Home / The Self Sexual

The Self Sexual

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

I really don’t know how I started to formulate the various thoughts in my mind as I approached the coining of the term ‘self sexual’. Let me start from the few sketches in memory.

It’s Oxford, 2006. I’m living across from a plush green field and serene woodlands. I often would walk down there, day or night, wrestling with my depression and sadness that seemed to never relent. I was isolated, didn’t have much confidence or will to socialise, and I spent most nights wondering about the dark, bilious film that just wouldn’t peel off from my eyes.

This drawn-out defeat in my personal life was kept in check by the persona I projected at work and when I did actually meet people (even girls). I was loud, comedic, able to mimic voices and accents, and outrageous at times. When I was there, I had hope. When I was alone, I had none. Sometimes, whatever I could foster in hope and happiness I could see choke slowly when I was alone. Outside of home, I wanted to understand myself, the world around me, and girls through writing and research; but at home, I did nothing. I really wanted to be a writer. I really wanted to comment on the things in society I didn’t understand.

But one day the two worlds started colliding. I unearthed a notebook from high school that had served as my record and assessment for my philosophy class. I decided to rework all the essays in a methodical manner, as a way to provide physiotherapy for my atrophied writing muscles. I was excited. There was hope, for once, away from the workplace. And soon, I put to computer screen the first of my thoughts about this idea, the self sexual. I went through three drafts within a few weeks. And it stopped.

At work, a certain colleague of mine was pursuing postgraduate studies in gender and sociology. I told her about my thoughts and the title of this essay and asked what she thought. She shared some course notes from her studies. And I never used them or looked at them in-depth beyond a cursory first glance after her giving them to me.

This is what I remember of the backdrop, of the sketches in my memory.

I had gone to a bustling university and met a raft of people. I had gotten to know people at depth. I read in a student magazine about the girl who had slept with over 60 guys during her first couple of weeks at university. I knew guys who slept with the most attractive girls in dorms and then dumped them for vain reasons. She had bad breath. She had a hair on her nipple. I saw guys and girls cycle through partners, both one-nights and long-term, like socks. I didn’t understand, as girls wouldn’t return my interest or affection. No matter how I tried or how much I drank or how hard I partied, it was impossible to understand or be successful with girls.

The most powerful memory was from earlier in my educational career, during high school. “Dom” was a very close friend of mine, a best friend. We connected on many levels, we had good times and good laughs. We hung out all the time. I had basically taken him in when he first joined school. Soon enough, our social circle had grown and Dom got more influential and popular within the group. His humour turned more suggestive and his teasing of me intensified. Others appreciated his physical humour, even when it involved touching the guys on their butts or chest or arms or face. This continued to the end of my time in high school.

Our friendship survived into university although I started feeling that I was drifting apart from Dom. We met up in England and we laughed, joked, and screwed around, but he was always able to push the envelope one step beyond what I could handle. And when I couldn’t handle it, I was derided.

Dom had joked many times, through his touching and antics in high school, that he was gay. We really didn’t believe it until he asked me to come to a three-way online MSN conversation, in which he came out of the closet. Knowing my zealous Christian beliefs at the time (which have changed a lot), he was afraid of me judging him. In his fear, he judged me and turned our other two friends, the remaining cell of our original South African circle, against me. I was now the reactionary, judgmental Christian who couldn’t accept Dom as a homosexual.

But over time, things didn’t make sense. Dom would talk about guys and being gay and feeling free. But we met up for a night out and he introduced us to his girlfriend. Girlfriend? A lovely girl; nevertheless, all of us were puzzled. The others didn’t spend too much time on it, but I stewed in confusion. I just didn’t get it.

Then, much later on, we reconvened to hang out as mates for a weekend and the night’s proceedings got messy. We ended up in his flat, me sleeping in the living room somewhere. I woke up to a frosty and uncomfortable silence. Them three were silent and as we scoured the streets for breakfast, I wondered what had happened.

I found out much later that Dom had gotten so drunk that he had propositioned one of the guys. The guy, himself fubar, joked it off, but when he found Dom was very serious, he freaked out. So, was Dom gay or was Dom straight?

The next time we got together as a group was the last time. I walked away from Dom, and although we stayed in touch for a while through IM, he continued to mock me and confuse me with his vacillations about his sexual orientation. Not that his choice would make any difference to me personally, but because he had always made such a big deal out of it I just wanted to know where I stood with him.

