It’s been a while.
In the last 12 years, I’ve only been with one man. The last time I had sex on a regular basis was nine years ago when Ron and I were still a couple. The last time I had sex at all was five years ago before Ron passed away. Since then I’ve been single and sex has been far from my mind.
Celibacy wasn’t always my thing. In my early 20s, I enjoyed going through a self-proclaimed slutty phase. I felt like a sexual being, and I was very comfortable with that.
I saw nothing wrong with talking openly about sex, or demonstrating to a friend on a popsicle how to give a blowjob. Sex and sexuality were simply a natural, welcome part of my life.
Things started to change when mental illness came to town when I was 28. I met Ron when we were both hospitalized in a psychiatric ward.
At that point, even though I was quite unwell, I saw the illness as only a part of me and I didn’t yet feel completely removed from my “normal” self.
At that point I also still had the body of my 20s, a body I was familiar with and felt comfortable with, even though I had lost a lot of weight because of the depression. More importantly, it was a body I felt comfortable being sexual with.
Ron and I stayed together for three years, and sex was really good. It became comfortable, but it was never boring; we knew what worked and we enjoyed it. I felt very safe with him, although at the time I don’t think I recognized how much that contributed to our sex life.
A lot has changed since Ron passed away from an overdose. My depression has become a much more prominent part of my identity, claiming ownership over more and more aspects of me.
It’s had a significant impact on my overall level of functioning, which has spilled over to affect my sense of self-efficacy in many areas of my life. I’ve experienced trauma related to workplace bullying that has made me reluctant to trust anyone. I’ve developed a strong startle response.
I’m on medications that have dampened my sex drive and made me gain a ton of weight. I have made a conscious choice that this new body is an acceptable tradeoff for the benefit of my medications. Still, I struggle sometimes with this body, and at times it doesn’t feel quite like it’s my own.
Feeling safe is difficult to achieve, and I’ve erected a lot of protective barriers to prevent myself from being vulnerable.
This is a body I haven’t felt sexual with. At the time Ron passed away I wasn’t as large as I am now. The bigger factor, though, is that he’d already known me for years when the weight started to pile on. He already accepted me on so many levels that the question of weight was given as little attention as it deserved.
Now, there is a close male friend in my life, and it seems like we’re slowly (which is a good thing) moving towards a more intimate relationship. While he’s someone I feel very emotionally safe with, it still begs the question, what would it feel like to have sex again?
In the past, I wasn’t body-conscious, especially when it came to sex. Sure, my body wasn’t perfect, but I was confident that when the clothes came off the imperfections would become immaterial.
Now, though, the idea of taking my clothes off in front of a man feels intensely vulnerable. Even though I have been very emotionally vulnerable with this particular man, and I know he thinks I’m wonderful just as I am, I have this irrational fear of being rejected when I’m naked physically as well as mentally.
I’m also not sure what it would feel like to be touched by someone new. I have a very wide bubble of required personal space, and the idea of collapsing that down frightens me.
Would letting down those barriers make me physically tense up?
Would it be as bad as my last pap test when the doctor didn’t want to use a plastic speculum because she thought I might break it with my freakishly strong vagina?
Do I still have any idea what I’m doing in the bedroom? Granted, I guess I didn’t have a clue when I first started having sex and I managed okay, but back then I was so horny it really didn’t matter. Somehow being a 40-year-old who doesn’t know what she’s doing seems like a less appealing prospect.
Would I be able to orgasm? My antidepressants certainly aren’t going to help in that department. I can manage to take care of business for myself most of the time, but only with the assistance of porn. Porn was never my thing before, but now I need the visual stimulation as well as the physical.
If I were unable to have an orgasm, would I get caught up in guilt-tripping myself for not knowing my body well enough to make it happen? The idea is ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it go away.
Even asking any of these questions seems like an academic exercise. It’s hard to even conceive of myself as a sexual being, and equally hard to remember what it was like years ago when I did feel sexual. I’m not sure if I’ve just transitioned to an asexual state of being, or if the sexual side of me is lying dormant waiting for the spring thaw.
I guess I just hope it’s kind of like riding a bike. Once you get on, it all comes back. Or perhaps you wipe out a few times first.
What’s reassuring is that from what I can gather my potential partner is as out of practice as I am. The idea of being a pair of fumbling doofuses is somehow more reassuring than the idea of being alone fumbling doofus matched up with someone who’s at the top of their game.
Somewhere, in a corner at the back of my mind, my 20-year-old self is both laughing at me and cheering me on.