Escaping the Individual

Out-of-BodyA few weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing erotica, and one way or another the conversation came round to the topic of oral sex. We both agreed that it wasn’t something we particularly enjoyed receiving, and so we began to question why. I always appreciate the sentiment; it seems to be the mark of a good man if he obliges without being asked, and it’s relatively rare to come across women who don’t enjoy it, but to us there is something very solitary about the act. At some point in the course of this conversation I said “It takes me too much into my head” and my friend heartily agreed.

So what is it about being too mentally conscious that I dislike?

I have a theory, which I have presented it to a handful of people, all of whom – thus far – have agreed: there is something about being human that causes a longing to escape the individual, to be outside the confines of one single body. I suppose you could link this back to loneliness, which is all too common an issue: there can be something deeply lonely about existing in a single, detached skin – which of course, almost everyone does. But whatever the reason for this strong, singular, sense of self, sex seems like the perfect answer. Sex is as close as a person can get to merging with another. It connects bodies – and in many cases feelings too – and allows an individual to immerse himself in shared sensations. I have come across those who would describe sex as ‘two becoming one’. However, I don’t quite buy this idealism.

First of all, unless the two people having sex know each other extremely well, there is bound to be some awkwardness, and that kind of discomfort is felt in the skin: in writing we often come across phrases like “skin crawling” or descriptions of the hairs on the back of the neck, things that are very much to do with personal exteriors. Therefore, unless one or both of the people involved are intoxicated – in which case I would argue that they aren’t really present – it can’t be possible to lose oneself in a stranger.

Despite my skepticism when it comes to merging with someone else, I do believe it is possible to get extremely close. There are times when the soul of a partner seems close enough to touch, when that connection is tangible. But being that close can also have a “so near and yet so far” sense to it. For a person to be able to feel how invested he is in his partner, whilst simultaneously knowing that he can’t ever really touch or become that feeling can make him feel even lonelier; and even if he can invest in that moment and believe it heart and soul, at some point it has to end, and the separation of bodies, the severing of that connection can be devastating.

But let’s consider for a moment: sex is not always such a terrible, lonely experience. For one thing, this deindividualisation cannot possibly be the aim of every person who has ever had sex. Perhaps, for some, it is about asserting their individualism, about touching that edge, safe in the knowledge that on the other side they will still be their particular, whole self. For others, perhaps the connection they feel in that moment lasts: perhaps it spills over into daily life through the security and love they share with their partner. And, surely, there must also be those who find the loneliness and the desperation arousing. Furthermore, I believe there is a good argument to be made for the prevalence of other desires: pain, for example, can have the effect of taking a person outside of their body – or ‘spacing out’ – but the sense of escaping from a singular skin, or at least becoming less conscious of it, does not necessarily mean the individual feels closer to another person; he may simply feel – and want to feel – a lessened sense of self. Then, of course, there are power dynamics where the division between the two may be key to their entire relationship.

But yes – I believe that the desire to lose oneself completely in another human being during sex, is, ultimately, unattainable, and there is a sense of tragedy in the longing and the impossibility.

However, if the desire to reach that moment of deindividualisation actually stems from a state of human loneliness, then it is not, in fact, a sexual issue, but simply something which people may have unwisely chosen to resolve with sex. Therefore it would be remiss of us to not consider answers outside of sex.

As many of you may know, I am a huge fan of opera, and when I am at an opera house, sitting comfortably in my seat as the lights go down and the curtain rises, one of my favourite places to look is into the orchestra pit. There is something so magical, and so beautiful about seeing twenty, thirty, forty musicians all working together, with one goal; one task. Instruments call and answer one another, and ten bows move in perfect harmony. When an orchestra is working well, there is also a sense of sacrifice: by being part of it, these musicians have given up their individual fame in order to offer something to the greater purpose, to an opera or a ballet or a concerto, whatever it may be. It would certainly be rare, but it may be possible that these are the instances which offer human beings the chance to become one with others.

However, I do not wish to put this forward based on that ‘sense of sacrifice’. I do not mean to say that human beings can only be enlightened by giving to the greater good. The impossibility of losing oneself in another during sex does not exist because sex is sinful! And orchestras are not the perfect answer to human loneliness because they are grand, and beautiful, and a symbol of high art. No. There is something selfish about sex, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. When people don’t take some responsibility for their own pleasure, it often leads to very joyless sex lives. Therefore it could be argued that being conscious of personal pleasure – or, in fact, any personal sensation – is actually very wise, and I’m not sure how sex would work if at least one partner wasn’t interested in him- or herself. However, of course, focusing on the self stands as a barrier to losing the self. If a person is interested in his own pleasure, then he cannot forget his own individual experience and existence. But when a group of people are, together, creating something, the focus is not on the individual: it is on the creation. And that could easily be conducive to defeating that sense of individualism.

