When Bodies “Betray” Us

Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I haven’t spoken much about it, but over the past year, I’ve had some serious issues in my sexual life.

These issues were not specifically related to my attraction to anyone else. My sex drive simply… shut off. Things that used to feel pleasurable simply… didn’t anymore. It’s not that they felt bad, exactly (although the longer it went, the more guilt and shame I felt, and those feelings began to make sexual touch feel bad). It’s that things that used to feel sexually arousing had about as much sex appeal as scratching my elbow.

I still don’t know what caused this or why. I also don’t know what made my sex drive turn back on, or why- it was like a switch got flipped and suddenly, I had interest in sex again. In fact, I had interest in sex AND interest in all the sex I hadn’t had over the last 10 months. It was sex over-drive.

Until the switch flipped back on, though, the truth of the matter was, I could barely have sex with my partner, and it was incredibly difficult on both of us. Perhaps the only thing that made it easier on him was that I also wasn’t having sex with anyone else- myself included. I masturbated when my body simply demanded an orgasm as a basic necessity- much as you use the bathroom when your body informs you that you need to go. But I didn’t really get any pleasure out of it- sex with myself or with others felt more mechanical than connective.

I am terrified that that will happen again. That I will wake up tomorrow and find no interest in sex. And the next day, and the next day, and so forth. My partner is wonderfully patient with me, for which I can never be grateful enough, but I know this long stretch of minimal sexual interaction was incredibly difficult. It was incredibly hard not to take it personally, or feel like I just wasn’t attracted to him. And as much as I tried to explain that it wasn’t about him, it was still an understandably hard time for both of us.

I wanted to fix it. I felt incredibly broken and felt an immense amount of pressure to fix
my sex drive, fix myself, fix our relationship. Every night, we would go to bed, and I could loss-of-libidofeel him wanting to ask, but holding it in. I could feel myself trying to pep-talk myself into it: “You love him. He’s beautiful. You are attracted to him. You want to be intimate with him. You want to, dammit!” But try as I might, I couldn’t feel connected to my sexual self… which also meant I couldn’t feel connected to his sexual self. And so I would hold him, and think, “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I can do it tomorrow.” And I would feel how much it hurt him, and I would think, “You’ve got to fix this. You’ve got to do this. Tomorrow. You have to deal with this tomorrow.” But tomorrow would come, and it would happen all over again.

Sometimes, our bodies do things that we don’t understand. It can be their way of telling us that something’s up. Our connection is broken, somewhere, and it’s trying to mend, but it needs our help. Sometimes there is something we aren’t focusing on that we need to- sometimes, it’s our mental health (I started seeing a therapist partway through this process, and it has helped immensely), or physical health. Sometimes, our bodies are changing, and those changes impact our ability to be sexual. And sometimes… sometimes it’s just that there is a lot of tension, stress, and pressure and our bodies are energetically exhausted.

Sometimes, our minds really want something and our bodies won’t cooperate. On a more lighthearted note, I recently began sleeping with someone who was designated male at birth, and interacts with his penis in a sexual way. We were fooling around a bit, and he looked at me, somewhat sheepishly, and said, “I think I’m having a bit of…performance anxiety.” And then we spent a few minutes talking about how “getting hard” isn’t necessarily the same as “being aroused”- that he was incredibly turned on, he just couldn’t get hard in that moment.

Oh.

I didn’t even know that was a thing that could happen. I knew, of course, that it was possible for people with penises to get hard without necessarily being aroused, but I never realized that the opposite could be true. I also know that it’s completely possible to want to want to be sexual, but not have the energy for it.

The point of all of this is that sometimes, our desires and our actions don’t always match up. Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up. And that can be incredibly hard- no pun intended.

passionAnd there isn’t an easy answer for these things. The breakdown and disconnect comes from different places for different people for different reasons. Figuring out how to reconnect with ourselves can be a difficult process- especially when we’re exhausted, or don’t have the time or the energy to deal with it right now.

From someone who went through a 10 month dry spell, I highly recommend dealing with it before it becomes a prolonged thing. Because at some point, you’re not just dealing with a disconnection within yourself; you’re dealing with a disconnection from your partner(s), and you’re dealing with the guilt and shame that goes with that.
I wish I knew an easy way to do that. I wish I knew what really caused the disconnect for me in the first place, and what helped bridge it, so that I don’t fall back into that place. It’s not a place I want to be. So while I am feeling strong and connected and sexual and in touch with these parts of myself (and my partner), I am doing the work I can to maintain and strengthen that connection. I am doing the work- difficult as it may be- to understand what broke down in the first place. Our sexual selves are an extension of ourselves, and sometimes the breaks have nothing to do with sex, exactly… the break is simply an extension of brokenness somewhere else inside ourselves that we need to address.

