Misunderstanding Sex

It was the 70’s. Playboy and Penthouse were ubiquitous on suburban coffee tables, at least in the households where I babysat.

My parents, in keeping with the make-love-not-war attitude of the era, kept a stash of porn star tell-all’s, Penthouse Forum volumes, and slutty dime store novels squirreled away behind their headboard.  Having both chanced upon them in our meanderings, my brother and I read steamy excerpts to each other in between fits of laughter.

Nosing around the house after school one day, we discovered my father’s collection of 8mm porn flicks and a movie projector in his basement workroom.  In a drawer he’d constructed of laminated wood, Dad also kept glossy pictures of couples screwing, gang bangs, and blow jobs. We stared at the photos, wide-eyed, then at each other, and giggled maniacally. My brother threaded the projector and within fifteen minutes, I had my first glimpse of what really happens when the Delivery Man knocks at the door with a package.


At the age of eleven, I realized that I knew far more about the birds and the bees than any of my playmates. In my mind, this made me a sophisticate. I saw sex as a curiosity; an impersonal act that, while arousing, had no real emotional impact. More problematic, the link between intimacy and sex for me was completely blurred.

I was aware that my parents had an active sex life from what my mother alluded to. It was also their habit to disappear on lazy Sunday afternoons, or in the aftermath of one of my father’s drunken tirades. Sex seemed to be how my mother placated my father, how she kept a connection—there was no nurturing, hugging, or emotional intimacy—with a man who had little to do with her (or any of us) otherwise. The only time they seemed to bond was when the radio played behind the closed door of their bedroom. Downstairs, I would sit in the living room with a disgusted look envisioning my parents playing Special Delivery.

gross face

In an alcoholic family, no one models intimacy.  No one discusses what is going on.  Except for my father, nobody talked about their feelings. Except for my father, nobody seemed to have any. The facts about my father’s behavior, and the family dynamic, were totally denied. My brother and I learned to isolate from other people in order to self-protect and survive. We never had a chance when it came to developing intimate relationships. Our whole way of viewing the world was opposed to intimacy.

Universally, our two deepest desires are to love and be loved, and to believe that we are worthwhile and know someone else believes this too. The problem for me was that, looking for love, I came up with sex instead.

From the time I could walk I craved male attention. I was twelve when I recognized my power to attract grown men. A science teacher in my junior high school smelled the vulnerability on me, and groomed me for his sexual conquest.  I swooned with the attention, with his desire, with my desire.  Under his gaze I was Marilyn Monroe and Nabokov’s Lolita.


After school, tucked away in a utility closet among the textbooks and a replica of a skeleton, we would grope each other and kiss. On the weekends I would sit on my front steps waiting for the phone to ring, for my mother to hang up because someone had, once again, dialed the wrong number. Sometimes he would drive his Chevy Blazer past my house in hopes of another liaison. For someone who had difficulty expressing feelings, talking about needs and wants, and sometimes even carrying on general conversation, the dalliance was perfect for me.  Because here was someone who could make me feel wanted without possessing the slightest interest in knowing the real me. After all, what is there to know about a preteen?

I lost my virginity at the age of 15 in the front seat of a Lincoln Towncar.  I’d set out that hot summer evening with this intention in mind. Eager for another shot of attention, for that heady sense of being desired by a grown man, I seduced the 32-year-old, married coach of my friend’s softball team. Once the prey, I was now the predator. There was nothing sweet about the transaction. Beyond a star-burst of pain, I felt nothing. Before it dawned on me that a man could serve to rescue me, I saw sex as a challenging sport.

The relationships that followed were classic:

The Adult Child of an Alcoholic approaches relationships in two basic ways.  First is the shotgun approach in which the ACOA jumps from one relationship to the other, seeking some unattainable magical quality in another person that will make him or her okay.  The second is the bulldog approach, in which the ACOA finds one person and clings to him or her for dear life, no matter how sick or unwilling the other person is.  The sad thing is the ACOA knows there’s something wrong with these kinds of relationships.  However, the ACOA cannot quite figure out what it is.  When asked what intimacy is, most ACOA’s will get a blank look and give a confused answer.–Wayne Kritsberg

I did not begin to understand intimacy, in bed or out, until I was in my early 40’s. It’s taken a lot of work to understand communication, sexuality, and honesty. To understand that great sex is part of something more substantial:  a partnership that comprises love, caring, and support, and provides avenues for growth and fulfillment on many different levels.

Now that’s a Special Delivery.

If you recognize yourself in any of this, you’re not broken, you just didn’t know.

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