I went to a private school up through 8th grade. We had all the talks about no sex before marriage and STDs and teenage pregnancy. Twenty years later in life and the discussion around sex for single adults doesn't seem much more sophisticated. I've seen rejections of the idea that the Bible prohibits sex before marriage, and thankfully, have read more personal discussions of the reality of chastity. Still though, when I think of actual, applicable advice in navigating potentially sexual relationships, I'm not coming up with much advice...sad, because married and committed folk could likely benefit from a more honest discussion too.
I train in a martial art. Brazilian jiu jitsu to be exact. If you talk to anyone that's stuck with it a while, they'll mention the difficulty, the physical closeness, MMA, but universally, you'll hear about the bonds. Father to son, woman to woman, stranger to stranger, everyone mentions how training has helped them connect with a spouse, reconnect with a child or find a new or second family. None of that is accidental. BJJ, in all its closeness and difficulty, provides an environment of physical and emotional openness that fosters fast bonding. Safety+Vulnerability=Connection. It's just how humans work. It's why people in this photographer's experiment felt closer after just ten minutes of posing together. It happens even with people you don't like.
The sport is 90% male, so as a single, heterosexual female of reproductive age, all of that has created some interesting circumstances--particularly with three guys on my team. Like I mentioned before, BJJ puts you in a position where you develop a physical, non-sexual as well as an emotional intimacy with your training partners. You learn to listen to their breath and heartbeat to read their physical state and intent. I still remember the first time I sat with my ear on a teammate's bare chest, listening to his breath, trying to decipher when he might attack. I've come to accept that they squeeze, grab and touch all the parts of my body that I hide and accentuate with clothing. The bodily functions of gas, odor, sweat, bleeding, drool, menstruation, shedding hairs...they're all out there and everyone has to accept them, and the vast majority of the time, it's done in acceptance. It's all honestly one big study in breaking down cultural norms. There is no personal space. Respectfulness comes from behavior, not so much from restraining bodily processes. You watch each other get angry, frustrated, cry, lose, win, fall down, get back up, and again, and almost always do so with an attitude toward personal growth. You're left, stripped down of all sophistication and pretense, to be beaten down and humbled, again and again; and in that humility, accepted, again and again. It is almost impossible to do that...to be vulnerable and hurt and then met with safety and acceptance, and not connect with someone. Which brings us back to the three guys.
Four years into training and I haven't been involved with anyone at the gym. (It's advice I give to any woman training, regardless of her attitudes toward sex because, if you want to continue training in an already difficult and delicate environment, sex makes things tricky.) That said, sexual intimacy is just the icing on the cake. Things can go WAY awry before then...
- Hot Guy: No need to beat around the bush...this is the guy that EVERYONE notices. Not one straight woman in the gym, single, married or otherwise, hasn't commented on his physique. I remember when I first signed up and saw him walking across the parking lot...he has an intensity about him that's almost audible. He is very alpha and I noticed him noticing me. I decided immediately that this would not be an issue--not "I won't sleep with this guy" but instead, "I will not interact with him on a level that conveys interest". So no flirting, kidding, playful touching. The third class, I was working technique on the mat and heard a loud "snap". I looked up and saw him, just having whipped a towel, standing in his underwear, staring at me intensely. Considering the environment, that's not quite as out of place as it sounds, but his message was clear. Didn't matter though. Didn't matter that he was single. My lines were drawn well before he decided to flaunt his abs. Friendship happens though, and today, we talk, both at the gym and outside, but that's it. I've learned to not be so extreme as to not connect with men who I may be wary of, but I know the lines.
- Married Guy: He's basically Hot Guy, but taller, more muscular and with a more engaging personality. Everybody loves him. I was instantly attracted to him, but kept my distance...not because of some extreme holiness, I just know that you never know the circumstances of anyone in a gym. A couple of months after he started training, he awkwardly introduced me to his wife. I'm very glad he did, because while he may be married, his door is quite open. Men who aren't directly open to cheat on their partners...you can feel that a door is closed, even if there's an attraction. I haven't known Married Guy as long, but I limit my interactions. While I'm open to having and have had long phone conversations with Hot Guy, Married Guy isn't something I can toy with on that level, precisely because there is attraction from my end too.
- Buddy: A constant conundrum. He's not my type physically and vice versa, but he is a fellow INTJ and we clicked instantly and easily, which, for our personality type, is rare, so it results in a honeymoon of friendship. It's a relief to meet someone who thinks, feels and processes the world like you do, so you begin to share in and celebrate that relief with each other. We've spent hours on the phone discussing frustrations, food and music (he's a foodie and musician too), school, business, life and BJJ. We text literally every day. When I met him, he had a girlfriend...one I didn't like much. That aside though, I know myself and my natural penchant to playing semi-girlfriend and the personal pain that comes with that. I've managed my connection with him very carefully. When he first broke up with his girlfriend, I was reluctant to accept invitations to dinners that would have been innocuous with anyone else. They've separated again, likely permanently, but for my own sake, I didn't allow myself to be a support system. When he came to me asking advice as to whether he should stay with her, I remained neutral on the subject. I believe it's part of the reason that now, we have a viable and growing friendship. While there are still awkward moments, I very much appreciate our relationship for what it is.