A few years ago I sat in a poolside cabana at Beverly Hills Hotel, eating dinner with a friend who told me: “To you, sex is art.” I was both flattered and amused. Amused because we hadn’t even slept together — she was referring to my conversations we’ve had.
I’ve thought a lot about her 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.
A few years ago I dated a Hollywood star who, at first glance, was not my type. Blond hair tall, great body, and rather imperious, she was a gifted actress and raconteur. Her mastery of language, both elegant and smutty, brought me to my knees every time I saw her — figuratively. 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.
She had been on the periphery of my social circle, and was my first sex partner when I was down and out. She was sex personified. Her body was art: with her exquisitely articulated toned and perpetually cocked hips, she reminded me of Michaelangelo’s David but in a female body. My relationship with her 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 her palm on my ass, she 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. Its two sets of left feet on the dance floor. Great sex is dynamic, an artful tango.
Not too long ago, I dated a younger woman. She was appealing because she was so comfortable in his skin, fueled by a genuine curiosity and zest for life. She 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 she had threatened me with in our electronic back-and-forths.
She brought her contact improv training to the bedroom. Her uncanny ability to immerse herself in the present and be exquisitely attuned drew me into the moment with her. Her desire to give me what I wanted, and get what she 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.