“The story of our pandemic sex life: it has not been pretty.”
Host Leah gets raw and real about how her intimate life has weathered the storm of a year-long international crisis, and about how confronting her partner’s depression spiral turned out to be a better strategy—for both of them—than enduring it competently.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (CLICK TO OPEN)
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I am sex and intimacy coach Leah Carey and this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: Hey friends. Two quick announcements before we get started today.
First, I’ve been mentioning this in the Show Credits, but it just occurred to me that I should call it out more specifically. We now have episode transcripts. A wonderful young woman named Jan Acielo has been going through the back catalogue and creating transcripts for every episode. This has been a dream of mine for a while because I want this podcast to be accessible in every way. So now the deaf and hard of hearing community can finally get the benefits of this podcast and hearing people can also use the transcripts to follow along and reinforce points that you want to remember. To access the transcripts, follow the link on your podcast app to the full Show Notes to any episode. You can browse the show transcript on that page or download a PDF copy by clicking the closed captioning button next to the episode player.
One big benefit of having these transcripts is that I was finally able to reach out and invite a deaf person on the show. Prior to having transcripts, I couldn’t in good conscience invite a deaf person because they didn’t have a way to listen to an episode before agreeing to participate. But a couple of weeks ago, I did an interview with a woman you’ll recognize if you watched the Netflix program Deaf U.
It’s Alexa. We talked about things like how you communicate with a partner during sex if you’re using your hands for both touching them and talking to them. It also gave her the chance to talk more deeply about some issues that were glossed over in the Netflix show including the trust issues she was left with when another cast member intentionally impregnated without her consent. I am so excited about this conversation and I’ll be sharing it with you very soon.
Second, this is a reminder that if you’re listening to this on release day, Thursday, January 28th. There is a PJ party tonight! You can register by yourself or register with a best friend and get 20 dollars off. Each PJ party is limited to 7 people, so there’s plenty of room for everyone to participate. And because consent is primary, you will never be pressured into talking about anything you’re not ready for. You can participate as much or as little as you’re comfortable with. And just sitting and listening is always an option, and I think you’ll get a lot out of it. A recent party participant said that the conversations during the party reminded her of parts of sexuality she hadn’t explored for years. “I have new ideas to try out and things I want to explore,” she said. “It’s puncturing the pandemic ennui.”
LEAH: So if you want to be part of a group to puncture your pandemic ennui, register on tonight’s party at leahcarey.com/pjparty and that link is in the app you’re listening on now. And if you’re listening to this later and you’ve missed taking part in the January 28th party, go to that same link to find dates for upcoming parties.
Okay, now let’s go on with the meat and potatoes of this week’s episode, a deep dive into my sex life during the pandemic and the other stressors of 2020.
LEAH: So today I am going to give you a very raw, behind the scenes look at my sex life during the pandemic and because this involves a bunch of personal information about my partner, I want you to know that I’m doing this with his full knowledge and consent, but I’m still not going to name him or give you any identifying details so he maintains a layer of privacy.
Okay, to set the scene, my partner and I moved in together two weeks before we knew that we’d be going into lockdown in Oregon. The timing was pure happen stance, but I’m so grateful that we had the move done before the world changed completely.
He works in a field that was deemed essential by the Oregon governor even during the height of the lockdown so he was never out of work. Not long after we went into lockdown, he started being assigned to jobs out of town. So for the past 6 months, he’s been gone 4 or 5 nights a week and usually but not always home on weekends. Meanwhile, I work from home and because Portland has never moved out of Phase 1, I rarely leave our apartment. Many weeks, he was the only person I’d have in person contact with. So that’s the physical setting for this story.
Now, let’s do a little history of our relationship. My partner and I both have a history of untreated depression. I finally got the medication and support I needed in my early 30s. I still go through depressive periods, but I’ve never sunk bank into that deep, black hole that marked the 5 years after my dad’s death in my mid-20s.
However, the reality of our society is that reaching out for help is not as culturally acceptable for men as it is for women. We tell men that they’re supposed to be strong, never show weakness, and suppress any overwhelming emotion. So my partner has lived in that toxic stew of the “acceptable” version of manhood.
He has tried to reach to out for help a few times in his life and been rebuffed by a system that isn’t set up to deal with the needs of a man in general or his needs in particular. So let me interrupt myself and be clear here, I’m not making excuses for the behavior I’m about to describe. There are plenty of men who have bucked the social constraints and gotten help and developed healthy coping mechanisms. However, I also recognize the reality that it takes a lot of strength and already developed awareness for a man to do that and I will not shame a man who hasn’t yet found his way to that path.
Okay, so back to my partner. Because he hasn’t learned healthy coping mechanisms, when he goes into a depressive episode, his primary coping mechanism is alcohol. He prefers marijuana but because of random drug tests on his job, that’s removed as an option for him. When he drinks, behavior problems develop. He spirals in a bottomless pit where nothing is right and nothing will ever be right again. In his hopelessness, he lashes out at me verbally and he can get really nasty.
The first time I saw this behavior, we were about 6 months into our relationship and I took his attacks really personally. I didn’t yet understand the depths of his depression and I assumed he actually believed the things that he was saying to me.
Now almost 3 years into our relationship, I’ve learned that when he’s in that space, I’m not actually seeing him and he’s not actually seeing me. I’m seeing his demons, the manifestation of his depression, which is then intensified by alcohol which in itself is a chemical depressant. And he’s seeing not me, but some creation that his mind has put up in front of him.
Now as the child of an alcoholic, this has been a mindfuck for me. But it’s also been kind of a growing experience because I can see how much I’ve healed. I’ve been able to stand strong in the face of my partner’s behavior in a way that I never could with my dad, and I’ve had the opportunity to really appreciate that in myself this year.