It’s a poignant reminder that taking the time to heal the disconnections within ourselves can also help strengthen the intimate relationships that sustain us, and remembering that our sexual connection with ourselves enables our capacity for a sexual connection with others. For some, they do not want, seek, or desire a sexual relationship with others- and that’s totally fine. But for others of us, who do desire those things, we have to constantly do the work of being whole, real, connected people, and listen to what our bodies are telling us.

revrobin2-023Robin:

The old adage, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” feels increasingly apt as I age.

I am reminded of this sexually when despite almost a decade of TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) intended to help me cope with ED (erectile dysfunction)—ever notice how we make initials out of things as a way to code them, for ease of communication to be sure, but also perhaps as a way to avoid saying certain words in public—I continue to experience a lack of penile hardness far more often than I want.

I have alluded to this in this space before, but it seems like the right time to explore what for me is a sensitive topic, and to include how physical limitations can impact emotions—for in truth, there are times when even the spirit can seem weak.

I don’t think I am alone among those born with penises when I say I have a complex relationship with mine. As I have said  before, I have struggled (and do still to some degree) with its small-ish size.

I used to comfort myself with the knowledge that when erect it measured 5.5 inches (yes, many, perhaps most, of us, measure), which is the average length of an erect penis according to those who study these things. But now, sad to say, it is more like 4.5 inches. I have moved to below average.

banana erections healthtap com
healthtap.com

But my husband has never complained and seems to like my little guy. So, all should be well, right?

Well, not so fast. TRT helped overcome ED at least a little for a year or two. But hard still was not really happening. So I tried pills, a pump, even injecting something into my cock just before sex (so romantic to say to my husband, “Okay, dear, I’m done, can you please take the syringe to the disposal container in the kitchen? Then hurry back!”). It didn’t do much either. Cialis on a daily basis  (unlike ingesting it just before sex) worked wonders, but then it lowered my already low blood pressure to dangerous levels. No more Cialis.

Herbs seem to help a little, maybe, and walnuts are said to be good for erections. I like walnuts, so I eat some most days (have to watch how many, however, due to fat content). So we “limp” along.

I did learn from a wonderful doctor I saw once in Richmond that my little guy was suffering from disuse. So I began to masturbate regularly (have written about this here before—“It Gets Better”).  And that can help in sex with my husband, sometimes as well.

But lately, I have not even been that keen on jerking off. What’s going on?

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Ageonics Medical

And the last several times he and I have made a date for sex I confess I did not feel much of the usual anticipatory arousal. Nor did I have much luck getting hard—a little when he stroked me, but it did not last when he stopped. Even his penetration, while feeling okay, did not get my juices going or my guy to rise to the occasion (being fucked is usually a turn-on for me and I get hard and often ejaculate with great joy).

I am writing this history about my flesh not simply to confess or even to ask for sympathy (although it would be accepted). I am writing because I know I am not alone among men with these issues, and because I believe talking openly about sex is vital to survival, indeed to thriving. I know that is true for me, but I believe it is true for others, too. I also know men are not the only part of the human race with sexual issues.

I also feel quite sure that all this is having an impact on my emotions, as my emotions are having an impact on my physical self—and all of it is having an impact on my spirituality, my God connection.

This embodied self which is me—sexual body, spiritual body, emotional body—is subject to analysis from different disciplines, different perspectives, but it is at the same time a unity in which the various parts interact to create me at any given moment. Of course, this creation is not affected only from within me and my parts, but also by the social body/bodies of which I am a part.

prayer-patheos
patheos.com

But here’s the deal for me, at least as I see it. This recent lack of sexual interest is linked, I believe, to my lack of interest in a daily God connection. I am having a dry spell, and it is not just in one of my private parts.  My focused prayer life, like my sex life, has been off-balance.

What makes this really interesting, to me at least, is that another part of my life—my writing, especially poems—has been more lively of late. I may not be expressing much through my genitals or through prayer time, but I have been really enjoying written ejaculations. In fact, poetry composition requires considerable foreplay and massaging to find just the right word, and the process often feels very erotic to me (no matter the subject of the poem).  So maybe I have been more erect than I knew?

Is this just a question of balance—pulling back (or out) just a bit from writing and inserting a bit more God time and/or sex-play—so that the various parts of me receive adequate attention and produce appropriate levels of expression?

