I wrote a poem once, about learning to dance with someone who already knew the steps. I wrote about needing to learn but being sure that I could. To this day, I still can’t really dance in a twosome. It takes time to observe, imagine how, imitate and then finally practice, to learn to dance well.
There are hundreds of thousands of nerve endings in our bodies responding to all manner of senses, all day and night long. My body runs on a rhythm, designed to guide cycles of reproduction and release. This is the art of sensuality, understanding and making beauty of the rhythms we are all part of. It has a rugged kind of sacredness to it, this connection of our bodies and the galaxy we inhabit.
*This article is part of a series; I recommend reading Part One: A Modern Virgin, Part Two: What I Learned About Sex From An Older Man, Part Three: Trying To Lose My Virginity, Part Four: Real Intimacy, Behind The Wall and Part Five: Good Sex, The Virgin And The Church first. I’m welcoming feedback and contributions so please email me here.
I believe it couldn’t be more important to be grounded into your body, listening to what your body is telling you. Your body speaks in instinct, speaks more with your senses that you know. The key is to harness those signals and learn to speak them yourself. There are times of the month where my skin becomes more responsive to touch, more sensitive all over. My taste buds sparkle with new abilities; I taste whisky better, I taste food more sharply. My seasoning while cooking becomes even more precise. There are times of exhaustion when my left shoulder starts to throb and a funny scar on my thumb that still turns red when my defences rise, even after all these years. My body is constantly trying to drag my attention to meeting her needs.
I both inhabit my body and am my body. We have an idiosyncratic relationship, my body and I. I both love her strength, feel weak inside my skin and embrace the story I carry in my scars and skin. I know her better now than I did before, but it took me about 25 years to get to here.
There’s a theory of how we learn beginning in childhood. Essentially; there are four stages of learning any behaviour and we participate in each to varying degrees. First Observation, then Fantasy/Imagination, followed by Imitation and Rehearsal. This is how we learn to speak, walk, play, dance and even sing.
We tend to encourage this in almost every aspect of our humanity, apart from sexuality. But it’s crucial to develop our sexual tastes and understanding of how we work in this same learning process and to encourage young people and young adults to understand their sexuality in healthy ways. I believe we can do this through embracing and engaging with the broader art of sensuality.
When we understand our physical and emotional needs and desires, we can communicate with our partners far more effectively. We can know ourselves more truthfully. Experimentation and exploration becomes safer and more achievable when we have confidence in our ability to communicate in these areas. Honest talking about sex is vital for healthy relationships no matter what stage. Women tend to be better at this than men, simply because women are more often encouraged and often expected to share more in group settings, but again – it’s nothing more than a stereotype.
So yes, in case you’re wondering, parents of teenagers – I’m saying there is a valid place for fantasy in the development of sexuality. That it’s vital to know our bodies and how they respond, what they need. And, while you might not often think about how to run, a runner does. A runner thinks about everything their body is telling them. That doesn’t have to wait until you’re in a relationship. In fact, it’s probably smarter to develop a healthy sexuality before you’re in a relationship. Porn is not a great way to achieve this, but sometimes that’s just a lazy substitute for a good imagination anyway. Imagination starts with the senses and then an understanding of self. This is the message I’ve been sharing with young people for many years. You can’t manage what you don’t know and feel comfortable with. We talk a lot about sex, but not about developing healthy sexual expression.
If you want to manage your sexuality in a healthy way, single or otherwise – you have to know what you’re dealing with. In my case there are certain times I really shouldn’t drink whisky. As with most alcohol, it simultaneously winds me up and loosens inhibitions in ways that aren’t always convenient, given the choices I’m making. It’s important for all young people to think about that stuff.
There are also times when you need human connection, especially as a single person. You have to make those decisions wisely. I am a sucker for the senses, particularly smell. The perfumes I choose to wear are often for me as much as anyone, but I love the musky scent of people; the combination of cologne and real human scent just underneath it. I like summer, because we all smell a little warmer, a little more real.
This is part of my love affair with the senses, something that often gets lost in the modern hum-dry of using our eyes alone to determine desirability. Perhaps it’s being a writer, but I can spend long minutes luxuriating in describing a certain scent or taste. The echoes and layers of a good whisky and the snap’n’crackle of an open fire. I love to breathe in the smell of dry manuka or maple in the bottom of a BBQ fire or the scents of ripening peaches in summer. The way the light changes from autumn to winter and back to spring and the heat of the sun that changes with each season. Sometimes the sun hitting the forest smells like raw honey dropped into hay bales, other times it makes the asphalt smell like cold steel.
Why has sex become so reductionist? Because I think we’ve lost the art of learning when it comes to our sexuality and I also think we’ve lost a connection with the senses that fuel our sensuality and imagination. It’s hard to have one without the other.
As you consume messages about sex or begin to learn your own sensuality, you begin to recognize certain things that are turn-ons and turn-offs. This development of taste and preference is helpful. We should be encouraging young people, ok – all people, to develop their senses instead of simply denying their appetites.
All of this is good and healthy, I believe. It seems like this is the kind of thing we shouldn’t shy away from teaching young people about themselves. Let’s bring the development of sex and sensuality out of the dark shadows and into normalcy. I’ve learned I’m a sucker for hands and arms. There’s a certain kind of masculine strength that is communicated through the straight lines of shoulders and strong biceps that makes something inside me want to curve into them. It’s really great to be able to tell the difference between being physically and intellectually, emotionally attracted to someone. That’s something you learn through understanding the senses too. The difference between what your eyes see, your hands touch and your ears hear.