When a lover says that during sex, it can either be the most thrilling or terrifying thing.
“Tell me what you want me to do to you.”
Those words could be an invitation to reveal one’s essential weirdness or one’s essential dullness. Depending on the level of trust and intimacy between the lovers, those words are an opportunity to be as forthcoming as one would like, confessing fetishes and fantasies, or as reluctant as one chooses. Though for all you know, what that person wants is for the other person to dictate and direct the entire episode of sexual congress. But even during the basest, most private and most primal of moments during sex, when we can let loose, so to speak, we cannot escape the feeling that we are being judged.
As Alain de Boton writes in the introduction to his book How to Think More about Sex:
Despite being one of the most private of activities, sex is nonetheless surrounded by a range of powerful socially sanctioned ideas that codify how normal people are meant to feel about and deal with the matter.
In truth, however, few of us are remotely normal sexually. We are almost all haunted by guilt and neuroses, by phobias and disruptive desires, by indifference and disgust. None of us approaches sex as we are meant to, with the cheerful, sporting, non-obsessive, constant, well-adjusted outlook that we torture ourselves by believing other people are endowed with. We are universally deviant – but only in relation to some highly distorted ideals of normality.
In other words, one person’s normal is another person’s transgressive. Part of the magic—and frustration—of sex is finding someone who shares your appetites and proclivities, however reassuringly ordinary or spectacularly kinky they may be. I had a bizarre experience once with a man who got off on sucking my toes. All night. And that was enough for him but frustratingly unsatisfactory for me, seeing as I didn’t particularly want to return the dubious favor.
“Tell me what you want me to do to you,” he’d said. But it was a flirtation for both of us, with zero chances of deepening into any kind of relationship. And despite his admirable candor about what turned him on, I didn’t quite feel the same amount of readiness to expose my own vulnerability and tell him what I wanted. At that point, to be honest, all I wanted was “normal” penetrative sex, the one where his dick eventually lands in my vagina because, well, toe-sucking just wasn’t my thing.
Being asked by a new lover what you want him or her to do to you early on in a relationship or liaison or hook-up can sometimes be awkward. Foreplay may indeed be in full swing, but when you’re still processing the sensation of a foreign tongue and hand on various parts of your body, and finding the movements that make you arch and dip and swell your bodies together in a mutually pleasurable rhythm, it might be too soon to divulge just yet that you would perhaps come harder if your bottom were slapped. Or, that what really would excite you would be having a third person watch, or that it would drive you over the edge to dominate your partner until he or she begs you to stop. What prevents you from telling your lover as much could be rooted in the fear of being judged, for the very thing that excites you may be the very thing that actually disgusts the other, that what gets you off is what turns the other off.
Because, as liberating as sex may be, it carries with it, as Alain asserts, the baggage, really, of your entire existence. Sex is as profane as it is sacred, as violent as it is tender. But it is also profoundly revealing, and when you’re not ready to share that, then you’re not ready.
There’s the risk, moreover, that you will never be ready to share that.
I never did tell Mr. Foot Fetish what I really wanted. But I will admit to enjoying the rush of power that comes with knowing what gets him off and how easy it is to get him aroused. Every now and then I send him a photo of my freshly painted toenails after a pedicure at the salon. Just my feet, nothing else. Bare flesh, a flash of ankle, a burst of color. Within seconds, he replies, and his excitement is palpable. Once, he even sent a photo in response, showing just how palpable.
As fleetingly flattering his instantaneous hard-on may be following a glimpse of my tarsals, unfortunately, it’s a bit too weird for me. It just ain’t my thing.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published earlier this year by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.