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TL Shreffler

It sounds too simple, frankly, but I know it is not easy. What is easy, because, it is well-learned from our culture and religion, is to separate these aspects and treat only one at a time. I have spent a lot of energy trying to find a pill or cure for ED. I often turn to some new prayer or practice or commitment to make time for God. I engage a therapist to figure out what feelings need to change and how to change them.

What I do not often do is explore the links among these parts (and others), and certainly not to explore how they could help me to be more me, more potent, in all parts of my life.

I really like using the word potent, or potency—because it has two fields of meaning. The first is about forcefulness, effectiveness,  persuasiveness, cogency, influence, strength, authority, power.  Those are aspects I want associated with my poetry and other writing, and also descriptive of God’s place in my life (and my place in God). The second meaning, according to the dictionary, is “a male’s ability to achieve an erection or to reach orgasm” (I want the “or” to be “and”).

I want a potent life. God wants that for me, too. And for you, for all of us. That’s my belief, my truth.

aliveOf course, there is a limitation in this word, in the second part. But I know many potent women, and I trust you do, too. Some of them have been, and are, my teachers. And I sure know potent trans folk, whatever their genital configurations (some teachers here, too)! They may not achieve erect penises or ejaculate semen, but they do stand very tall and they certainly give forth powerful self-expression.

I am a whole person, continuing to come into my wholeness, my potency. I hope and pray, and believe, that is true for you, because that is what God wants for each, all, of us. And if you don’t feel it right now, stay open, there is always more with God.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you had sexual “dry spells?” How did it feel? Did you do anything to move out of it, or did change just happen? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex?  Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

polyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com
happy-parties.com

Workshop description: We are still working out the precise content, but we will be discussing how to help church leaders and congregations open up sexual conversations, and to be open to people of differing sexual practices. Stay tuned for more specifics, and in the meantime mark your calendar to be with us on March 16!

It Gets Better

Everybody deserves a rich sex life—not just the young . . .

by Robin Gorsline

I thought this would be a difficult post to write, especially because I am posting alone while Malachi has been away at a 5-day retreat for people into kinky sex. In some ways, that retreat, and the fact that my dear friend and 27-year-old co-editor has been enjoying it, caused me to think this writing would be all the more difficult.

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However, as I finished it, I am not so sure. It’s been a great experience writing this. And more good news is that next week, you’ll hear only from him (while I attend a week-long church conference—and that fact makes the contrast even greater!).

My topic today: sex and aging. I thought that would be a downer. But the opposite is true.

My interest stems from my own experience of erectile dysfunction as well as shrinkage of my testicles and a noticeable decline in the frequency of ejaculations.  I know many older (and some younger) men share these or other symptoms.  I also have been experiencing significant lower back pain for some months and this has interfered at times with sexual activity. Menopause may set similar things in place for women.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy sex with Jonathan, in fact I want more. And I have been learning to enjoy self-pleasuring, too.

lesbian older couple newnownext com
newnownext.com

And you should know that I am writing today not so much to talk about troubles but more importantly to encourage older people to claim our right–and I believe our responsibility as part of the family of God who gives us these wondrous creations and erotic energy—to enjoy our bodies and lots of good sex.

But I do believe that it is important to talk openly about how aging affects our ability to perform sexually—not only in the way we used to, but frankly, the way at least I, and I hope you, still want to perform.  Aging does not affect just me, or just men, of course.

gay male older couple biracial flashnord com
flashnord.com

Women also can experience significant sexual changes as they age. These include decreased blood flow to genitals, lower levels of estrogen and testosterone, thinning of the vaginal lining, loss of vaginal elasticity and muscle tone, slower arousal, reduced vaginal lubrication and less expansion of the vagina, less blood congestion in the clitoris and lower vagina, and diminished clitoral sensitivity. You can learn much more about all this, as well as suggestions to improve sex life for older women here 

For all people, facing the effects of aging on our sex lives is critical. Every site I consulted, for all genders, points out that a decline in sexual activity, or a less satisfying sex life, is not automatically the effect of aging. The idea that old people don’t want or don’t have sex is false. But many have been, and are, convinced this is so.

My own experience is that six or so years ago, when my erections became less frequent, I began to think it would be only a matter of time until I would not want or have sex anymore. This was depressing. I think even Jonathan, who is 13 years younger than me, began to wonder.

TRT-Benefits-1 (1) elitemensguide com

But after a couple of years of avoidance, I began to seek medical help. I started testosterone therapy (TRT) to raise my levels (see left), and used trials of Viagra and Cialis (the latter, used on a daily basis really helped but there were complications and I had to stop using it). A pump helped a little, as did injections before sex (but not very romantic!).

