Will I Ever Have Sex Again?
MANY SISTERS (AND BROTHERS!) AREN'T "GETTING ANY." ONE WRITER REFLECTS ON HER CELIBATE STATUS--AND SHARES THE SURPRISING LESSONS SHE'S LEARNED ABOUT THE TRUE NATURE OF PASSION AND SEXUALITY
Like folks of a certain age who can tell you exactly where they were the day President Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot, I remember to the day and year the last time I had sex: March 8, 1996, the night my ex took me to a fiftieth-birthday party in a neighboring state. He had been trying to get back into the mix ever since we'd broken up three months before. So when I asked him to do me a favor and drive me to the party (I hate driving long distances at night), I knew I'd have to, as writer E. Lynn Harris puts it in his novels, "give up the drawers" to thank him. Had I known then that that particular night could possibly turn out to be the last time I experienced anything resembling sex, I might have been a lot more thankful.
Now, unlike a number of sisters who say they occasionally take vows of celibacy in order to regroup or tap into their higher nature, my thinking on the subject has always run like that of my friend Jimmy, who once observed, "I tried celibacy. It was the longest hour of my life." Hello!
Four Years and Counting
This current drought of nearly four years is the longest I've gone without sex (except for the time I went 19 years). And sometimes I wonder if I'll end up like the doddering 90-year-old I read about who was having brunch with her great-granddaughter at the Plaza Hotel one Sunday and suddenly blurted out for all to hear: "I haven't had sex since 1952!" Could this be my future? To be a quarter of the way into the new millennium, muttering to strangers on the subway platform: "I haven't had sex since the mm of the century."
I exaggerate, of course, but not a lot. The truth is, most women will spend a good part of their lives alone--as either divorcees, widows or never-marrieds who statistically outlive the guys by about six years. This means they will not be sleeping next to a warm body at night--except perhaps their eat; they will not be having sex on a regular or even irregular basis; and they, in all probability, will not be talking about it. Married women are not immune to forced celibacy, either. Those caring for sick husbands, for instance, or hanging with physically unavailable ones (think Winnie and Nelson Mandela, the early years) or simply remaining in stale, loveless marriages; these women often lead long lives without sex.
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Even the vamp diva Cher recently confessed it's been six years since she's had a lover. For women like me and Cher who are of a certain age--namely, far on the other side of 40--the prospects diminish considerably with each advancing year, since the men of a certain age are usually married, dead, impotent or chasing women half their age. But more and more younger, attractive and unattached women also find themselves now living lives without sex.
It's been three years and still counting for Monica Errols (we've changed some names to protect privacy), a 32-year-old graduate student whose last sexual encounter was right before her twenty-ninth birthday. "I had a six- or seven-year history of long-term relationships and had just broken up with an African I was seeing during a three-month period when I lived in Paris," she says. "After it ended, I was very reluctant about getting into a long-term relationship without marriage. I decided I wasn't interested in sex."
What Monica really means is that she wasn't interested in casual sex. She had actually tried that once, shortly after breaking up with a boyfriend she learned was cheating on her. "I didn't understand how anyone could be casual about sex, so I decided to try it myself and see," she says. "I didn't like it." Monica defines casual sex as "having a purely sexual relationship with someone you lust after" within a week or less of having met. "It's not me," she says of the experience.
Nor was Monica interested in marriage at the time, which was why she could somewhat cavalierly say she was no longer interested in sex. Easier said than felt, however. "Initially, I was very, very horny," she admits. "I'm an attractive, young, vibrant woman, and my sexuality is a healthy part of who I am. Good sex is important to me. The thought of never having it again ... Well, it would make me feel anxious, to say the least."
And how does such a thought make a man feel? Yes, men, too, lead lives without sex--and not just men who are incapacitated or incarcerated--but handsome, professional, buffed-bod men like Brian Fuller, a 39-year-old vice-president at a publishing company who reports that it's been a whole six months since he's last had sex. "For me, that's an eternity," he says. "And I've had sex maybe only three times in the past two years." Each time was with his wife, from whom he has been separated for two years. And each time the sex represented his attempt at reconciliation. He simply can't imagine never having sex again. "The only way I could imagine that would be if I never saw a woman again. I think about sex and women all the time."
