They teach you a lot about sex in health class in high school. Or rather, they teach you a lot about the HORRIBLE THINGS THAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU if you have sex. STDs! Teenage Pregnancy! Betrayal by the captain of the football team! Now that I’m fifteen years on the other side of health class I’m realizing they taught me nothing about adult, married, procreative sex.
When my husband and I decided it was time to start a family, I was hugely excited. I got off the birth control pills that had regulated my menstrual cycle, moods and acne for a decade and realized my body’s natural rhythms were totally foreign to me. I began to chart my basal body temperature, and track my periods and the quality of my cervical mucous to get a sense of when I was ovulating, but it turns out I am a terrible interpreter of charts and my own body and for the first several months kept missing the prime window. My poor husband had to deal with my requests for sex every other day for ten-day windows and then deal with my meltdowns when I realized retrospectively that I had ovulated days after we had our scheduled “fun.” Babymaking was definitely NOT the joyful connubial experience for which I had hoped.
Eventually I decided I was too much of an overthinker for just the use of charts, so I invested in a very sexy ClearBlue Fertility Monitor. Now I got to pee on a stick every morning and have our sex life determined by the results of its estrogen sensors. Sex was still physically enjoyable, but after months of not getting pregnant, it also became incredibly loaded and stressful for both of us. Most of the time sex felt more like a transaction than a deep emotional and physical connection. I wanted something from him and each of us were disappointed when our combined contributions did not result in the baby we longed for.
Eventually, we did get pregnant and sex was again a joyous celebration of the connection between us. However, about three months into the pregnancy, we discovered our baby had a fatal condition, and made the very difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. Suddenly, our bodies were not just vehicles for our love or pleasure or even procreation. Suddenly, my body felt like a graveyard. The parts of me that were supposed to contain life, contained nothing but grief and emptiness. Orgasms were just a reminder of the empty uterus that used to contain our sweet baby. Sex and weeping wound around one another. My body just wanted to be in the fetal position, under as many covers as we could find in the house.
The only thing that would cure my grief was time. Well, time and another pregnancy. I wanted a healthy baby and I wanted one as fast as we could manage. So, despite grief pouring through every muscle in my body, when we got our doctor’s approval, we started the cycle all over again. Peeing on sticks, waiting for the monitor to tell us it was “go” time, having sex that was more tender than the first round of trying to get pregnant, but also more loaded. Now our sex was somehow supposed to lead to ending our grief, even as the act itself opened up the grief, over and over again.
And, thanks be to God, soon thereafter we did conceive a (God willing, cross-all-our-fingers) healthy baby to be born later this year. This helps. This new life is no replacement for our dead daughter. With every kick and roll the baby makes I am reminded that he is his own person. But he is also a consolation. And sex has transformed yet again. I don’t think it will ever be as carefree as when we were first discovering each other, but the weight of grief and the pressures of procreating have lifted. We are cautious and tender with each other. As my body changes, we are discovering each other anew, knowing now the deepest reaches of each other’s hearts, but also knowing that what lies before us is entirely unknown.
And I guess, despite my teacher’s best intentions, that’s just not something that can be taught in health class.
Photograph by Konrad Summers used under a Creative Commons License.