Sexless in the City

Every semester that I teach a college creative writing class, I come face to face with a new batch of students. I gaze upon them — their soft mouths and their eyes all dewy with the hope of transformation — and I am struck by an important realization: They are having more sex than me.

I base this conclusion on several factors:

a) They are happier than me.

b) They are wearing clothing that would allow them to more or less have sex right there in front of me.

c) The first few times I allude to sex (in a literary context, of course) they look at the ground and grin stupidly.

This thought — the they are having more sex than me thought — isn't exactly revolutionary. As it turns out, a lot of the clergy in this town are having more sex than me.

Nonetheless, it pains me to think of my students having sex — incompetent, 21-year-old sex (the ardent lunging, the muscle cramps, the embarrassed rush of it all). Although, really, it pains me to think of anyone having sex when I am not having sex, which is most of the time.

I saw a statistic recently noting that the average American has sex 138 times per year. I'm not sure what agency is charged with documenting such things (the Bureau of Homeland Nooky?), but I never want to work there.

Seriously: 138?

I'll be lucky if I have sex 138 times in my entire life.

So, let me just say this to those of you who are not, at the moment, having sex: Doesn't it suck?

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), I have given this question considerable thought over the past, oh, 20 years or so. And so I would like, now, to deliver a direct address to the sexless among you, a sort of State of the Failure to Union address.

First, though, we need to establish some parameters. I don't want those of you who are sneaking in some sex to think this address is intended for you. I am really talking only to the Hardcore Unwilling Celibates, or HUCs (rhymes with “trucks”).

Here are just a few of the major warning signs:

a) Do you find yourself casually perusing the adult classifieds?

b) Is masturbation becoming a scheduled activity?

c) Are you nostalgic for bad sex?

d) Have you fantasized, in an erotic manner, about Connie Chung or Tom Brokaw?

If the answer to any of these questions is, Well, sort of, then you are officially a HUC.

This is an especially tough era for us HUCs because our entire culture — led, as usual, by Madison Avenue — has gone hopelessly blue.

About 70 percent of our advertising is sending the same basic message: Drive the right car, drink the right beer, use the right soap and . . . you will get sex.

Women's magazines that once concerned themselves with casseroles and cross-stitching now devote considerable editorial space to the protocols of multiple orgasm.

And, lest we forget, the entire political discourse of this country was, for about two years, guided by an unflagging obsession with presidential oral sex.

So it's a tough time to be a sexual have-not.

Living in and around Boston doesn't make matters any easier.

Having resided in four or five other places, I am ready to declare Boston the Most Undersexed City in America — especially if you exclude all those students I mentioned earlier. (They don't live here. They just take classes and copulate here.)

I base this assertion on an exhaustive study undertaken by me, including numerous interviews with my friends, none of whom are getting any either.

Now I know a lot of folks are going to want to blame the Puritans for our city's generally lackluster sexual résumé. And there's no doubt that the Puritans were some pretty hard-up religious nuts. We can all agree that, if they were alive today, and one of their women wanted to, say, appear on The Bachelorette, she would pretty much be shark bait. But if I may just point this out: The Puritans died a really, really long time ago.

The problems that all us poor HUCs face today in Boston are, I'm sorry to report, largely of our own making.

To begin with, we live in a city that's socially Balkanized. Boston tries to portray itself as a big city. But everyone who lives here knows it's really a collection of small villages. And most people hang out with the same villagers day after day.

The real problem, though, is that people in this town are just too ambitious and intelligent. As a rule, I'm all in favor of ambition and intelligence. I find them sexy. The problem is, these qualities are hell on a decent sex life.

The harder you work, the less time you have to play the field. The more thoughtful you are, the less willing you become to endure the various delusions and humiliations of life on the prowl.

This goes double for women because women are, for lack of a better word, discerning. They don't just want a warm body. They want a warm body that is mature, emotionally available, there for the long term. And as they grow older, these things become less negotiable.

I have a dozen single female friends, all of them attractive and accomplished, all raging HUCs.

The other night I asked one of them, “But don't you get hit on?”

“Of course,” she said. “All the time.”

“So what's the problem?” I said.

She gave me one of those looks meant to suggest my bottomless ignorance of the female psyche. Her basic point being, Just because sex is available doesn't mean I'm going to avail myself.

This is very hard to grasp for most men because our chief criterion in choosing a partner is willingness.

And you can't exactly blame us. Women who abstain from sex are considered virtuous. Men who can't get laid are just pathetic.

The tragic irony of this situation is that people get so much better at sex as they get older. They are less embarrassed by their bodies, more aware of what their bodies desire, and better at communicating those desires.

I consider it one of the crueler jokes of evolution that my sexual peak, in terms of activity, was in my early twenties (though I doubt my old girlfriends would find this particular joke funny).

Of course, the meat of the matter is what us HUCs can do, in the here and now, to find the necessary, uh, release.

I've devised a five-point plan.

1. Visit friends in other cities and have sex with them (or their friends). As we all know, having sex with friends who live in the same city is a big mess. What I'm proposing is more like a HUC referral service. Photos and health records would have to be exchanged, of course, along with pleasantries. Think of it as a cultural exchange program, only stickier.

2. Convey to people that you are having a great deal of sex. There is no scent as alluring to the opposite sex as the funk of sexual success. What happens to us HUCs is that we stink of fear — and it drives our potential rescuers away. So I say: Go with the bedhead. Go with the wrinkled shirt. Sound a little groggy. Yawn and smile. And get a friend to back you up by circulating the appropriate rumors.

3. Lower your standards. This one, of course, doesn't really apply to the guys.

4. Pay attention to the numbers. The whole problem with Boston's social scene is that you've got two extremes: meat market or cultural event. Both are pretty loathsome. The key for HUCs is to seek out low-key environments where they are likely to be in the minority, gender-wise. Men, think yoga, dance classes, aerobics. Women, poker games, pool halls, Red Sox games. If you don't like the idea of trolling Fenway for a potential bed partner, see Point 3.

5. Throw a pajama party. Not exactly subtle. But, then, subtlety (as you may have noticed) doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere. Plan activities such as drinking to excess and comparing underwear. If your friends give you a hard time, wink and explain to them that they have no sense of the ironic. Then hand them another drink. Tell certain guests that you don't want them to drive drunk and invite them into your bedroom.

The most important thing to realize, as a HUC, is that sex isn't everything. There are other forms of human interaction that provide a deep sense of connection, such as talking, playing games, or even cooking together.

Unfortunately, these activities are nowhere near as much fun as sex.