Tuesday, 27 November 2012

On Post-Martial Relations

... I should probably clarify, I'm not talking about getting down to it after you get married, I talked about that (and the lack of that before). No, I'm talking about the post-marriage sex that, unless you are Miss Havisham-ing it, you might end up facing one day. Imagine your first time ever - sweaty-fumbling-too soon-are my boobs big enough-what if I do it wrong-oh god something going to break-will he still love me in the morning and that first time after giving birth - sweaty-fumbling-too soon-are my breastpads leaking-what if I do it wrong-oh god don't bust open my stitches-will he get up to do the expressed feed in the morning - rolled into one. Post-break-up coitus is pretty much sweaty-fumbling-too soon-did my boobs always disappear when I lay on my back-what if I do it wrong-am I broken-will he still be here in the cold light of the morning.

Sex was a big part of my identity, my growing up, my body politics and my self-esteem - no it wasn't all great stuff, and some of it I don't identify with now -  but I got to a place where I was pretty sex positive and pretty happy with myself and my place in the world. Sex was a big part of my relationship with my ex, at least at the beginning, and then it wasn't. My transformation into a mother was a sudden start and a gradual process, one that I am still undergoing now and probably will be every day for the rest of my life. But the way I felt about my body, how I felt about sex, that was almost instantaneous. Suddenly my body was not mine anymore, it was mine and not just mine. I was that metaphorical temple and there was a baby buddha in side of there. My body was not mine to give to anyone else at this point. I know that sex during pregnancy is mostly safe and mostly recommended, and I definitely would never condemn anyone for choosing that, but I just felt different. While the other expectant mums were discussing comfortable positions to accommodate their bumps and whether or not sex was effective in inducing labour - I just felt... different. My body was changing in marvellous and miraculous ways, the relationship with my ex was deepening, I achieved my first ever transcendence at an ante-natal yoga class - I was happy and excited and a rush of hormones and planning, but sex was just a tiny blip on my radar at that point. 

Fast forward a couple of months, I had had a 46 hour drug-free intervention free labour, a second degree tear, 12 stitches... I had spent weeks curling my toes and gritting my teeth as I tried to breastfeed my baby with an incorrect latch and months more, exhausted as my constant feeder never never never slept. Somewhere in amongst all that, sex fell off the radar completely. 

I lost the 'baby-weight', I wore my skinny jeans, I learnt how to paint my nails while feeding - but my body was just not the same, the way I felt about myself was not the same. Yes, I had undergone massive transformations, things you could not imagine possible had happened to me and inside of me and because of me, I felt pretty great about the birth and everything that came after it. But myself, I was not pleased when I looked in the mirror (still three years later it is not *the same* and I am only now coming to terms and acceptance with that). 

I breastfed my son till he was 19 months, by that time I had given up so much of my body and I had changed so unrecognisably I stopped seeing myself as a sexual being. I had no desire, lust or passion or anything else. I got my kicks in entirely more mediocre ways than in the bedroom. And over time my relationship died, and the only person who remembered that girl I used to be, nineteen years old, confident, sexy and wild - the way I used to look, the body I used to have, they were gone too. I had been with one person for the whole of that six year period, my entire adult life - I had stopped flirting, stopped dressing up, I didn't fantasise. I had stopped seeing myself as anyone but housewife, mother, partner, friend. 

And sometime after the break-up I admitted to myself that I might have to possibly consider the prospect of maybe one day meeting someone who I like enough to unleash that whole bunch of crap on in the hopes he won't run screaming from my chronic oversharing and still find me endearing enough to want to bump uglies while simultaneously not talking myself out of liking him Marxist style (Groucho not Karl) if after all the aforementioned oversharing and esteem issues, he still does. You know, in the far far off future.

I couldn't even imagine it at that point, but I kinda knew it would happen eventually - as much as I wanted to wail how I would never love again, how my confidence and my heart had been trampled on entirely too often and consign myself to a lifetime of mourning - I was somewhat realistic. And optimistic. The all-encompassing love is only encompassing while you're in that 'all' - after that it is just was-encompassing. I was ready to accept that it would happen, at some point (in the far off future). I'm not going to go into detail about how crippling my anxiety was at this thought, I spent entirely far too many nights losing sleep - and not for the right reasons, I tell you.

So with the distant prospect of the s word, the l word, the f word and all sorts of other words I'm sure they'd introduced in my years out of the game (not the prostitution one, mind) I figured time was about right to work on some of my 'issues'. I got my groove back, a little at a time. I worked on those body confidence issues, I gave myself a metaphorical slap in the face somedays. I practised self-love - in more of a telling your reflection you love them, than the kind of self-love I know you're thinking about right now, I assure you. I read my old body positive writing. I read a bunch of dirty stories. I read '50 Shades' (albeit through gritted teeth and not without the occasional Twitter rant on feminism, poorly constructed plotlines and the over-hyping of bad erotica) mostly to prove to myself I could still get turned on, to realise no, my mind or my body were not broken, to remember all those things I used to love about sex and check that they hadn't somehow changed it in those six years of fidelity and frigidity (they hadn't).

And while I was trying to 'cure' myself, I met someone. Someone who was wild and passionate in all those ways I used to be, those ways I had forgotten how to be. Someone who could drive me crazy and made me feel like I drove him crazy too. Someone who didn't see those stretchmarks I agonised over, who didn't baulk when I took off my push-up bra, who didn't see the fact that some parts of my body are bigger than and some parts of my body are smaller than that girl I was when I was 19. Someone who didn't notice all those bags I'd packed for myself over the years of losing a part of me, finding another part of me, losing my heart, finding some courage. He didn't look at me and see "used to be", "this many months of  this or that", "ditched in favour of a blonde dance instructor who dresses her pet chihuahua in sparkly pink hoodies"or anything else I had come to identify myself as. He saw strong, independent, graceful, sometimes shy, sometimes self-conscious. He saw my legs and arms and hair and body and face - mine now, not who I used to be, not who I thought of myself as.

And yeah, then came the sex. I was nervous as all hell. I was convinced I had forgotten, that it would go wrong somehow. I was more nervous than my first time - back then I was cocky, fierce and I felt powerful - I didn't know fear or shame or pain or guilt and I had no point of reference. In amongst all that lying back and thinking of England I realised something, I re-learnt something. Something I had learnt in all those formative years of exploration and explicitness... sex is just sex. All the other stuff, kink, romance, hang-ups, self-consciousness, love, shame - that's all the shit we bring to the table, or the bedroom in this case. All those bad words I thought about my body, I could forget them, at least for half an hour (I'm lying it was way more than half an hour, at least like a yearlong or something). My new found phobia of intimacy - that didn't have to be a part of it. I could make a decision to. Just. Have. Sex.

And like I said, sex is just sex. They hadn't changed what felt good (or very very bad) in that 6 years. The male anatomy is pretty much the same as it was six years ago or ten years ago or when the Vitruvian Man got his first modelling job. The logistics, semantics, mechanics of how someone responds when you do just this or that here or in that spot (or both with alternating pressure). It was like riding a bike, except, you know, it wasn't quite.

Sex can be everything and it can mean nothing. It can be a part of you or your relationship or not. It's just you, on your own, with someone, with a whole group of someones if you like. But really, it's just sex. We've all been there, we've mostly done that and it's really not worth losing sleep over (except, y'know, when it is).

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