Where your personalities go when you’re having sex

Will McPhail (in a New Yorker “Daily Shouts” piece on 7/1/18) thinks they socialize pleasantly with one another — have a coffee together, play pingpong, eat hot dogs, shoot some hoops — while speculating wryly about how you’re managing without them and fretting poignantly about when they can get back to helping you through your lives.

All about sex, but with two feet as the only bodyparts depicted and the verb bounce as the only sexually tinged vocabulary. Unfolding in a cartoon of ten gentle, unhurried panels featuring two wraith-like personalities, one blue-green, one red-purple.

(After the McPhail I’ll write a bit about sexual ecstasy as an altered state of consciousness, with a link to some decidedly hard-core writing about sex at the gay baths, but with no actual raunch here.)

(McPhail has his own Page on this blog.)

Where your personalities go when you’re having sex


Altered states of consciousness. The Wikipedia entry works out from “any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking state”, but there’s clearly a huge and diverse range of phenomena here, with different (often poorly understood) causes and different manifestations. In addition to sexual ecstasy, at least:

dream states, day-dreaming, hypnosis, meditative states, abnormal states induced by psychoactive substances (or by fever, sleep deprivation, or fasting), athlete’s high, musical absorption, spiritual ecstasy, oceanic states (in which you become one with the world around you), epileptic seizures, psychosis

Some would add the full variety of heightened mental alertness and activity induced by stimulants — uppers — of all kinds, from caffeine to amphetamines and some steroids.  (I am myself very sensitive to the steroid prednisone; depending on the dosage, it can merely make me more alert and wakeful, or mimic the effects of speed, or produce hallucinations.)

As for sexual ecstasy, McPhail’s fable treats each of us as a couple, separately personified: one a carnal being, a sex machine; the other an ethereal being, a personality with a complex social life, and also a thought machine. To engage in sex, the carnal member of the pair abandons its companion temporarily, but then rejoins it after climax. (Descartes and Freud, separately or together, are never far from such fantasies.)

A cute story, but of course not adequate for the psychological complexities of actual sexual connection. Where consciousness is often divided — you are, for instance, simultaneously abandoned to ecstasy, in heat or in rut, and also reflecting on this fact — and often shifting — you are abandoned, but then for a moment you hear the street noises, or recall a similar earlier encounter in the place you are in, or even wonder what’s for dinner — and then fall back into being a sexanimal.

Several of my “sex at the baths” postings attempt to capture both coexisting and shifting states of consciousness during sex. In particular, from my 8/26/10 AZBlog X posting “Nostalgia for the Baths” (reporting on occasions from the early 1980s), a recollection of an oceanic experience of mine from some years before, a memory track in the midst of sex in the baths:

•  I am rounding the corner by [my Sussex boyfriend] James’s flat in Brighton, early morning. The sea appears in front of me, ruffled into silver by the wind, and the world drops away, my body rising up into an exhilaration of silver-blue everywhereness. Why are other people walking on the street as if nothing was happening? How can they even move, now that the air around us has become this thick sparkling substance? Catching sight of the ocean will sometimes bring this experience up on the screen for me.

Later, during sexual ecstasy, a fantasy scene flashes through my consciousness, accompanying and heightening the ecstatic state:

On track 2 I am running, leaping crazily, through light surf, salt spray dashing against my face and filling my mouth, which hangs negligently open. An intense warmth, just a hair short of burning, radiates from my guts out to the tips of my fingers and my toes. I believe that I could set the spray on fire by pointing a finger at it.

There’s more, with several tracks going on at once, and  tracks appearing and disappearing from my consciousness.

(Note if you go to this posting: the sexual acts are described in vivid detail, in plain language, so this material is not for everyone.)


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