Monthly Archives: August 2011


As time went on, sex became somewhat easier: the shock of the pain ebbed because I knew what I was in for each time. But I wasn’t satisfied with that—I had more in mind for my sexuality—so I began reading voraciously. I read The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner, a book Dr. B called “a good starting place.” And it certainly would’ve been, had I been normal. I read Sheet Music by Kevin Leman, a recommendation from a friend that turned out to be really interesting, if not especially helpful in my then-current state. I read Cosmo articles. I read excerpts of The Celebration of Sex by Douglas Rosenau. I read The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye (skip it). I read excerpts of Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat. I read articles from several websites. I even read a book about kissing. The problem with all that material was that nowhere did it describe anyone like me. Advice for avoiding awkward wedding nights, rekindling the passion for older couples, adjusting to babies in the house, and breaking sexual inhibitions abounded…but there was nothing for me. When I used indices to reread portions that supposedly addressed lack of sex drive and/or painful sex, the most I found was “Try some relaxation techniques,” or “See a doctor.” Once more I felt alone in my struggle and frustrated that I couldn’t seem to help myself. These books were designed for people whose biggest problem was ignorance or a stressful schedule. Mine was all-out dysfunction.

I seemed to be hitting the same wall with Dr. B by that point. I’d tried all the sexy music, sensual massage, glasses of wine, and non-intercourse intimacy I could handle. I’d lit candles, I’d watched romantic movies, I’d read and written some erotica. And don’t get me wrong: Dr. B’s influence was absolutely crucial in my battle for healthy sexuality, and with his help I made some very important strides. But my sometimes-impatient self was irked when the speed of my progress cooled. Even though there were occasional days and nights on which I truly wanted to have sex, it still wasn’t “making love.” It was fulfilling an uncomfortable, frustrating duty. I was nearing the end of my rapidly fraying rope, and unfortunately, that is where the story pauses for the next year and a half of my marriage. Sex was possible but excruciating, and my enthusiasm for satisfying sex was evaporating by the minute. I threw up my hands in frustration with God for not erasing the problem.

The night I ran completely out of patience, two years into marriage, is still as vivid a memory as the chili I ate tonight. My husband and I had another couple over for dinner, and after dessert we decided to play a game (as often happens if you are my dinner guest—fair warning). Although we knew we were at a disadvantage—they’d weathered several more years of marriage than we had—we were up for the challenge of the Newlywed Game. One question the two husbands were asked was, “When was your hottest night of lovemaking in the past year?” They both recorded answers with seemingly little difficulty. However, when my husband revealed his response, his friend said, “For us, pretty much every time is awesome. You must not have had a lot of sex if you can remember a specific night.” Usually I have a great poker face, but that night I sat there stunned, staring at my husband’s friend, with whom it didn’t seem to register that he’d said something deeply insulting. All the feelings of being exposed, of fighting an embarrassing battle of inadequacy, washed over me. Burning, crimson shame appeared on my face. Everybody knows, the sickening voice in my head whispered. Everybody knows.

For me, the problem with all this sexual strife is that it’s the one thing we’re supposed to figure out entirely on our own. All any person or book ever said was, “It hurts in the beginning,” and “Figuring it all out with your partner is so much fun!” Well…what about those of us for whom it was still painful after two years? What about those of us who couldn’t figure anything out, even with a manual like Sheet Music, because it was impossible to make even the “easy” stuff work? Who are we supposed to turn to? Try to talk about sex in your Bible study, and you’ll likely make the room fidget and drop eye contact faster than you can say “scented massage oil” unless you have an unusually open group. I found that very few people, even my closest friends, were able to give me real, honest information, their words being veiled by a sense of propriety. (Not that there’s anything wrong with propriety; it’s just frustrating to hear about it over and over when you truly need answers.)

After my husband’s friend made his comment, it was literally weeks before I was able to face my bedroom frustration again. Everything had simply begun to feel insurmountable.


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Sex-Free Honeymoon

The more I talked to Dr. B about sex, the more layers of ugliness we peeled back. We spent the first few sessions primarily on my anger and disappointment over the way things had turned out and how my brain linked those negative emotions with sexuality. And then we spent hours and hours working through all of the religious, churchy oppression I’d been subjected to. You can imagine, then, that “shame” wasn’t a foreign word in our meetings. But gradually, shame over having sex dissipated and left something unexpected in its place: shame over not having sex.

