Erin O'daniel is a writer, artist and gender expansive womxn living in Duluth, Minnesota

Trade Offs- From Where We Live to Why We Have Sex

I walked a friend/crush through an STI (std) scare yesterday. After playing phone tag with a nurse for 4 days, they received an early call with ridiculously limited information. My friend was concerned but mostly had a hundred and two inky questions they wanted answered.

As a professional in the sexual and reproductive health field for fifteen years, I was able to pass along helpful thoughts. I also felt this moment in our relationship bring us closer. Interesting how intimate and stressful situations tend to do that.  

Full disclosure this friend and I share a mutual attraction to each other yet the timing isn’t right to engage in anything sexual. We are at very different places in our lives as sexual and communicative/expressive beings. And yet as much as I try to logically talk myself out of the attraction with these differences, my feelings for them seems here to stay. Yes, I’ve had a steady, strong crush on them for six months. Their voice, their body, their connection to the wild, their love of travel abroad, their zest for things different from their lived reality.  Damn! they totally turn me on.

It’s been their decision to not engage in anything sexually. More from a sexuality and experience stand point. They feel they have a lot to learn. While aware of their interest in women for seven years, they’re new to the details of intimacy with female bodied folx.

So we write infinite amounts of letters back and forth, works of art really and allow the connection to be what it is. Less complicated? because sex isn’t involved. And after their experience yesterday, I entertain my own emotions about having not been sexual.  STIs are everywhere, are nothing to be ashamed of, and can present challenges for new relationships. Navigating sexual health concerns together is something that can bring folx closer - in friendship and romance you learn how to navigate choppy waters fast when talking about contagious infections, pleasure and how to practice safe sex.

recap 1= Sex is infinite amounts of fun and can immediately create closeness yet add infinite complexities to the act of loving.  They and I love each other. We’ve said it aloud. I feel it in my body- my heart mostly. And without being sexual, the emotion has grown in profound and different ways. What a trade off!

Part of this equation is their identity as a Minnesotan. They are shy and claim ‘innocence’ in the sex realm. They have little experience talking openly about sex and says I’m the first person in their life who's been open minded and confident about this part of ourselves. Another trade off, I live in a place with easy access to endless amounts of pristine wild space. And for the vastness and freedom in this, I encounter many people who are shy and inhibited sexually. It's woven into the culture of ruralish, Midwestern America. People here are often described as afraid of big emotion, frigid, contained, repressed and reserved.  Thus the impetus behind Sex in My City- to explore my experience as a queer, gender expansive feminist womxn committed to sexual freedom in the Midwest. I have one hundred and two inky questions about why and how and where this reality plays out. Let’s go!

recap 2= I’ve traded being around sex positive expressive queer feminist folx for this wildness. Most days as I drive five minutes to go on gorgeous two hours walks with my pup Lichen, I can assuage my longing to be surrounded, immersed in a more dynamic sex positive culture because of the natural beauty all around me. And I cringe living somewhere people whisper “Gay” or “Sex”, don’t claim kink and desire loudly or proudly. While I can drive three hours and immerse myself in queer, sex expansive community in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, it’s very different than living in it day to day.

I connect here with person after person who is afraid of their lack of experience and inability to express their sexual selves and desires. What does sexual freedom look like elsewhere and how would it feel here?

I have and enjoy sex because of the sheer awesomeness of the shared physicality, because of the emotionality and warmth and fun of it. Sex is a way for me to explore my own capacity to love.

This part of being human is freaking awesome. Why is talking about who we are as sexual beings different here than elsewhere?

I’m exploring two components of my sexual life simultaneously. Releasing all limiting thoughts/behaviors and fine-tuning my critical thought abilities. Who we are as sexual beings is influenced by both. One needs to be able to assess other people’s compatibility with various parts of our lives- our bodies and identities (while attraction and sexual orientation are in flux, it is helpful to know where one lands on the spectrum*) are key, as well as our daily practices and beliefs . Pace, location and values, work and kids. All these pieces together can make something easy, fun and sustaining or exhausting and not worth the effort.

It’s important to use critical thought and mindfulness skills especially in a small city Midwestern America. The pool of available queer sex positive folx is small. One doesn’t want to engage out of desperation and one’s thoughts can be easily influenced by the nuance of sex negativity. Invisibility and lack of conversation about the space we take up as sexual beings influences people in huge ways. With a lack of sex positive role models, the inherent shame of American culture around sex is our default.

Awareness is key. As is action. I believe it will take all of us talking about and exploring who we are as sexual beings to create a shift in nuance. There are endless opportunities to notice who you are as a sexual being in intersectional feminist ways. In my next post I’ll write about my Sex-In idea. Here now are ten concrete examples for you to take into your day:

  1. Notice physical attraction today. Compliment someone if it feels good, embrace pleasure over and over again.

  2. Encourage sexually liberating thoughts and feelings in yourself.

  3. Read something, book or internets, about sex today.

  4. Listen for sex positivity and negativity in song lyrics, notice how they make you feel.

  5. Talk to a friend or family member about who you are as a sexual being.

  6. Ask someone you trust and who trusts you about their sex life. Respect all emotions, sex has been a negative experience for so So many. It will take generations to change our relationships with pleasure.

  7. Notice if you feel shy when you think/talk about pleasure and sex and ask yourself why.

  8. Talk about your sex practice(s) in a respectful, feminist way (get clear what this means for you.)

  9. With consent, hold someone’s hand, feel the pulse of two lives in that moment.

  10. Fantasize about someone. Imagine the endless realm of imagining.

  11. Masturbate or/and meditate. I feel they both have similar benefits for our being. Notice your in breath, your out breath, your body. Play around with deeper breathing and sounds. I like to smile while I engage in both practices.

  12. Remember you’re body is awesome and sometimes frustrating and you’re your own sexpert. Don’t be a perfectionist. Have fun! Be safe!


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