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Cory Silverberg

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sexual Mountaintop

By January 9, 2012

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Over the holidays I had time to catch up on my favorite podcast. It's WTF with Marc Maron, and if you haven't listened to it before, you should. Maron, a comedian and performer who among other things had a radio show on Air America, has been doing the podcast since 2009, though is new to me. It's definitely not for everyone, but you have to respect how hard Maron works and how intense he is about the things he cares about. Mostly the things he cares about are himself. But luckily he's aware of his connection to, and commonalities with, all other human beings and one way he tries to figure himself out - why he thinks, acts, and feels the ways he does - is to interview other comedians (and the occasional non-comedian) and demand the same thoughtfulness and honesty from them that he is trying to extract from himself.

As someone who cares a lot about people's feelings and who tries to have conversations that are open and inviting to lots of different people with different kinds of experience, my relationship to comedy is a bit sketchy. On the one hand there are things that a good sex educator has in common with a good comedian. And there are moments when I think that the most honest public discussion of sex (especially from straight men) is coming from comedians. On the other, so much comedy seems to be about taking the most obvious, ham-fisted, stereotypes and encouraging one group of people to laugh at another. And most of it rivals porn in it's simplistic and uncreative understanding of sexuality.

For a while I just avoided comedy unless I knew the people doing it and had a sense that they shared some of my basic values. I think that was kind of a cop-out and have more recently begun to wonder if I'm just getting good and bad comedy confused. I'm still trying to figure it out. Listening to WTF helps. It also makes me laugh a lot. And since Maron talks about everything, sex comes up. Not as often as I'd like, but when it does it's usually thought provoking.

For example last week I was listening to this episode where Maron describes how being in a long term or committed sexual relationship with one person can change the way sex happens (or doesn't) in that relationship. He's talking about his own life, but instead of going off on some rant about how commitment or marriage ruins sex, he describes a kind of everyday intimacy that can develop between partners (his examples include: farting on one another in bed and using the bathroom with the door open) and argues that intimacy, that familiarity, is setting him up to have less sex.

In his mind the problem is that once you establish this kind of intimacy it takes work to reframe your interactions and get yourself into a kind of raw sexual space, stripped of the film daily of flatulence and bowl routines (unless, of course, that's what your into). You're already exposed and vulnerable (one of those unspoken reasons most of us have sex) so to initiate sex requires you to shift what you're paying attention to; from comfort to desire, from ease to agitation. It's an insightful and really open hearted explanation of why keeping your sex life hot and active is sometimes a challenge in a long term relationship.

I was equally intrigued by the next thing he said. He said that having achieved a level of intimacy in a relationship can make sex scary because that's when it gets really deep. He said it's scary because, in his words, it has to be pure so it will be a connection that honors the depths of your intimacy. And this, perhaps surprisingly to some, is where I think he's going awry. It's not that his feelings or explanation are wrong. It's that in talking with thousands of people about their sex lives, I recognize this statement as one of the classic ways that people get sexually stuck.

I think the easiest way to ruin sex in a long term relationship, or to get yourself stuck in a sexual rut at any time is to tell yourself that each time you have sex it MUST mean something. Whatever that something is (depth, purity, or something else), putting that kind of existential weight on sex is a sure way to make you avoid it.

I think you absolutely can have meaningless, selfish sex with someone you've been with for 10, 20, or 50 years and to whom you remain deeply and lovingly connected. Having sex, being sexual with a partner, isn't a one-way ride up a mountain (or if you prefer, down a mineshaft) where you reach and end point of such height or depth that you are bestowed a sexual wisdom that you get to keep forever. Sex is much more of a roller coaster ride. Sex can be an opportunity for the two (or more) of you to connect on a deeper level. But it can also be a form of parallel play, where you're both in the same room feeling good, even if you're thinking about two completely different things.

This is one of the things that makes the idea of simultaneous orgasm such an enduring mythic goal of partnered sex; the assumption that if you come at the same time you're perfectly in sync. But two people can come at the same time and one of them could be thinking of the last time they jerked off watching porn and the other could be thinking of their first one night stand. Does it diminish the pleasure they experience? Should it?

Check it out: WTF with Marc Maron (recent episodes are available for free download, but it's worth it to pay for access to the archives!)

Related: 10 Ways to Screw Up Your Sex Life ; Lies We're Told About Sex ; Are We Sexually Compatible?

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Comments
January 9, 2012 at 11:20 am
(1) Susie Bright says:

hear, hear!

January 11, 2012 at 9:50 am
(2) Vallin says:

You just described Lesbian Bed Death. When I was married I was still a STRA-A-A-AY8 (that is SO gay!) cis-male and she was a bisexual GG (probably still is bisexual). We were both trophy partners pretending to be normal to impress our friends, neighbors, and families, although we were an interracial couple (kind’a like having an African-American/bi-racial President just “‘cuz ya’ could”).

She sensed my latent super-freak-i-tude, and used to challenge my Conan/J.R.-like heteronormativity both jocularly and seriously. I’ve always felt like a lipstick lesbian in my attraction to women (and boy could my ex be the Butch), and she even got me to cross-dress one day (oh, the prophecy). So she referred to me as a lesbian (and a slut–I love her for that!).

Anyway our pathetic attempt at being Lake Wobegon monogamists in NYC ended up with us living in each others’ armpits and typical Lesbian Bed Death punctuated by the odd free-moment quickie (which she analyzed beyond the point of absurd existential meaninglessness). Eventually we divorced and became the polyamorists we really are, and I moved away from NYC to become the trans-loving bi-genderqueer Glam-Goth-God fate intended me to be.

Happy New Year/End-Of-All-Existence-As-We-Know-It!

January 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm
(3) henry says:

Great reading

January 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm
(4) MarcyS says:

I’m a major Mark Maron fan. Everything you said good about him and the show is right on. Any time I feel like nobody in the world could possibly think the way I do, I listen to a WTF episode, and I am grokked.

January 16, 2012 at 7:40 am
(5) Carol says:

Very interesting analysis that was done.

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