22 February 2009

Hypersexual Stint

In The Beginning...

When I first started meeting other mohos, it was all level and chill. We got along, no real drama, no pairing off, no awkwardness, mild flirtation was all in good fun. Then along came the one who was more "my type". And I crushed, and he crushed back. There was some pairing off. There was some awkwardness. Flirtation was no longer just fun; it was going somewhere. We decided it couldn't. We backpedaled. We got through it. My first mutual attraction with a guy, but not his. I found it easier to "move on" than he did. I could chalk it up to "I'm new and impressionable." He probably had fallen a little more eyes-wide-open than I had, so even though I truly cared for him, it was somehow easier for me to be pragmatic and practical about it: "we didn't want a relationship anyway, so we just have to turn that part of it off as much as we can."

Moho Supernova

Then I moved to the epicenter: Utah. I went to the Matises' and met dozens of new people, many of them attractive young gay guys close to my age. Go fig. At first, I was very reserved. I didn't know what to expect or whom to be wary of. I stayed a bit aloof, observing. I didn't want to "meet someone" or have another flingy thing. I just wanted to see what it was about, maybe meet some quality friends.

After the first couple of times going to the Matises', and feeling somewhat settled into social circles in Utah, I jumped in and flirted. I realized I could catch some people's attention, so I tried just to see if I was right but wasn't about to do anything about it. I knew people were watching here and there and might think me to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, but I thought, "What's the big deal? Have some fun and relax, and people will see you don't have to be sleeping around to be a little flirty and fun and comfortable with it." It was almost irresistible, this newfound ability to experience and even create sexual tension and flirtatious energy for the sheer fun of it, though I tried not to be whorish about it. I wonder how it was for my more established friends to watch me acting like a kid in a candy store? Were they disgusted? Slightly embarrassed for me? Understood it's just what many of us go through? Whatever they thought, I didn't much care because I was just doing what felt right at the time and enjoying the ride.

Looking back, I think I treated some good relationships dismissively to an extent because I was so distracted by the enjoyment of this enticing, flirty new world that I focused excessive attention on meaningless interactions that weren't going anywhere productive rather than working on developing lasting, meaningful friendships. I've never really been casual about friendships, and I don't think I was even during this more flitting, social butterfly time. But what I have done is ignored the more stable, deeper friendships because I know they'll just be there anyway, and all the new budding friendships (often with a hint of romantic and/or physical attraction) are just so fun that it's hard to resist.


Then of course there was the grand new world of cuddling...with everyone! OK, not everyone. If I was honest with myself, I had to admit that I generally cuddled with people I at least saw as somewhat attractive or adorable. But hey, it's all in good fun, no big deal, as long as it just remains innocent. It felt nice to connect with people in a way I'd never allowed myself to. And I'd never really gotten into much trouble cuddling someone. I could control myself, so others could, too.

In hindsight, there were probably situations in which my cuddle-lust made things awkward for others. I'd cuddle someone in the presence of a friend who wanted to cuddle but wouldn't allow himself, so he may have been quietly tortured. I'd cuddle someone who someone else in the room wished they were cuddling. I'd cuddle someone who felt more of an attraction than I did, challenging them to keep emotions or hands in check while I was blissfully unaware of their conflict. But I was too busy enjoying it to even notice. I like to think I would've cared had I noticed. But I wasn't all about other people and their feelings then, though I've never been totally nonchalant, I don't think. But it was mostly about fun. Besides, what are you going to do? Live in a convent or monastery to avoid emotional awkwardness? No, you adjust and deal with it.

An "Ah-ha"/"Hubba Hubba" Moment

One day, at the gym, I was looking around specifically to find the hotties, to scope out the tightest physiques. No, I intended not to take them home and play with them, and I was not about to pursue anyone in the locker room...ew. But hey, looking and enjoying was another thing, and I did it...almost incessantly. After twenty-some-odd years of forcing myself not to look because it might make me gay, I guess it's natural to soak it up. I don't think I was staring at people like some sort of creep, just taking in eye candy where I saw it and quietly raising an eyebrow or laughing at my own horniness.

I knew, at that time, I felt somehow "different" from how I'd been most of my life. I realized that I was not exactly seeing "people" around me. I was not seeing humanity. I was seeing flesh. Hot, sweaty, sinuous, sexy sexy sexy flesh, sometimes with a cute smile or dreamy eyes to boot. Before I'd "come to terms" with my sexuality and "allowed" myself to look and be attracted, I would look around a room and yes, notice some hotness, but I also focused on the person, who they are, how they acted, whether they seemed nice, genuine, in need, or sincere. If they didn't seem like someone I'd like to get to know, the hotness melted away. Now, I was skipping the eyes and apparent personality traits and going right to the pecs, the hair, the abs, the jawline, the butt... I felt almost perpetually intoxicated with sexuality. And it felt empowering and virile.

