I was never taught much about being comfortably close to other people. I've learnt a bit about it and seem to be picking it up as I go along. Partly as a safety thing, to help me understand the world and therefore feel a bit safer in it. And partly for the joy of discovery and pushing back boundaries I thought I, and the rest of the world, had been born with. Being close seems like a delightful end, and a beginning. It's not particularly easy, though, having grown up with a pretty strong picture of the aim of it all being to get into someone's undies!
I usually use sex as a way of avoiding having to be close. I like sex a lot and I get a lot of excitement and awareness of myself and my partner as we become sexual. It sometimes feels like there is lots of openness and vulnerability. I like the opening scene in a film called Betty Blue, where the couple is fucking and it looks at once like they are very much together, and also like they are totally separate, each in their own world.
I think I tend to slip into being sexual when I'm scared of, or have become lost in being close. As men we tend not to get very clear ideas of what it is like to be just, close. It's a lot easier to be sexual , and I've often felt myself sliding off into sex. Almost as if it's too difficult to stay there, and being sexual is on safer ground. I know that sex itself is very satisfying, but I sometimes wonder if there isn't something else there that I'm missing out on. And being pretty greedy to touch as much of life as possible, I don't want to miss out, I often masturbate when I am alone and when I feel alone. I know that being sexual with myself is a very satisfying way of having a good time and also of pushing away other feelings. Some of the most frightening ones for me are about really being alone and so even though I know that, in reality, I am not, once those feelings start to come up I often feel like masturbating. If only subconsciously to get the fear away. And it works!
It seems especially difficult to me and many of the men I know to be comfortable with the mixed up feelings around closeness. It's pretty scary stuff, and not something that is encouraged in the playground, or at work, at war or at play. I think there must be a way through that fear, though, and it looks like it would be less tense and stressful without it. One thing seems to be to keep asking myself and giving myself and my partner choices. Not just once, but continually. Do I really want to be doing this? Is this a time I choose to be sexual? Am I flirting, honestly? Am I really feeling like fucking or would I like to cuddle for a while?
Difficult questions, but the answers come quickly (as can I). The feelings may be quite strong, yet the thinking may be quite different. All I can do is ask myself what's right at the time and talk about it after if I need to. If I can do that, it's a great start to a relationship in which we could quite possibly include sex.
First published in the magazine XY: men, sex, politics, 1(2), Autumn 1991. XY, PO Box 26, AINSLIE, ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 1995