Sex and Friendship

I’m a celibate asexual. For this reason, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about sex. You could say I’m obsessed with the topic. But my obsession with sex has, since I was a teen newly-identifying as asexual, always been an associative one: what I’m really obsessed with is love. It’s only because sex is ridiculously, even grotesquely, intertwined with love in sexual society that I feel the need to pay sex any attention.

I don’t use that word—“love”—the way sexual people use it. That word, in my vocabulary, is not defined as “romantic sexuality” or “romantic attachment manifested through a normative couple relationship.” When I talk about love, I’m talking about the general feeling of deep caring and pure appreciation for a person or thing, the emotional choice that can take on a thousand different forms, but ultimately comes down to the same ingredients.

Sarah Lawrence kids aren’t any more sexual than the rest of the undergraduate demographic in America, and frankly, it would be naive to think that kids in their late teens and early 20s, with the libidos corresponding to that age range, could be less preoccupied with getting laid than you are. (My fellow asexual-spectrum people being the exceptions, of course.) Given how sex-saturated our national culture is, it’s also logical that the importance you assign to sex would overreach your actual physical impulse to screw around. You grew up in a world that preaches a message about sex being the point of life, the best experience available, the cornerstone of “love,” so naturally, that’s more or less how you see it. Unless you’ve taken the time to deconstruct everything you’ve internalized about the subject and rebuild a new perspective, which I highly suggest you do.

Last I was there—and I recognize that some things have already changed since I graduated in 2012—Sarah Lawrence was heavily populated by kids who not only had sex, but thought about it intellectually. Kids who didn’t just think about who they wanted to fuck and how much they wanted to fuck, but how sex intersects with sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, the body positive movement, gender identity, rape culture, etc. Most of these kids were queer or POC or assault survivors or women (or all of the above); in other words, they had personal reason to think about the relationship between sex and oppression, sex and privilege, sex and self-image.

I don’t think SLC kids wanting sex, having sex, or loving sex—even in excess—is a problem. I don’t even think SLC kids having casual sex totally separated from romance and emotion is a problem. (More power to you, if you go that route.) SLC kids having ignorant sex is a problem. SLC kids treating sex as something simple and untroublesome is a problem. Losing sight of the big picture, of what matters in the long run, because you’re too busy pining for and glorifying the basic act of genital stimulation for the purpose of orgasm is a problem.

The conversation I would expect from at least some portion of the SLC student body is not whether casual hook-ups, sexual promiscuity, substance-fueled sexual encounters, and sex-focused events are appropriate or inappropriate. The conversations I would expect concern questions like, “How can the women in this community create a feminist environment in which to have sex? What would that even entail? What are the racial dynamics of students’ sexual conquests here and are they problematic? How much do we, the students, actually grasp “consent” in sexual contexts? How can those of us who fuck approach sex in a way that supports body positivity for everyone? How can we collectively create safety for ourselves, in the sexual arena? How much of the queer sex or even the straight sex going on here is a personal crusade to heal wounds that are better tended through honest conversation or therapy or the care of friends? What do we do about rape culture at SLC?”

On an individual level, there ought to be an inner dialogue based around questions like: “How respectful am I actually being toward the people I fuck? Am I honoring myself and my body in my sexual practice? Is sex actually giving me what I want? Why do I have sex? Why do I care about it?  Is the sex I have ethical? Do I sexually objectify people and thereby dehumanize them? Am I a kind person, when it comes to sex?”

When you graduate from SLC, you should know that not all consensual sex is healthy or ethical, that consent is not half as simple or straightforward as many sex positive activists want it to be, that our media uses sex to sell its toxic messages about what beauty is and what makes you a valuable person. You should know that heterosexual fucking is tainted by the patriarchy, and you can’t escape that no matter what you do. You should know that racism can rear its head through your patterns of sexual attractions. You should know that women can be rapists and men can be rape victims. You should know the difference between polyamory and other forms of consensual nonmonogamy. You should know what asexuality is and what aromanticism is and what cross orientation sexuality is. You should have respect for sex workers and respect for celibates and everyone in between.

Yeah, I hold SLC kids to a higher standard than other college students. And why shouldn’t I? You’re smart and political and socially conscious. You’re not incapable of grasping these things. And you’re sure as hell not incapable of research.