Things fizzled out until there was no contact, and then Google reunited us when he searched for my name. We exchanged the icebreaker e-mails and I asked, in that socially phatic way, how the love life was treating him. Not missing a beat, he told me he was still with the Girlfriend. And from that point, I decided to stop caring and stop trying to understand Dom or his sexual orientation, which seemed as unpredictable as the current financial markets.

I tell this story of Dom because this first part of the essay has served as an exercise in reverse engineering, as I write to figure out why I got thinking about the self sexual. Dom may be my first observable specimen or case of the self sexual.

The title must seem strange. I guess it conjures up the image of a dedicated masturbator. But in my mind, self-sexuality is not a synonym for autosexuality, that is, pursuing sex with oneself exclusively or preferring it above any other type of sexual congress. Those I would see as self sexuals still want to seek satiating coital interaction with other individuals. It seems to me that self-sexuality should be conceptually considered as homosexuality and heterosexuality. My intention here is to expound on the term self sexual without destructive or pejorative connotations. So, this won’t be a coining of another catchphrase for a new ‘type’ of person or phenomenon, but rather an emerging all-encompassing ideology and world-view, as valid and as pervasive as heterosexuality or homosexuality.

What if a self sexual is a form or type of metrosexual? I don’t think so. Metrosexuals, as I understand it, are highly groomed, highly fashionable, almost androgynous incarnations of modern men. Women love them because they’re so polished and striking, but infuriate them because they spend more time in front of the mirror than they do. And while the subject of women’s conceptions or expectations of men is outside the scope of this essay, it’s important to note that women themselves are ambivalent about metrosexuals.

The self sexual engages with a world on a far deeper level. He or she asks, how can I please myself? How can I reach new levels of mind-blowing pleasure? These are the constant, nagging questions of the self sexual. Self-sexuality promotes me-ships, not relationships. Its loyalty is solely to its self-preservation and extreme pursuit of sensory pleasure (sensual here meaning pertaining to the physical senses). The self sexual’s personality is feeble and fleeting, as fragmented as all the varied emotions and needs on which it subsists. Self sexuals proclaim they are intensely self-aware and know themselves fully. If an event or experience challenges this, the self sexual will totally regenerate him or herself. On scrutiny, they will justify their decision by saying it’s continued self-awareness. It seems wholly intuitive, they reason: self sexuality does not imply any weakness of character or moral pathology of any kind. What will make my life better, more exciting, more sensually pleasing? Social groups and communities are being reconfigured around purely self-sustaining, self-preserving individuals. It’s like applying the principles of consumerism and personalisation in relationships. This person has this and this for me, I’ll use it in order to reach this or that.

Let us consider this situation:

A man drinks too much one night and somehow ends up with another man. The intensity and experiential content of the night seems to be identical with or even greater than with his partner. So, he abandons his partner and pursues further same-sex intercourse, regardless of whom with. To himself and less importantly to the world, he is now a ‘homosexual’. Later on, another explosive encounter with a woman rivals and supersedes his first formative same-sex encounter. He now struggles again.

Or, he may not struggle at all. Why struggle when this cycle of changing principles, of evolutionary sexual pragmatism works? It’s important to note that in this hypothetical situation, I am not critical of his infidelity to his first partner or his choice to pursue same-sex intercourse. This is not a criticism of relative sexual morality, defending instead absolute or more settled sexual moralities. I am critical of the baselessness of self sexuality. The self sexual is maintaining constant congruence with the sensual core. In an episode of the web-series Quarterife, the character Abbey says the following just before she’s about to cheat on Andy with Danny: ‘When I sense a connection with someone, physical or intellectual or both, I don’t censor myself. I figure life is too short…’

This attitude of amorphous sexuality undoubtedly threatens established societal patterns. Society exists to maintain itself, and defining politics between sexes is a core activity. To self sexuals, society can exist only when they have a pressing need, or when its definitions line up with theirs. Otherwise, the self sexual acknowledges no group or social building block that threatens the sensual core. If anyone was to scrutinise that man, he justifies himself by saying it’s continued self-awareness. And he is right. It is continued self-awareness. But it’s hard to grasp. Remember that cult classic, Chasing Amy? Towards the end, as Ben Affleck’s character Holden is trying to understand why Alyssa won’t do a three-way with Banky and him, Alyssa tells Holden, through tears:

But what if – I saw something in Banky that I never saw before, and fell in love with him and left you. I’ve been down roads like this before; many times. I know you feel doing this will broaden your horizons and give you experience. But I’ve had those experiences on my own. I can’t accompany you on yours. I’m past that now.

Holden struggles to make sense of this, just as I do.

