A strange thing happened to me last week. Considering I’m now in a monogamous almost-relationship and the man I’m with is travelling, I have a lot of time to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in years. One of those friends happened to be an ex-colleague. I was in college when we met and hopelessly infatuated with him by the third day of work. He was older, with salt-and-pepper hair, a deep gravelly voice and a wife. On the sexual spectrum, married men are a no-no, the one rule I refuse to break. A friend once told me that if you have to think about it, don’t do it. And so, no matter how tempted I’ve been, I’ve never done it.
But this time when we met, he was single, available and interested—in sex. And I was not single, not available, and strangely enough, not even remotely interested—in sex or otherwise. I know myself enough to know that monogamy doesn’t come naturally to me; not at the ‘almost’ stage of a relationship at least. Then why wasn’t my body responding to the blatant signals his was sending?
Many hours later, as I lay in bed listening in amused exasperation as my almost-boyfriend lamented Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement over a long expensive transatlantic phone call and actually enjoying it, I realised a startling truth: I was pretty bored of my sexual routine.
For a girl like me, that’s a big deal. In the eight years since I lost my virginity, I’ve made a pit-stop at almost all place markers on the hetero-homo continuum. The sex has led to everything from delicate whisker burns to angry red marks. There have been multiple partners, some of whom knew each other and together brokered complicated deals by day and played video games by night. There have been older men, younger men and men I scarcely remember. It’s been a good eight years. But now, I’m bored.
I realised that night that casual sex was fine while I was having it—it’s a great stressbuster, and a mild workout that almost always ends with an orgasm—but when I’m not having it, it seems like too mammoth a task. It’s time I could be putting into my career. Or, I don’t know, spending on the stacks of books I’ve been meaning to read. Lately, it had started to feel like a lot of work. All that plotting and planning; figuring out who’s free and horny at the same time as you, negotiating kinks, learning your way around a new body… even having to travel to get a partner of choice. I could really have read a whole lot more books in that time.
I’m reminded of a point in my childhood when I stopped taking maths quizzes. For as long as I had known, my bookshelves had been crammed with Shakuntala Devi’s books. When she passed away last month, it had felt like a personal loss. Maths was what I did when all my homework was done and it was time to play. And then, one day, I just kind of… stopped. I wanted to paint, or read, or write. Anything but solve another speed and time puzzle.
I’m not saying I’ve stopped having or enjoying sex; it’s just that fundamentally, my brain has stopped caring about sex. It’s more interested in mating another way. This probably explains why, when I now watch porn, my brain first goes into ‘red alert’ mode for misogyny before the genitals take over. Ever since I got into this new semi-relationship, I’ve let all my fuck-buddy relationships lapse. These days, when I call them over for a game of Assassin’s Creed and Thai curry, they know it’s not code for ‘do me’.
I thought I was changing to accommodate the man I’m with. Being with him is scary because he’s so far out of my comfort zone. With him, it’s all or nothing. There are no one-night passes or loopholes. He can keep it in his pants, but I didn’t know if I could. Last week, I realised I wasn’t changing for him; I was dating him because I had changed.
I have often been warned by well-meaning friends that if you have too much sex, you risk burning out and constantly having to find newer, kinkier and wilder stuff to ‘spice it up’. Turns out, right now my wild is other people’s vanilla. I’d rather play online chess with him than make out with an attractive available ex-colleague. When I was in college, sexual freedom meant being perfectly comfortable with casual sex, multiple partners, BDSM, scarlet lips and fuck-me heels. But I’ve realised it’s not sexual liberation unless you also have the freedom to say ‘No, thank you’ without being labelled a prude. These days, I put red lipstick on for myself. And love it.