Sometimes I'm standing in line at the post office or the grocery store—your typical hubs of domesticity—and I'll see a man. A feeling washes over me, dropping down into my belly and lower. It's a feeling of pure electric want, softening my brain and making my skin hum.
And then my day will continue. I'll take one last glance and maybe offer a shy smile. Sometimes the feeling will linger, pushing steamy scenes through my mind, but it always dissipates like fog on the mirror in my bathroom after a hot shower.
Now I need a cold shower. I'm not a person with many regrets, but these lusty moments make me wish I could go back in time.
I've always been fascinated by sex. I used to scour the indexes of my parents' books for the word "sex." As soon as puberty hit, with its hair and hips and blood, I fantasized about my male classmates and movie stars. Thank God there was no Internet back then! From the outside, I was shy and awkward. On the inside, I was a ball of fire.
In high school, I watched as all my closest friends went about losing their virginity. I hated being the one left behind. But I hated my body even more. I was self-conscious, insecure and totally convinced that I was wretched, despite evidence to the contrary. I emerged from high school unspoiled, which was embarrassing, but not quite as embarrassing as showing my body to someone else.
When I finally decided to get it over with, it was with a near-stranger, and the event left me feeling unsavory and empty. But I still felt the relief of being done with it as I studied my face in the mirror for changes, like a character out of a young adult novel.
My twenties were studded with long periods of involuntary celibacy and occasional flurries of drunken sex. I was still so self-conscious, so torn between my crimson fantasies of sexual freedom and my bad body image and shame.
Suffice it to say, I was incredibly relieved when I finally met my future-husband a few years later. Sex was fun, frequent and loving. I felt safe enough to explore and could weave my fantasies with the sturdiness of a loving relationship.
When intimacy began to taper off a bit, I came home from work with a small bag of toys from the local sex shop. I imagined him beaming before he tossed me down on the bed—wasn't this the stuff of a young man's dreams?
Apparently, it wasn't.
The early signs of my husband's sexual repression foreshadowed our future sex life. Over the years, sex became less and less frequent. I worried that on top of lacking the intimacy I craved, his lack of interest would annihilate any chance of having a family.
Somewhat miraculously, we did have kids. Over and over, I've confronted him with my dissatisfaction over his lack of attention. Meanwhile, I listened, my heart and skin aching, to my friends' stories of their insatiable boyfriends and husbands.
We went to marriage counseling and did individual therapy. I worked on my body image and finally, finally, came to a place where I had no shame about sex. Only desire. I was wired for pleasure and connection.
Unfortunately, my husband has been unable to celebrate this freedom with me. For reasons that neither of us fully understand, he still struggles mightily with intimacy.
I love him. We have a family together. We are compatible in most ways, and he's working on himself, but I don't know if he'll ever be able to give me the sex life I want.
Which is why maybe I feel so nostalgic for my twenties. If I'd known then what I know now—that there's nothing wrong with my body or my wants—I would've experimented much more. I'd have sought out pleasure with men—and women. I'd have learned what my body likes. Instead, I wasted that era of freedom because I didn't realize how free I actually was—if I could just let go.
If I could go back in time, I would've let that redheaded college boy know how often I imagined his smooth, pale chest and full mouth. I'd have kissed that first boyfriend from high school, long and hard and unafraid. I'd have gone home with a boy and a girl, letting my skin soak in the differences between a man's touch and a woman's. I'd have used those toys that the future me would bring home to an unexcited husband. I would've got my heart broken more, but let my body absorb all that wet and warmth, storing it up for the droughts ahead.
I know that having more and varied sexual experiences then wouldn't necessarily cancel out the situation I found myself in today. I know this is wishful, and wistful, thinking. But maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't feel like I missed out on sex then—and now.