Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Joy of No Sex?

"If Barbie and Ken had been able to have sex, do you really think their marriage would have lasted 50 years?"

So asked a Nip/Tuck character (played by Jessica Collins, currently appearing on The Young and the Restless as the somewhat sexless Avery Bailey Clark) on a 2009 episode of the show. She wanted Doctors McNamara and Troy to remove her nipples in order to crash her sex drive. Her husband (played by Mark Deklin, recently seen as a regular on GCB) had already had his erased in his quest to be more like Ken to her would-be Barbie.

I wondered, Did this Barbie wannabe have a point? Is the secret to long-term bliss with another person the removal of sex from the equation?

What about love? Can you be in love with someone you're not sexually attracted to?

What about romance? Without sex, are you basically romancing the stone?

And with sex completely off the table, are you really just good friends?

But playing devil's -- or more accurately, angel's -- advocate, consider all the benefits of having relationships that are more like our friendships. There'd be no jealousy, no infidelity, no lousy sex. If he or she leaves you, it won't be because he or she no longer wants to have sex with you, but maybe for the simple reason that he or she just isn't that into being around you anymore. Would that kind of dumping be less detrimental to our self-confidence, which seems to hinge so much on physical desirability?

Although I enjoy sex as much as the next guy -- well, maybe not as much, but it has its moments -- some of the most peaceful times of my life have been those stretches when I've gone without. There's less angst, less second guessing, less staring at a phone that never beeps to signal an incoming message, or constantly checking to see if you've got mail.

I was recently reading about the long, complicated relationship between the legendary film and Broadway director/choreographer Bob Fosse and his third wife, the legendary Broadway star Gwen Verdon. The were married in 1960, and although they were no longer physically together by the end of the '70s, they remained legally married until Fosse's death in 1987. Would Verdon have continued to dedicate such a grand effort to preserving Fosse's legacy until her own death in 2000 had they continued on as conventional couple until the end?

My mom and dad have been divorced for 25 years, and she recently told me that they talk on the phone every day. Although he lives in Florida, and she lives in Atlanta, they're now the best of friends in a way I couldn't have imagined them being during the part of their 27-year marriage for which I was around.

In my own experience, my easiest relationships have been the ones uncomplicated by blood or sex, the ones I have with my friends. But there is a certain level of intimacy missing from even my best friendships that I've only experienced in my relationships with a physical component. If we were all to do away with our nipples and lose interest in sex, what would become of that intimacy? Would the emotional calm be worth it?

"I'm celibate, and I've never been happier."

So said another character later in the same Nip/Tuck episode. (The joy of not having sex was an interesting recurring theme, considering that the main characters' obsession with beauty and sex was often their undoing.) She sounded less convincing than the Barbie manque. I wondered if she'd just been having lousy sex for years. As peaceful and drama free as life can be without sex, its absence also means no afterglow, which can produce some of the most amazing moments in life. (Yes, for me, it's always been more about what happens after the fact.) That incredible feeling might not last forever, but that's why romantic relationships should be based on something more.

I believe we're too obsessed with sex. We would all be wise to put it on the backburner sometimes and focus on other things, both in and out of love. But life is messy, as Meryl Streep's shrink said to Uma Thurman's character in Prime. That's how you know you're living.

And what's the point of life if you're not living? I'm a slave to passion. I'd rather have a tempestuous, exciting relationship than a love affair on Zoloft. Sure Barbie and Ken lasted a long time (and they never aged either), but who wants to model their love life on a pair of white-bread dolls?

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