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Short story: “Alarm Sex” by Tao Lin

The alt-lit wunderkind reworks a Vanity Fair Spain article that puts sexual deeds on the clock

TextTao LinPhotographyPeter Kaaden

Taken from the January issue of Dazed & Confused:

I first tried to write “Alarm Sex” in late 2011. My main problem, the first few times I tried writing it, or thought about writing it, was that it required only a few sentences to fully explain. I’m not sure how I finally made it article length, in that I don’t remember how I fully explained it in a few sentences and also don’t remember thinking of details to include with the first few sentences. I didn’t try to publish it. In early 2012, around six months later, I was low on money and trying to focus on editing my third novel, Taipei, when an editor at Vanity Fair (Spain) emailed my Spanish publisher soliciting my work. They offered $450 for 500 words.
I asked if I could write about “alarm sex” and briefly explained. “We love it!!” responded the editor. “Don’t do it so much porn, but like a sex play is perfect!”

I submitted a draft and a different editor from Vanity Fair (Spain) emailed that Vanity Fair (Spain) readers would need “a little bit more of irony, and maybe a little bit more of literature” in order to understand my article and that she had the feeling I was “talking too seriously, like the instructions to make good sex.” Then the first editor said they would translate it to Spanish and change it a little, or something, and everything would be okay. I said something to the effect of “sounds good.” They emailed, some time later, that they’d “finally only just added this: ‘Sex always comes to weariness in a stable relationship. This truth is very difficult to hide. My past couple and I tried to fight this unavoidable truth and we made a list of experiences we would like to try if we were under ecstasies’ influence” at the beginning of the article and, at the end, “But it is highly recommended not to forbid too much. Free yourself. At least until the alarm clock sounds.”

“Alarm Sex” was published July 20, 2012, I think. I used Google Translate on it when it was put online, I think (or maybe someone showed me their translation), and, from what I remember, they had not added what they’d said (“Sex always comes to weariness...”) and had not seemed to edit my draft that much, or at all, but I may be wrong. I’ve since considered publishing “Alarm Sex” in English probably three to five times, each time rereading and editing it a little, but it hasn’t happened, for whatever reasons, until now. The rest of this article, beginning with “Around three years ago,” is a later draft of the 600-word draft of “Alarm Sex” that Vanity Fair (Spain) translated and published around one year ago.

“It was to set an alarm for between ten minutes and an hour, and have one person focus, during that amount of time, on doing whatever the other wanted done to them sexually, until the alarm sounded, at which point roles would be reversed for the same amount of time”

Around three years ago my then-girlfriend and I made a list of things we wanted to do while on MDMA. One was to perform oral sex for an hour nonstop while the receiver did whatever they wanted on a MacBook, like respond to emails or look at Twitter or Facebook. Another MacBook would be arranged to be visible to the performer, so the receiver could type messages like “slower” or “keep doing that, good job.”

We never did that. But from that idea we got another idea, which we did do. It was to set an alarm for between ten minutes and an hour, and have one person focus, during that amount of time, on doing whatever the other wanted done to them sexually, until the alarm sounded, at which point roles would be reversed for the same amount of time.

Our relationship was deteriorating when we began having “alarm sex,” which had a definite, positive effect, I think, extending the relationship for maybe between two weeks and three months. It worked especially well with us, I think, because we were, in my view, above-average in terms of self-consciousness in interactive situations – so were, to some degree, with normal sex, always a little removed from the experience. With “alarm sex” we could focus 100% on ourselves or the other person. We could take turns trying together, as a team, instead of both always trying separately, in a struggle against one another, to become one person.

I think “alarm sex” also improved our normal sex, since we knew better (1) how it felt to be more selfless or selfish than we’d previously, with each other, known, during sex (2) what the other person enjoyed during sex. Here are four “alarm sex” recommendations:

1. Do not introduce early in a relationship because it can only be introduced once and you may want to save it for when the relationship needs help.

2. Try to be 100% selfless, focused on the receiver, when you’re the giver; 100% selfish, focused on yourself, when you’re the receiver.

3. Do not have “alarm sex” during or after a fight (one of you, if only unconsciously, might try to create something other than pleasure, such as discomfort or guilt, in yourself or the other person).

4. Before “alarm sex” confirm both people have agreed on the amount of time and know, without concern or confusion, what is going to happen.