Last week I wrote that sex is something I refrain from writing about in this blog. I guess I refrain so I can project the best image of myself to my readers – be it strangers, my parents, friends, colleagues, and most importantly, potential employers. I am conservative about discussing sex in real life too. Though when I blushed (in only the way I can – going white) at someone mentioning the word orgasm, I gladly took part, on several occasions, in risque conversations with my No Limits friends.
Today I am going to take the plunge(ing neckline) and write about sex on this blog, in response to a great opinion piece I read on ABC’s Ramp Up.
Lara Irvine wrote a very funny, personal piece, Dating, disclosure and disability, and I can relate to it so much. Here’s an excerpt:
Generally though, people have no idea the kind of things I do in the privacy of my own home to keep up the appearance of a ‘normal’ life. I know that’s a luxury a lot of people with disabilities don’t have, but it creates a whole new set of problems about disclosure. Is it on the first, second or twenty-seventh date that you tell someone that your digestive system is up shit creek and IV nutrition is what keeps you going?
I also come with all these rules now; like don’t stay up too late, be careful what and when I’m fed and never go swimming. A bit like a gremlin but with less eighties haircuts on the supporting cast (unless I’m visiting my aunty Kerry, but that’s getting off topic). I’m just getting used to this new lifestyle myself, so how can I foist it on someone else?
‘Definitely don’t say anything until the third or fourth date,’ advised one (fully able-bodied and healthy) friend. ‘That kind of stuff would freak anyone out.’ Hmm. Thanks for that little ego boost, buddy. So I tried her method, but at the time that meant keeping up the ruse that at 27 years of age, with two university degrees and no apparent impediments, I was unemployed and well-versed in the intricacies of daytime TV by choice. As it turned out, I never got to tell that guy about my illness because we never made it to the third date. I can’t blame him – I wouldn’t be interested in someone who knows as much about The Circle as I do either.
So keeping quiet til I decide the guy is a keeper doesn’t seem to work, but then I’m not sure I want it as the headline in my RSVP profile either. ‘Hi, I’m a girl who tires easily and takes Gastro-stop every single day 😉 Let’s chat!’ Obviously that’s not going to fly. I don’t want potential partners to think of me as the kind of person who uses smiley emoticons, for one thing. Also though, there is a very unglamorous side to life with a digestive disorder… It’s not all parking stickers and pension supplements, you know. Even if I do figure out how to tell Dan Sultan about all my issues (because clearly, that’s who I intend to date), the reality of it all would turn anyone off. Even someone who loves me as much as Dan is sure to.
I have mentioned similar challenges to Lara’s in my Someone will come along one day blog entry and DiVine article. Just as the dating market is tough for people without disabilities, it’s tough for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. It’s hard to get past the explanations and questions about my illness. It’s difficult to meet someone under the influence of alcohol who is reasonable enough just to accept that this is my appearance and that I will have my illness forever. When there is a pretty blonde with non-scaly skin dancing over there and me, the easier and more attractive option for the man is usually the pretty blonde.
Knowing when to, and how much to disclose about my skin is kind of up there with deciding the best time to first have a poo in a boyfriend’s toilet. (I once went three days not doing a poo, but he did see me naked.) I wonder if it’s best to tell all, and risk failure of the relationship to thrive, or tell nothing, and let him fumble in the dark to make discoveries (figuratively and literally)?
At dinner last week, there was a discussion about cold sores. I piped up and said that before I kiss a boy I ask him whether he gets cold sores, because if I were to get a cold sore, it could be very detrimental. The people I dined with asked me whether I ask as I lean in for the first kiss, and whether it is a passion killer. Yes and potentially, I answered. I have to ask them before I kiss them. I may end up with a cold sore ridden face, and a blood infection, and at worst case, death (well, from the level of concern my dermatologist shows about me and cold sores, I assume a cold sore may kill me). To date, I haven’t had a cold sore, so I also assume the boys I’ve kissed have told the truth. I don’t think it has been a passion killer because I’ve gone onto kiss them, but I imagine there is potential for future boys to change their mind about kissing me because of that question, and if they do have a cold sore, then I could not kiss them. And when I think about this potential passion killer of a question, what if a cold sore rules out Mr Perfect for me??
