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tagged: sex-positive
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Casual Love

Friends, put on your flak jackets. It’s time to drop some honesty on yet another uncomfortable topic: love. We use the word “love” to mean a lot of things. Throughout this post I’ll be referring to the romantic kind of love, the kind that usually involves sexual attraction, AKA “falling in love”.

Love: The Shocking Truth  

The truth about love is: it happens. A lot. It happens at appropriate times (like, when you’re in a long-term relationship with someone great), and also inappropriate ones (like, when you meet somebody at a party and have a weirdly awesome conversation and then make out in a bathroom). Love is just not all that concerned with appropriateness.   

We have a mythology surrounding romantic love that says it’s a special, rare feeling, reserved for just a few people in your whole life. It says that love takes time to develop, and that the feelings you experience at the outset of a relationship are not love, but something else (“infatuation”, “a crush”, or my favorite, “twitterpation“ (see Bambi)). It also says that love is generally constant and reliable, and that falling in love is A MAJOR LIFE EVENT, about which SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!   

In summation, the plot of every romantic comedy: if you fall in love with somebody, you better go out and get ‘em - even if they’re already married and they don’t really like you and you’re their stepsister and you’re leaving for a six-year residency in Mongolia in the morning - because you’ll probably love them forever and you might not ever love anyone else.  We are so enamored with this idea that we tend to round some feelings up to love (when you first met the person you later married), and others down to not-love (your weekend fling with a Spanish dancer). The thing is, those experiences feel remarkably similar from the inside.

That Old Feeling

Love is a feeling. It’s hot and fluttery and tingly. I get it in my guts and chest and face. The feeling is accompanied by a series of enthusiastic thoughts, such as “This person is the greatest person ever”, “I wonder how I can make this person feel good”, and/or “I want to climb onto this person and put my face close to their face and smoosh my body onto their body.”   

I have felt this way, to varying degrees, towards probably a hundred different people. Actually, that’s a lie; it is way more. When I was a teenager, I felt it towards approximately three people per day. Lately, the torrent has slowed to once every month or three (I am a bit of a love-fiend, I know. I don’t think such frequency is average.) And I’m married!    

And speaking of being married, yes, I do experience this feeling towards my husband. It feels different now than it felt when we first met: softer, warmer, with more comfort and less urgency. But the love I have for my husband is surrounded by a bunch of other feelings and thoughts that are much rarer than love, in my experience. These include: a deep mutual understanding of and appreciation for each other’s personalities, values, and quirks (e.g.: he finds my love-fiendishness endearing); years of shared experience; a lot of conversations about the kind of future we’re aiming for; and plenty of similar tastes and preferences (e.g. New Orleans, humor, dogs, dark chocolate, Ray Charles, The Daily Show, preferred frequency of house cleaning/travel/sex).    

But underneath all that is the same feeling: love.   Instead of trying to deny it, or ignore it, or call it something different in each different situation, I want to call it like I feel it: I’m in love. I’m in love with my husband, several of my friends, most of the musicians who move me (including some who are dead, such as Chet Baker, who would sympathize), and a handful of people I hardly know but have had good conversations/dances/make out sessions with. I fall in love all the time.    

And really, it’s no big deal. It’s actually kind of fun, once you get used to it.  

I love you. NBD.

The kids today are having a casual sex revolution. “Hookup culture” is akin to “free love”, but with more condoms and fewer hallucinogens. And I’m for it! In case you haven’t heard, I like casual sex. It’s my observation that as casual sex becomes more acceptable behavior (for men and women), it lessens the shame and anxiety associated with the sex that people are having anyway (and have been having since the dawn of time, and are going to keep having). I’m thrilled that young people are beginning to feel they have the option of exploring sex, safely and consensually, outside of the boundaries of long-term commitment.    

But why not have the option of exploring love, too, with or without a side of commitment? If we can agree that our bodies are not inherently dangerous, can’t we do the same for our hearts?   

I suggest we take a page from the casual sex book here. Let’s lift some of the weighty grandiosity off the shoulders of love, and allow it to be what it is: a sweet, ephemeral, exciting feeling to experience and share.

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Imagine if you could say to a casual partner, “I love you. It’s no big deal. It doesn’t mean you’re The One, or even one of the ones. It doesn’t mean you have to love me back. It doesn’t mean we have to date, or marry, or even cuddle. It doesn’t mean we have to part ways dramatically in a flurry of tears and broken dishes. It doesn’t mean I’ll love you until I die, or that I’ll still love you next year, or tomorrow.”   

Then later, perhaps over brunch, you could tackle the question of whether there’s anything to do about it. All of the aforementioned - dating, marriage, cuddling, etc - are options, and there are an infinite number of other options (Skee ball, sailing around the world, double suicide). These are all things you can now choose or not choose, as two conscious, adult human beings. The important distinction is that none of them is implied just by saying the word “love”.  