When I was going to SLC, I frequently heard other students complain, whether directly or indirectly, about a pervasive sense of disconnection from others. People felt isolated and lonely, regardless of the number of “friends” they had to hang out with, the amount of partying they did on the weekends, and the sex some of them had on a semi-regular basis. One friend of mine, who I love very much, was particularly concerned with the lack of community at SLC—which was interesting to hear coming from him because he was an extroverted social butterfly who expanded his network every year. Inevitably, a few kids out of every incoming class would decide to transfer out after their first year, and loneliness was a reason that I heard given on several occasions.

You could blame the general culture of Sarah Lawrence: independence is a part of the college’s academic spirit to the point that everyone’s doing their own thing all the time. Our school attracts a lot of intelligent, creative, unconventional people, but the flipside is that a high number of us are introverted, self-absorbed, and haven’t spent any time whatsoever cultivating the qualities of friendliness, warmth, or openness in ourselves.

But I think it goes deeper than collective personality obstacles. Most SLC kids have a handful of people to hang out with. Most SLC kids have some amount of sex during their four years here. Some SLC kids have romantic relationships with each other. So why the loneliness? Why the sense of isolation?

I think it has a lot to do with priorities. The vast majority of romantic-sexual people prioritize sex (and romance) and doesn’t really give a damn about friendship, at least not in a conscientious and focused way. You strategize about how to obtain sex; you talk about it constantly; you think about it constantly; you go after it. Friendship, on the other hand, is something you take for granted as a low-involvement, low-commitment, low-investment kind of connection. (This isn’t just an SLC problem; this is an American problem.) You expect it to take care of itself. Your heart’s not in it, the way it’s in sex—because you were taught that sex is the key to all of the profound emotional, psychological, and spiritual gratification you crave. You’re eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one years old and nobody’s ever told you that friendship can be so full of love and intimacy and connection, that you don’t even have the words to describe the experience.

If this world were half as obsessed with friendship as it is with sex, what would that mean? What would that look like? If the Sarah Lawrence student body expended as much energy on seeking and building real, loving, intimate friendship as they do on chasing sex (and having it and debating about it and doing conference work on it), what kind of community would that create? How would the individual student’s experience be different?

I can guarantee the loneliness quotient would be a hell of a lot lower.

But the thing about real, loving friendship is, it doesn’t happen without a significant investment of time, self, attention, and vulnerability. Going to a party, getting drunk, and taking someone home to fuck only requires a handful of hours and minimal emotional risk. Depending upon your approach, even a normative romantic relationship—which in college, frequently lasts a mere three to six months, maybe a year—is often a surface-level connection built on lust, infatuation, shared insecurities and loneliness, and retrospectively, one can look back on it and see that there was little genuine intimacy, no real love, nothing that could be interpreted as a spiritual connection. Sometimes, there’s even abuse and gross disrespect in those romantic relationships.

Who you fuck or date today, as a Sarah Lawrence student, and who gives a damn about you 10 years from now is almost never going to be one in the same. I understand that the value of any given relationship, sexual or nonsexual, romantic or nonromantic, isn’t solely determined by how long it lasts, but what I’m saying is that it doesn’t make any sense to squander all of your time, energy, and attention on the most fleeting and the least nurturing type of relationship you engage in, at the expense of other relationships that could potentially be longer lasting, more emotionally substantial, and ultimately more gratifying.

I wouldn’t be the first person in the last five thousand years to claim that true friendship is rare. (Trust me. The bulk of my SLC conference papers explored it through a variety of disciplines.) The best kind of friendship—the kind that includes love, intimacy, connection, loyalty, commitment, even emotional passion—is rare at Sarah Lawrence and rare in life. I think there are several reasons for this, but one of them is a simple lack of effort. That kind of friendship, like any genuine love, is the Sistine Chapel of human relationships. Michelangelo spent four years of his life (the time you’re spending in college) working in extremely uncomfortable conditions to create that piece; it was painstaking, time-consuming work. And 500 years later, people take international flights to see his finished product.

I’m a passionate creative writer, so I like to think of love in terms of creative work (and vice versa). Real friendship, which doesn’t exist without love in my book, is a masterpiece. It doesn’t just fall into your lap one day, because you wished for it. It is crafted one conversation, one touch, one laugh, one moment of vulnerability at a time, and unlike a mural, it’s never really finished. It’s a living thing that continues to evolve, and therefore requires your consistent attention if it’s going to survive and thrive.

