Brewing Storm

“…I don’t just wish you rain, Beloved – I wish you the beauty of storms…”             ~John Geddes

Hubby and I never did fall into a comfortable sexual pattern; it was a constant challenge for me… our libidos were simply mismatched. No matter what I gave, how I performed, or how many boundary barriers I broke through, it didn’t seem to satisfy his needs. He wanted more. Always. The stories and ideas that I had read about in Forum magazine or the movies that we had watched became tame in comparison to the things that he asked of me. I gave, he asked for more. I stretched, it wasn’t far enough. I struggled constantly to meet what I interpreted as sexual demands – they weren’t but I always felt that if I didn’t conform to his desires then he would just get them filled elsewhere – and so I breached every value boundary I knew to have. I was once again, trying to raise children, run a household, work, and satisfy a husband who had no limit where sexual satisfaction was concerned.

The core problem here wasn’t that he was in some way sexually deviant – I try not to experience judgment in this regard. First, because I admittedly enjoy physical pleasure but secondly because human sexuality is a complex and non-linear aspect of our existence. What was essentially problematic for me is that I felt complete and total disregard for MY comfort level, my limitations or values. It wasn’t ‘what’ he wanted to do per se – as I was willing to try almost anything – it was a lack of respect for my wishes when my interest clashed with his. On many occasions, I felt belittled and bullied with comments of “you’re a prude”, “get over it”, or “grow up”.  I was led to believe that there was something wrong with my sexuality because it didn’t match his. Sadly, there were few people I could talk to about this – you don’t exactly (or at least I didn’t) sit down for coffee with a friend and say “does your husband want you to …. ? Most of the time we ladies ‘dance’ around the subject and I definitely did that but it was typically limited to the most outer circle of the things I really wanted to know.

I was having some female plumbing issues during these years which, precluded me from enjoying a fully active sex life ALL the time. Frankly, it was somewhat of a relief for me. I felt justified to ‘take a break’ or gather myself when my body wasn’t compromising with his needs. In my mind, it was a respite of sorts. Well, kind of. Life was just easier when he was a happy guy so, HIS basic needs were met as much as I could help it. When the doctors suggested I get a partial hysterectomy as a final solution to my matters – all I could think of was “Shit – that makes my body available 24/7/365.” Because “no” didn’t really go in my house. While I was never physically forced to perform sexually, I do feel (seeing it in retrospect) that I was bullied, emotionally pressured, and quasi-badgered until I caved – to keep the peace; to be a good wife.

Slowly, I opened up to Abee, I figured a sister-girlfriend was probably as close to a non-judgmental person as I would find and when I shared my frustrations and fears with her I experienced some emotional relief. It probably sounded like I was bitching and complaining and perhaps I was. I was at my wit’s end with finding a way to compromise with and feel respected by Hubby. She and I talked often, sometimes several times a day. Depending on what was happening at home we would close our office door and fail to get any work done. She became my confidant and I no longer felt alone with this problem. Our lives became enmeshed. She was engaged but was only able to see her fiancé on weekends. During the week, our relationship was so symbiotic that life was just easy. There were two of us doing practically every job, not just at work but taking care of mom, caring for my kids, cooking, shopping, etc…  When her fiancé came on the weekends, we all got along well so our ‘downtime’ became shared time as well.

Abee’s twin lived across a couple of states and sometimes I wondered if this was what it was like for them – a sister so ‘in sync’ that it was as if there was only one of you. Maybe that’s why it was so easy – Abee already knew how to merge. I don’t really know, but after a while, it felt like the lines got blurred but by then I was dependent on the help and on the emotional support. I ignored the discomfort and kept going.

Mom and Abee were fixtures in our home – or us in theirs. I loved having family members so close by, not just because I was sharing life with my mom but because my girls were sharing theirs. She would come to chorus concerts, girl scout events, and help with school projects. Abee was always there to help us with birthday parties, coordinating outfits, or making dinner. She was becoming quite the teen advisor / mentor our daughters, many times overriding the need for ‘mom’ because she was so much younger and ‘cooler’. I was glad that the girls had someone like that in their lives. Every young girl needs someone besides a mom, to model.

Abee’s engagement broke off when the long-distance thing just couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t that simplistic of course and it was hard on her. By then, Mom was physically healthier and they relied on one another for just about everything. They became partners – in their combined ‘singleness’, they became dependent on one another for comradery, daily living, and financial support. They protected one another from the outside world. We were right there with them in what we believed to be the essence of family.

At work, Hubby and I continued to offer Abee more responsibility as she consistently demonstrated tremendous competence. Hubby and Abee traveled more together and they became a powerhouse team, propelling us into even more success. Our dreams were coming true. We had been outsourcing our HR needs and our ‘rep’ was a brilliant kid (relatively speaking) who I eventually convinced to work for us full time. We began to groom him to take over for me – managing the administrative duties of our office so that I could be more involved with the girls. Financial freedom was just around the corner and our vision was almost fully realized.

