So, I read an old article over at The Dirty Normal. It’s an article (by Emily Nagoski, the PhD who wrote Come As You Are so, yes, I’m poking through her older stuff, as well) about spontaneous vs responsive desire, meta-emotions, and not beating yourself up for how you feel or how you experience or cultivate sexual “eagerness” (in-so-far as your lizard-brain can “cultivate” anything).
Basically, meta-emotions are “how you feel about how you feel”. Sometimes, on here, I talk about “meta-narratives” – by-which I mean the stories we tell ourselves, over and over, in a bunch of different contexts, to make sense of the world and our place in it. Cosmology on a very personal scale, you might say. Meta-emotions aren’t that. But I think they’re probably related on some level.
If the story I tell, over and over, is “People only like me if I give them stuff” or “If I don’t make myself immediately and completely available to whoever wants my support/attention/time/energy, then they will abandon me and I will die, frozen and alone, in the snow”, then I’m probably going to have some Feeeeelings around things like setting boundaries with people I care about, or about what parts (literal or figurative) of myself I can and can’t reliably “make available”.
So maybe I’m literally feeling sore, anxious, and tired. But I’m… meta-feeling disappointed, frustrated, and embarrassed and, on top of that, ashamed and disconnected (which –> I am going to die, frozen and alone, in the snow.Obviously).
I get down on myself when I’m not behaving the way I think I should be, or wish I could be.
I get down on myself when I can’t supply two people worth of desire, or when I want multiple, kind-of-conflicting things.
I get down on myself when my body’s capacity gets in the way of what my brain wants me to be getting up to.
As if it was at all reasonable to get mad at myself for being a body, for needing sleep, or needing a warm-up, or needing lube, or whatever. For not already knowing the answer to “what would feel good right now?”
And then I get frustrated and angry at myself for feeling like that, because those feelings are getting in the way of me being able to “perform” with/for my partners. (You can take “perform” a couple of ways. In the sense of “putting on a show” for someone else’s benefit, yes, definitely. But also in the sense of just “doing an action”. Like… I would like to be doing the action! Seriously!)
Anyway. Hypothetically, the way to… ugh. I want to say “fix this”. And in an admittedly kind of grudging effort to be less of a jerk to myself, I’m going to say something else:
Hypothetically, the way I can make it easier for myself to both stop getting in my own way (by tangling myself up in meta-feeeeelings) and, incidentally, have non-solo sex that feels more like fun and less like a pit-trap of my own making, is to “approach sexual stuff with confidence and curiosity”. And also joy. If you were wondering.
That’s what that post about background ambience a few days ago was about. Reducing some of the stressful stuff going on in the context in-which I’m trying to engage sexually with somebody else[1].
Another part of that equation – along with reducing stressors and putting together a “high trust, high affection” situation – is… “confidence and joy”. Confidence and Joy wherein “confidence” (this is Emily Nagoski yet again) means “knowing what’s true” and “joy” means “loving what’s true”.
So… Knowing what’s true:
A – I’m a person with anxiety.
B – I am an anxious-preoccupied insecure attacher, which tends to mean that I get attached to people really, really HARD and (ugh…) am more likely to recognize and/or reinforce that attachment when I feel like my bond is unstable or in some way threatened[2].
C – My main love language is touch, which means that I am most likely to feel loved and cared for by, and connected to, a given partner when said partner is reliably and consistently physically affectionate[3].
D – I tend to prefer “doing the doing” in sexual situations but can enjoy being on the receiving end of sexual attention as well.
E – I’m almost 40 and have plenty of aches and pains that fluctuate in intensity but are pretty much constant. Back pain. Joint pain. Nerve- and tendon- related pain. All sorts of stuff.
F – I have mostly-responsive desire (I am waaaaaaaaaaay more likely to get turned on by an actual something or someone than I am to just randomly experience arousal)
G – I have heavy breaks. Like, they’re sensitive, and they’ve got a concrete block sitting on top of them most of the time. It can take a long time for me to… to give myself permission to enjoy sensations. For example. Or to let myself get turned on by those enjoyable sensations. Orgasms are difficult and unlikely[4].
K – I’m a kinky freak with multiple partners. (This bit is actually pretty easy to love).
Loving what’s true…
This bit is much harder. Some of the above truths are frustrating. Some of them are embarrassing. Some of them are fine and dandy. And some of them just aren’t. Or at least I’m not fine-and-dandy with them.
Remember what I said further up, about how a context that is really conducive to sex is one that is low-stress, high-affection, and high-trust?
Right now, it’s like I’m in this head space where “I experienced XYZ” (there are a BUNCH of different things under that heading, none of them great) “And now I’m broken and I can’t fix myself”.
Which is probably the wrong way to think about that whole situation.
The “Compassion” part of the title of this post… Can I cultivate shame-resilience in explicitly sexual contexts? Can I be nicer to myself in those situations I listed, early on in this post, where I “get down on myself” about stuff? Can I figure out very small steps to take, one after another, in order to give myself permission to “want, take, and receive pleasure”?
Notice Pleasure: Soft, warm blankets. Cocoa butter sliding on my skin. Date nights feeding duck prosciutto, dried cranberries, brie, and heaps of other (mostly) savoury goodies to each other (recommended!). Slow dancing with my wife in the living room. The smell of lit candles.
Ms Syren.
[1] Which… I am a liiiiiiiiiiitle bit suspicious about this? I have to admit? Because, yes, hopefully the end-result will be that I feel happier and more relaxed in my home – which, since I don’t get to have sex in other people’s homes that often, and can’t just spring for a cute, romantic B&B experience on the regular, is my best shot at easing up on the breaks in my most frequent hypothetical hot-spot. BUT… I’m also kind of going “Yeah, but… is this not also just an excuse for me to beat myself up about poor house-keeping?”
And, I mean, hopefully not. Hopefully I can use these tiny, cumulative victories over entropy as a way to, like, feel accomplished (and maybe even trust myself that much more, due to following through on things I said I’d do) and also feel relaxed and pleasant at home.
But it’s a concern.
[2] I cannot tell you how irritating and frustrating this second bit is. Like, for me, but also for (I suspect) my partners. Because it means I get emotionally invested VERY QUICKLY in people who are emotionally and (see point C) physically unavailable, but am suspicious of, or numb(?) to, my own feelings when it comes to people who will actually be good for me.
[3] Which includes, but is emphatically not limited to, sexual affection. Sitting on a couch next to my wife, while we engage in the grown-up version of “parallel play” – where I’m reading a novel, and she’s reading a science article on the internet, for example – feels a hell of a lot more connected and even… romantic(??) when she’s got her feet in my lap (or vice versa) than it does if we’re not physically touching each other in an active, we-chose-to-do-this, kind of way.
[4] Which they weren’t, always, and I have a LOT of feelings around that loss (which is hopefully not permanent).