Smoke After Sex?
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Decades ago, they couldn’t show actual sex. Patrons at the cinema would have to get all sweaty over the inference—watching lovers sharing a fag amid rumpled sheets, tendrils of luscious smoke curling upward like mist, a gentle and exquisite manifestation of le petit mort. Two liberated souls entwined in the aftermath of ecstasy. These days Vivid Video would get bomb threats for putting a hookah in an all-girl orgy scene.
I’ll probably catch a lot of shit for this, but so be it: Smoking is fucking sexy. In black-and-white it approaches the divine. Smoking is noir, certainly (not unlike poor Bogie’s lungs) and really, few things are cooler than that. You can’t be hard-boiled without your smokes, and it’s not half-bad after a couple of belts, either.
I know, I know. It reeks. Even when I was a smoker, which was more than a decade ago, I’d come home from the West Village bars (Yes, Virginia, you could smoke in the bars back then. What a world.) and hop immediately into the shower lest my Marlboro-infused tresses contaminate the pillows with the detestable essence of Flavor Country. I still have no clue how they manage to smell so damn good halfway through my second vodka.
Yes, my preferred smoke was always the one paired with a good stiff drink, though I have, on occasion, partaken in that sultry après le sexe rite of passage, even if it wasn’t in my own boudoir. Smoking—please don’t throw things—is sensual because it’s sensory. It’s tactile. It’s oral. It’s olfactory. The smoke caresses and envelops. It penetrates. Smoking does all those things you wish your partner would do, really. So, why do the masses hate it so much? And will anyone out there admit they still want sweet lady nicotine to sing them to sleep after the lovin’?
The Other C-Word
“I developed a cough and it lingered,” says J.D., rapidly approaching 50 and nearly eight years smoke-free. “It scared the shit out of me. And I was afraid to go to the doctor. I’d been smoking since I was in college. Not heavily, but steadily. I knew it was cancer. I knew.”
He didn’t, actually. After avoiding the doctor’s office for months, his partner forced him to go. “It turned out to be allergies.” But the scare was enough to put him on the Nicorette-paved path to righteousness. He still likes to chew it with his coffee. “It takes the edge off the mornings, but it doesn’t really do the same thing as the cigarette,” he admits. “Something about walking out the door and lighting up, holding it… It’s just not the same.”
J.D. gets wistful when he talks about his favorite smokes. “I’m so glad there’s no smoking in bars anymore. We’d never be able to go anywhere. Even now, in the city, I’ll walk past some unseen smoker and catch the scent in my nose and it smells like a lost part of my life, like an old friend.”
He’d actually mostly given up the post-sex smoke long before he kicked the habit. “When we were moving out of our first apartment, [my partner] Alan took a picture off the wall and you could see the white rectangle where it had been as clear as day,” he says, laughing. “You’d think that level of disgust would have translated to quitting, right?”
After that, he was forbidden to do it in the house. “We lived in a big pre-war building. We’d fuck and I’d have to go downstairs or squeeze out the kitchen window to the fire escape. If was willing to put my coat on and do that in February? That was the best review Alan could get.”
He Comes in Colors Everywhere
Graham, a 36-year-old musician, now plays clean, but smoked from roughly age 12 until he was 22. “I just thought it was cool,” he admits. “My friends and I—and this is embarrassing—started off by rolling up bits of paper bags into something resembling a cigarette, then lighting and smoking them.” He soon graduated to smoking Kools “because of the penguin on the box.”
Eventually, Graham’s habit graduated to a pack or more daily. “One day a group of friends approached and said, ‘We’re all quitting today. Wanna join us?’ By the end of the day I was the only one who still wasn’t smoking.”
Graham’s favorite tabagist memory? “It’s got to be the smoke after the Thanksgiving gorging,” he says, “but post-sex was great, too. Even though nicotine is a stimulant, it seemed to have some sort of a calming effect. And if the girl I was with smoked, too, and we shared one—it was a way of extending that intimacy.”
Not surprisingly, many find that nicotine plays well with other drugs. Graham’s favorite pairing was smoking and LSD. “It made me want to smoke and eat the cigarette,” he says. “Once, I had sex while tripping and I must have been experiencing a serious case of synesthesia, because in addition to feeling like I was sinking into warm mush—in the most pleasant of ways, of course—I could hear, taste and see it, too. During orgasm, the spiraling colors in my mind were super-intense.” He pauses, reflective. “When I was done, I grabbed three cigarettes. One for her and two for me.”
No Smoke, No Fire?
Michelle, still puffing away at 41, was introduced to the habit at age nine when an older girl from up the street took her, her younger brother, and another neighborhood kid up to the local high school and whipped out a pack of Newports.
“Sadly,” she says, “it felt quite natural,” though she didn’t smoke again for three years. “I was promptly busted by my mother who went into my pocketbook looking for something and found the pack of Reds instead. I didn’t develop an actual habit until I was 14.”
Though her smoking has fluctuated over the years, and even now based on mood and circumstance, she can’t remember when she hasn’t had one after sex. “After a really good lay, when my hands are shaky and tingly, it’s satisfying to have something to hold onto, something to help me refocus while reflecting on the experience,” she says. “I can lay back, cigarette in hand, enjoying those after-effects—while also getting a bit of a head rush from the nicotine since the blood is still pumping like crazy.”
She is adamant about her eventual plan to quit. “But it does make me wonder: Will I still enjoy the sex as much if I can’t have that smoke?”
The Party’s Over
I haven’t done it in more than 10 years (smoke, that is) but every once in awhile, if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll rejoin the ranks of the revolting, exiled heathens and channel my inner Kerouac. I have these friends who come over for dinner and drinks. They’re Turkish. And they smoke.
Eventually, a bottle of red turns into two, we’re well into the cheese and olives, and Emre pulls a pack of smokes from his shirt pocket. He already knows I want one and slides the grey-and-white box across the table. Marlboro Ultra Lights. I look up, crushed. “You’re kidding, right?”
“What?” he says, bemused, lighting up.
“Ultra Lights?!” I moan. “You’re from Turkey!”
“You want Camel?” he chuckles. The smoldering stick looks as natural on his lip as the glass of wine in my hand. I can smell it, equal parts appalling and irresistible. I take one, rolling my eyes exasperated, then closing them as the carcinogens find a home in my gym-conditioned lungs and begin a crisp gallop through my bloodstream. Heavenly.
I shake my head at him across the table. We smile at one another through the smoke. “I need to meet some Israelis.”
Turks smoking Ultra Lights? A crystal-clear sign of the nicotine apocalypse. Cigarettes are dead men walking. In 100 years’ time, the post-coital puff will be a true dinosaur.
“The fact is,” comedian Dave Attell once said, “that you just need a cigarette after you make love to a beautiful woman … it just wouldn’t be the same without one. ‘Oh, baby—that was amazing! Skittles! Would you like a Skittle?’”
The cost of healthcare notwithstanding, no other activity could take its place.