A participant on our recent one-day workshop ‘Getting Clear on Sex & Intimacy’ shares what led him to attend, and his insights from the journey.
Reaching my mid 30s and not having a sense of what imtimacy is, let alone what it means to be, has been rather disconcerting. A comment Darren (co-founder of The Quest) made recently resonated with some of the thoughts on sex and intimacy I had been having in recent months. He reminded me of a time when I was younger, when my identity as a gay man was not determined by sex or the overt sexualisation of the gay scene I find around me. It permeates so many aspects of our lives whether we choose to admit it or not: the gay press, scene magazines, limitless online pornography, online hookup sites, phone applications.. the list is endless.
And yet with this abundance of sexual stimulation I still find myself with an unsatisfied need. When did sex corrupt the innocent and idealistic younger me and make me loose track of what I actually wanted? More to the point, do I really know what I want? It was for this reason that The Quest Sex and Intimacy workshop seemed timely, and so reluctantly I found myself signing up for the day.
The day started innocently enough with a really nice ice-breaker where we greeted and hugged every person in the room and shared how we were feeling about the day. I love a good hug, and I decided that I really wanted to embrace the day and everyone that was a part of it. By virtue of the workshop being something that each participant had signed up for, I was really struck at the openness and honesty that the other men brought into the room. There was a certain solace in hearing about the issues around sex and intimacy others face, but what I hadn’t expected was the lessons that could be learnt, or the perspective that could be gained, in sharing our stories with each other. This was always in the context of small 2-3 person exercises, and because we were constantly encouraged to change seats and move around the room, I found I ended up working alongside most of the participants throughout the day.
Two exercises stuck out for me in particular. The first involved detailing what sex and intimacy meant to me through 5 statements:
- Intimacy is…
- In a relationship intimacy is…
- Sustaining intimacy is..
- The problem with it is…
- What I love about it is…
And then the same five statements for sex. What struck me was how readily I was able to respond to these when it came to sex, but struggled to contextualise my thoughts when it came to intimacy. I had come into the day already knowing this, but setting it out clearly like this acted as a benchmark on which the other exercises and conversations during the day built on. Though it was uncomfortable, I appreciated establishing where I was with regards to sex and then intimacy in this way, and again hearing the thoughts and positions of other men was insightful and provided further food for thought.
The second exercise that left a huge impression on me was the exploration of my needs verses my habits around sex and around intimacy. I am all to familiar with my habits around sex, but really struggled to identify what my true sexual needs were. Somewhere I seem to have fallen into a routine around seeking sex or sexual stimulation and then what happens when this is enacted. If I don’t know what my own needs are sexually, how am I ever going to achieve the sex that achieves them? Achieving that realisation felt like a real lightbulb on the day.
Even more profound for me was considering what my needs around intimacy are, and that my habits in seeking intimacy are at such odds with these needs. For me my habits around seeking sex and intimacy are the same: I recognise that I have sought out casual sexual encounters in the past as means of validation and approval, but more tragically as an attempt to connect with someone fleetingly and have a glimpse of the intimacy I am realising I so crave.
I realised on the workshop that my core need for intimacy is not being met through the habits I employ to seek it, and again the power of this realisation really created a shift in my thinking about this whole issue. Who would have thought a day of simple structured exercises with a group of like-minded men looking to explore the same issues from their own unique perspectives would be so revelatory!
The real power of such things is what trains of thought and reflection, and what conversations and dialogue, come as a result of the work done on the day. I find my gay friends and I talk quite readily about sex, but rarely – if ever – about intimacy. I’ve started having conversations about the insights into myself I gained at the workshop, because the exploration doesn’t end there. The needs versus habit debate has really struck a chord with many of my friends and its surprising how universal the sense of unknown (and therefore unmet) needs exists in my peer group.
The workshop helped me reach some important realisations, but also to find the language to start a dialogue around these issues, which I feel I want to continue with friends and other gay men around me. If I consider what led me to attend the workshop, do I now know what intimacy is? Well, I have a clearer idea if what it means to me, I have a greater sense of what I would like it to be, and I’m working on challenging old behaviours that are at odds with what I want, alongside considering new ones that serve my true needs better. I look forward to seeing where they take me.