Falling out of Intimacy
Rambles on Pregnancy Scares, Sexuality, and Self-Image
One time my OBGYN prescribed me antidepressants. Her name was Tracey, and she had cutesy pins of uteruses on her white doctor’s coat. Do we have to hyper-femininize everything?
I’ve since moved and had to change OBs, but I still think of that awkward hug she gave me in that dingy, wallpapered room - her hands crinkling my hideously paper-thin gown.
I was having my second pregnancy scare at the time. I was 18, explaining that my (sort of) boyfriend took off the condom during sex without telling me.
“Why did he do that?” Tracey asked me in a motherly manner. That question sounded so simple on the surface, but I recognized it as a prelude to a much wider, much more complicated discussion about men and power. One I wasn’t ready to have.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
I cringe now at how young and small I probably looked then. How guilty. (Why?) I’ve associated my sexuality with guilt for as long as I can remember. A phenomenon I know is not unique to me. It’s societally ingrown. A blemish plastered unforgivably and unjustly on womanhood. I hear it every time someone uses the word ‘whore’ in an offhand, flippant manner
Tracey tried to help slacken that societally prescribed guilt from me. She had earnest eyes curtained by these diligently shaped bangs. I pictured her as a med student, crunched over a computer with the very same haircut. I was quite grateful for her in that moment – though I didn’t cognizantly recognize it. At the time, I was on the verge of a panic attack, which was giving me a sort of tunnel vision. Despite all the stifling panic I projected into that room, I had a feeling that if I let my guard down...if I teared up in those god-forsaken stirrups, I wouldn’t be met with disdain.
There was, as a whole, a palpable protection in that all-women office. An understanding. It made me feel minutely better as I walked abashedly in that oversized gown to the bathroom. All that trouble just to pee in a cup (I wasn’t pregnant) - but honestly, if they caught a glimpse of my asscrack, so what?! It was basically inevitable.
After that second pregnancy scare, my next partner was carefully chosen - a much older man who was sterile. That way I didn’t have to fully trust him. Or rather entrust him to respect me enough. It felt like putting myself first – which, I must say, more women should be conditioned to do more often without all that unnecessary guilt. When we do as men do, it’s seen as so horrendously selfish. How funny!
I got used to him. (I’ll give him a fake name. How about Brian?)
I enjoyed my time with Brian. He was clean-shaven, gentlemanly, and had a very cut-and-dry personality. I remember him getting out of the shower and kissing me, his mouth filled with that lingering, artificial flavor of mint toothpaste.
I appreciated how he looked at me. Few times have I felt so worshipped merely by another’s gaze. But there was nothing else about him that could really attach me to him outside of the purely physical.
The only pleasantly obscure detail I remember about him I picked up while lying in his bed. On that particular night, he mentioned that he grew up in Kansas.
“Like The Wizard of Oz?” I asked.
He had laughed at that. The room was so pleasantly dark. There were two Yankee candle jars lit on the other side of the room. I felt so comfortable at the time. In control.
But that was two years ago, and I’ve since stopped pursuing intimacy (not just because a global pandemic got in the way – though that was certainly a big part of it). I’m becoming unintentionally celibate - something that fuels other boys' fantasies, asking me how long it's been since I’ve been touched. I always shrug at that. It’s not at the top of my list of concerns, to say the least.
I’ve also found that the further I fall away from intimacy, the more I subject my distant memories to such scrutiny. Before “Brian,” when I laid beside that on and off lover at 18, I didn’t recognize him as the angry, violent, and possessive young boy that he was. Someone who didn’t really love women in any deeper capacity, but wanted to have a body in reach, and catered just to him. (Desire is such a complicated word). We spoil our own lost innocence...muddled by the foreign feeling of being bare. Spread. Our “firsts” are romanticized and dismantled with the same despondent vigor.
The same scrutiny goes for my past self. At fifteen, when I made my way cover to cover through the Bible, I quickly learned that the best thing that a woman could be in the fundamentalist formulation was self-denying. No wonder so many women grow up with their identities tied up in the whims and wishes of others – a man in the sky, a man in their beds, a man at the bar. To have an identity...a unique, autonomous identity, is still something we have to fight for.
At the tender age of fifteen, I had romanticized the idea that a future identity resting wholly on a man was all I was worth for. It was divinely willed, even. You don’t have to look past Genesis to see that Christianity was crafted for male power. Women were supposed to just fall in line...take the blame (for the entire fall of mankind?! What bullshit).
In reflection, I’ve begun to see how in the moment we are so blind to the structures of power that so profoundly influence our inner worlds. I consider them especially sinister because they often feel so imperceptible, so innate, far from something we could escape from. Perhaps modern womanhood is about that escape...
I, for one, am still learning how to walk through this metaphorical exit door. To step outside those confines so identity can become, once again, a complicated and evolving journey, an ebbing and flowing state, rather than the act of looking to fulfill a prescribed role or purpose.
Such is what leads me to today - where my sexuality rarely feels like a power, but something that men want to yield to their eyes and interests, their kinks and fantasies. I always linger on the maybes, because I’m scared to turn men down. (Girls have been killed over such an assertion). I have to treat unwanted advances with indifference rather than brusque denial because of such a fear. I wish I didn’t...maybe that’s why I’m so enraptured by female rage.
Now, circa pandemic reality, when my new OB gives me the run-down questionnaire, I still answer like an automaton despite my chaotic inner world.
“Are you interested in men, women, or both?”
“Are you sexually active?”
“Not really anymore”
Some days I fear that I’ll never want anyone to touch me ever again.
“What was the start date of your last period?”
No fucking clue. Does anyone ever have that answer ready off the top of their head?
“Let me check.”
“Do you need to use the restroom before we start?”
I don’t think so, but now that you’ve mentioned it, all I’m going to be able to think about is having to pee.
They should start adding questions about the male gaze to these visits if we really want to get to the bottom of things. Right?
"I'll step out so you can get changed and then we'll get started."
The door closes and I'm wondering if this body - my body - has stayed the same in the last five years. Is it the same body that my first boyfriend held onto with mindless hands? Is it the same body that embraced the moonlight in the passenger seat of my crush's car? Is it the same body that was bruised by a young boy's violent fervor?
Maybe I'm a dualist because I've never felt like my body was me.
I’ve started conflating my yearly OBGYN visits as a prime time to rehash all this - my entire sexual history, dare I say my identity. I could go in stupidly troubling circles traversing my teenage memories.
Is the beauty (or rather the lesson) to be found at the end of all these musings an ability to fluctuate in and out of intimacy without ascribing shame and guilt, pressure and expectations? For it is more than just sexual freedom that I want. I want to know and feel my innate worth outside of the male gaze, the male-constructed narrative, the male world.
Such has led me to realize that I’ve been fighting Eve (the biblical myth) since before I bled, since before my skin stretched and shaped...
All I can claim now is Eve’s thirst for knowledge, the right to see the whole picture and act accordingly – even if she has to face it alone.