A few weeks ago I sat in a poolside cabana at The Avalon, a mid-century jewel of a hotel in Beverly Hills, eating dinner with a man who told me: "To you, sex is art." I was both flattered and amused. Amused because we hadn't even slept together -- he was referring to my blog.
I've thought a lot about his remark: what makes sex simply a physical act, and what makes it transcendent? Bad sex, or mediocre sex, is the former. It's a mechanical exercise involving body parts, forgotten as soon as it's over. At best, it's disconnected, a tepid cliche. At worst, it's ugly and damaging.
Great sex is erotic improv.
You know where it's headed, but you don't know how it will get there. It takes shape as lovers read each other's body language, calibrating tongues, lips, touch, and movement. What might make you cringe during bad sex -- panting, a musky odor, the sound of an enthusiastic tongue -- might make you shudder with awe during great sex.
Great sex makes you experience the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Last year I dated a start-up muckety-muck who, at first glance, was not my type. Silver-haired, slightly heavy, and rather imperious, he was a gifted writer and raconteur. His mastery of language, both elegant and smutty, brought me to my knees every time I saw him -- figuratively and literally. The chemistry between us was combustible, and we subjected more waiters and bartenders than I can count to our sex-begins-over-dinner foreplay. Although we had little in common, we were bizarrely compatible sex partners.
In great sex, partners test each other's limits, traversing new erotic terrain together.
Victor had been on the periphery of my social circle when I was married, and was my first lover when my marriage ended. He was sex personified. His body was art: with his exquisitely articulated muscles and perpetually cocked hips, he reminded me of Michaelangelo's David. My relationship with him marked the end of a lifetime of (mostly) Sex Lite, and sent my erotic narrative careening in another direction. It was like losing my virginity all over again.
Our interludes were so expansive, so exhilarating, that there were a few times I was amazed I survived -- a frenzied, mid-afternoon coupling on a tennis court comes to mind. With the first smack of his palm on my ass, he beckoned the kink that was hidden inside me. Our relationship echoed the scene in 9 1/2 Weeks when Kim Basinger asks Mickey Rourke how he knew she would respond to him the way she did. He replies: "I saw myself in you."
That's one of the gifts of great sex. To lose yourself, and find yourself, in another person.
Bad sex is static and clumsy. It's two sets of left feet on the dance floor. Great sex is dynamic, an artful tango.
This summer, I dated a younger man named Cary. He was appealing because he was so comfortable in his skin, fueled by a genuine curiosity and zest for life. He studied contact improv, a modern dance form that hinges on being fully present in the moment in order to read and follow a partner's cues. If this sounds like a recipe for great sex, it is. And it was.
Our relationship began with texts and emails in which we co-wrote sexual scenes we played out when we met. These collaborative exchanges happened organically, and it was exciting to discover that our erotic and playful sensibilities jived. I was invariably "in trouble" because I had not arrived for our trysts in the promised outfits, and I was "punished" with whatever accoutrements he had threatened me with in our electronic back-and-forths.
Cary brought his contact improv training to the bedroom. His uncanny ability to immerse himself in the present and be exquisitely attuned drew me into the moment with him. His desire to give me what I wanted, and get what he wanted, created a heightened sexual intimacy. Our relationship was brief, and would never have gone further than the bedroom, but its erotic creativity made it one of my favorite liaisons.
Great sex doesn't discriminate.
With all the things great sex and art have in common, they diverge in one significant way. Ballet, Broadway, art auctions, the symphony -- these venues exclude the less privileged. Not everyone can afford the price of a theater ticket, or even admission to a museum.
Great sex, however, doesn't discriminate. It never has, and it never will.