The Controversial Thing I Do During Sex

Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
Sometimes during sex, I use my phone. I check email, summon an Uber home, send a text, or, on rare occasions, hold up my end of a phone conversation as I try not to laugh.

This is intentional. Let’s be clear, if anyone looks at their phone while hooking up with you and you haven’t already established that you’re into it, you have my blessing to pluck the device from their hand, drop it into the nearest glass of water, and banish them from the bedroom — because who does that? (Also inexcusable, though more common, is phone use during a date.) But my partner is sometimes turned on by my distraction, or at least by my acting distracted. I’m turned on by him being turned on, and excited by the subversive casualness of the sex. The appeal here isn’t phone-specific; I suppose a book or a crossword puzzle could work as a prop, too. But a phone’s immediate promise of potential connection with the seven billion people not having sex with me casts it as a more likely contender for my undivided attention. It’s almost plausible that I’d be more interested in what’s happening on my screen than in the sex I’m simultaneously having.
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It’s almost plausible that I’d be more interested in what’s happening on my screen than in the sex I’m simultaneously having.

“That’s weird, Hayley,” a friend laughs when I begin to describe this. And it is outside the norm, but let’s consider the norm. “There's this fiction that every time you have sex, it has to be this great, romantic sex — really magical, movie-theater lovemaking,” my partner says when I ask him why he’s into distracted sex. “While that should be the goal sometimes, it’s nice to break the flow with much less important sex. I don’t want to say 'maintenance' sex, but sex without the performance.”

He and I agree. It’s not that we’re typically vying for Oscars when we’re hooking up, but the hallmarks of Great Sex™ — the come-hither expression, the well-timed sigh, the arched back, the deep stare into one another’s eyes — aren't necessarily autonomous physical responses. Some of them may be, but some are performed — which, don’t get me wrong, can be pleasurable for both partners involved.
Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
But the beauty of distracted sex is that it’s so unself-conscious. Couples often have less sex than they want to; a 2011 study of 4,290 men (3,240 of them in opposite-sex relationships) and 4,366 women (3,304 of them in opposite-sex relationships) in Australia found that a majority of the men wished they were having more sex, while some 30% of the women did. Experts, meanwhile, opine that women in relationships would have sex more often if they weren’t so stressed, tired, or insecure about their bodies, and offer tips to overcome these inconvenient feelings. I’m not saying that these aren’t mood-killers, but another possible (and related) culprit is our insistence that each sexual experience we have constitute Great Sex™, the “movie-theater lovemaking” my partner cited, which can seem daunting to execute if we are in fact a little sleepy or bloated or not 110% chomping at the bit to rip off our partner’s clothes and bang the living daylights out of them with the seamless continuity of a single-take movie sequence. (And let’s not forget that in movies, "lovemaking" is a plot device to move a story along, not, you know, actual sex — but we normalize and emulate what we see.)

I love that my partner and I are comfortable with a variety of modes of getting it on. Some of our hookups are superbly lazy. We’ll have a conversation about something as banal as our days at work while we have sex, take a break and put on 30 Rock, and then start fooling around again 20 minutes later, or not. Playing with distraction, through phone use for example, lightens the mood, and lightheartedness takes the pressure off performance. My partner doesn’t feel expected to come in a certain amount of time, or do much of anything other than enjoy my body. That can be hot for us both.

In movies, "lovemaking" is a plot device to move a story along, not, you know, actual sex — but we normalize and emulate what we see.

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There’s power play in distracted sex, too. My partner and I both get off on the implication that he can have me whenever he wants, regardless of what I’m doing or how “busy” I am, which is a kind of control fantasy. On the flip side, but also in the mix, is the implication that I’m so busy and important and unattainable that I’m not terribly bothered whether my partner does or doesn’t have sex with me, which makes me the one with the power. (There’s a whole NSFW subreddit on this “bored/ignored” dynamic if you want to explore further.)

The key to “bored/ignored” play, of course, is that I’m actually neither bored nor ignoring my partner. If either of these are true of you or the person you’re boning, you have a problem. Our distraction is a fantasy — an experimentation with sex that doesn’t fall into neat Hollywood grooves. Just as dinner some nights is a burrito out of tinfoil instead of veal scaloppine on china, not every sexual encounter with your partner has to be a concerted display of passion and intense connection. Valentine’s Day is coming up. You’ll have plenty of time for that then.
The Bed Post is a series that explores what holds us back from sex and love with whom we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want — because we all deserve sex and love lives that are not only free of evils, but full of what is good. Follow me on Twitter at @hlmacmillen or email me at hayley.macmillen@refinery29 — I’d love to hear from you. Find all of The Bed Post right here.
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