A new study found that single people in particular prefer sex with the lights on (over people who are in a relationship or married). This wasn’t broken down by gender, but there’s a pervasive notion that because men respond more to visual stimuli, they’re the ones who prefer sex with the lights on. Plus, forums abound with exasperated women whose dudes want to keep it nice and bright. At the MEL offices, staff writers John McDermott (a straight man), C. Brian Smith (a gay man) and Tracy Moore (a straight woman) debate this troubling trend.
Tracy Moore: My question is why all this light? Do you want sex to feel like a gynecological exam? Should we do a pap smear while we’re down there? A prostate exam?
C. Brian: I’m strictly a lights-off-when-boning guy.
Tracy: Why is that?
C. Brian: I prefer to feel things rather than seeing them. I also don’t love how I look naked.
John: Prudes. Seeing is believing.
Tracy: C. Brian, do you get any pushback on that? Do men you sleep with complain or gently chide you for switching off the lights?
C. Brian: Occasionally. The key is to do it right away, as to not make a big deal of it. John, do you bone lights-on?
John: I’ve done it in all grades of lighting: blazing morning sun, a pitch-black cave, beneath the soft glow of a streetlamp.
Tracy: And your favorite is Walmart industrial-grade fluorescent lights.
John: It doesn’t have to be like a dentist office. But if I had my druthers, there would be ample lighting, yes.
C. Brian: Why?
John: Why not? It seems so obvious to me. You’ve been ostensibly flirting with this person for hours, eagerly wondering what they look like naked. And then you’re finally there, and you… turn off the lights?
Tracy: Here’s your chance, so whip out the spotlight.
John: Looking is a big part of the fun.
C. Brian: Agreed. But what if you’re married to them and have seen them naked 1,000 times?
Tracy: See, the study also found that married people like sex in the dark — they’ve seen this motherfucker for years already. As a woman, a straight woman particularly, I can say we have an insane relationship to lighting already, and most light isn’t the light women would prefer to be viewed in — that is to say, pretty, diffused, probably pink-hued light.
C. Brian: Sex in the dark also allows you to think of other things, if necessary.
Tracy: When you’re making out with a dude, especially at his place but at any place, and it’s about to go to sexy times, I’ve noticed women will look around and tweak something about the setting, like the light. But men won’t. It’s as if they don’t even think about it. Wherever you’re making out is where you’ll be doing it. Right in front of the open refrigerator door if necessary.
John: Men are inherently visual creatures (I read that somewhere), so I get why they like the lights on.
Tracy: So are women! But you can do that with candles, or a hall light reflecting in, or whatever. I just don’t get why so many men want like, interrogation-style light. Spanish Inquisition light. Filling-a-cavity light.
C. Brian: Ooh, CANDLES! There’s the winner. (Sorry, that sounded super gay.)
John: Wouldn’t you be more self-conscious if as you were about to bone, you take off your clothes, and the guy is like, “Maybe let’s turn the lights off?”
Tracy: Yes, if he’s like, “Yeesh, hang on.” [Switches off light.] That’s what we call execution-dependent. If you do it first, it sets the mood. Now we will lean into how this feels good, rather than participate in porn-style performative fucking.
John: That’s kind of a try-hard move, no? It’s time to enter the Fuck Zone!
Tracy: No it’s called setting the mood. Music, candles, anything.
C. Brian: Best to go with flameless candles — errant, flailing limbs and all.
Tracy: Anything at all that suggests you’ve switched from this cum-stained couch to something a little more hospitable, lights out. If you reach for the lights after you’ve gotten a once-over, it’s death.
John: Put on some Marvin Gaye while you’re at it.
C. Brian: Or Barry White.
Tracy: A little on-the-nose?
C. Brian: I just think there’s enough pressure already with sex.
Tracy: Agreed — too much pressure to recreate porn. Those people paid to have relatively flawless bodies that look good in very bright light.
C. Brian: Right.
John: Doesn’t it create pressure when you’re actively setting a sex mood?
Tracy: Done right it removes all pressure.
C. Brian: Total darkness is hot, too. Mysterious. Dangerous.
Tracy: Yeah, total darkness lets you totally be uninhibited.
Okay, so answer this, John: With the lights on, do you also want to be looked at/admired? Or is this all for you?
John: Yeah, I want her gazing at my lustrous head of John F. Kennedy hair.
Tracy: The truth is what feels good and what looks good are often two totally different things. It’s the same logic behind why bars are dimly lit. No one wants to look at themselves in pure escapist mode, at least not looking good. It’s why when the bar closes, they flip the lights on and everyone scurries away at their own terrible visage. Sex is no different than drinking, and I don’t drink in fluorescent light. Nor do I fuck in it.
John: Making people seem like rodents. Smh, problematic.
Tracy: I bet rodents fuck in the dark.
C. Brian: I don’t even masturbate with the lights on.
Tracy: Same! Too weird. The idea of certain people who can drop trou anywhere and go to town: I envy it; I don’t aspire to it.
C. Brian: John?
John: Legit never even considered it until now. I guess the lights off.
Tracy: What, you don’t want to gaze at your lustrous hair while jerking it?
John: What I do with my hair in the privacy of my own home is my own business.
What about morning sex, though, with light pouring in through the windows? Do you close the blackout curtains like some homicidal maniac?
C. Brian: Blinds and no lights. No sun.
Tracy: I wouldn’t open the blinds. I’m also not going to have sex on a sunbleached rock outside at 9 a.m.
C. Brian: Fuck that.
John: Sounds fun to me.
Tracy: Maybe you’re a voyeur.
John: Don’t project. This is your and Brian’s baggage.
Tracy: Do you do anything to set the mood? Not even candles? Not even at least flattering light?
John: You mean other than the signature McDermott charm?
Tracy: What’s that, Marvin Gaye and your dick?
John: I’ll usually be playing music or watching something when hanging out with a lady friend. But I’m not as calculated as you two. I don’t have a “Getting My Fuck On” playlist on my Spotify.
Tracy: No, but you have a flashlight on your phone.
C. Brian: When I meet guys off the internet, I rarely want to know what they look like IRL.
Tracy: John, you have no body shame whatsoever that would make you appreciate being unscrutinized during sex? Is this really all about our lack of self-esteem?
John: I hate myself just as much as the next guy. I guess I’m just more externally focused in that scenario. Brian, why don’t you want to know what they look like?
C. Brian: Well, they’ve likely marketed themselves with flattering photos. So I’d just assume have that image in my head rather than what their actual nasty mug looks like. Ignorance = bliss.
Tracy: I think because women are so used to how they look being commented on, in order to get into sex, especially with a new person, they need two things: booze and low light. Having to think about how they look lit up is inhibiting. It’s that simple.
John: Lol. Classic patriarchy.
Tracy: I’ll admit when I think a guy is super hot I enjoy looking at him, but I factor this in with the lighting during sex. Like I’ll just be backlit.
John: Yeah, because every guy wants to fuck a shadow.
Tracy: A hot, competent shadow.
C. Brian: Flickering light.
Tracy: Ghostly, even. Ethereal.
John: Okay, I’ll just put a shade on my lamp like Christopher Walken’s SNL character, The Continental. Not awkward at all.
C. Brian: Again with the fire hazards.
Tracy: Women will thank you for it.