As good as everything looked on the outside, there was trouble brewing at home. The sexual tension that existed between Hubby and I was at an all-time high. Our fighting about it was me attempting to find a mid-point – a center where I could feel comfortable but it just wasn’t close enough to meet him. We didn’t know how to fight well and our fights were often verbally abusive – although I couldn’t give back as much as I got; I just didn’t have the vocabulary. I gave up time after time, in a mass of tears, once – huddled in a corner, on the floor, as I wrapped my arms around my legs and felt my spirit drift away.

Well That’s Awkward

“The most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.”  – Shannon L. Alder

The only ‘complaint’ I had (I use this word deliberately with the definition of ‘expressing displeasure or unhappiness’) was my inability to satisfy Hubby’s libido. I found myself reaching way past my comfort zones in an effort to be creative and imaginative when it came to our sex life. I tried creating some outrageous fantasies that sounded at least a tiny bit believable to my brain… it was the only way that I could be convincing. My definition of fantasy is something that is ‘imaginary’ – it exists in a world outside the realm of reality – and belongs there. Fantasizing felt somewhat safe assuming it fit that definition and I allowed myself to wander the spectrum of sexuality. Some things were tantalizing…

It wasn’t yet a ‘thing’ to openly discuss casual girl on girl encounters and yet they were quite common in every porn flick we ever watched. I admit to some broad curiosity but I took the ‘fantasy’ to a new level and vocalized it in detail on an occasion or two. You would think that I had insisted on manifesting an experience by the enthusiastic response it spawned. For weeks, I fielded questions about how I would go about making it happen and/or did I know of someone that I was attracted to. I easily became frustrated with the questions as it was all imaginary in my mind and should have stayed that way. The frustration grew to disgust with the vigor of interest from Hubby and the relentless prodding for more details; it felt like an interrogation. I became sorry I ever went down that road.

It seemed that Hubby was particularly interested in creating encounters with ‘others’. One evening while entertaining at home, a gentleman approached me and made the comment [modified to reduce crudeness] “I’m told you have great body parts”. I almost dropped my drink and looked at him with a dumbstruck expression, unable to formulate sound. “I’d love to see for myself”, he smiled. I was nauseated. The room grew hot and black. I wanted to run but couldn’t see where to go, I didn’t know how to get away. I was pregnant for christ’s sake! So many thoughts were spinning around in my mind and nothing stopped long enough for me to have clarity. I turned away and left the room with nothing more than a grunted sigh.

I found Hubby and asked him what the F*** he had said to that man. He told me and laughed. He was drinking. He had been consuming a lot of alcohol lately. There was no reasoning or arguing with him as long as the beer was in control. I left everyone and everything and went to bed. I wanted to lock the door – part of me didn’t trust anything or anyone in that house that night. I didn’t sleep, rather I laid there and thought about all the times things that had gone down like this. All the times that I had failed to satisfy Hubby, his needs, his desires. It’s as if they were inexhaustible, limitless. How did I work with this? I was profoundly embarrassed to be approached by some random guy who had intimate knowledge about my body. It felt like an immense violation of my privacy, of our love, of respect. My nerves were on fire as I imagined the confrontation this was going to produce.

When I was finally able to address the situation, I was faced with comments that completely invalidated everything I was feeling. “What’s the big deal” he asked. “I was complimenting you”, he said. “I’m proud of my wife”, he boasted. I didn’t feel heard, or validated, or valued. I felt cheap and trashy. There was something about my feelings that implied they were small and inconsequential. The ‘proud’ and ‘compliment’ words were louder and more attention grabbing than my feelings. There was a shift in my spirit that adjusted Hubby’s words to have more value than my emotions. I didn’t notice it then – it just happened. His language unzipped some nefarious part of me that needed ‘proud’ and ‘compliment’ more than I needed self-respect and dignity. Those attributes became microscopic and cold in my soul. They could not cohabitate in the world in which I was living.

I didn’t know what to do with this event. In my mind it spoke poorly of my husband so I didn’t want to tell anyone. On some level I was ashamed of my reaction – or complete lack of one – but it was predominately sub-conscious. I convinced myself that it was actually a complimentary incident and used it as evidence that the man I married really loved me. I may have told Michele and Dee some version of what had transpired but I’m pretty sure it was presented in a positive light, without disparaging commentary. I kept the rest to myself.

