Sleep is just not one of those things I can make sense of. Or rather, sleep and sex is not something easy to make sense of. They have some obvious things in common: they're both s-words, they share a bed (at least some of the time), and they're both things society dictates we do with loved ones. Yet sleep and sex really have nothing to do with each other: sleep is vital to our daily functionality, sex is not; sex provides an ecstasy of physical satisfaction, sleep does not. The causes of and issues raised by insomnia and sexual frustration need not be related. Just because you have good sex with someone doesn't mean you will be able to share a bed (let alone one of our entirely-too-small dorm beds) with him or her and get a good night's rest.
The first time the relationship-be that what it will-between sex and sleep was historically documented was at the hands of King Alfred, Anglo-Saxon monarch from 871-899 CE, otherwise known as Alfred the Great. In addition to defending his people from Viking wrath and codifying one of the first Western sets of laws, great ol' Alfred also happened to coin the phrase "to sleep with" when in a moment of legal brilliance, he declared: "If one deceives an unbetrothed woman and sleep with her, he must pay her and have her afterwards to wife." Umm, I don't care if he saved billions from the Vikings; he helped initiate years of intimacy issues for gazillions of people. Sex devil.
Last semester I had a boyfriend (that's another story). Since we broke up I've hooked up with boys. I've even had sex. Yet something funny happens every time: the good things get done, we get ready to pass out, and then, like clockwork, I panic. My head hurts and my stomach begins to butterfly. I can't sleep with the boys I fuck. Not even the ones I used to sleep with. It makes no sense. I just have to leave.
It should be of little surprise, given the current age of internet-saturation, that many people struggling with the very intimacy issues King Alfred so neatly boxed in his legal code seek comfort on craigslist. (Don't worry, I had no idea you could set up casual sex encounters on craigslist until about a week ago, either.) Even so, I was a little dazed by the responses I got when I made the following post: "Don't just fuck me, sleep with me. Looking for someone, male or female, who will be willing to spend nights cuddling and sleeping together." Within 12 hours I received 42 responses: four couples replied, 12 men were definitely in their 20s, three were definitely in their 30s, and none were women. Four indicated they would only sleep with me if I would have sex with them first, two asked me out on a date, and another two wrote in poetry. P.S. This post was strictly for research purposes.
The responses I got bothered me. I expected admissions of loneliness, but I was astounded by the rate people were willing to pour their hearts out to a total stranger. One guy confessed that while he could "date, meet women and enjoy sex whenever, it's the sleeping thing that has the most value but happens the least. Oh well, I suppose that's what Craig's List is for!" I hate to break it to you, buddy, but that is not what Craig's List is for. Equating the desire to sleep with someone with a quest for comfort and security is the easy part; it's figuring out why you're searching for that comfort and security that's hard.
So why is it so damn hard? It would be unfair to say this was true of every college student, but there is a prevailing sense on campus that while you might have a lot of sex with people whom you don't know very well, you only make a habit out of sleeping with people you do know well. It's a relationship status symbol.
A good friend of mine had to stop sleeping with a guy she's been seeing on and off because she couldn't stand the way he would hold her like a teddy bear and make her feel safe every night. She had to leave to avoid becoming attached. There's a power play involved in the decision to sleep (or not) with someone. It can be satisfying to leave somebody you don't care much for alone in his or her bed; it often feels violating and insulting when somebody you do care for leaves you all by yourself.
Maybe it's because we live in a world in which sex can be so easy that sleep becomes so hard. When sex comes with little or no commitment, sleep suddenly does. Something has to. It might be easy to be sexually intimate, but that's not to say that sexual freedom-for all its benefits-doesn't come without a cost.
I'm still waiting for my panic attacks to disappear, for the day when I'll be able to sleep with someone again. I know that sex is easy and sleep is hard. I've arrived at a reasonable explanation about the ways the two are connected. I don't miss my relationship, and I still love sex, but there is no definite explanation for why I can't bring myself to sleep with someone.
I'm not convinced there has to be.