I think that if you’re a sexual person, you should fuck who you want as much as you want. But do it mindfully and ethically, and educate yourself about the myriad of ways that sexuality interacts with social justice. I also think that if you graduate from Sarah Lawrence with the basic skills and desire to cultivate real, loving friendship and maybe even walk away with a friend who wants to love you through adulthood, you will eventually discover that such friendship is infinitely more deserving of your obsession than sex.

 

Marie Crosswell graduated from SLC in 2012. Her short fiction has appeared in Thuglit
and Plots with Guns, and is scheduled to appear on Out of the Gutter’s Flash Fiction
Offensive and Beat to Pulp in the near future. She is currently working on her first novel.
She blogs about asexuality, aromanticism, nonsexual love, and relationship anarchy at http://thethinkingasexual.wordpress.com.

13 Comments

  • Reply March 11, 2014

    Nunya

    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL Another person who deosn’t have sex telling people who have sex how to have sex. Keep it real SLC.

  • Reply March 12, 2014

    Jake

    Marcel Proust might disagree with your definition and value judgement of friendship.

  • Reply March 21, 2014

    anon

    lol what’s the deal with SLC grads writing for this already mediocre website

  • Reply March 30, 2014

    Stephen Ira

    “When I talk about love, I’m talking about the general feeling of deep caring and pure appreciation for a person or thing, the emotional choice that can take on a thousand different forms, but ultimately comes down to the same ingredients.”

    Do you have any idea how gross it is to imply that love without sexuality is “pure” in a way that sexual love cannot be? This is a notion founded in patriarchy, which always has an investment in privileging certain kinds of love as “pure” and rejecting the rest. There is no way to make the claim “love without sex is more pure than love with sex” without using the armature of patriarchy to do it. As a fag who’s spent his whole life being detested and called impure for who he wanted to have sex with and how, I cannot help but bristle at your assertion that all sex carries with it a certain impurity. (I happen to know that you are queer, but I also know that you do not share my experience of being oppressed for your sexual desires, which is a very specific kind of queer hate.)

    Your assertions here about friendship’s lack of sexuality completely ignore queer sexual social structures, many of which are based on having sex with or desiring one’s friends. In fact, your assertion that sexual relationships are “the least nurturing” and “most fleeting” of one’s relationships is homophobic for this reason. You are devaluing the unique bonds queer sexual people develop with one another through fucking. This is an important element of gay male culture. These friendships are in large part why I am able to continue surviving in the world. These friendships are not always (or even usually), in my experience, “fleeting” or un-“nurturing.” My closest fuckbuddy friend is a guy I have known since I was fifteen and love utterly. Another close fuckbuddy is someone I met at Sarah Lawrence three years ago and remain close with despite their move across the country. (We still have sex when we see each other.)

    You refer repeatedly to “real love” and “genuine love.” This is rank essentialism. What the hell do you mean “real love”? Love is like, really really really socially constructed. Love and romance are wildly culturally variable across lines of race, gender, class, nationality, and sexuality. Your essentialism positions you as the arbiter of what love is real and what love is fake. Because your notions of “real love” are those of a white American, this is a colonialist and white supremacist thing to do.

    The tone of the entire piece is ludicrously judgmental, especially because of the direct address you use. You have no idea how often I think about sex, whether I am obsessed with it, etc., because you do not know me. Guess what ideology constantly tells me that as a gay man I am obsessed with sex? Homophobia. You should probably think twice before telling queer sexual people that we are obsessed with sex. There is no way to make this statement without using the armature of homophobia to do so.

    For the record, I am a highly sexual SLC gay man who has been in a happy relationship with another sexual SLC gay man (now an alum) for the past three years and change. We were monogamous for a lot of it and now we’re not. I fuck a lot of people, some of whom I have never met before, many of whom are dear friends. I am basically a walking refutation of every single claim you try to make here about Sarah Lawrence.

    • Reply March 31, 2014

      Stephen Ira

      ETA: upon reflection, seems like you are not queer anymore! iirc, you used to be, but now you are not. I guess things change!

      • Reply April 2, 2014

        Clara R

        Geez, glad I graduated SLC before the MRAs took over. While I have a number of problems with the above piece I have way more problems with the rhetoric you are making use of here.