My husband and I got married on a gorgeous June day in Colorado in 2007. Our ceremony was a perfect, a family-only celebration at his parents’ house. The honeymoon, however, wasn’t scheduled until October—we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to settle into married life before going on vacation. But as I sat in Dr. B’s office less than 48 hours prior to leaving for the Canary Islands, I was stressed and frustrated that after months of trying, sex still wasn’t possible. And we were getting ready to leave for our honeymoon. “I always imagined my honeymoon as a week of walking on the beach, making love, and drinking champagne!” I exclaimed. “All I’m thinking right now is how angry I am that this once-in-a-lifetime experience is going to be nothing like what I pictured. I won’t have a honeymoon like everyone else’s.” Every attempt at sex had ended in disappointment, shame, and sadness for me, and the thought of an entire week of nothing but that was too much to bear.

“Amie, you have to decide right now that you will not have sex on your honeymoon. It simply will not happen. Your honeymoon will not involve sex. Will you admit that for me?” Dr. B was sterner that I’d seen him. My eyes welled, and I nodded. That moment was a breaking point for me. Certainly I’d felt sexually angry and helpless before, but sitting in a strange man’s office declaring that my much-anticipated honeymoon would be sexless just seemed so unfair. My marriage had not begun at all like I’d expected. Everyone, including the minister who performed our ceremony, told us how steamy the first year would be, given that we were in our twenties without having been sexually active. We’d be fighting a lot and having lots of makeup sex, we’d be missing each other terribly while at work, and we’d have the novelty of romance still intact. Married couple after married couple prepared us for that. Not experiencing anything like it, I felt shortchanged in so many ways.

Dr. B let my tears roll in silence for a few moments before pressing on. “Sex is not the only way to enjoy each other, you know,” he suggested. I returned his eye contact but inwardly rolled my eyes. “Try not to focus on what isn’t yet possible. Instead, explore each other’s bodies in ways that are.” He explained that he believes many couples lose their sense of wonder over their partners’ bodies because they stop doing this. “Take some time to really look at each other, take in the delicious physical gifts you have to offer. Just because you can’t have sex doesn’t mean you aren’t sexual, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sexual pleasure. If on your honeymoon the intent is to be close and exult in the physical gifts you can give each other, you’ll have a very satisfying week. Sex is an expression, not just an act.” I wasn’t convinced, but I did leave encouraged.

I was still mentally working through all of this when the alarm went off Saturday morning. While my husband and I are both seasoned travelers and light packers, we are notorious for arriving late to the airport. That October morning was no exception, and we fairly flew around the house, trying to get last-minute issues resolved and decisions made. The whole time, my mind was also working with the sex-free-honeymoon situation I was facing and the utter frustration of it. The longer I turned the thoughts over in my head, the more I became embroiled in a maelstrom of negativity. Looking back, I realize that this was entirely my fault for not taking control of my thoughts, and every time we “expressed ourselves” over the course of the week I felt a backlash of anger and hopelessness. By the time we returned home, I felt an intensely deep shame over not being able to perform wifely responsibilities. It was time for another discussion with Dr. B. Even though I had been going every two weeks, I called and scheduled an additional appointment when we got back in town.

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Size Matters.

I mean my size matters. To me.

In the last eleven months I have lost almost 80 pounds, which I’m pretty sure is the equivalent of an Olson twin. My pants are four sizes smaller, my tops two. Kohl’s saw me an awful lot this summer: I shrunk out of most of my wardrobe and had to replenish. A number of coworkers congratulated me on the loss when I showed up at in-service earlier this month, and three former students at the ball game on Friday night said, “I almost walked right by without recognizing you!” Just a couple of days ago, a former student visited the high school and said, “You’re so tiny!” That might be a stretch, but it does bear witness to the size I was versus the size I am now. And I’m still shrinking.

Why bring that up on the sex blog? As one of my favorite babysitting charges used to say, “Well, you see…it’s involved.”

