Tag Archives: intimacy

Why Masters of Sex makes me cry

Masters of SexHave you been watching Masters of Sex? If not, you should do. In the UK it is being shown on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 10pm, or you can watch it on Catch-Up TV.

I watched one episode, on a colleague’s recommendation, to try it out, and have since being totally hooked on it.

If you are spending money downloading porn to see other people having sex on the screen while your wife or girlfriend is away, save yourself the cash and just watch Masters of Sex for free instead. It is incredibly sexy, with lots of nudity and explicit sex scenes but with an excellent plot to back it all up in a totally non-tacky, unvulgar way.

Without giving away too many spoilers (if you haven’t watched episode 9, on Dec 3, don’t read until you’ve seen it, as there IS a spoiler…sorry), let me tell you a little about the two main characters in case you are unfamiliar with the programme.

Bill Watching

Summary
The series is based on the real story of Dr William Masters, played by Michael Sheen, and his secretary Virgina Johnson (who eventually becomes his Research Assistant)’s study on sex and human sexuality in the 1950s. It is area no scientist had ever pioneered in before; they recruit volunteers for the study and basically watch people fornicate or masturbate while they annotate scientific data. By episode 9, which was this week’s, they have already started filming these sessions as well.

William and Libby Masters (Photo By Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Bill and Libby (Photo By Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Masters, who is socially awkward, and sexually repressed when the story starts, is married to Libbby, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, who is desperate to conceive his child, and thinks that her husband’s lack of interest in her is due to her infertility.

What she doesn’t know is that the actual problem is Masters’, himself a fertility expert, who ironically has an extremely low sperm count.

Masters seems to have very little in common with LIbby, and flashback scenes to his younger days seem to imply that she wasn’t exactly the big love his life, but a respectable doctor had to be married to a girl from a good family to get on in his medical career.

©Showtime

©Showtime

Virginia Johnson, played by the stunning-looking Lizzy Caplan, is a twice divorced mother of two and an intelligent and ambitious woman trying to build a career to feed her children. She is totally uninhibited sexually and quite forward for a woman of her time, in that she is able to fully enjoy sex, even in the absence of love. She is also a warm and compassionate woman, in touch with her own emotions, and knows how to talk to people.

In a nutshell, she is the complete opposite of her boss, and that is exactly why they complement each other and why he is attracted to her.

Eventually Masters and Johnson start “participating” in the sex study themselves, as fellow researchers, by having intercourse with each other late at night in the lab and measuring their own bodily responses. In their minds, they are not having an affair but participating in research for the advancement of science, even though their sessions become more and more intense.

Falling in love
As their involvement with the study deepens, their professional relationship starts morphing into something else. It is now clear they are in love with each other and not just because of the sex. Over several episodes, we see Virginia’s loyalty to and admiration for Bill, we movingly see her compassion and humanity holding him up when his tough guy façade starts to crumble.

They are, to the audience’s eyes, an obvious match with each other.

But Masters is a married man and a scandal could put his reputation in jeopardy. To make matters more complex, his wife Libby is now pregnant, although he did not really want to have a child with her, and his mother compounds his shame by reminding him his father was also unfaithful with his own secretary.

Caught between his wife’s desperate appeal that without a child and family, he is only an empty man, and his mother’s warning not to become like the father he hated, Bill Masters is crushed under the weight of his guilt.

Awkward, as usual, and unable to deal with it, he does something cruel and heartless that breaks Virginia’s heart, to make sure she doesn’t think he is in love with her, even though he is.

I know Masters of Sex is only a television series. But this is not an uncommon situation and can easily spill into real life. Although sex seems to be the main theme of the show, it is really a discussion on intimacy and the difficulties humans face when connecting to each other.

Why I cry
Watching episode 9 of Master of Sex, where Bill Masters hurts Virginia so badly she finally breaks down, made me want to scream with rage. Why are men such cowardly w**k**s?! Why can’t a man, in that situation, just honestly admit he likes her, although they cannot officially be together, instead of pretending he has no feelings, instead of acting like an automaton made purely of steel? Why must the woman have her heart broken and pay a price for having made a man feel good about himself?

As a romantic, of course, I am hoping Masters of Sex will have a happy ending, that William Masters will realise what a fool he was and how much happier he could be with Virginia, that he will, ultimately, choose loyalty to himself and his true feelings.

But real life doesn’t always play out as it does in fiction or movies. People make terrible mistakes in love and relationships all the time. They make very poor choices while talking themselves into believing it is right for them.

