I don’t know where I got the idea that I shouldn’t talk about what I wanted sexually. Same place everyone does, I guess: pop culture. The music I listened to in the mid-80s definitely had sex in it, but if the girl in the songs went after what she wanted, she was a tiger, she was an animal, she was dangerous, and ultimately not trustworthy. I read voraciously, but the books I huddled up with in the stacks didn’t help; they told me that sex was mysterious if not actually surreal, with frequently upsetting aftermaths, maybe eating disorders or teen pregnancy, or possibly an alien invasion (I read a lot of sci-fi, what can I say?). And my Mormon upbringing meant that I had no way of talking about it at all; there were no words, only shitty metaphors like defiling a temple or crushing a rose.
Somehow I continued to not really talk about sex through high school and college, well into adulthood, in spite of the fact that I fucked a lot during some of that time. I had boyfriends, and later, a couple of girlfriends. I had partners, and we fucked. So there must have been communicating, right?
But there wasn’t. I can’t remember asking my high-school boyfriend if he would finger me or reciprocate oral. I can’t remember talking with my long-term lesbian partner about whether she liked my oral sex skills or not. I think she did, I mean, she let me do it for a long time, but maybe she was just putting up with it.
I definitely don’t recall talking with anyone else about what I felt when I read Patrick Califia’s Doc and Fluff, and wanked repeatedly to the gay-male extreme fisting scenes and came so hard that I nearly fell off the Murphy bed. I didn’t tell anyone about that. I just hid the book under my pillow, never returned it to the Gay and Lesbian Association library—they added “bisexual” to the name a year later—and I never mentioned it to anyone. I went through all that time not talking, just absorbing ideas about sex and my own behavior from various books. I “made moves” and hoped I was making the right ones, or had moves made on me, but saying anything out loud about sex and my desire was never something I learned how to do.
Eventually, I learned to speak up as a survival response. I cheated on my female partner with a dude at a conference, and I realized how fucked up that was to her, and also how fucked up I was being to me. I felt that I was slipping off the deep end, into a spiral of endless shame and blame, so I decided to see a counselor once a week for a year. With her was the first time that I really got to say, out loud, what I wanted sexually.
It was actually pretty simple: I want dick. I remember saying that to my counselor and getting SO ANGRY at myself. It sounded so shallow and ridiculous, so greedy. It sounded, even to my inexperienced ear, like bad dirty talk. I burst into tears at how stupid it sounded, what a pitiable excuse for sending my 10-year relationship through the wringer. And yet there it was. When I said it, there was no going back. Taking it back, pretending that it was a slip of the tongue, was not possible. The truth will out.
Feeling that realness, at the ripe old age of 30, was the catalyst for my power. I'll call it power, maybe even a superpower, because saying what I wanted changed things. Not immediately, not like magic, but the change happened. At first I was terrified of this new-found force; how not, when it had so utterly up-ended my existence and identity and all of it? But then I saw how it made things better; I saw that I didn’t have to feel isolated by my own desires anymore, and I started asking more and more for what I wanted. I want this kind of sex. I want an open relationship. I like doing this sort of thing. I like the way that feels. Can we try playing with that? No, I’d rather not do that. Wait. Stop here. May I kiss you? And things did change. They continue to change. I speak my desire, and oh god, I love where it is leading me. But it wouldn't have happened without that long year of pain.
When people ask me for advice, on how to have those challenging conversations, the ones that seem to push back against everything you think you know about how you're supposed to behave, well... I can tell you what I've learned. I can give you some ideas. But you have to be paying enough attention to know when the pain of holding something in outweighs any possible risks of letting it out.
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