We all use one another.
In my experience, sex is at its best when we’re totally selfish – when we unapologetically pursue our own desires. I’m not saying sex is best for me when I unapologetically pursue my own desires (though it is). I’m making several more grand claims: that it’s better for me when you do. That it’s better for you when I do, when you do.
This isn’t a controversial assertion. I’ve read it a number of places. Most prominently, I believe, in Michael Bader’s Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies (incidentally, an awesome read, totally helpful in understanding the psychological underpinnings not just of desire and arousal, but of fantasy and fetish). In his book, he refers not so much to selfishness as to “ruthlessness” – sort of selfishness on steroids, and something he thinks is indispensable to sexual fulfillment.
It is precisely for this reason that the emotional intimacy that characterizes many marriages (and that, nowadays – in contrast to in days of yore – we’re counseled to seek) often leads to sexual stagnation: because we become so emotionally involved with, invested in, caring for, our mates, we’re not able to use them for our fulfillment. And then, expecting our intimacy to carry the weight of arousal, we are disappointed to find it doesn’t work, that it feels more like we’re going to bed with a friend, or a sibling. And not in the “incest-fantasy-can-be-kind-of-hot” way.
This is yet another reason why stranger sex, or “new relationship energy” sex, or simply sex with a new person, can be so fucking exciting: because it’s possible for us to imagine using that person – and not just to imagine using her or him, but actually to use her or him – for our pleasure, doing so ruthlessly, with abandon. And why sexual familiarity often breeds, if not contempt, at least, something akin to boredom.
AND, it’s why every marriage manual in the world encourages strategies to “keep it fresh and new in the bedroom,” why they encourage role-playing and the like: If you pretend your spouse is someone other than the person to whom you turn for solace after a hard day, or week, or year; if you pretend s/he isn’t the person who supports you when no one else does; if you pretend s/he isn’t the one whose parents and/or grandparents you buried, whose siblings you supported, whose illnesses you tended; if you pretend, instead, that s/he is a stranger – someone in whom you have no emotional investment – well, THEN you can more easily imagine ravishing her or him, or her or his ravishing you. You can hit her; you can bite him. You can rape her; you can humiliate him.
Of course, it’s all made so much harder by the fact that the person with whom you’re playing a role? Why, that’s the person least likely to be deceived by you, most able to see through your acting.
But then there’s the flip side. If you’re lucky – if you’ve married well, and have a phenomenal spouse, that person will never (or at least, is far less likely to) intentionally mistreat you, knowingly hurt you, abuse you.
So it’s a bit of a trade-off: with safety comes the eradication of precisely the sort of risk that turns most of us on most.
How does this all work for you? If you’ve read much of this blog, you have a good sense of at least a part of how it does for me.