From July to October, while the COVID-19 restrictions had been relaxed in London, I was involved, to varying degrees, with seven different men.
The dynamics at play were all wildly different, but none of them were in any way healthy, let alone nourishing.
I know that most of them follow my writing, so I’m not going to go into detail otherwise they’d all recognise themselves and get cross.
My self-esteem, which is fairly low even on the best days, became cripplingly poor. I’d let ever increasing touch deprivation and desperation for sexual contact have the edge over taking care of my emotional wellbeing. In accepting chronic emotional unavailability and avoidant attachment styles, I was continually inviting behaviours that were far less than I deserved.
And then, I remembered that the kinds of people we attract is simply a re-affirmation of what we believe about ourselves.
I wasn’t acting like I deserved better, and so I never saw the authenticity and honesty that I so desperately craved. But I was so wrapped up in defining my own sexuality and lifestyle choices that I wasn’t able to acknowledge my reluctance to address my own deep-seated feelings of inferiority and abject fear of rejection.
I’m lucky that I have people around me that I can talk to about all my shit. And during the Autumn, I was able to vent to a few close friends, safe in the knowledge that I’d be listened to intently, and without judgement. By November, I’d worked out the roots of some of my problems, and, serendipitously, had also been commissioned to write an essay for the anthology Dating & Sex: The Theory of Mutual Self-Destruction, which features 84 essays on self-preservation vs self-destruction as viewed through dating and sex.
So, I included some analysis of the emotional turbulence I’d experienced in the essay. To read the piece in full, buy the book via the Superchamps Books website: superchampbooks.com/dating-and-sex-the-theory-of-mutual-self-destruction, when it’s out on 12 January.
Hot on the heels of penning that piece of work, I had a number of conversations which led me to take a long look at the way I’ve been conducting my sexual relationships. I’d created a personal brand and regular income from advocating for sexual pleasure outside the patriarchal constraints of monoheteronormativity. Because, sex feels good, right?
Let me rephrase that: good sex feels good. And I’ve gotten really good at having really good sex.
But I’m also someone who often feels anxious, disempowered and overwhelmed. Add all this to my ungovernable imposter syndrome and life starts to become pretty turbulent.
If I think more intentionally about the phenomenon, this is actually more likely to be the fact that I continually experience “credibility deficit” and “testimonial injustice”. These are phrases coined by philosopher Miranda Fricker in 2007 to describe the experience of opinions (professional or otherwise) that aren’t as likely to be regarded as rational, competent or credible as others, because they belonging to a minoritised group. On the flipside, “credibility excess” refers to those whose word is more likely to be taken the most seriously due to their social identity.
So I use sex to self-soothe.
It’s much easier to teach people how to be physically explorative – as I do in my sex-positivity work – than to be brave enough to be authentically emotionally vulnerable. And realising that more than a decade has gone by, in which time I’ve not actually had a single functioning romantic relationship, is a horrifying revelation.
It’s easy to offer yourself up as a sexual object. What’s hard is to see enough value in yourself not to.
Last January, I wrote a Blog post which described some of my key life events of 2019. One of the anecdotes detailed my Summer sex spree, which was precipitated by a break-up. But what I omitted from that story, was that I had actually been really emotional vulnerable in that situation, had told him I was ready to give up my polyamorous lifestyle and settle down with him. To have that thrown back in my face was beyond devastating, and the sex spree was a misguided attempt at concealing my despair at having been rejected.
Some months down the line, I realised how destructive this was, and stopped compulsively hooking up with people. To break the cycle, I stopped dating completely. Months and months went by. And then I was in a much better place, so when 2020 rolled around I was back at it again. There were some excellent sexy interludes, of which I won’t go into because, again, they involved some people who regularly read my writing.
But then, as I wrote last month, the combined traumas of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprisings made most of 2020 extremely fraught. And, for me, the fallout has included a complete loss of emotional intelligence regarding sex and dating. Once again, I spiralled into a destructive pattern of seeking out superficial connections, and was blind to how much damage I was doing to my psyche.
But I’m on the road to recovery again now, and it’s time to turn over a new leaf. No partnered sex unless I’m ready to authentically engage with vulnerability.
And I’m getting a therapist, so that I can finally let my friends off the hook.
Here’s to 2021
There are a number of writers that I discovered last year, whose work has resonated keenly, and has pushed me to express my own thoughts and feelings on the page with far greater honesty.
Writing with conviction and clarity and isn’t something I’ve ever found easy. Make no mistake, writing is always hard. But sincere introspection feels less insurmountable now that I’ve read some of the unflinching work of Autumm Caines, Allison P. Davies, Joanna Fuertes Knight, Annie Lord, Megan Nolan, Jia Tolentino and Carrie Wittmer.
My experience of reading each of the pieces listed below for the first time, was extraordinarily visceral. I found breaths catching in my throat and the occasional tear running down my cheek in response to the fearlessness and precision of their prose.
So, I’m sharing some links of sheer brilliance below:
Allison P. Davies, ‘Brunch With Extra Sausage (NSFW)’, The Cut, February 2020
Joanna Fuertes Knight, ‘A Spoonful of Dread’, substack email newsletter (bi-monthly, since March 2020)
Jia Tolentino’s debut essay collection ‘Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion’ (2019)
Annie Lord’s British Vogue dating column (bi-monthly, since July 2020)
Carrie Wittmer, ‘Which Hollywood Sex Symbols Actually Have Sex on Screen? A Study.’, The Ringer, September 2020
Autumm Caines, ‘The Zoom Gaze’, Real Life, December 2020
Megan Nolan, ‘The Joys of Frivolous Sex’, The New York Times, December 2020
Until next time, then. I’ve now also launched an email newsletter, where I’ll be releasing these pieces of writing first. Sign-up via almazohene.substack.com and please consider becoming a paid subscriber so that this freelancer can steady her income stream.
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