Guest Post by Maddie: Pain and Sex

Here is my first guest blog post!  My dear friend Maddie has written this essay in response to our conversations and my earlier post about sex and secrets and self-definition.  I think it’s really awesome and fascinating.  I hope you enjoy, and are inspired to join our conversation!  Just leave me a comment if you want to write.  And even if you don’t want to write, leave Maddie a comment about her story.  And don’t forget to order Resilience— that’s a conversation, too.  http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18821334

Pain and Sex

Growing up in a household of academics, and strongly suspecting I would become the same thing, I rebelled in the only non-destructive way I knew how: I read A LOT of romance novels. I graduated from teen romances to adult romances at 14 and at the height of my addiction (ages 16-20) I was probably reading 12 romance novels a month, possibly more. I was fascinated by sex, mainly because I was sure I was never going to have it, at least not in high school. In reality I wasn’t ready for it and subconsciously knew it, I think. Vicariously living through fictional romantic relationships was safer than trying to discover sex on my own at that time. Plus, I was terrified of getting pregnant.

So by the time I started having sex, at the age of 23, I was well versed in the modern woman’s sexual mantra that sex is fun and sex should never hurt emotionally or physically, except for maybe the first time. Well, reciting isn’t the same as knowing, at all. The first part of the mantra is easy;  sex IS fun; I have always found sex to be fun. However, I’ve found that the not hurting part is a lot harder to follow.

I’m not going to get into the sexual emotional baggage I had. My story is pretty common, pretty harmless, and has a happy ending. The guys who I had less than perfect intimate relationships with are not bad guys, we just didn’t work as more than friends. I’ve worked through that baggage a long time ago and if it ever pops up, I can always talk about it to them frankly. Now I’m engaged to a man who has never hurt me like that and who I can also talk to about this if I ever need to.
Surprisingly, the more insidious and disguised hurt was the physical pain. See, I had always assumed that since I had fun having sex, then sex didn’t hurt, because who likes things that hurt? Not me! Who is capable of massive self-delusion? Me!
The problem is that  no one ever told me that physically painful sex was possible with a partner you love. When people talk about sex hurting, it’s either emotional pain, which I got rid of around the age of 25, or physical pain because you were forced. In all my years of health class, girl talk, reading romance novels and listening to Lovelines (the call-in radio show about sex, drugs, and other young people stuff) not once did I ever hear of any woman without a history of  violent sexual encounters having painful sex. Or if I did, I never connected it to me.

The problem is, no one ever told me what painful sex with a partner you love and trust feels like. Well for me, it feels like initial resistance and pain, like every time is the first time. Like the first time, it gets better after a while, but I need to initially distract myself from the tightness and the feeling of raw friction. Lube helped a little bit, but not much. When I write it out, it seems ludicrous that I ignored this for three years, but I had no idea that this was not normal.

During the time I was ignoring this, I was conflicted and it affected both my sex life and my sexuality to some extent. My willingness to have sex decreased more and more until I just didn’t want to face the pain. It got harder and harder to ignore the fact that I had to literally grin and bear it for at least the first few minutes, if not the whole thing. I wasn’t even lying back and thinking of England, I was focused on the pain because I didn’t understand it. I was so confused because I had never thought of myself as someone who hated sex. I was the girl who read everything she could about sex! I really enjoyed sex; I wanted to have more sex, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was never in the mood when my boyfriend suggested it. I was never in the mood ever. He started to get very frustrated with me and hurt because he felt like I was refusing him every time he tried to have sex with me. While this is a slight exaggeration, it’s not that far from the truth. The worst part is that I didn’t share with him why I was pulling away because I didn’t know why. I knew sex hurt, but I didn’t realize exactly how it was affecting my sexuality. I really didn’t connect the fact that physical pain was keeping me from wanting to have sex.

