Friday, June 05, 2015

Sexual Frontiers: A Dental Story

My 30ish, newly married and rather conservative dentist, whom I'll call Dr. Q, reclined the chair in which I sat while his assistant readied the tools of their trade behind me. Dr. Q aimed a bright light at me, and while he examined my teeth, asked me this surprising question, "Are women now the hunters on the sexual frontier?"
Don't you just love it when dentists ask you questions while they have your mouth crammed full of sharp instruments? I've long suspected that they get special training in these oral interrogations. Perhaps part of dental school is a course in the Interpretation of Mumbles.They continue to talk as if a conversation were actually taking place. He continued, close-up and personal, with this story:
A good friend of his, thirty-two, good-looking and divorced, was having lunch atSunset Plaza, a posh area with several restaurants and sidewalk dining for those who like car exhaust with their meals, when three gorgeous women arrived and sat at the table next to him.
"They were young, but legal," Dr. Q said, pausing in his examination, "over eighteen." I looked up into his serious brown eyes, unsure whether I should close my mouth and offer a comment. He continued, his voice full of wonder.
The girls' conversation was giggly and silly, lightening the smoggy afternoon air (authorial conjecture). Turns out they were all nineteen, barely out of high school. Soon two of them rose and left. The remaining female did not look stranded, or scamper off to the safety of a fashionable boutique. She stared right at our hero, and asked if she could join him.
Dr. Q paused, searching for the right words to describe what happened next. Once again, I was uncertain what to do: close my mouth or leave it open. "So did they hook up or what?"
Behind me, the young dental hygienist laughed. Dr. Q joined her and I managed to laugh without dribbling down my chin. This was better than nitrous.
"Yes," he said, "they went to his condo that afternoon and after that she would call him and say, 'I want you to get undressed, get into bed and wait for me." Another pause. Another look into Dr. Q's soulful eyes. I closed my mouth, sure that my dentist was censoring the more colorful things our femme fatale said. 
"She would come over, they would make love and then she would leave. Just like that." Dr. Q could not suppress the amazement in his voice. I thought his friend must be good in bed, but a bit boring, and started to say so, but Dr. Q said, "Open, please," and, "Can you believe it?"
"Wait!" he continued, as if I were leaping to freedom. "It gets better. She tells him one day that she's getting married and won't be able to see him anymore, but that she's going to give his number to her girlfriends."
"I have girlfriends," I said, unselfishly, only it came out "eh hv gullfens." He laughed, the dental hygienist laughed, and I managed a heh-heh.
"So, the tables have turned," Dr. Q said, as if he'd just made an important scientific discovery. "Women are now the pursuers. The users."
The woman in his friend's story certainly seemed to have a plan, but she didn't invent it. I thought of my 19-year-old self when my goal was sexual exploration without guilt or commitment or sentimentality. I initiated an affair with a 32-year old man. My lover had been interesting as well as skilled in lovemaking, and my plan unraveled. I fell in love. That was almost forty years ago. He's been married four times since. I'm still married to the same man. My former lover and I still talk. Life goes on.
"I want to see you in six months," Dr. Q said.
Maybe this time I'll get his friend's number. Any takers out there?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Road Taken: Marriage

In her New York Times article, Married (happily) With Issues , Elizabeth Weil wrote about her marriage and the journey she and her husband took through various forms of marital counseling.  Ms. Weil was thorough and revealing about her experience, and I felt like I was in group therapy again.  Only in group therapy can one participate as the lowest common denominator of lurker, and still come away with a sense of well-being, consoling oneself that at least you're not as crazy as those other people.  I read Ms. Weil’s piece with a growing sense of her frustration with her spouse, smug relief that my husband wasn’t such a nut, and the sure knowledge that my marriage would never survive such close working conditions as she described.

The article hit all the major pulse points of marriage, including the thrombosis-ridden, blocked arterial passageway of Passion and Intimacy.   In Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel, the author says that passion lives at the crossroads of stability and adventure, “Every person and every couple needs to find that balance."  I imagine an algebraic equation wherein two individuals, each with their own personal intimacy lexicon are juxtaposed (divided? integrated?) with the entity they agree upon to arrive at Couple:
  i+ i   = C

Oh hell, I’m not a mathematician.  I’m an independent and solitary person who never expected much from marriage, certainly not that it would last as long as it has.  Perel says that intimacy doesn’t always lead to good sex.  Then is the opposite true?  My sex life with my husband seems to prove the point that good sex is possible without feeling especially close or in alignment with your mate.  We're going for more these days, bang or bust.  Allowing intimacy into my life in the form of my husband has been and will always be an ongoing experiment: we've never quite worked out the definitions of being a couple.  He said recently that he was committed to our marriage.  I'm not sure that's the same as being committed to me.

Intimacy at this point in our marriage is like coming out of heavy fog and seeing the true lay of the land. I’ve stayed on the road, but can’t help narrowing my eyes and trying to see what might have been at the end of the other path through the woods.

 Currently I like being married, but that hasn't always been the case.  Divorce seemed like the easy out in so many ways, but I like doing things the hard way sometimes.  I stayed in part because I was raised by a single mother and didn't want to follow her path.  What were the other parts?  The kids, good sex, autonomy.  Also, I married a decent man.

I hoped that someday the layers of resentment and defensive posturing would fall away, and that we could just love each other for the real people that we are.  That means the individual, not the couple, I think.

He says he doesn't like change. I'm more open to it. My openness had led to some risky adventures in my past. I treasure the memory of some, others not so much. He had a terrible case of kidney stones a few years ago, and all our intimate routines came to a halt. The "routine" aspect had been the cause of a bit of chagrin on my part, but with its total absence I reconsidered. I don't want to lose him or his sometimes perverse intractability. Rather than rail against that part of his personality, I now find it amusing and do what I want anyway.  I'd done this before in our marriage, but did it ferociously, justifying my actions with bitter anger.  Which took some of the fun away. Fun and laughter are important to me and I like a belly-laugh. He never engages in deep laughter, I'm not sure he knows how. There have been some changes: he seems to laugh more - with me, at me, I don't care.  

Change is in his nature no matter what he says. We're both the eldest child in our natal families, and we both fled our hometowns. We arrived in L.A. within a few years of each other, met and bedded, and the biggest adventure began: marriage.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Her Life in Bed

Lydia had her own bed, but it provided cold comfort, especially after she’d wet it, making the climb into the Everest of the parental bed all the more desirable. She snuggled between her parents and their body heat lulled her into a secure sleep, the best of her life.
            Her parents divorced, and Lydia had her own room, but she still slept with her mom more often than not. Her baby brother slept there, too, and the dogs, and the cats. She never noticed any bad smells. One Easter, she took a baby chick into bed with her family. Her mom rolled onto it during the night. 

            Lydia didn’t cry when she found the chick in the morning, its eyes closed. She petted its feathered body, now flat and peaceful and utterly beautiful. She wished she still had it. The after, not the before. She’d keep it in a clear plastic container in the freezer and take it out on stressful days.