Looking Upon the Heart...Or the Butt

I knew, intellectually, that if I was going to find someone with whom to have the quality relationship I really wanted (particularly if it were to be with a girl), I needed to stop looking around with my lustful eyes and starting seeing souls, not just bodies. I needed to look into people's eyes and see who they are, not just at their shapes to see if I wanted to bounce pennies off of them. But despite that intellectual realization, I also realized I finally felt "normal" in a way, and I shrugged and thought, "It's not like I'd ever go fooling around with some random guy from the gym. I'd have to have a real connection of some sort and would still be monogamous. So what's the harm in looking around for the heck of it? I may not be looking beyond the surface most of the time, but I know it's the personality that matters most." But I realized that was something I was now having to force myself to remember instead of it being my natural way of seeing people.

I felt a tinge of disappointment that I might be reducing the people around me to objects of lust just as I'd hated other guys doing most of my life. I could no longer scowl at guys who didn't seem to grasp that a quality relationship does not necessarily begin with "I'd tap that" but instead only look for hotties because I was doing it, myself. Then again, most guys in their twenties probably aren't even interested in healthy relationships. They're interested in playmates and getting laid. Oh my gosh, was I on the path to becoming just another clueless, relationship-stupid dude?

Playing the field is a natural step to getting to know yourself and others and gaining skills for a longer-term relationship, but does playing the field mean dating people based mostly on sex appeal and finding out if they're real people underneath, the reverse of what I'd always thought appropriate? I'm pretty sure playing the field should still be with people you want to talk to, not just lick. But playing the field could include having a little sexual fun along the way, right? And I certainly wasn't getting any younger. Look at me, I'm still alright for my age. It'd be a shame to lose all of my attractive, energetic years without ever putting all of this to use. Am I really going to miss out on experiencing the heights of sexuality until my youth is spent or, worse, I've lost my body entirely? And what if there's nothing after death? And I never experienced that kind of intimacy with someone? Wait, was I really asking myself this? "Who have I become?" I wondered, "Just another guy thinking with his crotch?" And I laughed and shrugged because dang it, after twenty-some years of being so practical, I was allowed a little relaxing of the ol' laces, as long as I didn't ruin my integrity (i.e. act against what I believed for the sake of what I wanted) or hurt people in the process.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

I always knew, in the back of my mind, I did NOT want to become like all these guys I saw around me cruising gay dating sites or MySpace for hours, looking for hot guys I might want to date or hook up with. If I were ever going to date, I wouldn't want to talk about my dates only in terms of how good-looking they are or whether they're good kissers or good in bed (straight and gay guys alike do this) but rather talk about their actual, personal qualities. I did not want to join what seems a frivolous, empty world of models and hook-ups and drunken clubbing and orgies in the mountains. And I couldn't imagine looking at relationships, even casual dating, as anything other than personal and at least somewhat substantive, but I've never been ready to decide to have a "real" relationship, either. That made it tough to even think of having the fun I thought I'd like to have. Curse my inability to be more casual with relationships! Why couldn't I just see making out like I saw flirting: something you do that's fun but doesn't have to go anywhere or involve "real" emotions?

Sobering Up

After a while, probably somewhere around a year, I realized that I was not portraying and magnifying the parts of myself I most valued and respected, and I had "had my fun" enough to sober up a bit. Realizing that I didn't want to dive into the realm of sexual experimentation or actual dating helped me realize there was only so long I could play around before I was known far and wide as nothing but a tease. I was very glad I hadn't crossed certain boundaries in certain moments of abandon that would not have matched the nature of the relationship, even though I had really wanted to. I admit part of me still wonders, "what if I had _____ when I had the chance?" but I'm still glad I didn't, given it might have inaccurately shifted my perceptions, been against my beliefs, and put someone in a tough situation I didn't want him to be in (either ecclesiastical/academic sanctions or lying about it to avoid them).

Stop the Insanity

I started changing my habits, once I was actually ready to let go of the "fun" of them. I flirted less. I had come to realize a couple of things: 1) I flirted as a way of "toying" with the idea of more without actually following through, and 2) some of the people I flirted with actually intended to follow through, unlike me. I decided I didn't want to send signals that misrepresented my own intentions or messed with anyone else's emotions. I'm not on a total flirt fast, mind you, but I am more discriminating. I started cuddling less: physical affection often promotes development of attractions and passions I didn't want to develop, either in myself or in others, unless we intended to do something about it, which I did not. I hadn't been sufficiently sensitive to that. I decided to keep cuddling to a real, friendly expression of affection and connection with people I'd known for a while and with whom I felt fairly certain things wouldn't get complicated. I've fudged that rule here and there, but in general, I'm more judicious. Sometimes, I've momentarily questioned my wisdom when I've passed up the opportunity to be pressed up against hotties I didn't feel close to but who appeared willing. Dang.

I also decided that at the Matises', for example, I'd look for someone who looked sort of quiet and alone, someone I wasn't at all attracted to but who obviously could use someone to talk to them. I used to be so sensitive to the underdog, the outcast, or the shy kid. But I'd gotten caught up in less significant, more self-serving interaction as a habit. I also made a point to reconnect with those people with whom I felt I had related in important ways. And life started feeling more whole again as I started acting not out of attraction but out of compassion and as I tried to not just follow my natural inclination to talk with cute, fun-looking people but to act deliberately and try to find worthwhile, meaningful interaction.