All this changed two months ago when I read a blog post by a woman who suffered from pelvic floor pain. She described exactly what I was experiencing, how she preferred to cuddle with her fiancé. How her fiancé was loving but hurt by her shunning of sex. How she doggedly went from doctor to doctor and pain specialist to pain specialist until someone diagnosed her with pelvic floor pain, a condition that makes it difficult for you to relax your pelvic floor. She said that she learned some relaxing exercises and did some PT and now sex does not hurt!

WHAT A REVELATION! I read this and I suddenly knew that this was what was happening to me. Suddenly, I had a name and I had a compatriot. I could face what was happening to me now. The next day, I broke down in tears and told my roommate all about it in our shared office and then went home and told my boyfriend. The next time he initiated sex, I didn’t turn him away; I focused on relaxing my pelvic muscles instead. Much to my surprise, it worked! Sex felt better than it had in a long while. I then went to the gynecologist and told her my symptoms. We made a few changes to my birth control and the type of lube, but nothing drastic. This pain is no longer something that just happens to me, I am now in control, something I haven’t felt for a long time.

However, I cannot overstate how much making these little tweaks has affected me psychologically.  As for my sexuality, my identity and understanding of myself as a sexual person, it has taken a blow, but is recovering. The fact that I am now in control of my symptoms and pain has given me back most of that confidence and joy that I lost. The fear of pain still hits me sometimes and it makes me hesitate, but not for long. I am back to confidently defining myself as someone who does like sex, even if my boyfriend is not totally convinced (he might be, I don’t know, I haven’t asked him.) Maybe this hesitance with never go away and maybe (probably) I can make that work for me, but at least I’m not mysteriously stalled anymore. At least I can keep redefining myself in ways that make sense.

(P)reviews of Resilience + Guest Blogging Series Inaugural Announcement!

Hi all!

It has come to my attention that Resilience has been featured in two previews– and they are exciting and laudatory!   Here’s the one: http://reviewsbyamoslassen.com/?p=14620 and here’s the other: http://asknicola.blogspot.com/2012/01/resilience.html.  Thank you, Amos Lassen and Nicola Griffith, for the warm welcome to this book!

Also, while writing that last post about my youth, something kept going through my mind: I really wanted to do something about the fact that there are such bounded and limited narratives of understanding sexuality that really have cultural currency.  It seems that everyone expects sexual attraction, interest, and experience to unfold in one of a very few ways, and I think there are tons of pieces of sexuality that get left out of that– and that gives us less of a sense of the richness and mystery of our sexualities and also leads to isolation, confusion, or shame about things that don’t necessarily fit into those narratives.  I think that’s part of the reason that I wrote about the particular things I did, which might not be included in a standard sexual awakening/coming out story, especially since they didn’t really involve anyone else’s physical involvement or much attraction to other women!  But they are significant to my own understanding of my own sexuality.

So, while thinking about all this, I was also thinking about how I wanted to have some guest blogging series on here, on many topics that I think could use a mosaic of stories which will honor all kinds of narratives and experiences, sexuality being one.

I mentioned this to a friend while we discussed my post, and she, thrillingly, immediately wrote a tale of her own sexual experience, including ways it did not fit in with the narrative she had been led to expect.  I’m very excited about this and will post it soon!

I also want to open the discussion up to the rest of you:  if you are intrigued and pleased by this idea, send me a story about your sexuality, its origins, its boundaries, its secrets or surprises… whatever you want.  Whatever you haven’t found a place to tell.  No length requirements or limits!  I may edit them for grammar and whatnot, and I’ll let you know if there’s other editing I’d prefer to do.  Please don’t send anything that expresses contempt for other people, and other than that I’ll let you know if your piece is not something I feel comfortable with for whatever reason.  Also, if you haven’t had sex, I am still deeply interested in stories of your sexuality– I don’t want people to feel that they must have had some particular experience to qualify.

If you would like, I can write up some prompts and questions to get you thinking, but feel free to just write!

