August 7, 2013

12 years without sex, or as Sophie Fontanel calls it, 12 years of insubordination.

Fontanel did not forgo sex for any moral or religious reason or out of a lack of desire. She was only 27 at the outset. She wasn't prudish, but she rejected the way she'd had sex without being "present" and because it was the thing to do.
I wanted to recover my body. My real desire was to re-want having sex....
She decided: "I will return to sexual activities when it is worth it — and it took more than ten years."

When her book — "The Art of Sleeping Alone" —  came out, "a lot of people — a huge amount of people — began to say that they had the same experience."  That was in France. It will be out here next week. Expect a lot of confessions from people who've gone without sex for a long time. If you've voluntarily gone for years, will you admit how long? It's nice of Fontanel to open the floodgates on this topic, which I think many people are embarrassed to talk about, afraid of looking pathetic or undesirable.

Here's her advice:
I recommend being true to yourself. If you are making love and you’re disappointed, then stop. Recover your freedom. Don’t be afraid of being single, and don’t be afraid of being single for a long time.... It’s very important to learn that it’s not a sin to be alone.
Funny to get to the end of the article and see the word "sin." I think she's being humorous, not revealing secret religiosity. Obviously, I haven't read the book yet, but I suspect that she is saying that people have sex out of habit or to seem normal to themselves and others, and the sex is often worse than nothing.

You know my old aphorism: Better than nothing is a high standard.

48 comments:

jimbino said...

First we get used to "amount of data" and now we are supposed to accept "amount of people"?

Data is, media is, strata is, errata is, and people is?

Rebecca said...

I decided that I needed to abstain until I was in a much better place than with someone I wasn't committed to. That was 12 years ago. I don't advocate it for everyone and trust me I make no judgements on those who have sex without commitment but for me it was a good choice and a choice I needed to make for my own self-respect.

mccullough said...

Curiously, there is no talk of masturbation in her Q&A.

I think her book should be subtitled: Masturbation, a Love Story.

Ann Althouse said...

What is most difficult to do alone?

1. Have sex.

2. Sleep.

3. Dine out.

4. Travel.

5. Get through the day on Christmas/Thanksgiving/your birthday.

6. Deal with a chronic medical condition.

7. Deal with financial troubles.

8. Deal with a threat to your physical security.

Put those in order and add more items to that list. Seems to me that having sex alone is absolutely the easiest... to the point where I feel like starting a second list under the question What is more difficult to do with another person?

One of the things Fontanel deals with is the concern some people have that if they stop having sex with someone else, their sex skills will decline.

Kylos said...

Do you mean "'Better than nothing' is a high standard" or "A high standard is better than nothing"? The latter seems almost tautological.

Donald Douglas said...

This lady's precious!

"During that period, I fell in love twice. But, obviously, it was with impossible men. Married men, gay men. It’s very difficult to find a partner. That’s why I waited so long. "

The horrors. What happened to a few good men? Lol.

And:

"Right now, I’m single, yes. I was never married. I had a boyfriend a year ago, but now I am alone. And it’s very peaceful. I go and have dinner alone and get a coffee. I travel a lot, and I make my life beautiful. I think it’s the beginning of happiness. It’s very important to learn that it’s not a sin to be alone."

What stoicism!

Man, that is resigned to your fate. Perhaps the problem is that radical sexual abandon and promiscuity essentially turned this lady into a sexified zombie who couldn't develop meaningful relationships. Sex is important, yes. But she says she started early and had a lot of relationships. Perhaps she might have tried to marry back then, before she turned 28 and started "not being present" anymore.

Celibacy's not so fun. I don't think she's going to be starting a huge movement anytime soon, but who knows with all the feminist/socialist/alternative trends that are happening nowadays? Maybe she'll hook up in a married/homosexual/heterosexual three-way. The possibilities!

Kylos said...

I do know what you mean by "Better than nothing is a good standard", I just enjoy being a pedant at times.

Crunchy Frog said...

What is more difficult to do with another person?

Use the toilet.

Peter said...

In order to sell, even abstaining from sex must be marketed as transgressive.

And so it goes. Does anyone not understand that more than a few women are more interested in being sexy than in actually having sex?

Unless it's perfect sex (of course).

Nihimon said...

I really wonder how much would actually get done if no one ever did anything they didn't want to. Seems unsustainably selfish to me...

Ann Althouse said...

My aphorism means exactly what it says. You have to think about it a bit to get it.

You have to value nothing as it sits on the scales opposite something. If you don't think anything of nothing, then anything will outweigh nothing. You will make some terrible decisions that way. As a single person, see the good of being solitary: freedom, time, peace, etc.

