sexual scripts

“I want to have sex like…”

[This post is inspired by the “I want to have sex like…” series over at Demisexual and Proud, whose writing has been super instrumental in helping me understand myself well enough to even begin to write this. Content note: this post contains references to sexual dominance and submission, masochism, and masturbation]

I have been thinking *a lot* lately about what it is I get from having sex with other people. Or, rather, what I want to get from it, and why I do it at all.

The thing is that I really enjoy the experiences of sexual arousal and orgasm, but I can have those things just fine on my own, no need for anyone else to be involved. (For me) there isn’t some special level of physical pleasure that can only be achieved with other people – I can give myself the best possible orgasms just fine on my own.

But sex with other people is also important to me. When there are other people on my life that I am into in that way it is, anyway.

So, why?

It is clear to me that there is something about the emotional texture of sexual encounters that is vitally important to me, something about the kinds of emotional expression and connection that can happen that is the key to the whole thing for me.

And it is hard to nail down precisely what I want from that, because it isn’t totally stable or always the same, but there are definitely some themes that it is worthwhile to tease out and identify in particular.

The thing about me is that sex is never really about “I want this particular kind of physical stimulation/this particular arrangement of bodies and parts”. It’s almost entirely an emotional/intellectual experience for me, and the physical combinations are just coincidental, almost.

Here goes nothing:

I want to feel desired. I want to feel like my partner’s/partners’ lust is specifically about me and not just a generalized horniness. I want my sexual encounters to be specifically about me and the people I have sex with. This is so, so important. I don’t want to understate it. But also I don’t think it is even remotely enough on its own.

I want to feel taken care of/cared for. Sex is one of many aspects in a relationship where a partner has an opportunity to make me feel special, and valuable, and worthy of effort and care, I really need that. I want my body to be played like a musical instrument, to produce amazing melodies of my pleasure. Though it is actually possible for me to have too much of this, because:

I want to reciprocate that caring. It is, similarly, very important to me to be able to figure out how to give specific pleasure to my partners, to feel a direct connection between what I am doing and their expressions of pleasure. It is such a powerful feeling, that experience. And that alone is often all I need, even, as long as it isn’t the only thing, all the time.

I want us to be in it together. For me, this is about more than just both of us being happily involved and enjoying ourselves, even. Ultimately, it is important for me to know that I and anyone I am having sex with have a similar understanding of the acts we are engaging in, and of their significations when we do them. This is important, and complicated, and difficult, because I will be the first to tell you that there are no acts in sex that have stable “meanings” or imply singular dynamics.

If a partner is hitting me, it could mean that I am being submissive, and I am just absorbing whatever sensations they are choosing to throw at me. It could also be that it is something I have demanded of them, and that they are doing as a form of submission to me. Or it could just be something I asked for from a peer as we collaborate in mutual pleasure. What’s important is that we both understand whichever instance in the same (or at least similarish) way.

I want to be able to explore the different social-emotional permutations of the same things. For me, this is really the heart of queer sex.

I want spontaneity and improvization. I want to throw out every script for what sex is or how it is supposed to work. I want to kill the entire concept of “foreplay” in the fire of a thousand suns. Touching me in ways that turn me on shouldn’t be about getting me aroused so that I can then move on “real” sex.

I want to take the scenic route, and I don’t care if we ever get to whatever destination other people think we should be aiming for. If a thing is working, that should be the thing we are doing, not a stepping stone to some other more expected thing. My positive responses are an encouragement to continue the thing you’re doing, not a magic signal that you get to level up now. There are few things more disappointing to me than having a partner react to my positive feedback by deciding it’s time to move on and try something else.

Really, though, there are really almost no set “rules” for how to make my body respond with arousal, pleasure and orgasm. Trying to set them based on past success and follow them will usually backfire, because the important thing is for things to not be the same all the time. I need spontaneity in order to actually be in the moment, really. And when I am fully present in that way, I am regularly surprised by how my body responds to new or uncommon stimuli, and that’s half the fun.

Like, there have been times when I have randomly been brought to (sometimes even multiple!) orgasm by having my head scratched, or my gums massaged, or just from holding my breath. I have even had empathy orgasms from seeing/perceiving/experiencing my partner’s approach to and experience of orgasm. Orgasming because of literally anything other than the expected things is pretty much my superpower. My body is fucking weird and unpredictable and I love it so much. And when someone is willing to really engage with it, to play and explore with me, we have so much fun together!

I want playfulness. All these things I say about deep feelings and intense connections don’t have to be serious business, ok? I am a person who is going to want to laugh when someone’s bodies (or the combination of bodies) makes funny noises. Because it’s funny. Because sex isn’t serious and we don’t need to pretend our bodies aren’t the weirdest frigging things in the world. They are. And the things people do with them in the name of sex are weird (like seriously, I’m gonna put this kinda dangly part of myself into some other part on you, mmmkay? And people like to act like that’s not the weirdest idea ever, but it is, ok?) We are doing weird shit with our bodies, and sometimes it is funny, and that is important to me, too.

Above all, I want sex to be deeply communicative. This sort of runs though all of my other points, too. I want our bodies to be able to converse and understand each other. I want to feel seen and understood, not just verbally, rationally, or intellectually, but viscerally, physically, emotionally and ultimately metaphorically, in ways I can only express non-verbally. And that is a very high bar to set, but it is so worth it when I get it.

