So one evening I said ‘yes’, when I felt ‘meh’. Thinking what the hell, I’ll get into it, I’ll enjoy it even if I have to get over that initial awkwardness. If I didn’t have sex, I thought, it would be a sign that the relationship was over. So we had sex. Because, well, why not? Sex is fun. Orgasms are fun. Besides I never wanted to lose him, or us.
But after that time although I didn’t know it, I stopped trusting myself, just a little bit. I had gone against my own self in order to preserve the physical intimacy in my relationship. I had put the needs of the relationship above my own. Once I’d done it once, it was easy to do it again. I had enjoyed it – after the awkwardness – and I was powerful in the knowledge that I could have sex and enjoy it, even when I wasn’t in the mood. This was the secret to a happy relationship, I thought and I congratulated myself. Job well done. I’d read the articles, listened to the TED talks which said ‘Keep the passion alive’ or ‘Get over yourself and just do it.’ So I listened to conventional wisdom and just did it.
But I had broken something, something which seemed tiny and unimportant but which turned out to be the foundation of our relationship. I had broken an unspoken and sacred pact with myself. The promise to keep myself safe. And the castles we had built together started to crumble.
As the months rolled on, the Self that I had betrayed – not once but maybe a dozen times – grew increasingly unhappy. When my Self spoke she said, “If you don’t stop this I’ll have to leave this relationship because I don’t trust you to act in my own best interests.” But drunk on my own power I didn’t listen to my Self. So she clammed up. She closed. And she left to a deep, dark place in my mind where I couldn’t reach her. And without her, the sex was disconnected. It wasn’t fun. And I realised that I felt violated… even though I’d agreed to sex in the first place.
When he asked me why, at first I didn’t know. I hadn’t listened to the voice inside myself. And when I did coax her out to talk, she spoke in fearful whispers and what I heard horrified me because it spelled the end of my relationship, the relationship I had prized above myself. And I had to tell him.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him. “But I’m not interested in you sexually anymore. And I don’t know how to repair it. I don’t think I can repair it.”
“What happened?” he said. On his face was bewilderment and heartbreak. We clung to each other and sobbed about a romantic love that had once been so strong, we thought it would last forever.
“I think I crossed boundaries I didn’t even know I had,” I said crying. “I think I had sex with you against my will.”
What he heard horrified him. “Why?” he said. “I never forced you, did I?”
Had I shown any signals? We didn’t know. And even if I had neither of us took them seriously because consent had been verbally given. Freely granted.
“I thought I would lose you if I didn’t,” I said. “And I never wanted you to feel undesirable.”
We agreed that it might have happened. That our primary language of love was sex; without which our relationship might have ended. Neither of us had realised that such an expectation had crept into how we operated together. What serious consequences ‘just doing it‘ might have. But we also agreed that what I had done, for the best of intentions, might prevent us from ever recovering. We talked, without sex, but about sex and boundaries and consent, evening after evening, for over a year. Sometimes holding hands, but mostly keeping our distance from each other at either end of the sofa. Eventually he said,
“I’m never going be able to have sex with you again am I, without wondering whether you really want me. Whether you’ve said yes for the right reasons.”
Because although I had started to trust in myself a little more, I hadn’t just betrayed me, I had betrayed him. And he’d never be able to trust me again.