Another "Ah-ha"

Well, the other day, I looked around the gym, and I realized I was seeing people, not shells. Don't get me wrong, I still notice the hotties and bite my knuckle at times. Hey, it's gotta be done. But it's not the same. I think I'm coming to a confluence of the two. Perhaps it's because I never let myself fully jump on the flesh-focus bandwagon and tried to keep that in check. Perhaps it's because I'm feeling in need of quality connection myself and am therefore more sensitive. Perhaps it's because not long ago, I fell for someone I probably wouldn't have looked twice at on the street but for whom I nonetheless felt so much affection and even passion as I got to know him, and it was hit home that I would never trade a person I loved for a shell that turned me on. Perhaps it's just the natural course of things for someone my age, with a decreasing sex drive and diminished "newness" in this whole "Whoa! I'm attracted to men!" thing. But whatever the reasons, it felt really good to feel more human again.

And the Cycle Continues...

I look around and see newbies going through similar phases. We all seem do to it differently and on different timelines. Some seem to embrace the hypersexuality as what they believe they've been all along but were just stifling for the sake of fitting the mold or playing by the rules they never really believed anyway. Some seek out short-term relationships based on a high schoolish, hypersexual approach rather than acting their age and seeking out long-term relationships, even though they claim to want more. Some go full boar into sexual experimentation, sometimes as uber-sluts, sometimes monogamously, and then decide it's not what they really want and go back to a more tempered, personality-focused approach, sometimes with dating guys, sometimes with dating girls, sometimes only with friendships because they aren't ready to decide what to do or have decided to embrace celibacy. Some experiment even less than I did but let loose with flirting and maybe a cuddle here and there, and that's enough for them to figure things out. We all have our processes, I guess.

I do figure I have some more adolescence to work through. Sometimes I wonder whether I have yet to go through more phases, like maybe a "college" phase of sexual adolescence, with more temptation to face, more beliefs to sort out and sift through, and more decisions to make. I just count myself lucky that my sex drive is likely only decreasing from here. As for you late teens or early twenties folks going through all of this, all I can say is good luck, boys.

Afterthoughts: Some Insecurities

I posted Coping With Scrapping Celibacy elsewhere, and one response posed to me there asked if part of the "jealousy" I mentioned was perhaps because I was jealous they weren't doing it with me. My response includes additional thoughts I failed to include in the essay:

Thanks for the encouragement and feedback. As for the jealousy that it's not with me, I deliberately left that vague but yes, since you opened that can, it has been the case at least once in the past, particularly where I had believed feelings were mutual but I found out weren't reciprocated quite as I'd thought.

But after writing this, and rewriting it, and adding an addendum, there's another aspect of it I don't think I wrote: it kills me when dear friends I feel so attached to wander off into territory I won't follow them into, like I'm losing them to a world of experiences I can't fully relate to.

And maybe, just maybe, I still experience some other subtleties that I'm now remembering feeling from my younger years: I do wonder if I partially take it personally, that they would rather have X than stay "with me". As pathetic as that sounds, I think there may be something to it.

It's been especially hard when we'd identified so fully in so many ways. In some cases, we were in similar life situations, with the same dilemmas, and while I've known we'd each be making decisions and following our paths, I've tended to think those paths would be similar if we were dealing with things similarly, and when our paths started to diverge widely, maybe I've felt like I've lost a precious part of that friend to something or someone else that doesn't deserve or didn't earn their dedication like I do/did. While that may be partially true in certain cases, I think if I dealt with things better and didn't feel so alienated or "left behind", they would go on wanting to be friends, probably not as close as we'd been, but close nonetheless, just with different experiences.

The problem is that I get hurt really easily when I see someone withdrawing in any way, withdrawing attention, withdrawing time, withdrawing affection, wanting to be friends but just not as close as we were...especially when it seems to be connected with something frivolous like playing with fun body parts or getting drunk...

...add on top of that and everything else the occasional desire that if anyone had gotten to fool around with them, it was me, and you've got a recipe for messiness. Total messiness.

Interesting. Thank you, Dr.

21 February 2009

My Newest Psycho Stalker?

OK, I have a visitor whose IP address is from Utah who spent quite a bit of time sifting through my blog the end of last month looking, I believe, for this post (never stops being adorable) and has been back several times since then. Three hits today so far, which makes me wonder if my most recent post is either intriguing you, enraging you, or just taking you all day to get through 'cause it's so @#$% long. Should I know who you are and am going to smack my forehead when I find out? Or are you my newest psycho-stalker? It's been a while since I've had one, so that's exciting if you are...