All this took place over several years. And although in some ways it does not seem successful, what I began feeling was energy about sex. I stopped being depressed and starting thinking about what could be done so my beloved and I could be intimate like we had been for many years. One thing one specialist said to me, as he held my small cock in his hand, “Ah, suffering from disuse.”

I asked him how he knew that and he pointed to the shape of the shaft, how it was larger at the base and then abruptly tapered off. He said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

sex for the mature adult by D. J. Weeks slideplayer com
slideplayer.com

That was all I needed to begin masturbating more. I had stopped because I was frustrated by not ejaculating. Now, I learned I still enjoy it, and that actually seemed to help when Jonathan and I had sex. My erections were better.

Erections are not the only issue for me, and for many men. Aging can shrink your penis. And then, regular use of TRT usually leads to significant shrinkage of testicles, because they no longer have much to do. And a consequence of that is a significant reduction in the production of semen. That makes ejaculation less possible.  I am checking out alternative therapies to deal with this, and I having a great time talking with a therapist about my new sexual energy and how best to use it.

Dr. Ruth hlntv comToday, I feel more alive sexually than I ever have. Instead of taking it for granted—a quick jerk-off to relieve tension or after seeing someone sexy when I was younger, or just assuming I could become hard whenever I tried—I now cherish my body and my erotic feelings all the time and at a far deeper level.

I experience my body, my cock and more, often during morning meditation. I realize even in church, or other group, prayer, that my whole body is participating, not just my brain or my ears and mouth. I really yearn to hold hands or hug during prayer because I experience the human connection as a divine one, too.

And now that my body sags in places it never did before, and I feel more aches and pains from time to time, I have begun to undo my negative reaction, you might call it the “ick” or “yuck” factor, to the idea of my parents being sexual. I know they were at least once—after all, here I am—but I have this nagging feeling that it wasn’t very often. Part of the reason I think that is that they were so rarely physically affectionate with each other. That makes me sad. They deserved better.

make love not war weheartit com
weheartit.com

Everybody deserves a rich sex life—not just the young, but the middle-aged and the older and really elderly people.  I want Jonathan to be sucking me in the nursing home, and assuming I die first, I want someone else to be doing that for him until the very end.

I used to think Dr. Ruth was a bit nutty. Not anymore. She had the right idea.

Don’t take ideas of diminished sexual capacity due to aging lying down. After all many of us have been through in our lives—from joys to traumas and just plain hard work day in and day out—it is high time we had some really good sex!! And lots of it.

And one more thing: I think us older folks can lead the real sexual revolution, the one in which the world overcomes phobias and old teachings and misguided morality and really claims God’s way as the best way: make love, not war.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? Are you an older person seeking a better sex life? Do you think it is possible to be very active sexually as an older person? If you are younger, do you fear aging, thinking it will diminish your sexual pleasure? Or can you imagine your sex life getting better as you age? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

 

What Is Sexual Freedom? Robin Responds

Sexual freedom [is] a fundamental way to be fully human . . .

by Robin Gorsline

Mona Eltahawy kb dk
Mona Eltahawy kb.dk

I come to this topic fresh from reading an article in the New York Times, “Sex Talk for Muslim Women,” by Mona Eltahawy. She writes about her decision, at age 29, to throw off the shackles of being told she must wait until marriage to a man to be sexually active. She now writes and speaks publicly in a campaign to help other women, Muslim and not, who are victimized by cultures that seek to control or eliminate women’s sexuality and sexual expression. She is a freedom fighter of the first rank. I am in awe of her absolutely vital work.

My story, as a privileged white male, a gay-identified guy with a few peculiarities in my gender portfolio, is far less inspiring and world-changing. However, I think it does speak to certain important issues. And it is critical for me to tell it, for my own sense of self and for what I hope will help others to remove inhibitions that do not serve one’s physical or mental health.

no pants zone wanelo com
wanelo.com

I had two moments of sexual freedom just three days ago. The first happened Sunday evening while Jonathan and I watched television. I was not wearing pants (it is my custom in the house to go at least pants-free, and wearing less if the temperature cooperates), and I looked down at one point at my penis.  As I did, I thought, “You know, you are really cute.”

This may not seem like much to you, but it is a really big deal for me. It represents tremendous progress, I call it liberation. Readers of this space know I have a small penis, and that I have lived my post-puberty life self-conscious about it, actually much of the time not feeling good about it. Usually, like many men, if it is visible I try to get it to look bigger. But on this occasion, I just liked what I saw.

