sex

Thoughts on 9 1/2 Weeks

9.5 weeksWow, so I watched 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) yesterday after this friend suggested it. Sometimes I question this person’s sense of normal, so I was hesitant to watch the movie at first. The description on Google contains some hints of kink and that alone puts me on edge. But I found the movie easily enough on Netflix and I had nothing to do on a Tuesday night, so I figured why not?

The movie stars Mickey Rourke as John, a Wall Street trader, and Kim Basinger as Elizabeth, an art gallery assistant. It is set in the 80’s. Admittedly, I kinda both hate and love the 80’s. I hate that nearly every male protag of that era is a white Wall Street guy. I also hate that it is around the time when being worryingly skinny becomes quite stylish for women. In all the scenes where Elizabeth is in her underwear, you can totally see her hip bones. Basinger wears preteen-sized panties in which my South Asian thighs would probably tear a hole. But also, it’s a great decade for fashion. Basinger is often dressed to the nines in lacy tops, translucent camis, flowy skirts, garter straps, high heels, lipstick, heavy gray eye shadow, and heavy dark eye liner. Then on top of that, she’ll wear a giant shaggy man-sized coat, or something with shoulder pads the size of the Empire State Building. It’s fantastic. In one scene, she’s literally in men’s clothes. I love the androgyny, and also the extreme dissonance of masculine and feminine aesthetic in the same outfit.

I also love the music choices in this crazy movie. The brilliance of using a Eurythmics song, a band that conjures images of disillusionment about love, to a scene where Elizabeth is masturbating. I think the opening song is “I do What I Do” by John Taylor–another great choice. Those haunting questions–“Do I touch the way you want to be touched? Have you heard the words you wanted to hear?” And I think “Bread and Butter” for a kinky food scene was really funny.

I love the gorgeous long scenes that focus on the female lead. The masturbation scene comes to mind (holy shit, the fact that they put a masturbation scene in this movie. A person with a female body giving herself pleasure in major motion picture?! Even by 2019 standards, that is groundbreaking). I really liked the dance scene, too.  Basinger is fantastic in this sexy dance number. She isn’t touching Rourke at all–in fact, while you can tell she’s doing this for him, she also seems to be enjoying herself, doing something that she thinks is funny. It’s as much about her. In fact, if we pretend he isn’t watching, Basinger almost just looks like she’s had slightly too much to drink and is letting loose for a bit. It’s so much less contrived than music videos of this decade, and the focus is not on women giving pleasure to men. To me, it’s more about how a woman chooses what she wants to do with her body–if she wants a man to enjoy it, that’s her choice. If she wants to show it to the whole world, that’s also her choice. But this other human doesn’t have a say in what she does with her body. In fact, John seems to derive enjoyment because Elizabeth is doing what she wants.

I actually thought the scene where Basinger is dressed as a man is very radical. John buys Elizabeth men’s clothes and “suits” her up so she can see what it’s like to be a man for a night. He also kisses her openly while she is still wearing a fake mustache. John doesn’t seem to give a fuck about the fact that Elizabeth passes for a man in this moment. In addition, when they are walking home, two men attack them because they believe they are “faggots”. In the fight scene that ensues, Elizabeth gets them to back off by picking up one of the attackers knives and, I kid you not, poking the other attacker in the ass with it. They run off screaming. In my experience, women rarely get to have a proper fight in an action movie, let alone a romance movie. This one was humorous, but effective.

I would argue the movie does not focus solely on sex, either, though it is a romantic drama. There are no sex scenes. There are intensely sensual moments. Rourke portrays a man who enjoys deeply physical experiences. There is a scene where John asks Elizabeth to stay in his house, and when he comes home to find she has been snooping in his things, he says he is going to spank her. She becomes enraged, and they have sex. I know in this decade, people would argue about whether or not that scene was a rape scene. My theory is that John is trying to get Elizabeth mad on purpose. He wants that heightened state because the sex is more intense that way. I’m not sure I’d say the ends justify means in this case–how do you consent to being made to feel angry for sex? Is John showing that he cares for Elizabeth in that moment, or is it a selfish act? I actually really appreciate older movies for including scenes like that. It shows that the rules for consent are not as black and white as contemporary academics want them to be, and that there is way more to discuss than the modern thinkpiece might suggest.

