I will never forget that Saturday night eight years ago. Newly divorced, my four children and I were hosting our annual neighborhood Halloween party and we invited our new neighbors. He just happened to be single with two children. As they walked up to our cul-de-sac, my heart gave a familiar jump, and I instantly thought, welcome back love!
I’m not sure if it was the devil’s tail on my costume, animal magnetism, or simply divine intervention but the rest is, as they say, history. We had our first date the following weekend. After divorcing the year prior, it was refreshing and exhausting to meet someone new. Long phone conversations, late night talks after all six children were asleep, and new outdoor adventures quickly escalated into what felt like teenage love.
Tall, dark and handsome, my new found love was kind, gentle, physically fit, outdoorsy, free with caring words and affirmations, notes and cards and above all, SEXY! We immediately had an intimate connection and that teenage love felt more like grown-up heat! The physical side of our relationship seemed rock solid, fulfilling and exciting. The emotional part seemed even stronger – like two kindred spirits had found each other quite by chance.
While shuffling my four children between school and activities and navigating our new relationship, I also worked full time for the first time in 12 years. Having stayed at home with my babies, I secured a job after the divorce in order to let the kids stay in the home in which they were born and raised. Oh yeah, we also had 4 dogs, 2 cats and multiple reptile-like creatures! Life was GOOD, but life was busy.
The power of romance and the thought of love will carry a woman for a while. But a couple of years into this new life, I realized something wasn’t right. I was exhausted, irritable with my children, family, and friends, and generally not interested in doing all the “fun” stuff we had grown accustomed to doing. Nights out were replaced with nights in and early to sleep. My work became drudgery, and subsequently my performance dropped. I was forced to look in the mirror and ask, “What is going on?” I always succeeded in everything: I was a good mom, a good daughter, a good employee, a good friend, a faithful church member. So why was I feeling so blah?
During a random visit to the doctor, I saw a questionnaire asking women about their sex drive. Ha! I thought. No problem here! After all, we had our regularly scheduled intimate moments every OTHER weekend like clockwork – Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. What was possibly wrong with that?
But as I began to read more and answer the questions, a light bulb went off. Yes, I was tired. Yes, I was irritable. No, I didn’t often initiate sex. Yes, I “fulfilled” my duty as a woman. No, I didn’t frequently “enjoy” sex but felt it was more ‘”obligatory” sex. After all, at our ages that’s what was expected and what you do, right? Initiate? Did I initiate? I guess that depends on each individual. Did I participate? Absolutely. Did I think about it during the day? What? Who has time!?
And suddenly, a sadness came over me. Here I was in a relationship with a wonderfully sexy man who was kind and warm and whom I loved, but something wasn’t right. Was it me? Was something wrong with me? And clearly this wasn’t something I just wanted to go home and blurt out: “Hey honey, I know you are sexy, buff, and have these heart-stopping blue eyes, but, um, something isn’t right.” Of all things, I didn’t want him to think it was HIM! On the other hand, that meant something was wrong with ME! How could that be? I exercised regularly, lived a healthy life, and took care of myself. Then I remember what my mother used to say: “If momma ain’t happy, no one is happy.” In that moment, it all made sense. There was something missing in my intimate life, something that, although I was going through the motions, wasn’t adding up. Sort of like a pot of water simmering on a stove but never quite getting hot enough to boil.
I decided to take things into my own hands. I talked to a specialist, and he suggested I enroll in study that was evaluating a treatment for women with low sexual desire. I thought this could be exactly what I needed to get back the “want” to want sex. So I enrolled in the study and began filling out my diary daily as to how many times I thought about sex, if I initiated, if I achieved orgasm, if I lubricated. Each day the alarm would go off and I would fill out the questions, sometimes ashamed at my lackluster responses of NO to almost all.
But within a few short weeks, something changed. I remember driving down the road and a fleeting thought of my man crossed my mind and suddenly, I felt a little flutter! And I don’t mean a heart flutter. I mean further south! What is that? As these feelings increased, they were followed by suggestive notes or texts in the middle of the day, and then by a shopping spree for some new lingerie. Before long, I was arranging a “date” night downtown and creating a “role play” for us. In a span of a few short weeks, my journal entries became filled with YES, YES, YES! I’ll have what she’s having (Thank you, Meg Ryan!). Yes, I thought about it. Yes, I initiated it. Yes, I achieved orgasm!
Much to his delight, I became an active and willing participant in sex rather than the obligatory partner. To say I became dominant rather than submissive might be a stretch…but maybe not! Depends on which “scenario” we are talking about!
And then, quite to my surprise, when I got my desire back, the distress I had felt from missing it for so long also lifted, which improved other parts of my life. I felt more engaged with my family and my job. This period even coincided with the best sales year of my career! I went from lingering at a restaurant to “let’s skip desert and head home for play time!” Gaining control over my sexual prowess was a newfound freedom to be me. Inhibitions sloughed off, southern religious baggage got checked away, and in my mid-40s, I felt like my younger, friskier self.
I’ve always been told, from cynics, physicians, comics, that men need a place, but women need a reason. And I bought into that feeling for many years that men just needed that release and that I needed to be wooed and romanced. But reality is no man, if he is honest with himself, enjoys obligatory sex. In my opinion, there are three components to desire: the need to be desired (an emotional feeling), the need feel desirous (which is more physically based) and most importantly, the need to DESIRE. How hard is it to do something you don’t really want to do? How hard is it to parade around in a tiny nightie if you don’t feel sexy? And how fun is to participate in sex when you don’t feel like your partner is really interested but just checking off the duty box?
I’m telling you, my life changed. We related to each other totally differently. I grew to welcome those mid-day flutters. He LOVED the initiation on my part, and we formed an intimacy that I have never known. I felt comfortable and free to express myself, try new things, be vulnerable and creative, tender but strong. Being completely open requires trust, and the connection we formed over those months has never left. I am happy to report we got married a few weeks ago, so for me, we are living happily ever after.
While the study I was enrolled in has ended, we have maintained an intimate connection, and our sex life has prevailed. But it takes work, planning, and effort, whereas before everything felt natural. It is my deep hope that women learn from my experiences, speak out about their lack of desire, and rally together until something is available for those like me suffering either silently or unaware of the problem. Men have Viagra, Cialis and more. It’s our time and we deserve the same efforts and options that men have.
By Amanda Blackie Parrish.