Monday, March 11, 2013

Sex Without Romance: On Our Own Terms

Romantic relationships can be wonderful, can’t they? Even the ones that eventually go south, as they say, often start out as heart-racing, soul-affirming, sunny affirmations that reify our place in the bittersweet swirl that is the human condition. Complicated sometimes and scary at their edges, at their steamy first-blush best, relationships convey the promise of human connection. Empathy beckons and the allure of bonding too, as we hope with all that’s in us for the companionship we crave, for that oneness under the skin that feeds the famished spirit and for that nuanced glimpse of our heart's own reflection as seen through the prism of another person’s soul.

At the age of 61, I’m apparently neither too jaded nor too cynical to believe in that miracle, since the thought of it - even now- makes me misty and clouds my view. But I freely admit what I do have trouble believing - the nagging, dusty artifact of a notion that women need romance and the promise of a true relationship, in order to fully realize their capacity for sexual pleasure. 

I mean, really. Did you ever?

Like so many other old chestnuts that have proved equally unpalatable over time, every so often, it seems, this one rolls round to plague me. Though, thankfully, not too frequently anymore, I sometimes hear it whispered by men and women alike, and the cringe factor, for me anyway, is always inescapable.

So let’s be real, shall we?

While romance and relationship are, indeed, what some of us crave, the fact is, there are a whole lot of women who, happily or not, live the balance of their lives outside of the bonds of romantic relationships. There are plenty of reasons for this, of course. I mean, gay, bi, trans or straight, partners die, don’t they? Folks get divorced, and some of us – lots of us – simply choose to fly solo. 

So what does that mean, exactly, if we’re to believe that troubling snippet of fiction? Does it meant that women who happen not to be neck deep in a current romance are somehow as dead and cold between their legs as a package of frozen trout? 

Moreover, the truncating narrative that underlies this view suggests that women whose desire reaches outside the bounds of relationship can't possibly hope to truly achieve the apex of sexual pleasure. Do we believe that as well?

For them, for you, for me, for all of us, let's get it straight once and for all, shall we? Certainly from a physiological, body-centered perspective, neither romance nor relationship are required to ignite our desire or to give us pleasure. Or, might I add, to take us out of ourselves completely, carried clean away on delicious waves of bliss in the thin dark hours of the night. 

But wait… “doing it” without romance? Without even a hint of it leading to a lasting relationship in the future? This is the purview of maleness, right? At least, that’s what we’re led to believe in the US, anyway. But to wrap our heads around the fact that women don’t need to be bound up in the rigors of relationship either, and that women’s robust sexual response can be free, unfettered and autonomous as well…well, that’s another matter that can be destabilizing for some of us and for some of us, not so easily taken as truth.

But perhaps this can help: Some while back, a group of pioneering sex researchers, most of whom are women, set to work discovering vast amounts of new and exciting stuff illuminating the complex power of female sexual response.

One of those researchers was Dr. Meredith Chivers, professor of psychology at Queen’s College, Ontario and an editorial board member of the esteemed sexual research journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior. Much to her credit, Chivers developed a novel research protocol to assist her in with gathering data about what generates female sexual response. Not surprisingly, being in a relationship wasn’t a requisite part of the package, as Chivers’ amazing work makes more than abundantly clear.

In her well-documented study, Chivers showed both male and female volunteers a video of bonobos, a species of ape, having some pretty uninhibited, enthusiastic sex. Using a blend of methods to collect her data, including her volunteers' narratives and plethsymographs, which are instruments that measured blood flow to her volunteers' genitalia, Chivers’ results show that the female volunteers, rather than the men, had the strongest, wettest genital responses, even when they denied being sexually aroused. Can you believe it? Just by watching a bunch of apes having some rowdy sex. 

So.. women need romance, right? Relationship? Really?

Of course, most women know by virtue of their own lived experience that the sexual feelings they enjoy on their own, can and do happen without respect to whether or not they’re involved in a romantic relationship. Even when we fantasize about sex, imagining real-life people - past or present - with whom we may or may not have been romantically involved, this doesn’t alter the fact that women’s bodies are capable of responding to an enormous range of pleasurable stimuli that have nothing to do with relationship or romance.

The point is, the nature of female sexual response continuously defies the efforts of narrow-minded folk to police it, and that’s as it should be. Moreover, regardless of our relationship status, regardless of whether or not it resists the cultural norm, there's more than ample reason to take unfettered delight in our bodies and savor their ability to give us boundless pleasure on our own terms.

How has your relationship status impacted your enjoyment of your own sexuality? 

photo credit: <a
href="">AlejandroAmador</a>via<a href="">photopin</a><a


  1. My relationship status has impacted my sexual enjoyment positively because I feel love and comfort and I am able to tell him what I like and dont like. The love that I have for him makes the sexual connection deeper and more fulfilling. I have had loveless sex and it is no comparison.

  2. I believe that when a woman truly understands the difference between sex and love then she is truly free. To have the ability to make a conscious and clear choice on which one she chooses to engage in is truly freedom and requires no explanation to anyone. To have confidence in her decision makes her more appealing in itself.

  3. I think my relationship status has allowed me to feel differently about my sexuality and see it as something special. Being single has it's benefits.

  4. I think a woman can have both, there are plenty of women who are in a relationship and still find time when alone or sometimes when their partner is there, to sexually pleased themselves. Women should learn their bodies, find out what makes them tick. If you already know you body, wonderful, if you don't you should get to know the real you.



  5. I believe once you have figured your body out, and what you like and don't like, then you have the ability to make choices you will feel confident about. Whether your in a relationship with whoever, you should always feel confident and open about your sexual desire. It doesn't take being in a romantic relationship to have pleasurable moments.

  6. yes knowing every part of your body is a wonderfu feeling. i think every woman should know and understand there body. however the old saying was cant nobody do you better then youself.!!

  7. At my age, I am enjoying being in a relationship with my husband of five months. I have always explored my body and enjoy doing so, although I must say that sometimes what I see freaks me out, and I begin to wonder "what in the world?" I take pleasure in my body and I know what makes me feel good and what does'nt, although I am still learning as I go along. I have always been in a long term relationship in order to take pleasure in exploring my sexual desires. I don't feel that any casual relationship with no intimate connection or feelings is for me, therefore, I have never had that type of friendship.

  8. I believe that every woman should try at least once in their lifetime, to please themselves, whether or not in a relationship, a woman should know what pleases her sexually, its great by yourself or with your partner. exploring your body and getting to know yourself is kind of fun.

  9. Oooooo good one! The first part of this article made my insides tingle! Getting the information out that woman don't need a relationship is a powerful message! That we have all we need inside to have a healthy balanced life is a crucial tool to practice. Becoming whole prior to connecting with a mate (I like it). For me personally I've never been able to have intercourse with someone without having a intimate connection with them. I have enjoyed exploring people intimately without sleeping with them though. Connection with others has been a spiritual journey for me, a practice.