Can We Be Lovers & Not Have Sex?

Have you ever really loved someone, but not known how to tell them? Have you wanted to touch someone – not to seduce them – but to feel close without words getting in the way? Has the complication come because this person was “just” a friend, or even a complete stranger, and there are no social norms for expressing this kind of emotion to someone who isn’t either family or lover?

I recently stumbled across an essay that perfectly describes this previously unnamed feeling in my chest. It’s so perfect that I want to re-post it here in its entirety before I speak to it.


Can We Be Lovers & Not Have Sex?

written by Brentan Schellenbach, published at Elephant Journal

I want a life of a million lovers.

I want to love you.

I want to love you if you are male or female, young or old, single or married…

When I see you we will embrace and hold a hug long enough to glimpse some insight from each other’s heartbeat.

When we walk down the street we shall link arms, pause frequently, and turn our toes and noses towards the other to speak directly without modesty.

I would like us to share the couch together, rather than creating a “do not cross” line where we may as well be sitting on brick blocks seated four feet away. Give me your knee, your foot, your thigh—let your body dangle on top of my body so I can know you the way litters of kittens know each other.

I want to show up to you and look into your eyes instead at your eyes. I want to feel your hand and be consumed by it until the rest of the world ceases to exist. I want to be in your presence and be in want of nothing.

I would like you to leave our time together feeling loved and free and full of your most vibrant and luscious hue of you-ness.

Please do not get confused: I do not want to have sex with you—whether you are male or female.

I have no sexual agenda, as you know, because we laugh at the freedom we feel to speak to strangers for reasons other than because we have to or because we’re hitting on them.

For me, sharing sex with someone requires a certain alignment, and I do not take that lightly. My sex requires that I can possibly foresee living with a person and combining all my stuff with all of their stuff (and I mean physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual stuff—the stuff that just feels heavy if it’s not the right fit, but feels buoyant beyond imagination when it is). It is delicate, it is careful, it is not presumptuous or impulsive.

And I do not think that our connection is somehow weakened because we do not share our bodies with each other.

For love is love is love is love, and that is what I want.

I only want us to fall in love.

Now I realize that at some point, either you or I may change our minds and crave sexual expression with each other.

For I am human—as are you—and we have wants that change and grow.

But if that desire should spring upon one of us, I hope that we will talk about it, the way we talk about the universe, cultural tropes, the nature of depression, what makes a good cup of coffee, and how your day was yesterday.

I hope that that topic of conversation is no more avoided than talking about the latest episode of Doctor Who or how to effectively clean one’s mouth from Oreo breath.

I would like you to share yourself with me—every stitch of you—so that I may be warmed and nourished by your tapestry. And I would not like you to worry that some of your threading is inappropriate or uncomfortable to share with me, because I am only here to accept you exactly as you are and to take interest in the way you step through life.

So lay on me your doubts, your troubles, your faux pas, your suffering, your sadness. Lay on me your hopes, your dreams, your excitements, your curiosities, your guilty pleasures.

I want to see you how you see yourself.

And while you tell me all of this and more, I would like to rest my eyes upon your eyes, and take my hand upon your back, and laugh up to the ceiling as you divulge, because it is in these moments of pure exposure that I bask in the ever-so-specific you, and I become the ever-so-specific me, and even though you’ve never stepped into the tides of the Pacific and I’ve never ridden a skateboard, I am more sure than I’ve ever been that we are the same.

I don’t care if I see you everyday or if I see you only just the one time when I happened to be in that coffee shop and you happened to be making my drink (which was delicious, by the way, and thank you for not rolling your eyes when I asked if your only non-dairy milk was soy)—I want to be your lover.

And I will have the lover whom I share a bed with, and it will be none the less—on the contrary, that love will be all the more—because I take on another million lovers.

So if you’re ready, let me see you and let me love you.

My insides, my arm, my couch, my laugh, my eyes, my toes are all for you.

I hope that is enough.


I too, want a life of a million lovers. On my best days, I see scenes out in the world that make me want to run up and tell people how devastatingly beautiful they are: “Oh, thank you for loving your dog so much. I can see how must she trusts you, and it gives me hope.” “I just wanted you to know that watching you throw pottery today sent shivers down my spine, and I’ll think of you when I think of grace.” But I don’t say these things, or at best I edit them to be calmer; less effusive, because I am an emotional wimp and I am afraid of creeping people out.

