I sat on the edge of my bathtub looking at the blood on my inner thighs.The fear hadn’t set in yet.
I was struggling to process what I was seeing. It wasn’t a lot of blood, but enough. Laying in the empty tub, the purple Kegel weight, also smeared in blood, looked like a giant, wounded sperm.
When the shock finally gave way to terror, I threw on clothes and drove myself to a local clinic.
Clenching the steering wheel, I noticed dried blood under my fingernails. I pressed harder on the gas pedal.
“Were you having rough sex?” the doctor asked.
God, I wish, I thought.
“No, I was trying to insert a Kegel weight,” I said.
I couldn’t believe I was discussing this with a guy probably younger than my daughter. It seemed kind of creepy, even more so because I couldn’t help notice how hot he was. His scruffy hair and espresso eyes gave him that bad-boy look I never resisted.
“How long since you’ve had intercourse?”
I had to think about this.
It had been a while, the longest period of abstinence since I was fifteen. After the end of a tumultuous relationship, I decided to take a break, and time had slipped away.
“It’s been some months,” I finally said.
He just made notes in the chart. I couldn’t believe I had lost track of time.
It was the first real time-out from sex since I lost my virginity in the 9th grade to a boy named Ricky, as Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross sang Love Twins in Ricky’s parents’ garage.
When I decided to give my body and my emotions a rest, I didn’t realize how temperamental the menopausal vagina can be.
I would soon learn that it demands constant attention.
“You probably lost track of time because your libido is declining with menopause,” the doctor added. I could not respond.
The blood had been shocking, but this news was much harder to process. After a discussion about following-up with my gynecologist and writing a prescription for an antibiotic. The doctor sent me on my way with the reassurance that hormone replacement would bring back my sex drive and reverse the vaginal atrophy.
Still, in a haze, I left believing I could be fixed.
The next year consisted of visits with doctors, waiting at pharmacies, and scanning my body for signs of improvement.
The rest of my life dimmed.
I had time for work and obsessing about my health.
Going out for drinks, dancing, dinners with friends, everything I enjoyed got pushed to the background. I didn’t feel like me. One day, as I pulled on a tee-shirt, icepick-sharp pain stabbed through my nipples.
I yanked the shirt off and cupped my breasts with my hands. What the heck? I slowly let go and looked down expecting to see…something. I gingerly touched myself. Pain. My earlier belief that I could get better was fading.
With each prescription came a new dreadful.
I had gone through vaginal discharge, acne, hair loss, dizziness, migraines, weight gain, mood swings, and now breast pain.
Disappointed and angry, I stuck band-aids over my nipples, and carefully dressed.
I drove to my doctor’s office without taking the time to call ahead.
“Do you understand?” I asked, doing my best not to yell. “It feels like someone is stabbing me right here” I gestured elaborately.
“I’m sorry, but without an appointment…”
“You will get me in to see the doctor or you can watch how fast my nipples and this office get blasted all over social media.” She glared, long eyelashes touching her eyebrows. I glared back.
A different young woman showed me to an office where I waited at a desk adorned with orchids. Eventually, another woman, also young, seated herself across from me. Brushing her flowing extensions from her face, she introduced herself as the physician’s assistant.
“I understand the last treatment has caused problems,” she said.
“That seems accurate,” I answered.
“There’s one more option.” Even after all the times, I had heard those words, they brightened my mood. There was still hope. Optimism had been harder to come by, as the abstinence, now imposed rather than chosen, dragged on.
With each treatment failure, the idea that my vagina might be permanently out of commission grew. I couldn’t even imagine what my life would look like if this proved true. My sexuality entered into almost everything I did.
I flirted with nearly everyone I met, men in grocery stores, men and women when I went out dancing, even coworkers. I didn’t sleep with them all, but I needed to believe I could. I discovered very early that sexually forward bringing attention.
And growing up with emotionally unavailable caretakers, I craved the feeling of being seen.
“You can give yourself daily peptide injections,” she said.
The thought horrified me, but the idea of never having sex scared me more.
For some people, sex equals love. For me, it was bigger than that. It proved I existed. No matter what else I accomplished in life, professional success, financial security, I only felt like I mattered if people showed sexual interest.
“Most people never experience the side effects,” she continued, rattling off enlarged heart, liver damage, and cancer. The complications I had already gone through flashed through my mind.
An enlarged heart?
I was finally done. I would not die for sex. Over the next six months, I tried herbalists and nutritionists, and I read everything. There were no answers. My vagina had a closed-up shop. And for a long time, so did I.
I worked, and I binge-watched true crime shows on YouTube. I didn’t see the point in anything else. Eventually, I grew tired, tired of the weight gain from sitting around and eating, tired of being alone.
I was drowning in boredom and low-grade depression. And New Year’s Eve was approaching. Only Valentine’s Day could be worse. “So go dancing.” a friend advised. She was one of the few real friends I had.
Most had fallen away because I slept with them or flirted with their partners. Her advice mattered to me.
Sitting around getting older can’t be the answer,” she added.
That smacked me hard. I had gotten into this because I wasn’t paying attention. Licking my wounds after a break-up had done damage, and I hadn’t seen it coming.
Losing my sexuality, as I had defined it, made me feel old and irrelevant. I didn’t want to feel any worse. I wore my favorite dress, low cut in front and lower in back.
I pinned gardenias in my hair. I fought the depression that threatened to paralyze me. I didn’t know how to think about a night out without the hope of it leading to more.
“Just turn around,” I told myself, as I drove.
“Just for an hour,” I promised.
The internal battle raged on as I paid the cover fee. It continued as I waited for my drink. When the perfect pale pink Cosmo arrived, I slugged it back like cheap whiskey. Before I could order another, a man about my age came appeared and gestured for my hand.
On autopilot, I slid from the barstool and followed him to the floor. The band played a doo-wop classic. We danced like teenagers, swirling around the room. After escorting me back, he asked, “Will you do me a favor?”
Freezing, I thought, here it comes. How would I answer? Sorry, don’t waste your time.
My vagina doesn’t work. “See that guy?” he gestured. “That’s my husband. Would you mind asking him to dance? He’s a beginner.” He held a finger to his lips.
The sweetness of the request caught me off-guard. He wasn’t asking for my number or to join me. He was in love with the man across the room who at that very moment was peeking to see where he was. Yet he had allowed me to feel like Ginger Rogers, and all he wanted in return was an act of kindness.
I could give him that.
“I would love to,” I said.
And I meant it. The idea of just dancing, no strings attached, unexpectedly filled me with joy. Before this moment, happiness had come at such a high price, friendships, jobs, real self-worth. Sex allowed me to be seen, but it overshadowed every other aspect of me.
That night, I danced with each of them and with just about everyone else. At midnight, we toasted the future, and I cried singing Auld Lang Syne. Surely I would keep mourning the loss of me I had been, but I made the resolution that night to really explore a new kind of freedom throughout the New Year.
I kept that resolution.
I wouldn’t turn back for anything.