The Point  

There are advantages to separating the wacky, butterflies-in-the-gut, unpredictable feeling of “love” from the ideally rational, cool-headed decisions and agreements of “commitment”. For one: love is just not a good enough reason to commit to somebody (trust me, I’ve tried). You need a few other ingredients: mutuality, compatibility, and availability, for starters.  

The big advantage for the lover

is that falling in love will feel less scary, life-threatening, and crazy-making. As long as love is theoretically reserved for people whom you want to date and possibly marry, falling in love will be confusing and dramatic. If we interpret this particular set of feelings and thoughts as an epic, life-changing event, we’ll have no choice but to get really, really attached to our beloved. We’ll throw a lot of expectations at them (“Love me back! Love me only! Love me forever!”), and feel hurt and resentful if the feeling is not mutual. We’ll imprint upon them like baby ducks, and resolve to stick with them through thick and thin, through hell or high water, through abuse and neglect and lies and bickering and frustration and mutually-assured destruction, whether or not it brings us (or anyone else) any kind of joy.   

The big advantage for the beloved

 is that being loved will feel less like an attack, and more like a gift. The little-discussed fact is that it’s super uncomfortable to be loved when the feeling is not mutual (see my song Please). So uncomfortable, in fact, that many of us would rather act like callous, cold-hearted assholes than be in the same room as the person who loves us. We panic, we get distant, we deny any interest or care for the other person, we stop returning their texts. But that’s not an aversion to love, or to the lover; it’s the attachment and expectation being hurled in our direction with such intensity. 

If love was casual, we could take it as a high compliment, say “thanks!”, and feel some warm fuzzies. We might also begin to feel some compassion for our lover (who, after all, has a stomach full of butterflies and can’t eat or sleep very well), which might allow us to make better and kinder decisions about how to respond.   

If love was casual, perhaps it wouldn’t collide into our sense of identity or our plans for the future at such high velocity. It wouldn’t feel so personal. If it’s not mutual, so what? If it doesn’t turn into a relationship, so what? I have feelings and desires all the time that go unsatisfied. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), late at night, I want Chef’s Perfect Chocolate ice cream, but Creole Creamery closes at 10pm. Do I panic? Do I call Creole Creamery and leave a series of desperate messages? Do I curl into a ball and lament that without Chef’s Perfect Chocolate, I am a broken person who is not worthy of ice cream? 

No. I deal. I feel my feelings, whine a little if I need to, and go without. Like a grown-ass woman.  

And here’s my favorite part: if love is casual - not something rare and dramatic and potentially painful, but something common and easy and mutually enjoyable - we all get to feel more love, and share more love.   

Sounds lovely, right?   

   



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Why I’m Not Done Writing About Sex

(or, If You Thought That Last Video Was Too Risque You Better Brace Yourself)

I wrote my first blog about sex back in August. I made the decision, with that post, not to be private or coy about my sexuality, my interest in sex, or the sexual content of my work. I made the decision to “come out” as a woman who likes sex. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I got a bunch of fan mail in response to that post (only a very small percentage of it inappropriate or creepy). I got to have dinner with Dan Savage and Chris Ryan. I had women of all ages come up to me in person and thank me for writing about female sexuality. I got hit on a lot more often at my shows, and more directly (which is fine with me.) 

 Occasionally, I get a different reaction. A few people have told me that they’re “bored” of this topic, that I ought to write about something else. A friend told me that I should show less cleavage in my promotional pictures, or people might “get the wrong idea”. People have said that they “fear for my safety”, that I should probably “tone down the sex stuff”. Well, I’m about to release an EP. It includes one song about sex, one song about sex and murder, and one song about sex and bravery. That last one is accompanied by a music video which features two burlesque dancers in their underwear, two very tall men in suits, and yours truly, dancing lasciviously and looking like I’m about to make some mischief. NPR just told me they wouldn’t post it to their website because it’s “too risque”. So, for clarification purposes, I’d like to tell you why I won’t tone down the sex stuff.  

Just Exactly What I Stand For

It’s not my job to sing pretty songs. It’s not my job to be cute, or to make people feel comfortable, or nice, or happy. My job, as I’ve chosen to define it, is to live vibrantly, and tell everyone about it. 

I stand for aliveness. I stand for joy and pleasure and inspiration. I stand for human beings having a vibrant experience of their own lives. I stand for sex and desire and passion and lust because those things make me, and most other people, feel alive. For the same reason, I also stand for music, love, honesty, silliness, poetry, bravery, chocolate, parades, and painting things pink. I will stop writing about sex, and music and love and honesty, when those things stop making people feel alive. So don’t hold your breath.


“I Fear for Your Safety”

Aliveness is inefficient, messy, and hard to control. It’s difficult to monetize, difficult to quantify, difficult to compete at. Aliveness does not increase GDP. What’s worse: everybody wants it more than money. In a society like ours, aliveness is automatically threatening to the status quo.