Of course, Brian, who's attractive and a self-avowed lover of women, will surely have sex again--once he's available. His issue is what to do about now. Separated or not, he considers himself still married, and as a brother who never cheated on his wife during their 13 years of marriage, having sex while still married is problematic. "The problem for me is that I want my sex without guilt. I like sex--in fact, I love it. And I like getting lots of it, and I like getting it frequently. It's just that I don't like getting lots of it frequently with lots of people. The irony--it's the thing that tends to make me attractive to women--is that I'm basically a nice guy who wouldn't dog anybody. So if you're married, even separated, engaging in an affair outside of marriage contradicts that. I mean, there's no such thing as a nice dog. If I want sex so bad with someone else, then I need to get out of my marriage."
Yet even straight, attractive, single and available Black men--believe it--are home alone, in bed alone. Earl Towers, a 42-year-old owner of a new catering business who hasn't had sex for several months, says he doesn't have the time or the money to court a woman right now, as he's trying to make a go of his business. Most men who want a quality relationship with a woman, which by their definition usually also means quality sex, know they have to bring something to the table (like time and money) to woo and keep a woman. "I think by the start of the millennium--yes, I should be ready by then," Earl says with a grin. "I'll be taking applications for a woman. I want to get married and have me some babies."
This last comment gets to the heart of what sex, or the lack thereof, really means to most people: intimacy, companionship, marriage and family. There are few statistics on who, at any given time, is having or not having sex. Still, one can speculate. And based on my own limited investigation on the subject, I'd say a whole lot more people than you might think (men, we see, as well as women) aren't doing it much, if at all. But is this really new or even news? I don't think so. There have always been people--and not just priests, nuns, the infirm or the imprisoned who, for reasons as varied as humankind, are not sexually active. In fact, it wasn't all that long ago that single women weren't even supposed to be thinking about sex, much less having it.
The Age of Eros
But by the mid-sixties, with the ascent of the Pill (and other drugs), a "sexual revolution" exploded on the American scene with all the force and passion of a national wet dream. We suddenly became a nation urged to "make love, not war;" to find our G spots; achieve the big O; and just do it, if it feels good. Today whether it's gyrating hoochie mamas on music videos or a magazine's running yet another sex survey or guide, the overriding sentiment is that if you aren't getting some, asking for some, thinking about getting some or learning how to ask and then get some, there is something wrong--with you. Sex, like riding at the front of the bus, has now become a civil right.
Well, this is all just a crock, contends ESSENCE columnist Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant, Ed.D., a psychologist and certified sex counselor and the author of The Best Kind of Loving: A Black Woman's Guide to Finding Intimacy (HarperPerennial). "The problem," she says, "is that we believe sex is only one thing: an erect penis and a pulsating vagina. Everybody buys into this Pavlovian concept of sex. That's pitiful. That's just foolishness, because we're having sex all the time. To be alive is to have sex. Sexual intercourse is just one grain of sand on the whole beach of sexuality. But we think if you don't find this little grain, you ain't got it."
According to Grant, sexuality, which we all possess and express--whether it's raising our voice in song, dancing to the beat of reggae or salsa, writing poems, decorating our homes, giving a kick-ass speech or just doing that sister stroll down the street--is the energy released in the act of creating art, displaying style or simply thinking and being. "Why do we love romantic music so much?" asks Grant. "Because the music is an expression of the creative sexual self. When you're dancing, the music stimulates the libido. Whoever created it was creating it out of his or her sexual self. Otherwise, you wouldn't feel it. Great musicians and painters put their sex in their art or their music. The largest sexual organ you have is your brain--what's between your ears, not your legs."
