The definitions we’re taught for love and sex are not satisfactory. Actually they’re total bollocks. Our culturally-ingrained assumptions that love is, literally (yeah I looked it up) ‘an intense feeling of deep affection’ and that sex is synonymous with love making. This is fake news. Love-making is a misnomer that perpetuates shame surrounding those of who just want to, well, fuck, and love is so much more than that impersonal collection of words. The fact that these two words, feelings, acts, have become so intertwined in our understanding really bothers me – and for the first time ever, I’m about to admit that I share an opinion with everyone’s problematic fave, Christian Grey.
One spring evening, after sampling every cocktail on the Wetherspoon’s menu, my boyfriend and I staggered home. On the walk we bickered over meaningless things.
“You’re walking too fast, come here.”
“Hey, what are you doing? Get off me!”
“I’m only trying to get a bug out of your hair!”
“You could have told me.”
We meandered our way up the stairs to my flat lazily, picking every foot up as though each stair was penance for being so drunk. We sat down on my bed together and after he had complained about me taking my coat off too noisily, I asked exasperatedly what was wrong. His face crumpled and tears fell like heavy rain.
“You told Sarah we’d never made love.”
I was left speechless. I had told Sarah that.
“I didn’t mean it like that though.”
This time I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it better with my words. I could think only of Grey’s words, which ran in an irritating loop around my brain, but we don’t make love, we fuck. The phrase didn’t seem appropriate for my current predicament, so instead I pulled him close and he nestled into me. How had we found ourselves here? I could begin with one drunken night, on which I had said the offending phrase with a slurring tongue, but I think it more appropriate to begin with my year 6 sex education.
Ten years ago I sat with my classmates in a darkened room where our teacher told us from the shadows with her ever stiff upper lip that if one of us were to laugh we would be sent outside. We sat grave and thoughtful as animated balls and titties cavorted their way across the screen. A naked man chased a woman around the bedroom with a peacock feather before they jumped underneath the covers and seemed to play some sort of cat and mouse game. After the laughing children were excommunicated from the classroom, the remaining ones (including myself) were left wondering what the hell a peacock feather had to do with sex.
For years, I believed that a peacock feather was as essential to sex as a condom was, but this was not the only misconception borne from that hour of religious propaganda. Let’s get one thing out of the way: sex is not a serious matter. Sex is a time for make-believe, a space in which we can let our imaginations run riot, it is a space for laughing at queefs. Though my incredibly Christian teacher might have preferred that we all grow into adults who only think of sex as purposeful rutting in the name of our lord and saviour, I consider it downright blasphemous to reserve my body only for purpose rather than pleasure. Think how dull life would be if all we did was dictated by necessity, if we only ever boiled potatoes, never fried a chip or added butter. What is life without flavour? What is sex without fun?
Sex is obscured by an opaque mythic cloud of romanticism. We are told that mummies and daddies have a special cuddle when they love each other very much. Hell, we’re even taught that babies are brought by storks and left in a cabbage patch for parents to pluck for their choosing. No wonder a child I used to know thought babies were born out of armpits. Though this culture of mollycoddling must end, I am not suggesting we replace peacock feathers with ball gags in educational videos, nor that we start handing out copies of BDSM for dummies in schools, but let’s free future generations from the misinformation that sex equates to love and romance. I can tell you unequivocally that I have never finished watching The Notebook with an itching desire to put my hands down my pants, or had the inclination post-orgasm to put a ring on my vibrator’s little ears.
“But really, what’s the harm in teaching that sex is a place for fostering intimacy and romance,” I hear you ask? Well, allow me to explain.
By suggesting that only mummies and daddies have sex when they love each other very much, we deny the very existence of single sex relationships and relegate their desires to the unspoken. By suggesting that it is a space only for those who love each other very much we feed a slut-shaming society in which we’re only enforcing the values we have been taught by demonising those having sex outside of loving relationships, and I mean really, who hasn’t had a fantastic but loveless one-time fuck? And if we don’t want slow penetration accompanied by heavy breathing and a staring competition a la Jack and Rose in Titanic we’re likely to wonder what the hell is wrong with us, even though nothing is.
Tying sex and romance together gives men an unrealistic expectation of the kind of sex women want. I once convinced a boy that ‘female friendly’ porn consisted of people cuddling and occasionally tonguing. Yes, of course foreplay is sexy and important, but sometimes we don’t want a gentle caress, sometimes we want a good old spank.
Placing ‘romantic sex’ or ‘making love’ on a pedestal devalues other kinds of sex, and can lead us to feel isolated as a result of our kinks. All consensual and legal sex is equally valid, and if intrigued, don’t shy away from your desires, sex is one of the easiest places to explore all aspects of our identity and try on different characters outside of our public life. Be with someone that doesn’t shame you but embraces you for your preferences. Know what you need from sex. If what you’re after is a slow and sensual experience rather than something kinkier, then that’s totally okay too.
Not only does the bond between sex and romance inhibit us sexually, encourage us to deny our kinks or sexuality, it endangers us. It leaves us (male, female, non-binary) vulnerable to coercive rape in which we’re told, “If you loved me you’d do this.” Sex and romance have been so intrinsically tied that up until 1991 there was no such thing as rape within marriage in the UK. Luckily, we’ve progressed somewhat since then. I hope that most know that it’s okay to not want sex with the person you love sometimes (or ever if you’re asexual) and it’s okay to not want to do certain things with the person you love during sex. Everyone has their sexual boundaries, and that’s an important part of your sexual identity. Never be afraid to assert yourself and tell someone no when it comes to sex. Communication is key. Explain calmly and openly why you don’t feel comfortable with certain acts and that your sexual boundaries aren’t reflective of your feelings for them. Often these lines of communication are more integral to ‘making love’ than the actual sex itself – whatever that looks like for you and your partner(s).
Love and sex can be connected but they are not inseparable. Sex is our basest instinct, when we are at our most animal, and love is our most complex emotion and hopefully when we’re at our most human. Sex and sexuality is a nuanced space, one in which we have the freedom to embrace our desires and there’s no need to sanitise all that glorious freedom with romance.
It’s time for the words I couldn’t find through a haze of alcohol that spring evening, but can now.
Making love is holding hands. It is seeing something in a shop and knowing that it would make them laugh. It is the kiss on the forehead before you leave a room. It is running to meet them at the door because you heard their car and know they’re home. It’s pulling them close when you know words can’t console them.
Baby, we had made love before we’d ever had sex; the night we laid in the same bed and shared each other’s breath and all I could think of was a song I used to listen to when I was thirteen as I waited in the dark and hoped you’d kiss me.
Words @ Kate Nesbit