Coping With Scrapping Celibacy

Some of you who read my blog may, whether I know it or not, be the very people I'm talking about here. To those of you I count as friends, I want you to know that I do love and care about you, and not just in a pitiable sinner kind of way, and while a lot of what I've been writing lately may sound preachy and judgmental, or just plain archaic and naive, please understand that I am trying to process everything verbally so I can get feedback and help in sorting everything out. If you feel like I'm talking about you, or you "used to" feel the same things I'm describing but have found constructive ways to be bothered less or more "open", you're welcome to share your thoughts with me to help me better understand where you're coming from: my purpose is not to lambaste a whole subset of my friends publicly but to sort out what the @#$% I'm going through personally.

To all readers: if you can't handle some pointed questioning and blunt or somewhat explicit language, or if you will just roll your eyes, stop here and go do something more useful with your time.

My Conundrum

One of my biggest current emotional/paradigm crises is this whole chastity/morality/sexual expression thing. It's just been a very, very long time since I've watched friends actually choose to become "sexually active". Many of my friends are celibate. A few "slip up" here and there, but they claim, at least, to believe those were mistakes and try to do "better" in the future. And some friends were already sexually active when I met them. But some are shifting, crossing over that line, and watching friends go from "celibate" to "sexually active" has always, for some reason, been really hard on me, and I'm wondering why.

Since junior high and high school, I've not really run into the phenomenon of friends choosing to go from celibate to unabashedly sexually active, usually with multiple partners, whether serially or concurrently...until I moved to Utah (go fig, I guess the whole "late bloomers" thing applies more here). Maybe I should clarify what I mean by "sexually active": I mean deciding that genital stimulation to climax by various means is acceptable and desirable regardless of the commitment level of the relationship.

It's not just the fact that people open up to having sex that bothers me as much as the fact that when they do, it's most often with a careless flippancy, a self-serving arrogance, or reckless abandon. The problem I see is that isn't really about relationships and intimacy but about "fun" and self-gratification. It's that they decide to fool around often as a result of already having crossed a line they hadn't intended to and not as a deliberate, premeditated choice and most often start exploring sex without any real relationship. I guess that's the norm in most of society, but it doesn't feel right to me, it just doesn't sit well.

I think what most bothers me is that as my friends let go of their moral standards, I often see changes that are hard to watch. The way they approach relationships becomes baser, more shallow and pleasure-seeking. I see many of them losing sensitivity to others and becoming more callous and self-absorbed, which seems the opposite of what should happen if you've experienced something that truly makes you happy and enriches your life. I see them becoming absorbed into their self-serving world and looking condescendingly, almost with laughing eyes, though some try to hide it, when someone expresses a hint of concern. I see their eyes go cold and their general warmth diminish. They start speaking in more nonchalant tones and arrogantly shrugging off what they now regard as prudish notions. They change, unless it's just my view of them that changes. I can't be sure, I guess.

Whatever is really going on with them in the process, and whatever is just my perceptions and paradigms, it's hard for me to watch. I understand, to some extent, the process and what people go through on their way to sexual exploration.

Slippery Slope or Natural Progression

It usually starts with grinding and "heavy petting" during making out, which I don't count as "sexually active" but is definitely going through some of the key motions. Sometimes, I've known people to make out naked, and that's not regarded as sex, just naked kissing. Then, people often decide it's OK to "dry hump", because it's not really sex, and pants, at least, stay on, and nobody is "touching" anyone's privates, so even though a guy may reach orgasm in the process, it's just a byproduct of making out, not "sex" per se, right? Then they decide genital stimulation with the hands is OK, because it's not really sex, it's just...well, when you've had your hands on every other part of the body while making out, what's the big deal touching that additional, small area of flesh? It's just a tiny step, and it's not penetration or anything. Then they often decide oral sex is OK; it's just another way of making out with some extra benefits. Then they admit they just don't believe sex is something worth "saving for marriage" (often because they don't think they'll ever be married anyway, so they're entitled to a little enjoyment in life too), and it is just a recreational thing you do with someone you're attracted to, as long as you're "responsible" about not spreading diseases, making babies, or hurting other people.

I know at least some of what goes on in the process that leads up to this. I know that you make out with someone, and it's hot and heavy and maybe lusty, and you don't feel the least bit guilty for your passionate interaction. You really like and appreciate your make-out partner, and you both were "in the moment". You both might have said previously that you "shouldn't" do this or that, but when the moment arrived, and you were both "in the mood", things happened, and it takes two to tango, so it's not like anyone was being coerced. You may think, "well, I hadn't expected to do it and wouldn't have chosen to in advance, but I just got caught up in the moment," but you don't feel "bad" or "guilty" for having gotten "carried away" because it wasn't a conscious choice, it just happened. The next time, you go farther, and you're again surprised that you feel like you could've gone "all the way" and probably not felt guilty about that either. Weird. Isn't this supposed to be "sinful"? If it's so wrong, why don't I feel bad about it? So the next time...

