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Once again, this week's post is part of VP's intermittent but continuing series on sex and disability. As always, credit to Shanna Katz and the folks who attended her workshop at the Body Love Conference for the original discussion of this topic.
First off, if you are not familiar with Christine Miserandino's The Spoon Theory [CN: discussion of disability, pain, nausea/vomiting], this post will make a whole lot more sense if you go over there and read that first. Though, for folks who are just wanting a brief refresher, Spoon Theory essentially refers to the limited physical and mental energy reserves -- and extra mini-tasks -- that impact the lives of many people with disabilities (PWD).
Sex is no exception. A lot of times, media representations of sex portray regular and active sex lives as something that fits seamlessly into all of our other life duties, interests, and relationships. Sex is fun, exhilarating, satisfying, carefree -- right? Certainly, sex can be all of those things, but for a lot of PWD, we can't ignore the reality that sex takes spoons.
I'm not sure how this looks for other people, but for me, it looks a lot like planning. Meticulously planning. Any time my partner and I do anything that looks like discussing or initiating sex, this checklist runs through my mind:
- What are my pain levels like already? Unsuprisingly, if I'm already hurting pretty bad, many forms of sex become drastically less appealing.
- Where am I in my cycle? I'm likely to feel some after effects from sexual activity for a day or so afterward. If I know I'm heading into a particularly painful part of my cycle, that's going to limit my practical or preferred sex choices.
- What time of day are we talking? I'm stiff and creaky and my pelvis does not work early in the morning. By the later evening hours, I often enjoy one of the more glamorous side effects of chronic pain -- fatigue. Unless I'm borrowing spoons against tomorrow -- which cannot happen routinely, let alone indefinitely -- this considerably narrows the window for delightful sexytimes.
- What else do I have to do today? Tomorrow? What can be put off, delegated, or rearranged? For example, it is one thing to tell my husband that we might need to grab an easy dinner (or ask him to cook); it's quite another when my next day involves traveling or sitting through a mandatory professional development seminar.
Essentially, it isn't just me thinking about whether I have the time or the energy for sex right now. It is about knowing that sex will require me to borrow against any available energy reserves of today, tomorrow, or the day after. And sometimes -- especially if I've already been borrowing spoons for a day or two -- those reserves may simply not exist.
A fair smattering of workshop participants expressed that they were going or had gone through times in their lives where they were genuinely uncertain of whether they were asexual or whether they merely lacked the spoons to negotiate sex on what they considered to be a "normal" or "appropriate" basis. Never having been in that position -- though I'd certainly welcome input from people who've faced this frustration -- I don't know more about it. However, I do know that for me, wanting sex takes one extra spoon.
It's not ideal, but I can spend my day's last spoon on chores like doing dishes, folding laundry, catching up on email, or paying bills. Because none of those tasks are huge sources of pleasure for me anyway (you are shocked by this revelation, I can tell), it's not a particular loss to me if I engage in them while feeling one notch better than utter crap.
But sex? For me, pleasure is integral to sex. I have much more investment in the idea that sex should actively feel good for me (and for my partner) than I do in, say, finding pleasure in folding laundry. So when I know I'm on my last spoon -- when sex isn't likely to feel good, when I don't have the extra spoon to really enjoy it -- then sex feels actively bad. I don't get a lot of middle ground here, and I'm only rarely willing to compromise.
But it's taken me a lot of time to figure that out for myself. And I'm still not sure I explain it well to others. For the planning, the doing, and the pleasure -- sex takes spoons.