I look forward to reading your stories!  And don’t forget to go and get Resilience while the sale is on!  https://www.lulu.com/commerce/index.php?fBuyContent=12440418

P.S. I realized that if you wanted to do this but don’t know me personally, you wouldn’t know where to send your post!  If that’s your situation, just leave me a comment and I will send you contact info.

Resilience is Here!

Here it is!  I’m so excited about this collection of writing for queer youth, and also excited about the project it benefits.  I always feel like it’s cheating to come all the way here just to give you a brief plug, so I’ll put it on top, and then I’ll tell you a story, so no matter what you are looking for (quick?  elaborate?) you can have it.   Here’s the link to buy the book:  http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18821334, and here’s the link to the info about the book: http://betterbookproject.blogspot.com/.  It’s on sale (10% off) for the next two weeks, so get it hot off the presses and your pocketbook will thank you.  I also hope your brain, heart, soul, skin, etc, will all thank you too.  Certainly the Make it Safer project and all the other authors and the editor and I will thank you!

I really, really hope you like it.  And if you are a teacher or a young person yourself, I would love to hear what you think about it as a gift to young folks, since that is what it is intended to be.  I know the poem I wrote is very grounded, not only in my experience as a teen and young adult (am I still a young adult?  I must be on a similar threshold as when I was about 16 or 17 and started thinking, “Am I an adult now?  I might be.  I’m definitely closer to being an adult than I was… I think I might be an adult!!”), but specifically in the way of engaging with and viewing that world that helped give me some of the resilience I found throughout that time.  My dad always gave me fairy tales, along with interpretation, from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book, Women Who Run With the Wolves.  I would sit on his couch, in his basement apartment, and he would sit in his chair, and read to me from the book, and we would talk about it.

I think this is one of many things that gave me the feeling that I could slip on mythic stories like a second skin, and look around and see what I found while wearing them.

And what I found?  Well, I promised you a story.  I’ve been thinking a lot, with the advent of this collection, about myself as a teenager– in what ways I was resilient, in what ways I was queer.  Not necessarily the ordinary ways, I think, if there are ordinary ways to be these things.  I liked boys– and just boys, or at least that’s what I thought.  And I thought about it, carefully.  I thought about the girls in class I found the prettiest, and I compared my feelings for them to feelings for the boys I found the prettiest, and I decided these were qualitatively different, and therefore I was straight.  What’s interesting is that I still find my attractions to different genders qualitatively different, in some ways, from each other– I just no longer think that makes me straight.  Also, through unfortunate happenstance (as I thought then) and/or some kind of internal protective design (as I partially suspect now), I did not really get to test these feelings on the level of flesh and blood.

But then there was the world of story, of books I read and pages I wrote, with absolute erotic attention, whether I was dealing with sex or not.

A trajectory, then, of my queer journey through books and writing.  I’m going to tell you some of my secrets:

The first sex scene I wrote was implied, in a play, between a male human and a fairy woman.

The first explicit scene I wrote was in prose, between a male bird creature and a human woman.  The language of this scene borrowed heavily from A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L’Engle, the book to which I lost my readerly virginity.

Somewhere in this time (maybe I was fourteen now, or fifteen?) I discovered two of my intense readerly crushes: Lucius Cornelius Sulla as portrayed in Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, and Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat.  They were violent, beautiful, rampantly bisexual men.  I was rapt with attention for sex between men.  I thought this might be kind of strange.  I analyzed it.   I did not talk about it.  I thought maybe it was that I could thus imagine what I wanted without being implicated directly, in the flesh, in the act.  I thought there was something queer about it, for sure.

I read more.  Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin and Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway.  My economics teacher, who was rumored himself to be gay, and then to be straight, and then to be gay again, out of nebulous unfounded evidence, paused to look at the covers.  He’d read Tales but found it too soap opera-ish.  He wanted to borrow Fur Queen.  I thought to myself: Was he trying to tell me something?  Were we entering in to some kind of agreement of mutual recognition?

