Sex, Spontaneity, and the "Swept Away" Myth

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

So why is the myth of sexual spontaneity so damaging?

I know. I’ve written about this before. Buy why else?

Gone with the wind
I’ve written before about the myth of sexual spontaneity: the myth that, for sex to be good and meaningful, the desire has to strike both partners out of the blue and be acted on immediately. I’ve written about how unrealistic the myth is, how poorly it fits into the reality of many people’s sex lives; I’ve written about the narrow and limiting definition of sexual desire it creates.

But I’ve been thinking lately about another — and in many ways more serious — problem with the myth of sexual spontaneity.

And that’s that it contributes to the idea that sex is dirty and bad… and thus makes people feel like sex is only okay if they don’t take responsibility for it.

A lot of other feminists have talked about this: the myth of being “swept away.” It’s the myth that sexual desire should overpower you with blinding passion — and that if it doesn’t, if you plan for it, that’s somehow cold and calculating and missing the point. And it’s a myth that fucks up sex lives from beginning to end. It keeps teenagers from using birth control. It keeps people from talking with their partners about what they like and don’t like in bed. It keeps people from educating themselves about sex, on the grounds that it should be “natural.” It keeps long-term couples from making dates for sex.

And I would argue — as many feminists have argued before me — that the “swept away” myth essentially comes from the idea that sex is bad.

Let’s look at another primal animal desire, one that we don’t have as much negative baggage about. Let’s take the desire to eat. We don’t think that eating a meal is somehow diminished by planning for it; that eating is only true and beautiful if the desire strikes us out of the blue and we act on it at once. Sure, we’ll stop and buy funnel cake if we smell it at a street fair… but we also buy groceries a week in advance, and make reservations for busy restaurants, and think in the morning or afternoon about what we might want for dinner, and make careful plans for special, festive meals.


Because we basically think that eating is okay. We have some complicated and messed-up feelings about food in our culture, sure; but most of us accept that food is a necessary and valuable part of life. We don’t think there’s anything wrong with planning a meal… because we don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating one.

But that’s patently not the case with sex. Our culture tends to see sex, either as a sin that we must resist, or as a selfish luxury we can do without. We don’t see it as a necessity, and we definitely don’t see it as a central and valuable part of the human experience.

And yet — obviously — we still want it.

Swept away
Which is where the “swept away” myth comes in. The “swept away” myth lets us have sex, while pretending to ourselves and everybody else that we didn’t really want it, and didn’t consciously choose it, and can’t be blamed for it.

It’s essentially a way of abdicating responsibility for sex. It’s a way of convincing yourself that you didn’t really choose this. You were overwhelmed by passion, by an animal urge or emotional flood that couldn’t be controlled. You couldn’t help it. It wasn’t your fault.

It’s like fantasies about bondage or rape: fantasies that, for many folks, let them enjoy sex, or enjoy thinking about sex, while still feeling like it’s against their will and they’re not responsible for it. Now, there’s not a damn thing wrong with these fantasies. There’s not even anything wrong with acting these fantasies out. But it’s no way to live your entire sex life. (Unless you’re into the 24/7 dom/sub thing… and even that takes a lot of thought and conscious choice, more even than most sex lives.) It’s not grownup. It’s not responsible.

New good vibrations guide to sex
And ultimately, it’s not even that much fun. The “swept away” myth of spontaneity seriously limits your opportunities to learn about sex; to learn more about your partners desires and your own; to expand your sexual repertoire. It limits the kinds of sex you can have: if planning for sex ruins it, that pretty much rules out the acquisition of sex toys. Not to mention sex education materials, or smut, or birth control. And — especially if your life is stressful and overbooked, or you’re getting older and the spontaneous urge to boff is diminishing — it limits your sex life in the most blunt and obvious way… namely, how often you have it.

And maybe more importantly, the “swept away” myth feeds the monster of sex-negativity. It feeds the monster in our culture and in all of us that says that sex is a sin, and that while letting yourself be overcome with lust might be forgivable, consciously choosing to make room for it in your life makes you guilty of first- degree sex. With premeditation and passion aforethought.

I actually have nothing against spontaneous sex. I love spontaneous sex. Being overwhelmed with lust, blowing off your dinner reservations because your lover’s ass has suddenly become way more important… that’s lovely. It’s like an adventure, like riding a rollercoaster. It lets you feel like your entire life isn’t being measured out in coffee spoons; like you still have the capacity to surprise yourself, and to be surprised.

My problem isn’t with spontaneous sex. It’s with the myth of spontaneous sex. It’s with the idea that spontaneous sex is the best sex, the sex we should all be having all the time, the only sex that counts. As one kind of sex among many, spontaneous sex is great. But as The One True Sex, it severely limits your sexual options. And it feeds into the monstrous idea that making sex a priority makes you a bad person.

