The other day I was drinking wine with one of my editors and telling the story of a swing party I’d been to recently. I told him that, at the party, I’d seen one of my oldest friends having sex with a man I’d never met. Not entirely enthralled by the viewing material, I just raised my glass and started a conversation with some naked guy in the corner.
In turn, my editor raised his wine glass, clinked it to mine, and said: “Welcome to desensitization, my friend.”
When I got my first porn writing job reviewing DVDs, the constant exposure to triple-X films really got me going. It was a dream job. I could literally do it at home, in sweatpants, I’d either take care of it myself or pounce on my boyfriend when he walked in. We had a lot of sex for a while—dirty sex, porn star sex. It was a blast, but I’d sometimes find myself wondering if I was enjoying it because it felt good or because I knew that it was “bad girl” porn stuff I was doing.
At first, though, my preternaturally high sex drive didn’t worry me much. Who’s got time for worry when there’s porn to be watched and crazy sex to be had? But as I got more accustomed to watching close-ups of genitals smooshing together, doubt began to gnaw on my brain. On the one hand, I felt energized and radiant and all the things Cosmo said I should, and my boyfriend and I had just moved in together, so the constant sex was all well and good. But then, I had to admit that the chances of reverse cowgirl being a regular in the bedroom would be pretty slim, if it weren’t for my immoderate intake of pornography. Not that there’s anything wrong with reverse cowgirl, or pornography, it was just . . . Was this really the sex I wanted to be having, or the sex I thought I should be having after reviewing Big Wet Tits 7?
After a few months of reviewing, I took on a second project: a book about swingers. For research I started talking to swingers about their experiences and attending swing parties to watch them have those experiences. The crazy sex I was watching moved from my TV into reality, where I was now watching the act itself as it happened, live, right in front of me. It was wild, erotic, and completely—weirdly—not stimulating. At all.
Was there something wrong with me? People pay to watch this stuff in countries where sex shows are legal. But me, I was seeing it for free and not even getting turned on. This was a bad sign, I thought. I must be addicted to porn. Well, actually, now that I though of it, I was having a hard time getting turned on by porn too. Granted, I was being handed more and more hardcore DVDs featuring gagging, spitting, and other less-than-sexy acts. And that was turning me off (that’s a whole other column). But still, not getting turned on by explicit sex on the screen or at swing parties? What the hell?
Soon after the book project started, I was offered a position at another skin rag, writing set copy about big boobs. Needing the money, I took that one, too, and found myself now averaging six sets of copy, five reviews, two interviews, and at least one swing party every month. I was so busy it took me a while to notice, but when I stepped back to look at my own sex life one day I realized that everything had stopped turning me on. Not just the porn or the live sex shows, but everything. The idea of having sex was kind of like the prospect of getting on the subway every morning. Not the worst thing ever, but not something I was excited about, either.
Naturally, I flipped. Holy shit, I thought. I’m frigid. Dried up. Finished. Old.
I wasn’t really old. Hell, I’m not even thirty yet and far from my sexual peak. It was other things, little things that were much harder to pick up on. Firstly, by this time the honeymoon period of our living situation was definitely over. My boyfriend and I were sharing a cramped apartment in Harlem with two other roommates. They were good friends, but I was the only one who was not a student and who therefore kept regular hours. I wasn’t getting much sleep. And along the way, we caught the New York City standard bedbug infestation, which made everyone edgy, itchy, and irritable as we packed our belongings off to the laundromat and trash pile. The situation was not exactly dripping with sexual energy.
But the root of the problem was really that I had been completely saturated by sex. I was watching it, reading about it, writing about it, and talking to people about it—the last thing I wanted to do in my ever-more-precious spare time was do it. Like a chef who comes home and doesn’t want to cook for himself. The same images and ideas that had once gotten me all riled up were becoming passé, and there wasn’t much to be done about it unless I was going to give up my fledgling career. After all, I asked myself, how can a sex writer write about a topic she’s no longer passionate about?
I tried, though. Desperate to get my libido back, I had more sex, dirtier sex, crazier sex, but my attempts fell short. I still wasn’t getting turned on. I was, I know now, trying to excite myself based on what I assumed should excite me: the porn and the parties and the lingerie I bought in a panic. But none of it was working because it wasn’t coming from me. I hadn’t figured out how to recognize my own sexuality in amongst the pile drivers and gangbangs and facials.
What it took me a while to figure out was that, sure, the gangbangs and so forth were stimulating, but I could watch other people getting off all day and not feel a thing because I wasn’t looking for the thing that actually turned me on. I was looking for someone else’s turn-on to do it for me. I finally had to admit that it wasn’t doing the trick. So what if those women have hour-long sessions of jackhammer sex eight times a week? Good for them—doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing. And great, if getting blasted in the face by a steaming facial is your thing—go for it! I might, however, pass on that one.
Instead of trying to copy the stars, I learned to be—ohmigod—vocal with my boyfriend about what I wanted and what I liked. I learned to let myself be seduced instead of thinking of excuses to get out of a less-than-porn-tastic bout of boot-knocking. I trained myself to focus on the physical pleasure instead of thinking about the deadlines or comparing myself to porn stars and swingers.
And you know what? Damned if it didn’t work. I’ve been having way better sex since I figured all this out. But it was a tough process to go through to get here. As a woman who’d gone into sex writing thinking she was enlightened enough to do so responsibly, I realized I’d had some serious hang-ups about my own sexuality. But all’s well that ends well, and who’d have thought watching tons of porn would end up being a good thing for my sex life?