gourmet sex and the beauty of erotic snobbery*

Well, it’s 2009. Did you do anything debauched last night? (I did, but I’m not telling what.) Do you feel any different? Older and wiser, perhaps? Any big erotic projects on the horizon? Any lofty goals you’d like to set post-hangover and forget about by Valentine’s Day? Last year around this time, I published a post listing my sex predictions for 2008. I’m currently not in a headspace to be thinking about predictions for 2009, but perhaps I’ll come up with some and post ‘em here next week.

This afternoon at breakfast (yeah, it was a good night) I got into a conversation with the various folks who have been sharing my space lately, and oddly enough, we turned to the very topic I had been planning to re-post about today: erotic snobbery. The short version is that we all agreed that sex isn’t worth having if it’s anything less than excellent. The longer version… well, read on. In the meantime, happy New Year. May 2009 bring you exactly what you need, even if it isn’t exactly what you want.

*I originally published this on October 8, 2006.

***

A couple of weeks back, I fell into a conversation with an acquaintance, and the topic turned to sex (she started it, I swear). I wish I remembered how we got to this specific piece of the conversation, but at one point I made reference to some mind-blowing sexual experience I’d had, and she kind of looked at me and just said, “I don’t think sex has ever been that intense for me.”

I was kind of taken aback by her statement, because, well, I gave up on having non-intense sex so long ago I can’t really remember what it’s like anymore. I had to hold back from asking her – with no malice, just complete honest curiosity – “Well, what’s the point of doing it, then?”

Truly, what is the point? If all I want to do is get off, I can do that myself quite competently, thanks; I’ve got a lifetime of practice. I imagine that’s true for most of us – or am I being really naïve?

The whole point of bringing another person into the experience, for me, is to luxuriate in that thrilling sense of deep human connection that two (or more) people can create. If you have sex and it’s just sorta ho-hum, doesn’t that just end up making you feel more lonely than you felt before? Sort of like how gorging on potato chips might fill your belly, but it sure doesn’t make you feel like you’ve had a meal? I suppose if you’re starving, maybe… but that’s sex from a place of desperation, rather than from a place of genuine desire. And unlike the furthest logical conclusion of the food metaphor, I’ve never known anyone to die from lack of sex.

Call me an erotic snob if you will, but in my mind, better to let your belly grumble a bit while waiting for gourmet than to get flabby on fast food. Midori said it best when writing about her youth in her introduction to Michael Manning’s (totally amazing) book of erotic art, Inamorata: “What my peers thought was my sexual innocence and prudish declining of sexual advances was actually my refusal to participate in erotic mediocrity.”

Now here’s the kicker. I personally believe that amazing sex is a wonderfully accessible sort of luxury if you’re willing to cultivate your palate – especially since, unlike the fulfilment of other epicurean tastes, it doesn’t require a big budget. Better yet, in my opinion at least, mind-bending sex has nothing to do with a lover’s years of experience, list of conquests, or achievements in technical prowess. For me, it has everything to do with whether or not a lover is able to truly open and be vulnerable to me, and boldly step inside when I open to them. Good sex is dependent on connection, and connection is dependent on trust – on the other person allowing me to get inside them in places far deeper than an orifice or two.

The body is a convenient route to the inner world, and whether I want to stay there with someone for an hour or a lifetime, that’s what I’m after. The superficial experience of sex on its own somehow feels like a paltry substitute, an empty shell of what it could be. It feels like knocking on the restaurant door and being refused a table. I’m not interested in hanging out on the front step, no matter how pretty it is; I’m not interested in the burger joint down the street. I’d rather go home to my own place and make my own dinner solo.

For me personally, when someone’s willing to open, that connection and that trust generally play out in one of two ways: love (in its broadest definition) or power. In other words, either it’s romantic or it’s sadomasochistic. All the better if it’s both at once. This is not to say that every time I screw, I end up in a long-term relationship of either romance or dominance; there are a lot of places between “don’t call me, I’ll call you” and a U-Haul or a collar, and many of those places don’t involve repeatedly getting nekkid. The point is not to make an experience into something it’s not, but rather to enjoy it to the deepest degree of what it is.

Of course, this is just my own way of doing things. Trust is an individual thing, and the point is not for connection to look the same to everyone, but rather that everyone deserves to feel it in the way that works best for them. Regardless of how it plays out, I think gourmet sex is a physical manifestation of trust, plain and simple – whether it’s someone taking a chance with a compelling stranger or opening for the ten thousandth time to their lifelong lover, whether it’s played out through a cane and a pair of restraints or a gentle coaxing tongue on tender flesh. No trust = no connection = no intensity = no fun. “Ya want fries with that?” instead of “Allow me to recommend an appropriate apéritif, sir.”