And, ok, I mean, that is a *lot* of pressure to put on sex. And anyway, some of these emotional aspects are just generally important romantic relationship things (feeling cared for, desired, and valued; being able to collaborate in mutually pleasurable activities; and remaining spontaneous and continuing to discover new things about each other all have non-sexual relevance). I don’t need all of these things all of the time (I am, in fact, perfectly happy with a purely lustful quickie on occasion!), and some of them are preferences/ideals than requirements. The only things I absolutely need are points 1-3. And those can for the most part be established outside the sexual context.

Really, because I am demisexual, the emotional context of a relationship is where desire begins and ends for me. Loving and being loved are what desire is for me, they are the only way I understand it. The bottom line is that if I don’t feel love, and if I don’t feel *loved*, then I’m not going to be able to access any of the other stuff that makes sex awesome for me. The best I can do is go through the motions.

If I’ve learned one thing from my occasional attempts to have sex with people for whom I don’t feel that kind of desire, it’s that I’d usually much rather masturbate. So.

On cultural scripts, and reframing ‘vulnerability’ in sex

A big part of a lot of anti-oppression work, as I see it, is wrapped up in reframing or recreating the models of human interaction. In so very many ways, the interactions we, as people, have with other people, are influenced by the normative cultural scripts surrounding those interactions.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having cultural scripts for handling various interactions. These scripts can serve many purposes, including making interactions run smoothly, especially when dealing with awkward or hard-to-handle emotional situations. Ozy Frantz recently wrote about the value of having scripts around the mourning process that illustrates some of the value of having this kind of normative script.

But, as with any (formal or informal) cultural (or institutional) process, these scripts can easily be embedded with unspoken (or spoken) cultural biases and oppression. We can see how this can happen in the example of a man in Florida who ran afoul of institutional processes (for assuming the name of one’s spouse) when, in fact, it was a cultural script (that wives take their husbands last name, and not the other way around) that he had broken.

The script I’d like to examine today is based around the idea of vulnerability in sexual contexts. In the (usually) unspoken cultural script for hetero sexual intercourse it is the woman who is framed as the vulnerable party. We see this concept played out in a variety of ways.

For starters, there is a cultural expectation that parents (and especially fathers) must “protect” their daughters from sexual activity. As a corollary, teenage boys in this script are framed as predatory. But this also plays out in the general language we use to talk about sexual activities. I talked about this to some extent in my post on why I love the word ‘valprehension’. The woman in hetero sexual activities is framed as passive, while the man ‘hammers’, ‘screws’, ‘nails’ (are we sensing a pattern) ‘pounds’, ‘reams’, or otherwise commits physically forceful and painful-sounding acts on her body. Woman are conquests (and thus men are victors?) in sex. Women “give it away” while men “get some”. All sexuality is framed as being for men, and for the male gaze

And this script has all kinds of profound implications about the notions for the broader framing of women’s sexual agency and desire, but as those other smart people have covered that pretty well covered, it’s not quite what I want to talk about today.

Today, I want to talk about how limiting this framing can be to our actual expressions of sexual joy, to sexual exploration and to genuine, creative consensual sexual interactions.

Before I say that, though, I want to be very clear that I am not saying that women (or valprehending partners generally) are never, ever vulnerable. Of course being penetrated can be an intensely vulnerable experience, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s very important to point out and acknowledge the vulnerability that many people can and do experience when they are being penetrated.

One of the things that Dan Savage has started pointing out in some of his columns and podcasts in more recent years is the idea that part of the reason straight men seem to have more trouble getting laid when they’d like is the traditional hetero script, which includes the assumption of penetration. Dan intelligently points out that for many people, being horny or wanting sexual satisfaction does not automatically imply that a person’s body (or mind) can handle penetration, especially from a relative stranger.

And the thing is that, yes, penetrative sex is a thing that happens inside the body of the receptive partner. I’m going to say that again. It happens inside our bodies. It’s a very intimate (and often vulnerable) thing, this letting part of another human being inside your body business. If you’re talking about vaginal or anal penetration, the very core of person’s body is involved in the act. And I don’t think that this should be discounted.

What I’ve been working on reframing in my own head lately is the flip-side of this narrative. Because the implication of Dan’s advice here is that sexual activity is not experienced in as intimate or as vulnerable a way by the penetrating partner. And I do think this is true to some extent, (as reflected in our cultural scripts around sex.) In a penetrative sex act, the penetrating partner’s most involved body part is an appendage (whatever appendage you prefer, though usually in the mainstream hetero script, this will be a penis). The penetrating partner has the privilege(?) of having a certain physical distance (up to the full length of the appendage in question :P) from the act relative to the valprehending partner. And in reality, (fears of vagina dentata aside) there is generally less risk of injury to a penetrating partner. And all of this adds up to much less intimacy and vulnerability for penetrating partner.

But here’s the thing. If you really think about it, if someone is putting their appendage inside my body, that is a great show of trust that I will take care said appendage. Allowing part of oneself to be valprehended by another person can be an extremely vulnerable act of giving part of yourself to that person, in a far more literal way than such giving happens in the cultural script of women “giving it away”. Penetrating partners literally give their appendage to the body of their partner for a time. And valprehending partners can have a degree of control over that part while it is inside of them. And when the body part in question is the oh-so-highly-valued (and, let’s face it, physically vulnerable) phallus, this is a truly awe-inspiring act of trust and intimacy, don’t you think?

The thing is that both of these scripts are accurate and true. And neither of them are. It’s all in how you choose to put forth, talk about, experience, and interpret your own sexual interactions with others. I know that for me, suddenly seeing my own valprehensive experiences from this perspective was really enlightening and empowering! It can certainly be fun to play with what various sexual acts mean in the contexts of individual couples/groups of sexual partners and the way they experience their dynamics.