Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am free again
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am clean again
The Cure, Lovesong
My childhood was severely repressive. Not so much in that topics, ideas or sexuality was actively shunned, but in that it was so completely absent from my life. Emotional expression, love, engagement, body consciousness, gender awareness. All of these things simply never came up during my childhood. Television was much tamer in those days, and the choices made by my parents left it even more so.
I don’t remember my parents saying I love you.
I know that I never had any sort of birds and bees discussion with either of them.
I was ‘allowed’ to spend time with them, but I don’t recall them spending time with me.
It was a very cold life. And to this day I still fight with my own ability to express these things to/engage with my loved ones. Largely because it left me with a deep sense of insecurity.
However, I certainly did start trying to break through those issues as a teenager. Perhaps its bizarre, or perhaps it is typical, that my most notable successes, and therefore my most focused attention, was in the sexual sphere. Before even losing my virginity, I had come to the conclusion that sex was primarily a physical act, but that it was also a functional way of achieving closeness. It was a way for me to start breaking down the barriers that had been erected through childhood.
I began to seriously analyze specific points of repression after high school and into college. Eventually coming to terms with masturbation, homo sexuality, group sex, and sex games of all sorts. (some of which I have actively engaged in, others that I have simply reconciled within myself). For me it was all about allowing the question to be raised in my mind – because intellectually, I could never accept any of these things as truly ‘aberrant’ or ‘morally wrong’ or otherwise defensibly ‘negative’ – and once I had determined that I could not find fault with the idea, I also found that my negative visceral reactions simply vanished from my psyche.
For the last fifteen years, I have been in an exclusive relationship. I have thought about ways that it might be expanded, but at the same time, I recognize in my spouse an intellectual willingness, that is still somehow viscerally unacceptable. I have failed to express how I reconcile those two components: it is just something that I do. So we are left in a limbo between talking and fantasizing and actually doing.
All of this thinking and talking between us has led me to look back on my own sexual history. To analyze what I was instinctively exploring back in high school. Unlike the typical stereo type I don’t see myself as a ‘player.’ And at the time I saw a distinct difference between myself and others that seemed to behave the same way, but for different (and varied?) reasons. But suddenly, now, it has become important to understand what that difference was (at least in my mind).
I lost my virginity on an intentional one-night stand. I set out to do it. The opportunity arose. I took it. And never looked back. Luckily for me, there were no consequences to that choice. Looking back now, I realize there might have been. From disease or pregnancy to emotional hurt or betrayal. I wasn’t smart about it, yet. Another component of the repression, perhaps. In any case, that was the only true one-night stand I had in high school. Aside from that night, I took another path. A path that has since been termed ‘friends-with-benefits’ although I do not know if my experience is typical, so I will need to explain further.
I came to see sex, as with so many other activities, as yet another way to grow closer to the people in my life. When I had a friend: someone I loved, understood, and felt attracted to: that I spent time with and came to see that the feelings were mutual, eventually sex would come up between us. If we acted upon it (which generally we did), the experience was almost a quickening (without the pyrotechnics). I can think of no other way to describe it. And whether the sex recurred or not, the relationship was expanded because of it.
Occasionally, I recall, I had sex with some friend or another and later felt wrong about it. Looking back now, I can see that in those cases, the quickening was not. For whatever reason, something was lacking. Which changed the experience from something useful and expanding, into a simple case of two people using one another to ‘get off.’ Apparently, without even thinking about it at the time, I was always quite aware of the difference.
These issues have been raised in my mind recently, primarily because of the recent reconnection with an ex-lover from that time. A very important friend and a very important lover: but never a mate. We shared an attitude about life and love and sex on a level fundamentally different from my other friends and lovers. I saw myself reflected in him, time and again. Some years later, when The Cure released Love Song, those memories came back to haunt me.
Perhaps now I understand why. This lover, amongst all the others, validated my views, allowed me to recognize that I could forgive myself for my occasional transgressions. That whatever else was true, it was also true that I was sexy, and ‘righteous’ and free.
Unfortunately, as things stand, that is the one thing that my spouse cannot give me. Respect, admiration, intellectual validation, a sense of sexiness, appeal, lust, sure. But when it comes to discussions of sexuality, there are simply too many things that we view differently. Particularly when it comes to monogamy, openness and sexual trust. So I no longer have an external source of affirmation. Granted, I no longer have trysts that require ‘cleansing’ or justification, but I still have that inherent need to see myself reflected in the eyes of another.
(Originally posted August 9, 2006)