There are moments in which John still comes off as a little creepy–like that moment when they first meet and he’s just staring at Elizabeth while he’s right next to her. But I also think it is radical that he usually names what he is going to do before he does it. This allows Elizabeth to express when she is uncomfortable and she can leave the situation. For example, when he brings her to his apartment for the first time, John makes a comment about how she is taking a risk because she doesn’t know what he will do. Elizabeth realizes her discomfort and says she wants to go home. In another scene, he blindfolds her before rubbing a cube of ice on her body. Elizabeth gets kind of a “warning” of what’s to come–he shakes the glass filled with ice before he begins. I haven’t seen many other movies about kink (I’ve heard a little too much about how 50 Shades of Gray is an insult to human intelligence to want to see it), so I don’t have much to compare this to. But I will say, this is more communication than I see happening in the average post-2000s rom-com. Those sex scenes usually go like this: lots of kissing, suddenly the protags are having sex. There is no build-up to the moment. I like that Adrian Lyne really took a lot of time to lead up to a sex-related moment. It is as if foreplay is the climax of the movie.

The second John fails to provide adequate information, Elizabeth decides to end the relationship. The scene where John attempts to add a prostitute to their sexual encounters sends Elizabeth into a jealous rage. She leaves John a few days later, claiming they both knew neither of them would stop seeing the other unless one of them explicitly said to do so. I think that’s a profound thing to propose. It is a reference to something Elizabeth tells her friend, Molly, earlier in the movie. She says that usually, you can tell what will end a relationship, and you store it in the back of your mind until it resurfaces one day, and you cannot pretend you are happy any more. She says she cannot figure out how her relationship with John will end. Molly suggests that perhaps it is true love in this case.

I would disagree with Molly. I think the fact that women will so frequently put up with people who they know they don’t want is because society sets them up to think this is the only way they will be happy. The world gives women messages about how they must accept whatever man floats their way because apparently, a woman is most valuable when she is kind to men, regardless of how horrible and selfish the man is. Having men look at you is the pinnacle of being a woman. But perhaps if you can truly say no, if you can walk away and not encounter some kind of social backlash, this indicates you are actually on equal terms with the other person. Maybe that is why it is a strange feeling to Elizabeth–she feels she is on equal terms with John. She is not choosing to be with him out of pity or fear or boredom. She genuinely wants to be with him. Thus when she leaves, it is not because she has been pretending to be happy the whole time. She was happy, and he crossed her boundaries too many times. It was an honest end to a relationship.

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The Phantom, Heart-Draining Menace

bc

*This post is shaped by my ace cis femme brown woman lens

As I’m writing this blog post, I’m looking next to me at (among the rest of the detritus on my desk) a pack of birth control pills. There are two sugar pills left in this month, and then I’m supposed to start a new pack, but most likely, I will not. The new box of pills is small, green and unopened, and sits next to the current pack. My logic is that it will come in handy later if I find occasion to use it before July 2018, when it expires. Fat chance of that happening, though.

A good friend of mine recently told me about this really good sexual experience she had. It sounded to me like it was good because the two people involved actually asked each other what they like, and they did things with each other that they both enjoyed. I was happy for her because this friend hasn’t always had great experiences where sex is involved, and I was glad that this experience went well.

But sometimes, being happy for someone else doesn’t always mean you are happy yourself.

I think, to my great embarrassment, I have to admit that I’m jealous. Which, for me, is shocking because I actually don’t experience being jealous too frequently. Stupid people I know think they can tell when I’m jealous, but they are usually just misinterpreting my anger or sadness. I am jealous so infrequently that I think I can actually remember every single time I have ever been jealous and why I felt the way I did.

