*Don’t you just hate when someone writes a story in fragmented sections and then publishes them out of order? Well, okay, I’m sorry! But here is the prequel to my previous Sex and Sickness posts.
When I first got sick in 2010 I was dating a gorgeous, smart, blonde-haired kinesiology major named Molly (not her real name). The relationship wasn’t going anywhere. However, the mysterious illness that at the time was mono and later became MECFS, only made our relationship more vagrant.
She seemed to be just as confused as I was about the symptoms, especially when our sex life dramatically plunged. We tried and failed several times at intercourse after I got sick. Each time it felt like a gamble. Would I be able to perform? Or would my pulse start racing and my muscles tremor until we finally decided it was a bad idea to continue?
I describe one such sexual encounter in my unpublished memoir, but I don’t want to post too many excerpts before it’s published, so I’ll do my best to recreate it here:
Molly came over one day after a run. I had been in bed the entire day ignoring her text messages asking if I wanted to workout with her. We had only been dating for a couple months, but we quickly fell into a pattern of going to the gym and running together. Then I got sick and we didn’t know what was wrong. Too much caffeine? Too much working out?
That particular day we were both exhausted, so we curled up in my bed and fell asleep. The house was warm, our bodies warmer cuddling one another, and outside it was a beautiful overcast December day with intermittent rain. It was the type of day one just wants to stay balled up under the covers or in front of the fireplace. As we fell asleep, and later when we woke up, I remember feeling such peace. The preceding weeks had been manic, filled with fear and uncertainty about my health, but that moment in bed with Molly was so calming, I wanted to bottle it and take a sip for every future moment of panic I would have, and there would be many.
We tried to have sex within minutes of waking up. It was a disaster. Nestled against me, Molly started to warmly breathe on my neck. Then I slid my hands under her shirt, and along the small of her back. I kissed her neck. If we weren’t awake before, we were now. She pressed her body against mine, and soon clothes started coming off, but nothing pleasurable was happening, not to me, not the mechanical way it should. I tried to remain calm, but soon became unnerved at the thought of underperforming, or worse, not performing at all with such an attractive woman in my bed. I needed a spark but was too drenched in sickness to ignite my lust-filled aspirations.
My heart began pounding too fast to think, like a firefighter breaking down a flaming door; the door being my head.
I tried stalling with the hope that a sudden rush of something, anything would come fulfill my sexual desires. I kept kissing Molly, but pulled my pelvis away from her body, pinning it awkwardly to the mattress, as not to show my impotence. Her soft lips did something to me, but not nearly enough.
At one point I looked up at the wall above my bed and saw a poster of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra and friends, each with a different expression of amusement about my flaccidity. On the adjacent wall, there was John Belushi looking confused (among other things) as to how my performance could be so lackluster. The peace and calm was then gone and all I could feel was that I had done something wrong. I felt so embarrassed.
Molly reached for me and I tried to suppress my panic, internalizing the terror of the usually enchanting moment when I beautiful woman wants me; instead the force of her increasingly impatient grasp left me squirming away once more. But I stubbornly kept trying and failing, only to pull away in shame.
Eventually Molly insisted we stop, so we did. It was actually a relief that she made the decision. Otherwise, I probably would have kept on trying until I dropped dead. After walking Molly to the door I watched her drive away, then I crawled back into bed.
We tried to have sex a few more times after that day, and we were actually successful once or twice, that is if you count success as technically performing the act albeit with little pleasure or satisfaction. These bitter triumphs misled me. I thought I was getting better, that my health was returning, when in reality the disease I was battling must have simply decided to take the night off. Still, this was when the illness was very acute and symptoms like tachycardia, chills, intense nausea, muscle weakness, disorientation, and a myriad of other symptoms I can’t even begin to explain, were daily occurrences.
Now in hindsight it seems idiotic. I was trying to have sex with a severely impaired and dangerously sick body. It was like trying to enjoy a snow cone standing completely naked in the middle of the Alaskan tundra while a giant moose rammed me with his antlers. Sounds like fun, right? Kind of makes you want to go grab a snow cone, doesn’t it?
Anyway, so yeah, not a lot of sex for 22-year old, Sick Jamison. Then eventually Molly bailed. But this post isn’t really about her. Two years later, after receiving my diagnosis of MECFS, I dated another woman, Lily (again, not her real name).
I sublet Lily’s apartment while I was looking for a permanent home. This was after I saw Dr. Peterson several times in Lake Tahoe and had little to show for it. So I decided to put off further treatment and live life on my terms with what little health I had left. Apparently this included dating a woman nearly a decade older than me who . But hey, it felt right at the time.
In the intervening years after my relationship with Molly and before meeting Lily, I had some innocent intimate encounters but the clothes always stayed on. Lily was my first sexual experience in two years. Do you want to guess how it went? Yeah, not great. But not for the reason you may be thinking. We did not actually have sex during our first sexual encounter. This was a conscious decision on my part. I wanted to test out the waters, so to speak, because I was still haunted by my failed attempts at sex with Molly. I wanted to save my already bruised ego the embarrassment and my body the repercussions of a botched attempt at sex. So we stuck to foreplay and it went surprisingly well. My body only mildly freaked out — some tachycardia and weakness — but nothing I hadn’t experienced every day since I first got sick. The reason it went bad, however, was because Lily took my abstinence personal. She may have thought I wasn’t attracted to her or was just frustrated, but either way, she became very truculent with me after that.
We made up and had another sexual encounter. But first I shyly explained the reason for my reluctance. I thought it would be a relief, and for a time it was — we decided not to have sex until we both felt comfortable. But then the time came when we were ready and it was a disaster — I had to stop prematurely. Lily reacted like Molly only she was full of rage and took my impotence as a personal insult. It was as if I had made a choice to acquire a disease that robbed much of the fun and pleasurable things in life just because, I don’t know, I wanted to tease her? Lily either forgot I was sick, drastically underestimated my illness, or simply did not care. Whichever it was, it seemed she thought I wanted her to think I was interested in having sex but not actually do it. She thought I wanted to get close to having sex, only to fake impotency at the last second. Now, if you’re familiar with patterns of male sexual behavior, then you know this has probably never happened in the history of world. I mean, what guy would ever do that? And I ask not just because guys like me generally have good intentions, but because, well, most guys enjoy sex. A lot! And even if one had intended to do such a manipulative thing, he would most certainly foil his own inane plan and give in to the urge for sex once the kissing started.
Honestly I don’t know what Lily thought of our relationship. My feelings about her may be skewed by our incompatibilities, but, as time has passed I have developed a more pragmatic view of the time we spent together.
Eventually after many fights — one because she expected me to throw out her rotten bone broth (I’m a vegetarian) without even asking me to — we continued to have sex. Once or twice it felt okay — the post orgasm hangover wasn’t too bad. But most often it came with the same interchange it had two years prior — a few minutes of bliss for a few days of misery. That was nearly five years ago. It was the last time I had sex.
*Thanks to everyone that has read my Sex and Sickness series. And to those who have requested a Part 3, it’s still in the works!