She approached me to ask if I wanted to do a follow-up to last year’s interview, where we delved into her struggle to stay true to her Christian value of no premarital sex, while navigating her first romantic relationship. A twenty-three year-old virgin who had been opted out of sex ed in school by her religious parents, she was facing an experiential chasm in her relationship with her thirty-five year-old, father of two, divorced boyfriend. I’d handed her my copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and a three-pack of condoms at the conclusion of our first conversation.
She was working to come to terms with her identity as a Christian virgin and the fierce sexual desire this man had awoken in her. Flash forward one year and that man has fallen away, unmasked as a lying, cheating, manipulative bastard and she’s moved in with a new man. In between her sexual awakening and cohabitation was a year of heartbreak, a thorough exploration of Tinder, an examination of her religious beliefs and her first time having a penis inside her vagina. Continue reading →
She’d given birth to her first child–a daughter–the year before, and I wanted to take an intergenerational look at the conflict and difficulty that seems to exist in the mother-daughter dynamic. I’d been privy to her struggles in her relationship with her mother, the pain and angst it caused her, and hoped she’d be willing to have a conversation about how she grew up, and what she’d like to do differently with her daughter.
Perhaps the most verbose, rapidly-speaking person I know (a court reporter once asked her to slow down during a testimony), we joked that I was lucky to be getting our interview in after she’d been down with the flu and bronchitis for a week. She began to take me through her early childhood, leading me from the picture of an idyllic family toward the tense, guilt-ridden, sometimes self-esteem-crippling snapshot of today’s relationship with her mother. Continue reading →
We’d recently reconnected via social media and shared a chat about our experiences of being depressed in high school. We had been peripheral acquaintances at most, and we remarked that perhaps we could have been supportive friends to each other had we known the other was struggling within the same all-encompassing grey cloud. I hoped he would be open to an interview about his experience of depression, since mental health issues in men are so rarely discussed in the culture outside of professional circles, and he agreed.
“Depression is such a central theme in my life, I can’t separate myself from it. Guys are conditioned not to show or talk about this aspect,” he observed, agreeing that the public conversation about men’s mental health issues has a long way to go. He’d had his first Major Depressive Episode at age twelve, and continued to grapple with the disorder well into adulthood. A single man in his mid-thirties, he’d at last broken through due to a combination of factors. “Dialogue, communication and connection have been inextricably linked to me coming out of depression,” he told me. For many years before there had been bleak periods of intense isolation and misery, which impacted his life negatively, drawing it down to a very small existence. Continue reading →
“When it went down originally, people wanted to push it under the rug. I lost a lot of friends,” she told me, as we began our conversation about her experience of being raped during her junior year of college. She had been describing the reaction of a recent long-term boyfriend, and how his response wasn’t unlike that of her social circle at the time of the trauma. After dating for over a year, she had finally worked up the nerve to disclose to him that she had been raped, an important step for relationships with men that appeared to have long term potential. “It’s a pretty defining moment from my life. It creates trust issues for me. If you want to know me, you need to know this.” They were on a ski trip together, and one night after they had some drinks, she ventured into her past. No sooner had she spoken the words than he became angry, visibly upset and uncomfortable. She dropped the subject for the time being, bringing it up again the next day. He became defensive, informing her in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want to hear about it, or talk about it. He wasn’t the one who had raped her, so why should he have to confront her truth?
As she and I spoke we returned to the theme of silence, again and again, brought on by forces internal, social and cultural. Continue reading →
He offered to be interviewed when I put out the call for volunteers, and I knew immediately I wanted to hear about his experience of divorce, Initially I had wanted the series to be all about different peoples’ experience of sex–what they learned growing up, what constituted sex ed at at home/school, first experiences, overall attitudes. But with him I remembered getting a facebook invite to a party that was part farewell to a marriage, part estate sale. At the time I thought him and his soon to be ex-wife incredibly respectful toward each other and thus felt intrigued by his seeming drama-free divorce. He had “a lot of angles and spins on divorce in his head” which I found him quite open to discussing, as I sat in my car outside work, furiously scribbling notes while he spoke into the phone.