This is a first time for me. Yes, for the first time I have ever, without trying to convince myself, I felt my little guy is just fine the way he is. That is a revolution for me. I feel free—freed from the foreboding that has followed me everywhere for as long as I can remember, freed from the feeling of less-than about something that is not of my doing and I cannot change, freed from the sadness that accompanied me and the anger and resentment that I was dealt a bad hand that underlay it.

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polyvore.com

This is all new for me, and I am not certain it is sustainable, but I do know this, I feel lighter, happier, more centered in wholeness than I have felt in a long time. This may seem like a big claim, perhaps out of proportion to the issue, but it is nonetheless true for me: I no longer need to carry the burden of feeling like a freak (and I have never said that out loud before, because it is only now that I have a little distance that I can even admit it is how I felt).

Also, I do not think there is any accident that I had another liberating moment later that night. Jonathan and I went to bed that night, and had agreed ahead of time that we would make love. And we did. It was great! We love each other very much, and our lovemaking showed it. We have enjoyed sex with each other for more than 18 years and I expect that to continue until we are no more.

erectile dysfunction health24 com
health24.com

But I was unable to ejaculate. It happens to me fairly frequently, partly to do with age, and partly to do with long-term testosterone replacement therapy (one of the side effects of such therapy is reducing, if not eliminating, the work of the testes which produce both testosterone and semen).  I use the testosterone gel  in response to abnormally low levels and to help counteract ED (erectile dysfunction).  I have not written about this in this space before, and may well say more later, but this condition certainly affects many older guys like me, but also many others, including men in their twenties.

Still, the sex was great. And, I thought maybe with some masturbation I would still ejaculate. So I pleasured myself lying in bed, using my favorite 100% pure organic coconut oil, for a while. It felt good, but I did not achieve orgasm.  After a few minutes, I went to sleep.

Then, about 3:30 pm I woke enough to realize my penis was pretty hard. Right away, I wanted to stroke it, and so I did. It felt so good. I looked at Jonathan sleeping by my side, and I felt his body, too. A great feeling of joy came over me, and I lay there masturbating. I did that, off and on, never too vigorously but with a feeling of deep pleasure, for the better part of two hours, drifting off to sleep a little and then waking up enough to enjoy more pleasure.

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picturequotes.com

At some point, I began to feel tears. They were not tears of sadness but gratitude, and happiness. I realized it was the first time I had done this in bed with someone beside me. It felt so freeing. I could not see my penis in the dark, but I knew, now, how beautiful it is and how much I like and enjoy it.

Once again, I felt free, freed from hang-ups about self-pleasuring being something to do furtively and in a hurry, freed again from shame about my penis, freed from worrying about not ejaculating, freed to simply enjoy the waves of pleasure which engulfed me from time to time in the two hours, freed to admit that I not only love Jonathan for all he is but also that he is a sex object for me, a creature whose body I desire to explore and celebrate as I also explore and celebrate my own.

These two instances of sexual freedom are nothing compared to how Mona Eltahaway and Muslim (and other) women struggle to overcome vast, powerful social and religious machinery that denies them sexual agency, nor are they on the scale of those young women  and men in this country who are imprisoned by religious authorities who tell them sex is only to be enjoyed only after marriage, nor are they weighted with the heaviness of trans folks and others, including closeted LGB folks, who struggle to find their sexual voices when they are told to keep their bodies silent, nor can they compare to the struggles of African American women  and men so often defined by and controlled by sexualized stereotypes in our white privileged culture.

But, still, I am a new person as a result. I am more fully the embodied human being God created, and continues to create, me to be. That’s a big deal, for me, and for everyone else who gets to experience their own liberation.

make love not war maniacjoe com
maniacjoe.com

Sexual freedom for me means to draw upon the gift of human sexuality as we have received it as a fundamental way to be fully human, and to do so without being shamed or controlled by others who are afraid not only of the bodies and sexuality of others but also of their own.

I came of age in the 60s—graduating high school in 1965—but it is only now that I am really claiming the sexual freedom about which so many spoke in those days. Then, I could understand it mentally, philosophically, even theologically, but now I understand it in my body, my whole body. Thank you, God, and thank you to so many who have helped me along the way.  I know there may be more in the years ahead.

Who knew it would be like this: I am my most sexually free, so far, as I prepare soon to turn 70.  But I am not surprised really; God often chooses the unlikely candidates to let divine truth shine through.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? What is your idea of, or relationship with, sexual freedom? Please share below (or at the combined site for Malachi’s and Robin’s personal stories), or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed.