784: Sex Without Love

784: Sex Without Love

784: Sex Without Love


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I am a bit of a romantic. When I was at a sleepover at my friend Missy’s house in 5th grade, we watched Romancing the Stone and I was so eager to see the two leads fall in love that I was the only one really watching the movie. My friend Missy said, “Oh, I see, Ada is a romantic.” And it’s true. Missy was right then and she’s right now. I love love.

Once before I was married, I made a toast to my husband. We were living in Kentucky and he was probably working. I held up my glass of wine and stared at him somberly, and said something about how grateful I was for our life together, for our relationship, and at the end of the toast, we clinked glasses and he arched one eyebrow and said, “Did we just get married?” So yes, I can be a bit over the top in my love of love.

Even when I was single, I could romanticize strangers or chance encounters or brief affairs into something they were not. My imagination would form attachments based on ideas or dreams. And each time, I’d come back to my body, into myself, and realize that every email or note or sidelong glance was not always the beginning of a romance, yet while it was happening, I’d think I was somehow different from everyone else.

It wasn’t just my own romantic tendencies that fascinated me, but it was also those tendencies of others to be driven not by love or desire for love, but instead to be driven only by the body and its desires. This purely physical drive was a wonder to me, something I was often in awe of, but could very rarely mimic even when I tried. My true self was always somewhere off swooning. It was impressive, those friends, those crushes, who could bow down to the body and even offer it freely, without having to offer their whole heart.

Today’s poem is from a dear teacher, Sharon Olds. This poem has stuck with me for years. It examines the honest way in which some people are able to be intimate without all the heavy weight of romance.

Sex Without Love
by Sharon Olds

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other’s bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the 
children at birth whose mothers are going to 
give them away. How do they come to the 
come to the come to the God come to the 
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health–just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

"Sex Without Love" by Sharon Olds from THE DEAD AND THE LIVING copyright © 1984 Sharon Olds. Used by permission of Penguin Random House.