You Are Not the Tin Man, Or, Disembodiment During Sex

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Thanks to the Internet, I now know that I’m a self-obsessed and sex-hating harpie in serious need of therapy, and also that I am a unique little snowflake whose sexual experiences are so far from the norm that I should just shut the hell up already, preferably after checking myself into a mental asylum.

Thanks for the input, Internet, but I think it’s time to get back to my column.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my own preconceptions of sex as something mechanical, an act which proceeds along the lines of an Ikea instruction manual.

“Insert Tab A into Slot B. Then remove Tab A, but only halfway. Push it all the way in again. Remove again. Repeat until you reach the state depicted in Figure O.”

(The “advanced” version of the manual, available for $9.99, also instructs you to “Push Button C.” This is supposed to create “The Double O,” but there’s no money-back guarantee.)

That’s really all I knew when I first started having sex. Sex is a “procedure,” it involves two bodies that are essentially “machines”, and if you can’t reach the desired effect, either you’re following the instructions wrong or your machine (which is not you, and I can’t stress that enough, the sense we get when we’re kids that we can’t touch down there does a lot to make us feel like “down there” is not actually part of us, or at least it did for me) is defective.

Well, or you need more lube. “Use more lube” is a piece of advice that I find myself giving a lot, and it’s often good advice, but I realized recently that lube, too, plays into the idea of sex as mechanical. I used to think of myself as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when I used lube–creaky and not entirely human–and I bet that would be a good image if you had a tin fetish but I don’t.

My point here is, when sex doesn’t work immediately a lot of people freak out because they assume it’s something wrong with their mechanism, when it’s probably something else. Something like the fact that you’re assuming your body is a mechanism. But mind/body dualism, however tenable a philosophical position you may think, is not a very good strategy for sex. Your body is you. Your feelings are your body. Your thoughts are your body. When you’re having sex, you need to feel like that is YOU, and not Slot B, and not the Tin Man, and not some weird tumor that you want to cut off because it hurts.

And YOU, not your body, are the one having sex.

This is so much easier said than done. Let’s talk about me.

I’m good at thinking about sex. It’s harder for me to translate that into feeling sex with my body. I can know that I want to have somebody licking my pussy. Then somebody starts licking my pussy, and for a while it feels good, and I’m connected, but at some point (usually at the point where I feel I “ought” to be having an orgasm right now–we’ll get to sexual scripts next week) my anger at my body resurfaces.

I’m angry that sometimes it hurts. I’m angry that it’s not responding exactly as I want it to right now. I’m angry that once when I was raped it had an orgasm. I’m angry at it for letting me get raped in the first place. I’m angry at it because it’s not the pussy the women in the movies have.

And the angrier I get at my pussy, the more distance I get from it, and the harder it is for the pussy to feel good, and now I’m staring across the expanse of my stomach, staring at a pussy that doesn’t belong to me but that hurts anyway. I want to cut it off.

Feeling embodied during sex–and feeling that I love my body during sex–is difficult, and saying “Well, what’s so difficult about it?” (and the fact that nobody ever talks about disembodiment in public, ever) ignores just how completely normal these sorts of problems are.

So what do I have for you? Right now, a couple of specific strategies that have worked for me in helping me to become more embodied and more accepting of what it means to own this body. Since I’m continuing to learn, I promise we will add to this list over the semester.

1. Combine a scary activity (for me, pussy-licking) with an activity that makes you feel secure and embodied. For me, this is a head massage. Nothing centers me more than people rubbing my head. (I also tell my partners that if I get triggered, they need to start rubbing my head. We’ll talk more about triggers later, but think about it.) For you maybe it’s a back rub or a foot rub or a kiss. Do the two together, either one after the other or the both at the same time. Try to transfer your good-embodiment and I-love-myself feelings from the head massage to the pussy licking.

2. Tickling. I don’t know about you, but I can’t get disembodied when I’m being tickled. This is my body, this is my body, hahahahahah, this is my body, oh my god, this is wonderful! Man. I love being tickled during sex. I guess this is just a specific case of my first idea, but dude. Tickling. Give it a try. But don’t ever walk up to me in McCabe and start tickling me. There will be no hah.

3. Use your words (but not too much). If you’re not comfortable with the words you use to describe the different sexual parts of your body, find some words and get comfortable with them. My vagina? Was not a part of me. My pussy, after I said it about a hundred times and sang songs to it in the shower (Oh fleshy pussy, you’re the one, you make bath time so much fun…)? That’s a lot more like it. That said, trying to describe how I felt during sexual activity with words, any words at all, felt way too clinical and broke up my bodily connection. Your results may vary.

4. If you know you struggle with this sort of stuff, don’t have sex when you’re not already at least sort of in a good mood. I hate the myth that whenever any straight male gets the opportunity to have sex he will forget about everything else and get an erection immediately and go all night. This is not true for anyone. Don’t make your process harder on yourself by having sex when you’re really stressed during midterms or angry at your parents or incredibly depressed. And as obvious as this may sound, it’s something people (including myself) forget about with surprising regularity

Emotional health, too, is a part of sexual health. It all ties together.

Keep it safe and consensual until next time,
Dr. Strokes