        1. You accuse this girl of functions of the patriarchy because she states a type of purity in terms of relationships. The patriarchy has NEVER privileged asexual relations over sexual ones. Just because something acts in a structure similar to the patriarchy does NOT make it patriarchal. Just like women telling men to be quite around social issues such as rape is NOT misandry. Making these sorts of statements is reductive to writers and ignores the greater context of the patriarchy.

        2. This piece is discussing CULTURAL ISSUES around relationships and sex. I am so tired of seeing the argument “This culture doesn’t apply to me specifically, therefore your argument is invalid.” That’s a stupid argument when used here and when used by other MRAs to justify not talking about the unfairness of gender roles in our society because they are “not that kind of guy”.

        3. The very fact that as a MAN you are using aspects of your identity to invalidate the thoughts of another individual is a text book example of Patriarchal masculinity, which is why I assume you are an MRA as you are using their basic rhetorical functions as well as totally failing to check your own privilege whilst tearing someone down.

        4. Finally the purpose of this essay (made clear in the last few paragraphs), but whose point you seem to have missed is:

        “I think that if you’re a sexual person, you should fuck who you want as much as you want. But do it mindfully and ethically, and educate yourself about the myriad of ways that sexuality interacts with social justice. ”

        In other words this girl isn’t asking you to alter your behavior in anyway, but rather asking you to THINK about your actions. It seems your completely ignored her thesis for smaller bits of the essay which you proceeded to tear down using MRA logic. If you aren’t capable of thinking about how your own actions effect others in regards to both sexuality and emotional boundaries without resorting to faulty logic and buzzwords, then I suggest you go be straight. The queer community doesn’t need toxic people like you.

        • Reply September 2, 2014

          hi marie

          sexual privilege don’t real dumbass. go outside

  • Reply March 30, 2014

    Reality Van

    I didn’t think writing could get worse than Sex Brood (google it) but here we are. Your viewpoint of human relationships (whether they are friendships or romantic/sexual) is narrow, sheltered and ultimately self-centered – not to mention arrogant. This article is horrifically misguided intellectual word salad and I am very sorry that American sex-ed has failed you so badly.

  • Reply March 30, 2014

    Niyonta Chowdhury

    Wow that was like reading a shoddy clickbait on a cheap tabloid.

    You see, your very first statement invalidates every single one that follows. Let me explain with an analogy: I am a non-asexual Bangladeshi woman. I have an intellectual understanding of white male privilege and its effects on non-white women like myself, but being neither white nor male I do not and cannot know what it is like to experience white male privilege. I also have an intellectual understanding of asexuality, but I do not and cannot know what it is like to be asexual, and more importantly even if I were asexual, I would still be unaware of your particular asexual experience. Likewise, if you have never had sex, you may have an intellectual, objective or secondary-anecdotal understanding of -it-, but you simply do not have the experiential understanding required to have an informed opinion on its -experience-. Secondly, even if you have previously had sex, that informs you only of -your- individualised relationship to sex; it gives you no insight on how others construct their sexual experiences.

    You make an awful lot of uncomely assumptions, including about how “sexual people” define love. The article is rife with white supremacist heteronormative language, and sexual and racial marginalisation. Surely, what you mean by “sexual people” is “straight, white sexual people”, because I’m having trouble believing that every “sexual” SLC person with whom you are acquanited, including those who are non-heterosexual and non-white, are of the belief that the feeling of love is exclusive to not just romantic contexts but to specifically heteronormative romantic contexts, and participate in the kind of racism you speak of which manifests through “patterns of sexual attractions”, respectively. Ironically enough, you meanwhile appear to think you are speaking against racism, sexism and heterosexism.

    A second assumption- “You grew up in a world that preaches a message about sex being the point of life, the best experience available, the cornerstone of “love””. Last time I checked, this same world loves to engage in slut-shaming, sex-shaming and other forms of policing of sexual behaviour. Also, what exactly -is- this world that you’re saying I grew up in? That’s right, you’re referring to the hegemonic American media that fetishizes hyper cissexuality. Therefore, once again you’re marginalising via your language, the international population at Sarah Lawrence and their cultural experiences of sex.

