Siddhartha and Sex

I’m about halfway through listening to Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha on audiobook, and I found within it one of  the more beautiful passages about sex that I’ve encountered:

First, when Siddhartha is talking to his lover, Kamala, we get this:

But again and again, he came back to beautiful Kamala, learned the art of love, practised the cult of lust, in which more than in anything else giving and taking becomes one…


Siddhartha said nothing, and they played the game of love, one of the thirty or forty different games Kamala knew. Her body was flexible like that of a jaguar and like the bow of a hunter; he who had learned from her how to make love, was knowledgeable of many forms of lust, many secrets. For a long time, she played with Siddhartha, enticed him, rejected him, forced him, embraced him: enjoyed his masterful skills, until he was defeated and rested exhausted by her side.

I heard this and I was knocked into some introspection. I have a lot of anxiety surrounding sex and sexuality, in that the sense that I limit myself to certain kinds of sexual encounters. For a while, it was something that I tried to suppress by just having lots of sex, in the hope that I would become dull to the anxiety I feel when getting naked with another person. This passage resonated with me, I think, because of the martial language that Hesse uses. I will return to this in a moment. Rather than leveraging some sort of social critique here about the way men are socialized surrounding sexuality, I’ll just list some of my quirks, and leave it up to the internet to decide if they resound with any social critiques of masculinity (wink wink):

  • Intense anxiety about the length of sexual encounters
  • Anxiety or disbelief about my partner’s level of satisfaction
  • Discomfort about oral sex (receiving, not giving)
  • Inability to produce dirty talk
  • Feelings of shame after I orgasm

Now, to be clear, it’s not that all of these things happen at the same time, or always happen. I’ve had wonderful sexual encounters with wonderful people and am not trying to make myself out to be completely anxiety-ridden surrounding sexuality. Many times, however, sex is not so much a pleasure activity for me as a sort of physical and mental endurance challenge.

I think that several of those traits reflect incredible self-absorption in a sexual partner, and I’m trying to be a bit less of that.

Which is why this passage was so wonderful. I had not yet encountered a narrative that made sex so gamey. Sure, Hesse might be using some sort of archaic usage of the word “defeated,” but like it because even though he lost, Siddhartha presumably had a good time having sex–which would seem to be the very definition of what makes a game good–that there is still pleasure to be had in a loss. He had fun!

I’ve been sending a lot of query letters for my book lately, and something I tried to do when writing the damned thing was talk about my book and my life as if they both were the most badass shit ever. It’s a good strategy right now, as I’ve discovered in dealing with my particular level of self-loathing, when I write something that I think is super self-aggrandizing, I just sound a lot like a normal person. Herman Hesse has convinced me to treat sex a bit more like a game, and maybe by playing, my sexual encounters will more closely approach the pleasurable thing they’re supposed to be.

Stuff that was kicking around in my head as I wrote this: