Tag Archives: sex therapy

A Farewell to Chalkboards.

Ever paid attention to the end of the dictionary entry where it gives the word’s origin? One of my all-time favorites is courage. The root of courage is cor, Latin for “heart.” Your courage is in the light emanating from your most honest, unedited self: your heart. If you have courage – and you do, by the way – then you live from that raw heart place, everything else be damned. Courage tells you to persevere when others think it’s a wash, to say the true thing that’s begging to be said, to fight for the people who profoundly matter to you. Courage is the beautiful wildness thundering inside your chest. In my 30th year on Earth (yikes), I’ve finally started to trust it. A little.

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I did, there was danger. My courage, my living-from-the-heart, demanded the curtain call of my public school career. French is lovely and important and necessary, and my study of it has shaped me in ways I’d refuse to give back even if I could. Teaching in the public school, also, has carved its initials in my heart. It is a magnificent mess of success and failure, healing and hope, that has changed me forever. However, teaching French is no longer home – a scary fact because it’s all I’m trained to do. But when I brought all this up to my counselor last summer, he said, “Amie, if you don’t love what you do, then you’re doing someone else’s job.” Ouch. True.

Then in June my husband accepted a new job, and we had to drastically alter our life. We prayed for hours and days and weeks about our individual callings. My feeling of being professionally ill fitted was growing, and I desperately needed the Lord’s direction. He took me on a journey that called deeply on my courage, through my wildness and heartbreak, straight to the profession I never thought I was “together” enough for: counseling. I’d flirted with counseling for years, but always pushed it away, believing I was queen of the non-ideal counselor candidates. I am full of wonderful advice I don’t take, a propensity toward depression, and a history riddled with mistakes. In my journal, I explained to Jesus I couldn’t serve him this way, but he was welcome to suggest something else, and I would take it under advisement.

In the way that he does, he wouldn’t give it a rest. So this, too, I mentioned to my counselor. He told me the only counselors doing helpful work are the ones who recognize their brokenness. If they don’t, he claimed, then they’re doing much more harm than good. Then, he said something that must have come straight from God’s heart to me because it seared me that powerfully. My counselor said if I became a therapist, I’d be a highly effective one because I have “the power of ‘me too’” – the power of “I understand,” and “it really will get better.” Most importantly: the power of “you aren’t alone.” I have always said I know there’s a reason for everything I’ve been through. It cast me into a person with intimate knowledge of God’s grace. That is reason enough. But it also allows me to empathize with so many people, having experienced an uncommon amount of pain myself in the condensed space of a decade. And now I firmly believe the words of the popular We As Human song: “We think we’re invincible, completely unbreakable, and maybe we are.”

That is, in fact, my testimony distilled into a sentence. So, following my own God-given story, I’ll be starting a master’s degree in January in marriage and family therapy with a concentration in sex therapy. I want to study female sexual dysfunction and learn how to bring hope to women who are mired in its pain like I was for so long. I want to study it from all angles – spiritual, emotional, and medical trauma; effects on the marriage; effects on fertility; connections to shame; etc. I want to help couples transform their emotional and physical intimacy into the unique, joyful gift of closeness God meant it to be.

And I’m just crazy enough to believe this will all come full circle, and God will have continued use for my French and my time in the classroom. It’s part of my adventure, a word whose Latin root venire means “to come.” Part of my coming to the world has been through the adventure of French, and teaching French. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, including a straight path leading from college directly into the field of psychology without the “detour” of language instruction (which is of course no detour at all). Still, living from the heart for me means I have to step away from the success I’ve known as a teacher and the complacency of well-known territory. I am not afraid: God created my heart with all the courage it would ever need, and for such a time as this. I have to adventure, to come, into an unknown world and believe God will be there, is already there, to guide me through.

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Dragon-Slaying

My official diagnosis was vaginismus, or severe tightening of the vagina that makes sex incredibly painful or even impossible. For me it was a chicken-and-egg question: there was no way to know whether it was already happening before my surgery or whether the surgery indirectly caused it. Dr. C believed the latter, saying the surgery likely gave me a subconscious fear of sex; my physical therapist said it was a moot point. Women with vaginismus often go years without getting treatment because so few doctors know how to remedy it. Many in the medical community feel that vaginismus is strictly emotional and write it off with a “prescription” for sex therapy. I was lucky enough to have a doctor who believed in a holistic approach: Dr. C made me an appointment with a physical therapist who works exclusively with women’s health, listed home remedies and simple exercises that are proven to help, and suggested I see a university psychologist. She encouraged me to think realistically but hopefully: “Physical therapy will take longer than a pill,” she cautioned. “But if we can train your muscles, we can completely eradicate the problem.”

