I recently went through about two months of weird inexplicable, sometimes gross ailments and symptoms that had me baffled and freaked out. From the thing that walked and talked like a UTI but wasn’t (and also wouldn’t go away), to the sudden raging acne like the “before” in a Proactiv commercial, to the recurring things that in alternating diagnosis were yeast or bacterial infections (seriously, they alternated) to the stomach that was never happy, to the constant brain fog, to itchy crusty eyes (I know, I’m coming off crazy-sexy in this post).
Not a fan of doctors under the best of circumstances I almost always look to the internet before I call to try and wrangle an appointment (my GP’s receptionist missed her time and her calling- this woman was made for working the door at Studio 54). Now looking to the internet for medical advice is is a bad idea that will only panic you anyway right around the time of the eye thing I noticed I had fallen into a habit that was a little extra-special. Whenever something new came up I would head over to the source of medical aweomeness that is Google and enter my symptom and and “STI”… because, obviously. Yep, even did it with the eye ailment. Turns out “Chlamydial Conjunctivitis” is actually a thing. Sure, it’s more commonly associated with newborns born to women with Chlamydia but whatever, it became clear to me immediately that I had obviously contracted eye chlamydia – commence freaking out. So, after a lot of poking and prodding, a bunch of tests (no eye Chlamydia but I think I gave a NP a really good laugh) and three rounds of antibiotics I followed a hunch and eliminated some foods from my diet. Yeah, it’s helped immensely.
So, the barrage of crazy ailments is over but one symptom lingers, the feeling in the pit of my stomach that says “what the fucking fuck?” I think I talk a pretty good game in terms of sex positivity. I talk often about not buying into the idea that behaviors a, b & c are “good” but d,e & f are “bad’ but when shit gets real, when it comes down to me and my body and my life, this little anecdote illustrates that somewhere deep down I believe otherwise. Every month my period comes I feel like I’ve gotten away with something. Every time a test confirms that I have not contracted HerpeChlamydOrrhea (yep, I invented a crazy super-STI for myself to fear) it feels like I’m beating the system. I’m suddenly very aware of the part of me that’s – despite fact that I take the appropriate safe and preventative measures – waiting for the penny to drop, for the punishment to be handed down. And the scariest part is when I was freaking out I wasn’t wondering how this could have happened or bemoaning my circumstances. I felt more like a criminal who has finally been caught after a long time on the run- I was resigned to it, I was getting what I deserved, I was being marked with my scarlet letter.
What the hell?!!
Where did that come from?
I looked to the most obvious source- the religion/sex thing.
I had a religious-ish upbringing. I went to catholic school but my particular nuclear family was only sporadically church-going. My schooling in the 90s, did not include abstinence only education, at least not as it is described to me these days. I remember being taught about all the different forms of birth control and told how intercourse worked and, yes, we were taught “mommies and daddies have sex to make babies” but no harsh “you are bad for having sex” it was, more than anything, really sterile. The “don’t have sex” message was there, but frankly, it never really landed on me all that hard.
Next I thought about what my parents taught me about sex. Now, my mother was big on “you’re not allowed to have sex” Once when a family friend mentioned getting her daughter birth control my mother turned to me and said “I’d sew you shut first” Meanwhile I was just trying to eat a slice of pizza… This really didn’t do much more than piss me off and make want to go have sex more.
The quest for an answer continued…
Then something unexpected happened. I’ve been considering both a career change and a big move. I’ve been thinking about what I love, what really makes me happy. I thought about where I would want to live, where I could see my life moving forward. I noticed something: whenever I arrived at answers my though process went something like this “Oh, that sounds great, I think I would really like to do that but I don’t know that I could do that, then I would fail and awful thing a, b & c would happen” Ah-ha! I don’t think that sex is particularly deserving of consequences, I just think that things that make me happy are deserving of consequences. Oh good. At least I knew that I wasn’t, on some level I was unaware of, judging everyone having sex. Better to be a bit screwy than a judgmental jerk.
What I’ve come to realize is that I am waiting for punishment because I don’t think I deserve to be happy. If something is making me feel good, bringing me happiness it necessarily must come with a consequence. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and all that. And I don’t just do it in this direction, it goes the other way too, I seem to think I should have to go through bad things (pay some dues as it were) before I deserve anything good.
I once spent years in a relationship that started off with terrific sex that then went away. I stayed in that relationship for a long time after that and the whole time I told myself that the sexless period was A. what was supposed to happen after the great sex at the beginning and B. what I needed to go through to deserve good sex again later on. I told myself that this was just the life I got. One day I woke up and realized that was no way to live. I changed my entire life (clearly, that process is ongoing) and went on a mission to save the world from mediocre sex. STI-Google-palooza taught me that I need to remember not everything that we need to learn to improve our sex lives gets learned in the bedroom.
I know I’m not the only person who has been here. I know that for a lot of people sex can be a source of guilt, or can fall by the wayside, viewed as frivolous or unimportant. Funnily, I think the solution is not that different than the solution was to all my health stuff. For my health stuff I had to accept that I am worth not eating crap, I am worth taking care of myself and taking the time and effort to figure out what foods make my body work and feel good. This required me to stop feeling bad about taking the time for myself, this required me to remember that I am important enough to plan for this required valuing myself. The way I see it getting past this is also an issue of remembering that I am, we all, valuable enough to deserve happiness, pleasure, time, joy.
Take your time, embrace your joy and let the only marks sex leaves on you be fun ones.