The Defiance of Sex

There are two things I struggle to talk about in any serious way — 1) My weight and 2) Sex. We’re coming to the end of the year of Defiance, and since I already tackled the first as honestly as possible (reference “The Defiance of Fat”), I might as well go full tilt and close with the second.

I can chat about the act of sex and all its 10,000 parts incessantly. I was an Anatomy instructor. I’ve got a litany of sexual scientific terminology memorized, although I am far more comfortable with metaphorical terms for my favorite organs (ie. “pink taco”…lends itself nicely to “Taco Tuesday”). The counselor in me diagnoses that as a poorly veiled 7th grade means of protecting myself from a conversation that’s far more challenging.


Genitalia is funny. Sex is clinical. I’ve taught myself to disassociate from those things, hovering above instead of being within if I have to. And…I’ve had to a time or two. I’m afraid many of us have.

Intimacy penetrates. It saturates. It leaves behind a permanent reminder. For better…or worse.

And it is intimacy that sticks in my throat. The words hung up on the fear of betrayal, the unsafe place that is vulnerability. How do I communicate — what I want, what I need, what I fantasize about, what fills and fulfills me? How do I experiment — desperate to retain my self-respect and scared that scars of the past will surface? How do I talk with my body, not with my brain?

The world gabs nonstop about sex. We rarely whisper the word intimacy. We’re comfortable with that out-of-body version, the dehumanized side that casts all women as porn stars and all men as testosterone-fueled Adonises. Let me assure you I have great respect for porn stars. I get stuck in my own lingerie and five minutes of fellatio and I end up with a raging case of TMJ. That is not my sexy. I suck at that…no pun intended.

We don’t teach the language of intimacy. And therefore many of us struggle to speak it.

Add fear to that lack of linguistic limberness. I do not know anyone, male or female, who does not carry the baggage of their former lovers. From sexual shaming to infidelity to rape, we all learn through the disrespect of our former selves how to close off that intimate core, how to protect it, how to guard it. Some so much so that it is no longer accessible at all. And so we revert to sex. It is safe. And acceptable. And empty.

Here is where I acknowledge every person who says “But I like sex. Just sex. For fun. No emotions involved.” That’s cool. That’s not what this is about. This is about that time when you meet that person with whom it’s not just sex. When you are eager to give them more. When you want more for yourself.

Recently, I heard Esther Perel (YOU MUST LISTEN TO HER!) say that the greatest turn on for a man is turning on his partner, and the greatest turn on for a woman is being the turn on. That is so critically true and so epically misunderstood. When I dress up, accentuating my body, taking care with my hair and make up, perfecting the sashay that only comes with a killer pair of stilettos, I absolutely want to be admired (NEWS FLASH — Ogling is not the same thing.) But I also acknowledge my allure when I orchestrate a dinner party and pick a perfect wine. When I unleash a magazine at the shooting range. When I dominate the intellectual air with some unsuspecting blowhard. When I am wearing a jersey, chugging beer, and screaming at the tv because I know more about football than you do. I want to be the turn on. I want THAT, what I actually am, to be the introduction to our intimacy.

Because the secret here, the obvious yet often overshadowed truth is that sex is just a starting point. Intimacy is far more powerful, dangerous, desirable.

Intimacy is the defiance of sex.

I am learning a new language. I am unlocking my core, slowly peeling back the protective layers to reveal her intensity, her defiance. I am able to do this for two reasons: 1) I want to. It’s time. And I can’t live defiantly from a place of fear. 2) I found the right partner. I turn him on. He sees me. And I am enough.

I hope I give that back to him. I hope it remains as the hallmark of our marriage. I hope it teaches our yet-to-be born children (not pregnant, don’t ask) to be bilingual, and seek out partners who are the same.

And I hope that when faced with intimacy in the future, I will reciprocate in kind. I hope you will too. There is a place for “just sex” for sure, but that only works when it’s “just sex” for both parties. When there is an ounce of emotion, it will leave a mark on the intimate core. Make those marks matter, make them mean something, make them respectful reminders instead of insulting injuries.

Imagine a world where we were all bilingual. Where we all knew how to speak sex and illustrate intimacy. Sure, there’s room for error in the translation, but I’m betting we could get the general gist. And reciprocate. Or not. But at least we’d leave the encounter feeling heard…and seen.

That might be the most I’ve ever said about intimacy. Certainly the closest I’ve come to explaining it. I’m both sad at that truth and proud of my transparency. Fortunately, my husband is bilingual, and he’s all about practicing with me. I’m hoping I’ll be fully fluent very…very soon.

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