Nerve Classics

True Stories: Prude Awakening

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This is how my friend Jon described sex with his wife, post-baby: “Like your nice old aunt taking her twelve-year old nephew to see the latest Vin Diesel movie. She’s just being kind.”

“I never thought I’d say this,” said another friend, a thirty-two-year-old male with no children. “But I’m bored with pornography.”

My friends’ sex lives are dwindling. It’s partially age, mostly babies. Maybe reaching the I’ve-done-it-10,000-times mark at age thirty-five has a psychological effect on a person. You feel like a soldier who has thoroughly conquered the foreign land . . . why keep pushing it?

(How did I come up with my figures, you ask? Why, I’ll tell you! In the late teens, one gets it on an average of once a day — lack of location precludes that “once” from being “seventeen times” — then, twice a day throughout the early twenties; back to once daily in the latter half of that decade — periods of no boy/girlfriend along with sudden fear of sex with strangers bring the average down; a sojourn of thrice a day at some point around age thirty; and then we’re down to maybe every other day, as other things — like the realization that one does need sleep every so often — hedge our time.)

For me, the end of sex was a sharp and sudden cessation. It came the day my daughter, Sadie, was born. Of course, I hadn’t been having sex for the last six months of my pregnancy: my husband believed that the fetus might see his big thing and be scared. (I was scared not to see it. There’s all this extra blood pulsing during pregnancy, including Down There. I was thinking about penises and the things they do all day long. I had my way with myself at every opportunity, whenever I wasn’t throwing up or sleeping — and sometimes when I was.)

Sex had been the main component of my personality. Then it was gone without a trace.

When the baby finally came and our six-week waiting period was over, I thought I’d find relief at last. Except I didn’t want it anymore. From the minute Sadie was born, I had zero sex drive. More like negative-one drive. I could see no reason why anyone would engage in sex, ever. I vaguely remembered that, in my previous life, I was interested in sticking a spongy-yet-taut, protruberant section of another person’s body into any crevice of mine. I knew that I was thinking about it a lot.

But what had I been thinking?

For a decade and a half, sex had been the main component of my career, even of my personality. Then it was gone without a trace. Doing it seemed like as compelling an idea as, say, jumping up and down fourteen times mid-dinner: there was nothing wrong with it, but it just didn’t seem to make any sense.

I don’t think I would have thought about this — or thought about how I wasn’t thinking about it — had Nerve not asked me to write about it for the No Sex issue. I was too busy being happy with my little family. Because I was nursing, every two hours I was being infused with the hormones prolactin and oxycotin, and being denied estrogen. Oxytocin is a mellower. It has rid me of insomnia, of worry, of my work ethic and my sex drive. I don’t fantasize. I don’t masturbate. I don’t flirt with the UPS guy. (And you’re supposed to nurse for at least a year — I think this is Nature’s way of spacing children. Someone forgot to tell Nature about the Pill.)

Let’s break it down: I’ve had sex ten times in the six months since Sadie was born — like Jon’s wife, just to be nice. Each time, it was like I was ironing clothes. That interesting.

Fatherhood had an effect on Dave too. I realized this during our first time, post-Sadie. As usual, I started talking about bringing a big hairy man home from the gym, while Dave hid in the closet watching. This was our favorite scenario: it used to make my husband’s penis go from zero to sixty in under four seconds. But this time, Dave interrupted me. “I feel more … traditional now,” he said.

Before the baby, Dave never was sure of his sexual identity. He couldn’t visualize himself as a sexual being, on top of me, thrusting away. He’d always picture someone else, someone far more masculine (i.e. hairier, fatter and dumber). But now that he was a father and, since I was taking a few months off work, a breadwinner — previously, I had always made more than he did — his identity was secure. His penis had purpose. For him, the trappings and subterfuges of sex fell by the wayside. It happened the moment he saw Sadie slip out of my body, open her eyes and look around. In that moment, she became real, and my husband became something all the sex in the world had never made him: A man. An adult.

And we all know adults have regular old boring missionary sex, right?

Except it doesn’t work that way for me. I’ve always accepted myself as a mother; that was one part of my makeup. But I knew that I was still a prevert. (That’s this thing even sleazier than a pervert. When you say prevert, you’ve got to sort of flatten and lengthen your lips, and look sideways when you say it.) If I were interested in sex now, it would still be weird and dirty sex. Dave and I go to the dirty movie theatre and watch the woman on the screen get come splashed on her face while we wondered, pantingly, if the men roaming the hall with their things in their hands might gang-rape my man.

When the single mom does get out, she’s often far worse than a teenager.

What’s the most important thing about the above scenario? Location, location, location. We would be out of the house, in a place where no children are allowed, ever. Since Dave and I don’t want to put Sadie in daycare, she’s always underfoot.

