In Unsexy Times

by Yours Truly

By now this essay is, in a sense, somewhat overdue. For many of us and for many more around the world the last twelve months have included more hardship and difficulty, more uncertainty and fear, and more basic disruption of simple, implicit wellbeing than any human being has a right to expect from their lives in the modern, civilized world, and by now it seems like it’s been happening forever.

And when I look at my to do list, especially the things I need and want to do for this project, I see a lot of things are overdue— I’ve had an episode of the podcast to edit for weeks, there are items to list in the shop. There are orders to place, connections to develop, meetings to arrange. But it all gets pushed to tomorrow. The art galleries haven’t been updated. My usual stack of half finished essays and other work hasn’t seen its usual attention in ages. I wanted to take a half dozen interesting things I know of and flesh them out into articles for the culture section. I hoped we’d have more film reviews by now.

And it isn’t that I’ve been completely stifled, or unproductive in other areas of my life; it’s not that I’ve been unable to create or be engaged at all. In that respect I actually feel like I’ve done pretty well through all of this. I have other interests and projects and while we’ve all been hanging in there and keeping our chins up I’ve managed to eke out some progress.

But as hard as it is for someone who (at least some of the time) functions as a kind of professionally sexy person to admit, when it comes to SMUT, the truth is I just haven’t been in the mood. And among people who are professionals, creators, and scholars in the erotic education and culture fields, I know I’m not the only one.

I know a lot of sexy people. I know a lot of people who, more than just having “that thing” (which is what we’re told sexiness is about), are fundamentally sexy, sexual people. Who love sex, who value and esteem it, who seek and encourage it, who respect it and enjoy it and who want to make the world a better and happier place for those who think likewise.

And because of the company I’ve joined by developing SMUT Project and making the connections I’ve made, I’ve come to know people who are even sexier than the rest. People who live sex and breathe sex, who are sex, who spend most of their time thinking and talking and writing or making art about sex. People who are sexy beyond lust, beyond urges and romance, who enjoy those things too but who bring with them a phenomenal wealth of values and aspirations, and goals and ambitions, nurturing and sharing sexuality and human thoughts, ideas, and emotions about it.

These people are the reason you have sex toys to play with and porn to jerk off to, they’re the ones invested in their communities, they’re the ones educating people in person and in books and in classes, they’re the ones who know when you ask them. They’re the ones that make the world sexy. They’re the ones that help set the tone for sex in our society, and they’re the ones that shape the conversations we have about it. They’re the ones you can call on and ask for help from, the ones who will support you and help you grow– the ones who will remind you that sex is a positive thing, no matter how often these same people are thrown under the bus by a society that demands to say otherwise. These are the sexy people I mean.

And all of us are struggling.

There are always sexy people, there are always prudes, and there are always a lot of people in between. But when it’s the people I’m describing who are having a hard time getting and staying “in the mood”, in so many ways, you know things out there are bad.

And it’s a lot of things. It’s an erotic gallery or museum having few enough visitors to worry they may have to close. It’s a sex shop not knowing if they’ll be able to count on reasonable sales. It’s porn productions not being able to shoot. It’s erotica stories not being written. It’s podcasts not being recorded. It’s erotic artists having their shows and festivals canceled. And it’s because all of us, within the community and without, are sick, broke, nervous, tired, worried, and so many other things at once, all things, I’ll remind you, that prevent and take the fun out of sex.

Of course horny is hard to come by these days. Of course in these areas and in bedrooms and bodies all over the world things aren’t as sexy as they might be. It’s hard feeling up for a romp in the bushes when the whole terrain is on fire. You’re not likely to think of it as a priority and even if you do, your body and your stress response aren’t likely to play along. There are a hundred good reasons from social and psychological all the way down to biological that sex doesn’t make sense in such poor circumstances. Biologically speaking, sex is one of the most ambitious things your body does (for female bodies doubly so), and of course there are many factors that may keep yours from affording it. This influence is there even in times of normal difficulty, but when almost everything is going wrong, and almost everything seems uncertain, and almost everything is dramatic and stressful and difficult, how can we expect even the sexiest among us to be functioning the way they should?

It even feels horrendously unsexy to include such facts in an essay for this space, but it can’t fail to be said that in these last twelve months fascism has come to a head in the United States, millions of people have died and tens of millions more remain sick from a worldwide pandemic, working class people are struggling in dire circumstances financially, and every day twenty or thirty other horrendous things take place. Things aren’t just bad they’re worse than most of us a year ago would have liked to imagine. How on Earth, at a time like this, are any of us supposed to engage with the one subject that is predicated on thriving?

And if it’s true for us in these ways we can see, it’s truer in private for every person that’s seen their ability to enjoy and create sexual experience with themselves and with each other suffocated and stifled. It’s been true for everyone who’s had difficulty masturbating or having partnered sex at some point or chronically during this whole fiasco, it’s true for kinky people who haven’t been able to enjoy their social spaces ethically or responsibly because of lockdown restrictions, it’s true for people seeking new partners who have had to navigate dating and courtship in this climate, and it’s true for everyone whose rational experience of the world as it is has intruded on sexual wellbeing.

And I’ve got to say, I’m uniquely touched by the efforts of the educators and therapists among us who are doing what they can to guide and support others in this time. I know a number of them as well and I think all of us who are still out there providing resources and making content and doing whatever we can do in spite of our own difficulties are doing it for the sake of helping others process what they’re going through, and offering relief, and reminding people that there is such a thing as what we do in better times.

A lot of us want to believe that sex is just a constant drive, that people just have and that some have more than others, but it waxes and wanes and it goes along with the circumstances to which we are subject. If you’re struggling, take it from me, you are not nearly the only one, and it’s affecting all of us a lot more than we might like.

But I also know this: sexuality is more than just fickle urges and feelings that come and go at their whim. It’s more than how many times you’ve had sex (or even felt sexy) in the last week or month, or terrible fucking year. It’s not just what you have the opportunity to express with a partner or partners. It’s something that belongs to each person who possesses it, that is uniquely theirs and will remain so despite its absence. The urge to have sex is the urge to grow and thrive and celebrate, and when those things are more reasonable and we are better equipped by our circumstances that urge will return.

It’s not wrong to feel turned off or uninterested in these difficult times. It’s not wrong to want sex more than you can have it. Be good to yourself and sympathetic to your needs and limitations, and know that nothing’s wrong with you for not functioning the way you think you should or wish you could. It’s just a kind of winter, and your sexuality is waiting for spring.

In the meantime, we at SMUT will continue to do what we can to foster eroticism and sex positivity in this crazy mixed up world. We’ll continue creating and providing resources for those who can benefit from them, and we’ll continue encouraging people to appreciate and enjoy a sex positive approach, to whatever extent they are able.

And let the sexy people in your life know that you support them and that what they do matters and is meaningful to you. If there’s a creator or an educator you know, or anyone who makes you feel inspired and aroused and connected to your sexuality in such a bleak and dreadful time, reach out to them and say so. Support their work, share them on social media, buy their stuff, and tell your friends about it. Tell your partners you love and appreciate them, and talk with them about what you’re all going through. Before long, and hopefully sooner than later, we’ll all get through this.

© 2021

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