You, Me, and Everyone We Know
On hearing someone else's sex story.
With all due respect to Sarah McLachlan, I am fumbling towards ecstasy.
It’s true. Last week, I received my first story for Submit Here, which as you can imagine, induced squeals of delight. Engagement! Engagement. That thing the Internet is always encouraging us to do. Are you engaged? No – but I’ve achieved engagement.
The story was about two play partners, who were relatively new to one other.
Still: newness and all, they were able to establish a sexual play dynamic in short order. Our narrator, an easygoing dom. Our supporting character, a woman with a history of sexual trauma.
…which, honestly, should have stopped me right there.
Why? Because I tend to write in a comedic register (register? Who uses those anymore! Ba-dum-chh), and this story was tender. Oh so tender.
You see, during the sex itself, the woman experienced an hour of back-to-back orgasms. Which, on the surface, you’d think was pretty great. Exquisite, even? But behind that exquisite-seeming release, our narrator sensed pain. A pain that perhaps only comes out during sex, because it’s locked so deeply inside the body.
“The distinct air of trauma felt really familiar to what I had felt with my ex,” they wrote. “That ghost of sadness that I know I would destroy myself trying to fix.”
The ghost of sadness.
I was so moved by this self-awareness.
But I was also curious about the woman. A woman I’ve never spoken to before, a woman who remained an abstraction on someone else’s screen, a woman I all too easily projected my own stuff onto. “You get that hour-long orgasm, sister!” I wanted to say. Picture me fist-pumping.
So I wrote a tidy little essay about it. An essay that touched on the self-awareness, the pain, the temptation to let the camera aperture that is my writing open up on the hour-long orgasming. And to linger there, too long, and to focus on it, too hard, because that’s what we've been trained to do. Culturally. Look for the sexy stuff.
I made points. Maybe some were valid.
And yet…I sensed something was off, in my interpretation.
You know when you’re pulling your car out of the driveway, and you can’t see another vehicle, but you sense it? A rumble in the distance? You check your mirrors, nothing, you look over your shoulder, nothing, you start backing out and, well, there it is: the other car barreling down the street, about to t-bone you, until you both brake, jerky and terrified.
That’s what it felt like, reading my own essay.
So I shared it with a sexual assault survivor, who also happens to be a writer. And in the most respectful way possible, they showed me my blind spots. Appreciate the continuing vehicular metaphor.
They said, “it’s possible she wasn’t entirely in control of her body’s response.” They said, “trauma can be that way sometimes.” They said, “it can be scary, to not be in control of your body.”
They also asked, “do you have her consent to write about this?”
And then I asked, “am I exploiting her?”
Edits are a bitch, man.
But the thing is – I was so grateful for this feedback! I knew something was off.
There’s a certain Joan Didion line, one that is forever true: “writers are always selling somebody out.” You can’t be a non-fiction writer without using people. And I always am.
Producing art is funny in that way, a medicine for people pleasers like me. I often hold two competing interests in each of my hands:
To be respected for my piercing insights
To have everyone, every goddamn last one, like me
I keep waiting to be cured of this social affliction, #2 that is, a near-compulsion towards friendliness that I suspect diminishes #1. It’s genuinely hard for me to express my opinions (see: piercing insights) out loud with people who might disagree with me, which is probably why I’ve always been one for text. Because here, I can gather my thoughts. Construct the argument, carefully. And hey, listen, it’s sex we’re talking about here – people are bound to get pissed off. (But I can delete their comments! Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha.)
So. By all means, send me your sex stories. There’s a reckless writer behind your screen, but there’s also a hand-wringing worrier who stays her hand. She’s the same person.
What I’m currently, voraciously, consuming:
Heretic by Jeanna Kadlec, who rewinds the tape on her evangelical Christian life (game recognize game), and explains how evangelism itself came to stealth-dominate our politics. Jeanna used to not be so into sex, but now she’s very into sex, and very joyfully queer. Jeanna also hates the word “submit” which, hand to heart, almost caused me to shut this thing down entirely. Jeanna, if you’re listening, I want to drink rosé together and reclaim the term “submit,” gurl.
Lord of the Rings, all three Peter Jackson movies. I know, I’m just as surprised as you are, I don’t know what’s happening, but I suddenly want to play Dungeons & Dragons. Is this what happens in your 40s?
She Wants More, a groovy podcast by Jo Piazza on women and affairs. Juicy, yes, a neat example of contemporary New Journalism, also yes, but what I find really interesting is the fight happening in the iTunes reviews.
Late to the party on this one, but, wow! The full transcript of Sydney Bing and her seduction attempt of a New York Times reporter, made all the weirder for how vulnerable she sounds. Can’t wait for the 2024 major motion picture release.