If you don't see that yet, you shouldn't be choosing a partner.

SteveR said...

I'm in the situation where I simplify the equation. Having the physical capability and choosing not to, is better than wanting to and not being physical able. Better than nothing...

Ann Althouse said...

"Does anyone not understand that more than a few women are more interested in being sexy than in actually having sex?"

I think women (and maybe men) are interested in feeling truly sexual and have experienced the problem Fontanel states as not being "present" during sex. You might remember the scene in "Annie Hall," where Alvy is starting to have sex with Annie's body and her spirit rises up and walks away and sits in a chair, leaving him with only the body.

That's the kind of sex that is being rejected.

Now, you sound like one of those guys who think of women as being vain and narcissistic and want to think of themselves as "sexy," like they want to be considered pretty.

But I don't think that's what Fontanel is talking about. I can understand refraining from sex precisely because you want sex to be real, and actually having sex has been unreal. You want to regain feeling.

Anyone remember that scene in Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage" where Liv Ullman, a psychotherapist, has a female patient talking about her marriage and saying that the world feels like paper... there's this closeup of the woman's hand, like she's trying to feel her own life.

I think that's what Fontanel is talking about.

Kylos said...

I do understand the meaning of your aphorism: that "better than nothing" is a high standard because nothing can be much better than something.

As a 30 year old recently involved in a relationship for the first time in my life (no casual encounters either), I do value the concept. I've given thought to whether I am pursuing this relationship simply because it was the first decent opportunity for "something" that has come my way.

Brian said...

"What is most difficult to do alone?"

Relative to what? Every item on your list gets much easier with a good partner, and much harder with a bad one.

I want to say: refrain form partnering (sexually or otherwise) until you can find the right one, then grab him/her and hold on. I'm sure that sounds terribly retrograde in my Southern accent, but I'm not sure that the French lady disagrees with me in any meaningful way.

Ann Althouse said...

"Relative to what? Every item on your list gets much easier with a good partner, and much harder with a bad one."

That statement highlights the value of nothing. You know exactly what nothing is.

Kylos said...

By the way, I'm satisfied that the answer to my introspection is that no, that approaching a relationship in good faith with a person I trust and love, I will have opportunities to develop into a more dynamic individual.

cubanbob said...

One is present at a job, or school or some compulsory situation. Unless it happens to be the sex biz you are in, sex isn't a place to be present at. If you don't want to be there, don't be there.

Smilin' Jack said...

My real desire was to re-want having sex....

“You can do what you want, but you can't want what you want.”--Schopenhauer

Alex said...

One is present at a job, or school or some compulsory situation. Unless it happens to be the sex biz you are in, sex isn't a place to be present at. If you don't want to be there, don't be there.

Some people in their early 20s feel that they have to play the "game" of hooking up otherwise their friends will think they are uncool. But in real life situations, it leads to lots of awkward and unpleasant "sex".

mtrobertsattorney said...

If there is such a thing as nothing, then a high standard is better than nothing.

Left as an open question: Some things may be better than a high standard, or all things may be better than a high standard.

Mark Trade said...

10 going on 11 here. Years, I mean.

It's way, waaay more acceptable for women to talk about this than men.

madAsHell said...

One of the things Fontanel deals with is the concern some people have that if they stop having sex with someone else, their sex skills will decline.

For a man, sex skills might be recovery time between orgasms. For a woman, it's faking an orgasm.

Elliott A said...

"Not much is so much more than nothing" Tina Dico

doustoi said...

I swear, if you muse over the writings of modern women, you wonder how they survived as a subspecies. Do they EVER do anything that they just do and let go - not write a book and start a support group about? How can you take women seriously?

doustoi said...

I swear, if you muse over the writings of modern women, you wonder how they survived as a subspecies. Do they EVER do anything that they just do and let go - not write a book and start a support group about? How can you take women seriously?

William said...

In former times, quite a large portion of humanity joined convents and monasteries. I think part of that wasn't a wish to be closer to God but a wish to opt out of the Darwinian boogie. We no longer have such a socially acceptable outlet for choosing nothing.....Nothing is not the worst of all possible choices, but not everyone has the luxury of choosing nothing.

MaxedOutMama said...

It seems to me that your list proves why it's important to have the skill of not being with someone.

For well-balanced women, if the mental/emotional LIKING and RESPECT is there with a partner, the sex is going to be good even if the person is hardly your physical fantasy. But the pain of having sex with someone with whom you are not truly in sync with is that you are a doing a very instinctive thing but instinctively you know you are doing it wrong. So then sex becomes a distanced function, like a sports event, instead of something that one dives into like a cool pool on a hot day.

