I lay propped up in bed, absorbed in the latest book in my yet-to-be-read pile. I was nose-deep in Season to Taste, the memoir of a woman whose dreams of culinary school are dashed when she is hit by a car, losing her senses of smell and taste. I found it fascinating. So when Michael eased himself into bed beside me, striking his version of a sexy pose (only enhanced by his flannel Scooby Doo pajama pants), I chose to ignore him, continuing to stare pointedly at my book.
He reached over and began running his fingers lightly up and down my upper arm. I sighed audibly, still not averting my gaze from the story before me.
Not to be deterred, he rolled himself slowly on top of me, diving in for a kiss.
“What are you doing!?” I shouted, bobbing and weaving with my head so I could still see the words on the page.
“Trying to have sex with you!” he replied, stating the obvious.
I stared at him. Our nostrils flared in unison. I snorted.
I was a master at ruining the moment. For years now, I’d allowed my low libido, my issues with arousal, and my fears of inevitably painful intercourse – all stemming from a shitty, emotionally abusive relationship that ended over 10 years ago – to control my sex life. For this reason, we’d spent a large portion of our marriage having sex only once every few months.
And as if plain old sexual dysfunction wasn’t enough, I had embraced sex writing as a means of self-therapy. Because of this, I often interrupted Michael’s ardent attempts to turn me on with intellectual discourse on the dichotomy between mental and physical arousal in females, or on the benefits of non-demand touching.
So when we decided we wanted to start a family, we knew we were up against more than the average, carefree, sex-crazed couple.
“You know,” said Michael, “if you want to have children, you’re going to have to have sex with me.”
I conceded that this was true.
Still, we started off with the attitude that placing unnecessary pressure on ourselves would only make the babymaking sex more stressful. And we didn’t want that. I’d read several articles alleging that stress could keep you from getting pregnant.
And so we eschewed ovulation kits, menstrual calendars, and thermometers, figuring we were fertile enough to conceive without them, though we did have a serious discussion about sexual frequency. “We should totally try having sex more than once every two months!” we told each other. We figured that would be enough.
Clearly, we didn’t know what we were doing. And when a few months had passed without any sign of a baby, we decided we had to try harder.
I ordered fertility-friendly lube in bulk from Amazon, in order to combat my arousal issues without imperiling our babymaking efforts. I downloaded a free menstrual calendar application onto my phone, using it to track the frequency with which we had sex. “Let’s make a baby,” became Michael’s new favorite line for initiating sex, ahead of “Are you ready for sexy time?” We also followed the advice in an ebook I’d co-authored with sex counselor Ian Kerner – 52 Weeks of Amazing Sex – aiming to have sex at least once a week. This time, we thought, we’ll conceive in no time.
For the next few months, we remained vigilant regarding how many days had passed since our last intimate encounter, so as not to fall behind. We attempted to establish intimacy earlier on in the evening, in the hopes we would be in the mood once bedtime hit. Sometimes, we pre-gamed, figuring a nice alcoholic buzz couldn’t hurt. We soldiered on through mid-hump conversations, like: “Should I get the lube?”
“No, I’m not ready for the lube. I could use some more foreplay, though.”
“How about now?”
“Sigh. Okay. Fine. Get the lube.”
“Where is it?”
“Up there, in my naughty drawer!”
“Is this it?”
“No! Not the BabeLube! The Pre-Seed! The Pre-Seed! The one that doesn’t kill our chances of conceiving!”
And so on.
One positive effect of our greater sexual frequency was an improvement in our intimacy levels. As I wrote in 52 Weeks, sex begets sex, thanks to higher testosterone levels. Still, no baby was forthcoming, and it became tougher to feel optimistic when we pulled our pants back on post-coitus.
When we reached the 12-month mark, we began to feel desperate. I paid more attention to my menstrual calendar, making note of when I would be ovulating, and what the optimal times and frequency of copulation might be. In addition to aspiring to once-a-week sex, we upped our frequency even further during times of ovulation. A conversation representative of this time went something like this:
Me: “Clear your calendar, Michael! Sex Week is coming! I’ll be ovulating on Wednesday at 2 p.m.!”
Michael: “Is Sex Week like Shark Week? Also, I don’t like sex anymore.”
Our sexual encounters began to feel more contrived. When we kissed, I felt as if I was faking it. I became easily distracted by the way his hip bones dug into my inner thighs, and he was often thrown off when I accidentally elbowed him in the face while moving my arm to a more comfortable position, or when I inadvertently kneed him in the groin.
“Why don’t you try using your vibrator?” Michael would suggest if I was having excessive amounts of trouble getting in the mood. I’d then spend the next 15 minutes pressing my vibrator against my clitoris, holding my breath in intense concentration, begging my nether regions to wake the eff up.
I let it slip to an acquaintance that we were trying to have a baby. “There’s no try,” he said, obviously believing himself to be the Yoda of fertility. “There’s only making love.”
Somehow, I managed not to punch him in the face.
I’m still not pregnant, but – violent thoughts aside – I am feeling more laid-back about the entire process.
We visited a fertility center last month, where we discussed our options and made appointments for blood work and other tests. Because of this, I find that I’m able to relax a little bit more. When yet another person tells me they’re pregnant, I don’t (completely) die inside. When friends post new baby photos on Facebook, I don’t (always) have a nervous breakdown. I can even laugh again at those awkward moments Michael and I have in bed, though it totally ruins the mood.
After all, in the end? We’ll still find a way to become parents.