If there are things that do not appear inherently sexual (but very much are), can’t the same be true in reverse? That there are things that look, from the outside, incredibly sexual, but just…aren’t?
He sits in the car with me while I smoke, my knees still shaking. He could read the cascading neuron failures across my face and watches me frantically try to dissemble while my eyes separated their color, a hypomanic sieve splitting green into primary components, the outer ring deepening blue with yellow exploding from the center like a starburst.
I had asked for a bath, a drink, a foot rub, and cuddles. He said all four of those things could happen when I came up and, while giddy at the thought, I also know that receiving care isn’t something I’m particularly good at. But it would still be nice. Soothing, relaxing, in its own way. It was not what I thought I needed. I was wrong.
He ran the water and put me in the bathtub. I dropped a bath bomb that turned the water into a galaxy, then disseminated into a deep blue sky with glittering stars moving with the currents. He handed me my drink and sat on the floor beside the bathtub, watching me swim around in the shifting sky and listening as the stories began to come- at first a trickle, then a pour. And with the floodgates comes the anxiety. I am talking too much, these disconnected, disjointed thoughts silly and difficult to follow. I put the guards up. He has already given so much, and I am returning his kindness with rambles.
I’ve never had much modesty. The act of being naked rarely feels vulnerable in and of itself. It’s not modesty, but self-consciousness that makes me feel exposed. I worry that I am not attractive enough, sexy enough. My body never feels put together correctly to inspire the passion of other people. When there is an established lack of interest in sex, then the purpose of my body shifts. I would think it would stoke the self-consciousness, that I am doing something wrong, but it doesn’t. This body, in this moment, with this person, does not exist for those reasons. It doesn’t exist to turn someone else on. It is not here for someone else’s pleasure. And when I stop existing for someone else, I begin to exist for myself.
Laying on the bed in a robe, getting my feet rubbed. Still offering outs because there has been so much care already. I ask again what he gets out of service, still not realizing that I am actually asking what he gets out of offering service to me. I am not repaying him with sex, and he doesn’t want that. Neither of us do. So what does he get out of offering ways for me to experience joy in my body? He says he likes to see people. I watch his face and guarded eyes and see him, for just a moment. Not a rock, like I had thought, but a gem contained in tightly-packed earth. Still grounded, but bits of wind keep stripping the pieces of earth away and adding more, so that his shape, while grounded, continues to shift, with something beautiful buried beneath.
I have never thought of sex and intimacy as synonyms, but it had never occurred to me that affection and intimacy could come without a bartered exchange of bodies. Why would someone put in the work to bring me here if they didn’t want to create me in a new image of conquest? Why would someone press gently against these layers and peel them back if they weren’t aiming for their own satisfaction?
Curled up against him, naked, my hair soaking the side of his shirt. He is not going to hurt me. I keep saying it over and over, not because I need to convince myself that it is real, but because I am in awe at the depth with which I trust that that is true. He pulls me tight against him, presses his weight against my body to help me unclench, and I am running out of words. I don’t feel any sexual pull toward him, to kiss him or press my body against his in a way that sought to arouse him. It’s not my body but my heart that stirs, that is beginning to understand. I deserve to feel pleasure for the sake of myself, and not for the desire of someone else. I am beautiful, not because my beauty exists to fulfill a need in him, but because I simply am, in existing.
I could not do this with just anyone, but then, he is not just anyone. If you could see us curled up, it would appear to be something other than what it is. What is usually interpreted as tension is instead a deep sense of connection. What is normally foreplay exists for itself, and not a step in a linear trajectory. I have never known how to allow something to be simply what it is. That someone would hold me simply because they wanted to, and not because it is a stepping stone to possession, fueled in some bizarre desire to save me. That someone would caress my back and rub my head and let me curl against their chest, asking only that I be fully present to experience what feels good.
We curl up together, skin on skin, my face buried in his chest, his hair tickling my nose. When he gets up, I am awestruck at the beauty in the way he moves, like watching art come to life to turn off the lightswitch. We talk and whisper in the darkness, the ease of touch unthinkingly natural. We laugh, again, because we both understand that this makes no sense. He should want to fuck me, I should want to fuck him. But instead, what I want is to curl my head against his chest and touch his face with my hand, the familiar touch of someone who has looked into the soul of another person and loved what they found there. That we reached that point without sex is irrelevant. It feels natural to be so close to one another, and time is too short to worry about what we should be feeling when neither of us have any desire to feel those things. I touch his shoulder because I can feel my hands for the first time in weeks. His stubble scrapes the top of my shoulder, and it makes me think of glitter rubbing abrasively against my skin. His arms encircle me, care radiating from him as we drift off.
It was never about a bath, or a drink, or foot rubs, or cuddles. The gift was the care, given in such a way that I can receive it. I appreciate how it looks, but appearances are often deceiving. He gave me a gift of loving me without agenda. He offered me a set of eyes to look at myself, unbiased, objectively beautiful and deserving of pleasure for its own sake. It’s language without a name, an ill-defined relationship where the expectations and suppositions are ignored because they do not fit. And I can tell him that he is beautiful, and he can tell me that I am, because he is, and I am, and together, we are learning to receive these small affirmations exactly as they are: you are beautiful and I love you, not because I want you, but because you simply are.