I haunted the gay and lesbian section of Borders.  That’s where I got my Tales, and where I looked at all the other books.  I wondered if someone would see me there.  I– this I still find queer and fascinating– I wouldn’t buy Annie on my Mind, though I looked at it, time after time, curious.  There was something about standing in the checkout line with that one that stymied me.

I began writing a saga about Pilate.  Yeah, that Pilate, the one from the Bible.  Most of what I actually wrote centered around his intense adolescent affair with his male tutor, a Greek (duh) fellow named Claudius (not so Greek-sounding, really) who resented his subservient position and eventually betrayed his youthful lover, despite his genuine feelings for the lad.  This was a problem, especially as both of Pilate’s parents were fairly sadistic and nuts, in very different ways.  I sound flippant now– but I’m protecting myself.  I can still feel what it was like to write them tumbling to the library floor.

And somewhere in there, I got out of high school.

I’m not actually sure I’ve changed much, and yet I know that I’ve changed a great deal.  I hope you like my secrets, and that you see in them, as I do, both queerness and resilience, which I was only beginning to come into then, and which I am still coming into now.

Now, please go buy the book, and, if you feel like it, leave me a comment with your own secret of resilience or queerness.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or who you actually like to have sex with.  I think maybe we all have them.

It's gonna be even more exciting to hold in your hands and read!

Resilience Galleys for your viewing pleasure

 

 

Resilience: Coming January 24th (so don’t give up yet!)

Resilience Galleys for your viewing pleasure

So, after the It Gets Better project started, I spent some time imagining the video I would make for it.  I thought about it as I was walking to work in New Jersey.  It was a bit of a long walk, and involved a short cut through this sort of overgrown parking lot, where there were lots of tall grasses and Queen Anne’s Lace growing over everything.  I always liked this part of the walk.  It was like a pause in the regular progress of the day and my mind.

I’d been thinking about It Gets Better, and thinking about how I wanted to say that it mattered that people stay alive, even if they don’t go on to have awesome careers and financial stability or a terrific love life according to legible social standards, or… anything, in particular.  I wanted to say that queer young people and everyone else are needed for reasons deeper and more mysterious than this, and also more fundamental.  I paused among all the grasses and flowers, and it occurred to me that what I wanted to say was that people are needed to see the world in the exact way that only they can see it.  It felt important, right then, that I was there looking at the life all around me, even though there would be no tangible consequence of this, probably, even though I wouldn’t describe myself at a “grass and flower and bug looker ater” when people asked me what I do.  What I thought right then is that you never know when it is that you are seeing the world as only you can see it, participating in it, in that particular moment, as only you can.  Seeing bugs and smelling flowers as they need to be seen and smelled.

I never made the video, but a little bit after that I found a call for submissions for a collection of words, stories, poems, and essays aimed at queer youth.  It was due the next day, so I sat down and wrote a poem.  I called it “To A Young Person Who Has Not Yet Realized She is Embarking on a Fairy Tale.”

So, my other response, and then one I actually put into the world, about this whole queer youth support thing, is full of fairy tale imagery and mythical frameworking.  I wonder how it relates to my first idea.  I would like them to be the same, somehow.  The grand quest and the moment of seeing in an overgrown parking lot.  God knows I love them both.

I submitted my poem, and it was accepted, and now there is a whole beautiful book, including my poem and many other poems and stories and essays and words,  called Resilience, coming out January 24th.

The money from the book is going to a project called the Make it Safe project, which provides LGBT themed books, fiction and non-fiction to schools and shelters that may not have any material representing queer folks.

I hope you all will buy the book, read it, love it, support the various projects implicated in it, and live your lives like you’re in a fairy tale and the invisible moments of looking might matter most of all.

Here’s where you can find the book:

http://betterbookproject.blogspot.com/

Also on facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ResilienceBook and twitter:  https://twitter.com/ResilienceBook