My mom had become one of my best friends. We talked almost daily for a minute or two and she spent extended time with us when she was able – mostly on the way to or from her parents’ home as they were aging and mom dedicated a ton of time to them – a whole summer at a time. It was mom who first brought to my attention the amount of beer Hubby consumed on a regular basis. She spent a week at a time with us and was known for her observational abilities. He had always been a drinker; we both were. I however, did not enjoy being drunk. Ever since my 25th birthday and the probable alcohol poisoning I experienced that week, I monitored myself pretty well. Not to say that I haven’t overindulged since then, it just wasn’t with any regularity. I guess I had become accustomed to Hubby’s consumption patterns. He was never loud or obnoxious when intoxicated, in fact he became loving and gentle; quite vulnerable actually – a trait I coveted with him. I started keeping tabs on how much beer disappeared and with what regularity.

Spring came and found us rearranging sleeping quarters to prepare a nursery for baby #4. We spent time with Dee, Tom and all the kids, picnicking, dinners, and game nights. We came home from an amusement park one day – all of us but in two cars – with plans to gather again for dinner. Hubby asked me to call Dee and tell her to “bring all the leftover beer” when they come over. He didn’t ask me to ASK her – I heard him say TELL her. It stirred my insides. I wasn’t comfortable ‘telling’ her to do us a favor. They came – she brought the beer. I was seven months pregnant so I wasn’t drinking but beer was flowing otherwise. The four of us sat outside on the patio, gathered around the table that I had spray painted green earlier in preparation for summer, and the kids played in the yard. We had eaten and we were now simply enjoying the great late spring twilight. It was a relaxed evening, one of hundreds we had experienced throughout the years and I was having fun. I was sitting in a chair against the house so that my vantage point was the whole patio and yard beyond. During a spirited string of conversation, I glanced down – below the surface of the table – and observed quite accidentally, Hubby’s foot rubbing the length of Dee’s leg.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

Loving Contradiction

“What women rightly long for is spiritual and moral initiative from a man, not spiritual and moral domination.”  ~ John Piper

We were members of a Lutheran church not far from our home that was undergoing a major transition, moving toward a more spiritually inclusive, contemporary practice. The pastor had returned from some mission work in Central America where he had experienced a transformative epiphany. He formed a men’s group and invited Hubby to join him. In addition, small home groups were established to encourage the personal development of the Holy Spirit within our congregation. We were traditional Lutherans – I was a traditional Catholic, practicing to become a Lutheran – and we were transforming into contemporary Christians. We were becoming comfortable with waving our arms in the air during melodic praise, vocalizing a random ‘amen’ when something poignant was spoken, and dictating prayers beyond those that had been written for us by saints.

*no disrespect intended here, simply pointing out that this behavior was ‘non-traditional’ for both of us.

Something inside of me was stirring. Occasionally, I experienced a deeply intrinsic ‘knowing’- a sensation that I was encountering a sublimate and perfect truth. It was as if I was looking intently into the eyes of love and acknowledging its abyssal source. Those moments were few and far between but they were intense and they pierced me. I was hungry for more and began searching for ways to satisfy my appetite.

Something was happening in Hubby as well. I can’t speak as to what it actually was but I saw an awakening in him too. I’m not sure what actually woke up but I know he was experiencing challenges. In many ways, it appeared he was having a spiritual revolution, a burgeoning emotional war, but it seemed to be drawing him closer to family, to me. I was not complaining. In my mind, the closer he was to God, the closer he would be to me, to his commitment of marriage, and of our home.

It was, that the Pastor responsible for this metamorphosis evolved a bit too much for the comfort of more traditional congregants and he was encouraged to find another flock to lead. He gathered those of us who had made the deep water dive with him and we formed a new entity; a church attuned to Scripture and spiritual growth more fundamentally than any other religious experience I’d yet had. I loved much about this church. I really enjoyed the fellowship, the music, the intimacy within our community. Hubby and I were both on the new board, leading home groups, and on different worship/leadership committees. We were busy. It felt great to be a part of something new and growing, in many ways, as we were giving birth to our daughter, we were also giving birth to a renewed faith and commitment.

Consequently, my prayers – frankly, all of my spiritual energy was being directed into making my marriage reverent. The Pastor’s wife guided us ladies in the art of submission. “It was God’s will”, she said, “that we submit our desires to our man. That we trust him to provide for us, not only in the material dimension, but also in the emotional. She explained that submission was about TRUST”. I was already suspicious about trusting my man. He had lied to me about smoking, he had let me down about quitting, he was suspect about why things had changed so dramatically… I was not very open to the concept of trusting. In fact, I was downright stubborn about it. In every single prayer I prayed, I sought guidance to find, honor, and embody submissiveness in the way that we were being taught. I struggled and developed impatience, frustration, and ultimately anger that I was being led to trust someone that didn’t feel ‘trust worthy’. I felt as though I was failing.

In the interim, I was reading the bible. Peter, Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Timothy, and Matthew. They all reinforced the idea that if I was Holy, my husband would follow suit. I ‘heard’ that it was my job – in my submissiveness – to honor my husband and my God, regardless. There was an incredible conflict in my heart over this proposition. I was experiencing God in a way that felt comforting and beautiful yet the idea that I was to submit myself completely to my man in all of the things he asked of me was contradicting my heart. Our pastor tried in vain to help me settle this internal dispute but it just wasn’t to be reconciled. Ultimately, the banter in my mind was too much and I resigned myself to how I understood the concept of submission – just do what he asks.

Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. I have control issues and the concept of total surrender was unable to take root in my psyche at large. Instead, I opted to surrender in the bedroom. His desires became the focus of my attention. If he asked me to wear high heels, I wore high heels. If he wanted to watch porn, we watched porn. If he wanted to talk dirty, I talked dirty. (Well, actually that part I had to practice… I bought Forum magazines to learn the proper vocabulary.)

What became the most problematic for me was the discrepancy in my own mind about what constituted ‘sin’ in terms of sexual behavior. On one hand I recalled the Catholic teaching that Rocky and I had participated in that taught whatever happened between a husband and wife and was consensual, was honoring your love for one another and therefore, honoring God. Then there were the thoughts about respecting women and the line that separated disrespectful behavior. Where was that line? And more thoughts about what was inherently authentic for me – as a woman. I didn’t have a broad repertoire of sexual interests necessarily although I enjoyed physical pleasure to be sure. I was curious about many things but experienced a very blurred line between the limits of my personal desire and the need for me to submit to desires of my husband which encompassed a much larger, comprehensive, and broad set of variables.

I experienced a rather continuous flow of antagonistic chatter in my mind. Internal criticism and chiding coupled with self-talk that pushed for conformity and compliance so that my marriage could be free of conflict. In the end, I consciously moved myself into compliance via the least resistant avenue. I convinced myself that I was working to be a better wife even if it meant that I was not listening to my inner voice. I found myself focusing on meeting the needs of others over my own once again and persuaded my heart that it was in the name of my faith.

Day by day I was actively engaged in promoting the vision of myself, of us, and of our family as blooming Christians, moving closer to God in our tithing, being prayerful, and committed to building the Church. Night by Night I felt a contradiction tugging at my soul.

Life on the Outside

Reality, however Utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.- Aldous Huxley

Within weeks of returning home I began suspecting that I was pregnant. Remembering back, that air conditioned cabin had afforded some additional creature comforts… A test confirmed that we would be welcoming a little one sometime the following April. I was crazy happy to be pregnant again. We seemed to be congealing, the three of us, and I was excited to be moving toward the vision of ‘family’ that had been rebirthed as Hubby and I built dreams of our life together.  Any indication that something was amiss stayed tucked inside that mental filing cabinet

We were both smokers back then and talked about quitting often. We had agreed that if / when I was to get pregnant, we would quit together. One of the things that tipped me off to the pregnancy was the repulsion I experienced when I smelled cigarettes so for me, quitting was a piece of cake – nothing like vomiting as negative reinforcement! For Hubby, quitting was not as easy and he continued to smoke. It became a true and sizable bone of contention between us. When he arrived home at night, I would immediately know he had just had a cigarette, I would gripe – a lot. Eventually he stopped telling me the truth but the smell was always a dead giveaway as my nose had turned into an ultra-sensitive olfactometer. And then – my grumbling and nitpicking became more intensified. I was a pregnant woman who had been let down and lied to – no combination of those aspects were good together. I was turning into a nag about the whole smoking thing.

I continually tried to explain that the odor of cigarettes in any capacity was difficult for me to experience while I was pregnant and couldn’t be close to him if I smelled it. I stopped kissing him. Not only did I feel let down because of the broken promise but no matter how many times I had said something was a problem for me – it didn’t change. I felt unsupported and insignificant yet again. The absence of greeting him with a kiss – and in fact I would often stand five feet away – when he came home in the evening, certainly wasn’t behavior supportive of a good relationship. However, I didn’t feel as though I was simply being ‘stubborn’, I had a true physiological response. It wasn’t long before he noticed how much physical distance I always maintained and that I wasn’t kissing him. He wanted to know what ‘my’ problem was.

I didn’t exactly enjoy the bodily changes that my physique went through during pregnancy but I cherished the experience of feeling the baby move, knowing that life was growing inside of me, and the anticipation of loving our little angel. My body began to change, I started gaining weight – a lot of it – and Hubby’s libido suddenly disappeared. He swore it wasn’t personal, that it was him – that he felt weird during sex – like the baby could somehow know what was happening.

Something didn’t make sense. We went from having sex literally, daily – to nothing at all. I talked with my mom. My step-dad talked with him and ultimately we had a ‘family talk’ about our sex life. “This happens sometimes” my mom says. Umm. I am thinking, you don’t know my husband. After being with him for two years, what I felt sure of, was that this behavior was odd – definitely off from what was normal for us. And, while I realize that everyone is different – it was quite contrary to my prior experience. My pregnancy with Francis might as well have been an aphrodisiac for both Rocky and me. No matter how he tried to rationalize this shift in our lifestyle, it didn’t compute for me. I wondered how his needs, the ones that I perceived to be insatiable, were being met. I grew fearful that he was going to look for alternate avenues. I started to play detective and challenged any information that felt off… he thought I was losing my mind.