It’s not that I’m jealous of my friend, or of the person she had sex with. No, I’m jealous because they got to have that conversation that I have been waiting to have for what feels like eons–the one where someone asks me what I want. You know, without expecting anything in return.

God, it feels good to admit that.

Because now that I have, it’s pretty obvious that the problem is not between me and my friend, but has everything to do with patriarchy.

If I am being honest, at the age of 25, I have never had a sexual interaction in which I did not feel as though I was shortchanged. As I have only ever had sex with heterosexual, cisgender men, this may come as no surprise (at least, it doesn’t to me). Even when sex was consensual (because there are times when I did not consent, but I’m not talking about those), I found myself going through the motions more so to please my partner than out of enjoyment. And I do not think I ever felt as though my partners wanted to give me pleasure. The things my heterosexual, cisgender partners would claim they “gave” me were always conditional; I was expected to give what felt like far more than what I was given in return.

At this point, I have to admit, that sounds, uh, sad. It does, it sounds rather sad, even to me, which I don’t like to admit because I don’t like to think of my life as “sad”. I think it is hard sometimes, and certainly not perfect, but definitely not “sad”. And if this is what all of my sexual experiences amount to, well, clearly something needs to change.

Maybe the sadness comes from shame, which is not logical. This is not an uncommon narrative. I know because other women have written about this same experience again and again. What is it about a patriarchal society that forces women to have to accept really sad sexual experiences? Isn’t that pathetic? We live in a world where, if you are a cisgender, heterosexual woman, you can more or less expect to feel emotionally drained, empty, and hollow after sex.

To preface this next statement, I have nothing against women who have sex with no emotional attachment. If I was capable of doing that, I would. It would make my life so much easier, not to have to think of my past relationships feeling, at best, like I was used as a sex object, and at worst, like I would like to do some really vindictive things to get back at these men. I think it’s really problematic that I have always given both physical and emotional affection in a relationship, and I have only ever received one of the two when I have always wanted both.

This realization has suddenly forced me to contend with how much I value my own heart. How many times has RuPaul told us that if we can’t love ourselves, how in the hell are we going to love somebody else? How many times did Professor Harris say that if there are too many people draining our love, there will be none for ourselves? How could I have forgotten the first rule of being an empath? Everything I do comes with a side of emotional investment. Every person in my life gets emotional nourishment from me without asking. That is the benefit of being friends with someone like me, and also, that is the thing I have to be most careful of. All of my good friends know this about me, and they also know not to take advantage of me.

So you never know, maybe I will start that second pack of birth control pills. But I feel like the better choice would be to hold myself accountable so that I don’t need them in the first place. I’m a little sad that I live in a world where I have to be this cautious. I wish I could have had a great experience with every partner I had sex with. But the fact is, straight men aren’t expected to be like me at all, and thus are usually incapable of giving me what I need unless I explicitly tell them. I’m waiting for that person who asks, and not just because they want to get into my pants. I’m waiting for the person who is willing to take responsibility for this tender and giving heart that is drained all too easily by careless, unfeeling people.

 

Illicit

Oh Lord, I crave him. This summer has brought a lot, a bit too much perhaps. Now I am crazy in addition to everything else.

People say that time is not linear, and slowly, I begin to understand why. Feelings I thought I had long forgotten suddenly come back to haunt me. I felt this way about him before the abortion. That fall semester was when I felt this way about him. I had forgotten those feelings, and they were not something I was willing to revisit, not after the other feeling, that I had killed my own child.

Attraction is hard to go back to. I did not feel attraction for some time. It eluded me for all of spring semester. Granted, that didn’t stop me from having sex, but it was that sordid, corporeal kind that makes you feel emptier than you did when you began. It took me only a matter of weeks to see my then-lover for who he really was: a needy, sanctimonious person who would use me to hold his emotions, but took every chance he got to quash my own. Admittedly, abortion-trance was a convenient antidote to my former guilelessness; it was the shortest amount of time it had ever taken for me to come to my senses and leave a man.