Whoa Nelly

I'll be honest, quite possibly the only thing stopping me, at one point, was the fact that I had made a decision ahead of time that I would only cross certain specific boundaries if I had previously, in emotional/mental soberness, decided I was ready to make that call the next time the opportunity presented itself. I knew that "in the moment", I am not thinking totally clearly, and rather than determine my decisions based on circumstance, I wanted to be my own agent and determine where I'd express sexuality, not become guided by or slave to my (sometimes very strong) sexual appetite. I realize not everyone sees this as a valid way of doing things. I'm just saying that I do understand that, in the moment, things don't seem at all wrong that you previously thought were taboo. I also know that, in the moment, you're generally not thinking about much of anything outside of that one experience. I also could see that, once you've been naked with someone, or let's say you've groped each other everywhere but "there", or you've "dry humped", the line is so blurred that I imagine it'd be really easy to just say, "Who are we kidding? If we've done this and that, it's hardly different to just go ahead with the full thing. Let's stop being so childish playing these games and just do what 'normal people' do when they're into each other like we are." The blurring of the lines...I get that.

Factors Other Than "We Got Hot and Heavy One Time"

I know what it's like to feel totally unsure whether you'll ever get married, which is rough for those from a background with certain moral codes. Until you find someone to marry and start a family with, the law of chastity as taught by the LDS Church (and many other churches) declares that you are to practice abstinence your entire life, if necessary. So until marriage, you're left trying to figure out exactly how strict you're supposed to be with each relationship and at what point your affection and physical intimacy has crossed over to "inappropriate" territory. It's especially hard when you aren't sure where the relationship is going but you feel really close to each other and, let's be honest, intensely attracted to each other.

I imagine it's especially hard when dating someone who doesn't come from the same background and for whom sex is just a part of every romantic relationship, and there's the pressure of knowing that if you don't "put out", someone else will. I think sometimes people stay in relationships and compromise their own values for fear of losing the relationship if they don't.

There's also a kind of double whammy for gay (or same-sex attracted) LDS folks because even if you find someone you want a romantic relationship with, if you're trying to live by church standards, you're not allowed a "committed" relationship of the kind that feels most fulfilling and natural anyway (meaning one with someone of the same sex). This creates a couple of difficulties. First, there's nobody to be "faithful" to, since you're not allowed to be, which lends an inherent tendency to regard random fooling around or "slipping up" as actually less "immoral" than having a committed relationship. Second, for many with little or no hope of a "proper" mixed-gender relationship, there's an understandable (regardless of correctness) sense of entitlement or abandon: "Everyone else gets to have a little fun while dating...and everyone else gets to get married and experience sexual intimacy...and I'm supposed to not only be single by choice and celibate but not even kiss the people I'm attracted to? And I'm never allowed to have a civil union or marriage other people are allowed because same-sex relationships aren't condoned by the church, so I am never allowed a relationship in which sex is OK unless I either miraculously feel for someone of the opposite sex the way I've felt for people of my own or I lie to fit the mold? If I don't fit into the 'plan of happiness' anyway, then I need to chart my own rules for my anomaly of a life." I imagine single people in various places in life struggle with whether they'll ever be married or "fit the mold".

Yet I Struggle To Accept It: Why?

Knowing what I've described above about the natural process people often go through, why am I so shaken when another friend jumps off of the "chastity" train and decides to abandon sexual restraint and just have fun? Why don't I "understand" and just get over the fact that most people my age and in my situation are doing things differently than I am and get over it?

Is it because I rarely see anyone return from it? It seems like once that dam is broken, there's no going back most of the time until someone catches an STD or falls in love with someone who forces them to wait, and they re-assess the value or role of sexuality as a result.

Does my inability to shrug it off go back to my LDS upbringing in which chastity seems to be one of the highest, most sacred laws of mortality? Is it because I am somehow, even in my agnosticism regarding certain principles, concerned that people are jeopardizing their eternal welfare and derailing their spiritual direction for nothing but repeated, momentary self-gratification? Do I actually have a conviction I'm not in touch with and can't stand to see people "giving up" on chastity so impatiently in their mid-to-late-twenties as if they've "done their part" to live it and are nonchalantly throwing in the towel in a way they might deeply regret in 5, 10, or 20 years?

Is it simply because I see their behavior as foolishly self-centered and childish unless it's an intimately bonding experience between two adults in a committed relationship?

Is it because I need to believe others are doing what I'm doing to validate my own restraint? Is it my own insecurity? Do I want to shake people and slap them because I, personally, don't know what I believe and am looking for someone to prove that chastity does, in fact, lead to happiness, and I'm devastated when another friend fails to provide evidence of it?

Is it because there really is something inherently dangerous or reckless about the way they're going about it and I have very good reason to be concerned?

Is it because it's so far outside of my own limited paradigm that I can't handle my friends leaving my narrow scope of perspective?

Is it because I am, at heart, judgmental and unforgiving?