It seemed as though my belly grew in tandem with the gap in my marriage. Each morning as I showered and dressed, I would allow my mind to wander to the Playboy magazine collection that swelled by one each month – and the women in them. It would wander to the Victoria’s Secret clothing that was delivered to the house as a gift for me (pre-pregnancy) but always a size or two smaller than I actually wore. It would wander to random comments I heard from time to time about men who should divorce women who got fat. During a time when I should have felt loved and cherished, I felt rejected and rebuffed. I ate an amount of food commensurate with my sorrow and gained 60 pounds over the course of my pregnancy.

There were dramatic behavioral changes in our sex life. The smoking / distance thing that had become ‘my fault’ (at least in my mind) created emotional distance between us. Then there was my body, the weight gain and pregnancy metamorphosis. All in all, it took a deep and rugged toll on my self-image. Any gains that may have been made over the last couple of years felt as if they were being swept away. I found myself once again doing anything necessary to experience approval. I cooked better meals, I worked to save us money where possible, I attempted to initiate physical contact as much as I could. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be desired. I wanted to feel important to my husband. I didn’t feel any of those things.

I tried to immerse myself in activities that would occupy my mind, to make sure that I had a never ending supply of ‘busy’ work so that I didn’t think too much. I was a Den mother for Francis’s Cub Scout troop, I sewed a lot of clothing, I decorated and crafted as our budget allowed. I worked at organizing Hubby’s business, helping with paperwork and motivation whenever it was necessary. We continued to build visions for our business and I signed up to sit for a licensing exam that would offer us more opportunity.

I focused on the activity that kept my mind occupied. When emotions arose that didn’t fit the construct of my life vision, they were chided by my outer self. I couldn’t help but think that I had rushed into this thing – that I deserved to be in this predicament because I had been so impetuous. I was afraid of being labeled a fool if I were to acknowledge it wasn’t working. Duh…. They would say… that’s what you get for being so spontaneous and reckless or perhaps that was my own mind talking, scolding, and criticizing.

On the outside, life was great. We were good (and became experts) at projecting to the outside world, an image of ourselves and of our family that fit into social and familial expectations. My subconscious began the slow and delicate separation between the life I wanted to live and the life I was actually living.

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The Walk of Shame

“A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect!” ~Unknown author

My intention was to ask him to dance but when I eventually found him in the nightclub he had his arm around a little blonde and I figured once again, this guy was out of my league.  I enjoyed the rest of the night with my friends and woke up in time for the Saturday morning meeting. It was a little bit like a cattle call as we all headed into the conference hall, a bit hung over coveting the coffee we were lucky enough to grab from the massive urns outside the ballroom. We had to sign in so the line slowed just before the doors.

Just as I was getting close to entering, I saw him – the guy who winked. He was tall, just a couple of people ahead of me and he had curly dark hair. I elbowed my bestie, pointing him out – attempting to be totally nonchalant. I dropped my head just long enough to provide my signature and as I walked through the doorway he was there, literally by my side with an outstretched hand “Hi, glad to see you made it through the night. I’m Bill.” I stammered some kind of hello and then quickly moved along in the flow of my friends to find a place to sit all the while chiding myself with the notion of ‘geez, what are you – in 2nd grade or something’????? Again, the idea of dating, of meeting a new person was so entirely awkward… it was almost painful.

As if I was in a high school cafeteria noticing the new boy in school, I sat at that morning conference table asking my friends to scour the audience in an effort to find where he was sitting. He seemingly disappeared, blending into the crowd as if he was a chameleon in a tropical forest. No one could find him. With a deep sigh and another notch in the belt of tough luck that I constantly wore, we forged through the day.

Later, at poolside, I saw him again. He was sitting with a large group, drink in hand, engaged in doing what all of us were attempting… having fun and relaxing. My BFF was AWOL – she didn’t come down by the pool with me and hadn’t shown up all afternoon. I was behaving like an idiot. Yes, I am being grossly self-critical but seriously, that was me… diving into the pool rather boldly, right in front of that group of people where curly haired Bill sat with his cocktail. I’m pretty sure no one payed me one moment of attention. I was experiencing humiliation that was completely and totally self-inflicted. Where were besties when you needed them? She could have saved me from deprecating behavior.

That night found us in the ballroom again for a presentation of awards to the top 10 in a bunch of different categories; sales reps, sales offices, etc. My friend group was associated with a top 10 office so we were decked out in our finest fashions with perfect hair and makeup. Again, we scoured the room on foot to find Mr. Curly Hair and again, we didn’t see him. While moving onto dessert, someone at my table asked me what the guy’s name was again, I replied with what I remembered and then looking at the evening’s program, we saw his name. He was a Top 10 rep. Shit again. That was just one more thing that pushed him out of my league. Deep breath – move on.