He deserved to be left as well, though, the one from fall. That is what I tell myself. Not left entirely—left by me. For making me hope that I could be his, for even the second that I believed it, even when he knew there was not a chance in hell that it would last. I blame him because surely, he must have known. He had to have known how it would end, and he let it play out anyway because he had to have me just that much, had to have my hand in his, have my kisses, my endless hair, the way secrets poured from my lips without him ever needing to ask.

See, he already had a partner. And at that point, I still had the pre-abortion-trance guilelessness, so I believed him when he made me feel like I was safe, made me think his partner was sane, made me think nothing would ever go wrong. Maybe that is my own fault for being so guileless.

If you all ever hope for a love story, I wish you one like this (though with perhaps a happier ending). We were co-teachers, he and I. I don’t think either of us much heeded how obviously illicit our affections were. He was endearing—he embodied that word entirely—for me there could not exist a more-perfect Achilles heel. Look how even now I wax dramatic for him.

See, he was an artist. Not on the surface, but I suspect that is what he is deep down. I don’t know how else he would get me to say such ridiculous things to him, things I have never said to anyone else, that he turns me on so hard, that I want to push him over onto a bed, that I would like to kiss him until he is limp in my arms. I flirted with him like I did with no one else. We would sit together in the study of my apartment, dimly lit by just desk lamps in poor-graduate-student fashion, to put our lesson plans together. His eyes, which caught the light so easily, would glow a lovely amber color. He would always ask me if there was anything else I wanted to talk about (I might be forgetting the wording at this point, I always just wanted to look at his face). I never did, but his eyes always lingered just a little longer than what was reasonable, holding my gaze, even in the days before I started flirting with him.

And after I made my feelings apparent to him, it could not be helped. We were like children in middle school, embracing each other in empty classrooms and holding hands when we thought no one was looking, except we were the teachers and middle schoolers are half our age.

These are all memories that I thought I had forgotten, that I have not had access to in seven months. They come back now with shocking clarity. I did not think I could feel like this again, ever.

I remember the first time I kissed him, and all the kisses that came after the first. I would say that the most romantic experiences I have ever had never involved sex. It was certainly true of this relationship. Admittedly, that first kiss was slightly naughty of me. We had just finished our last class of the semester. I had only just asked him how he liked to be kissed, and he had only just finished answering, but I couldn’t bear not being able to give that to him for even a second longer, so I kissed him. I could sense his hesitation and I thought that perhaps I had taken things too far, but then he kissed me back so softly, so demurely. He used to love the way I would moan.

This is unexpected. Now I am crying. All the websites I went to after my abortion said I might cry for no reason from time to time. For the life of me, I can’t understand why I am crying. Maybe, I suspect, I want my child’s father to be like him. So cute. So silly and well-intentioned. Maybe I would forgive someone like him for all his flaws because he would care so unfathomably.

See, he is already a father. He was a father long before I came into his life, and he will be long after I have left. We’re not so different, he and I. At almost the same point in our lives, we both found out we could become parents. Except I didn’t become one and he did.

I wake up like I’m waiting for infinity these days. Day stretches long and worthless, night comes mercilessly too soon. In those moments when I feel that crazed consciousness that has stayed with me since I was pregnant, I know she will come back to me one day. I wait for her eagerly, my future child.

Heer used to call Ranjha on his cell phone

This is a statement I am willing to put a lot of money on: For most women, the first time they have sex is terrible.

I should clarify that this post will not be addressing cases in which the first time is rape. It will only address consensual sex. This is not to say that I don’t think the rape cases are important. As an assault survivor, I will say from my experience that men’s entitlement knows no bounds, not just because of the frequency at which sexual assault happens to women and goes unreported (and happens to and by other genders as well), but also because of the number of times a woman’s first time is a sexual assault, and she is not made aware of this until later in life, frequently much, much later. In this manner, from our first sexual encounters, many of us are conditioned to believe that assault is what a man does if he loves us. We are conditioned to believe that it is normal for our bodies to be brutalized and violated, and that that is how we should expect to be treated as women. It shakes my faith in humanity, truly.