           A nest of dreams, her teenage bed threatened to never let her go. Every night the music and adventure of her sleeping life grew more vivid, rich and lovely. Lydia slept for fourteen hours straight. She awakened only out of curiosity, wondering if the world had changed. Not only had it not, but no one had noticed her absence. She got up to eat and to change her sheets. Fresh and crisp, the flat coolness of clean sheets calmed her overheated imagination.
            Lydia floated on the magic carpet of that clean, cool bed into her twenties. Not the same bed, but its essence. She exchanged the intangible for the physical. She traveled far from the free flow of fantasy into the hard reality of total control. A life raft, her bed provided entertainment. Lydia was the captain and peopled it as she chose. She doesn’t remember sleeping. Afterwards, she changed her sheets and fell into them exhausted and dreamless.
            Her box spring and mattress sat on the floor. Lydia and her husband—not yet her husband, just a good lover—changed the sheets together. They faced off on either side of the bed, senses on alert, muscles flexed. Same height, about the same weight, they were evenly matched. The last tuck, a flat playing field, and the attack began. Full-on wrestling, dirty tricks allowed—tickling, pubic hair pulling, pinching, a finger up the butt—his trick, not hers. The giggling was ferocious. Glorious, feisty sex followed, and then a mellow straightening of the sheets.
            She worked. He worked. They had children, a dog, and a housekeeper. A decade and more of never making her own bed passed. They no longer wrestled. Lydia doesn’t remember the sheets.
            The children left. The dog died. Lydia and her husband bought a mattress that silenced the existence of the other person. No rolls, no ripples, no creaks or groans. Lydia could pretend she was in bed alone. She liked the pretense, not actual aloneness. So did her husband. For extra insurance, they placed a king-sized pillow between them. 

            Lydia hugged the pillow in the night. Sometimes her husband stole it from her, but they didn’t struggle over it. That would have required interaction. Her new life in bed made no allowance for that. 

Appeared in the Spring, 2015 issue of Pilgramage, the SLEEP edition, Volume 38, #3

Friday, May 08, 2015

Mother’s Day and Pubic Hair Memories

Pubic hair runs deep in my family . . . and probably long.  Our history is bushy with secrets and revelations.  In the 50’s, my mother didn’t hide her pubic hair from me.  I'd accompanied her to the bathroom when she peed and watched her dry off after her bath. I assumed all women had black pubes until, at the age of eight, I faced a flaming-red snatch.  A divorced red-headed woman with a four-year-old lived next door.  I was supposed to be watching him while she bathed.  He ran into the bathroom and I ran in after him just as she rose from the tub.  My absolute stupefaction at her fiery pubis stopped me in my tracks.  She looked down at herself as if she’d encountered this sort of shocked behavior before, and then she took a deep breath and calmly told me to take the kid out.  She was a nurse.  A beautiful, smart nurse with a huge red bush.  

The hairstory continues. 

If you were in college in the 70’s, you may have let the hair on your legs grow to carpet-like density and considered cornrowing your armpit hair.  Shaving my legs had been a rite-of-passage that forever separated me from my girlhood – in my father’s eyes, at least. The man never recovered.  So, unlike my peers, I refused to stop shaving my legs or armpits, but compromised by letting my pubes curl out the sides of my bathing suit. I told people I was Italian.

Don’t judge me too harshly.  Consciousness-raising was all the rage on campus.  Pelvic self-exams were cutting edge.  All you needed was a plastic speculum.  A roving nurse arrived at our meeting with a gooseneck lamp and a bored expression to show us how to use the speculum.  She explained what we were looking at. We examined our own and one another’s cervixes. While roughly similar, each was unique in its own way. The high point was one woman whose period was just beginning. 

Weeks later I was invited by the Dean of Women to team teach a class called “Modern Woman,” at the University (Arizona State).  The registrants were women returning to college after having children and putting their ex-husbands through school.  I invited the bored nurse to do her thing; it was like a mission for her.  She hustled her gooseneck lamp into a good position on a table and plugged it in.  Then, in what seemed like one fluid motion, she got up on the table, spread her legs, slid the speculum in and reached out a free arm to adjust the light.

I invited the class to take a look.  They got in line and one-by-one stood a good three-feet away.  Some stood on their toes as if that would give them a better vantage point. No one got up close.  I wished I’d brought binoculars.  At the end of a very quiet queue – I’ve heard more conversation at a viewing of a corpse - I thanked the nurse.  She gave me a disinterested shrug and strode off.  Needless to say, I got a flurry of phone calls from the school administration.  The main complaint was that the nurse had shown her “pubic hair.”  She showed more than that, but no one was able to get past the external signs of an adult woman.  I was not invited back to teach the class.  As a matter of fact, I think it was never taught again, or even mentioned in polite circles.

