It was an innocent, frankly standard invite: “Or we could go to a bar?” my friend Gray suggested over GChat.
But rather than quickly accept, I had to explain I thought it better to hang at her house or my apartment, safe from the outside world—especially men. I was in the thick of a sexual dry spell, about a month and a half away from my last lay, and I felt out of control. Men I’d never find attractive under other circumstances suddenly smelled so good. My gaze defaulted to scanning rooms for testosterone, feet shuffling me to their eye lines.
“I feel like I have beer goggles I can’t get off,” I said. I explained this state with the best analogy I could: TV and film’s meat-o-vision trope. You know the one. Two characters are on a desert island or rinky-dink boat in open water, starving. One or both of them, dizzy with hunger, start to hallucinate and see the other as a ham hock, glistening with flavor and the promise of satisfaction. Their desperation twists and obscures their vision, so nothing is what it seems and all judgment is questionable. Identifying that you're currently existing in this sad state and going out anyway is like a werewolf rolling the dice on a full moon.
Gray and I stayed in that night.
After that, she remained my only friend hip to recurring dry spells’ side effects. “Riding in the dick canoe,” she eventually started calling it.
Although our vocabulary is deeply heteronormative (a symptom of my 99.2 percent heterosexual experience), the phenom itself is not. Elle, 32, mostly dates women and say she too has bouts of horny goggles.
“The first warning sign I encounter that lets me know it's been too long is when I start really sexualizing women passersby,” Elle told me over email. “It's not a natural response for me to check out a lady's body in a lecherous way; most of my sexual attraction to partners is more generalized—the way they hold themselves, laugh, if they're funny, have a great vocabulary. I'm attracted to women's bodies both intellectually and sexually, but I rarely salivate over strangers. But once I've hit desert territory, it's all over.”
As it turns out, science suggests being too horny can affect your intelligence and decision-making skills, which explains why you’ll randomly want to fuck the Jimmy John’s delivery boy and interpret his order confirmation text as a flirt.
Dick canoe rides, in my experience, seem to last about three months, setting in around a month and a half after you had sex last. So that’s about 90 days of maddening hormones, spiking to devastating heights during ovulation. There are certainly steps you can take that make a dick canoe ride smoother. For example, I get some of my most energetic cleaning and yard work done when trying to murder frisky feelings. When combined with quality time with my Hitachi Magic Wand and avoiding any unmarried, straight men, this method still works for only so long. So I turned to abstinence-endorsing web literature to learn more. Tips ranged from the cliche (a cold shower or exercise) to the bizarre (try chugging a soda! So you feel more shitty than horny). One helpful Redditor suggested to simply stop masturbating. LOL, okay.
But is it so bad to indulge the occasional, random libido flare-up? You may have some super fun sexual romps with a Jimmy John’s bro (or even a relationship! Stranger things have happened). However, when deep in a temporary celibacy bubble, we tend to forget that often sex (especially with a new partner) is Not Good. It can be dry and awkward and make neither party come. It can result in STDs, ugly gossip, or your hookup for delicious subs forever gone.
Random attractions don’t pose as much risk as, say, suddenly wanting to jump colleagues’ bones. You can stop putting yourself in people-stuffed establishments serving alcohol, you can stop ordering tuna sandwiches for 11am delivery; you can’t stop going to work.
“Another instance that occurs in the desert is sexual fantasies about women with whom I otherwise have a completely innocuous or even professional relationship,” Elle says. “Like, staring at my boss's mouth in the midst of a meeting. At this point, all bets are off but imagining all of your female superiors in bed is a twisted game.”
It’s twisted, yes, but that’s brains and hormones for you, apparently. The same logic gets messy when it involves previously platonic friends. It is possible for attractions to develop over time, but when riding in the dick canoe, it can be tough to judge legitimacy. In these cases, to continue spending time with these folks can get real messy, so I suggest developing and protecting as many physical boundaries as possible. Proceed with the absolute most caution. Bouncing back from fucking a friend is usually... not usual. At worst, that person is gone forever. At best, your friendship is changed, with a parfait of complicated feelings following, like guilt, resentment, and jealousy.
Sometimes the craving is less about orgasm—the kind a good partner or a good imagination can provide—and more about getting back in touch with your physical, animalistic self. Truly, the lack of non-sexual physical intimacy is one of the hardest parts of being single. Perhaps the most sane, least consequential treatment of this condition is multilayered. I’m trying to learn myself.
Go ahead and take advantage of the extra energy to scrub the kitchen grout. Go on a long-ass run, then come home and get off before a cold shower. Stay in (or surround yourself with the gender[s] to which you’re not attracted) when you feel absolutely vibrating with sexual desire. Know yourself and feel confident in making a call.
But don’t stop there. Find ways to bring warmth back into the fold. Focus on platonic relationships, focus on being a good neighbor, focus on being a badass employee (who is not trying to smash organs with anyone in the office). Focus on control over your damn self. Sure, the hazy vision is very real, but you have the power to cut through it. It takes a lot of resolve—and honestly, I’m not even great at it yet—but it’s possible. You may be in the dick canoe for now, but with intent, you’ll soon find your way back to shore—where you’ll know the ham hocks and good decisions to no longer be a mirage.
I’ll have to let you know when I get there.