Sorry to keep you waiting so long. A letter involves a kind of letting-go that sex calls for, I thought, and then without realising it I became wary of writing back to you – as if now I’d have to come clean about something I’d much rather pack away carefully in fiction and essays.
So I’ll just start by answering your question, though I have to admit I’ve been giving it a wide berth over the last few weeks. I read a piece by Stephen Greenblatt in the New Yorker with the promising title How St. Augustine invented sex – did you see it? I’d rather it were called Why St. Augustine invented sex, for the ‘why’ question seems to occur to me sooner than the ‘how’ question, where sex is concerned. And it seems I keep hoping to find the answer.
In his Confessions Augustine also went back to Eve, just like you did, as if this were the source of all heartbreak. Can you hear me sighing? And do you notice I’ve already even used a word like ‘heartbreak’? Just before I got started on this letter, I was watching the first instalment of the new season of Twin Peaks again. In it a guy gets seduced by a girl that clearly has the hots for him, and as a result he fails to do what he was hired for, namely ‘keeping an eye on things’. The copulating couple are punished terribly, not to say slaughtered. I watch it in horror, and at the same time I think ‘Oh yeah, that’s the way it goes, every time.’
I won’t make things too complicated. What I said about whether going to bed with lots of men or women is liberating or not has nothing to do, as you suppose, with posting yourself on Tinder, keeping your body in shape or being disappointed after a promising night. I really never think about such stuff. To me these are signals from a horror world. Maybe I’m a nun, I don’t know, but I can only imagine having sex with someone you know. And I don’t know the curiosity you describe, horniness as such. I think I find sex difficult. I’ve never really understood how you can make it a logical part of your existence. I feel like a complete dinosaur as I write this, but I don’t understand how you can make love to someone you aren’t in love with. I mean, the act itself isn’t such a big deal. It only gets to be something if you can’t get enough of the other, if you want to turn him or her inside out. And maybe it’s different for men, who am I to say. Their orgasms are rather more one-dimensional. Does this give me away as a complete and utter chick?
When I read how you flit from flower to flower, rubbing yourself up and jumping on anything that moves, I have no trouble believing you’re happily spending your whole life having sex. I don’t know you well, but because I’ve an idea you’re Belgian rather than Dutch I notice you’re starting to merge with the memory of a girl I met in Antwerp a few years ago. She’d got in touch because she’d read something I’d written about the longing to be alone, and she wanted to make a radio documentary about it. As so often with people you don’t know and don’t expect ever to see again, we were soon having a very personal conversation. She said she’d just ended a long-term relationship, and how difficult it was to leave all those familiar things behind. She’d now decided to stay alone for a while, but… she’d fallen head over heels in love just a week before. We walked through the corridors of a grim office block where she had her studio, and she walked beside me chatting and dancing and beaming away – a wonderful girl. She said with a laugh that she made up her mind every day to spend another night alone for a change, but when push came to shove she just couldn’t control herself, and nor could he, so they were together every night. We found her studio in a mist of pheromones that had danced their way there with her.
Everything’s exceptional when you’re in love, even sex.
The way you describe it, as a pleasure in its own right, is something I don’t know, or else I’ve repressed it, who can tell. I can imagine it in abstract, but then it looks to me like the Octave Tassaert painting La femme damnée, or the image of the woman in the Mexican director Amat Escalante’s film La región salvaje, all of whose orifices are filled by an octopus.
An incredibly arousing image.
Maybe this is what you would call masturbatory sex, sex with a stranger, taken to its utmost. The woman as a passive object whose every wish is fulfilled – I think that’s how I prefer to see it.
I am my body, in the sense that I rely on it entirely (touch wood). My body knows sooner than I do if I’m in the mood for something. Yet I think I only really felt it working on its own, without my mind, when it was giving birth. If I think of my first sexual experiences, eighty percent of them were unwanted or misunderstood contacts. And when the bodies of the kidnapped Belgian girls Julie and Mélissa were found, I honestly thought to myself ‘Who can ever have sex again after this?’ Sex is a monster, with perversion always lurking, the asymmetry built in, one person wants it, the other doesn’t, you either have too much of it or too little, I think I’m scared of it.
Right H., your turn.