First of all, I’m sitting here writing this in a dress I never would’ve tried on, much less bought, when I was larger. But as soon as I slip it on with my high-heeled sandals, I feel very sexy and catch myself looking in the same mirrors and windows I loathed before. Honestly, I never knew what “sexy” felt like until this summer. That has a definite effect on your bedroom life—when you feel unsexy all the time, you want nighttime, lights-off, under-the-covers sex. You don’t want to see your shape if it’s at all avoidable. It’s difficult to be willing to share your body when you can’t stand the sight of it yourself.

Second, I catch myself dancing all the time. I love the way it feels to be in this body now. I love the way it feels to move. Lest you be misled, trust me, I harbor no illusions of grandeur when it comes to graceful gliding across a dance floor. But these days it’s a challenge to make it all the way through a sinkful of dishes or a ten-minute shower without shaking my groove thang. It just feels so good to be in a smaller body.

Third, I have a brand-new idea of what “sexy” means. I used to think I wasn’t sexy because I didn’t have Kim Kardashian’s legs or Jennifer Aniston’s knockers. But the thing is, sexy has almost nothing to do with measurements and everything to do with perspective. My legs will never give Kim’s a run for their money. But I feel every bit as sexy as she does when she’s on that red carpet…and probably more. After all, there are no paparazzi scrutinizing every inch of my skin. Sexy is how comfortable you are in your own skin, behind your own face, stretched into your own height. Sexy is looking in the mirror and thinking, “I don’t want to trade with anyone else today. I like what I’ve got.”

When I was a teenager, my insecurity about my body caused me to become hypersensitive and even a little arrogant about other areas, such as my grades and my music. I figured if I didn’t have looks on my side, I was going to have to do something else to get people’s attention. I’m a perfectionist anyway, so it comes as no surprise that I took great pride in my 3.95 GPA (stupid calculus) and position as accompanist to the choirs. While I was never exactly obnoxious about either of these things, I certainly didn’t pass up an opportunity to mention them if they were at all relevant to the conversation at hand. But as I grew up and even more as I’ve lost weight, I’ve noticed a much-diminished need of validation by others. I feel confident and happy with who I am and how I look, and it’s caused so much of that old insecurity to evaporate. I won’t lie: it feels absolutely wonderful to get a compliment on my physical appearance. For the longest time, that was one aspect of myself that I felt didn’t deserve any positive recognition at all. However, I’m no longer constantly looking toward others to assure me that I’m at least passably attractive. I am finally inching my way toward a healthier body image and, consequently, a healthier self-concept all around. And at least for me, that has proven an extremely important component in the battle for healthy sexuality.

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I Wrote Erotica.

You heard me.

But it’s not what you think. Unless what you think is that I had barely written five pages before I deleted the document entirely. (If you’re a Friends fan, this is a perfect time to insert a joke about Rachel’s erotic novel, which featured typos like “heaving beasts” and “throbbing pens.”)

It all started innocently enough. I was early for my appointment with Dr. B, so we chatted a bit before getting down to business. “What was your major?” he asked. “I double-majored,” I replied. “English and French…I read a lot.” We chuckled, and then he asked the question I knew was next: “So what’s your favorite book?” I’m always reluctant to answer because people expect something sophisticated, like As I Lay Dying or Flaubert. But my favorite book nineteen years running is Charlotte’s Web. Raising his eyebrows, Dr. B said, “All you read in college and Charlotte’s Web is your favorite? Why?” I explained that it was my first encounter with the immersive power of a story. That even though I fear and loathe spiders, I lost a friend when Charlotte died. That I was transported when I read White’s pitch-perfect sentences, both as an 8-year-old and as an adult. Open that cover, and the summer breeze swirls around you. Charlotte’s Web is why I double-majored in literature and literature. Charlotte’s Web is perfect.

When I finished my spiel, Dr. B said with an amused smile, “You certainly are passionate about books.” I agreed. He started nodding slowly and scrunched up his eyes, suddenly lost in thought. “Books, huh?” he said either to me or to himself…I wasn’t really sure, so I waited silently for something else to happen. “Amie, how about you read a little erotica?” I tilted my head and slightly frowned. How had the conversation accelerated from Charlotte’s Web to sex in 6.1 seconds? “Beg your pardon?” I asked, bewildered. I glanced at the clock on his desk, thinking that perhaps it was an abrupt segue into our session. “Well, you’re a reader, right? Books speak to you. So…read some erotica. See if that helps.”


