Dr. White Sintimacy “Sex Without Love” was written by Sharon Olds in 1984. Olds approaches her audience by beginning the poem with a blunt question: “How do they do it, the ones who make love/ without love? ” (1-2) This is a relatively short poem of only twenty-four lines, but it is a very rich poem in that Olds uses a number of ordinary images to create an elaborate vision of two people having sex without feelings for each other. Olds does not leave the audience with a straight answer to the question even after people generally have conflicting views on this issue.
Her sarcastic tone helps convey that sex can happen whether men and women love each other or not, but if it is without love then the two partners have temporarily escaped from the truth. As readers follow through Olds’s description of images, we can sense the poet’s thoughts on sex between lovers and sex between loveless lovers. Olds expresses early in the poem that loveless sex is somewhat degrading. Her initial question of how loveless lovers can do it carries a negative tone. This is similar to someone asking his or her friend how they could betray them.
Olds does not approve of this act because it is cold and not thought out. Then Olds flips the switch when she says “beautiful as dancers,/ gliding over each other like ice-skaters” (2-3). Now, she is showing that sex can be somewhat graceful for the partners. This metaphor of the ice skaters feels easy and delicate. Then again, ice-skaters are performers. They put on a show that appears elegant and happy, whether the performers are pleased or not. So, sex can be appealing to partners who have feelings for each other and to partners who do not.
After creating the visual of sex, Olds unexpectedly mentions a mother giving her newborn away after giving birth: “faces/ red as steak, wine, wet as the/ children at birth, whose mothers are going to/ give them away” (5-8). Here, she is implying one of the possible results of sex between loveless lovers. They are not thinking of what can happen because of this act, and therefore sex without love is rash and careless. Partners are not thinking of their mental state or surroundings. They are absorbed in the temporary physical pleasure. Olds is depicting the disturbing nature of sex by referring to this kind of abandonment.
She is trying to show us that the nature of sex can be impersonal and unhealthy if it is done casually. However, some partners understand that having a child is a positive and happy part of their lives. They know that sex is also procreation between a man and woman. Whether the couple loves each other or not, they can still have sex and handle the consequences. A consequence does not necessarily mean a negative outcome; it simply means the outcome. Olds further describes the vision of sex by including strong attachment between partners during sex: “fingers hooked/ inside each other’s bodies” (4-5).
This image is very objective, and it can happen between any two lovers whether they actually love each other or not. Olds also questions how two partners reach that climactic point in sex: “How do they come to the/ come to the God come to the/ still waters” (8-10). This is the second time she begins the question using the phrase “How do they”. Again, she is implying a negative tone like how someone questions a friend on how they could betray him or her. On the other hand, lovers eventually reach that climactic point anyway: “How do they come to the… till waters, and not love/ the one who came there with them” (8-11). What about the lovers who actually do? A couple who feels for each other mentally can orgasm just as like partners who do not. Sex is the closest physical union of two bodies, and it can happen between any two people. The excitement, the act, the exhaustion – these can all happen to any two partners. Then Olds discusses the religious aspect of sex without love. She refers to friends with benefits, or “loveless lovers” as purists who are determined that they are experiencing pleasure from themselves ultimately, not from their partner.
Purists who love their priest more than God are the ones who find themselves as the lovers: “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” (13-16) Recognizing God is analogous to someone recognizing his or her sexual partner while making love. Worshipping one’s God or religion should be consistent, not contradictory. Olds believes that sex can be unhealthy if it is done just for him or herself and not for pleasing the other partner.
She then describes this image as runners: “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” (18-21) When professional runners are running in a tournament or marathon, they are focused on one idea – their personal achievement. They make sure they are healthy enough for this sole purpose. Whatever workouts they do, whatever weather or condition they are running in, they are doing so for themselves.
Olds is comparing loveless lovers to runners because they are isolated from the world, just as loveless lovers have no emotional attachment to each other. However, running for personal solitude is not a negative point. Some runners may actually be running for a cause. For instance, a runner may run a mile or two for Cancer awareness or for some other cause that will benefit himself and others. He or she is not focused on pleasing himself because he is aware of others around him who need help and fulfillment as well. Similarly, two sexual partners may be having sex to fulfill their own needs and their partner’s. Sex Without Love” suggests to readers that the actual act of sex without love is shameful and unfavorable. Many religious beliefs also do not support loveless sex because it can be hurtful to a person’s soul. It is simply a brief moment of pleasure that is sinful because another person is involved that has no emotional understanding with them. However, this poem also encourages readers to think about how two partners can actually go through this physical process of sex and possibly do it again. Men and women can be physically intimate with each other despite not having a mental closeness with each other.