Self sexuality hovers above us, in poised authority, not needing anything from us, self-sufficient somehow, like Hadden’s blimp in the film Contact. The West and East both face the spectre of self sexuality. Eastern cultures generally still view sexuality with a deep sense of ambivalence and confusion. In the East, sexuality is parsed solely through the mould of monogamous marriage. Outside marriage, sexuality cannot be fathomed or dealt with in any significant or progressive way. Male sexuality, in its dysfunction through infidelity or fetishes, is in general quietly accepted and overlooked in Eastern culture.

In highly religious or faith-oriented subcultures, any expression of male sexuality outside monogamous, opposite-sex intercourse is attacked but quietly glossed over if discovered. It is not so with females in any context. Eastern culture is virulently opposed to sexually aware or expressive women. Obviously, the effect of the three original monotheistic faith systems, and their cultural applications, on the Middle East is clear here.

The West may have started out from where the East is currently, but later abandoned its inheritance, opting to continually revise and redevelop its doctrines of gender and sex. If sexuality can be defined as the way a man or woman express his or her perceived gender through speech, relationships with others, appearance, and world-view, and that sexuality is then validated through reciprocation, we can express an initial understanding of the concept of sexuality as a two-way road: a symbiotic process at best, an often polarised human exchange at worst. While sexuality still is defined, expounded, and accepted by willing ears from the mouths of leaders of faith and religion, not all will accept. People hesitate to listen and comply. Sexuality is preached from new pulpits: media, popular thought, spiritual traditions, and the vernacular philosophy of everyday life. As much as it unsettles believers in the Great Three monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism – a completely new sexual geography is upon us.

You can give self sexuality any name you want: depravity, grave sin, modernity, danger, liberation, ‘the future’. And it will survive as long as its existence is criminalised and socially vilified rather than embraced and transformed. It will perish once it replaces its core with something else that intuitively seems more appropriate to its survival. But its intuition is ultimately deceptive. Imagine: what if the new core is not sensual at all?

Powered by

About Mina Demian

  • Midiane. You write with purpose and pithiness on a subject many think about, but few articulate. Thanks. Andrew.

  • Midiane:

    Very nice piece. Here’s my “two” cents:

    Many don’t know that the history of Western sexuality has morphed over the centuries. When it comes to theories of women’s sexuality, in earlier centuries it was thought that women’s sex drive was insatiable. Then in Victorian times, (and with the advent of a post industrial middle class) women were viewed as more delicate creatures and their sex drive or lack of such was not addressed. Many (including Freud) aspired to figure out “what women want.” At this point IMO we still struggle with outdated mores and “roles,” with women often stuck in the “virgin/whore” dichotomy over and over again.

    As for Eastern religions, many were very sexually aware; some even considered sexuality as another way of communing with a higher power. Think Indians and the Kama Sutra, Japan and their pornographic imagery, even Judaism (which traditionally is much less “uptight” about sexuality.

    In organized religion, the sexual is political: Catholics must be “fruitful and multiply” and not abort their children so they can, well, produce more obedient Catholics. Promiscuity also muddied up blood lines and inheritances.

    But the biological imperative to “be fruitful and multiply” still stumps any amount of analysis. How else to explain the ever rising divorce rate, out of wedlock births, and so on? It astounds me that so few seem to see birth control as a viable option, or that they so often “marry in haste” and “repent at leisure”—leading to an endless cycle of marriage, kids, divorce, more marriage, more kids, divorce…

    As for your theory, well, some believe that we are inherently bisexual to some degree. Some other species exhibit this behavior as well. It certainly helps to stymie the already exploding population.

    Sexuality is a powerful force that can, as I say, be manipulated for political gain. “Be fruitful and multiply” is an imperative that comes from our limbic brain (which we share with other species) and as with all pleasurable “rewards,” whether it be drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc, it is very hard for the rational brain to argue with this (pre-verbal) force within us, since it is a survival issue; in this case, survival of the species.

    In any case, great and though provoking article.

  • Hey Elvira, thanks very much for your comments. You actually mention points I wanted to make in my essay, but left them out as they were either unsubstantiated or bordered on blanket statements. I will develop some ideas, similar to yours, in future essays on BC. So you’ll be updated.

    Andrew, thanks a lot – your encouragement means a lot.


  • That’s one of the things I love about BC: the article can be a jumping off point which everyone (writer and reader) can discuss and elaborate on (sometimes almost endlessly).

    I look forward to seeing more of your writing here.

  • Sarai

    Definitely gave me a few stabs in the chest here and there reading this because it is such a controversial issue for society in general.

