I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately. Disappointingly for the other half, it’s not the way he hopes for, but more about whether what I feel about myself and my body is normal for someone my age. Or whether, as I suspect, my childlessness plays into my ambivalence about sex, my levels of sexiness (or not…) and my body.
I mean I’m not getting any younger. I’m mid-40s, I’ve had numerous surgeries which have left scarring across my abdomen, I’ve had my own mental battles in terms of the childlessness. It’s all very full on. Oh and then, (yes saving the best for last) peri-menopause is here. Hoo-fucking-ray! Someone pass me the champagne and party-poppers… Yes indeed, great times!
I mean, I know I’ve hit that last one a bit before my time, because of the hysterectomy, but I wonder whether I would feel this way about my body and my sexiness if I’d been able to have a family? I have to be honest and conclude no, I would imagine there would be significantly less ambivalence if my body had worked the way I had wanted it to.
But then, do the men also get these feelings about their bodies in this community? Do they feel the same way about sex if they’ve not been able to have the children that they wanted to? As much as I’d love to ask some fellas, I’d probably get told to jog on…
So, I’m reliant on sharing my own experiences, to hopefully draw this into the light, maybe make us feel a bit normal about it all, but also looking for research. As I said in one of my previous videos, I have been reading a lot about this, but, as you can imagine, there is precious little out there about the childless community and sex. What a shocker!
There are some studies in terms of sexuality and infertility, as this of all the taboos our community incorporates, is perhaps the most talked about. One research paper concluded that self-esteem, and sexual-esteem, was impacted by infertility, particularly in men. No surprise there then…But, it was this bit in particular that made me sit up ‘For the infertile subjects, infertility affects self-concept and role perceptions, and is a threat to personal identity’.
Sex does have a role to play in how we view ourselves from the time of puberty, right the way through adulthood into old age. It makes up one facet of who we are – some people feel life would be empty without sex, and much of their personality and drives are based around sex and getting plenty of it. Others of us, can take it or leave it…or even prefer it on our own. But, there’s no getting away from the fact that it also carries meaning with it – procreation.
Backing away from sex for the moment, I don’t know about you, but my sense of self has been irrevocably changed by this experience, and I don’t mean all of the infertility shitshow. I mean that does play a huge part, in terms of the backstory and how I ended up here, but also the fact that I am childless-not-by-choice. I would describe it as Sarah-before-childlessness and then Sarah-after-childlessness. Friends have commented a number of times about ‘how I’ve changed’, but guess what, that’s what happens when you go through something devastating and life-changing!
There were times, before all this happened, and in fact during the whole fertility shitshow, that I would quietly go along with things, even if I didn’t agree with them. Like going to things I really wanted to say no to, like extended family gatherings. I would sit while my many, many cousins paraded their children around the party and listen to the comments about how much they looked like so-and-so. I’d then listen to various relatives comment on my brother’s children, and I would quietly die on the inside, when they ran out of things to say to me, or avoided me altogether…it was incredibly painful and triggering. I knew it was going to be, but I agreed to go anyway, because at that stage none of my family, except my husband knew the whole sorry story. And I was nothing but 100% people-pleaser.
Fast forward to now and would I put myself through this torture? No. In fact, my mum and dad had wanted to get together with my brother, his family and me and the other half before Christmas, but as you know I struggle with this time of year and so I said no. It felt good to me, that as a former people-pleaser I was saying no, and some might say I was acting selfishly, but my self-preservation comes first now. So yeah, I’ve changed.
But getting back to sex, I wonder whether my ambivalence is as a result of my childlessness? I think this is multi-facted and can’t all be parked at the door of childlessness. For me I’m contending with my feelings about my body and it’s changing shape. I’m contending with the fact it’s not been able to provide the family I had wanted, and that leaves me with mixed feelings about sex anyway. And I also find that sex now doesn’t mean what it used to.
There was a time that it meant the hope that I would become a mum and so there was a purpose to it. But now it’s different. I guess there’s a bit about checking that I’ve still got it, and can still be attractive to the other half. There’s also some bonding between couples that happens, but there’s also a sadness for me. And I think that is where the ambivalence comes in, because no matter how I try to square it off, sex should mean children at some point, and now I am without a womb, there’s absolutely no fucking chance of that…
But parking the infertility, I think regardless of how we ended up in this community we will all have our issues and hang ups about our bodies and our self-image. I mean there is a level of questioning anyway in terms of the circumstances, but there is also a feeling that we’ve been let down by things outside our control, which plays into our self-concept. It makes for a murky, ambivalent feeling towards sex, sensuality and our bodies.
Tao, P, Coates R and Maycock B (2011) ‘The impact of infertility on sexuality: A literature Review. Austraila Medical Journal 4(11) P.620-627 [online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3562919/ Last accessed on 29.05.20
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