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Well, we’d have the crowdfunder done and dusted. Obviously I still have to make the actual podcast. But I am soooooo desperate to do that. Fundraising is no fun at all. But researching and interrogating our relationship with sex? SO MUCH FUN. So please, come on, help me get past this excruciating begging stage of the process and cut to the actual journalism!
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Remember kissing? Kissing was good wasn’t it? Remember what it was like to lean in, for the first time with someone new, feeling the entire world stand still for just a moment before your lips made contact; noticing acutely, in that split second, the contrasting weave of the collar on their jumper, the gold earring catching the light through their hair, the colour of the car parked in the street behind them.
I’m thinking about the kissing I did on street corners, at tube stations, and outside pubs. I’m thinking about the way I couldn’t stop giggling as I tried to kiss a date over her bike, the saddle pressing into my stomach, while she steadied the handlebars to stop us toppling into a chaos of limbs and aluminium. I’m thinking about the guy who asked for a kiss as we’d left a bar, just as I was trying to put my jumper back on, and so I stood snogging in the street, one arm still half-tangled in the sleeve, tugging at the hem, scarf, jacket and handbag balled up under the other arm. I’m thinking about the girl I made out with in the bar of the Charlotte Street Hotel, after drinking what felt like all the wine in Fitzrovia, and then non-stop in the Uber back to her flat in Putney. And I’m thinking about the date who was only in town for one night, staying with his parents, so because no sexual hook-up was on the cards, we had to make do with trying to climb inside each other’s mouths outside the tube station, to the shouts and whistles of passersby.
I’m thinking about kissing because kissing is great. But I’m also thinking about kissing because kissing represents something. Kissing in a time of coronavirus has become almost unthinkable. Perhaps even more than sex, kissing represents everything we can’t and mustn’t do right now. When a virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets, sticking your literal tongue in someone’s literal mouth is about the stupidest thing you could do. But it’s also the part that can’t be replicated, no matter how many apps you download and remote-controlled sex toys you buy.
While there’s clearly no substitute for being physically with someone, we can achieve sexual arousal by talking, masturbating, sharing fantasies, pictures and videos. But, as computer scientist and AI expert Dr Kate Devlin told me when I spoke to her in the autumn, there is as yet no way of recreating the closeness and sensuality of sexual contact, through tech.
“We’ve got quite good at providing pleasure through technology but the closeness part, we can mediate it via technology but at the minute we can’t recreate it,” she said. I asked her about the Kissenger gadget. If you don’t know of it, it was a device that you attached to your phone to “send” a kiss to your long-distance partner. The presenters on The Gadget Show claimed it was quite sensual. Devlin described it as “probably one of the least erotic things I’ve ever seen in my life.”
When I first realised how much I was fantasising about kissing, I found it funny. What a tame little fantasy! But, on reflection, I don’t think it is remotely tame.
Kissing is also, arguably, one of the most basic and accessible ways of being sexual with someone. You can do it pretty much anywhere and it can take many forms. Kisses can be fun, they can be playful, they can be messy and weird, they can be full of longing, they can be awkward, they can be joyful, they can be deep, they can be chaste, they can be dirty. And because they are often a precursor to sex, they are also really fucking exciting.
In a world stripped almost entirely of excitement, of possibility, of sensuality, kissing might just be the hottest thing of all.
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What’s on my mind this week…
Canadian sex educator Eva Bloom shared a load of Tik Tok videos on Instagram this week, featuring people interrogating their relationship with their she/her and they/them pronouns. Most of these people are AFAB (assigned female at birth) and would probably be read as women and one of the key questions that kept coming up in was “Do I identify as ‘they’ because I am non-binary, or because I am dismayed and exhausted by the way society packages up womanhood?”
First of all, I am absolutely in awe of Gen Z for having this nuanced a grip on their understanding of gender and identity. As an old millennial who still doesn’t have the answer to a lot of these questions, watching them grapple with and interrogate their understanding of gender and its social and cultural context is so exciting and inspiring.
I did once try out she/they pronouns. I went to a conference where I knew I wasn’t going to know a single other person and on a whim, I wrote “she/they” on my name tag. I’d recently heard Lana Peswani talk about their relationship with gender and I liked what they’d said about neutral pronouns being, amongst other things, a way of “opting out” of womanhood. While I do realise that this is not what gender fluidity and neutrality means to everyone, and some people really do feel very strongly non-binary and I have no desire to appropriate that, I think it’s an interesting exercise for people to try (if only in their own heads). And I have to admit it did feel quite exhilarating to simply say, “Actually, no, I’m not who you think I am” if only indirectly, passively, and reasonably anonymously, via a paper name tag.
These days I still feel that way but I feel more confident and comfortable doing that from within womanhood. There’s probably more I could say about this and it relates to my relationship with motherhood and being a queer poly person, married to a man. But I’ll leave it for another day. Right now, where I am in my life, I feel pretty happy with my she/her pronouns.
A couple more things to (over)think about…
Loved the analysis in this piece on the impact of lockdown on married couples, especially the line: “Separation and a sense of separate identity are critical for desire and cultivating interest in sexual activity.” Amen to that
This feature about a woman who orgasms just from thinking about it is a bit of tabloid fun but it’s also really intriguing. I’d love to know more about why this happens
This essay in Vanity Fair about finding your sexual self through having threesomes is a tad wanky but it contains some good insights
Pamela Stephenson Connely’s assertion in her advice column that moving on from cheating should mean that “any mention of other lovers should be entirely off limits” really pissed me off
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