A man in his mid-forties, he had been in the marriage for ten years, divorced now for three. I told him about my impression of his “divorce party” to which he replied, “I’m sure we seemed very evolved. In reality it took a lot of drama for us to get there. Once we had decided we weren’t healthy for each other, if we ever had been, it was easier to be civil.” Continue reading →
My first impression of her was of a young, energetic, highly intelligent young woman exuding ambition, replete with a tailored tweed suit. I was told she hailed from a political family in the Midwest, and as a third year law student, was more serious about the cases as an intern than almost any of the attorneys in the office. In the intervening five years since we met she had finished law school, become a licensed attorney and state assistant attorney general, gotten married, had her first child and moved across the country. I was intrigued by her experience as a stay-at-home mom after such a hard-charging set of career years. I knew she had left behind a sterling reputation as an outstanding lawyer and respected colleague, and speculation about her political ambitions was often discussed. We talked one night after she’d put her eight month-old son down, and she gave me a look into her dramatically different new life as a mom, making observations and assertions about her experience that seemed to fly in the face of current conventional parenting wisdom.
The mommy world is like an alternate universe, where other moms seem only to talk about kids, she began. Adult interaction has been limited since her son was born, and joining support and educational groups for new mothers has helped her feel more comfortable in her new role. Even so, she senses she’s forgotten how to interact with adults and listening to other women talk about kids eighteen hours a day isn’t helping. “I wish for these grand, complex discussions with adults and I’m on the floor knocking over blocks instead.” Continue reading →
He had written a guest post for us over the summer, and I knew when I conceived of the interview series idea, I was going to want to delve more deeply into how he had come to marry a woman who refused sex and subjected him to terrible emotional blackmail. From what I understood, she had used threats of self-harm, all the way up to suicide to control the relationship and his response to her from the beginning. How does a relationship even get out of the starting gate with that kind of dysfunction present from day one? How does it become a marriage? So what, they had gone right from sexual activity in his truck after a dance one night in high school, to her making threats to injure herself, right into a relationship? Continue reading →
“Being forty, I wish I was living a life people envied. I’m not there and truly wish I was,” she began, as we settled into her living room couch to talk about her life in the first year of a new decade. She seemed to be alluding to her circumstances, the freedom that comes with being unmarried and childless. She cited Jennifer Lopez, a woman in her forties who is in fabulous shape, arguably looking better than ever, single and holding on to fame. “When I hit forty, I gained weight. It was like my womanly curves hit at forty.” She described a whole new crop of stress and change she’s begun to experience ever since her birthday–finding work and relationships draining, she naps (and she’s always hated naps); she’s at her highest weight with no motivation to make changes; she experienced her first bout of seasonal depression this winter; everything seems more expensive, creating barriers to the life she wants. And what life might that be? Continue reading →
My first question was where he first learned about sex and from whom. He wanted clarification—did I mean the concept or “the intricacies and what to actually do”? Oooh, good point. I wanted both, now that he mentioned it. We started at the beginning, when he learned about human reproductive systems and development in school, as a nine year old. I wondered if his parents had added any information, or initiated conversation on the topic. “Not that I can remember. I remember coming across my dad’s prescription of Viagra about four years ago. That’s the extent my family spoke about sex.” Was there any conversation at the Viagra find? “After I found my dad’s Viagra, I high-fived him. He said, ‘you don’t think this is weird or gross?’ I was like ‘no, lack of sex is a leading cause of divorce, I’m glad my parents still do it’. I was the sex-forward one in the family.”
A recently engaged, early thirties man, he had generously offered to be interviewed to continue Candid Uprising’s exploration of how what we learn about sex as children influences our sexuality. It was immediately clear that I was speaking with an open (or sex-forward, in his words) individual. Continue reading →
The “SexEdFail” series Candid Uprising featured in December and January (a progression of posts about my experience of working at Planned Parenthood) were the most-read content on the site yet, peaking with “Sex Ed Fail: The Interview“. I found myself wanting to trace sexual attitudes through the generations, to talk to a parent about their perception of responsibility for educating their child about sex, and how that may have been shaped by their parent. Out of the woodwork came a woman in her mid-forties, a mother of two, open to filling in the picture for me.
As a kid she moved a lot, never settling in one place long enough to make a close group of girlfriends. Later, she would point out that a lack of girlfriends made her vulnerable, often times sexually. She grew up in a family that was comfortable with nudity around the house, parents who were honest and forthcoming with her about sex and sexuality. Her earliest memories of learning about sex involve a conversation between her and her mom when she was eight. “I asked my mom about kissing, and she told me it was something that people did with each other when they loved each other.” Any question she had, her mom answered with medically accurate information. What seems to have made the strongest impression was her mom’s ability to talk to her on her level, in a developmentally appropriate way. It increased her comfort level so that asking her mom questions about sex felt natural as she grew up. In lieu of girlfriends (or “the playground” where so many of us learn backwards mis-information, legends, really about sex), she had her welcoming mom. Continue reading →