Then there are the special cases: the people in my life who appear again and again, and every time they do I’m overcome with love for them. The boy who I’ve adored for years, slept beside, taught students with, trusted quite literally with my life… and yet I’ve never told him that I love him. The bond and admiration I feel for him goes so deep that it’s beyond friendship. It’s not romantic at all, and yet the only ways I can think to adequately express it seem to contain a terrifying risk of confusing him about my intentions, or angering his lovely girlfriend. “I love you so much. Just looking at you makes me instantly happier. I’m glad you exist, and that night we sang together in the moonlight is one of the memories I’d save if I could only choose ten to hold onto.” I’m sure there is a way to tell him this without making everything weird, but I feel too awkward to try. Meanwhile, feeling it is enough, and I imagine that, deep down, he feels it too.

Of course I have friends who I hug and nuzzle all the time. But most of them are women my age, or they’re children, and they’re safe to hug. I’d give so much to live in a world where I could lay my head on anyone’s shoulder, hold anyone’s hands, stare into anyone’s eyes in silence. Maybe I’ll build up the courage to start sharing more compliments. But my dream of sitting relaxed on a couch, throwing my arm around my favorite college professor’s shoulders, thanking her for all she taught me and absorbing her through osmosis? I’m just not sure that world can be a reality, no matter how brave I become. She’s hugely important to me, and cherished – but there’s this professional distance.

If you asked me why I yearn for these possibilities, I’d say it’s because I’m just not into secrets and barriers where there could be shared joy and open communion. I’ve always been an intensely physical person: back rubs and hair petting are more alluring to me than chocolate or a warm bath.  I know not everyone feels this way.

So what about you? Would this level of touch, of boundary-less communion, be welcome in your world? Or would it just be bizarre?


37 responses to “Can We Be Lovers & Not Have Sex?

  1. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone knew how to love like you; unconditionally and unabashedly? We would be clear about our intentions. Sexuality would have its place and everyone would know where that was.

    You are a beautiful soul, Jennie! Great post.

    • Debra, you’re so kind. But the truth is, I don’t know how to love like this. I aspire to it, but I’m a little afraid of unexpected consequences. I think unfiltered emotion often comes off as somehow threatening in our current wary/cynical society, and I worry about being “that strange woman” who loves too much and makes people uncomfortable.

      I pretty much just need to get over it, huh? I do believe that with clear communication and good intent, all will be well. I’m going to start practicing, and hope it brings me closer to perfect. That’s how it goes, right? 🙂

  2. It’s sweet and wonderful, darling, and it’s a shame that the world is such a cynical place. You are a kind and generous person, Jennie darling, and I love you, and am glad to share the planet with you!

    • What’s that? I just have something in my eye… no, wait! No holding back! It’s a tear, because you made me tear up, because your words went right to my heart. I love you, too, Helena. I really do. My life is richer, funnier, and more textured because you’re in it.

    • It would be intense! And I’m not sure if interactions this intimate would be totally energizing, because of the vibrant connection… or whether they’d make me want some alone time afterward, just to process. Probably some of both – but I think it’d be so worth it.

  3. I had male friends that I would lay my life down for (in the military and out) yet in my generation and life style you never crossed the line and spoke the L word. You buddied up and shared everything you owned, even a bed . . . except the L word was never spoken.

    I remember my great friend Fred who I lived in the streets with in Portland during the hippie days telling me one night how much he “dug” me and I instantly began to wonder where he was coming from and I rolled over on the floor and didn’t answer him.

    My generation fought together, laughed together, got drunk together, stole cars together and went to jail together, but never did I ever hear the L word mentioned . . . weird huh?

    On the other hand In my youth I never had a girl friend that I didn’t try to f— or at least thought about it . . . one thing that is really cool about being 71 is that I can now meet a woman without all the other stuff even entering into the picture. . . . much nicer.

    I come from the free sex generation, but now that I look back it wasn’t at all free . . . it was hugely expensive as it took the place of so many times when I could truly have explored the ways of love . . . weird huh?