Sex in human beings has a strong companionship/commitment function. Our bodies know this. To engage in sex as a sport or a type of masturbation in which the dildo is natural will distance one from one's sexual self somewhat, and it is less sensationally satisfying than masturbation.

This is the truth we cannot stand to tell our young people.

The test of whether one wants to be with someone - really wants it - is of course the "in sickness and in health" bit. But OMG, no we are talking about religion so we cannot say that, even though religious rites do encapsulate something of human experience throughout the ages, and even if they do guide us with the knowledge we don't have when we are young.

If you look at someone and trust them to be with you at your worst moments, and trust them to stand by you in life's crises, and want to share the best moments with that person, then any normal woman will find a certain degree of instinctive unity in sexual intercourse with that person.

But if you are with someone and you don't trust that person, and there are good moments that will just be spoiled for you by the lack of understanding, and if you think that person will walk away from you when the chips are really down, then of course sex becomes somewhat of an instinctive lie.

The tragedy of modern life is that we talk about science but no longer accept the scientific truth about ourselves as instinctive, layered animal beings, with some unifying experiences that merge our animal selves with our rational brain selves.

This woman is at least trying to be honest, which is transgressive in our modern society.

Of course I am writing here from a woman's point of view, but if anything I believe the emotional side of sex is more important from a man's view. Men are very emotional but seem to have less ability to scrutinize and integrate their emotions. Sex with an admiring and accepting partner, for a man, seems to be a profoundly emotional experience that naturally integrates their psyches in a way I don't truly understand. Bit I do understand that it is tremendously important to them, and it changes things. When you really go after a guy, it says to the man that you like him, that you want him, that he is your choice and that you admire him, and somehow it hits a reset button, and the next morning he can get up and face the world's difficulties with the feeling that he has the wind at his back and that if he can't win he can at least lose honorably, and so he feels that the battle is worth it and he can never truly lose.

JRPtwo said...

For most people in most cases her approach will not make them as happy.

Oso Negro said...

I suppose I missed all this high-minded sex that you are all going on about, but I certainly had a lot of fun with the regular kind. It is my experience that enthusiasm covers gaps in technique. If you lack both moves and passion, best keep the playing field clear for the rest of us.

Mark Trade said...

Ann, I find the way you interpret your list absolutely backwards. It seems to me the one thing that is impossible to do alone on that list is have sex. Everything else is simpler to organize when alone and therefore easier.

Take financial troubles, which are less complicated when there's only one person in control of the finances in question. If there are others who keep claiming control, be they creditors, family members, or anybody, then the means to resolve those financial troubles becomes more difficult.

Also, if I can avoid bothering friends and loved ones with my chronic medical conditions, I will do so. It doesn't make it easier to involve others in what is frankly not their body and none of their business.

Hell, someone who's alone might find it difficult to REMEMBER Christmas/Thanksgiving/their Birthday, much less find it difficult to get through it.

I find your comments interesting when compared to MaxedOutMama's, who writes "from a woman's point of view" that "the emotional side of sex is more important from a man's point of view." I reluctantly find this a true and disturbing thought in women, having been raised by feminists as a potential rapist to see the very presence of my masculinity as harmful and dangerous, but that women are not really different from men, are not naturally subordinate, and are sensitive creatures and yadda yadda yadda.

When I started actually having sex with them, I could see the zombie-like looks on their faces when they would reach orgasm. Their personality would just disappear. Scared the hell out of me. I would look into their eyes as they glazed over and wonder WTF just happened to them? Where did they go? They were not “present.” It might as well have been a woman-shaped insect looking back at me. Yet it wasn’t fakery, was it? Theater is more expressive, more emotional.

It was a long time before I learned that this was a natural thing. Articles like these helped:

http://io9.com/391315/women-have-no-emotional-feelings-during-orgasm-say-neuroscientists

http://www.mid-day.com/relationships/2011/may/130511-why-women-do-not-climax-orgasm.htm

I have searched for that emotionally fulfilling sexual experience with a woman and it doesn’t exist. Both feminism and internet porn somehow conspired together to give me a very, very false picture of female sexuality, which is so much more feral than my own. To want a woman to be emotionally present during sex is to want her to be fake.

Although I could write a book on it, that explains the gist of my 10 years, going on 11.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, I find the way you interpret your list absolutely backwards."

Although I numbered the list, I invited the reader to put the list in the right order. I didn't mean to suggest the order. (But I think you see that.)

"It seems to me the one thing that is impossible to do alone on that list is have sex."

