Sex and Loneliness on a Beach in Myanmar
I had a very strange sexual experience last night, on the very beach I am looking at now. It is, by all objective measures, a close to perfect beach. Tucked away in a hidden pocket of Southern Myanmar, it is all endless white sand, palm trees, and warm turquoise water – the jungle the only thing in sight. It is bizarre to watch it, dreamy and idyllic and deserted, when only 12 hours ago, I was squirming around on it naked in the sand with a local boy.
He is 23 and lives nearby, but apparently he has only been to this particular place three times in his life. Almost miraculously, two of them coincided with my two visits. I went over in the warm evening yesterday to where he was nursing a beer on the hostel patio, and he talked lovingly about his hometown and the 10 beautiful beaches and the cashew nut factories. He picked the leaves of a nearby cashew tree for me to try. Then we went down to the beach with beer – I was drunk, I’m not sure if he was – and he offered to give me a massage when I said I was tired.
Under the thin pretext of being “tired”, I let him run his hands all over me; they crept along my sides and my body happily responded. We crawled up onto a more hidden spot on the beach, took all our clothes off, and since he didn’t have a condom and I wasn’t sure enough of the situation to take the decisive step of going to get the one I had, we used our mouths and mainly our hands, neither one of us finishing. He was endearingly determined to go down on me – I think he’d seen it on the internet and wanted to try it out – and told me it was his “first time”, which suddenly made my stomach turn.
Even though I’d had the idea of hooking up with him since I first saw him, I now started questioning the ethics of it. I had thought that maybe sex was something that did happen here, because people are people and desire is desire no matter the culture – but that it was all discreet and shameful and secret. However, now it seems that Myanmar’s people truly do not go around wanking each other off on beaches with people they barely know.
So what does it mean – is it unfair – to breeze in here and be sexually forward as Australian women are and then disappear again forever? But then on the other hand, is that horribly paternalistic and should the same standards and opportunities apply to everybody, if they so choose? I don’t know, and either way I started feeling like I was doing altogether too much potential damage for a one night stand. He wanted to go swimming and go back to his tent but, wracked with guilt and confusion, I said goodnight, and slunk back to my bungalow to sleep.
If I’m being completely honest with myself though, there was another aspect of my running back to my bungalow instead of swimming under the stars and cuddling – which on paper sounds very nice. I was feeling quite intensely what I often feel after sex with somebody I don’t have any feelings for, which is alone.
I know when I tell this story later, I will make it sound like a marvellous little romp, a funny story to bond with someone like sex stories have a singular ability to do so – and in many ways, this is a completely accurate take on the situation. However, I will leave out and forget the acute, powerful loneliness. It is at these times I feel it more than at any other. I’ve been practicing, when I feel lonely, to breathe through it, and focus on my little self secure and sane in the confusion and beauty of wherever I happen to be in the world. I inhale, and enjoy the sensation of being completely on my own, holding this concentration and feeling safe. After casual sex, though, for the briefest of moments, I tend to feel the lack of intimacy in that moment as an intensely physical ache.
I wish this wasn’t the case. I wish I was a Miss Fisher type character, trotting around the globe taking lovers with abandon, but it is intimacy that I miss. I fantasise about sex – of course – but just as much I fantasise about the small moments of being in love with someone. Discussing what to have for dinner, making them laugh, curling up exhausted on somebody’s chest and falling asleep with arms around me. Of course, I can have those things with anybody, but if I don’t actually care about the other person then the charade is something close to painful.
I do truly, truly, want to be single. I feel so much more myself, and I like feeling myself, and having to face the sometimes difficult reality of what that means. Being alone is the only way to have these amazing experiences I have while travelling, because even if I am less happy it counts more if I experience them myself. As with everything in this world, though, there is a flipside, and being alone and staring down loneliness can sometimes take more strength than I would like to admit.
Cover by Liliana Cortes