To be honest, writing about sex here scares me a little. Like the question about how much to disclose to a potential or new partner, how much do I disclose here? And who can I really talk to? I’ve talked on TV and radio on topics of sex and dating but have steered toward the dating side of it. But Lara Irvine’s article inspired me to write about my experiences on my blog – I’ve thought about this topic for a while, so here goes…
When I am faced with potential sex, my first thought is not the size of their manhood, but whether I can I trust them to see me in my natural state, skin and all? Will they want to touch me? I don’t do one night stands because of the difficulty of disclosure, and need for trust, compassion, acceptance and understanding. Meaningful sex is what I am after.
I have met a number of guys who I could have had sex with but didn’t. This annoyed some of them – they saw it as me leading them on. But when they’re drunk and horny, I’m sober enough to try to reason and maintain control, and my jeans are being unbuttoned, the chances of me explaining what my skin condition means (at this stage they know it’s not sunburn) are nil.
When I was about 23, I met this guy in the city after I saw a band. I was waiting for a taxi, and the one he got out of drove off. He walked with me to find another taxi, and then we got talking, hit it off and had a drink. He was cute and I went back to his hotel room. At his hotel room, I found out he was dead boring and only 18. He kept on asking when I wanted to have sex with him. My reply was ‘not yet, we don’t know each other well enough’. I ended up leaving after about four hours. Looking back now, I am not sure what I wanted to achieve in going back with him. A few months later, I received a booty call from him, though. I didn’t take up his offer.
Footballer Spida Everitt tweeted “Girls!! When will you learn! At 3am when you are blind drunk and you decide to go home with a guy ITS NOT FOR A CUP OF MILO! Allegedly……”. For me, I don’t want to have sex with someone when I go home with them for the first time. Nor do I want a cup of milo. But there’s not really a compromise, is there? Even when no should mean no. Yes, I’ll kiss them, and maybe fool around, but there is no way I am getting naked and intimate with someone I’ve only just met and probably never going to see again. It’s not an insecurity of mine – I am happy with my body size and shape, and even comfortable with my skin in most situations, but there is always a fear of mine that when the lighting is no longer flattering he will see my redness, and when he reaches down to stroke my thigh he feels a rough patch of scaly skin and is grossed out. I worry about my skin in their bed (black sheets are awkward), and the way I look in the morning (I once crawled under the covers to the foot of the bed to avoid a boyfriend seeing me looking like Freddy Kruger before I had a shower).
I once set a rule for myself that I won’t have sex with anyone unless I love them (and assumingly they love me back). It’s not about religion. It’s about my own values. I set this rule because of my need for my partner to be compassionate and understanding, and for me to trust them. I have strictly maintained this rule. I think this rule, and my ichthyosis, has meant that I am more prone to heartbreak. And so I’ve not slept around. Maybe if I was more blase about sex, and had more of it when the chances arose, I’d be emotionally stronger (and better at sex).
When one of my boyfriends dumped me by saying ‘didn’t I tell you I don’t love you anymore?’, I was devastated. I was even more devastated when he said that he only had sex with me the previous week because he knew that I loved him so he would get sex. This hurt me for a long time. We no longer speak now, but after our break up, we did speak for a while and he said he still wanted to see me casually. I didn’t want this – it was either a relationship or nothing for me. I think I saw him a couple of times, even though he was a douchebag, and looking back, I only returned because I felt like I had the right to use him like he used me. And there was the familiarity factor – he knew my skin, and so I didn’t have to explain it all to him again.
A friend observed that I don’t seem the type to have casual sex. I agreed. I am not the type. I learnt this fact this year, with the boy I love/d. This brief thing, a several-night-stand-followed-by-friendship, if you like, played with my emotions so much, even though we both knew the outcome was not going to be a relationship. I loved him, I think he loved some things about me, and I trusted him, he was understanding and compassionate towards me – so my rule was satisfied. And because of these traits, the sex was more meaningful than if it had just been a true one night stand with a stranger. I think my reason for sadness was not solely because of him, but because of me. At times I felt like a failure, like I disappointed him. It takes so long to find someone that understood me like he did, and then when a relationship is futile, it’s back to the drawing board. What’s worse is going from talking to each other every day, then sex, then very little communication. For a while I found it hard to articulate my feelings after things ended with him. While I didn’t disclose too much (and still haven’t?) to many friends, I felt like so few understood.
For many people, it’s ok for them to have sex, end things and move on. Sure there are feelings of hurt and love lost, and also body insecurities, but there’s often not the issue of disability or chronic illness to navigate. For me, sex is not just about the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It’s also about the need to find someone I can trust who is accepting, understanding and compassionate. And not afraid to get a little greasy from my vaseline.
PS: not sure whether writing frankly about sex will be a help or hindrance for potential boyfriends…