The Painter Balancing Her Anxiety & Her Sex Life

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Photo: James Marshall/Getty Images

New York’s Sex Diaries series asks anonymous city dwellers to record a week in their sex lives — with comic, tragic, often sexy, and always revealing results. This week, a 30-year-old painter with a job in online marketing who’s trying to sort everything out inside. Straight, in a relationship, Crown Heights.

DAY ONE

3:15 a.m. I’ve been waking up between two and four every morning for months now, usually just to pee, but sometimes from nightmares. It’s kind of both this time. As I stumble out of bed, I try to remember anything from this dream other than merely the image of my pussy-less body: my mons pubis curved down into a Barbie crotch, but made of my skin and pubic hair. No folds, no holes.

9:00 a.m. My phone vibrates on top of a pile of printed spreadsheets. I cancel the alarm because I’ve already taken my pill, dutifully, with my sad desk breakfast.

Venlafaxine is an SNRI, which means it increases the activity of both serotonin and norepinephrine in my brain. It’s used to treat a variety of anxiety and depressive disorders as well as certain kinds of nerve pain. I take it for both issues and often wonder if it’s dulling my sensitivity at the same time. A decrease in libido, as with other antidepressants, is to be expected, but less so with venlafaxine than others, which is why my psychiatrist prescribed it.

I wouldn’t mind that much if I weren’t in the most committed relationship I’ve ever been in. One I’m always worried I’ll fuck up. It’s been one and a half years; we met on OkCupid. I like his parents, he likes mine, everything seems right. But the medication is nonnegotiable. It’s been two months, and although I don’t feel not-depressed, I feel boosted enough to prove I’ve needed it all along.

DAY TWO

12:30 p.m. Tuesday I have therapy, which means I get to leave work midday and battle through downtown traffic on my rusty old bike. Today, as with most sessions, we’re discussing boundaries. How can I explain to my partner that I’m scared of him initiating sex? That kissing is fine, but when his hands travel over my ass I start to panic? That sometimes, even though I’ve gotten naked just fine, when he goes down on me, it somehow hurts all over?

He and I have been through this before, after a triggering event that stopped all sex for us for months. From a television show, of all things. I had fallen asleep watching Netflix and half-awoke to a character being acquaintance-raped — like I was.

4:30 p.m. Coming home from work can be a thrill. These days, I’m dripping sweat from the ride home and we’re really overdoing the A/C; the sensation is a blessed shock on my skin. The dog greets me with urgent excitement, and we head right back out the door. He’s not my dog, really; he belongs to my partner, but I’m happy to do the afternoon walk — for both of them.

At home again, I lie down on the couch and the dog follows, leaning its weight on me. We trust each other, and I’m glad of it. My partner comes home, and when the dog gets up to greet him, he takes its place atop me on the couch. He kisses me sweetly, all over my face, and asks how my day was.

10:15 p.m. I’m very tired, so I shut my book and settle onto my pillow, nudging my ass up against my partner as conciliation for turning away from him. He reads for a while longer, and when he puts his book down, he rolls over to spoon me, to prod me with his erection.

“Are you trying to sex me?” I laugh a little.

“I’m always trying to sex you.”

“It’s too late, I’m so tired.” I wonder why I don’t bring up what was carefully discussed in therapy, but I’m also tired of hearing myself talk about What Was Carefully Discussed in Therapy.

DAY THREE

6:45 a.m. Nothing seems wrong with this relationship; in fact, we’ve been sleeping in later and later just to cuddle longer. We have so much physical chemistry. I never thought I’d be so comfortable with someone else’s body.

11:00 a.m. Again, it’s easy for me to think of him when he’s not here. My therapist says this is because I have the utmost control when it’s just thoughts. I wish I could go home to him right now, and I pre-regret how I won’t have this desire by the end of the day.

9:45 p.m. He has a class today, and it is usually the one day I can depend on a sexless evening. I try to paint, I try to apply to some jobs, but having this freedom from sex worries just leaves me stuck thinking about how to fix this. I smoke a little weed and masturbate in the shower.

I’m thinking about a kinky friend of mine who’s told me she’s thought of sleeping with me before. I always masturbate thinking about women, no matter who I’m sleeping with in reality. I wonder if that’s not also related to control.

DAY FOUR

8:30 p.m. Thursdays I get as stoned as I can and go to yin yoga. It’s a slow bedtime stretching class, heated, in the dark, and taught by a small woman who has one of those dreamy instructor voices that usually drives me insane, feeding us meditation thoughts when I’d prefer silence, but I don’t mind it from her. I am, in fact, attracted to her in every way. She is petite, which I also never thought would be my type, with a muscular ass and tiny tits. Her face is round and happy, a glowing moon in this darkened room.

I am happy when I’m in this class, high. I sit in the warmest corner of the room and stare at myself in the mirror. The truth is, I like everything about the way I look only right now. I look very tanned, my thighs look very muscular. I look athletic. I look like I could be six feet tall, like a giantess, a thought that usually terrifies me. Another thought floats into my mind: that maybe my partner and I are it for each other. I text him: “I want to kiss you when I get home,” before turning off my phone and lying back on my mat.

