When Sex* Isn't an Option: Embodiment Lessons During a Pandemic
Updated: Feb 4
*referring to sex between two or more people. Solo sex is awesome for anyone who finds it awesome, but that’s not what this blog is about…
Sex is often not the end goal most of us are taught, but the means to the end goal; a path to our actual wants, needs, and desires. This is the perspective of Journalist and writer Angela Chen, author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. As an allosexual or allo person for short (someone who experiences sexual attraction to others), I puzzled with this for a moment or two, ingrained messages in my body screaming about how much I uplift and fetishize sex as an ultimate experience, and then I paused. I heard recent me announcing aloud to friends how the two things that bring me the most pleasure in this life are sharing food with people and sharing sexual, sensual experiences with people — two things I have had very little opportunity to enjoy over the last two years, and yet, I feel more at peace in my body in this messed up world than I ever have — how? Why? What’s happening here?
I decided to try on Chen’s framework. I wrote, “Sex and the lead up to” at the center bottom of a big sheet of paper in my drawing notebook and “Actual Goals, Wants, Needs, and Desires” at the top. A wild web of lines in various constellations quickly flowed. The four main categories that emerged above “Sex” were Physicality/Release, Play!, Sensuality, and Intimacy. As I worked upward, my shadow side needed room to take up space in the bottom right and left corners of the page for me to compost ideas and beliefs no longer serving me.
From the four main categories, I asked myself “why?” for each — what did I want? ”Embodiment” was my answer for each category: feeling my physical self, my edges, my breath, my heart rate, my muscles; feeling playful creativity, exploration, and expression; feeling sensory, sensual pleasure: smell, taste, touch, sound, sight, imagination, and memory; and feeling the intimacy of connection: feeling seen and feeling held. I noticed immediately how all of these experiences are ones I’ve become more connected with and attuned to over the course of the last two years as I’ve broadened my window of tolerance.** I’ve been fulfilling all of these needs without sex as the vehicle to them.
I used to feel frantic when going “too long” without sex, to feel obsessed with how much I was missing out on one of my favorite things. Turns out, letting societal norms and pressure melt away continues to be a game changer in every aspect of life. As Chen describes, “in so many cases, people want sex as a shortcut to somethingelse, sex as a tool and means to an end — a certain feeling — and not necessarily the end itself.” During these past couple of years, I have noticed that those certain feelings are still achievable, pleasurable, and desirable: the intimacy of a Facetime meal or porch conversation with a loved one; feeling my blood pumping while having a dance party workout of one; delighting in watching a colorful bird land in a evergreen tree against a sunny, clear blue sky; feeling a warm breeze tickle my skin as cool water runs between my toes; hugging a tree and feeling where I end and where the rough edges of the bark begin; savoring a hot, melty sandwich, one that makes me exclaim, “oh damn, hell yeah,” and wiggle in my seat.
Chen says that, “In relationships, one option is to go directly to figuring out what sex is supposed to bring,” and that “when sex loses its dominace as the most important and intimate thing that could happen, when it becomes feasible to ask directly for what is desired, more ways of relating and connecting become clear.”
I don’t believe that for those of us who are allosexual creatures, that this means sex need become unimportant or unvaluable to us. Oftentimes, I really want to be in a vehicle just for the drive. Perhaps though, I can reframe my thinking around sex to be an enjoyable passtime to savor when the conditions are right. For me, that allows a sense of freedom and spaciousness from urgency and panic when I do not have a sexual lover(s) or when I cannot see a lover(s) for a myriad of reasons, or when they are unavailable for sex for any reason. My worthiness can remain intact, my sexuality can remain intact, and my needs and desires can still be met in a variety of ways. Then when an opportunity for sex arrives, it can perhaps feel more abundant — an addition — not seeking to fill a void or become whole. I don’t have to wind up in another situation in which feel like I am dying if sex dissappears; a situation in which I become obsessed and codependent; reliant on another person to feel desirable, worthy, and sexy; reliant on another person for release, for escape, and for pleasure. At the bottom of my paper in the compost section, I dropped in things that have historically always wanted to slither their ways into the “actual goals/wants/needs/desires” section: being enough, not being too much, being the best, feeling security and trust via sex, and needing sex to reconnect/feel close.
At the top of my drawing paper, I found myself writing, “I don’t need sex (as I have thought/said forever), but it is a favorite vehicle of mine to experience embodiment of physicality/release, play!, sensuality, and intimacy. All of things can be experienced without sex though, and that’s what I can do when sex is unavailable.” Not only is that what I can do when sex is unavailable though. I can do that all that time. I want to experience embodiment in all these areas in how I live, how I work, how I show up in organizing spaces, how I educate, how I disrupt white supremacy culture, how I engage in new culture creation, how I form connections, and how I love and receive love. It’s how I want to follow the wisdom of guiding works like Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” and adrienne marie brown’s Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good and Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.
Angela Chen describes the erotic in the last chapter of Ace as “an inner recourse, a vitality,” and then quotes Lorde, “we are taught to separate the erotic demand from the most vital areas of our lives other than sex.” Lorde describes the erotic as “not a question of what we do; it is the question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing.” amb prioritizes how people feel as a facilitator and asks, “is it a pleasure to be with each other? Does the agenda or space allow for aliveness, connection, and joy?”... Lorde said, “erotic knowdge empowers us, becomes a lens though which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence.”
Whether you are ace or allo or neither identity word feels like it paints the picture, may you connect with what is more alive and authentic for you in your own actual goals, wants, needs, and desires. May you feel closer to your own erotic energy. May you feel it in your veins. May it inform how you move in the world.
**Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up blog about the “window of tolerance,” but for now, check out “Can’t Get Anything Done? Why ADHD Brains Become Paralyzed in Quarantine” which gives a little insight into Polyvagal Theory and the window of tolerance. And a note: I want to take this moment to pay respect to the body wisdom of Indigenous, and Black and Brown traditions that knew and practiced this wisdom before white people made “neuroscience discoveries” and renamed things as old as human bodily experience.