… we had a whole conversation about marriage and monogamy), he abruptly stopped and asked, “Jo — have you ever been in a relationship?”  “Of course,” I replied, laughing.  “Lots of them.”  “Then… why are you alone?” he asked.  I told him that I’ve been with people who wanted to spend their lives with me and I didn’t feel the same at that time, and that I’ve been with people who I’ve wanted to build a life with, but they didn’t.  That it’s just never worked out.  That being with someone I really want to be with is more important than being in a relationship just to be in a relationship. 

He then said: “Well… aren’t you lonely?”  “No,” I said (the answer is more complicated, of course, but I didn’t think it would be appropriate to turn my student into a therapist).  “I mean, I date people.  Actually, I was supposed to go on a date this weekend, but it was canceled.”  “Why?”  he asked.  After hesitating for a long time and thinking, Can I say this? I answered slowly, “She’s not feeling very well and wants to stay home.  She lives in another city.”  “Oh,” he said.  “So you date men and women?”  “Yup!” I answered.  “I’m not shocked,” he said (which I find hilarious).  And then: “I understand how men and women are sexual, but I don’t really understand about men and men and women and women.”  “Well…” I started, reminding myself that we are in a school setting and he’s my student, so I have to tread carefully.  “A lot of people think that there’s only one definition of sex, and that’s penis in vagina sex… but there are lots of different kinds of sex.”  “Oh,” he said.  “I didn’t know that.”  (Oof, I thought. I feel sorry for your girlfriend.)  I went on: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say any more on the subject, but you have the entire internet at your fingertips.” 

We chatted a bit more and he left to meet a friend; I felt lucky that I have students who feel comfortable talking to me about relationships and sexuality, and I feel very lucky that I have students with whom I can be honest with about my relationships.  Straight teachers post pictures of their families on the walls of their classrooms and talk about their husbands, wives, and children, and that’s sanctioned because it fits into the narrative about what relationships and families are “supposed” to look like.  It’s exciting to be alive during a time when that narrative is changing. 

No Filter

My apologies if this is a bit rambly; I’m writing in a post-Nyquil haze.

I was out to birthday dinner with a good friend recently, and we were joking about how our friends call me “Sharing Jo” or “No Filter Constance” due to my eager enthusiasm to share the most intimate details of my sex life with my buddies (and / or strangers). 

Suddenly my friend’s laughter came down a notch to a wry smile as she said, “You know that sometimes we’re not kidding, right?  Like, you actually have no filter.”  “What?” I asked, alarmed.  “Yeah,” she continued.  “Like, sometimes, you actually make people really uncomfortable.  And when you’re talking about sex and we’re laughing, sometimes it’s uncomfortable laughter.”  This was news to me.  “Why didn’t anyone say anything before?!”  I asked.  “They didn’t really know what to say,” she said. 

My face grew very solemn, and I sincerely apologized — so much so that she started backtracking and telling me that it wasn’t a big deal… but it is a big deal.  Talking about sex, especially in an explicit way, to people who aren’t comfortable hearing about it can be a form of sexual harassment, and I don’t want to be that person.  There have been a lot of conversations as of late on blogs and podcasts about consent, and perhaps I should ask for consent before dropping my sex stories on people. 

Then she said something else that made me see all of this in a different light.  A couple of months ago, I was sitting at a bonfire with this friend and a mutual acquaintance of ours who lives a d/s lifestyle. The acquaintance and I were having a friendly discussion about service dommes, which to us was an everyday, banal conversation.  We were sitting away from most of the other people at the bonfire and it was a private conversation.  Fast forward to said birthday dinner; my friend says to me, “When you and [our mutual friend] were talking about kink at the bonfire, it was obviously making people uncomfortable because they’re not used to hearing about it.”  That’s when I realized that maybe we weren’t making those other people uncomfortable; perhaps my friend was uncomfortable with us talking about it in front of her friends whom she doesn’t talk about the kinky aspects of her life with. 

That’s fair.  She felt vulnerable and outed via association.  I don’t have the desire to out someone as kinky who’s not comfortable being outed.  I do, however, have the desire to demystify and normalize kink by talking about it as a regular part of my life.  Part of social change is discomfort; I think most of the people I talk about kink with are more curious than they are uncomfortable, but maybe that’s just my perception / bias as a kink-positive person.  That being said, this conversation made me reflect on whether or not I am saying too much at times. 

And the thing is — I actually do have a filter.  When I’m teaching or at work, I don’t speak about my personal life to my students or the school administration.  I swear like a sailor in my personal life, but I worked with children for years without once dropping a curse word in their presence.  I never talk to my extended family about my sex life, and when I’m in a professional environment I act like a professional.  I have a filter. 

I choose to talk about sex as a way of helping to change our social landscape around issues of sexuality, relationships, and gender.  I want to give people a safe space to talk about their sex lives and relationships.  I want to contribute to normalizing sexual practices, feelings, and behaviors that people are curious about but afraid of talking about.  My sexual politics are radical in some ways, and I want to make my voice heard.  But maaaaybe I don’t need to talk about prostate milking over dinner.                       