The idea of physical therapy was odd to me. What was the therapist going to do, massage my lady parts into submission? Mini nightmares (cue Jaws theme music) edged into my mind at random times of yet another medical professional getting involved with my uncooperative body. But in October 2010 I entered the physical therapist’s office half an hour before my appointment and filled out the obligatory paperwork. When Penny came out to greet me, I knew I’d made the right decision. She was a leftover hippie, sporting chunky jewelry and au naturel brown and gray hair. Penny is originally from San Francisco but had found a home in our own Virginian hippie oasis. She took me back to her therapy room, closed the door, and said, “What am I going to help you with?” And with that, she stole my heart. She was so confident, so compassionate, and so ready to help.

I told my story…again…rather dispassionately by now. My optimism had waned over the years, and I was starting to believe that, as Dr. B had warned me in the counseling room, “Some women just don’t care for sex, and it’s possible you are one of them.” Penny listened patiently, nodded, and said, “I can help. We’re going to get your insurance to cover this, and we’re going to train your muscles to relax. When you relax, the pain will subside. You might have some vestibular vulvodynia, especially since you still have scar tissue, but if the muscles stay calm, you probably won’t notice it.” So once more, I crawled up into the stirrups. Penny explained every move she made, locating tense and less tense areas, making a sort of map for treatment. The next appointment, she hooked me up to a biofeedback machine that used color-coded graphs to show us exactly which muscles succumbed to spasms, when, and how intense. Because of the information the machine provided, I began to differentiate my pelvic floor muscles, feel when they tensed, and learn how to release them. Tensing had become such a habit that I realized I was holding them tight even when it didn’t make sense—while studying, for example, or while driving.

Penny also taught me generalized relaxation techniques. As you might imagine, going through a master’s program away from my family-and-friends support system while dealing with sexual dysfunction and increasing marital difficulties was pretty stressful. We found that as I employed Penny’s global relaxation techniques, I was better able to manage the tensing of my pelvic floor due to stress. Over the next few months I spent hours and hours in Penny’s therapy room, practicing deep breathing, intentional muscle relaxing, and pelvic floor strengthening exercises. For her own part, Penny used the biofeedback machine, manual manipulation—the weirdest-feeling pelvic exam you can imagine, and strain-counterstrain techniques on my lower back (which is connected to pelvic floor muscles). Strain-counterstrain was my favorite. It’s a muscle-relaxing method in which you find a tender and/or ticklish muscle—in either case, it’s tensed—and apply pressure for 60-90 seconds until the muscle melts like butter. Although I had never had back pain, I felt so good after strain-counterstrain sessions.

I saw small successes every step of the way. After just a few sessions with Penny, I started noticing when the spasms happened, and I was able, gradually, to mitigate them and then stop them altogether. Next, I was able to start using tampons, which had never been possible. Then, I made it through an entire exam with Dr. C with absolutely no pain whatsoever. Finally, when Penny had to use certain instruments during manual manipulation, I stopped having spasms. Granted, I had to be present in the moment, focusing on my pelvic floor muscles and their movements…but for the first time, I wasn’t having any spasms at all. That was the first moment of my life that I felt true confidence in my body. Maybe—maybe—there would come a day when it didn’t feel broken. Maybe there would come a day that sex would be enjoyable. Maybe I would one day feel womanly and feminine and even…did I dare say it?…alluring. For the first time, all of this seemed possible. At this point, no sex of any kind had been a part of my life for several months, but with the possibilities there, I started feeling a sense of pride in my body and decided it was time to lose weight. And that is exactly what I did.

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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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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.”

Huh.

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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Sex at Church

Sex and church do not mix. At least they didn’t for me.

For the first 22 years of my life, I attended two Church of God churches. At Church #1, whose doors I marched through every Sunday of my childhood and for a year and a half in my early twenties, you’ll find healing, grace, and a profound sense of community. Church #2 is where I spent my adolescence, and since much of that revolved around the youth group, that is the only aspect of the church I’ll discuss here. The youth group at Church #2 was a place of emotional highs, legalistic rigidity, and statistics. It was more important to obey the rules than to have a real relationship with Jesus, for example. It was more important to bring in new people than to disciple the committed attendees. And it was very, very important not to have sex.

Like most churches, Church #2 believes in a trinity of sexual sins: homosexuality, adultery, and premarital sex. At Church #2 the third tended to be the most frequently discussed, usually during an abstinence campaign. Church #2 taught me a number of inaccuracies about sex, the gravity of which I didn’t fully realize until discussing them with Dr. B. I’ll share some of the subliminal messages I received from the youth pastor—not in an attempt to air my grievances, but to bare the reality of much religious instruction about sex.

