Take a hand, exposed to the open air all day, calloused and knobby, typing, holding, lifting, and run its finger down the naked belly of a lover, and it’s no longer something plain, but wonderful and achingly sexual. It takes pleasure in touching, and the lover takes pleasure in being touched. In the morning it holds toothbrush, jots a note on a post-it, steers a wheel, and is back to being a hand, but it was for a brief moment a small part of a grander love, and the memory still lingers.
Take a shoulder, bare or clothed. A pair of lips kisses where a backpacks strap might have been earlier that day, its breath tickles the hairs on the back of the neck. Let the nerves tremble through the shoulder, up the neck and to the mind where it’s swept into an erotic frenzy.
Take a nose. It had a cold a few weeks ago, and glowed red and ran with snot. It smelled the neighbor’s fresh cut lawn this morning. Now its side by side with another nose while the lips beneath kiss, full with the smell of their skin and the warmth of their cheek on its tip. Later, there’s tension where it rests on the soft space beneath a belly button. It is, after all, just a nose. But it wasn’t then.
Take a forearm. Take a knee. Take a calf. Take an ear.
Take a breast. Its nipple is sore from just feeding the baby—who gummed it like she was trying to rip it off—now slumped against the belly, a limp part of a limp, tired body. Damp from being held in a bra all day. No more sexual now, napping on the couch, than her hands or shoulder or nose. Not until later that night, when she’s rested, and her lover gets back from a weeklong business trip, does it become more than a breast. It was never a part of her body just to be fondled and stared at. But here and now, beneath her lover’s eyes, that is what they were meant for. It is, after all, just a breast. But it wasn’t then.
Hiding our bodies behind modesty, as it turns out, hides nothing at all. Breasts revealed to the world are no more offensive than a shoulder; a butt in yoga pants is no more offensive than a nose. A bare-chested man and a bare-chested woman are on equal ground.
Bodies cannot be desexualized. Sex cannot hide behind clothes.