Let us go into your hotel…

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking down a very narrow dark alley toward my guesthouse in a small city in Southeast Asia when I was silently approached from behind and tapped on the back.  I spun around to see a young man nervously clutching a paper in his hand.  He looked at the paper and read from it: “Can I come into your hotel and interview you?  Let us go inside it will be more comfortable there.”  I walked out into the main alley where there were streetlights and people and asked him to repeat himself, not 100% sure I’d heard him correctly.  He followed me and read the same sentences again, motioning inside and starting to move toward my hotel.  “Hold on,” I said, holding up my hand in a universal stop position (it’s probably not actually universal, but I think he got my drift).  A friend of his then magically appeared out of the shadows; they exchanged a few words, and the friend mysteriously melted back into the dark alley from whence he’d emerged. 

I looked at the young man, concern furrowing my eyebrows.  “You want to interview me?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said.  “Are you a student?” I asked.  “Yes,” he said.  “How many questions are there?” I queried.  “Yes,” he stated. 

Oof. 

I then asked him to hand me the paper, and allllll the questions included were about sexuality.  Now, if you know me (and some of you do), you know that I’ll talk about sex pretty much anytime with anyone.  But this was weird.  The questions included:

Have you had a boyfriend or husband?
Do you have a husband or boyfriend now?
Have you ever kissed a man?
How many men have you dated?

It got more risqué from there, until the last two:

Have you ever had sex with a man you didn’t know?
Would you mind if I touch you?

What. The. Fuck.  The questions weren’t actually written in grammatically-correct English; I wish I’d taken a photo of the paper, but it seemed awkward to say, “You can definitely NOT come into my hotel, but hey, mind if I take a picture of your questions real quick?”  Some of the questions had non-English words randomly thrown in — probably where the translating app / software couldn’t find a direct translation.

I told the young man that these questions were too personal for me, and I wouldn’t do the interview.  I looked apologetic, but I was really thinking, “HOLY SHIT.  Does anyone really do this?  And how do they feel as the questions get progressively more sexy?  Eek!”

Has anyone else experienced anything like this?  My guess is that it was his buddy who put him up to it as a way to score with foreign women, but who knows?  Thoughts?

The Science of… Love?

Disclaimer: As much as I desperately wish I were, I’m not a scientist – if there are any scientists who read this and think, “That’s not right!” please let me know!

Every week, I listen to an insightful and fascinating podcast on sexuality, relationships, and dating called Sex Nerd Sandra (I highly recommend it!); this week’s topic was on how and why we pick our partners.  Her second guest, Kate Loree (a marriage and relationships counselor) talked a lot about the neurochemistry and endocrinology of relationships and sex — what happens in our brains and endocrine systems when we’re attracted to someone, when we sleep with someone, when we date and enter into relationships. 

She argued that the person you’re attracted to / the person you have passionate, lustful, insatiable sex with isn’t necessarily the person you should settle down with; that sexual attraction happens because of serotonin and dopamine, but those things shouldn’t be the basis of wanting to grow old with someone.*  Sandra countered with this question: “If I can’t trust my brain chemicals, then what can I trust, and what is love if not that feeling?” 

This got me thinking a lot.  I’m struggling with the idea of sexual desire and the desire to be in a committed relationship being mutually exclusive.  I know for sure that I wouldn’t want to start a relationship — the kind that takes negotiation, communication, and compromise — with someone who I didn’t have great sex with.  That being said, everyone has different priorities when it comes to sex, romance, dating, and relationships.  There are people for whom finding a partner who is willing to commit, work together, sacrifice, and compromise is most important.  There are people for whom finding a good co-parent in a romantic partner is the most important thing.  In addition, situations, attraction, and people change, and there are a lot of couples who stay in committed partnerships / companionships but who no longer have sex, or who find sexual fulfillment outside of their primary partnership.  And to that I say: You do you! 

For me, good sex is non-negotiable.**  And really amazing sex takes hard work.  It takes open communication, negotiation, and compromise!  If great sex takes the same kind of hard work that great relationships take, couldn’t it be the beginning of building a foundation of a strong relationship?

Loree also talked about the role of cortisol in emotional and physical pain resulting from being separated from a partner; cortisol is a hormone that spikes when we feel stress.  When this happens because of separation from a partner, it’s akin to going through drug withdrawal since so many neurotransmitter and hormone levels elevate when we’re with someone we desire (dopamine, serotonin) or love (oxytocin, vasopressin) or both (again – not mutually exclusive).

I was ecstatic to hear this!  I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’ve spent the past few months thinking I was absolutely insane because I’m dating someone who lives in another city, and every time we say goodbye, I feel real, visceral, physical, searing pain that lasts for days.  I sometimes find myself in the middle of my hardwood floor on my hands and knees in a puddle of uncontrollable, sudden onset tears and think, “Why is this happening to meeeeeee?!”  And now I know.  So thanks for that, adrenal glands! 

It felt good to hear Sandra talking about her experiences with this, because it’s always nice to know that you’re not crazy and other people feel this way, too. 

I’ve had really great sex with people I didn’t have an emotional attachment to, and have loved people I’ve had good, but not incredible, sex with.  And once in my life, I was lucky enough to have both.  Right now, I’m struggling with this question: If I’m having mind-blowing sex with someone, but I’m also experiencing romantic feelings for that person — real, valid, haven’t-felt-like-this-in-years feelings — do my romantic feelings just come from the hormones?  In the beginning of a relationship (with NRE working its magic), how do we know the difference?    

*She later went on to say that building a relationship should be the result of a conscious decision to be with someone who helps you self-actualize. 
**A friend said to me the other day, “I think you’re like me – your heart lives in your vagina.”