1.) Sex is sex. This is the most detrimental of the lessons I learned because it paved the way for the rest. In sermons about sex at Church #2, no caveat was given about the difference between misuse of sex and monogamous sex. No sex seemed condoned by God. In the absence of a clause about the necessity of sex in the right kind of relationship, the resulting message is that sex, period, is sinful, not that immorality has its consequences. It’s true that when sex is used to fill a void, when it is carelessly tossed about, or when it is preceded by pressure, it will eventually lead to destruction of relationships and/or self. However, sex as an expression of commitment and love is a completely different ballgame. A gulf exists between those types of situations, one that was never addressed (to my knowledge) in Church #2’s youth group.

2.) Sex is disappointing. Over and over we were told that a virgin’s reaction after having sex the first time is typically, “That’s it?” This argument is that the media blows sex way out of proportion, leading people to believe that sex is neon awesome every time, whereas the truth is that it’s not all that. I assume the intent was to make us think we weren’t missing much. I find this unfair because as with anything in life, sex comes with a learning curve. The first time you make biscuits from scratch, they come out burned or doughy. The first time you clean your windshield, you streak it. The first time your child misbehaves, you suck at correction. That doesn’t mean you stop making the biscuits, cleaning the windshield, or correcting; it means you work at it and improve. The story doesn’t stop with “you’ll suck” (That’s what she said.). You probably won’t rock each other’s worlds the first time, but you learn. By saying sex is disappointing, you distract from this incredible gift of God.

3.) Sex is divorced from love. Never did love come up in a lesson about sex except in the context of “if he really loves you, he won’t force you to have sex.” (Of course, even this seemingly innocuous statement has an edge: if love is present, sex is not. Also, love is good; sex is bad.) Sex is not about expression here: it’s little more than the result of human biology and a sinful nature. Keep an eye on your hormones, and you’ll realize that your sex drive has to do with your youth and/or gender, not the loving relationship you’re in. Even terms like “making love”—a term I have come to prefer for several reasons—were banished from discussions about sex. No one ever told me that when you’re in a relationship with someone you love and admire, your heart fills with all sorts of desire for that person—you want an emotional and a spiritual connection, sure…but you also long for a physical connection. No one told me this was a normal and beautiful reaction to being cherished, being special to someone. Instead, I was taught that sex drive resulted from hormones or making out (or a combination of both), and that it would destroy my capacity for logical thought, fairly forcing me to unzip my shorts if I wasn’t vigilant.

4.) Sex is sinful and provokes divine judgment. The predominant arguments against sex were venereal disease, pregnancy, and emotional trauma. Any of these could be multifaceted, but pregnancy was the Big Problem. Church #2 essentially looked at it this way: 1) Choose abortion, and you’re a murderer. 2) Choose adoption, and you have to deal with the pain of losing a child. 3) As a teenager, you’re too much of an ill-prepared screw-up to try to raise the baby yourself. There was no way to win. And all this cause-and-effect was a virtual certainty: it’s God’s design for punishing sexual partners. To me, this God is a God of judgment, indeed a heartless God, who carelessly doles out life and death to teach a lesson. The miracle of birth becomes flesh-covered punishment. The heartbreak of fatal illness is your just desserts. So…have sex at your own risk, bucko.

You can see why these messages, all of which I deeply imbibed, contributed to my sexual struggles. There are others, but for the sake of space I will omit them for now. I’m sure that some who grew up in my youth group went on to have lots of great sex, but I also know I am not alone. Dr. B told me about a study he conducted with some colleagues years ago. The research team interviewed literally hundreds of people who fit into one of two groups: people who had been sexually abused and people who had been raised in sexually repressive religious environments. Would you believe that the effects were exactly the same? Dr. B’s research team discovered that both groups ended up with either sexual addiction or severe dysfunction—and sometimes both. The mental, emotional, and physical symptoms the two groups described were indistinguishable.

All of this then begs the question, “How should we teach about sex?” I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I have some ideas I’ll include in the next post. In the meantime, I would LOVE to hear the messages you received—good or bad—about sex from authority figures in your life. What has been your experience with religion and sex? How do you think we should teach about sex? This issue is really close to my heart, and I covet your insights.

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Talking About My Feelings

One of the first questions Dr. B asked me was, “What are your feelings about sex?” You’d think after months of obsessing over it, this would be a no-brainer. But after a knee-jerk response of, “Anger,” I had little else to say at first. What were my feelings about sex? As I thought about it, the proverbial dam broke, and I found myself emptying my head of quite a lot of thoughts.

“I’m angry—angry that my body doesn’t work, angry that God won’t answer my prayers, angry that my mind is apparently causing problems, too. I’m angry because I imagine everyone else in their lovely homes gets to have lots of wonderful sex with their partners. I’m angry because it feels like there’s a huge aspect of life that I don’t get to be a part of. I get angry when I hear my coworkers talk about sex…it seems like no one else struggles with the stuff I’m struggling with. And I’m angry that no one listened to me for so long, so I’m in this frustrating place now where I simply can’t make sex work for me. Of course, even if that first nurse practitioner had mentioned the scar tissue, I’d still probably be sitting here. But it would’ve been one less obstacle to deal with after the wedding.

