It took me about six months to realize I desired Hanna.
And another three months after that to put that desire into words for her.
Another year and a half to act on it in more … shall we say tangible ways.
It’s just that complicated and fragile a thing: desire. Overwhelming, scary, beautiful, thrilling, awe-inspiring. Sometimes elusive; sometimes that thing in the room that takes up all the oxygen.
With Hanna, I desire her — notice her with physical pleasure — constantly, like a gravitational pull. Sure, I can ignore it, but it’s always there — a hum in the background of everyday life. I thought it might (was scared it might) fade with time, but over three years into our relationship it’s as strong as ever. And as distracting as it can sometimes be, I’m glad for that.
Glad, obviously, because it’s Hanna and I want to desire her always. But also glad because, for so long, I wasn’t sure I’d ever know what this particular kind of desire felt like.
* * *
Not that I didn’t crave touch as a child. I was something a touch junkie, in fact. My mother had to explain to my seven-year-old self that family friends probably didn’t want me to spontaneously start grooming them without, you know, asking first.
I also wasn’t without romantic attractions and longings for intimate relationships. I can remember as early as five or six spinning out fantasy stories involving characters who played the roll of a lover (though obviously I didn’t have the technical aspects down at the time). I’ve written already about my desire for family relationships that included sexual intimacy on some level. So it’s not like I’ve come from a place where I knew I rejected desire to a place where I feel like I can’t live without it.
But this? The physical sensation of being pulled into orbit around another person? That took a long time, and to some extent I feel like it was hard-won. Though I’m still not sure whether winning it was a case of recognizing something that had been there all along or cultivating something that had not yet been nurtured into being.
I had feelings of desire as a teenager, but they were diffuse and unspecific. Restless arousal that operated separately from my romantic attractions which were intense and present in my life. At the time I thought (not wholly incorrectly) that they were a form of sexual attraction, nascent desire that — if acted upon — would blossom into something more. But I somehow couldn’t connect those emotional attachments to the physical sensations — sensations that never seemed connect to particular people (let alone the particular people I was interested in romantically).
Part of the equation was likely the medication I was on for my hyperactive thyroid condition. I took a regular doze of Tapazol from age fourteen through twenty-four to regulate my thyroid and pituitary glands, both of which are involved in the production of hormones that on some level interact with human sexuality. No one ever asked me about sexual function during that time — either because they assumed I simply wasn’t doing it (well, I wasn’t but I’m offended by the assumption all the same!) or because they assumed I’d be embarrassed to discuss the issue with them.
When I underwent radioactive iodine treatment in 2005 for the problem and shifted from having a hyperactive to a hypoactive (well, technically non-functioning) thyroid. This was right around the time I finished my seven-year stint in undergrad, so maybe it was the relief of not being in school anymore — yes, with me it really is a noticeable upswing in mood — but that was when I started getting it. Like, what people meant when they talked about physical sexual attraction. What they meant when they talked about desiring someone not just in the “let’s be besties forever and adopt lots of kids!” way but in an actual “I’m so horny now I want you to take me into the storage closet and fuck me” way.
Okay, well … maybe not the storage closet. They’re usually dank and there might be spiders.
But you get the idea.
I suddenly understood — as an awkward twenty-four-year-old — why most adults seemed a wee bit concerned about the cognitive functioning of their teenage children. If this was what adolescence felt like to most people no wonder my friends seemed a little bit odd at times!
I also suddenly understood a whole new level of loneliness. I’d been pretty able to deal with solitude when it came to the lack of a romantic relationship. After all, I had a tight network of family and close friends with whom I was intensely emotionally connected. Back before physical desire became an issue that was — while distantly not my ideal — pretty damn satisfactory.
But you don’t get skin-to-skin time with family members or close platonic friends in our culture unless you’re under the age of about three. And that’s not even touching the sexytime issue which, suddenly, was an issue in this immediate and pressing way. Yeah, okay, yes. I had the solitary sex thing figured out in pretty short order. But that doesn’t address the issue of needing another warm body or bodies in your physical space.
I got it, for the first time, my friends who were in quasi-awe of my ability to be content without a relationship. I mean, I knew I could deal and I even knew I could be content. But that didn’t erase the craving for touch.
It’s a startling, sobering, and also exhilarating reminder that we are, irrevocably, embodied creatures.
* * *
I purposefully titled this post “desire” not “sexuality.” And I’ve avoided talking here about identity, orientation, or the question of how my attractions have (or have not) changed over time. I’ve got another post percolating in my head about why I find the concept of sexual orientation to be limiting on a personal as well as political level — and when I get around to writing that post, I’ll be sure to share it here.
What my desiring body has taught me is that paying attention to desire is ultimately much more important (to me) than wrestling with questions of sexual identity. I find it more meaningful and descriptive to think about those moments of intersection in my life of romantic attraction with physical desire (of which I have had … not many, but a significant handful) and the ways in which I have chosen to act on those desires, and why.
And I’m grateful to have that specific kind of physicality in my own personal tool-kit for interacting with other human beings (and, yes, with myself).
I’m also grateful to have someone in my life who’s willing (enthusiastically so!) to help me, as much as possible, experience the skin-to-skin time I desire.
The Goldfish said:
Anna, I've not had the opportunity to say because I keep thinking about and failing to write comments or even response posts on all this, but as a fellow 30 year old, I'm loving your entire 30@30 series. It's given me so much food for thought about the shape of my own life and development, as well as being beautifully written.
Why thank you! I've gotten a lot of positive feedback for this series, from both old friends and folks who read my blog. It's a little bit alarming and also very encouraging to know that my very personal experience resonates with other people out there. Reminds me why I enjoyed creative nonfiction and memoir so much back in college!
This is really interesting. I tend to think of myself as a “thinking person” and think of my thoughts and desires as all rational, but the part about your thyroid makes me realize how much of our desires exist on some neuro-chemical level. Human sexuality is pretty interesting and complicated, that's for sure. Looking forward to the rest of this series.