I've had so much trouble when I've heard friends shift their story from "I really don't want things to go in X direction," or "I really, really don't want X to happen with so-and-so. I'm not ready to go there, and we're not even officially dating." Then, a few days later, they put themselves in a highly tempting situation which they insisted wouldn't be "a problem" (though any objective observer knew it would be), stuff happens, they cross the line they said they didn't want to cross, and the next day, their song has changed to, "I'm just comfortable doing things you're not. You need to accept that I have different boundaries." I'm left thinking, "Your boundaries only changed after you'd crossed them anyway! Or you were lying to me about your true intentions, and maybe to yourself. What kind of half-assed decisions are you making with things you've been so careful about for your whole life until now, anyway?"

But I know that's not how it seems or feels to them most of the time, and they may have other reasons for doing what they're doing, and maybe they're OK to explore and, if needed, repent later and be that much stronger and sure in their course for it. And if they don't "come back" to celibacy, maybe that's OK too and I'm just an old-fashioned prude who needs to get over it. Maybe I'm totally off base and will change my mind next week. Or maybe...I just need to let it go somehow.

My Tentative Conclusion

I generally approach things from a calm, moderated perspective. Why do I flip out over this issue? Maybe it's because of a mix of all of the above reasons. I'm not sure, but I'm inclined to think it's especially because:
a) I'm questioning my own boundaries to some extent and whether I really am excessively prudish and would get over all of this if I just went ahead and experienced some things for myself.

b) I've seen a lot of people "fall into" patterns of behavior they didn't "mean to" adopt, and they most often never fully get out of them because they become slave to their appetites and have given up on boundaries because they are, in fact, hard to maintain, particularly for those who have never learned to avoid situations in which temptation to do what they intended not to do ends up right in their face.

c) Sexual expression often interferes with real emotional, intellectual, and spiritual bonding and intimacy rather than enhancing it as I think it should and fools people into thinking they're "in love" when they don't show the maturity, selflessness, or dedication of lasting, active "love", which they would recognize if they weren't thinking with their lusty bits. Maybe that's all some people are capable of, but when I've seen a glimpse of more, of their potential for real love and intimacy among their friends, family, and their past boyfriends/girlfriends, it worries me when they go chasing after what appears to be a cheap imitation, particularly when I really love the person and want to see them happy and fulfilled.

d) I really would like to experience sex as a special, intimate experience with someone special to me, and I'm less and less convinced that there are more than a handful of people in the world who would consider it as "special" as I would, so I get bent out of shape when another one drops off.

What To Do About It?

So in short...it's me. I've just got to deal with it and learn to cope. I've got to learn to not worry about other people's consequences. I've got to learn to let people self-destruct a little when there's nothing I can do to stop it. I've got to learn that when someone seems to choose sexual gratification over sexual intimacy, there's not much I can do to convince them otherwise, and I probably shouldn't even try, especially when I'm not sure they share my values or beliefs, regardless of religious affiliation or whatever lip service they've given in the past. I've got to learn that when someone seems to have chosen a shallow relationship over a deep one, I can't always see what qualities the relationship has that aren't obvious to me or what the person is really looking for in a relationship, despite what they may say. I've got to let people seek out frivolous or fun-based sexuality because that's what they want even when it pains me to think they're settling for a shell of what they could easily have and deserve, and besides, I've done some of that myself. I've got to learn not to be jealous that others are experiencing what I want to but am saving until it means something more, since I'm the one making that decision. And I've got to hold out some hope that maybe, just maybe, there's someone else in the world like me with whom I match up, and our paths may cross someday, and we'll both be glad we didn't let sex become just another form of recreation when we experience it (for the first time or not) as a soaring, intimate, special, unique-between-us (not to mention really fun and completely free and passionate) expression of deep, heartfelt, selfless love, appreciation, and simple hotness.

Or, more simply, I could use the more scientific method: experiment the next time I feel inclined to do so with whoever I have a budding romance with, with whom it wouldn't just be a trashy one-night-stand, and see where it takes me. Or decide to fool around with a friend where there's a mutual attraction--friends with benefits. If there's a real friendship, and we're both aware it's just for fun, maybe there's really nothing wrong with that. How do you know until you try, right? Just let go and let the consequences fall as they may. After all, you build your principles on experience, and if you've never had an experience to "prove" a principle, you try the alternatives to see what the results are, right? Maybe this whole clinging to principles because someone said so and it just seems logical and right isn't enough, and at some point, we all have to venture outside of the bounds to know if the bounds are where they even should be. Maybe it's OK to risk being a "bad example" for the sake of "learning for yourself".

I'm just not sure I'm interested in doing something that doesn't ring true just because the alternative has lost its luster or seems hard. So for now, until I decide to further loosen up my sexual strictures, if I ever do, I've just got to cope and hold on to a shred of hope that there's a meaningful reason for not loosening up those strictures and that there are others out there, however bleakly rare they seem, to whom I could be attracted and who see it as I do and won't run off to more sexually casual candidates when they discover just how much I mean it when I say I want to wait. Is that what it amounts to? Maybe so. I'm glad we had this talk.