Sexual pleasure, being one of the most potent bearers of aliveness, is surrounded by a sort of gloppy, tarry, whiny puritan shame. That shame is society’s way of protecting itself – think of it like porcupine quills, or the fake blood that some lizards cry. Shame, and its attendant propaganda, floats around in the ether and pours out of other people’s mouths before they realize what they’re saying. 

If you dedicate your life to aliveness, or anything that inspires it; be it sex or music or humor or painting-things-pink; people will tell you to get a job. They will ask you about your fallback plan. They will say, “I could never do that”. They will tell you they fear for your safety. They will tell you to show less cleavage and write about something else and focus and get serious and grow up and tone it down. 

 In essence, they will tell you that there are better things to do than run around feeling alive. I’m here to tell you that there aren’t.



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On Women Who Like Sex

Tomorrow, I am releasing music video for “Backseat”, which is a song I wrote about wanting to have sex with a hot tattooed guy who unfortunately had a girlfriend. In said video, I will be dancing around in lingerie, drooling over my dear (hot tattooed guy) friend Dan, and singing some pretty thinly veiled sexual innuendo. (Update: see the video here.)

So, this seems like the time to make my confession. Confession might not be the right word, actually, considering my last album, Idiot Heart, was more or less an epic poem on the topic. But, for those of you who don’t know me, or who aren’t big on lyrics, or who are still nursing your vision of me as an innocent young folksinger, here goes: I like sex. A lot. I don’t like it because it’s all about love, or because it’s some kind of spiritual journey for me. I like it, mostly, because it’s just so dang fun. Because it makes me feel alive, and it allows me to share that aliveness with other people. Because it helps me to learn things about my body and mind and heart that I otherwise wouldn’t. 

In other words, I like sex for the same reasons I like music and dance: it is a joyful, playful, fun, surprising way to connect with people, and to explore the human experience. So why, when I’ve written and talked extensively about music and dance, haven’t I gotten around to writing about sex? Because I am afraid of what it will mean. I’m afraid of being judged, shamed, belittled, or reprimanded. I’m afraid my fans will run screaming into the hills, hiding their children, or become creepy stalking phone-breathers. It’s only recently occurred to me that these fears don’t belong to me; they belong to a culture with a long history of wrongheaded, destructive views about sex, especially as it pertains to women. In my own interest, and the interest of sex-liking women everywhere, let’s get a few things straight.

1. Sex ≠ love.

I think the idea that sex and love are the same thing (perpetuated throughout the world for much of recent history by religion, art, literature and advertising) is responsible for many of our misconceptions about both, so let’s get this one out of the way first. Clearly, on occasion, people who aren’t in love have sex. Clearly, also, people love other people and don’t have sex with them. I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusive, but neither are they inextricably linked. Love and sex, like milk and cookies, pair well; but neither is required for the enjoyment of the other.

2. Women like sex just as much as men.

Countless theories have been put forth over the past few centuries about why women don’t like sex. Without going into the tedious details, let me state my own opinion on the matter: they do. 

 If you don’t buy it, let’s do an experiment. Let’s start a new culture where women, from their girlhood, are told that sexual pleasure is a natural, fun part of being female. They are never told that sex is dangerous, dirty or weird. They are never badgered, shamed, pressured or forced into any sexual experience. When they become interested in sex with other people, they are encouraged to explore it in a consensual, safe, fun way, with whomever they find themselves attracted to. All of their sexual partners are caring, communicative, generous, and happy to take direction. 

That will be our control group.

3. It is not “dangerous” to like sex.

All people are vulnerable to rape and sexual assault. All sexually active people are vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections. I don’t believe there is anything about liking sex, or acknowledging it, that puts me in a more vulnerable position. That’s not to say that there are no risks to having sex, but those risks are not higher than, say, driving a car. Driving a car is generally considered a justifiable risk, whereas having sex - colored by its cultural legacy of shame - is not.

4. Women who like sex will not necessarily have sex with you.

This, my friends, is the clincher. When I find myself in a conversation about sex, and mention that I am a fan of the activity, the men in the room tend to get very nervous, very handsy, or very surly. I think this is due to a common misconception: that women who like sex will have sex with anybody. Like, our brains will be so flooded with arousal endorphins that we’ll transform into some kind of pansexual nymph. 

Women who like sex still have all our wits about us. Like most people, we only want to have sex with people who we think are attractive, and trustworthy, and with whom we have chemistry.

In conclusion: I just made a music video that is sexy, based on a song that is about sex. Why? Because I like sex. I like sex that is loving and profound, and I like sex that is fun and casual. I like sex as much as any man I know. I am not a weirdo, I am not a slut, and I am not in any excessive danger. I like sex, but that doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you.

Probably.  


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Photo by

Lauren J. Andrews

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