The last three months have been some of the hardest of my life. I’ve not shared many details publicly, but one of my daughters is facing some significant health challenges. I’ve spent many hours driving to hospitals and doctors’ appointments, researching treatments, and what seems like an eternity slashing through red tape and bureaucratic bullshit to get her the right help. After a variety of false starts and setbacks, I am thrilled to say that she is progressing on the road to recovery. We have every reason to believe that, in time, she’ll be back to her old self. But the journey has been, and will continue to be, difficult and convoluted. It is emotionally and physically draining, and there are days when I feel like collapsing in exhaustion.
In the midst of all the turmoil though, there are moments. There are times when, at least for a little while, everything feels stable and I can breathe. Or times when I am so overwhelmed that I have to think about something else before my brain implodes. And in some of those moments, I find myself thinking about sex 1 . Considering that I am a sex blogger, you’d think I would know this is normal and healthy. And objectively, I do. But then the shame would set in…
How can you think about sex at a time like this?
I told myself that I deserve a break, that sacrificing my own pleasure does nothing to help anyone and quite possibly makes matters worse. When I have done all that I can do at that point in time, I should relax and take the pressure off myself. I can accept that. I can watch a movie, have a beer, take a bubble bath, curl up with a book. But when I found myself thinking about sex and orgasms, I would psych myself out of it at least half of the time. Even when I presented it to myself as “work” (like toy reviews), the negative feeling lingered.
Despite all my efforts to fight shame and sex-negativity, I still had some lurking in this particular corner of my mind. I had internalized the idea that there are “acceptable” ways for a worried mother to unwind, and that orgasms are not on the list. I’m supposed to try exercise, or chocolate, or inspirational reading, or a bubble bath, or a glass of wine, or a support group, or any of the other stress relievers frequently prescribed for frazzled moms. Society tends to be ridiculously bad at acknowledging that moms are sexual creatures 2. Most articles and advice columns completely ignore the therapeutic power of orgasms in favor of less risqué suggestions. A massage might make the cut, or “date night” with a partner…but there’s never a mention of hot and heavy sex, nor of spending quality time with one’s vibrator. The absence of those key items made me wonder if I were somehow “broken” or abnormal to crave them.
There was also this toxic idea in my head that grief or sorrow have to be all-consuming to be “real”. How can you say you’re upset if you’re able to get aroused, even for a little while? It intertwines with a twisted bit of magical thinking that tells me if I worry enough, if I suffer enough, somehow it will help my daughter heal faster. When I look closely at these thoughts, I see that they spring from the vestiges of my Catholic upbringing. While Catholicism is heavy on guilt in general, there’s a special focus on sex-related guilt. Which goes double for women. And of course, the Ultimate Mom in the church’s eyes was a perpetual virgin. I thought I’d pulled up those psychic weeds years ago, but there they were, running rampant and trying to strangle any sexual thoughts that might begin to blossom.
Finally, there’s the fact that I am undoubtedly my own worst critic. I judge myself far more harshly that I do anyone else. So I stopped and asked myself what I would tell one of my best friends if they were in a similar situation. Would I advise them to become celibate? To give up orgasms until their long-term problem passed? No. I would not. I would urge them on, suggest ways to find time and create the right mood. I would remind them that they have to look after their needs as well as those of their children. I realized that I give pretty decent advice, and it was about time I took some of it for myself.
Having dissected my inner argument against sex, I moved on to looking at the benefits of accepting my urges. Sex is a way for me to celebrate the successes, remember the joy and beauty and fun in life. It can also be cathartic, a noisy, messy, primal release of pent up emotions. It’s a temporary escape into a bubble where there is no room for worries and what-ifs and panic. It’s a place where words are superfluous, a respite when you’ve spent so many hours telling the same, increasingly long story to yet another doctor, nurse or therapist. It’s a way of shutting down the overworked circuits of my brain, letting me reboot and refresh to face another day. If a pill existed that could provide all the benefits of sex, I would take it in a heartbeat.
I’m highly prone to overanalyzing things, but in this case, the list of pros and cons left no room for debate. I declared all-out war on the shame blockade, aggressively thumbing my nose at the negative voice inside my head. I decided I was done denying myself the physical and emotional release that I need. I have made time for my pleasure (solo and partnered), including scheduling time off from work expressly for sex. One way or another, I make a point of ending most days with orgasms. Even if I think I’m too tired. The nagging little voice hasn’t gone away completely, but silencing it takes much less effort now. When it does start complaining, I repeat my new mantra (courtesy of Emmeline Peaches):
Just because you’re going through some problems in life doesn’t mean you are less deserving of sexual wellbeing.
I read Emmeline’s quote as I was figuring out how to wrap up this post, and it resonated with me on a very deep level. Yes, I am going through some monster problems, and they are awful. But that is not a reason to neglect my sexual wellbeing. The fates seem to smile on my choice. Sex has proven to be a key component in improving my mental and emotional state. Thus far, no deity has smited me with lightning bolts. My daughter has not suffered a catastrophic relapse…in fact, she’s improving steadily. Life has gone on, with me happier and more balanced. I sleep longer and have fewer nightmares. I’m better equipped to deal with the times when new challenges arise. I feel like the universe has affirmed my right to be a sexual being regardless of what else may be going on in my life. And it is good.
I’d like to say a special thank you to those in the blogging community who have advised, listened and comforted me when I needed it. You are my online family, and I love you all.