So the next time I was in Books-a-Million, I went to the only section I’d never ventured within ten yards of. I kept looking over my shoulder, afraid I might see one of my parents’ friends. Or worse yet—a student. (Although, to be fair, most of my students would not spend their Friday afternoon in a bookstore.) I cleared my throat, took a deep breath, and picked up a book. When I looked at the cover, my eyes grew wide, and I slammed it back on the shelf. “Oh, sweet Moses,” I whispered. I wondered for the 14th time what, exactly, I was doing there. Then, I remembered the live scorpion, wiped the sweat off my palms, and continued my search for a good ol’ dirty book. Finally, I found a contender: the cover depicted nothing but two empty chairs on a beach—I suppose the occupants got a room before the artist was able to sketch them. I flipped through and found enough “content” to appease Dr. B, made my purchase, and fled the premises.

Upon getting the book home and sitting down with a cup of coffee (Well, what do you drink with your dirty books?), my first reaction was pure laughter. The writing was so bad. I distinctly remember the sentence, “She knew he was a good egg.” Ah. So when you’re lucky enough to find a “good egg,” you’re practically morally compelled to whisk him off to a bedroom. It appeared to me that the author was barely literate, completely lacked creativity, and knew very little about constructing non-sexual sentences. The back of the book promised that the sizzling romance would make my “toes curl.” It was closer to making my blood curdle. I closed the cover and said aloud, “I’ve had better.” Happily, I settled back into the Don Miller book I was enjoying before that little hiccup.

The next Thursday I reported to Dr. B that I just couldn’t stomach it. “Perhaps if Hemingway had had a hand in Under the Boardwalk, it wouldn’t suck so much,” I shrugged. (Admittedly, if Hemingway had had a hand in it, it would’ve ended with the main characters dying in the rain, which probably wouldn’t sell as many copies.) I had all sorts of ammunition to throw at the book in case Dr. B wondered why it was a failed assignment, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he had a sly grin on his face and said, “Then I guess you’ll have to write your own.” It slowly dawned on me that I’d been set up, that he’d known all along I would consider the novel trash. “Write my own,” I said expressionlessly. Then I laughed. “Write my own? Ha!” Unruffled, Dr. B said, “Look at it this way. It either helps you get over your discomfort using sexual terminology and you have a major breakthrough, OR it doesn’t work but we’re one step closer to finding a solution that does.” Ugh. I hated agreeing with him. “Who knows?” he continued. “You might launch a lucrative career as a romance novelist.” Well, that was one career opportunity I’d never once considered. He winked.

So the next afternoon, I settled down at the dining room table to compose some carnal fiction. Knowing how awkward I was going to feel, I’d picked up some Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the way home, hoping it might free my sexually inhibited brain. I rolled my shoulders back and took a deep breath of resolve. I typed “He” and watched the cursor blink for a few seconds. I backspaced. She…Backspace. I had no idea where to start. “It was a dark and stormy night”? Then, as I swigged my lemonade, I happened to look down at my lesson plan book across the table. On its cover I’d taped a Post-It bearing my favorite advice for all of life, a line by Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird. Her brother had a huge report due on birds, and as most students do, he waited until the night before to start. Sitting at his desk surrounded by avian reference books and wadded-up paper, he dropped his head in his hands and sighed. Their father came up behind him and said, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Bird by bird.” Remembering that advice, I coaxed myself, “Just take it thrust by thrust, Amie. Thrust by thrust.”

In a couple hours’ time, I was totally proud of having composed exactly half of a sex scene—the second half, because I was more interested in the “after-sex” part than the “before.” It took place in a log cabin on a snowy night in the woods, which was pretty much the most romantic setting I could think of. My scene featured no other clichés, and my hero was far from the iconically “perfect” men of erotica. Although, after making love, he did hold his lover close, touch her face, and say, “My god, you are beautiful.” That’s as romance-novelish as it got, but hey, doesn’t that sound nice, women?

Suffice it to say…the assignment was successful.

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