As is customary, these conference events went on, and on, and on. After the awards ceremony, there was a cocktail hour and then dancing with a DJ until last call. We were all drinking, dancing, and having fun. It was approaching midnight, meaning my birthday was about to begin. I was ready to bring 29 in with furor. The last year in this tortuous decade needed to be great in order for equilibrium to exist and persevere. I was dancing the night away when a gal from my home office showed up – Curly Hair in tow – and introduced us right there – mid dance – as she declared how shy I am.

It wasn’t long before we tired of dancing and trying to scream at each other over the music so we stepped out of the nightclub with our cocktails and found a place to chat. I was crazy nervous as we started to orchestrate getting to know one another. I was surprised to find that the conversation flowed smoothly and was rather effortless; time flew by. Our drinks empty and the bar closed, we headed to my room to raid the bar.

My roomie wasn’t there but there were three gifts, wrapped in birthday paper waiting on my bed. Yay! I love presents! I opened the smallest box first. It was a container of scented, edible, massage oil. O.K., next – a flat package. It was an annual edition of a male nude pictorial (later we realized it was geared toward gay men; depicting men intimately touching). The last box was about 12 inches long and 4 inches’ square. Um… everything in my body screamed – leave now; put the box down and exit the room. DANGER… DANGER.  I attempted to act on my intuition and moved toward the door, blushing and fumbling for a rational reason to find friends – any friends. “Let’s open it” he says. “That’s ok, let’s go.” “No, really – what do you think is in in?” as he picked up the box and began peeling the paper from its edges. I grabbed the box and as I did, the top corner ripped off the box to identify the contents.

Ok, kill me now. Please, God – strike me or at least give me disappearing ability, immediately. The box contained, as you have undoubtedly guessed, a dildo. All I know is that he began to smile broadly until his entire face was engulfed and with a deadly, serious voice stated “we are going to have fun, you and I”. Oh my god, can we just leave – get me out of this room. It took all of my energy to gather any remaining dignity and exit quickly. What I didn’t know is that a tone had been established right then, a seed of expectation had been planted.

We eventually ended up in his room and the make out session of all make out sessions ensued. For the first time in more than 4 years, my mind wasn’t on Rocky and my body was on fire. He played me like a violin and reminded me of JG, the man of my early years who taught me about pleasure. All of my reserves melted and I rejected every ounce of self-respect I possessed in order to satisfy the calling of my primal voice. I woke up in the morning feeling embarrassed and somewhat ashamed of myself. I didn’t want to be a one-night-stand girl. In fact, I had resisted that temptation on so many other occasions, I was pissed at myself. Since I was completely unaware of the principle of self-compassion, I beat myself up, grabbed my clothing, and proceeded to embark on a very long walk-of-shame. I had watered the seed of expectation.

It turns out that my BFF was reacting to a prank birthday gift she had received back home and wanted to share the undignified excitement with me. If she was going to get a dildo for her birthday, then so was I. We discussed the details of the prior evening and laughed until we were breathless over the absurdity of it all while we packed and prepped to leave.

Sunday was going home day. Curly hair guy and I connected and were awkwardly conversing over lunch as several people stopped by our table to say goodbye on their way back to where they belonged. My BFF was patient but strong willed as she packed us some roast beef sandwiches for the drive home (and as it turned out with WAY too much horseradish) and gave me the ‘come on’ eyes more than a few times. I was trying to save my dignity by engaging this guy in small talk and pretending that I wasn’t morbidly embarrassed from my lusting lack of self-control. I obligingly provided my phone number to Mr. Hot Stuff and left Lancaster. I secretly hoped that I would never return.

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Photo credit: alex mertzanis via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Can We Talk About Sex? Part 2

“There is nothing ignoble, or unholy, about having sex. You have to get that idea out of your mind, and out of your culture”

– Neale Donald Walsch

 

In part 1 of this discussion “Can We Talk About Sex?” I speak to the introduction of sex into a girl’s life, well…. My life… but I know it is very similar to that of other women. The piece that is so extremely important is, what we – as women learn about ourselves and about expectations in regards to our own sexual interests and behavior.

Sex is one of the parameters that we use to label ourselves. Often those labels break down to simply good or bad. We tend to associate any sexual activity outside those that we personally are comfortable with as ‘bad’.  The following are thoughts that I have had and/or feelings expressed by friends or from clients through the years:

I like sex.

I like bondage.

I want sex every day.

I prefer to masturbate.

I hate sex.

I could live without sex.

I have had group sex.

I enjoy sex ‘toys’.

I like to be watched.

I am a swinger.

I am voyeuristic.

I am sadistic.

I like anal sex.

I have had dozens of sexual partners.

I’ve only ever had one partner.