I’ve heard many justifications for fast-food sex. “Well, I was drunk. It had been three months since I last got laid. She seemed really into me. He was really nice and I felt bad. I didn’t want to lead her on. I wasn’t really in the mood, but I love him. I decided, what the hell, I didn’t have anything better to do. We’ve been together for five years, so it’s normal for things to get a little routine.” And so on and so forth.

I dunno. To me these all seem like cop-outs. Don’t drink so much, learn to masturbate, don’t let loneliness or guilt or other people’s expectations control your libido, true love waits for both people to be in the mood, boredom is a terrible reason for sex, and if you can handle being together for five years you can certainly handle the challenge of finding ways to make your sex life steamy.

There’s simply no truly good reason to settle for cheaply produced, flat-tasting sex that’s lacking in nutritional value. Ick. I deserve better. Every single person on this planet deserves better. We can choose to give a whole new meaning to “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” – in other words, rather than letting our bodies go ahead and do things while our minds sit in the corner and twiddle their thumbs until it’s over, we can choose to let our spirits and minds take the lead in every experience, and then our bodies can do nothing but follow. And I don’t know about you, but my mind can go to some interesting places indeed.

If my own renunciation of disconnected sex makes me an erotic snob, I’ll gladly accept the title. Better to bathe in erotic luxury – or even settle for the occasional sip – than drown in erotic mediocrity.

15 Responses

  1. I agree with most of this but I would add that erotic luxury looks different for everyone. What looks like cheap, non-nutritional sex to one might actually constitute fulfilling luxury for another. For me, it’s about balance. I *need* to balance the trusting and deeply connected sex with what might appear to others as disconnected and cheap sex. If all I had was cheap, anonymous sex, I’d get bored. But I choose to occasionally indulge as part of my own sexual fulfillment. The charge of following through with my own desire makes it one of my luxuries and gives the experience the intensity that it would not have if I were doing it out of perceived necessity.

    But, yes, too many people settle for what they think they can get and I think that a lot of that is socially sanctioned in the sense that we live in a sex negative society. Sexual fulfillment isn’t generally seen as an intrinsic part of one’s growth, unless it’s “proper” sex within a hetero, monogamous vanilla arrangement. And body image issues prevent many people from really letting people into their bubbles. We’re bombarded with messages that tell us we don’t deserve sexual fulfillment unless we look a certain way. That was my case up until my early 30s when I *finally* discovered my sexual potential. Experiment? Trust? Dare? I didn’t think I was entitled to that in my 20s, even though I fantasized about a lot of the stuff I’m doing now. And now my fantasies go so much further and the difference is that I know I can realise them. I won’t settle for *not* realising them ;) And I seek to surround myself with people who will help me realise them, not for me, but for their own satisfaction too. That’s my form of snobbery ;)

  2. This is wonderful. I agree completely, and posted something similar myself recently in the context of extended musings on Story of O, and then thoughts on things like “fuckbuddies” and polyamory, with the general theme “vulnerability is the point, dudes.”

  3. […] Sex Geek expresses what I was trying to express with the Story of O post, about vulnerability, only much better. I don’t think I agree about the equation of romance and dominance, but about the need for […]

  4. This post really rubs me the wrong way, and I’ll tell you why. While I totally support this erotic snobbery for you, I feel like this post is dripping with disdain for people who just don’t prioritize sex as highly as you do. I think different people respond to different types of sensory experience to varying degrees. Some people are really into colour and texture and shape and will make a big effort to choose clothes and decorate their place so it’s pleasing to them. Me, I’m happy in anything that keeps me warm and doesn’t make others point and stare.

    A lot of people don’t enjoy exercise, and only go to the gym because the feel they should, bringing a magazine or watching TV to distract themselves from the experience. On the other hand, I like to really feel my workout, and find that the more I feel the happier I am. A kickboxing class is better than an hour of cardio and weights because it involves a lot of solid body contact, but cardio and weights are still awesome as long as I’m paying attention to my body and experiencing everything. Having a TV in front of the stairclimber really detracts from the experience for me.

    Similarly, sex is more or less important to different people. Sex is obviously a very high priority for you and that’s awesome, but when you talk about “justifications for fast-food sex” and “cop-outs” it feels like you’re putting people down or judging them for not prioritizing sex as highly as you do, and that sucks.

