A downfall of a relationship can come from a variety of things: broken trust, incompatible futures, outside stress that pulls you apart, but mostly, it stems from broken communication. As communication is the ground of every relationship, it eventually all comes down to it and to whether your communication is shaky or solid. It inevitably then also comes down to partners as individuals and their own preset patterns of communicating.
What happens when communication breaks down so that toxic sex takes its place? Such sex does not create space for intimacy, trust, and honesty, but instead tears those spaces down, replacing them with impulsive self-destruction. Nikoline Jensen talks about her own experience of sex as a toxic love language, written for Self Studies.
Essay by Nikoline Jensen
Four years in, my dream of a common language in my relationship was long gone and sex was the next best thing within reach. I no longer recognized myself. The only thing I recognized was the chest that I was reaching for every morning. His chest, which had grown from a boyish chest to the chest of a man. Sometimes you can get so infatuated by a love, especially that type of consuming once-in-a-lifetime soulmate kind of love. I met him when he was 19 and I was 23. We were instantly consumed by one another. It was one of those moments when, in someone else, you meet yourself and finally get to say hello. I was looking at someone that I in so many ways saw myself in. I fell in love quickly and deeply, which in retrospect might’ve been a bit narcissistic. Debatable. But true. We are both artists, him a musician and me a writer. As such, I recognized in both of us the authenticity in our performances. You’ll see my pain in my writing, and you’ll see his pain on stage. It is an invite to join a vulnerable state of mind, which can be very freeing.
It had been four years of trying to grow and develop with each other, but we only seemed to be working against it. We had different tempos when it came to working on oneself, and different priorities. So we were left with sex as our only common language. Everything that we had dreamt of was long gone and we had reached a point where no words could save us from ourselves. Instead of splitting up we chose to use sex as the glue. A glue that we had hoped would one day turn these two half humans into one whole. Although we always knew that was only possible if we were separate. Our issues from each of our pasts were too similar. Therefore, we became each other's mirrors, which was way too confronting and I believe we weren’t quite ready to tackle that while also falling in love. Most of the time, it felt as if I was falling in love with the bad parts of myself. And the worse we became in communicating, the better the sex got.
The idea of another person making you whole is tricky. I believe in a separate togetherness but in those moments of pure love it felt as if we could make wholeness happen one day. The more I believed in this, the more I realized that it is truly the job of each of us individually to feel “complete”. Though I am still trying to figure out what feeling “complete” means. Sometimes I think I have it, at least the fleeting feeling of it.
Everytime we tried to split, the withdrawal we would go through was painful. The nostalgia was burning through my flesh and straight into my bones at night. But to me, nostalgia is only amnesia turned around. My rational side would often kick in and remind me of this: “No room for nostalgia here, it’s the imitation of a ghost”. I had still managed to lose myself in something smaller. In him and in the toxic sex that we both kept circling back to. It had become a daily routine for me to wake up to at least a dozen missed calls whenever we decided on a “night apart”, and when I would call him back in the morning, there were no words. Just crying, and his thirst for needing to see me, his fix. It was my own fix as well. It made me think of something I once read: “there’s no difference between a junkie and a person in love”. In that moment, that felt very relatable.
Instead of having the conversations that were necessary with myself and with him, I was caught in this repetitive mantra, thinking how the rain is wicked and the sun stings. Nothing felt good and I thought I might as well continue my ways until a solution miraculously lands in my lap. Sex had become my love language, and I had no intentions of changing that. So there I would be again, on my way to give him his fix and to receive my own. It was my way of telling him “I’ve missed you, I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “I forgive you, I forgive us”, but also “I hate you, you are the worst thing that has happened to me”, or even “I hate me, I am the worst thing that has happened to you”. Where in reality, and in retrospect, we might’ve been the best thing that has ever happened to both of us.
There were exciting moments as well, when our love language of sex was a good thing. Back then, we didn’t really understand each other's bodies just yet. We were still shy and putting genuine effort into understanding our pleasures, wants and needs. We were fulfilling them simply because we loved one another and wanted to reach a cosmic sensation, one that isn’t a replacement for a lack of communication. The genuine curiosity about each other’s needs never disappeared though, it just felt different in the beginning. I guess the beginning came with a sort of thrill, of wanting to solve the equation of each other and each other’s bodies. There was also the thrill of recognizing someone's insecurities and letting them know that they are beautiful and that there is nothing to be insecure about. There was the thrill in kissing each one of his stretch marks, to let him know they were beautiful when he would say they weren’t. There was an overall acceptance and understanding told through sex and touch and it was sensational and beautiful.
Once a relationship has gone wrong, we often find ourselves in a place where we’re no longer able to verbally communicate. The high of a perfectly healthy relationship can be very addictive, but so can the sex that replaces the absent communication in a relationship that has gone sour. While we were still good and our relationship healthy, everything felt brighter and sharper - the skies, the music, the colors, my thoughts, and our laughter felt more genuine. There was an excitement throughout the day that I simply could not escape. And I could not wait to feed on this person and that feeling.
How do we differ between love and sex? And is there a difference? How do we know and acknowledge that we’ve entered that slippery slope of toxic sex where nothing is being said nor solved? I believe a lot of us aren’t aware of how sex can sometimes turn into a toxic coping mechanism replacing communication, or at least choose not to be, before it’s too late. We can’t predict who we’ll meet along the way, and who we’ll allow to mold our understanding of sex and love. Having an idea of what love and sex mean to me perhaps could’ve helped me avoid becoming as lost as I was. And now, how do I reinvent my love language once it has been overshadowed by using sex as an escape from communication?
I believe the answer might be to start truly loving myself. To create that strong indepent foundation of the self. Using my own lens, loving myself through my own touch. And eventually allowing myself love through someone else’s touch too. Intimacy can go as deep as merging your physical needs with another, but love goes deeper. Especially the love that you have for yourself. Once you have found that, you’ll be able to share that with another in a healthy way. Reach for recognizing yourself, rather than the chest and the body that had once kept you warm. A body will keep you warm for just a while, but only until it’s time for them to go.