Via Althouse and Reynolds, comes an odd N.Y. Times essay by Lauren Slater. What I found slightly disturbing was not the overall argument about her [lack of interest] in sex, but her two primary confessional stories:
I met and fell in love with my husband for his beautifully colored hair, his gentle ways, his humor. We were together many years, and so sex faded. Then we decided to marry.
Predictably, almost as soon as the engagement ring slid onto my finger, I fell in love with someone else. I fell madly, insanely, obsessively in love with a conservative Christian man who believed that I, as a Jew, was going to hell. We fought long and hard about that, and then had sex. This is so stupid, it pains me to write about it.
And yet this affair, I sensed, was necessary for me to move forward with my marriage. It was a test. I believed, but could not be sure, that just as sex had cooled for my soon-to-be husband and me, it would cool with this man, with any man, no matter what or whom — in which case my fiancé was the person I wanted to marry.
Except suppose I was wrong? Suppose there was someone out there with whom I could have passionate sex the rest of my life? So I continued with my conservative Christian, and we had fantastic, obsessive sex while the whole time I waited to see when (or if) this affair would run out of fuel. I prayed that it would, so I could marry the man I loved.
Actually, I never had intercourse with this man, though we did just about everything else. He did not believe in sex before marriage. Therefore, when my fiancé asked me if I was “having sex” with someone (why was I coming home at 3 a.m.?), I could answer “no.” On the Christian man’s end, when his God asked him if he was having sex with someone, he also could answer “no,” and so we both lived highly honest, righteous lives filled with perpetual sex.
But then the inevitable happened. Sex with this man turned tepid, then revolting. While the revolting part was particular to this crazy relationship, the tepid part was wholly within my experience and proved, for me, that there is no God of monogamous passion. Thus freed from the tethers of this affair, I returned to the gentle arms of my pagan husband.
I wonder if Slater's husband agreed with her that "this affair . . . was necessary for me to move forward with my marriage."
My first orgasm happened decades ago when I was 19, in a rooming house with a broody bad boy who had a muscular chest and a head roiling with glossy curls. We both loved the Grateful Dead. Every time I slept over, we woke in the mornings and listened to “Ripple,” the clearness of the music, the pure simplicity of it, affirming for me again and again that I was part of a people, a species, capable of creating great beauty.
We’d gone out all summer before the start of our respective freshman years: Not once did he ask me for intercourse, even on our last night together. The very absence of his question underscored its implicit presence. When?
I confided to my roommate that we had not yet done the deed. Hers was a pause of shock. I was afraid. I didn’t want to bleed. Sheer fear of that plunging pain is what held me back.
Instead of telling my would-be lover the truth, I made up an elaborate lie. I was raped. Too traumatized to have sex. I needed more time.
Remembering this now, for the first time in a long time, I do not judge myself. I consider it a great deal to ask of a relatively newly minted woman that she offer her intact body up for this frankly difficult deed.
I also find it interesting that shame, an emotion that’s supposedly deeply rooted in the human limbic system, untouched by time or class, is in fact very much subject to time, class and culture, too. In the 19th century, to be raped was to be shamed, forever. In the late 20th century, to be a virgin was to be shamed. And so I lied, to save my skin.
Except one time, on a May night, through the open window, warm liquid breezes poured over our naked bodies, and then he touched me just so and I tipped into the orgasm and was grasped. This was different from whatever I’d achieved on my own. This was softer, gentler, full of a wide-open love, a deep falling-down love. When it was over, I hated him. I hated that man (that boy, really). The intimacy was too much, too wrenching and shameful.
I wonder how the young man felt about spending a summer of intimacy without sex with Slater, not requesting sex in part because of her lie about having been raped, and then being actually hated at the end of the summer because Slater suddenly felt "a deep falling-down love" for him with which she was uncomfortable.