  5. How’s this for a food metaphor: eating at McDonald’s once in a while isn’t going to diminish your appreciation of gourmet dinners. It might even enhance your appreciation. If there are no 5-star restaurants in town, what’s the harm in dining at McDonald’s? Sure, we don’t want to fill up on bread before the meal, but what if the gourmet meal isn’t till tomorrow? There really is nothing to lose*. And frankly, a vagina feels better than my hand. I have had those experiences where I thought, “I should have just stayed home and wanked; that fucking sucked,” but I’ve also had meaningless sex which was just fine.

    I’ve never known someone to “drown” in mediocre sex. I have known people (including myself) to get tired of it and desire more meaningful sex. Nobody forgets what good sex is like and stops desiring it, though, just because they’ve had too much average sex.

    *(OK, well, sure, there’s pregnancy and disease; but that’s not what this post is about.)

  6. Jacky – Yes, indeed, erotic luxury does look different for everyone. Agreed!

    Paultopia – Thanks for the comment! I read your post and I totally see what you mean, in that some people seem to do non-monogamous relationships for the purpose of having lots of sex and companionship while never getting in deep enough with any one person to be truly intimate (i.e. vulnerable). That said, I don’t think this is the way the majority of poly people experience their relationships. Certainly for myself I’ve found non-monogamy to be quite the opposite – for me it’s a way of reaching precisely the depths of intimacy that make sense with any given relationship rather than artificially inhibiting the intimacy (vulnerability) in some relationships in order to hold up the ideal of monogamy in only one of them.

    Jake – Hmm. Interesting you’d read it that way. I suppose snobbery does imply disdain, but that’s not really how I meant it. And I certainly don’t expect everyone to prioritize sex the way I do. For me the importance of sex is not about quantity, variety, exoticism or anything else… it’s just about the quality of the experience people have when they have it. Sometimes that quality comes from the heightened intensity that anonymity can bring (ref: Jacky), sometimes from the depth of connection that a long-term relationship might provide, and surely many other forms along the way too.

    To take your metaphor – if you judge the quality of clothing by its ability to keep you warm and not look silly, than you would surely agree that clothing that doesn’t really keep you warm and is sorta funny-looking wouldn’t be “good.” Someone else might judge their clothing by its designer label and its perfect fit. Whatev. The point is, if you’re settling for something less than what you know will truly please you, that sucks, and I don’t get why people do it. I don’t think you have to prioritize sex itself in any way to insist that when you have it, it should be good, however you define “good.” I just have a really hard time believing that “good” can be had when people settle for sex that’s tuned-out, disconnected, bored, distracted, half-willing and so forth.

    aaronweingott – “Eating at McDonald’s once in a while isn’t going to diminish your appreciation of gourmet dinners.” – True, but eating a gourmet dinner once in a while might very well diminish your appreciation for McDonald’s. ;) And while I fully appreciate that a vagina might feel better than your hand, I gotta say, if I were on the receiving end of a come-on that came from that sort of mentality, I’d be pretty darn grossed out. Sex doesn’t have to be meaningful to be good (see my responses to Jacky and Jake above) but if it’s only engaged in because you’re bored of your hand… well, I just wrote a whole post about that, so perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one!

  7. I *strongly* agree with you when it comes to the trust element. I’m considered a bit weird especially in BDSM circles, but even in general, because I won’t sleep with someone that I don’t trust, which usually means someone I’ve known a year or more. I’m someone who can be very open and has few boundaries in one respect, but also I find myself being awkward and close-mouthed when I don’t fully trust someone. I have to either be close friends with someone or date someone for quite a while before I’m interested in being intimate, and if that’s a problem, then that person isn’t a good sexual match for me. I would say, though, that sometimes having sex that’s a bit ho-hum can be a stepping stone. Even with someone I really trust, there are nerves and generally societally imposed crap in my head that I have to work through, and I have to “come out of my shell” so to speak, so the first time or two might not be all that thrilling. If there’s a connection there on a personal level, I’m going to keep trying. Especially when it comes to subbing, I am probably not going to be able to find that courage the first one or two or seven times, and if someone were to rush it I would feel intense fear. I don’t know why – I haven’t been abused or had a particularly bad experience – but that’s just me.

  8. I highly value connected sex nowadays and often, I would rather go without than not feel that connection. And there is absolutely nothing better for me than having sex with someone I care about and, better yet, love intensely. That said, I can also feel connected to someone I just met and might never see it again – say, at a women’s bathhouse or leather event ;-)

  9. *nods*

    agree. so much agree. and that midori quote just made my life (and retroactively justified my (partner)sexless adolescence).