    You highlight the fact that most people who think about sex intellectually at SLC have “personal reasons” for doing so, and you do this to indirectly criticise those who do not think about it -because- they do not have personal reasons. First, there is no end to educating ourselves on and expanding intellectual understanding of social issues, yes of course. But what we choose to focus on more than others at the end of the day is a reflection of what has more relevance and salience to our life experiences. It is as meaningless to criticise someone for not analysing sex, as it would be, for example, for me to criticse you for not intellectually thinking about and analysing how national identity might conflict with religious identity amongst minorities in post-industrial Bangladesh. Second, and interestingly enough, this criticism of yours flies in the face of your mentioning that we should ask questions like “How can the women in this community create a feminist environment in which to have sex?”. The question indicates that it is natural for only those with “personal reasons” (women) for wanting a feminist environment to work towards implementing it. Plus, you are putting the onus on women, exclusively, to create a such an environment in much the same way rape culture puts the onus on women to not get raped. Then comes your whole “honouring my body” thing- disgustingly patriarchal, and again perpetuating rape culture. Also, in using that term “feminist environment” instead of safe invironment, you are once again marginalising non-cisgender people. Third, the criticism also flies in the face of your later jab at how so many SLC students devote their conference work to sex. So you want people to think about sex intellectually and then you mock them when they do? Basically you want sexuality out of the picture altogether.

    There are just so so so many other things problematic with this article of yours. Like, from the way you speak of peope who experience loneliness and isolation at SLC, it is at once obvious you are speaking of people with whom you do not identify. Yet you proceed to speak on behalf of them, asserting that it has to do with the ‘fact’ that they “prioritize sex” and do not give “a damn about friendship”, which you then grandly reveal is not just an SLC problem but an American problem. Reducing everyone’s social and/or emotional problems to sexual frustration and assuming everyone considers friendship a “low-commmittment/investment/involvement” relationship is so ridiculously assumptuous, so arrogantly ignorant, so divorced from reality, that, I’m sorry, it’s just stupid. It’s just so so offensively, thoroughly stupid. I, along with many of my friends, had that ‘lonely/isolated’ problem for a long time, and let me tell you it’s a lot more complicated than that and is rooted in many, many things, that may or may not be related to sex. Personally, sex is important to me but I do not “prioritize” it over every other college experience, and I also place a hell lot of value on my friendships. Even if I did so prioritize it, it likely would have had nothing to do with my sporadic feelings of loneliness/isolation because they already exist by virtue of other reasons of which I am very aware. And yes exactly, what oyu’re saying might be an “American problem”, a problem you seem to expect all SLCers, who I’m sure you’re aware are not all American, to be familiar with. LOL you really don’t see how this expectation of yours is rooted in colonialist indoctrination do you. Or maybe you had no such expectation, because every time you said “SLC kids”, you meant “American SLC kids”. Because you forgot (that albeit in majority,) that’s a subcategory of “SLC kids”.

    You go on to claim how getting drunk and fucking someone involves “minimal emotional risk”, and that all romantic normative relationships in college are devoid of spiritual connection. This not only spells out your incomprehension of emotional outreach, but it is also incredibly offensive and asexual supremacist. Basically, you’re trying to say love is an asexual privilege, and romantic relationships and sex reflect ignorance at best and moral corruption at worst. Sexual intimacy can be the most therapeutic, healing and nurturing of experiences. If you’re really denying that, you’re denying the actual experiences of people. You finally declare that “sometimes there’s even abuse and gross disrespect in romantic relationships”, like it’s a massive revelation. Are you seriously suggesting that friendships are inherently immune to abuse and disrespect? There can can be abuse (-physical/verbal/emotional) and disrespect in ANY human relationship.

    But the real icing I think is the consistently sententious, condescending tone of your writing. That coupled with that list of things you patronizingly assume SLC students don’t know, and that they should know before they graduate.

    Utter nonsense. Such a disappointment to see SLCspeaks publish such trash.

  • Reply April 4, 2014

    nona mcbiba

    good to see you’re still a huge sexist homophobe, outlawroad. please write us another classic like SEXBROOD it was great hearing how easy us gays have it in comparison. next time maybe you can even write the sex workers like actual human beings.

    for the record, us sexysexuals are pretty good at making friends. your creepy shit might have more to do with your own isolation than any nonexistent sexual or romantic privilege.

  • Reply June 25, 2014

    ponyo sakana

    this entire article is fucked up lol

  • Reply December 21, 2014

    Gino

    Great information. Luck me I came across your blog by
    chance (stumbleupon). I hazve saved as a favorjte for later!

  • Reply April 21, 2016

    Anonymouse

    lll

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