Victor LaValle's account of his two years of (almost) celibacy — alleviated occasionally by phone sex — makes the case that not getting any will drive you crazy. But actual lack of sex may matter less than just plain loneliness.
Writing in the Guardian, LaValle chalks up his early-twenties dry spell to his obesity, but he seems to have had emotional issues as well ("I aspired to lethargy. In the second year of university, I missed half my classes just because I couldn't pull myself out of bed"). Whatever the case, his main relationship during those years was with a 50-year-old mom named Margie, whom he met on a phone sex line — and never laid eyes on in person. Though they only had phone sex, he credited her at the time with keeping at bay what he describes as the affliction of the totally alone. He writes,
[H]ave you ever known men or women who don't get any kind of loving for years? They get weird. The women become either monstrously drab or they costume themselves in ways that make them seem unreal; they externalise their inner fantasies and come to believe that – on some level – they really are elves or princesses or, most disturbing of all, children again. And the men? They're even worse. Men who are denied affection for too long devolve into some kind of rage-filled hominoid. Their anger becomes palpable. You can almost feel the wrath emanating from their pores. Lonely women destroy themselves; lonely men threaten the world.
LaValle is, of course, trading in stereotypes here — celibate women become crazy cat ladies, while celibate men become, essentially, gym gunman George Sodini. Others have made the argument that a few visits to a sex worker would have prevented Sodini's deadly anti-woman rampage, but a close reading of LaValle's piece reveals it's not that simple. He writes, "fat people are perverts. By which I mean to say, loneliness perverts you." Again with the stereotypes: being fat doesn't make you lonely. But his observation refers to the fact that by the end of his "celibate" period, he was actually having physical sex — no-strings assignations with women he met through an agency, most of whom were also obese. Most of his emotional sustenance, however, was clearly coming from Margie. He writes,
I felt truly grateful for Margie. While I enjoyed phone sex with other women, Margie and I would also have real conversations after the sex was over. She'd want to know what I'd been reading and I'd ask about the home-improvement work she'd been doing. I enjoyed her company, her voice. And she sounded sincere when she told me she'd missed me.
And after Margie "broke up" with him and he lost a lot of weight, none of the casual sex he'd had prepared him for dating again. He describes hiding his body in too many clothes on his first real date, feeling disembodied the first time he had sex with someone he had romantic feelings for. If LaValle was "perverted," it was, as he says, by loneliness — not by celibacy itself.
Not having sex is sort of in lately, whether it's Julia Allison's dubious no-sex pledge or Hephzibah Anderson's book on her year of chastity (on which more later this week). But while I'd never downplay the importance of an orgasm, what really keeps the wolves of loneliness at bay is probably not sex, but intimacy — those questions about reading and home-improvement work that LaValle so valued. In a way this is sweet — matters of the heart matter after all. But in a way it makes things harder. As LaValle illustrates, people can have plenty of sex even if they feel crappy about themselves and other people. Having intimacy often requires that you figure your shit out a little — in short, it's a lot more work.
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