YOU GUYS. I am so excited to introduce you to my friend Meredith Bazzoli, who is a kickass writer and mama and improviser near Chicago. Her piece made me laugh, it made me cry. OK I didn’t quite cry, but I did sigh with relief several times at not being alone—both in having a sex life disrupted by medical issues, and in my previous belief that nothing could possibly disrupt the married sex lives of the virtuous. I do hope you’ll follow her on Twitter or Instagram for more hilarity and also sometimes seriousness.
I saved myself for marriage.
Or however you want to say it. That particular turn of phrase reminds me of the soggy blueberry pancake and remnants of chorizo omelette I scraped off my plate and into a foil container last week at a breakfast restaurant in town. Carefully pinching the foil rim over the cardboard lid, I knew we’d never eat our scraps, and yet, as a rule, I always make sure to take home a doggy bag if we have at least a fistful of food leftover.
Maybe the wording works better than I give it credit for. I certainly felt like a soggy, forgotten pancake in the back of the fridge for most of my adolescence. In my spot towards the back of the shelf, saving myself remained a predominantly passive activity since I got asked out exactly five times from birth to age twenty five.
Two of the five asks were the same person at different ages, one was a guy who recently married a man, and number five is my husband Drew. But the point is, I waited, I saved myself, I protected my flower, I kept my virginity, remained pure, kept my legs closed, or however you want to word it.
The purity movement presented a fairly uncomplicated formula for sexual bliss: two people who shelved themselves until marriage would come together on their wedding night and receive their prize. I watched this promise propel friends down the aisle, accelerating towards the marriage bed after years of being pulled back from the genitals of the opposite sex. While creating a firm boundary at the zipper of their jeans, these couples seemed attached by every other limb, twining around each other, their horniness flowing out of their hands, hands whose digits never stopped moving around one another’s bodies.
But soon enough, the first down the aisle came back with reports of the wedding night. They told us not to get our hopes up. The process of two virgins coming together as one flesh for the first time in a Marriott hotel room paid for by their grandparents was perhaps something we could wait a little longer for.
“It can be too big!” One friend exclaimed of her elder sister’s wedding night. We stared wide eyed wondering if our own vaginas could support the girth of our future spouses.
Other friends in the know topped their Victoria’s Secret boxes at lingerie showers with bottles of lubricant sloshing back and forth under a gold curly cued ribbon. “You’ll need this,” their eyes seemed to say, “trust me.”
But what no one told me was that after years of waiting, I might not want “it” at all. Not as some purified call to celibacy, but as a side effect of a pill that was otherwise keeping me sane and alive.
I remember my sex drive. It was all fire and magnetism, a pull towards belt loops and back pockets, a sense of urgency to get closer, faster before the moment or the world ended. It was the jackal in an American Indian trickster tale darting into consciousness when least convenient around parents and grandparents and conservative Christians. It was an appetite with eyes bigger than it’s stomach, constantly convincing me that there was room for more, that the belt loop could move over a rung or two without too much guilt. And I’d take a little more, steal kisses in the next room or stop the truck to tumble into my lover’s arms, greedy for more of him.
It had me flipping through books like Every Young Woman’s Battle to see what God said about my urge to chase that certain feeling between my legs. Most of the purity materials for girls focused on the defense actions of chastity: guarding, covering, waiting. With a lack of information on having desires, let alone how to wield them, I came to understand myself as disordered for my gender.
But these instances are all memories, pre-antidepressant.
Many who suffer from anxiety and depression swallow a few SSRI’s each day (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). I often forget the chemistry of what my Zoloft is doing; I know only that it raises rock bottom, that it creates small margins in my mind to think separately from the well-worn anxious paths. But nonetheless, to create this reality, my hormones get taken along for a ride.
While I’m tempted to spend a few thousand words justifying why I needed the SSRI’s in the first place and my journey to getting them and the sort of stigmas attached to such medication and mental illness, I will merely say that at times, my ability to live and function in the world was so inhibited by the misheard messages that very few options remained for me.
And so, the month I got engaged, my general practitioner wrote out my first prescription for an anti-depressant alongside my birth control pills. In passing, she mentioned my new pills might affect my sex drive. Increased Serotonin decreases your desire—not your sexual performance necessarily, like the men riding on boats with their golden retrievers in Viagra commercials—but it takes sex off my brain and gives me a neutral-leaning-to-negative feeling about it. Sex finally on the horizon, I had none of my primal fires burning, none of nature’s urgings to keep the species alive. After years of learning how to contain the flames, I barely had a smoldering match.
We talked about the medicated shift in my libido at our premarital counseling. At the time, we assumed the pills were temporary. I had a lot going against me depression/anxiety wise: an overly detailed wedding, a mother with cancer, a recent attack by a family dog. As a couple, we planned on doing it till our hips and knees and hearts gave out, so we took this blip on our sex timeline in stride.
But three years later, I still take one and half of the yellow tablets every morning; and with them, I swallow the bigger pill of shame, that I couldn’t fix myself with sun lamps, or exercise, or counseling, or that one kind of therapy where my counselor ushered me down the path of my memory with two little vibrating orbs alternating in my left and right hands. And most of all, the deep shame that, married to the good, good man I am—a 6’4” dreamboat who will text with me about my poop and never lets a day go by that he doesn’t express his love and desire for me—I don’t have a sex drive.
While we’ve rewritten the script for intimacy in our own marriage, the original version still sneaks through, a palimpsest layered with early 2000’s purity culture, sex talks with sassy married millennials at coffee shops, and a deep feeling down in my gut that I am defective, that I deserve this for some misstep of lust or pleasure in my past.
I keep silent on a walk with friends, one sharing how she decided against birth control pills since they curbed her sister in law’s sex drive, and again when friends sit around and give advice on the night before another friend’s wedding. They talk about pushing past tiredness and how many times a week they put out—men do really want sex all the time they say. I can’t help but hear a long-ago line about men looking for sex elsewhere if you don’t give it to them, if you don’t perform your wifely role and duty as God intended.
And I am sad for Drew. But I am also proud of him. For navigating this road with me, for never once entertaining any of my talk of sexual karma or my own grossness, for going above and beyond to ensure not only consent in our love making, but also volition, comfort and agency. For discovering intimacy where it can be found but still expressing desire for me—body, mind, soul.
And in all of this, we are both grateful to my Zoloft, because while I saved myself for marriage, my Zoloft saved me after that.
What kinds of if…then promises did you grow up expecting to operate in your romantic life?
What messages have you encountered about women’s sex drives? How do they compare with your experience?
Who else gets excluded when we make sex the barometer for marital bliss?
catch up on the sex + shame series here: