I’m starting a writing project for the month. I’m interviewing friends with a uterus on their sexuality and experience(s) with fertility. I want to learn more about what shapes their understanding of sexuality and fertility, and what that experience is like for them, and more importantly, how and why it differs for each of us.
I realized I probably should start with my own story before I blast the stories of others.
I also realized, during my first interview, that any chat about fertility might start with sex. One’s relationship to/with sex and one’s opinion of sex.
I like sex. I’ve always liked sex. I started masturbating very young. So young I didn’t even have the words to describe what I was doing. Nap time? Great, feel good time. I had a brief moment of doubt somewhere in later childhood because I read that perhaps masturbators (ers?) are sinners and all going to hell. And I thought, Oh, no. why god? But then I got over it because I realized I was harming no one and doing nothing and if enjoying myself was a sin, I was going to make peace with the idea of a long and terrible afterlife. I don’t believe in a God who would think that way of people. That is another post.
Masturbation was one thing. Sex another. I started reading teen magazines (mostly YM) at a young age. My mom thought it would be a good way for me to access the things girls are supposed to know (how to hate your body, how to waste your money on make-up, how to worry about boys). I was mostly interested in the advice columns. In the scared entries from teens who thought they were dying of an STD. I learned the word “blowjob” from one of these articles. (What the hell is that?) I had to later ask a group of friends at a sleepover. I think we figured it out.
I became convinced from my teen mag reading I was going to get an STD if I started having any sex. With my mouth, hands, or vagina. There seemed no surefire way to protect oneself. Pregnancy was another reason to abstain, but not my number one. While my mother had terrified me with her stories of conception, I was more afraid of photos of genital warts. (She first conceived me on accident and later my sister: “I’m good at making babies,” she would say.) I wasn’t sure what I was good at, but I did not want to be good at making babies.
I was a late bloomer. I read Are you there God, it’s me Margaret around the time I started wearing my much loathed training bra–age 10. Puberty, overall, seemed terrible to me. My body was not the same. I couldn’t run as fast. I couldn’t shoot a basketball. Why was this necessary? And I was terrified of starting my period. My mother hated having her period. I heard no good things from her during those times of the month, and there were enough sights and sounds to support my idea that having a period was one of the worst experiences in life. Luckily, my body held off as long as it could and I didn’t start until right before high school. Freshman year was also the year many of my peers began having sex. Lots of factors contributed to my decision not to have sex. My mom had started having sex at 14 and had gone on the Pill then, but always told me her story with a hint of regret. She wondered, maybe she was too young? But no one had discouraged her, and she seemed to enjoy her experiences. Knowing my grandmother, who is very sex positive, mom’s sex mindset makes sense to me. My grandma is very much in support of decisions we make as women to feel good.
I remember stumbling on some marriage and sex book in my mother’s library. I wasn’t taught to feel ashamed about sex, only that it was something to be careful with. Only that it could kill you and that babies were forever.
I had a boyfriend in junior high and another in high school. We would rub against each other, and expose a bit of our bodies to one another, but it was all pretty innocent. I spent most of high school trying to figure out my own body and had little interest in boys. I went to a small town school and all the boys around were boys I’d known forever. After reading The Pact by Jodi Picoult, I realized I felt a bit incestuous thinking of my male peers as possible sexual partners. I waited to get out and meet strange boys.
Finally, when I was 20, I had the sex. It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t anything. It wasn’t memorable or painful or sweet. It just was. With a soon-to-be boyfriend in his bed. Sober. We used a condom and spermicidal lube (much later I learned I was painfully allergic to spermicide). I was fine and happy with all of that. It was very casual. I hadn’t let sex become Sex, even though everyone seemed to want that for me. (Mom, friends, siblings). I was so excited to finally tell my mom during Christmas break I had achieved losing my virginity. Weren’t we more of the same now? But when I told her, she was surprised, explaining she thought I had lost it long ago, at 15 or 16 to the high school boyfriend. I couldn’t believe how little she knew me.