Mom fostered my pubic hair élan not only by not hiding her body, but by showing me a shaved female pubis – her own.  It was 1957 and my brother was three-weeks overdue.  Mom acquired a book that showed the stages of fetal growth inside the womb. The vaginal canal was depicted sans vulva and, of course, pubic hair.  In those days, they “prepped” the mother for childbirth.  This means they shaved her pubes, considering them unsanitary.  Since my bro was late, she kept having to go back to be prepped.  After one such appointment she explained what they did.  I must have looked perplexed because she asked me if I wanted to see.  Of course I did.  Her pubis was desecrated, thorny, and with a five o’clock shadow that just looked criminal.  She told me not to tell anyone.

I told all the kids in the neighborhood who were so dismayed they told their moms who called my mom to say that Sandra Mae was talking about “down there” to anyone who would listen.

I owe this blog to the memory of my mom.  Without her influence, I probably wouldn’t have pubes and I’d be just like everyone else. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Technology and flirtation have been in the news over the past several years. A congressman's career crashed because of sexts in 2011, but his weinerisms remain ensconced on a Wikipedia page. 2015 brought a noted 60 Minutes journalist's sexts out in the open, but it appears he was more embarrassed over the messages where he bragged that he was Obama's "go to" interviewer. Humiliation seems to be oh-so-over as popular culture celebrates the "accidentally" released nude photos of various actors. The Washington Post published an article last year on how to sext safely. Adolescents are not exempt from the sexting phenomenon. They think it's just flirting.

The first text was sent in December 1992. By 2010, various sites were alive with cybering (cybersex). Sexting is short form. Cybering is long form. More emphasis on body parts and visuals for the former; context, and even scene, is significant in the latter, although erogenous zones are not ignored.

In one of my first writing groups, 4 out of 5 of us had never cybered or sexted. That 5th person was a woman in her 30s. She gave us a play-by-play that sounded crude in a hastily made porn way, all slavish adoration of male and female body parts. Not a whole lot of creativity. We laughed and squirmed and made disgusted faces during her unblushing recitation. I left the meeting knowing that I had to try it, even though my marriage was twenty-five years deep.

The question: is cybering and sexting about sex or is it the new flirtation? People used to flirt in bars, or at parties. I know this not so much because I did it, but because I watched my parents do it in bars and at parties. Usually one or the other would get jealous, and a fight would ensue. The key in this scenario is knowing when to stop, not crossing over that invisible line to adultery. Neither of my parents seemed aware of any lines anywhere. As a result, I grew into a straightforward non-flirter; if I wanted to have sex with you, you'd know it. That was in college and grad school. In the business world, sexual harassment was the byword and flirting was discouraged. Fine with me; I needed to focus. When my writing career began, an experimental and adventuresome side to me reawakened.

Usually Eros as Cupid is represented flying around or sneaking up on two human lovers with his quiver of arrows. Below is a rare print (in my experience) of Cupid kissing. Perhaps he has already shot himself in the foot and she is Psyche.

Is the shot in the foot the essence of Seduction? There are risks, to be sure, especially for married people.

I'm nothing if not goal oriented. In a chat room, a few men and one woman appeared to flirt with me. Presumably they were the gender claimed, but it didn't matter much to me: I wanted to play with words in a sexually explicit and creative manner.

Was this flirtation or seduction? During these provocative flare-ups, I liked myself very much. It was fun. The conversation nourished me in ways I hadn't acknowledged were important in my life. Reciprocity was key. So was good spelling.

But if one flirts, does that mean they are open to seduction, and more importantly, can we want what we already have? Which brings me to the subject of my husband, who sat across from me in the den with his own laptop, listening to me laugh and type. Did he wonder what the hell I was doing? I figured there was no wondering or even thinking about me. Except for sex, he'd long ago dropped any pretense of trying to please me. That narrow focus was enough for a very long time.

