Article by Diana Raab, Ph.D.
In the summer of 1977, we arrived in the southern French beach town for our honeymoon. I unpacked my suitcase and realized that in the post-wedding frenzy, I forgot to pack the tops of my two-piece bikinis. There’s no way in the world I would spend my honeymoon not swimming in the spectacular Mediterranean. Right beside our small boutique hotel was a beachwear store. With my broken French accent I asked for bathing suit tops. The woman looked at my quizzically as if thinking, “weird and greedy American, wants the top too!” It was my first experience in France. Was it possible all women went topless on the beach here? A stroll on the neighboring beach presented a shock of reality.
“You know,” she said with her tight French accent, “French women do not wear the tops to their bathing suits on the beach.”
“Why haven’t I visited this beach before?” my husband replied half jokingly. After going into a few more stores, we found one who sold one-piece suits, not always sexy, but at least I could sun bathe and figure out another way to seduce my new husband. In addition to enlightening me to the French customs, that trip enticed me to tap into and explore my own sensuality, fantasies, and desires.
Writing and reading about intimacy
Fast-forward twenty years. At the age of 47 and while in graduate school, I discovered the writings of the French Cuban writer Anais Nin. She began her writing career as a diarist, but to make some money, she also wrote erotica. One night I cracked open her book. It was a full moon and I read it until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Like many others, I thought that writing about sex was vulgar and for dirty sexless old men. I was so very wrong. Nin’s classy depiction of intimacy turned me on to the idea that the best erotic literature can be sensual and appealing without being vulgar, and that lust is a whole experience incorporating the body, mind, and spirit. Hearing intimate voices and reading intimate writing can stimulate sexual desire. This can be done in a classy and non-repulsive manner. The stories did not have to depict women in submissive roles. They could depict her as a beautiful human being with desires and fantasies, bottled up and shared. In Nin’s erotica, and others of French origin, the mood and scene is very important in intimacy, as it should be. It’s akin to the perfect presentation of a French cuisine dish.
Here’s a short excerpt of her book, Little Birds, to whet your appetite. “He did not fully know her yet despite those nights in the hotel when they could hear strange voices on the other side of the thin walls. What he asked was not the caprice of a lover, but the desire of a painter, of an artist. His eyes were hungry for her beauty.” (p.66).
As soon as I put Nin’s book down, a green light illuminated inside of me. I began crafting poems in a hidden journal. At the time I was too embarrassed to share what was stirring around my mind, stories and scenarios and feelings. It wasn’t like I just sat down and wrote a bunch of poems. I had to be inspired to write. Sometimes it was an image, other times a feeling, sensation, or thought. The way it worked was that I always carried a journal and whenever inspirations struck, I would write. Sometimes arrived at the strangest and most inopportune moments – driving on the freeway, in the sauna, watching a movie in the theater or during sex. Obviously it would have been difficult to pull out a journal at that time, but the inspiration fired up a poem to be jotted in my journal later in the evening. Once I was inspired to write a sexy poem while watching a striking couple flirting at a cocktail party. It was a poem called, “Never,” about infatuation and what it might have been like when they were in bed together. “You said you have never / had a lover like me / yet when I pushed you and your manhood / into the bed’s corner / to deeply explain, you said / it is complicated / like the climax, relax, and climax / way we make love.” The fantasies and possibilities of what might happen between them just became incredibly real and vivid for me in my imagination.
I shared this poem with a girlfriend and she said, “Wow, that’s great.” With her words of confidence and encouragement, I continued to create more poems in my locked red journal. Years later, I had an entire collection of 70 poems in my “Lustful Musings” journal. When I began telling people about my poetry collection, now simply called, Lust, they shied away and avoided the details. I found it astonishing that they talked about their periods or how their periods stopped at menopause, or how their husband’s could no longer get it up, but felt uncomfortable reading intimate writings. There seemed to be a disconnect somewhere. Somehow, my book touched a part of them, which they had never admittedly explored or expressed. From a man’s perspective, women do not talk openly about how they feel about intimacy. They might talk to their friends, write in their journals or keep their feelings locked up inside of them.
When the artist finished creating the book cover, I shared it with some people. There were mixed reviews. Most people really liked it, but when referring to the woman on the front of the cover under the crispy white sheets, one person said, “Intimacy and lust are lonely times, for sure?” This comment made me stop, think, and wonder. Unless masturbating, we are usually having sex with another person, so how could it be lonely? But on further reflection, I think what the person was saying is that after the intimacy and the act of love making ends, we are left alone in our own worlds. This is true, but it is also true of any life endeavor, whether dancing together, doing yoga together, eating together or necking in the park. We come into this life alone and we leave alone.
Intimacy has always been a vital part of our relationship
I really remember that feeling of aloneness when my grandmother committed suicide when I was ten. We had spent so much time together. One day she was there and the next day gone. I sort of walked in circles around our small three-bedroom house. Lonely hearts are possible at any age. For me, writing has helped ease my way through loneliness because sharing gives your words instant company. You have readers. The readers can be fully dressed and of all ages. They could be wearing negligees in boudoirs, or they can be naked and intimate under a crispy white duvet, maybe even making love and reading poems to one another. Or they could be on a beach in a foreign country admiring all the beautiful bodies.
My husband and I have been married for nearly forty years and intimacy has always been a vital part of our relationship, even when raising our three children. When it comes to intimacy, I still hold on to the idea that America needs to catch up to France. Eliminate violent films and bring love and lust to the screen. Make love not war. The hippies of the 1960s were so right. We must realize that lust is everywhere, as long as we open our eyes to it – to the beauty and the lust for living.
Diana Raab, Ph.D. is a transpersonal psychologist, award-winning memoirist and poet. She is the author of eight books, including her latest poetry collection entitled, Lust. She’s editor of two literary anthologies, and the author of two memoirs, and her writings have appeared in numerous trade and professional publications and anthologies. She is a regular blogger for Psychology Today, The Huffington Post and BrainSpeak. Connect with Diana at www.dianaraab.com and www.twitter.com/dianaraab.