The lustful years7 min read . Updated: 12 Feb 2016, 12:12 PM IST
Prising apart love from sex at 52, and finding meaning in the gap
Prising apart love from sex at 52, and finding meaning in the gap
At the risk of being normative, I’ll say that I’m a late bloomer. The first time I had sex was well after I finished college. It was at the age of 35 that I first felt attracted to a woman and at the age of 47 that I first encountered the world of Bondage Domination Sado Masochism (BDSM). I guess I’m still making up for the late start. And I hope that will continue till the day I die.
My 40s were amazing in terms of my erotic life. I remember a lover once told me, “You are so generous." And without a pause I said, “I’m just driven." Fortunately, the BDSM community offered me a sense of safety and trust to be able to have highly intense experiences with strangers. These were people I had never met before but whom I had references for, i.e. someone I knew and trusted knew them or had “played" with them (“Play" is the term we use in the BDSM community for erotic activities). Other than the intensity of the experiences, which is almost impossible to describe in words, playing with strangers is liberating. I had finally become a slut. And as a hard-core feminist, I say that with pride.
I had also managed to prise apart love and lust.
So much of what we suffer in our romantic sexual relationships stems from the entanglement of love and sex. We place “sex plus love" at the top of the hierarchy and “just sex" at the bottom. I do not mean that we do this necessarily in a conscious way. Many of us will go all out to defend a woman’s right to have casual sex; we might even join the slut walk. But perhaps in our own sexuality, we still place great value on the “sex plus love" combo.
I’m not saying the two should not coexist—they do in my life too—but I feel it is important to be able to also experience (not just theoretically understand or politically support) love and sex separately. This might help reduce some of the suffering related to sexual insecurities or any mismatch of sexual interests with the ones we love and help us in these romantic and sexual dynamics. Unfettered by having to be in love with those we have sex with might make for great sexual experiences. Especially in a context in which it is often assumed that “older" women don’t have sex, or don’t wish to have sex.
I think one of the reasons why the “love plus sex combo" is so deeply entrenched in many women, especially us feminists, is because in our fight against very real and rampant sexual violations, we have confused “sex minus love" with “just sex", with what those men who violate us experience. There is, for example, the business of objectification. In a patriarchal society, men have much greater space for sexual expression. The advertising world and film industry look at women’s bodies from a male gaze, for the gratification of men. But could it be that a woman (in my case, a woman of 52) might want her body to be “objectified"? No, not to enhance the sales of cars or TVs, which in any case won’t happen given that I am fat (no, I don’t want to say “large"), but to have my body admired not just by lovers and friends but by strangers, which is why posting selfies online is so delicious. And I don’t mean just photos of my face, I mean also other parts of my body. Sex minus love is pleasure for the sake of pleasure, selfies of my body parts are also pleasure for the sake of pleasure—my pleasure in eroticizing my body, or parts of it, and hopefully the pleasure of those who see my body, or parts of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for romance and love. And I’m terribly needy. The urge to merge was a term invented for me and the likes of me. But I have also experienced the horrors of this urge to merge. It’s not just the waiting for that message, the longing, the yearning, the despair, the feeling that one doesn’t exist if the gaze moves away, or is imagined to move away, that never enoughness, I could go on and on, but most of all it’s the horror of the default setting not being oneself. It’s also of course terrible for “the other" who is harassed, accused, framed, attacked and stalked thanks to the incessant need for attention. I might be a more “extreme" example, but I do believe it is the nature of romantic sexual love, which is essentially two people’s fantasies trying to meet, for there to be logic-defying insecurities and the never-enoughness which causes much stress and misery all around.
Much of this, maybe all of it, is about being a child. I could say “in child mode", I could say times when I connect with “the child in me". But when the neediness strikes, I am the child. I’m not saying it’s all bad. I think it’s the child that has also driven me, and if I may say so myself, given me freshness, which others also have said exists. Sometimes I can see it clearly in the selfies I take. That expression in the eyes. I rather like it. But then there are the horrors listed above. The endless chase.
So at 52, I feel I’m no longer on that chase. Don’t get me wrong. I still have amazing sex. And am deeply in love. But I no longer play with random people in hotel rooms, although I still encourage others to. It’s not just age. It’s also because I have been able to afford giving up my job and the psychoanalysis I’m undergoing (tragically and unfairly expensive). I do believe we want to be constantly busy, not only because we “need to" earn enough or because the team will fall apart if we do not lead it or because the world is the horribly unjust place that it is. We also want to be constantly buzzing because we, subconsciously, fear stillness and, perhaps, what it may reveal.
What does this have to do with sexuality? Well, at least in my case, being less in a tizzy about work and delving deeper within myself, I feel, is having profound implications for my sexuality. It’s still work in progress but I feel less “driven". I am also better able to see that my desperate neediness and jealousy have little to do with the other person and everything to do with myself. The growing ability to see the other as a human being with her/his own needs. And with this the promise of greater calm all round. But also the fear, panic almost, of what the disappearance of the child will mean. Will I become dull and boring? It’s not easy when the storyline falls apart. When one is still, it all feels raw. Like there is no escape.
There are also more tangible fears about changes in the body. The parts of my body I used to love were my hands, feet, lips, wrists and nipples. I’m hoping age can’t do much to the others, but the hands and feet, I’m very sad to say, have already betrayed me. Even the palms. I used to have just those three neat lines. What are all these other messy, criss-crossing lines doing on my palms? And these awful veins. I wish they would subside and leave my hands and feet as smooth as they were. Friends say they don’t know what I’m talking about. We have always had veins showing on our hands and feet, they say. But that’s no consolation to me, is it.
There is the real dread of the day I will cease to be desirable. Erotic death seems to me to be death itself. The day the skin will be too wrinkled. And no, it is no comfort to me when my dear friend in the BDSM community reminds me that there will always be someone out there whose desires will meet mine. I don’t want to be the “older" woman, the cougar. I want to continue to be desired, forever, for who I am!
When the fear of erotic death grips me, I remember the only time I have been to a BDSM dungeon. I saw a woman who must have been in her 80s at the least. She looked like a delicate bird. She was there in her short leather skirt. And with her partner, who must have been touching 90, although his hair was as black as the leather he also wore. And I think that if they could be playing at that age, there is no reason why I won’t.
And I think of Zohra Sehgal. And in particular a shot of her face in a documentary on her that I had once seen. She must have been well into her 80s. What playful, gleaming eyes. They make me feel so much better.
Jaya Sharma, a queer feminist, is a member of the BDSM awareness-raising group, the Kinky Collective. Her latest achievement was to walk the 2015 Delhi Queer Pride in front of a ‘Kinky is Queer’ placard, with a supportive lumbar belt under her butterfly dress.