I didn't stop to consider what effect cybering might have on my marriage, but it certainly was an aid in writing the erotic passages in The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood. Writing is all imagination and so is cybering. This is not a recommendation for writers or anyone to immediately start sexting. It's my experience. More on this after Mother's Day.

Also at Huffington Post.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nippled Irish Royalty and Their Less Fortunate, Usually Dead, Nippleless Relatives

My museum time today yielded the following:
Sucking a King's nipples was an ancient Irish form of submission. It rains a lot here (Dublin) and is rather chilly, so I would think the King would cover his chest. That means there must have been royal reception days when the King exposed his nipples in order to facilitate nipple sucking.
So much easier to just bow and kiss a ring.
As with all royalty, there were power games in the nipple hierarchy. Cutting off a royal descendant's nipples made him ineligible for kingship. Not as subtle as poison, but undeniable evidence of his unsuitability for a kingly role. No nips, game over.
A Celtic King was wedded to the Earth, and as her representative his nipples were important. His/her power is transferred to the grain. When it's harvested, his power is sacrificed. The Lord must die, Joseph Campbell said: "A God dies for his people so that they may live." The story repeats itself in multiple mythologies, legends and religions. But must the mortal king die in order to insure a successful harvest?


Human sacrifice was apparently a normal part of the Celtic rituals, especially of kings in hard times. "The king had great power but also great responsibility to ensure the prosperity of his people. Through his marriage on his inauguration to the goddess of the land, he was meant to guarantee her benevolence. He had to ensure the land was productive, so if the weather turned bad, or there was plague, cattle disease or losses in war, he was held personally responsible," said Ned Kelly, keeper of antiquities at the Irish National Museum.
His kingly role required him to keep nature and society in equilibrium. A little nipple sucking would surely increase his self-esteem and help him on his way.

Also at The Huffington Post

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The MRS Degree

Overheard at dinner this past weekend in a room filled with recent graduates from pricey private schools and the parents who had financed their attendance:
"What did your daughters study in college?"
"Sociology and psychology," the father said, and paused, shrugging. "Don't get me wrong. We think it was important they got an education, but they were really after their MRS degrees." His wife sat next to him, beautiful and inscrutable.
All sound fell away for me as if I'd been sucked back to 1976 when I first heard the very same comment from some burly guy with a ruddy complexion. He swept his arms wide to include all the women sitting at the cafeteria table, in the dining hall, registered at the university, and on the planet earth, "They're just here to nab a husband."
One of my suite mates giggled and said, "I want to graduate in June, and get married in July." She batted her heavily mascaraed eyes at him, and he sat down and shut up. She didn't even have a steady boyfriend, but seemed sure one would materialize within her time frame. Clearly, she was after her MRS degree and wasn't shy about saying so.
He made me angry, and she made me feel dirty. I joined the feminist ranks on the spot.
But I thought all that had changed for younger women. Surely, they'd never say their sole goal in life was to marry. And what if that was their sole goal? I'm all about choice, and we all know elderly people, still married, still taking comfort from each other's presence. Did they achieve that blessed state with each one marching forward intent on their singular goals or did one subsume his/her path, realign it, walk behind or at least slow down in order to make it work?
If you can have a happy marriage, what does personal achievement matter, and does personal achievement have to be defined by a career? Another way of phrasing this is, does having other goals in life besides marriage doom the marriage?
And more importantly, why am I so agitated over this subject?
A movie out now is plying the submissive role of women. One of my friends was perturbed when I refused to see the movie. I didn't read the book, either. "I don't want to be dominated," I said, "but that doesn't mean I want to dominate. Not everything is either/or."
Yeah, and I don't think that makes for gray areas in my choices because that's not my reference point nor my artistic palette.
This morning CBS news aired interviews with prominent women who have chosen to be submissive in their marriages. The title of the video is "Submissive women who have chosen a softer approach to keep their relationships strong."
1976 to 2015. For many, the clock has stood still.
Blast From the Past A definition of MRS degree from the Urban Dictionary.
This blog also at the Huffington Post.