In Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape, Thomas Macaulay Millar– wrote an astute essay about our typical commodification model of sex and how problematic it is in terms of consent and negotiation to treat sex as transactional. When there is an approach of sex as a transaction, it inevitably leads to “you owe me” and that’s not hot unless it’s a role-play fantasy.
No one ever owes anybody sex. Yet this attitude towards sex plays out in myriad ways.
Apparently many men think women owe them our bodies, our sexuality, our attention, and even, our orgasms. The idea that women need to pay men for their status, money, social standing and privilege maintains a terrible dynamic between men and women. The idea that women need to pay for our wellbeing and patriarchal benefit through our bodies and sexuality is harmful and keeps us from evolving to the next level in our sexual evolution. And if we think our greatest worth is what we can deliver sexually, we diminish its power because we make it about someone else rather than ourselves.
What if sex were like playing music? Asks Millar. What if it were performative rather than transactional, commodified?
If we approached sex like we approach playing music, sometimes we’d play with ourselves, and other times we might play with one or more other people.
We would need to negotiate what we were doing to make it sound beautiful.
We would want to play off each other, and allow our creativity to collude into beauty.
We would lift each other up and make our instruments sound good together, rather than compete.
We would want to enjoy what we were doing.
Sex like that would be collaborative, inspired, full with a “yes” to be there which would create the conditions for mutual pleasure and enjoyment. Millar says:
“A performance model is one that normalizes the intimate and interactive nature of sex. The commodity model easily divides sex into good and bad, based on the relative gains from the transaction, mapping closely to conservative Christian sexual mores. Under a performance model, the sexual interaction should be creative, positive and respectful even in the most casual of circumstances, and without regard to what each partner seeks from it.”
This is not performance of the “Look at me! Am I doing it right and do I look good doing it?” type. “Do I have the right body, cock, ass, breasts? Do I look good in this position?” When we have sex where we watch our performance like this, it’s called spectatoring. We leave ourselves to watch ourselves rather than be in the experience. A lot of people have sex like that. It will never result in the best pleasure or the most beautiful music because you’re only half there.
Isn’t the most inspiring music the music where the musician seems to lose themself? When they make love to their instrument and are so fully in their creation they cannot be shaken?
Think of it as performance with others, co-creation. The let’s-make-something-beautiful-together kind of performance.
Sex really is like music in so many ways. There are many notes and tones our sex can take. On different days we might want different kinds of sex. We might want it sensual, romantic, playful, aggressive, rough, languorous, edgy, humorous, easeful, energetic, creative, elegant, dreamy, mysterious. So many things it can be.
What note do you want to play in sex?
How many musicians do you want to play with?
So much judgment can be removed with this framework because it becomes less about whom you are playing with and more about how and what you choose to play together.
Music is subjective. Sex is also subjective. What works sexually for each person is individual and it works for different reasons on different days or in different places. Just like music sets a mood with its context, sex is a way we create a particular feeling, experience, mood and environment.
Context always matters. Sex is never divorced from its context.
You need candles and romantic lighting to feel into your sexy? Then make it happen.
You like dirty public places when you want to feel naughty? Then find them.
You need to know the kids can’t barge in the door so you can relax? Get that lock installed.
Create the context for the sex you want to flourish.
If your sex life were more like music than a ticket to gain entry, how would you begin to approach it differently?
In our world sex can specifically be a commodity. Yet many people experience it as a commodity without realizing it and then can’t figure out why it feels unsatisfying or incomplete. Hedging on who you owe, how much, what it’s worth, where you lost it, or who you gave it to makes it a thing outside of you. It longer feels like yours.
Seeing sex as a creative urge that flows from within you asking to be expressed, enjoyed, experienced and nurtured is a different approach. In our sexual self-actualization, this is one of many things we might cultivate in our sexuality. To make sex more like music.
Want to learn more about sexual self-actualization? See you in my online class this week. You can grab a ticket here.
Resource: T.M. Millar, “Toward a Performance Model of Sex “ in Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape, ed. J. Friedman and J. Valenti (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008) 29-41.