    And what pisses me off about society in general is that we *do* need to embrace the fact that change is a constant – we fluctuate in decisions and behaviour, never mind sexual tastes and preferences. BUT. In order to view ourselves as sexual beings in relation to other sexual beings, each individual needs to be able to find a way to make their intentions known upfront.

    I believe what underlies the confusion regarding the self-sexual from an “outsiders” perspective is that a person with a willingness to regard their sexual preference with such fluidity comes across as either an easy target or incredibly disrespectful towards sexuality on the whole.

    We are all allowed to experiment and we’re definitely allowed to change our minds, but it is completely unfair to mislead people – whether intentionally or unintentionally. The irrationality of connection should at the very least be preceded by some sort of discourse regarding the interaction between the two parties of whatever gender.

    Furthmore, my views have been formed not by religion, but by an instinct of self-preservation. Being completely free with sexuality is not a form of release, it is a form of abandon or escape. A certain level of respect really needs to be maintained – and coital partners should definitely have enough respect for each other to be open and honest (and knowledgeable) about their own sexuality. There should be little room for confusion when expressed by the person themselves.

    I dunno – this topic touches a nerve 🙂 So maybe I went into a bit of a non-coherent rant there but with enough re-reads, it should make sense.

  • @Sarai: thanks for your detailed reply, didn’t feel it was incoherent at all 🙂

    My main contention is the damage self sexuals are inflicting on themselves. Yeah. Tis possible though that they get into monogamous relationships and cause damage, too. But the fact that society is open to it, almost supporting it, scares me too.

    Good discussion starter…

  • Sarai

    I think it goes even deeper than that – it’s more pervasive. They are already, by definition, pushing love away from themselves – and I mean the deep, romantic connection between two people that results not simply from attraction.

    It takes courage to open up and let yourself be seen, never mind having to open your mouth and speak what is in your heart – praying that the other person will receive it well. It sucks sometimes to put yourself out there, but there are no shortcuts to love!

    I honestly think they have crossed the boundary to where sex and love are completely unlinked. There is no way that you can behave that way otherwise. They have lost the magic and the beauty of an innocent first kiss – the joy of a loving caress even when you’re not looking your best.

    Society has become jaded by images in the media of how men and women should behave. It takes immense strength to be able to view this objectively and say “I don’t want that.” Besides that, anyone who behaves differently is subjected to ridicule – the new form of peer pressure. Believe me, I’ve had to go through this for the past two months… everyone in my team makes fun of me about being celibate for years by choice, and how I’ve only ever had one boyfriend, and how guys will never be attracted to me if I am so damn uptight.

    Screw them. I believe that you shouldn’t separate sex and love to begin with. They are not separate, they are so incredibly complementary, and people who can’t see that have lost a chance for something really special.

  • You make an important point, Sarai, that to self sexuals, sex is sport and function, separated from their values, beliefs, or emotions. That is scary and pervasive.

  • Not persuaded by Midane’s argument and wondering if it is actually motivated by his odd faithist beliefs?

  • Not sure we need to coin a whole new term. From the information given, “Dom” sounds like either a sociopath or a sex addict, possibly both. However, since we are told nothing of how his various sexual partners feel about their encounters with him (I note that when the author reconnected with “Dom”, he was “still with ‘The Girlfriend'”, so she at least got enough out of the rerlationship to stick with him for some considerable time), it is possibly and even probably neither.

    In fact, “Dom” seems to me like a perfectly normal bisexual man, struggling to come to terms with the fact. Sex is confusing enough if you’re only attracted to one sex, let alone both.

  • @Christopher Rose: no. None of this is spurred on by my personal religious beliefs. Just from observation and analysis.
    @Dr Dreadful: Interesting point… I wouldn’t say he’s a sociopath. Not so much sex addict either. Maybe it could be a distorted bisexuality.

  • Midiane, please explain what your process of “observation and analysis” is and how you manage to interpret your findings without that interpretation being influenced by your personal beliefs?

    I don’t think you can…

  • So Christopher, does it make you happy that you and Dreadful are the only ones who have a free reign on BC threads because you both have the inordinate power to delete all other comments at will?

  • Bit of a non sequitur, Roger, but if it makes you any happier, Chris and I have been known to delete one another’s comments when necessary.

    And, as has been stated on more than several occasions, the comments space is not the appropriate forum for any concerns you may have about the comments editing.

  • Shannon Tucker

    I am trying to remember the word that is used to refer to people who have sex with themselves. I only can remember part of it: auto, but the other part I can’t remember. Can anyone help me out here? Thank you.
    [personal contact info deleted by comments editor]

  • Shannon, I believe the term you are looking for is autoeroticism.