  10. This rubs me the wrong way, too, and I’ll tell you why – I don’t think you realise how lucky you are to be able to have mindblowing sex. I’ve *never* had mindblowing sex, and probably never will. And I resent your seeming assumption that that’s because I’m lazy, or not committed, or settling, or not putting enough effort into ‘cultivating my palate’. For some of us, sex *is* a big disappointment, and that’s a miserable state. You should have some compassion for people like me, instead of patting yourself on the back for being such a fucking gourmet.

  11. Hey, Cross. Wow. Sorry to hear you’re having a rough time in the sex department, and that you expect that to continue. But I think you’re reading judgment into my post that I didn’t put there. In no way do I think people who don’t have mind-blowing sex are somehow lazy or uncommitted.

    I do, however, think most such people are settling – you’re right about that. But that’s not an accusation and it’s not a pat on the back to myself. Remember that I wrote “I deserve better. Every single person on this planet deserves better.” That’s a call to everyone to value themselves and their desires. I also wrote that “amazing sex is a wonderfully accessible sort of luxury if you’re willing to cultivate your palate.” To me, that doesn’t (necessarily) mean getting radically experimental; it means doing whatever it takes to empower yourself to enjoy the kind of sex you deserve.

    For me personally, one of the best things I ever did for my sex life was stay celibate for two years in my early twenties – that gave me time to heal from some bad relationships and figure out some destructive patterns I was engaging in. Of course I can’t presume to know or understand whatever it is you’re going through. I do know that some folks out there are unable to have sex for a variety of reasons – abuse history, physical challenges, and many others – and that the obstacles they may face can be plenty frustrating and overwhelming. (Also, some folks are just plain not interested – far be it for me to dismiss the realities of the asexuals among us.)

    But I also know that some people have overcome enormous challenges on their way to sexual fulfillment. I don’t pretend to have the answers about how to overcome every obstacle to pleasure and connection, but I maintain that each of us is worth the effort and self-care it might take to smooth that path, wherever that path may lead.

    My post is meant to encourage, not disparage. In that spirit, for what it’s worth, I hope that you’re wrong about the continued misery you foresee for yourself.

  12. Here’s the way I see it: Life is full of pleasurable experiences and activities. Sex is just one among many others, including eating, cooking, dancing, watching movies, reading, listening to music, playing music, doing logic puzzles, working out, and so many many more. And in pretty much every case, the good stuff can only be found with extra effort. Whether that effort comes in the form of spending money, learning techniques, or just taking the time to explore different kinds of Pleasure X and figuring out what you like.

    And it doesn’t have to be about specifically what counts as good to you. If eating and food are an important pleasure to you then you’ll spend the time and effort to figure out what you like best. And if it turns out that that’s Kraft Dinner, well, whatever. The point is you made that effort because it was important to you. But no one is going to make that effort for *every* pleasure in their life. If sex is high on your list then you’ll make the effort to only have the best sex you can, but if logic puzzles aren’t as high on your list then just because you haven’t spent time seeking out the most interesting ones doesn’t mean you can’t find the odd sudoku fun.

    I feel like you’re basically telling people that if they really can’t be bothered to discover the most interesting logic puzzles out there, and only enjoy logic puzzles enough to do the sudoku in the newspaper, then they’re doing logic puzzles wrong, and cheating themselves of the awesomeness that logic puzzles can bring, because everyone deserves to have only the most interesting logic puzzles, and why waste your time on the formulaic ones. You see how this comes across?

  13. Your point makes lots of sense, except that as I said in my first response, you’re arguing against something I didn’t say. To reiterate from my original post:

    “…mind-bending sex has nothing to do with a lover’s years of experience, list of conquests, or achievements in technical prowess. For me, it has everything to do with whether or not a lover is able to truly open and be vulnerable to me, and boldly step inside when I open to them. Good sex is dependent on connection, and connection is dependent on trust – on the other person allowing me to get inside them in places far deeper than an orifice or two.”

    And from my earlier response:

    “For me the importance of sex is not about quantity, variety, exoticism or anything else… it’s just about the quality of the experience people have when they have it. Sometimes that quality comes from the heightened intensity that anonymity can bring (ref: Jacky), sometimes from the depth of connection that a long-term relationship might provide, and surely many other forms along the way too.”

