“What’s wrong?” Anna asked.
She was naked and beautiful with auburn hair and blue eyes underneath strong, soft brows. An American girl. A white girl. Her bedroom was a cosy escape from the rainy winter outside, filled with the warmth of casual sex that was still very alien to me. My first time having sex was cold, dark and drunk, and if I learnt anything about sex then it was forgotten by the morning. My second was short-lived. This was the third.
“Sorry. It’s been a while.” I told her as though timing would have made a difference.
That wasn’t the problem, though. The problem was that, as an Asian man, I felt like I had something to prove. Disproving stereotypes takes up mental energy. Sometimes it’s conscious, like the way I dress and the way I speak. Sometimes it’s not, like my natural ineptitude with numbers.
Sometimes I’m successful, like when I was the only Asian player in my high school rugby team and won the best and fairest award. Sometimes I’m not, like when the Mormons by the Victorian state library try to preach to me in Mandarin, or when someone asks me where I’m really from. Successful or not, it’s always rewarding, always liberating in its own way, but also exhausting.
I couldn’t shake the idea that in the back of Anna’s mind was the same emasculated ideas of Asian men that I had grown up with - of small penises, of impotence, of “our” women preferring white men.
It had been two years since my encounter with Anna and the problem was still the same. I couldn’t drop the idea that I had something to prove. I couldn’t shake the idea that in the back of Anna’s mind was the same emasculated ideas of Asian men that I had grown up with - of small penises, of impotence, of “our” women preferring white men - and that my purpose on that night and in that bed was to prove them all wrong. In the end, that fixation was what proved them right.
That same dialogue repeated in my head the fourth time I had sex. I knew what the problem was. I had felt that anxiety long before sex was even involved, from when I first started talking to girls and couldn’t string words together.
I would hate myself, not for sounding like a bumbling teenager, but maybe sounding like a foreigner. I could articulate my anxiety so clearly and coherently in my own head, but I didn’t recognise it as anxiety, and that I didn’t want to talk about it because I was afraid of that vulnerability.
The fourth time I had sex, Sarah asked what kind of sex I liked and I said that I didn’t know. She asked why, and I said it was because I hadn’t had much sex before. She asked why, not taking “I don’t know” for an answer, and so I told her what I should have told Anna. I told her that I could never shake this idea that my partners weren’t actually attracted to me because of my race, which made me anxious and unable to enjoy being with them. She said that was stupid.
I would hate myself, not for sounding like a bumbling teenager, but maybe sounding like a foreigner.
Once everything was in the open, my anxiety lifted. We had good sex.
Sex wasn’t immediately intuitive for me. It’s about communication, and good communication makes for good sex. It’s been another two years and in that time, finding ways to communicate through sex has made it something I can actually enjoy. It’s no longer a challenge to overcome. It’s private, intimate, removed from how the rest of the world sees me. More importantly, sex is now something my partners can enjoy without feeling like they are, in some way, the problem.
Part of me wonders if I wouldn’t have reached this level of comfort if not for the ethnic-stereotypes I had to deal with in the first place. They forced me to break through my fear of openness that was embedded in my flawed idea of masculinity.
But it’s probably best not to overthink it. That’s what got me into the cycle of bad sex in the first place.
Image courtesy of Ali Yahya/Unsplash.