In real life, the man usually chooses the lovely but unexciting wife he has little in common with and has a child he did not want, while the woman who shares his dreams and understands his demons, the woman who makes him go wild with desire, because their connection is deep and visceral, gets the blame. Her charges? Guilty of leading the man astray, away from respectability from responsibility, away from ‘happy family life’, away from what society deems acceptable.

The male-female situation could be reversed. Remember The Bridges of Madison County? Men and women in committed relationships all over the world wept over it because (though they would not openly admit it) they had personally known the pain of having to renounce someone they truly loved for the sake of protecting someone else’s happiness.

Lessons
Regret cannot change the past but it makes us more alert for when we come to the next intersection and have that déjà vu moment…where have I seen this landscape before?

Have you noticed how in life the same situation, only with different characters, recur again and again, like an annoying test we keep retaking. The lessons never go away until we have finally learned what we need to learn.

Virginia wins
Not every man can handle a passionate, liberated woman like Virginia, unafraid of her own feelings and desires, who only knows one way to live and love: that with a genuine heart. I love the character because I see myself reflected in her, launching myself bare-souled into things I love, into people I love… Only to smash against a massive iceberg, and being shattering to pieces.

Virginias of the world, who go around loving with an open heart, always risk giving too much while getting too little, or nothing in return. Yet, even knowing this, were a million chances offered to me, a million times I would choose to feel too much over not feeling at all.

The victory may not be too obvious, but at the end of our lives (because we all die one day), the score always belongs to the one who told themselves the least number of lies: Johnson 1, Masters nil.

“I don’t want to get out without a broken heart. I intend to leave this life so shattered there’s gonna have to be a thousand separate heavens for all of my flying parts.

Shattered heart

The coming out video: lessons on being straight (with oneself)

Last week I was so impressed by a TEDx talk by lesbian speaker Ash Beckham that I facebooked it, tweeted it, Google-plussed it and, to the few friends who “don’t do social media”, I sent an email saying, “you need to watch this”. Talk about enthusiasm: I am blogging about it now…!

You should watch the video yourself, but I will highlight the main points of her talk here, and put them in the context of our day-to-day relationships.

Ash uses the coming-out-of-the-closet theme to illustrate why we should not hide behind safe walls just because confronting people and having that difficult conversation we need to have is so hard to do.

“At some point in our lives we all live in closets, […] they make you safe,” she says.

Ash says her closet, as a homosexual woman, was rainbow-coloured, but straight people live in closets too, of different colours, terrified of stepping out.

We all have issues we cannot bring ourselves to discuss with our parents, our lovers, our children. Because they would force us to be totally honest with them. Because we cannot face the fear of letting them down, of making them angry, or sad, or both.

Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) recently tweeted this:

It is so true: we resent people we have hurt because facing them is like looking into an unforgiving mirror which reflects back the scummy shits that we were.

1) Hard is hard
Ash says no matter what the issue might be, there is no ranking ‘hard’. Telling someone you love that you have cancer, or that you have cheated on them, is not ‘harder’ than telling someone you are bankrupt. We are equal in that we all have ‘hard’ things to talk about.

“Hard is not relative. There’s no harder, just…hard.”

I guess this also means don’t use different measures of ‘hard’ as an excuse not to come out of that safety closet.

2) Come out or die

“When you do not have these hard conversations, you’re essentially holding a grenade. [And] if you do not throw that grenade it will kill you.”

This is so true. You may be holding a grenade yourself right now. That niggling issue you’ve been sweeping under the carpet because it may cause too many ripples if you bring it out…

Most relationships end up collapsing because a problem that could have been ironed out through a candid conversation in the early days end up not happening until it is too late to salvage them: the interfering mother-in-law, the financial responsibilities of each partner, the division of childcare or household duties, the tricky issue of long-term commitment versus let’s-see-what-happens, the devastating issue of I want kids but he doesn’t.

What is the conversation you are avoiding having with your partner right now? By holding back that overdue heart-to-heart, you are slowly poisoning yourself mentally and physically. Most critically, you are poisoning your own relationship.

3) The three coming-out rules
Ash sets three essential rules for coming out of any closet:

Rule #1: Be authentic – since you have decided to be real with someone, “take the armour off”, go into it with a bared soul. Don’t adopt the flight-or-flight response; face the facts and be prepared to for them to “be real” back to you.

Rule #2: Be direct – “say it with your Band-Aid off” – do not try to embellish your story or make it sound less serious than what it actually is. I take this as meaning, don’t be a coward, show some balls!

Rule #3: Be unapologetic – you should not have to apologise for speaking the truth. If you have hurt them through your actions, “apologise for what you have done but…

“Never apologise for who you are.”

Their disappointment is linked to their own expectations of who you are; it is “their story, not yours,” Ash says.