I had lots of sex with college boyfriend. I had gone on the Pill the year before because of menstrual issues (debilitating cramps; irregular periods). I felt comfortable with my body then as a sex body. I felt comfortable with college boyfriend (who had lost his virginity as a teen) to teach me the basics, what I needed to know to be a good sexual partner, but I lost a sense of myself in this relationship. I didn’t know what I should be getting out of it, and I didn’t know what I should be expecting from sex.
Then there was the boy who always wanted to have sex with me; there was the boy I really wanted to have sex with; there was the boy who was around and would say, “no one can hear you.” Trying to turn me on, but creeping me the fuck out. There was the boy who would close his eyes, who was afraid to take charge; there was the boy who thought he was really good at sex, then there was another like him. There were a few girls, here and there. Drunk girls. Sober girls.
There was one, maybe two, pregnancy scares. Only one I can remember. The boy with all the want. He named it Hank. Made me a grieving mix CD for after the abortion. “For Hank,” he titled it. Of course I wasn’t pregnant. I was on the Pill. I was too careful. But the body still seems unknown to me. Capable of anything, even after all this time. I’ve tried since to better understand ovulation and the cycles of the body. I started seeing a doctor who taught me about temperature change and mood swings. I began to track days and weeks. I began to understand how my body marked time.
In between, once a year, sometimes twice a year, I visited my doctor. I got the STI tests. I filled out the forms. I worried a little, every time, that my test results would come back life changing. I was lucky, most of the time, that I knew what I knew, and I was safe enough.
I took a break. As much as I liked the physicality of sex, I needed an emotional connection to coincide. I have never done the one night stand. I tried once, but quickly realized I was not interested in sharing a bed with a stranger or in talking to them the morning after. People, they’re the worst. And my body is mine, my own. I don’t have a desire to share it with anybody, with everybody. I need a password and a secret knock and an upfront deposit. This shit is mine. You can get in line.
The break from physical relationships was worth it. I was able to articulate my own feelings around/about sex. I was able to reflect on my sexual escapades and rate them. To realize what was good and what was not. I read a lot about female orgasm and sexual trysts and tried to understand what I would need from a future partner. Tried to understand what would make the sex good for me. Began to practice the words I had always been afraid to say to partners previously.
Now, I’m in the best sexual relationship of my life. I’m also in the best physical shape of my life. I feel the two are definitely connected. I’ve taken the time to invest in myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I feel comfortable and confident and content. I’m also on the most convenient form of birth control–the nexplanon implant. I’m finally able to enjoy a sexual relationship with 100% confidence– no babies and no diseases. No fallout. The ambiguity has gone.
And my fertility story is simple in comparison: I don’t know if I want children. I was taught early-on, and I saw firsthand, that children mean giving up a bit of yourself. Children take you away from yourself. I have no desire to be separated from myself. There is nothing that needs filled. Nothing I am missing within myself.
Children are a physical experience for a woman. Am I ready to share my body with a third person? For an extended period of time? Am I ready to see it morph and mutate and give it over? Give it up? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I am fertile, if I can have a child. I’ve never tried. My current partner would make a good parent. That could be fun, but that is not all the fun. That is not the only fun we could have. But suddenly, I realize the option isn’t always going to be there. If I want the experience–the physical challenge, the knowledge that results, then I need to decide. I’ve spent all this time running away from procreation, only to find myself in the middle of the maze, face-to-face with it. I should make the most of my body’s capabilities while they exist. I should take advantage of my pelvic floor and my mental stamina. So they say. I hear the clock of my friends’ bodies ticking. Hear them talk around it. Like the crocodile from Peter Pan. One big twitching clock. They are Captain Hook, living in fear. What do we do? Why does it matter? Who do we become after we pass the plateau, the child-bearing plateau? What helps us ascend, what causes us to stop and rest, what sends us over the edge? So I’ll be asking my friends, taking notes, thinking about it. What is it like living with a uterus?