    • I really, really love this comment. There’s so much meat to it. Do you feel like those relationships were any less valuable because they weren’t explicitly described as love? Much as I like having everything in the open, I can understand that some people feel there’s as much or even more value in letting something simply be what it is, without having to label it.

      • You cannot tell your buddies that you love them (now I’m speaking from MY generation which was basically three generations ago I suppose) but you prove to them and yourself everyday that you do. I wrote a story entitled My Old Friends that I will put on my blog if you care to read it . . . that will explain myself better than these little posts could . . .

  4. I see the appeal of loving another’s soul so deeply, you need not of sex to complete or show one another how much you two love each other. Frankly, it is a grade school fallacy. I once lied to myself and forced myself to believe that I could love my former paraplegic husband unconditionally. Without physical desire, all with love, patience, and respect for one another. I dragged myself along for five years before the glitter and glam faded away. Five years of devoting yourself to one another without physical touch, intimacy, or lust is basically equivalent to the love of a sibling or best friend. There is a reason sex has been a symbol of consummation of marriage and/or love. It is a given, a must, a need. That passion derived from sex, shows all and tells all completely, utterly, and truly. Words are but merely words. Actions convey the truth in your words.

    Yours Truly,
    X Jayde Ox

    • Your story about your past marriage is really moving. This is exactly why I hold such a division between love, touch, and then sex. I could never have a marriage without a good sex life, but with my friends, there’s a huge range of ways to love and touch (to consummate the relationship, as you say) that are valuable precisely *because* they’re different than sex.

  5. When I was much younger (in my twenties), I would have agreed with the writer. I am not sure that I disagree now but intimacy takes on many forms. Sex is not necessarily in the equation for us to experience these connections. As for my one and only, there are few words ( except in my poetry and essays, maybe) that can really get to the essence of our feelings for one another. There is no way that I could even begin to share myself with others the way I do with him.

    I am glad for this post-very thought provoking!

    • I absolutely agree with you about the utterly unique nature of my relationship with my husband. He’s the person I chose, who chose me back, and that makes all the difference.

      But I do think this kind of intimacy with others out in the world (just looking deeply in their eyes, or speaking more unguardedly, or feeling comfortable holding their hand) would bring more energy and lightness home to that most special relationship. Because love breeds love. Feeling happy makes you want to pass it along.

      At least, that’s what I imagine. I’ll let you know what I learn when I’m finally brave enough to try!

  6. I very much understand this, even though I am a much less physical person, but I think that amplifies it for me too that it’s not in any way sexual, just an intense, deep love for who a person is and what they’re about, and the relationship that is there. I can totally understand, and I wish that our world was more open to it in positive manners. (If that makes sense.)

    • Right! Even just really looking someone in the eyes is not something many people do, and it shows such respect and openness. When I first met my husband, I actually had to ask him to stop being so squirrely with his eye contact. He was so unused to really looking into people that he could only take about 2 seconds of direct contact before those pupils would slide to the ceiling, or the floor… but we’ve moved way past that now. 🙂

  7. I think a world with that level of emotion would be wonderful. I am too fearful of being misunderstood to say how i truly feel about a lot of things and a lot of people because I don’t want to seem bizarre or too emotional, or have those feelings misunderstood. It would be freeing to live in a world without fear of our emotions or of sharing them, but at the same time I think it would be tiring also. Yes, we would crave some alone time surely!
    Still, it would be nice to be able to show our love and our souls a bit more freely, but we as a people are so guarded and so unsure of ourselves and so afraid…
    I often wish I could give that stranger a compliment, but often do not, I blame it on shyness, but all too often I am just afraid of how they may perceive what I have to say. Maybe I will start trying more.

    • I’m absolutely an introvert, so I usually recharge from being alone instead of with people. But… I think a lot of why being with people (as much as I love them) is tiring is because I have to focus, even if just slightly, on keeping the right walls up, not saying something strange, etc. If I could be as much myself with people as I am when I’m alone, I think I’d be an absolute extrovert!

      Let me know if you start trying, and how it goes. 🙂

      • Totally agree with you! I am such an introvert that being around others if often just overly taxing because I can’t relax and be myself. I wouldn’t even know how. Oh those walls…I’m an expert at them!

  8. If a person views love as an ’emotion’ then sex fits . . . If a person views love as a ‘state of being’ sex gets left behind . . . there is a huge difference between emotion and state of being . . . the former we have plenty of . . . the latter, not nearly enough.

    • I think they’re both good, in different ways. But yes, I can list on 10 fingers the number of people for whom my love is an absolute constant; a bedrock of both our existences that just is, as opposed to something that’s tidal in nature.

  9. So much of this post is so deeply beautiful. Feel free to hold my hand, stroke my hair, rest your head on mine – I won’t think you weird at all. I’l just smile, breathe with you, and be grateful for our shared space, time, and love.

  10. Yes. A million, billion, trillion times Yes. There are a few people in my life who I share this love with. Who are my platonic lovers. I wish those connections were more the rule than the exception.

    As a married woman, it’s become an even more relevant subject in my life. What is and is not “appropriate” to share with another human being? As a queer woman married to a straight man, how might he see things differently when I am affectionate with a woman? Or a man? I fall in love all the time. What an incredible thing it would be to openly and bravely share all of that love.

    • “Yes” back! Writing about being a married person who feels this way could be a whole new post! I freely admit there are a few people who I would not like to see my husband touching or looking at in this way, even though I know they are “just” his good – and very platonic – friends, and ideally my support for this ideal would overcome my jealousy. And, like you, I fall in love all the time. I usually have at least one “work crush,” as I am around very smart, vibrant people in a university setting. I used to tell J about them, and though I made it clear that “work crush” and “girl crush” are meant to convey admiration, not an actual intent to pursue anyone romantically, he eventually asked me to not pass that information along. And I totally understand why. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Have you written on your blog about being a queer woman married to a man? I would love to read a personal story about what that is like, and whether you still feel the urge to come out to people, and if so, how you do that, etc. etc. etc.

      • I haven’t written about that phenomenon specifically, though being queer in general has come up on RLB a few times. Coming out is definitely something I still do, and of course it looks different every time. As it was before I was married, I don’t feel compelled to come out to everyone all the time, but there are moments where I have a really hard time keeping it to myself. So I usually don’t. 🙂

  11. I just read this tonight. I needed to know what this was about.

    I love to love. I love to touch. I would love to live in a world where I could touch and hold all the people that I love; want to live in a world where it’s okay that I fall in love with so many people, all the time.

    But I don’t think the world wants me to. I bump up against a lot of rules. And I get them confused myself. I turn love into being “in love” and then all of a sudden, there comes expectation.That’s not me loving freely. That’s me having been societally conditioned to think that love has to look a certain way.

    And the touching thing – the trouble is, I’m bursting with life force. And as much as I’d love to just hug, rub, be, stare, – it could easily navigate into something sexual. And those waters are murky.

    But I so love being physical. If we were hanging out, watching a movie, I’d want you to put your head in my lap, and I’d scratch it luxuriously, or give you a fabulous foot rub. I fall in love with people, dogs, pets, grandmothers, bloggers, everyone.

    And you, Jennie Saia. I wrote in my Sunshine Award post that I have a girl crush on you (and Jen Tonic). I miss you!

    • This is all so true for me as well, you wunderkind of poetic prose! Some of the people I most want to show love to are the one I probably shouldn’t do it with, because those lines are vague and ambiguous and I think there are very few friendships that haven’t at some point made both people think, “What if?” And that shit is dangerous if you’re committed to being married to one person. So sometimes, I don’t touch, even when I probably could. But… given my choice to shape the world however I wanted it, I’d spend SO much more time cuddling SO many more people. And you. Of course you, because I love how you love and think and write and, in my mind, we’re totally watching “Princess Bride” on a red velvet couch and taking turns braiding each others’ hair.

  12. Pingback: Thank You Jennie! | Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante.·

  13. This is total crap … what is wrong with sex??? Try to imagine the frustration of your healthy partner, the emotionally and physically sain?? Pure manipulation, don’t you think? I am a woman and I experienced this type of relationship with this perfect, pure, loving man. Pure sadism and guilt trip! No, thank you!

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