Well, as Bill Clinton might say, that depends on the meaning of "sex." If you define "sex" to say it's something done between 2 or more persons, then by definition you've made your statement true.

And as Woody Allen did say: "Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love."

Jason said...

You know, it's much more difficult to be 'absent' if you make an effort to actually give your partner a great experience.

Ann Althouse said...

As for that mindless orgasm scientific point, assuming it's true, there are still many minutes during sex that are not the orgasm -- and many women engage in sex and don't even have the orgasm. So the feeling of not being "present" -- even if it's going to be there during orgasm -- is still something that one could find troubling -- even if one wanted and enjoyed the orgasm and its attendant mindlessness.

This makes me think again about that woman who had a medical condition of having orgasms all the time. She killed herself! Maybe an attempt to feel present in her body could have worked as a treatment.

There could be scientific research into the hypothesis that a very strong union of body and mind -- strong mind body integrity -- precludes orgasms in women. That would put difficulty having orgasms in a different light.

Ann Althouse said...

"I have searched for that emotionally fulfilling sexual experience with a woman and it doesn’t exist. Both feminism and internet porn somehow conspired together to give me a very, very false picture of female sexuality, which is so much more feral than my own. To want a woman to be emotionally present during sex is to want her to be fake."

Your profile doesn't say how old you are, but this is a very sad way to feel. Maybe you shouldn't have acquired so much of what you think about sex from porn. And feminists! Yeesh. What a combo.

Maybe a period of celibacy -- including refraining from viewing porn -- would help you find your way to real and detailed feeling as your mind encounters the world through your senses. Stop projecting your fears and disappointment onto the woman and onto all women. Don't hold The Feminist in your mind as the demon/authority figure.

Good luck.

Jim LePore said...

She confused not liking meaningless sex with not liking herself. Pretty common in the growing up process.

PackerBronco said...

Oh dear, a heretic! Members of The Church of the Holy Orgasm will not be pleased.

Mark Trade said...

Thank you, Ann.

There is also the fact that I don't want children yet, and the law says that when I have sex I am consenting to parenthood. So, however sad you may think my perspective is, the law renders that feeling moot. We disagree on whether that law is justly applied, but I think we can both agree that it would have been a much less interesting reply for me to have said, "I kept it in my pants."

I think I would be much more open about challenging my generalizations about women in this regard if the law were not applied unequally between the sexes.

Regarding age, I was a nine-year-old boy in 1992, the year you say feminism was at its peak. Although i do not blame them for everything (I maintain some personal responsibility) I feel they took something and it is no simple manner to get it back.

Ann Althouse said...

Mark, acting like you suffered a big tragedy because there were ideas out there that affected you is absurd. Look at some of the real suffering in this world and consider the value of freedom of speech. When ideas are bad, counter them with other ideas, think for yourself, and develop your analytical skills. If you were slow in doing that, ask yourself why. What things are you believing now that are hurting you? Don't let your whole life go by looking backward at things other people said that you just accepted, like perhaps this fear of women and pregnancy stuff.

Mark Trade said...

Why indeed should I fear women, when they have the legal authority to conscript me into parenthood? I feel a great weight being lifted off my shoulders at the thought that feminism is just a system of ideas, and not a phenomenon that affects lives though the direct use of force. If only!

There is more that affected my life than just feminism, such as violent parents and a cloistered Catholic education. People are affected by many things and my omission of them should not be seen as dismissive. Now that I have revealed as much, you may be thinking, perhaps this gentleman could benefit from therapy. I say, perhaps I just need equal protection under the law. Let's say I did see a therapist, and I found someone like Dr. Helen. What result then?

By abstaining from sexual intimacy, I am doing a rational thing to protect myself and any would-be unwanted children, regardless of my other beliefs. Am I not following your suggestion to keep it in my pants? So what's the problem? You want me to pull it out and become a father?? Or to be more comfortable about becoming one in any case?

Although it's difficult to parse your advice with your defense of unequal protection, when the law that says sex is consent to parenthood not for women but for men, I find nothing objectionable in what you said, so I will accept it graciously, and ask that you reconsider equal protection under the law in the area of reproduction.

Ann Althouse said...

"Am I not following your suggestion to keep it in my pants?"

That question doesn't make sense as I have never made that suggestion.

You seem to have gone all polemical. I tried to take you seriously, but now you just sound like a big old political hack.

Go back and try to find what made you think I said something I didn't, quote my exact words, and tell me how you could think they mean what you just said, contemplate how they actually say something else, and ask me something intelligent as a result, and I will respond to you again.

p kerit said...

18 years 5 months and 20 days for me

p kerit said...