Note: follow-up thoughts in Afterthoughts: Some Insecurities

19 February 2009

Prudent or Prudish

I found myself in the gym tonight, thinking about recent conversations and wondering if I am actually as remarkably, unusually prudish as I must come across to certain circles of friends. Am I foolishly "idealistic" when it comes to sexual expression? Am I, even in my deeply doubting times, just so thoroughly ingrained with LDS doctrine and culture that I am a slave to my programming? Or is so much of the world actually childish and self-centered in sexual expression, a bunch of dogs humping every willing leg? Is there anyone who is not a total buttoned-up prude but still just feels an inherent "specialness" about sexual intimacy beyond your basic making out (which, by the way, I also want to reserve for relationships, not just fun), independent of doctrinal prohibitions, as something you don't go around experiencing with every attractive, willing participant you feel a connection with, commitment be damned?

I have certainly felt a desire to cross boundaries that I never expected to be so tempted to cross, and I'm not perfect at all at staying away from my own boundaries. I'm not a complete stranger to physical expression of an affectionate, romantic, or even sexual nature. I'm not afraid of sexuality. I rather hope to experience it fully in the future and expect it will be fun and exciting as well as intimate and bonding (Awkward? Nah!).

But is it really so odd to want to reserve the ultimate in physical intimacy for a real, committed, long-term relationship like, perhaps, marriage? Is it weird for me to think the level of physical intimacy should not exceed the emotional intimacy and level of commitment? Is it terribly priggish to feel a sense of degradation when I hear people talk about sexual climax by various methods as a sort of sport to be played with the hottest, most talented players one can find? Is it foolish to believe that if I am going to bare my whole body to someone in the most intimate way I can think of, it should be someone I feel comfortable baring my whole soul to as well? Is it naively idealistic to want to be able, at least, to honestly and freely say "I love you" while "making love", even if in a fun and passionate way (I'm not totally naive--I think sex would still be recreational in a committed relationship)?

Is this kind of attitude unique to ultraconservative, Judeo-Christian culture? Am I unenlightened? Will I work through this to realize that sexual expression is not fundamentally different from any other forms of intimacy? Will I one day see, as others seem to, that sexual intercourse or other sexual acts as recreation or connection with attractive acquaintances outside of committed relationships is not only natural but an essential experience of humanity, done responsibly? Will my eyes open to the fact that if you can share your deep feelings or fears with someone, you should feel free to share your fluids with them too, long-term relationship or not? Am I just too archaic to appreciate the enlightened and soul-expanding beauty of polyamory? Just as your capacity to love expands with each new child, why need it be different in romantic and/or sexual relationships with multiple partners? Am I just part of the small-minded minority clinging to my strict monogamy security blanket?

Is there no "right and wrong" to sexual expression? Does it just come down to finding someone who regards it the same way I do? Can I find such a person at my age? Should I learn to see sex and sexuality in the same casual, recreational light so many others seem to see it in? Or am I pretty sure I don't care to change the way I see it? Do I, deep down, really believe in my sexual principles? If so, am I in the wrong circles of friends to find others who regard sexuality the way I do and who will truly respect and support my beliefs? Do such people exist outside of tediously boring Utah Mormon culture? Or am I prepared to be continually scoffed at by friends who believe me to be ridiculously inexperienced and naive? Or are my perceptions of sexuality just romanticized, and if I just jump in and have some fun, will I discover that sex needn't be inextricably connected with emotional bonding? Maybe it just takes doing it to find out that it's really no big deal and needn't be "special" but is OK to just be fun? But then, am I capable of that? And if I have sex or something like it in a non-committed, recreational way, am I not just making it non-special by the way I'm going about it? Do I even want to bring my views on sexuality down to a casual level just to feel less weird among most social circles?

I realize that as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I'm "supposed to" think of it in simple terms: God said sex outside of marriage is wrong. If I extend that to apply statements by general authorities of the church, that means sexually arousing, passionate physical interaction is to be reserved for the bonds of matrimony. Outside of marriage, the limit is expressions of affection and appreciation without acting on "lust". I realize that's the "safest" guideline to avoid unexpected pregnancy or ending up needing to "repent" of fornication, but it just doesn't "feel" that simple.

When I talk about reserving the ultimate in physical intimacy with someone, I'm not just talking about sexual intercourse in the traditional sense, though I do think that's the most "intimate" form of sex. So what about simply making out until orgasm? No penetration. Just stimulation by grinding or other means. Maybe making out naked is not the same as sex? Maybe scriptural prohibitions against fornication don't proscribe non-penetrative sexual stimulation? I've even consoled someone by reminding him that even though he climaxed while making out (clothes on, if I remember correctly), that hadn't been his objective, and that can happen when you don't know your boundaries and are pushing them. I also said it wasn't that it was "OK" that it happened and agreed that he probably shouldn't have been engaging in behavior that led up to that or tested his limits in that way. But it wasn't sex, per se, I said. Yet I can't shake these hang-ups personally, not that I have a lot of motivation to try to shake them other than wanting to have fun and share a bonding experience with a couple of people I've been attracted to and started falling for. Is it so rare that I consider reaching climax with someone to be a very intimate experience, not to be degraded by making it something "fun" you do with someone you feel merely "affectionate" towards or "attracted to"?