That didn’t matter with my first child. Born eight years ago, he didn’t tame my sex life at all. In fact, my most lascivious moments came in the years after his birth, probably because I had him at twenty-six. (The closer a woman gets to thirty, the more she bursts like . . . I was going to make a flower analogy, but a water balloon, thrown from a rooftop, exploding mid-air and spraying all passersby, seems a better metaphor.) My son wasn’t breast-fed. And because my husband and I had separated when our baby was one, I was a single mom with a lot of responsibility. You see, when the single mom does get out, she’s often far worse than a teenager. Since I, like most moms, believed that protecting my baby meant keeping him away from men who might drift out of our lives again, I never even introduced him to my dates.

On weekend’s, my son’s father or his grandparents would babysit him, and I could roam. My sex life became more separated from my home life — my real life — than it ever was, pre-baby, and the sordid elements grew more exaggerated. I went on trips: to New York, Ohio, L.A., Sweden. The further I got from New Hampshire and my little boy, the more of a prevert I became. I started writing for Nerve. I did cocaine. I met Dave.

(That first night, I was wearing holographic pants and a silver puffy coat. I tried to make out with him by force, told him I was pure evil, then accidentally threw up on him. Not exactly indicative of how things would turn out one marriage and an infant later, when I can’t even watch scary movies with him.)

During our courtship, I took Dave to swingers’ clubs and strange, childless girls’ houses. Once we were married, the momentum was still there. I fought becoming conservative, and because Dave didn’t consider himself my son’s dad — my son already had a dad; Dave was more like a big brother/friend — none of us saw ourselves in traditional roles. In fact, mere days after our wedding, I took him to a prostitute.

Then along came Sadie.

I know my situation isn’t unique. A lot of my friends are perverts, and a lot of these preverts are starting to have children. (My childless friends tend to have drinking problems instead. As the years go by, alcohol will take up nearly as much time, money and emotional energy as children do ­ what was an initiator of sex in college is nowa big sex killer.) To us, the fascinating realization is that there can be an end of sex at all. We had never contemplated that.

But now I see it everywhere. Even Jack Nicholson, that ultimate sleaze-bo, recently admitted he was sometimes happy to sleep alone. He described the cessation of carnal passions as “liberating.” I see where he’s coming from. The sex drive, at its base, is about longing and restlessness and a search for completion. Sex promises this but never delivers. Each time you do it — if it’s good — you should be left with more longing.

But then, a day comes when you feel happy. You don’t want any more completion. You don’t feel itchy anymore. Those old, dead Greeks were always talking about that — how freeing it is to be rid of one’s ties to the body, to be a pure spirit. The Sufis too. But it’s not just intellectuals or religious people who eventually succumb to inevitability. On the Jerry Springer Show, this fifty-year-old woman offered a compelling argument to the fifty-year-old man who complained to her, “Back when you was running around, you’d give me sex every night of the week — be rubbing up on me and puttin’ your fingers in my hair.” She said: “Ain’t no damn reason to have it more’n once a week.”

I’m liberated, finally, from being a sex writer: from seducing you into imagining my lair, and me.

I’m with that lady now, and fat old Jack Nicholson and the dead Greeks. I am liberated from sex.

I’ve discovered much that has nothing to do with seduction or taboo-breaking experimentation. There’s the thrill of gardening: making an enormous vegetable come out of a little seed, then eating that enormous vegetable. There are dinner parties, where you make people happy and they talk about interesting things, then they go home and you get to watch something on TV. There’s sledding, swimming and dancing. I mean, there always was sledding, swimming and dancing, but somehow The Hunt was such an important element of those activities, they became almost work.

Frankly, I don’t care if you think gardening is dumb and I got boring. I know that my battles with the groundhog (which bit my son, requiring five series of rabies shots with a very long needle) and my victory over the strawberry-sucking slugs are truly exciting, even if I’m the only one who thinks so. Six years after I started writing for Nerve, I’m liberated, finally, from being a sex writer: from seducing you into imagining my lair, and me.

Of course, I may soon have to eat my words, as I often do. That “Stop” sign sticking out of my vagina might soon meld into a “Yield.” Perhaps sex has the nature of the phoenix: it must die in order to rise boldly from the ashes of itself. Lately, I have reason to believe this mysterious sex thing may be preparing itself to arise, in all its complexity and humbling madness, within me again. These last couple of weeks — ever since Sadie started having a little bowl of cereal and one jar of baby food per day — sexual references have started reappearing in my dreams. Last night I dreamt I was giving my friend Rachel a ride to her gynecologist appointment, which she described as getting her “Yankee Doodle yanked.”

“I never heard the expression ‘Yankee Doodle’ for It before,” I said.

“My dad came up with that, so as to not embarrass me,” Dream Rachel replied. “And these” — grabbing her breasts — “are my dandies.”

I told Dave about my dream. It gave him hope. That night, as we lay in bed, he snuck a hand where it didn’t belong. He was hoping that the extra-large serving of pureed squash he’d fed Sadie that day, and the two breastfeedings it replaced, would be enough to make me want to have sex again. But it wasn’t, and we fell asleep — happy.

This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays.