Escaping the Individual
A 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.