Titty Talk Take 5: Sickly/Sexy

The allurement of holding someone’s gaze, slight raising of the eyebrows and parting of the lips. The texture of lingerie grabbing newly lotioned skin. Massaging the nape of the neck. Pheromones mingling with cologne in a new tantalizing concoction.

Before being diagnosed with different illnesses, sex acrobatics became one way to re-establish control in my chaotic life. To try and convince myself that I was an equal in relationships even though that clearly wasn’t the case. That I was confident in my body, found sex appeal in my own skin and features, even if on the inside I felt like an intruder squatting in someone else’s forever home/body. From the up, down, circular gyrating, how swiftly and seamlessly my knees supported dipping, squatting and sucking to the sensual change of positions, mounting at the least expected moment: it was a series of high-energy dazzling and validating feats.

Drastic changes happened in 2013. I was diagnosed with 3 different chronic illnesses that affect my daily life, from the mental symptoms of flashbacks, sweats, hyper-vigilance and inability to get out of bed or do basic hygiene to the physical back pain, shooting pain down my legs, knees swelling and locking after a few steps, or dizziness and seeing double when I had a “headache.” It became worse in 2016, and exponentially worse in 2018. I could barely manage keeping up with my health, it becoming a full-time job and me not having the prerequisites to complete those job duties. A baseline of pain was soon established, me reluctantly swallowing my confusion about what was happening to my body and resigning myself to the fact that on a scale of 1-10, a daily baseline was about a 5.

Fresh out of a hospital stay and faking mental wellness, I barely had the brain space to process what was happening to my physical body. Unconsciously, sex was out of the picture- no way in hell it was synonymous with sick.

It took me months years to realize that as my body changed, so would my relationship to sex.

Being unable to have sex the way I used to doesn’t mean I can’t have it all. Different can still be pleasurable. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years:

Photo by Tim Samuel on Pexels.com
  1. Let go of the before: I spent years thinking about escapades past. Pocketing the key to the place we both volunteered at, to sneak back at midnight and have feral fornication behind the shed, a broken tarp the only protection from dirt. Hopping on counter tops, tables, washing machines on a whim for a quickie. Parking in the corner of the parking lot, reclining the seat as far back as possible and letting the car rock back and forth. It was something of a fantasy, being able to return to my previous physique. I had to learn to accept my not-so-new reality and what would make me feel sexy now. My body looks and moves in a certain way now, and if pleasure is what I’m after, I can experience it via this (only) body.
  2. Communication can be very seductive: This is true in general, not solely because of my chronic illness. Communication is at the core of every consent conversation. For me, I had to learn that if I didn’t verbalize my wants/needs, I was unlikely to receive them. I also had to learn how to move past shame. Shame surrounding my body, desires, and especially my illnesses. Illness is not something to be ashamed about, and talking to partners about it and my needs in the moment can be sexy. And key to mutual pleasure.
  3. Pleasure and care can co-exist: I have also been working on unlearning that if you need care, you don’t deserve pleasure. I don’t have to try and force able-bodied visions of sex (see #1 again). There are times that care and pleasure overlap, especially if I need to stop or take some sort of break. Even if not overlapping, they co-exist- something I’m still coming to terms with. The work of disability justice writer, advocate, performance artist, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has been really instrumental for me in this area.
  4. Peak performance is bull: I hear this term used interchangeably for athletes, employees, machines, an individual’s sexual abilities. The fact that there is an arbitrary “peak” or high point that is centered around physical ability for an extended period of time is, to me, more about capitalism teaching folks to value physical exertion without breaks. So we can be of value to that system. Instead of focusing on varying capabilities and needs. Peak performance to me is capitalist bullshit, and while I don’t need a partner to completely agree with me on this, I do need them to respect my stance and boundaries because of it. Basically, a one-size-fits-all definition of how you “should” perform in the bedroom is a myth.

My body has been transforming for years, as a manifestation of chronic illness. This has also altered me mentally, and my relationship to my body and pleasure. While it’s still a journey, I’ve learned that all sex is valid. I used to constantly question whether it was still sex without penetration, without agility and ability for *insert something form my past here.* I was defining sex by using my past body, and unintentionally sending myself the message that what I currently brought to the table was lesser than. I had to learn how to re-imagine sex as someone with a chronic illness. Learn that no one outside of me has the power to define what that should looks like, that my current reality, this body is deserving of pleasure.

PS: If you want to read the previous entries in my Titty Talk series, on my relationship to my physical body, here are Takes 1, 2, 3, and 4.

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