“And I’m really, really disappointed. Sex is built up to be this great thing that makes you feel good, makes you feel close to your partner. I haven’t had a moment of that. It hasn’t made me feel good, and it hasn’t made me feel close to my husband. If anything, it’s been the complete opposite on both accounts. I can’t believe how stressful sex has made my life. I wish God hadn’t created it to being with, honestly. All it’s done for me is made me feel estranged from my spouse and hate my body even more than I already did. I mean, the honeymoon period is supposed to be all sex and rose-colored glasses…we haven’t had sixty seconds of that. This marriage and sexuality business has been nothing but heartbreak, stress, and frustration since the very first days after our wedding.

“I’m scared. I read a sentence in a book by a Christian marriage counselor that terrified me: ‘If you don’t have a passionate love affair with your husband, someone will.’ I can’t! I can’t have a passionate love affair with my husband! To be completely honest, I wouldn’t blame him at all for finding someone else. I mean, he’s waited for 26 years to have a sexual relationship with someone, and I can’t do that for him. It’s not fair for him to kiss it goodbye forever. And who knows? Maybe I’ll never be able to have sex. Some women never can—I read that somewhere. It would certainly hurt me if he cheated, but in the end…I’d understand. I can’t give him what he needs. And it just seems wrong to think after four months of marriage, ‘I wouldn’t blame my husband for cheating on me.’ That’s not normal.

“But I mostly feel hopeless. I’m still determined to make this work—I really am—but my hope is waning by the minute. It seems like we’ve already explored so many options—counseling, surgery, now this—and nothing is helping. Granted, you and I have only just started talking, so I have some hope there. But I have a hard time believing that it’s this hard for other couples. It seems like talking to someone in the beginning should’ve been enough. Surely surgery should’ve been enough. It’s gotten to the point where it’s embarrassing. I feel like I missed a day in school or something, and I’m being punished royally for it. The students I teach at the high school know more about sex than I do. I feel like an idiot, like an inadequate idiot. And I feel like everyone can see it.”

After I’d finished my monologue, Dr. B nodded. “We need to talk about your past.”

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Ten People in My Bedroom

Remember how I told you I hated talking about sex? Even after endless conversations with my counselors, friends, and doctors during four sexless months of marriage, I still hated talking about sex. I’d gotten used to hearing the words come out of my mouth, but the act of sharing such private information was still a chore. You can imagine my chagrin, then, when I discovered that the only sex therapist in town was a man a little older than my father. A man whose son I once kissed during a game of Spin the Bottle.

Awkward.

But I had sworn to myself and to my husband that no matter what I had to do, I was going to have a fulfilling, fun sex life with the man I married. Even if the remedy was something monstrously awful like eating a live scorpion every Saturday night, I was ready to say, “Pass me the hot sauce.” I was committed. So, since talking to a paternal man whose son’s mouth had once mashed itself against mine was still short of the live scorpion, I sighed and opened the door to Dr. B’s office. We shook hands and introduced ourselves, and he asked why I’d come in. “You indicated some sexual dysfunction?” he commented while glancing over my paperwork. Some. Ha.

I told him the story I was so accustomed to telling. Confusion, counseling, lack of sex drive, more confusion, doctors’ appointments, rage, blockage, surgery, recuperation, excruciating pain, sadness, more doctors’ appointments, and finally the call to Dr. B himself. It no longer fazed me that less than an hour ago, the man didn’t know my name, and now he was privy to the most personal details of life in my bedroom. “Ah-huh,” he kept grunting while taking notes. When I finished recounting my saga, Dr. B said, “Well. Looks like we have some work to do, Amie.” I gave him a yeah-ya-think? smile and concurred. “What I’d like to do is talk about your upbringing a little, your beliefs about sexuality, and your feelings about your body…and then as we need to, we’ll work on practical suggestions for making sex work for you. We might put together a home program of sorts, you know, some tools and products you can try…We might do some reading and writing together, work through some educational materials…” He was furiously writing, and I got the sense he felt like Michelangelo looking up at a blank ceiling. Finally, he looked up at me. “Alright, Amie. Sounds good?” He rubbed his palms together as if we’d just discovered positronic distillation of subatomic particles. “Sounds…great,” I said, a little overwhelmed.

I drove home wondering if the scorpion might not be so bad.

PS: Wondering who those ten people are? My husband, me, our two premarital counselors, my best friend, my mom, the nurse practitioner, the doctor, the gynecologist, and the sex therapist.

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