But even for the consensual first encounters, the first time a woman has sex is probably terrible! The reason why I am so certain is because of the many encounters I have had that have been god-awful. The few that are pleasant seem to happen randomly, though there are threads of commonality in those encounters. How could I get so many different results even though I felt that I did the same thing each time? I think I have figured out the factors that brought about the god-awful and the pleasant, what was missing in the former and what was coincidental, but present in the latter.

I recently read these two excellent posts about being able to talk about your sexual desires and dating people with whom you are actually compatible. Forgive me for the next nerdy things I’m going to say. It is very telling of my (rather privileged) background in higher education.

This got me thinking about (brace yourselves) the ways in which we construct meaning in intimate relationships. I’m serious, it did.

This thread of thought has been seriously complicated for me to unravel, so bear with me. Now, as far as I know, all meaning is constructed. Nothing we do has any meaning until we put it into the context of past experience and accumulated knowledge. Bumping into some attractive person has no meaning without the construction of who is considered attractive (to you), and comprehending that you are attracted to this person (as dictated by knowledge). This is true for all interactions having to do with intimacy. Nothing is intimate without putting interactions into the context of what we have learned is an intimate gesture and comprehending that gestures are intimate.

In this way, sex has meaning when we give it meaning, and by giving it meaning, we take ownership of the act. By taking ownership, we give ourselves agency.

Why should you give a fuck? Because if you change the acts or interactions that you are giving meaning to, by changing the way you take agency, by changing the meaning itself, we are able to give ourselves more satisfying, pleasurable, fulfilling relationships.

Okay, enough theoretical shit. Time for the part where I tell you how this applies to real life.

I want a person who intentionally puts off having sex until that point that both of us have constructed a shared meaning of what sex is to us.

Something happened recently that put my health at risk very suddenly. I had to reframe many of my priorities, and the topmost was intimate relationships. I came to the realization that I actually DO know what I want in a relationship, though it is intensely difficult to name. It feels like the kind of empty promise one makes to themselves at the beginning of a new year. My mother always says cliches are cliche for a reason. I think I now understand at least one: meaningless sex does not work for everyone.

Now, for some people it does, and there is nothing wrong with that. But for me, it just doesn’t. In fact, meaningless anything just doesn’t work for me, but that’s a post for another day.

On to the realization: I want a person who intentionally puts off having sex until that point that both of us have constructed a shared meaning of what sex is to us. That sounds way more complicated than what it actually is. Basically, I want a person who is interested in understanding what I want out of sex. I also want to have time to get to know what this person wants out of sex. If these things happen to match, we will probably have a very enjoyable experience. If they do not match, which will be the more probable case knowing the depth of human diversity, then we must BOTH be okay with the pieces that do not match up, or we need to be able to change the nature of our relationship so that one or more of us does not get hurt. And this is a process, not a single conversation that we have one time. Things change. What we like may change. What we dislike may change. Again, products of our experience. The conversation must be ongoing.

And the thing about this formula (ew, I came up with a formula for my personal life. I am a nerd) is something that applies to more than just sex. In fact, for me it’s basically a template for a bunch of things at this point.

I want a person who intentionally puts off X until that point that both of us have constructed a shared meaning of what X is to us.

Possibilities for X:

  • marriage
  • a relationship
  • intimacy
  • moving in with each other
  • dating
  • friendship
  • love
  • physical contact
  • anything else two people can do together

Now, if you think about it, I’m actually not that smart. It took me almost 24 years to figure out the most basic principle of existing with other people: you have to work shit out together. I seriously wish someone could have told me this a decade ago! I have had so many terrible sex encounters because of a lack of knowing how to name things. This is not to say that all of my sexual encounters have been bad. Some were of the pleasant, steamy variety. But right now, the bad outweighs the good, and life is not meant to be lived that way.

Still, ever optimistic and now armed with my shiny new knowledge, I will forge onward! Or rather, I now have the ability to be more (and VERY) intentional about what kind of people I allow in my life.