The class starts child’s pose. This instructor always comes to me first: My back is very stiff, and she runs her fingers firmly from my shoulders to my hips, coaxing my body to submit to the floor. I think about touching her in the same way, think of us alone in this hot, dark room, and what sounds she would make. At the end of class, sobering up, I always wonder whether I’ve made those sounds aloud.

9:30 p.m. I ride home determined to have sex with him; I prime myself with calming thoughts about his face, his voice, reminding myself that I love him and that he is not the enemy. I feel happy about my body, stimulated and calmed from the instructor’s touch.

He’s cleaning the kitchen when I get home. I kiss him as significantly as I can and tell him to come take a shower with me. He enters after I’ve already rinsed, and runs his hands over my back. I pull him toward me and he smiles. I’m happy, too. I kneel down and put my mouth on him for the first time in months; it’s a huge relief to both of us. I twitch when I hear him breathe in deeply, my nipples get hard when he gingerly places his hand on my head. He’s so gentle with me, and I like the way his dick feels in my mouth—it doesn’t make sense why I can’t just do this more often.

“We’re wasting water,” he says. I towel off my hair and we lie down on the bed, touching each other like children, our lips meeting haltingly, until he rolls me onto my back and enters me. God, it is a relief. I won’t come, but it’s a relief.

DAY FIVE

8:00 a.m.  We’re working from home today. I think of kissing him, and so I peek at the door to the office to ask if he’s on a call, wrap my arms around him where he’s sitting. He turns and kisses me and says, “What?”

“I just wanted to kiss you, is all.”

Maybe five minutes later, I call to him from my makeshift desk to ask him a question.

“What,” he snaps back.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve ever said “I’m sorry” with such sarcasm. It instantly slayed me, the tone he used. The part of me that is historically easily rejected hasn’t learned much, and I shut down for a little while.

2:00 p.m. We get neighborhood ramen for lunch; I’m in a happy place. He tells me he’s having a bad day, he’s too busy. I ask him why, but his answers are short. He’s not much for feelings.

DAY SIX

8:00 a.m. Saturdays are wonderful in this house. The permission to sleep in means that the day half-starts in half-sleep; we’re pulling each other closer and kissing arms, backs, necks, whatever’s there to kiss. We ask each other about what we dreamt and we fall asleep again.

9:30 a.m. I make coffee and he walks the dog. We start improvising breakfast from the remainder of the week’s groceries. He puts on a record and sneaks up to hug me from behind and peck me on the neck. This is perfect, until he slides his hands up my shirt.

“I’m cooking!” I try to say as playfully as possible. I know he’s hurt: His response is similarly pained.

1:40 p.m. We’ve had a good day. He has some homework to do, and I go out to the patio to paint. This is another of my uses for marijuana. The dog comes and sits beside me, but my partner won’t. Our apartment is too small for me to have an art space, and maybe he’s internalized how badly I need time for me. I invite him to come out, but he says he doesn’t want to bother me. I smoke and smoke and hum along to Bill Evans, and I feel like this piece is really coming along.

3:15 p.m. I am in such a peaceful place. The air outside is still and hot, the sounds of the neighborhood are happy, the dog nudges my free hand every so often for a head pat. I think to myself how happy I am here, to have moved in with this man and his dog. I wish he were sitting beside me now, playing his guitar. I miss him, though he’s just on the other side of the door.

I go inside, where he’s lying on the couch, reading. I straddle him and kiss his face. He has two kinds of kisses: Firmness leads to nothing, but if I can make his lips soft, he’ll give in. He puts down his book and smiles at me.

“What’s up?”

“I missed you, and I thought I’d come tell you.”

We undress as much as we can without changing positions, and he’s inside me almost instantly. I ride him there, on the couch. He laughs when he comes, and so do I.

6:30 p.m. We have a lot of errands this evening, and he orders in some Thai to make up for it. I feel very close to him when we’re being domestic.

10:30 p.m. … And blissful to find I’ve fallen asleep in his arms while watching TV.

DAY SEVEN

10:00 a.m. I go to church up the block, a very austere Episcopal service, in a building made of cold gray stone. I don’t think anymore about whether how I live my life is pleasing to God or not, but I do still cry whenever I take communion.

11:30 a.m. He’s made breakfast and been to the farmers’ market while I was away. We’re both in a pretty good mood, and he tries to capitalize on it, but I have work in our community garden that I promised I’d get done today. He tries to get me to do it later. Maybe he hasn’t caught on that making me procrastinate is not what I’m into.

3:00 p.m. He came to the garden with me, and we both worked up a heavy sweat. We got a lot of work done, as we always do together, and now we’re exhausted, showered, and back to our respective places of yesterday, he reading on the couch and I painting on the front porch.

6:00 p.m. I have dinner with a friend and speak kindly about my situation. I’ve been reading Come As You Are, which this friend had recommended, but I can’t get my partner to believe it’s not a joke book. My friend and I bond over this and drink and smoke and watch some anime because we’ve exhausted our emotional reserves.

10:30 p.m. I come home intoxicated, and he’s reading in bed. I feel good enough that I’m not worried about losing sleep time, and I cuddle into him aggressively.

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