I fantasize about women.

I fantasize about men who are not my partner.

Ok. There you have it – items from the entire spectrum of sexuality. Do any of them sound familiar? Have you found yourself judging yourself or someone else because they expressed one of these opinions?

In The Complete Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Neale Donald Walsch writes:

“Sexual expression is the inevitable result of an eternal process of attraction and rhythmic energy flow which fuels all of life.”

Who determines the definition of ‘sexual expression’? Many of us feel that it is church, family, culture, etc. that cements the confines of that phrase into our understanding of acceptance. When we allow someone else to dictate what is good for us, we open the door for feeling rejection, disappointment, etc.

YOU are the only one that needs to define what works for you sexually!! It is YOUR body – if you like it, great. If you don’t – fine. YOU determine your sexual parameters and they are NORMAL if they fit inside YOUR comfort spectrum. What fits inside my range may or may not be the same for you. That will never make it wrong – it makes us different!

I completely buy into the common belief that sex better when it is the culmination of love between two people. A ‘spiritual’ experience shared with a person with whom you feel emotionally close. Truly – sharing yourself with someone in that intimate manner is a wonderful, beautiful thing.  And… it’s true. Eventually we all realize that good sex with someone you love is magical!!

Sex is can ALSO a physical experience that may have nothing to do with love.

I am saddened that so much of our culture places emphasis on sex without love as a ‘bad’ thing. We propagate the notion that people who experience, and God forbid – enjoy – sex outside of love / marriage have somehow violated our standard of honor. When what we hope for people we care about is that they enjoy the ‘magical’ experience I mentioned above – what we are teaching is a value statement about them as a person if they don’t adhere to our more knowledgeable perspective.  Each one of us needs to determine what is right for us as individuals and I encourage everyone to foster a spectrum of support and an absence of judgment in order to create a healthy environment in which to experience our sexuality.

The only truly important part of this discussion is what YOU as an individual – determine what feels respectful and authentic. Yes – the word respectful is necessary here. You need to respect yourself sexually. Far too often I am sitting with a client talking about shame and sexuality. I remember having so many of those feelings.

Too many of us are taught that sex is ONLY about love and if/when we experience sex without love, we assign a judgment. We judge ourselves, we internalize, we assume others judge us (sometimes not an assumption).  Because of the sex/love correlation, some of us think that if someone wants sex with us, they must love us – WRONG.  Others think that if we love someone, sex with them should be great – WRONG.

I have seen plenty of couples through the years that are incompatible sexually and struggle because they really love one another. Generally, it’s because one of them remains sexually frustrated – the physical parts are not being fulfilled. Likewise, there are couples who are suited perfectly from a physical perspective but fail to experience respect, trust, and commitment. In a perfect world of course, there is a beautiful combination of both.

When it is all said and done, the most important element is the ability for an individual to experience a relationship that exhibits RESPECT in regards to sex and sexuality. If your partner wants to experience sex in a way that is uncomfortable or unpleasant to you, he/she may not be the right partner.

There are few things worse than attempting to fit a size 14 body into a tiny g-string and a push up bra that your partner saw on a Victoria’s Secret model in the fall catalog. Really…. It’s NOT going to look like that on me!!! I will feel stupid and fat wearing it. It won’t matter if you tell me I am beautiful! I will be judging the fact that I don’t look like that 21-year-old model – no matter what you say. Sorry guys. It is the exception to the rule that a woman feels pretty and sexy in that kind of lingerie if she is not young and skinny. We generally want the light to be out and feel like we’ve been successful if we don’t cringe while you run your hand up the side of our baby fat roll. (The fat roll we got when we created and birthed those babies.)

Rocky used to tell me that touching that part of me reminded him of the love he had for what we had created together. After he died, I was petrified that another man would never be able to experience that fat roll in the same way. Oh brother – the things we think about!!

I’m sure that I will integrate more sexual commentary as posts go forward but it was necessary – again – to set the stage for my perspective here. The way that we each identify and define ourselves as sexual beings is uber important in the decisions we make as adults. As you will see…

I appreciate comments below…. if you are so inclined.

Can We Talk About Sex? – Part 1

Can we take a minute or two and discuss sex?? Maybe even a post or two?? You see, as a culture, we don’t really talk about sex and if we do – it’s with snickers, snide comments, or an eyebrow flash. How did you learn about sex?

For me, it was a multitude of sources, some unreliable. First it was the kid up the street who wanted to see my c*** – “What’s that?” I said – “I’ll show you where it is” – he did. I was 8 I think. I told my dad who told his dad and he wasn’t allowed to play outside anymore. At puberty, my dad was the first one to introduce the idea of intercourse; something married people who love each other do about once a week. Ok… those are the guidelines. Then there was The Happy Hooker. Xavier Hollander, a famous New York madam wrote a book in 1972. I found it under a pile of sheets in the linen closet and would spend stolen blocks of minutes in there – studying. I learned WAY more than my 12-year-old curiosity was ready for. Golden showers – yuk! Shower head masturbation – maybe! I read all kinds of words that were new to me without understanding the meaning behind them.