Of course, it’s just a theory – and a rather convoluted one at that – but I still think it’s something worth considering. And one thing seems certain, to me: with loneliness so rife, there must be, in some part of human existence, a desire to escape the individual.

8 comments

  1. Mina Lamieux says:

    Oral sex is an interesting topic. You say you come across more women who like it, I say I come across more women who dislike it. Usually because they have never had an orgasm from it, or from their own personal reasons of hygiene (being nervous of how they smell, look, etc down there) or simply because they can’t stop thinking about the fact that it takes a long time to orgasm that way. I had many exs that made me not want to receive oral because they would complain about how long I would take to orgasm, which usually resulted in my never having an orgasm… until I met my now husband and that changed everything about my relationship with oral and my cunt.

    It’s interesting that you bring up being too mentally conscious. Fact is, everything is very much mental for me.. whether it be oral sex or penetrative. If I am going to have an orgasm, it can’t happen without my head being in the game, so to speak. So in theory, I can never lose myself in sex, not completely, not if I also want to enjoy it’s pleasurable outcome of an orgasm. Sure, I can lose myself in a moment and an experience and transform myself into a different woman, but when that woman wants an orgasm, all thoughts are on my clit and the pleasure that is building within it.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      You’re quite right about the number of women who enjoy oral sex: I was actually thinking about the women within our sex-positive, blogging circles: it seems that most really own their orgasms, and enjoy the pleasure they get from receiving oral sex.

      Actually, when you put it that way, sex for me is psychological, but not mentally awake/conscious. I submerge myself very deeply in the psychological play between my partner and I.

      I think you make some good points about the focus on orgasm, and it actually completely backs up my points whilst also giving a different view on sex. However – I think it would be remiss of us not to point out that orgasms are not the be all and end all of pleasure. I rarely come during sex, but I still love sex for a multitude of other reasons…

  2. Corin says:

    Nicely written Harper. On the whole I agree with your sentiments about the desire to loose oneself. I think that is a natural part of humanity. As conscious beings we are aware of all our faults, our flaws and where and who we long to be. For many of us, knowing ourselves too well is actually far too scary and so we seek to be removed from that. The primal act of sex can be an easy way to avoid yourself, in many ways. Your comment about receiving oral sex getting you too far into your head, is interesting and I can see that and understand that completely. I think the experience of receiving for a guy is quite different to women, as indeed our sexuality tends to be. As someone who enjoys giving oral sex, I do enjoy the ultimate intimacy of being there and listening and feeling how she reacts. Lastly your orchestra comment resounds. A great orchestra behaves as you describe. Great sex, often does come from two people working in unison. Not necessarily to join, but at least to give and receive pleasure and arrive at an end together. Thanks for getting me thinking.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Ooh! My favourite comments always end with thought – thank you for that!

      I think there’s a good point to be made about giving oral for the giver’s pleasure; for example, I am happy to let a man go down on me provided he understands that it is for HIS pleasure, not necessarily mine. And if I ever met a man who didn’t like to receive – but I haven’t yet, haha – I hope he’d return that favour and let me enjoy myself as the giver. But I think you’re right that men have a different experience with receiving.

      Also, as I just mentioned to Mina as well, my sexuality actually exists almost exclusively in my head. However, it seems obvious that having a psychological sex life is very different from being conscious of your mental process… which is not arousing at all for me.

      I’m SO thrilled the orchestra comment makes sense to you; I did wonder if perhaps it was a slightly detached analogy, but if it’s working, that’s brilliant. And I think you really do understand where I’m coming from.

      Thank you so much for commenting! You’ve got me thinking too.

  3. Wynter says:

    I very much enjoyed reading this post. It highlights an interesting point and leaves one with plenty of things to ponder. I would however like to say that more often than not I’m hearing from women around me, both older and younger, that oral sex is not something enjoyable. I read about women complaining that they aren’t getting enough of it but in women I know and am personally acquainted with I would say a good 60% don’t find it to be pleasurable. In my younger acquaintances I have a feeling it is due to a lack of experience and knowledge of what they like as well as some anxiety issues. But with the older ones I haven’t been able to define a clear reason and the one you and your friend came up with seem more than perfect, at least it was for me. I also think a lot of it has to do with pressure. I feel I am the central focal point during oral sex and I’m expected to react a certain way which causes me anxiety.
    I know that wasn’t the point of this post but it got me thinking about reasons I find it so distasteful.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      I know a lot of people for whom oral sex really works! but, sure, it’s far from perfect. Definitely has its difficulties.

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