I guess that I should add that I am 63. Not interested in casual sex, I want it to be with a woman that I can be with til I die. I was married once, she left, I raised my sons, I have never owned a TV

Mark Trade said...

I admit confusion over your position. You appear surprised that unequal protection regarding sex could cause a man to go most of his life without sex. It's not the only cause in my case, but it is one that helps keep me from challenging the others.

You’ve said, "I'm just not impressed by the whinings of males who were profligate with their sperm." You appear not to be impressed with my whining either, and I have been the polar opposite of profligate.

You are right, "keep it in your pants" is not a quote from you, and if you feel it was wrong for me to associate it with you, I apologize. I associate it with the law as a resulting cultural dictum that you appear to be defending, without actually saying it. If you find it as dismissive and abhorrent a phrase I do, I once again apologize, and yet remain confused. It does not seem possible to separate the law and the dictum very far from one another.

There are other things about feminism you have trivialized in my perspective, and perhaps some irritation over that has crept into my writing to make it appear polemical-- but I sincerely plea for equal protection. I hope that plea on its own is not seen as polemical.

In the same passage I quoted earlier, you said, "there really can never be equality about pregnancy and childbirth. It is the woman's special burden, and the policies have to be arranged to make sense around that basic inequity." Inequity is something I understand. We are all born with inequities. One could argue that these inequities are basic, or that it is basic that we will be born with a myriad of inequities. Some would even say, those are part of what make each of us special.

So I am left in my confusion. Are women more special? Our inequities mean we have a different array of choices from one another, some with perhaps much larger arrays. Some are born to grow longer limbs or have better vision. We are still born with equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and are still equal under the law. Some are born with ovaries and eggs. Some are born with the means to someday transform those eggs into zygotes. Some are born with the ability to someday be pregnant. Different arrays of choices.

There are some born with an ostensibility limited, although maybe just very different, array of choices and abilities which we describe as having “special needs.” You use slightly different language for women, “special burden,” which sounds so much more glorifying than “special need.” Yet it does seem you are arguing women have a special need for legal protection that men don’t.

I’m telling you, I need it. That protection is not special. There are plenty enough things that are special about women, about all of us, that it is not necessary to argue for special protection under the law.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks for taking the trouble to read all that, and I don't think there's anything more I need to say that I didn't say there.

Obviously, equality in law has difficulties that come from individuals being differently situated. I teach Equal Protection and the right of privacy in law school and have for many years, so I'm bringing some legal expertise to the discussion.

Pregnancy is something that cannot happen to men, and decisions have to be made about to apply the law to particular situations. Some people think things should skew further in the direction of saving men from financial responsibility for children they don't want.

I was just explaining why the law has skewed the way it does, which makes sense to me.

As for sex, I didn't tell anyone not to have sex. I only told men they needed to live in the real world where there are consequences for actions. I drew the line about taking care where your sperm go. If you can't figure out a way to control that, then maybe you should avoid sex. Abstinence is one answer, one that many women choose that too.

Mark Trade said...

I accept the reality that pregnancy is not something I can control. A woman's body is her domain. Yet even after childbirth, she can legally decide the fate of the father.

Her choices are many and complex, some of them potentially destructive, and yet are protected from responsibility. To give her the same warning as you do to men, that she lives in the real world where there are consequences for actions, seems incongruous with the amount of protection she's given.

Furthermore I think you obscure the woman's many choices by using the passive voice, "Pregnancy is something that cannot happen to men," when in the eyes of the law it is the men who are passive while all these choices are being made, and consequences being decided for them. Their consent to all these choices is assumed.

I would draw the line closer to the mother, since with greater choice comes greater responsibility. Willfully disregarding risks to become a mother without means of support should be considered reckless endangerment. Perhaps a woman having sex with many men and not maintaining contact with the father would be merely negligent, but I have not heard of any such case. There is protection for the promiscuous mother but not the promiscuous father, except perhaps through a promiscuous mother.

What is the female equivalent of "splooge stooge?"

You may treat that as a rhetorical question and, if you like, end it there. Thank you for the conversation, perhaps to be continued.

Ann Althouse said...

Law and society have determined that the child's interests are superior to the man's in this situation. You can keep restating the male's interests here, but it's not going to unseat the decisions of those who've gone through that and decided that the child is more important. These are relative interests to be assigned weights and you have to see that to understand why the law has come down the way it has.

Ann Althouse said...

As for "What is the female equivalent of "splooge stooge?""

I have no problem with coming up with a comical phrase to mock females who don't protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy. I didn't come up with one at the time because I wasn't talking to women being petulant about the consequences of their contraception failures.