I know my limitations. A lot of people around my age grew up assuming that we would have sex before marriage. It wasn't even a question. Some people even felt that if they didn't have casual sex there was something wrong with them.
I don't think there is anything wrong with having sex outside of a committed relationship. But I do think that it is a problem for a lot of people. Sex has emotional meaning for almost everyone. If you can shift it to a pleasure place rather than an emotion place, that's fantastic. I just know I can't.
I had this conversation with my friend, Meg, back in college. Meg was playing around with casual sex, one-night-stands, and "friends with benefits" scenarios. I said, "I don't think I can do it. I would be emotionally traumatized."
"I had that problem at first. But you can teach yourself to feel differently."
"It's not easy, but you get over it. I don't feel that way anymore. I see sex differently."
"You know, I'm sure you're right, but I don't think I want to change."
What I realized was that my hesitance to engage in casual sex was good protection. It kept me (relatively) safe from STDs, pregnancy, and heartbreak. I didn't want to change then and I don't want to change now.
In college, I habitually made out with strange guys at parties. I would set myself up, thinking that something more, like a date, would come of it. For a week after one of these encounters, I would drive myself crazy with worry and hope, only to realize that what was the beginning of a relationship to me was only a kiss to him. The same actions mean different things to different people--I've never really stopped being confused by that. I took those experiences to be analogous to casual sex. If I felt that bad after a make-out session with a stranger, how much worse would I feel if I'd had sex with the guy?
When I was 18, I instituted a moratorium on making out with strangers. No more of that. Why do it when it only ever made me miserable? A couple of hours of fun (or less) was not worth the week of self-recrimination that would follow. And I pretty much stopped.
At a party many months into the moratorium I met a guy who I didn't much like, but who flirted with me outrageously. I thought he was kind of dumb, but he wasn't bad looking and he liked me. When I was ready to go, he wanted to walk me to my car. I knew where it was headed, but I let him follow me. I decided that I would kiss him. I didn't like him one bit and I didn't want to see him again and I thought it was perfect.
We got to the car and he kissed me. It was fine. Maybe he gave me his number? I drove away and I never saw him again.
How did I feel? I had no expectations so I wasn't upset, which was a nice change. I didn't stew or torture myself. But it didn't make me happy. In fact, it made me feel a little icky and cheap. I never did that again. I stay away from guys who I'm sure I don't like. It's the ones I'm sure I do like that cause the problems.
The moratorium stayed in place for a long time, occasionally disturbed under special circumstances (New Year's Eve or an exceptionally cute guy).
I guess I forgot about the moratorium or I never would have kissed Fred. Maybe it's time to put it back in place, unless I know for sure what the kissing means to me. If I think I'll have fun and I have no expectations of ever seeing the guy again, kissing is fine. If I think maybe we are bonding, then I should hold off. I'm probably wrong about the bonding, so by not kissing him I won't reinforce my wrong impression and I won't expect more. All I will have missed out on is a few hours of kissing and I will spare myself all those torturous wondering days.
What drives me crazy is that I've figured out all this shit already, but I have to keep relearning it.
Grateful for: still learning (sort of).