When I got to California and was finally accepted into a ‘friend’ group, I recall a boy got me under a pool table once and after attempting to tongue kiss me fiercely, exclaimed “Didn’t those boys in Pennsylvania teach you anything?” Um. No. It felt like a failure. I was 14 and didn’t know how to kiss. I experienced a sense of humiliation for not knowing something sexual.

Then there was Joe – a boy I met while living in Germany on that Army base who told me he had cancer and that he didn’t want to die a virgin. Was he into ‘me’ or did he simply want my body? Tough luck Joe.

In high school, one of my BFF’s and done ‘it’ and said it was like ‘cotton candy’ … you just wanted more! I was intrigued. I designed my first time in a perfect way just before I turned 18. I had a serious boyfriend and thought I was in love. The relationship met much of the criteria that my social construct had designated. I felt physically safe and emotionally close to my boyfriend so I chose him for the experience of sexual introduction. My friend (in a similar situation) and I arranged the perfect time and place when her parents were out of town. We had dinner, candles, music, and condoms. I suppose in many ways it was perfect. But…. I was expecting Xavier Hollander sex. Where were the screams of pleasure and arching backs?? What was an Orgasm?? Did I have one? What did it feel like? Should I be disappointed? Was it good? What WAS good sex?? Who the hell can answer these questions?

How in the world does a young woman who’s never HAD sex evaluate the sex she’s just had?? He was asking… “was it good for you?” “Sure” I said. Lie #1.

He was a great choice for a first time experience because he cared about me – emotionally. I was curious though so we practiced a bit. I always lied and said it was good  while I attempted to define what ‘good sex’ actually felt like. He seemed to be satisfied with ok… We eventually broke up but not because of sex. And might I just say that – who can blame an 18-year-old guy for being satisfied with ok…. Who teaches them to make sure that their partner is satisfied? Essentially at that age, we are all just practicing.

One of the most embarrassing moments of my life?? … Attempting a blow job. In a car. How is that done exactly? I remember thinking ok Les… it’s a BLOW job. Blow. Um, that didn’t work. Another self-defecating moment. How the hell does one learn these things?? Who should I ask? I know I am not the only woman in the world to have had that experience.

Eventually there was JG. He had abs of steel and he thought I was beautiful. He was older than me and ended up being a phenomenal teacher. I’m not sure he taught me what to DO but he definitely taught me what to WANT. JG and I were friends who had sex. We weren’t lovers. He taught me about my body and I’ve always been grateful for that experience. He didn’t love me but he was incredibly respectful of me.

I am often in session with people who are shy about discussing sex. I attempt to normalize it as quickly and easily as possible. Sex is hard to talk about in most of the population. On some level we are taught that it is ‘dirty’. On another we are told it is ‘private’. On yet another we somehow adopt an idea of what constitutes ‘normal’.

In the late 1940’s, Alfred Kinsey suggested that most humans fall on a continuum between completely heterosexual and completely homosexual. Then there was Masters and Johnson, the sex researchers in the late 60’s who ‘researched the female orgasm’ extensively. All of these researchers attempted to normalize sex in various ways but it stayed a taboo subject nonetheless. We know it happens, we are sarcastic about it happening, but we don’t honor sex unless it is specifically for reproduction – at least in most segments of our culture. In my mind – that is a sin.

So – essentially, this Catholic bred girl who felt ‘bad’ for lying is now feeling ‘bad’ about having had premarital sex and for having oral sex (abnormal??) and for wanting more sex. I labeled myself as ‘bad’ and I was pretty sure that a lot of others would have applied the same label if they had access to the history of my sexual life –  as limited as it was. It was part of my life that I labeled as ‘disappointing’ before anyone else could. I felt judged even though I was the one judging.

I’d like to say that this is where the story gets better but it simply gets worse. When I do attempt to talk with someone about my sexual feelings and experiences, the discussion is met with judgement. “What did you do?” “Why?” – Curiosity didn’t seem to be a suitable answer. Why is it that when someone is curious about how to take a car apart it’s ok but when we want to understand what feels good physically it’s not?

I learned to be ashamed of the sexual thoughts and experiences I had – even though today I understand that they completely fall into the ‘normal’ range. I never had anyone to normalize them for me. Remember, my dad (my hero) told me that married people who love one another ‘do it’ once a week so when my husband wanted sex Every. Single. Day., I thought he must be kinky – weird – abnormal and I judged us both.

We need to talk about sex. We need to teach young women to feel free to share – to normalize. We need to open the lines of communication and free our children from the shame that we were taught to carry.

Photo credit: Abhishek Singh Bailoo via Foter.com / CC BY