It was one of the most intimate experiences of my life.
When she arrived we’d both already eaten dinner, so we made a self-saucing pudding together. While it baked we watched a documentary, our bodies close together on a couch. Soon, our dessert was ready. There really is something about baking.
I can honestly say I hadn’t planned what happened next. Sure I’d often wondered what it would be like, had imagined who might make the first move, how it would feel. In fact, it was better than I even imagined. The night seemed never-ending. We went on and on without stopping, occasionally pausing to catch our breath, sometimes to change our position.
It was almost dawn when we finally stopped talking.
For days afterward my self revelled in every part of the memory of it: the quiet, honest phrases; Keith Jarrett playing jazz in the background; the dilated sense of time, that this miraculous moment could last as long as we wanted, that sleep could wait. It was a lovely example of what can be present in the absence of lust.
Another glorious night, although rather different, occurred months prior. Shared with a different person. She and I hadn’t known each other long, nor would we, as she was soon to leave. But there was a lovely something, a something that can’t be replaced by any amount of compatibility on a scale confected by a dating website. It was a cold, cold night, but there was heating and quite a lot of manchester. And we ended up having what was, for me at least, some incredibly good sex.
Being the practical sort, I’m not about to have such an experience without reflecting upon it! Perhaps a few different factors were at play, in that we communicated openly and we spoke lovingly and respectfully. But what’s more, the encounter felt free of lust. It wasn’t undergirded by a primal need to get off, but by a joy in each other and each other’s body and each moment of what was taking place between us. It was beatifically far from what Heather Corinna, author of s.e.x., describes as “a gender-specific set of directions that are a progression towards orgasm”.
I tell these stories together to make something clear: in questioning lust, I’m not criticising sexual pleasure. Rather, I’m suggesting there is an opportunity cost to lust, that intimacy may be left by the wayside when all roads lead to orgasm. Without wanting to preach asceticism or seem prudish, I’m wondering if maybe it’s more rewarding – whether spiritually or sexually – to reduce the influence of lust in our relationships.
For me, this partly means getting better at appreciating non-sexual forms of intimacy, of being open to those moments when love isn’t consummated but is, instead, consummate. Of remembering how enjoyable long languorous hours of “quality time” can be. It also means getting better at appreciating the value of intimacy in sex, of being more aware of the presence of lust in such situations and, I suppose, not letting it define the experience.
I think it’s like the role of hunger in relation to food. It’s perfectly reasonable to be hungry and to eat in order to sate one’s appetite. Food sure does taste good when you’re hungry. Yet I most enjoy a shared meal when I’m not hungry. Then it’s an experience not just of eating but of companionship, of shared savouring of both the repast and the company.
Without lust, there is space for intimacy. This space may be filled by the outpouring of souls, blending like paints on an artist’s palette. It may be filled by the blending of bodies, in emotion embodied and feelings made corporeal. Or, I suppose, it may not be filled, and maybe that could feel like a shame, or a missed opportunity. Yet, just for the chance to flourish, to live out the moments that will tower like sequoia in the forest of memory, to teeter on the edge between humanity and what almost feels like divinity, it’s worth that risk.