The Need Behind the Deed
Why, then, such a focus on those erect and pulsating body parts in the lower regions? Why this drive for the sex act? The first thing to get straight, adds Grant, is that sex is not the same type of drive as hunger or thirst. Man (as well as woman) does not have to have sex or intercourse to live. What we all do need can be summed up in two words: human touch. And as Grant puts it, "You think you need intercourse, when what you need is a hug. Sex is touch, and my recommendation for all the people who think they're not getting sex is to give or receive two or three hugs a day."
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If our focus has become stuck on the sex act, or what Grant calls "one little event that lasts about 30 seconds," it's because we've come to confuse intercourse with intimacy. Interestingly, the people who seem to have the clearest handle on the difference between the two are the very ones who aren't having sex, or rather aren't having sexual intercourse.
For instance, Monica, the grad student who hasn't had sex for three years, said that--after her initial period of being horny--she didn't miss sex much during the first year of school because all her energy was going into her studies. "I was studying, learning and so consumed by what I was doing that I wasn't thinking about sex," she says. She did continue to be involved with an ex-boyfriend during this time, however, talking with him on the phone but not having sex. What mattered: having someone on the other end of the line who cared and provided emotional support during that tough first year of studies.
Similarly, Brian noted that recently a woman friend whose mother had just died came to visit him for a weekend. "There was lots of sexual tension. I slept on the couch, she slept in my bed, and there were times I didn't think we were going to make it through the weekend without having sex. But in a way, I didn't need it. I mean, we hung out, we held hands, I bought her some shoes because it was her birthday. She probably would have caved in if I had pressed her for sex, but what she really needed was to feel cared for, loved and special. And I did that. It's frustrating, because sometimes I feel intense loneliness. But the loneliness is not rooted in the lack of sex. It's rooted in the lack of companionship that comes with sex."
This is the great loss we all fear: to be alone without companionship, intimacy or love. The mistake too many of us make is thinking that sex equals all of the above. Sometimes it does. But many times it does not. So to the question "Will I ever have sex again?" the short answer is yes. If sex is all you want. Because having sex is easy. You can have self-sex through masturbation (perfectly respectable and reasonable, says Grant, who acknowledges that humans do occasionally need to be relieved the pulsating and erect way); you can have casual sex, freaky sex, thank-you sex. But what most of us who aren't having sex are holding out for is sex within an intimate, loving and compatible relationship. In other words, good sex. Always a trickier proposition.
Nathalie Norton, a singer, dancer and image consultant just shy of 50, is clear about what good sex means at this stage of her life. She has been married and divorced and has raised a son--and still has the men hitting on her. But is she having sex? No. At least not in the traditional pulsating way. "Too many men today haven't matured beyond wanting to conquer women sexually," she says. "Even men in their fifties want a conquest. Well, I'm almost 50, and I'm not about to be anybody's conquest. I'm looking for a spiritual relationship with someone who can grow with me. It's about blending energies, mental as well as physical. And I don't feel like `Woe is me' because I don't have a man. Maybe I'm never going to have a man again. This is a new paradigm for women, and it's still being invented. I have to learn to be comfortable as a single woman who might not have sex."
Nathalie does, however, have the kind of love, intimacy and companionship that stems from having family,. good friends--both men and women--and work she has a passion for. She is also on great terms with her own higher self. "Here I am on the phone, talking to you from my home-based business," she says, laughing. "I'm walking around my living room buck-naked, got a rag tied around my head, just did my laundry. And I have a great sense of celebration because I feel liberated. I've worked hard to get to this point. To be me on my own terms. To be so comfortable in my own skin that I can do my life the way I choose." And that, after all is said and done, is sex at its best.
Audrey Edwards is a contributing writer for ESSENCE and is also senior editor at More magazine.
* In "Will I Ever Have Sex Again?" (page 94), ESSENCE contributing writer Audrey Edwards explores the experience of sexual dry spells. "The good news is, it's not the end of the world. It could be a whole new way of looking at life," she says.
Staff, H. (2008, December 13). Will I Ever Have Sex Again?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/sex/good-sex/will-i-ever-have-sex-again