I like to be in control of situations. Not in a domineering way, but I value autonomy. The thought of being vulnerable with anyone outside a select few friends makes me deeply uncomfortable. I assert my control by not allowing anyone to see me in a position that could be considered weak. I’ve been told I’m great at making people think they know me without ever revealing anything personal about myself. It’s an innate skill, falsifying intimacy. Even as a child I refused to let anyone I didn’t know take a photo of me, and I resented being hugged; I was deeply uncomfortable with affection of any kind. As an adult, I value my independence and have never really liked being in relationships.
I was diagnosed with anxiety in high school, and I tend to obsessively think about things and become incredibly overwhelmed when under stress. Without having a specific trigger for my anxiety, it’s particularly hard for me to avoid anxious thoughts in any given situation, including when I’m having sex. This doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like sex, but I find myself constantly in my head, unable to enjoy the moment because I’m mentally ten steps into the future.
I pride myself on being a conscientious observer of safe sex, but it wasn’t until I was taking the pill as well as using condoms that my worries about getting pregnant subsided. Although the nurses at the sexual health clinic love my 100% safe sex record, it’s fair to say that this preoccupation with pregnancy wasn’t conducive to me having a good time. To be clear, it’s not the thought of having sex that makes me anxious—in fact, that doesn’t cause anxiety for me at all. It’s about being able to relinquish control.
Of course, keeping control would be great if I intended to be dominant. But all of my sexual fantasies—which I’ve had plenty of time to curate this year—center on surrendering control. I’m not sure if this is a fantastical way of imagining my life without anxiety or what I actually want to happen, but I haven’t been given the opportunity to find out yet.
When planning my goals at the end of 2019, I courageously decided I would embrace my sexuality this year. Not in the typical way of overcoming shame––I’m more than comfortable being sexually curious––but instead I intended to embrace being submissive and learn to enjoy abdicating control. I thought a lot about how I would communicate my desires to partners and overcome my fear of judgment. I even considered sliding into someone’s DMs, which I’d never done before. I was determined to allow myself to be vulnerable and intimate in ways that could benefit my sexual pleasure and—as weird as this will sound—contribute to my artistic flourishing.
I was advised once by a director I very much admire, that art—theatre and writing in particular—should be dangerous. As an actor and writer, I’ve consistently found myself playing it safe. For a long time I was scared to write anything related to sex for fear of judgment or some nonexistent consequences on my career. I don’t think it’s possible to create work that’s meaningful if I shy away from intimacy. I have to accept that my values differ from some of those closest to me. I want to create art that I’m proud of and be comfortable labeling myself an artist. For that to happen, I have to confidently embrace sex.
Without the possibility of physical contact, I’ve had to find other ways to work on overcoming my anxieties. Writing this piece is certainly one small part of the process I’ve undertaken this year in becoming more sexually and artistically adventurous. Although after an almost year of abstinence, I would still very much like to have sex.
Right now in Melbourne, unless you’re in a committed relationship, the only house you’re allowed in is your own—which means that any kind of casual sex is off limits until further notice. This has been frustrating because I still want to act on my plans made in 2019 and, having had a year to reflect on myself and what I truly want, my desire to offer control to someone else has only intensified. I overanalyze every interaction and thought I have, so instead of writing and unpacking the nitty-gritty of why I want to be submissive, I just want to act on it. What I truly want is to stop living in my head and enjoy an intimate moment––reflection on my desires can come later.
Sex and art and anxiety are inextricable and interlinked parts of my life and how I experience and move through the world. I hope one day to uncomplicate at least some aspect of it all. For now, I’d settle for experiencing them all in person, to feel connected and challenged. The irony isn’t lost on me that while I resolutely work to undo my future-oriented mindset, I’m simultaneously daydreaming of the future. A future where I can enjoy the moment and simply let go.
Exploring one’s sexual desires is a twenty-something rite of passage that I don’t intend to miss out on. I may discover that being submissive isn’t actually for me, but I don’t want to go on not knowing. I’m no longer okay with letting anxiety stop me from living out my sexual fantasies.
Illustration by Seb Westcott