Accepting the leopard
When I first heard that, I found it rather selfish and thoughtless but, on reflection, Ash is right. No matter what you did, or what was done to you, people can’t change who they are anyway, unless they decide to do so themselves.

A leopard can’t change its spots.

For instance, a serial liar may apologise for the lies they told you, but often they cannot help themselves for being dishonest perhaps because, as children, they learned that lying was the most effective way of protecting themselves from hurt. Everyone carries obscure secrets from their past, which may have shaped their mental makeup and habits.

The commitment-phobic man may be letting down one woman after another by sweet talking them into being with him, but never wanting to take that step further, but that does not necessarily make him into a ‘bad’ person.

I know many women will disagree with me here. I have, in the past, met men who were essentially ‘free spirits’. Had I wanted to pin them down for a long-term commitment, they’d have run a mile. But I do not label them ‘good’ or ‘bad’ just because they would never consider marrying me. Because, to me, commitment, marriage, having children, etc are a matter of choice, not an obligation. They are not a pre-condition to having a relationship, although they may determine whether the couple will stay together for a long or short period of time.

I suppose the very young don’t care (yet), nor the elderly. But women of child-bearing age, seeking a partner to have a family with, tend to be the ones who are most unaccommodating.

Achieving healing
I am not condoning men and women who lie, cheat, deceive, seduce potential lovers and never take relationships seriously. But since coming out of our hiding places, to be exposed to the harsh light of truth, requires so much courage, the act of being honest with ourselves and others ought to be a liberating yet sobering experience for both parties.

Within a relationship coming out should, ultimately, be a healing process. ‘Healing’ does not imply the relationship will always survive. Sometimes truth brings two people closer together and sometimes it sets them apart. Either way, living with honesty is a much healthier and nurturing way of experiencing love. And the only way we can hope to achieve true intimacy.

“No matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to truly live.”

Someone turn the lights back off

The title of this blog post is a slightly modified line from the lyrics of a wonderful Tom Wait’s song, I’m Still Here. That line resonates with how I feel right now. Read on to find out why.

“You haven’t looked at me that way in years
You dreamed me up and left me here
How long was I dreaming for
What was it you wanted me for

You haven’t looked at me that way in years
Your watch has stopped and the pond is clear
Someone turn the lights back on
I’ll love you till all time is gone

You haven’t looked at me that way in years
But I’m still here”

Nun or slut 
In the past six or seven months since I left my husband, I have been focussing on picking up the pieces, rebuilding my confidence and self-esteem, but I also built up some walls and temporarily shut the door to my heart to protect myself from being hurt.

After a separation, people tend to go towards one of two directions: they either shut down emotionally for a few years in order to heal, shunning involvement with the opposite sex, or they go completely wild, seeking comfort and a distorted form of self-confidence in indiscriminate or extreme sexual adventures.

I have done well in that I did not go for either extreme. I did not put up a sign outside my door saying, “No sex please, I am divorced”, although I do treasure my space and freedom right now and would like men to respect my boundaries and my need for solitude.

I did not choose the ‘slut’ route either. Because the idea of sleeping with random men for the sake of proving to myself I am still desirable feels like sad desperation. It is self-prostitution, let’s face it. It is selling yourself dead cheap in a flea market. I may be battered, but I know my value; I won’t settle for cheap.

Slow desire
Do I miss sex? Not the way I knew it. Forgive the coarse language, but anyone can have a ‘shag’ or a ‘wank’, where your biological needs get instantly satisfied on a practical level, but I am sick of feeling like an on-demand ‘pleasure hole’ for men.

I have had a ‘whore complex’ since my early 20s. There’s a long, sad story behind it, which I won’t go into today, but suffice it to say at some point in my life I got into my head sex was something a woman had to ‘suffer’ to keep her man, NOT something she should be enjoying herself.

Only as a much older adult did I discover I was an extremely sensual being, who gets turned on by slow seduction. There is nothing more sensual and powerful than a gentle and gradual awakening of desire.

I once had a boyfriend who was into aromatherapy massage, scented candles and bath oils. Almost a meterosexual, he was deeply in touch with his feminine side. We had many baths together, barely managing to squeeze into a tiny bathtub (he was very tall). We would sit opposite each other in our aromatic bath water, with candles lit all around the bathroom, just appreciating the sight of each other’s naked bodies in semi-darkness, or touching each other with our toes.

I loved this part of our ritual, as it was more sensual than sexual, a perfect long foreplay, but I discovered men with a strong feminine energy don’t really do it for me at the end of the day. His massages with wonderfully warm hands were amazing, but when we ‘got down to business’, he did not have nearly enough passion, nor imagination, to match my fire.

