I am interested in a particular kind of silence, the kind that exists between lovers who have known each other for years. When my partner takes my hand, it’s the thought you know every inch of me that loosens my knees. I call this intimacy. It’s my kink, my deepest need. There’s no substitute for it.
Intimacy in Monogamy
Monogamy creates the ideal environment for my sexual satisfaction, but monogamy in itself is not my ideal.
I could say the same thing about marriage. Yes, I’m looking for a set of conditions that are best represented by a monogamous, committed, closed marriage. Does that mean I want to get married, be someone’s wife? Not necessarily.
I can’t find a way to tell the entire truth about myself in a way that doesn’t feel like a betrayal of who I am, or what I have been, or what I will be. On paper, I am a handful of pleasing contradictions. Restriction and freedom. Euphoria and mindfulness. It is possible to have both; in fact, it is possible to have everything and anything I want. But to get there, I need intimacy.
I struggle with the Dan Savage style of communication, which demands that I divulge my secrets first. I can’t trade information that way: here, I’ll tell you all about myself and you decide if you can work with that. I wouldn’t ask a partner to do that, either. I’m shocked when a date asks me what I’m into. Nothing, I want to say.
I want to say: you are a stranger. Why would I tell you anything about myself?
Is this a romance, or an autopsy? Am I only a collection of parts to you?
I reject the popular imperative to open up more. My trust needs to be earned; my sexual modesty, such as it is, speaks volumes to people who know how to perceive it.
Do you see the length of a woman’s legs only? Or did the tiny run on the back of her calf catch your eye? Did you see the way the nylon is parting over her skin, a dime-sized hole that you could wriggle your finger into?
Intimacy is like that tiny, secret opening in the sheath of the heart. Once penetrated, all things are possible.
Intimacy of the Flesh and Intimacy of the Mind
As frustrating as it is, misdirection and incomplete information is part of sex for me. I can only express myself in codes, as I try to pick up the signals my partner is sending. If this sounds like a terrible punishment, consider: Why am I obligated to be clear? I could draw a map of my erogenous zones, and give explicit instructions on how to navigate them, but that would not be satisfying for me or by extension my partner.
Knowing that my partner has been with other women makes me feel like he’s traveled a great distance to find me. Knowing that he wants to stay with me, I become an oasis. My love is lush and generous, because I sense his relief in discovering me.
But being found, when you’re someone like me, is a challenge. My sexuality is, and always will be, a puzzle. I have a secret that I can’t divulge. I struggle to explain it, describe it, or dissect it. I’m attracted to things that are complicated and hard to pick apart—I am a complex person, and my hope is that my partner will like exploring my quirks as much as I like being slowly unpeeled, understood, and enjoyed.
Most of all, you must pay attention. Count your lover’s eyelashes while he’s sleeping. Bury your nose in his neck when he is still sweaty from his evening run and smell his salt, the special perfume of musks and stinks that are particular to him and him only. Love him in his singular form, and love every day you spend with him, because it is as irreplaceable as he is. And I would say: love yourself in your singular form, and do not share yourself with someone who does not see the power in your individuality.
Intimacy in My Dating Landscape
A good connection, though, is hard to find. The city where I live is poly-kinky-fluid-sex-positive, a place where more sex with more people is the standard. Saying that I want one partner makes my sexuality a relic of an earlier era. In Portland, monogamy is the sexual equivalent of a hoop skirt or a horse-drawn carriage.
When I date, if I date, mentioning my desire for commitment immediately narrows the field. I am not willing to share myself with someone who wants to divide his or her attention between me and several other people. Dating casually, sure. However, I won’t get into bed with someone unless I’m completely sure that we will be alone there. I don’t want to sleep with someone and feel his hands moving over me as though my body was someone else’s body. I don’t want him to touch me the way he touches his other girlfriends, using the same pressure or speed or position that pleases her.
If you’ve ever been kissed by someone who is not feeling your lips against his, you know the awful sense of being a stand-in. I have no desire to be merely a body who is acted on, receiving generic caresses. I want a lover who is excited by me. Saying this to someone who has just met me or is maybe trying to touch my knee under the table while we drink coffee and get to know each other usually elicits two responses: curiosity, or revulsion.
I try to explain that there is only one of me, and being in bed with me is not an experience that can be replicated with another person. I say, this is what excites me about intimacy: it honors my individuality, my specialness. When I am in with a lover, our combination is unique. Our smells and skins are distinct from the many other people we may have slept with.
The dates who were repelled by my expressed desire for intimacy told me I was uncompromising. That ‘normal’ sex is indiscriminate, free, and unrestrained. Maybe it is: but, then again, I’m not normal. I am deeply perverse, and in order to have the full expression of my perversions, I need to be with someone who I can trust to love me absolutely.
But unless I feel known, I will not share that aspect of myself. I can’t. This is not negotiable.
Like the person who yearns to be branded with a hot iron, or spat on, my desires are problematic. I end up in relationships with people who love commitment the way that I do, but that I need to wait longer to find out if I’m truly compatible with the person I’m giving my time to. Six months in, if I don’t feel the kind of connection I want, I leave—but I’m not getting that six months back. This double bind has made me even more cautious about who I go out with, and as secretive as I can be about my sexual preferences, I’m getting better at expressing them up front. I would rather be alone than with someone who will misunderstand me.
How do I say, I want a nothing with you. When speech is irrelevant to my sex, I’m learning to talk about my sexuality. I choose to believe that the right partner will intuit what I am saying, even as words fail me. Do you speak my language?
I’m looking for someone who is brave enough to walk through the labyrinth of me, leaving an unspooling thread behind them, and going straight into the embrace of the beast that lives and breathes in my core, the part of me that is rough and real and hungry and messy and wakes up with mascara under its eyes and hair that sticks up in the wrong places and is yours, all yours, only yours, only for you.
Claire is the author of "I've Never Done This Before." She reads, writes, and edits in Portland, Oregon.
Gem Blackthorn is QMT's Sex Columnist, and the author/curator of Lust Thrust Thursdays. Send her your submissions and questions at sexsexsex [at] queenmobs.com