So buy a vibrator. Make a sex date. Have a conversation with your partner about sexual things you might like to do. Call San Francisco Sex Information, and ask them a question you have about sex. Read a book about a kind of sex you’re curious about. Do something that says, “Sex is a priority for me, and I am making a conscious choice that will shape what my sex life looks like.”

And let’s starve the monster together.

Sex, Spontaneity, and the "Swept Away" Myth
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7 thoughts on “Sex, Spontaneity, and the "Swept Away" Myth

  1. 1

    The “swept away” myth lets us have sex, while pretending to ourselves and everybody else that we didn’t really want it, and didn’t consciously choose it, and can’t be blamed for it. It’s essentially a way of abdicating responsibility for sex.

    This reminds me of a girl I knew in college who would get drunk every weekend at a party somewhere and screw around on her boyfriend (who was back in the home town) with pretty much any guy who put the moves on her, rationalizing that she wasn’t *really* cheating on him because she was just drunk at the time.
    And I gathered that an awful lot of single girls at college got drunk as a way of avoiding acknowledging responsibility for their sexual activity — sometimes after just a single beer.
    In other words, for some reason it was deemed less respectable to be a slut than it was to be a drunk slut.
    ~David D.G.

  2. 2

    The “swept away” myth lets us have sex, while pretending to ourselves and everybody else that we didn’t really want it, and didn’t consciously choose it, and can’t be blamed for it.
    And of course in doing that, it feeds into rape apologism, with people claiming they were just so turned on they couldn’t stop themselves even though their partner asked them to.

  3. 3

    As I’m sure you appreciate, bondage in real life often requires meticulous planning and patience that runs entirely counter to the “swept away” style of sex.

  4. 4

    An inspiring read indeed. I’m very much a planner in many aspects of my life, and that definitely includes sex. Almost all the sex I have is planned well in advance, and in many cases such planned sex is better than spontaneous sex, when you didn’t think about what you’re going to do so long in advance. Not to mention fun stuff such as group sex, which is almost impossible without fore-planning.
    I guess I never thought people might think that planned sex is bad, but I guess some people are weird…

  5. 5

    I love this notion that sex should be spontaneous – not a whole lot different than any other notion of what sex “should” be like.
    I engaged in prostitution for a while, to support my family (unfortunately the economy sank enough to drive even that down). I am a guy and unfortunately, the vast majority of work available to male prostitutes is with male clients – no biggie, as I love to get people off – but I am not nearly so fond of sex with men. So one of the ways that I made it more interesting and often less sexual on my part, was to cater fetishes and fantasies.
    For the most part it wasn’t all that hard to work out what clients wanted from me, but sometimes it required exhaustive planning. When it did, it often times meant far more time spent setting up scenarios, than the actual time spent acting out the scenarios. It also meant paying a great deal of attention to not only what the client was saying, but to what they weren’t. I had to adjust situations rapidly, to compensate for something implied, that email and other communications hadn’t explicitly stated.
    But when the client is particularly earnest about a particular fantasy, being entirely explicit about their desires would ruin the fantasy they want fulfilled. And of course the legal status of prostitution often prohibited explicitness.
    Even years ago, when I was just a huge slut, I loved to help fulfill fantasies. Whether it was setting a friend up with others to fulfill their fantasies, fulfilling their stated fantasies or being recruited to fulfill someone else’s fantasy, it was marvelous fun. One of my favorites, was one that I actually got to repeat for pay…
    A very good friend asked me to fulfill one of his GF’s fantasies. She really wanted to be surprised by someone she didn’t know or didn’t expect, while in the shower or getting dressed, with a very vanilla domination scene. I later did virtually the exact same thing for a guy who’s partner set it up with me.
    Personally, I find fulfilling fantasies a huge turn-on. There is little more erotic and exciting to me, than really getting someone off by helping them with a sexual experience they’ve always wanted to have, but were never able to manage. The stranger or darker, the better, because that usually means they are going to be especially thrilled.
    My very favorite clients, were the ones who took the most planning. And my very favorite sex, is with a partner who knows exactly what I want and who has ensured that I know exactly what she wants.

  6. 7

    I take issue with your characterisation of bondage fantasies – They mean I’m not taking responsibility for wanting sex? What? Um, no! And centering your sex life around bondage is irresponsible and not grown up? I’m kind of offended, but my boyfriend thinks that wasn’t what you meant and I should comment and let you explain, so here tis. I don’t think I read anything into those words that wasn’t there.

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