Is it self-righteous that when I hear about most people's sexual experiences, all I can think is that they're using each other as dildos and am disgusted by the behavior? Do I have any right to lose respect for someone who ejaculates on someone they don't intend to have a relationship with when I've been so tempted that I've come very close to going down that path a time or two myself? When I've been "in the moment" in which sexual stimulation has been an obvious option and the intimations of it have begun, I've thought, "What's the big deal? Why is this supposedly so wrong?" I know there's not a malicious thing going on in most people's heads in which they're deliberately using anyone or feeling all dark and selfish. I know there's no risk of bringing a child into an unstable relationship. And I know that in those moments, it hasn't felt "wrong" except in context of one or both of us getting more emotionally involved than the relationship merits. And I imagine if I'd followed through, that feeling might not have changed. Maybe I wouldn't have felt "guilty" for climaxing with my fling. But since I didn't follow through, I'm just a tease who scowls at others for doing what I wanted to do but didn't.

Why does it bother me so much to hear about friends making out with the very objective of climaxing? Why does that still seem so wrong to me? Is this what most people consider "making out" to be? In all culture, or primarily in gay male culture? Was I really that naive for so long that I thought making out was supposed to exclude orgasm?

Do I have reasons for these reservations, other than a gut reaction from my upbringing? Would I feel and think completely differently about this if I'd had less reserved friends in my youth who masturbated together like so many young guys seem to have done? Is it possible that non-procreative sex is just another form of mutual stimulation, mutual pleasure, and not just a cheaply self-gratifying act? I let people tickle my back or give shoulder rubs. That's sometimes just about it feeling good, not about bonding. Is that cheap and self-gratifying? Am I using some people for my own pleasure by letting them tickle my back? But other times, they are people I really do care about and who care about me, and we just want to comfort each other or help each other relax through these physical expressions of affection and appreciation. Should I feel any differently when it comes to sexual stimulation? Is sexual stimulation patently different from other exchanges? What makes it seem so "different" to me?

Why do I even care? Is it for their welfare or my own security? I shouldn't be concerned for their health and physical well-being as long as it's done in a way that wouldn't spread most sexually transmitted diseases, right? Is it possible I have more of a "testimony" of certain things than I think?

Or could it be that this really amounts to jealousy that I'm just not in on the action? That I'm holding back because of my puritanical views and to maintain credibility in a conservative culture? Am I upset about this not because I'm in a position which merits righteous indignation but because I know that I've been passing up opportunities to experience the highs and intimacy of sexual expression the way I wanted to? Am I feeling stupid and hurt because the people I've wanted to be that intimate with have gone and found others to experiment and play with in the ways I wouldn't, and I was left feeling like a pitiable fool who is just the victim of his own inhibitions?

Would my view on the sluttiness of certain activities change if I just let go and engaged in a little myself? Why not try it out and go with the moment next time? Why should I stop myself the next time I want to *gasp* get naked with someone? As long as we don't risk making a baby, what's the big deal, right? Because I can tell you, there have been moments when I've wanted to act on sexual feelings but held back not because it seemed wrong in the moment (does it ever?) but because I had told myself I would only cross certain boundaries if I'd decided to in advance, in emotional/intellectual sobriety. Gosh, maybe I am nothing but a prude.

I was struggling with all of this when my random shuffle playlist on my MP3 player came to a handful of songs which brought me a glimmer of hope for depth of relationships and confidence that maybe I'm not completely alone in these questions. The one that most stood out to me was Part of My Life by India Arie. I'd heard this song before and never was a big fan, but tonight, the lyrics spoke to me powerfully. They didn't sound trite. They didn't sound youthfully naive. They sounded more real than most of the seductively fluffy romantic or lusty crap you hear in pop music. They sounded wise, practical, self-assured. Maybe I am a prude, but at least I'm not completely alone in my prudishness:

Can you be a part of my life?

Oh it's easy to find someone to play with
and almost anyone will do to fill your idle time
but that very special someone
you can share all your dreams with is so hard to find

And it used to be like me to settle for the physical
but these days it ain't too easy to make up my mind
cause apparently your body's just too temporary
to take up my precious time

See I've got to know that
that I can be free with you and
you've got to show that
that you're worthy of my time
can you stimulate my mind?

And I know that it looks good,
but can you be a part of my life
and I'm sure that it feels good
but can you be a part of my life
and it probably even tastes good
but can you be a part of my life
I've got to know

I still appreciate the beauty of a man
but there's more to what I need now than what meets the eye
and if beauty's only skin deep
then your pretty skin won't send me to my highest high
oh it's been a long time coming for maturity
and I believe that it's truly what it has to be
cause as much as I admire you
my sexual desire ain't controlling me

See I've got to know that
that I can be free with you and
you've got to show that
that you're worthy of my time
can you stimulate my mind?

And I know that it looks good,
but can you be a part of my life
and I'm sure that it feels good
but can you be a part of my life
and it probably even tastes good
but can you be a part of my life
I've got to know