Sex and the Smithie: What’s Sex Got to Do With It?
Spring has finally arrived in the 413. Coincidentally, it has also arrived in the 603 where my friend Ryan is at Dartmouth. She and I exchange letters every now and then, discussing weird elitist traditions of the east coast, physics, relationships and sex. Ryan and I entered college last year basically as opposites. She, a gay woman closed off to relationships with men, and I, a straight woman unsure of relationships with women. Though it’s been a rocky process of understanding what our feelings actually mean, we’re now able to meet each other in the middle.
Ryan started dating a guy at Dartmouth, Alvy (which happens to be the same name as my ex). This was monumental. I warned her about two things in heterosexual relationships. One, on the whole, men do not communicate as well as women do. Second, the sex, at first, isn’t great. Once in a blue moon there’s the rare guy who can actually communicate, but every guy I’ve ever dated has been bad at texting, late to dates and unable to say exactly what he thought. This has always been a point of frustration for me in relationships. With my first boyfriend I questioned if I was the problem. Hell, even now with a guy, I still question it. But I’ve grown to realize that men are just bad at opening up. As for the sex, I can’t say I’ve had an orgasm with a guy. The first few times you have sex are the worst. It’s painful, awkward, and there is that lingering thought always bugging you, “am I pregnant?”
Lucky for Ryan, she only had to struggle with the communication bit for the first four months of the relationship, since her sex life with Alvy didn’t begin until a week ago. She wrote me last month saying she was ready to have sex (with a guy) for the first time. However, she didn’t feel like sex was really important to her relationship. Rather, she was completely stimulated by romantic gestures and intellectual pursuits. My response to her letter was simple: once you have sex it’s very difficult to go back to just staring into each other’s eyes and holding hands.
I was curious if this was just a Hanover phenomenon or if Smithies also felt this way. Later that day I had lunch with Poppy, a friend from the house. We grabbed the corner window table at Gillett. Poppy has been in a relationship with her high school boyfriend for over a year now, and I was curious what her take on this situation was.
Me: How important has sex been for you and Jeremy?
Poppy: Pretty important, I’d say. But it’s tough since he still lives in Maryland.
Me: But do you feel like you need sex in order for the relationship to survive?
Poppy: I’d still love him without the sex, but sex definitely has allowed me to connect with and feel closer to him.
Me: How so?
Poppy: Ha, I’m not sure. Something about the physical closeness. Nothing makes you feel closer to someone else than that. It’s unbeatable. Haven’t you felt that too?
I didn’t answer her question; I wasn’t really sure how. Was Poppy right? Was there nothing that compares to sex? When I got home that day I wondered about my own relationships. Since I was 15 I’ve believed in the three components of the triangular theory of love: intimacy, commitment and passion. Intimacy, the idea of closeness to your partner and the desire to strengthen your bond. Commitment, a conscious decision to stick together and to factor each other into life-decision making. And passion, strong sexual and romantic feelings for one another. The idea of this theory is that if all three components are always balanced, the relationship will be successful. Any small imbalance in any area can cause the relationship to sink.
In every relationship I’ve had I’ve made sure to assess the amount of energy I’ve given to each category. And when I get out of a big relationship I question which category had the biggest issues. With Sebastian it was intimacy and with Ben and Alvy it was commitment. But we never had an issue with passion. I’ve always held a lot of importance to sex because of its ability to strengthen a relationship. Two people who can each benefit emotionally from sex are likely to be happier. Overtime the bond becomes stronger. More sex now equals better connection in the future. And, tying back to the triangle, a better sex life can lead to a closer connection which can lead to good communication and openness. Cutting out sex eliminates ways for a couple to build up trust and a deep understanding of one another. I know individually people have varying levels of sexuality, from super sexual to super asexual. But, if we’re talking about a general population of sexual beings, there has to be a desire to have sex with the one you love.
Later that night I decided to reach out to Alvy, my Alvy, and see things from his point of view. Alvy and I dated for a few months, but our relationship was fast, as we were having sex from the second date. To my surprise he thought the only reason sex was important was because at the time he was a horny 19 year old boy. He didn’t think the relationship would sink if we hadn’t had sex. In any relationship he’s just curious about what the person’s sexual habits are. After he’s experienced them, sex doesn’t have to be a habitual thing. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit hurt that he didn’t feel like sex with me was crucial, the way I thought it was with him. I then asked him what he thought of our sex life. He thinks it was healthy because we were on the same page about what we wanted from sex. Obviously, we were not.
I’m still puzzled. Am I overemphasizing the importance of sex? It’s possible. But I still believe that Ryan is missing a huge part of her relationship. Maybe she’s just not sexually attracted to men. If that is true, does that mean that she’s leading her Alvy on? Or, even that the relationship won’t last? I feel like I’d only be a good friend if I told her what I think in my next letter. After all, honesty is always the best policy.
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