I guess what works for me, and probably many women out there, is a man who will seduce me gently, like a pussycat, then possess me with the appetite of a tiger.

Seduction
Let’s go back to the seduction bit.

It is incredible what happens when I absorb the essence of a man with all my five senses: first I see him, his whole body, then I move on to the parts, my eyes looking for the parts I like the most, hands for example…I love a man with beautiful hands (maybe because subconsciously I like to fantasise about what those hands and fingers will feel like on or in my body); I hear his voice, his breath, and, as I get closer, the rhythm of his heartbeat; I smell the smell of his skin, a male scent, or perhaps the hint of an aftershave; I taste him when we kiss wet, hungry, exploratory kisses; I touch his hand, his face, his back, the nape of his neck and feel the warmth of his body, the aliveness underneath the skin. I take in all these things while the beast me in me slowly awakens.

Finally there’s the brain, the ultimate seduction tool. You thought size mattered? The size of a man’s brain does. An intelligent man, who can articulate well and without arrogance, is sexy, no matter what his appearance might be like. Take Alain de Botton, for instance. Bald, tall, average looks, perfectly pleasant. You would not necessarily fancy him if you saw him in the street. Yet, every intelligent woman I know, who has ever read any of his books or heard him talk, says they would like to f*** if not his body, at least his brains.

But enough of sexy talk. There’s something else I miss more than sex, as I have discovered, and that is intimacy, which is a totally separate thing.

Intimacy
In my view, it is perfectly possible to have sex without intimacy. It is the case when you have casual, no-strings-attached sex, but it can also happen to couples when the relationship becomes stale or sours for any reason. Sex can lead to intimacy, and intimacy can lead to sex, but I believe a man and a woman, as friends, can also achieve intimacy without a fusion of bodies, although that is a tricky line to draw.

The other day, a friend made a comment that got me thinking: “Very intimate communication can be almost indistinguishable from love.”

So intimacy can feel like love, but isn’t love always about intimate communication? Isn’t true love about being able to expose one’s vulnerabilities to another without fear of being judged? Isn’t it about feeling so comfortable and accepted when you are with someone, you can be yourself all of the time, warts and all? Isn’t it about being able to let the other peer into the deep, dark recesses of your mind, in the safe knowledge that their love for you won’t be tarnished by it?

Going by the definition above, I know many couples who are together without true intimacy. They would rather be imperfectly together than scarily on their own, but the communication is flawed, there are secrets they hide, and games being played.

Love
I was thinking the other day how rarely I fall in love. In my entire lifetime I may have been in love with two, maybe three men at the most. My ex-husband wasn’t one of them. The men I went out with before him weren’t one of them. I did not entirely trust them, so I was guarded, or played the role that was expected of me.

Yet, from time to time, I a man crosses my path who disarms me with his own sincerity, or I can sense so much beauty in his soul, he makes me forget to put the lock on the door behind which I hide.

I nearly allowed a dishonest robber to steal my heart recently because I got distracted by his intelligent conversation. Because I was impressed that he managed to return an interesting comment to each and every topic I brought up. Because he had made me laugh, because I made him laugh too. Because his kisses were fiery and delicious. Because his hand felt so warm and comforting entwined with mine. Beautiful sinewy hands. Because, in an unguarded moment, he opened up and let slip his vulnerabilities, and I let slip mine.

Because it had been so long since I had experienced an intimate connection with anyone. Because I did not have to pretend I liked him for who he was, as I had been doing for the past 10 years, laughing politely at unfunny jokes, letting the men do all the talking while I nodded, as they could not relate to anything I had to say.

Lights on
The dreamy moment is now gone, shattered to pieces, but I cannot return to the past and erase what happened. A door in my heart that was shut before was left ajar, like a gaping wound, which now throbs during the day, while I try and fail to focus on work, and throbs at night, waking me at 3.30am in a flood of tears.

Someone turned the lights on when I was comfortable in the dark, alone. Now I can’t turn them back off because I am suddenly aware of what I missed and craved the most: not necessarily sex, not necessarily a relationship, only the closeness and warmth of another human being as imperfect as myself.

I cry at the realisation that I stopped believing in love about 10 years ago and have since been fooling myself into thinking there would be alternative ways of being happy with a man. There aren’t. I now know that. Everyday, I grieve over that knowledge.

Small hands
I will leave you with my favourite poem by e.e.cummings, which makes me shudder at its delicate yet powerful imagery: the rose, the snow, the fingers, the hand, the opening, the closing. This, indeed, is what intimacy feels like to me. What about you?

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

If you would like to comment on this blog post or share your own story but does not want to do it publicly, please email me at sehensucht2013@gmail.com.