    This isn’t about spending tons of time, or finding the most interesting or “advanced” types of sex to have, or dropping money on the pursuit of pleasure. The whole point I’m trying to make is that gourmet sex is about connection. I’m arguing against disconnected, bored, half-willing sex, and in favour of real connection – whether that connection looks like a long-term relationship or a one-night stand.

    For all that my tastes do run to the exotic, I’ll be the first to admit that the missionary position fuckin’ rocks my world, and it was the position of choice for me and one of my long-term partners for several years. Worked every time, no toys, no bondage, just a condom and some stupidly hot fucking. I would definitely qualify that as gourmet sex, though it most certainly falls within the formulaic as far as the technical details go.

    I will agree with you that gourmet sex does require extra effort, but not in the ways you’re laying out in your argument. Rather, it requires the effort of saying no to sex that leaves you with that icky, not-quite-okay feeling, sex that you do because you feel you should or because everyone else is or because it’s Friday night and you’re bored. And it involves the effort of saying yes to the idea that you deserve the kind of connected, alive, rich feeling that makes sex way more than simple friction against another person’s body. Anyone can do that, and it requires no time (in fact saying “no thanks” takes far even less time than investing in bored sex would!) or in-depth exploration or fancy toys – just a shift in mindset such that any sex you do have, you have because you deeply desire it and feel a real connection with your partner(s).

  14. I don’t think I’m misunderstanding you the way you think I am, but I also realize I’m not expressing myself very well. I think part of my problem is that you seem to be conflating things that I think should be kept separate. On the one hand we have the type of sex where you maybe went to a bar, made out with someone, and then went home with them because you didn’t want to be a tease, but you also kind of didn’t want to sleep with them, so the next day you feel gross.

    On the other hand we have the kind of sex where you and someone you like and trust are bored or tired, one of you kind of wants to have sex, but neither of you really want to put much effort in, so you end up having boring sex with mediocre orgasms, but it was still more fun than whatever boring thing you would have done instead. If I felt like you were just arguing against the former I would be with you 100%, but when you include adjectives like “bored” and “distracted” in the same list as “disconnected” and “half-willing”, I feel like you’re drawing a false equivalence between the two scenarios. It’s like, I read your post or response, and I agree and I agree and I agree and then suddenly something like that jumps up, and it puts the whole of what I’ve already read in a completely different light. Maybe I’m being overly analytical of some throw-away comments. If so, I apologize.

  15. Hmm. I think I see what you’re getting at. And from that point of view, I definitely agree – the quality of “not-so-great” that comes from icky half-willing sex is not like the quality of “not-so-great” that comes from the kind of scenario you describe. The first is pretty gross, the second has many other meanings. And from that perspective, perhaps we do prioritize these things differently. I don’t conflate the two in the sense of thinking they’re one and the same, but I do put them both, for the most part, in the basket of things I don’t really want to do.

    If I’m bored and tired and not interested in putting in much effort, I’d rather watch a movie or take a bath together or cuddle or make out in a sort of low-level-arousal way, and not go for the “boring sex with mediocre orgasms” (though I admit the concept of a mediocre orgasm kinda makes me chuckle). Same with distraction – if I can’t give my full attention to my lover, I’d rather not have sex but instead do something that’s a better fit with my short attention span or flitting-about energy. There are tons of fun options that can work really well for differing energy or arousal levels – playing around with who’s on top vs bottom, who gets penetrated or does the penetrating, who watches vs who performs, who keeps their clothes on vs who strips, and so forth can make for some delicious and creative scenarios that don’t necessarily involve everyone getting naked and having an orgasm.

    In my past long-term relationships, when I started having bored sex with my partners, that quality of wanting something but not really wanting to put in much effort started to spread to other parts of the relationship too, and made for a long and slow decline that resulted in a lot of resentment and disappointment before an eventual breakup. (In non-poly relationships it can lead to cheating; in long-distance relationships it leads to more infrequent contact; etc., etc.)

    I don’t presume to say my experience generalizes to everyone’s relationships, but I do know that for myself, the slippery slope of sexual boredom is one I’d rather not slide down again. Certainly other people make different relationship choices, and I wouldn’t try to say that mine are appropriate to everyone. I’ve seen relationships shift from passionately sexual affairs to deeply loving no-longer-very-sexual friendships without necessarily going the route of resentment and breakup as I’ve experienced it, so I know it (and many other trajectories) can be done.

    So yeah, bored-but-still-connected sex might not be my thing, and I do think it might raise flags about a relationship, but I won’t go so far as to trash it if it’s meeting someone’s needs and they’re still feeling ultimately nourished and satisfied. To each their own. :)

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