People who know me will know how much I miss the Dux de Lux, and in particular the long conversations we used to have there. We would explore ideas, particularly about sex, in a way it’s often hard to do on line, where people are so intent on fighting their corner and only speaking from an already made-up mind.
So as an experiment, I want to try to do this here. It will involve people feeling safe about sharing their own experiences, and teasing out ideas they’re perhaps not sure of yet, so it will require patient reading.
What I want to talk about is sexual chemistry: the mythology we have around it as a society, and the way it’s actually played out in our lives. Because I know I have some experiences that don’t fit the narrative, and I’m thinking some of you do, too.
So let’s establish the story first. Chemistry (sexual or otherwise, actually) is immediate and instinctive. That obvious smack to the crotch is either there or it isn’t, straight away. You both feel it, and there’s nothing you can do about it, either its presence or its lack. Chemistry will lead, if you let it, to Sexual Awesomeness.
But chemistry is a function of newness. If you continue a relationship, then the chemistry will eventually fade away, it’s just a matter of time. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.
(Things worth noting about that article. Note the title in the tab: “Sexual Ignition ALWAYS Fails”. The headline, “Monogamy RARELY Works” is not what the column says, nor was it, obviously, the original headline. And that’s where Liz Conor falls down, because “monogamy always fails” is no less prescriptive, erasive and unhelpful than “monogamy always works”. Also I don’t think she realises that she’s describing an experience some people have simply never had. Although here we call that “Thumper Rabbit Foot”.)
So. Back to the Sexual Chemistry Mythology. Some anecdata.
Just before I got married, in my early twenties (alright, I was 21), I re-met the boyfriend I’d had between 13 and 15. And we still had some cracking sexual chemistry, despite (or because of) not having seen each other in years. He was my first experience of being completely out of control with desire. I’m still having conversations with people in their thirties or forties who are just having this happen for the first time, who are saying, “None of my other relationships were like this.” And I kind of wonder why, if you don’t have that, you bother having relationships. So that’s where I’m coming from, basically.
And the one time I decided to pursue a relationship with someone I felt no chemistry with, it was a complete disaster. (Here, also, Clarisse Thorn talks about having a chemistry-less sexual relationship.) My “decision” (and I use the word loosely) to pursue a relationship with someone I had nothing in common with BUT chemistry is still going pretty well.
And I’ve had chemistry fade in relationships, and it’s sad and awful. I’ve felt repelled by the touch of a hand that used to thrill me. Though generally, not for long.
Chemistry is mutual, right? It’s a sparking between two people. Except sometimes it’s obviously not. I’ve been the subject of genuinely unrequited desire, and my lack of enthusiasm met with total shock.
I’ve had chemistry slowly fade, and then suddenly return. “Time” is one of the list of things that are supposed to put me off sex that has simply failed to, and that list includes “childbirth”. In Outrageous Fortune, Cheryl describes having this experience with Wolf, that their chemistry simply never faded. Because, if as Liz Conor says it can take years, or a decade, then surely for some people it can take two decades, or three…
It did fade in my “first” marriage, and I accepted that this was just the way things went, that this always happened over time. There was nothing wrong with the relationship, that was just as good as things got. That took two years. I’ve been in my current relationship for eighteen.
I’ve had amazing sexual chemistry with someone, and when we’ve finally made it to bed, the sex has been awful, just awful. What gives? Fuck knows.
Also, sometimes chemistry isn’t immediate. There was a guy I’d known for seven years whom I quite suddenly one day found compellingly attractive. It was mutual, instant, and strong enough to be a problem for both of us. Yet surely, if that was going to happen, it’d had plenty of opportunity. So what gives? Fuck knows.
I also wonder what happens with “chemistry” and different levels of sex drive. If you’re genuinely just not that bothered, do you ever get that gut-punch feeling? Has anyone ever only experienced that feeling with just one person?
So. Pull up a chair, pick the smoking or non-smoking end of the table, get a Bookbinder or Three Boys in you, and let’s talk. What, from your experiences, fits the myth? What doesn’t? Can we re-make the theory so it fits the reality?