The absence of sex and touch in 2020 made me look inward
During this pandemic, I’ve missed being looked at like I hold the secrets of the new world between my lips – but I've also realised a whole world exists out there beyond someone else's gaze.
28 Dec 2020
We’re leaning out of a window. Our stale, alcohol-laden breaths create dancing shapes in the cold air. Streaks of sun-speckled blue and grey tears across the early morning sky. A joint is passed between warm hands, a quiet murmur and a loud laugh cuts through the comfortable silence like butter. His hand gently clasps my elbow, pulling me back to bed. “What does that tattoo mean?” My finger traces his bicep. The night clerk had giggled when we had stumbled in, our hands never far from one another (“How much for a room for the night then, love?”). I don’t remember his reply, but I don’t think I was ever listening.
Come morning, I will make the trek home in last night’s clothes and I will sleep well. Like many boys after him and the many before him, his number will gather dust on my phone. Eventually he will be blocked on Twitter for a transgression he hasn’t yet committed . But in that moment, I am warm, and he can’t stop looking at me.
This year has been a yo-yo marathon of chaotic feelings, terrifying emotions and never ending, never pausing, pure constant panic. We were plunged into quarantine and I, like many others have been trapped in the confines of the family home for the better part of nine months and said a quiet goodbye to sex for what we assumed would only be a couple months.
Pre-covid, I was desperately drowning myself in the touch of men I desperately wanted to love and to love me back – it had become an all-consuming quest and left me entering 2020 as I had entered the years before: bitter and constantly searching for someone’s warmth to lose myself in once again.
Late at night, at 2.30am to be precise, on 21 April I wrote in my journal ‘I am so deserving of love, I know it. Something has to be coming. Not something big. But warmth. An extra layer. Something.’ At the time I was so sure I was predicting my annual romance of the year. Proof that I was worthy of being loved in a long-term relationship. Proof that perhaps I wasn’t so broken.
“At times it felt like my skin was burning up with feverish desire – desire to be seen, perceived, exist if only for the night in someone else’s eyes”
The first few months of lockdown quickly descended into twitchy horniness that demanded attention every second I was stuck in the four walls of my childhood bedroom, like a cat and a string. In my case, the string was made of waterproof silicon and vibrated at four delicious speeds. At times it felt like my skin was burning up with feverish desire – desire to be seen, perceived, exist if only for the night in someone else’s eyes.
I love the intimacy of sex, I really do. I love being touched and I love the hitches in their breath when I touch them in return. It’s a gameshow of discovering all the right ways to make someone melt into you and the way their eyes light up is the prize behind curtain number two. I was blessed with – in the immortal words of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion — ‘a Wet Ass P*ssy’ and there hasn’t been a single soul who hasn’t enjoyed the ride of this water slide.
If flirtation is a competition, I am always winning. And the prize? Hard won attention that was denied to me in my awkward and gawky adolescence. My glow up software didn’t upload till university, so I spent many a house party in secondary school throwing myself at anyone who paid attention to me for longer than five minutes. I would like to say that I’m embarrassed that I was always the person getting finger-banged at the end of the garden or on the couch while 2010s British pop blared from whichever house unsuspecting parents had vacated for the weekend, but I refuse to be ashamed of those baby tendrils of sexual awakening. I refuse to rebuke that young teen, so unabashed in asking for what they wanted. There’s quiet bravery there that I still admire, the willingness to throw myself back into teenage angst and heartbreak, no matter the outcome.
I have grown to love the routine of getting ready for a night out. It is my belief that it joins the ranks of cultural traditions and rituals that cement our lives in the 21st century. Rona may have robbed me of my gallivanting this year but that feeling of euphoria after a good night out still remains unmatched in my mind. I miss the mess, the flailing limbs – always in sync – ready to change up whenever the next beat drops. I miss the liminality of a good smoking area, the way time just stops, you know? I miss meeting strangers’ eyes and sharing those intimate moments over a stolen lighter that will never stray from being just that, moments caught in time. I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but you know me, and I know you. The façade always cracks, just a little, and you’re left with two strangers engaged in the eternal battle of wits, earnest authenticity and the armour of a good performance.
Toni Morrison once said that she doesn’t fall in love, she rises in it. Sometimes I wish I was that buoyant, or perhaps that my lungs were filled with helium. Instead I always sink in love, its dense and tar-like depths always weigh me down till I am wounded and unrecognisable. You may wonder, surely doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time is the definition of insanity. But what would you have me do instead?
On the eve of my birthday this year, spent quarantined in my pyjamas, I wrote ‘the house is burning, what am I going to do? I will run straight towards it, for I may be a fool but I am still cold.’ Wouldn’t you rather have something to show for this life? Even if they are scars?
A good fuck always rattled something free within me, especially after I come so close to drowning myself in the pursuit of love. My brain happily sloshing around in a blender of lust always brought these moments of clarity, an orgasm akin to the moment of enlightenment. The only time the beasts buzzing in my brain transform into docile pets is during sex. Like ticking off a task on a to-do list that you only wrote down to have something to tick off, sex is easy. I can do it, I can do it well and I have never been precious about it.
“What could be more simple – more revealing, more earnest, more real, than touch in her purest form?”
What could be more simple – more revealing, more earnest, more real, than touch in her purest form? How could I ever do it wrong? During this pandemic, I’ve missed being looked at like I hold the secrets of the new world between my lips without ever having to do anything. I even miss bad sex; I miss discovering what I like and what I really don’t like about our gross and sweaty and deeply human bodies. Whole universes are built and destroyed between the valleys of my legs. If that isn’t a reason to keep living, I don’t know what is.
I sat with friends during that brief, yet ultimately too short, respite of freedom we had in the summer. I didn’t realise how much I had missed half-listening to conversation flow around my head, darting and weaving in between people I have known for most of my life around a wonky coffee table, a full glass of wine held in each of our hands. “Don’t you think sex is so overrated in our generation?” They all begin to shout over one another, each debating the merits and the disadvantages of dating, and yes, fucking as a Black woman on this grey isle. Was this the intimacy I had been craving? My mind wandered to the previous week and the boy who had made me orgasm five times (five times!) in one night. There’s this idea that we have to choose between the intimacy of sexual pleasure or the intimacy of friendship. I smile into my glass. Maybe it’s not one or the other.
Even though I have spent most of this year alone with my thoughts, I think I’m still scared to be alone – but I know now I am not diminished or lacking without the gaze of someone else. As I type this, I can hear rain. My phone pings with a message from WhatsApp. ‘Nobody’ by Mitski is softly playing on my Google Nest.
On 8 September my journal entry read ‘You were not made for romance! A whole world exists out there beyond which boy likes the act you have put together for him!’ I should listen to myself more, don’t you think?
I don’t know what future disasters await us in 2021, but I am so excited to meet the person I become.