Like burning through your queue and recommendations on Netflix, uninterested in watching something you’ve seen before, I’m getting bored with my memories of sex.
Which is too bad, because minus a few I’d rather forget but can’t, I’m grateful for the video images on replay in my mind: picturing different women in different settings (and different positions) at different times of my life.
A lot of these memories remain hot to me.
Walking back together from a neighborhood party after ogling her for hours, standing, then more, behind her against a wall as soon as we locked the door.
The comfy, luxurious bed at a bread and breakfast, in which we made out for several hours prior to dinner, then one more after dinner before falling asleep watching TV, then a few more hours in the morning, then coffee together at sunrise on the deck.
A blowjob received in a hotel room during a conference session break.
These memories aren’t tainted. They’re just as erotic to me as ever. They do more than excite me, called upon when I need to set the phone down and recall something more personal. They fill me with reminders, with proof, that I once experienced great sex.
But sex can be like financial investing in its caveats. Past success is no guarantee of future performance.
It’s certainly something I want to return to once vaccinated. Being stuck in quarantine hasn’t meant my sexual appetite has gone anywhere. No, it’s been with me this whole time, stymied, frustrated, unrequited.
As someone who has followed strict protocols to stay safe from the coronavirus, it’s meant partnered sex is off the table. It’s not even a possibility, a fact that is its own very special level of disheartening. It’s like constantly having a fire snuffed out and deprived of oxygen.
Partnered sex is something I’ve been dreaming about so much I’m burning through my memory files.
I want new ones. Not just to restock my memory bank, but because after all this time, I’m losing and missing the best parts.
The sights of my sexual memories remain robust, but there are gaps from the other senses.
Of touching and of being touched. Hearing our voices, our sounds, our words, both loving and erotic. Smelling and tasting each other’s skin and more.
I know the only way to refill these gaps is to once again experience the real thing.
But there’s something else nagging me about sex — and whether or not as great as everything I’ve described is, is it worth it?
Doubts of Sex Have Crept In
I started the Groundhog Day experience of quarantine existence literally hours after a break-up. For most of the past year, I’ve woken up and felt as if we broke up yesterday.
Time, however, along with the hope of vaccination, is helping to finally numb that pain. As I approach the concurrent anniversary of my break-up and settling into isolation, I am starting to think about the other side. And not just because I’m tired of watching the same shows.
This is a good thing, to be dreaming and looking forward, to becoming open to new possibilities again. That said, I’m far more skeptical about relationships and sex than I thought I would be.
This is due in part because of the strenuous emotional toll I’ve paid. Living under the burden of a break-up for so long, without the normal ways of recovering, I’ve been unable to fully move past the heartache.
But it’s also because of what I’ve heard and read about relationships and marriages during the pandemic. A post-pandemic surge in divorces seems more than possible.
I assume being able to survive a pandemic together was not on the checklist of things those engaged to marry thought about in terms of compatibility. It’s stressful on everyone, but the strain has been extra difficult on women.
The stories, reports, statistics and anecdotes of frayed relationships, of women being pushed to the edge, of men still not carrying their fair share of housework, really shouldn’t affect how I perceive my future sex life.
I’m not responsible for those men (as much I write about these issues).
But seeing the difficulty of relationships, and seeing the unwillingness of so many men to step up, compounded by my heartbreak and my sense of relationship failure, makes me question the whole enterprise.
It’s been so long since I’ve felt the passion and wonder of sex that I’ve lost touch with what it does for a couple not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically too. How it’s a form of physical communication that bonds.
And losing touch with that, while seeing so much strain on relationships from the outside, makes me wonder, as good as it is, why bother? Are relationships too hard? Are they always doomed to fail?
Will I always be forced to return to the state of being I’ve lived since last March, alone in perpetuity, solely responsible for my sustenance and sanity, and also for any semblance of physical and sexual pleasure?
Ah, but here again come the investors and the flip-side of their caveat. Just as past success and gains are not predictive of future performance, neither are failures and losses.
The Monumental Task of Unlearning Isolation
Pandemic existence for me has left me bereft of not just sex, but all kinds of seemingly normal, everyday interactions.
I was watching a television show. There was a scene of a couple cooking dinner together.
It struck me. Just as I’ve wondered about sex, when will I make and have dinner together with someone? Zoom gatherings excluded, I haven’t shared a dining table with someone in nearly a year.
Like the sensations and bonding nature of sex, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to coexist with someone else.
I operate on my own schedule. I control when I work, eat, sleep, go for walks, exercise, and take a break to fantasize. All of my time is my own. I also control what I eat, what I watch, and read, and everything else. Nothing together with anyone else, no interference, no compromise.
Coupled people stuck in quarantine might be jealous of my autonomy. But I’m less interested in weighing the pros and cons of cohabitating or living alone during a pandemic than I am in questioning how being isolated for so long might affect me when it’s over.
When I attempt to bring someone new into the picture, will I be able to make that adjustment?
What if they want to have dinner at 5:30? That’s when I work out. What if they want to stay up late and watch a movie? I’m in bed sometimes by 9:00. What if they want to sleep in? I wake up by 6, sometimes earlier. What if they want to eat things I don’t? I’m on a mostly plant-based diet.
What if this, what if that.
What if I’m too used to doing things a certain way? Every relationship entails compromise and bargaining for the greater good.
If you want to intertwine your life with someone, time (and habits) are going to be negotiated and shared. It sounds so difficult and overwhelming.
But what if you just want to intertwine your bodies? Am I conflating dreaming of sex again with a new relationship?
What I Most Want From Sex
After nearly a year of rehashing a break-up, it’s been difficult to disassociate having sex from the context of a relationship.
And a year of solo sex has left me missing the better parts of sex, leaving me only with the mechanics that I can muster myself.
What I can’t produce alone is the feeling after partnered sex. The joy, the fulfillment, bliss, and wonder. That can be the best feeling.
That’s the feeling that’s fading from memory.
Who could have guessed that when this started last March, in order to stay alive, we would eventually be deprived of so much that makes life worth living?
When I first started thinking about first-time post-pandemic sex, I was mostly curious about how the act itself would happen and feel. I thought about the level of trust it will take to be that physically close with another person — after more than a year of not even being touched. I wondered what it would be like to use our bodies together, experiencing all those sensations.
But I didn’t think much about the afterglow, the one that makes you and your partner look at each other and agree to do what you just did more often.
The part that makes sex magical.
I must be crazy to ask if sex is great. Of course, it is, I know it is.
But I strain to remember why rather than just knowing by matter of fact or based on something last felt a long time ago.
As I explore these feelings and curiosities, I realize it’s more than sex I’m longing for and aching to relive.
It’s my own humanity, my own physical presence, as well as any sort of joy brought about by being intimate with another person.
What I want is the sense of fullness in my body that is unique to being sexually intimate with someone you trust.
Partnered sex can make you feel alive in ways you forget you can.
After all this isolation because of the pandemic, after all this heartbreak and wanting to move on, after all this wanting to be with other people, to share and feel intimacy, I think, ultimately, feeling alive again is what I most want.
And to never forget.
Previously Published on Medium