Okay, now that we’ve established the history and the setting, here’s the story of our sex life this year. The stress of the pandemic hit both of our sex drives pretty hard. It did not take long after he moved in for the frequency of intercourse to drop to about once a month. That wasn’t a big problem for either of us because we both value the connection that comes from naked cuddling. At different times, we’ve each expressed that cuddling is far more important to us than intercourse. The skin to skin connection feeds each of our touch needs in profound ways whereas orgasms can be accomplished in a variety of ways.
But our already high stress levels inched even higher with the social unrest of months long Black Lives Matter protests here in Portland, plus white supremacists on our streets and in the U.S. government, and the insanity, the complete insanity of the U.S. election. In mid-summer, things hit a breaking point inside him and in our relationship. His depression became so overwhelming that it switched us from us being okay most of the time with moments of crisis to us being in crisis most of the time with occasional moments of being okay.
During the moments that he was in his right mind, he was still the wonderful man that I had come to love, and he recognized how badly I was hurting as a result of his behavior. Part of the reason I stayed through this period was because I knew for certain that he was not intentionally hurting me. This was a result of depression, not animus or vindictiveness. But I did come to dread him returning home for the weekend because I knew it wouldn’t be long before his demons got the better of him and I, once again, became his whipping post.
The damage to our relationship manifested in many ways including me rarely feeling safe enough to relax into sex. His libido was also very low due to depression and alcohol use, so through the summer and early fall, we rarely had any type of sexual intimacy. As his depression worsened, my willingness to stand for my needs got stronger. I started telling him that if he’d been drinking, I would go in the bedroom for the evening and he could stay in the living room. I wasn’t angry, but I also wasn’t going to subject myself to his behavior. I started asking him as soon as he walked into the door if he’d been drinking. When he hadn’t been drinking, he would answer quickly and without rancor, but when he had been drinking, he’d get angry at the question, so whether he answered honestly or not, I already knew the answer.
But through it all, I was still trying to protect him from my feelings. I figured that when he was in right mind, he already felt bad about how he was treating me, so what would it accomplish for me to pile on by regaling him with reminds of the terrible things he had said to me the night before? Then one day, he told me that he didn’t actually remember the things he had said the night before. And with some deeper digging, I discovered that for several months, he’d been having memory issues during those alcohol fueled spirals.
That’s when I decided to get really honest with him about how much damage I was experiencing. I would repeat back to him the words that he had said and he was horrified. Me being brutally honest with him consistently over a period of a few weeks was what finally cut through his depressive haze. When he recognized the depth of the damage that he was inflicting on me, he finally called someone to get help. She got him on an antidepressant and medication to curb alcohol cravings and related anxiety.
It was like night and day. Within about 48 hours, the man that I had fallen in love with was back. It’s been a few months and he continues to get better. He hasn’t fallen into a depressive episode and we haven’t had a blow up since he started taking the meds. He’s no longer drinking and he tells me that he doesn’t have any desire for it. He is now even thanking me for telling him the real truth and as he says, “riding him until he took action.”
But here’s the thing, things were bad for longer than they’ve now been good, and my nervous system took a significant hit during that time. It’s taking me time to learn how to trust him again. It’s taking me time to relax into feeling safe that things won’t fall apart again. And safety is a crucial part of me being able to relax into fulfilling sex. We’ve started being intimate again but I’m aware my brain is still in overdrive and won’t really allow me to relax.
Yet, and here’s the other thing, the medications are affecting him sexually. He doesn’t think about sex very often and sometimes, his erection doesn’t play when he’s ready to. But we have a few things going for us. One is that we’re both still getting our touch and connection needs met through skin to skin cuddling and we’re both satisfied by that. The other is that we can talk about what our needs are.
A few days ago, I told him that I wanted to check in about sex. I hadn’t been initiating because I didn’t feel like he was in that head space, but if I was misreading his signals, I didn’t want him to think that I was unavailable. He said no, he hadn’t been in that head space but he said, “Maybe we could have some sexy time tomorrow.” And then after a pause he said, “Or maybe we can just have some intimacy without sex.” Now that was an immediate hell yes for me, because I knew I was asking for what he actually wanted, not trying to satisfy what he imagined my desires might be.
That’s part of what I appreciate so much about him and about us. We’re able to separate intimacy from intercourse. We’re able to talk about those needs without embarrassment. The next day, we did indeed have some intimate time without intercourse. And that’s the type of thing that is slowly allowing me to learn to trust him again. So that is the story of our pandemic sex life. It has not been pretty but we’re coming out the other side of the awfulness of 2020 stronger and more connected and I’m really grateful for the medications that are helping both of us to be healthier, wholer, versions of ourselves.
LEAH: I know we are all dealing with Zoom fatigue. Lord knows I am. But what if you could be part of a gathering that leaves you feeling seen, heard, connected, and more knowledgeable about your sex life? Something that leaves you feeling energized rather than depleted. That’s exactly what happens with my PJ parties for grownups. It’s like those conversations you usually only get to have with your closest girlfriend over a bottle of wine in the middle of the night while the kids are in their grandparents’, the kind where you get to the really good stuff. You dish about the stuff that’s great in your sex life, commiserate about the things that you wish were better and ask questions you would never dream to ask in the light of day.
Each PJ party is limited to just 7 people, so there’s plenty of time for everyone to participate. And because consent is primary, you will never be pressured into talking about anything you’re not ready for. You can participate as much or as little as you’re comfortable with.
A recent participant sent me a note 48 hours after attending her first PJ party. She said, “I had my first internal orgasm last night and I completely credit your magic! Something about the PJ party just awakened something in me.” So, if you want to be part of that kind of magic, registrations are currently open for a party on Thursday, January 28th at 6 pm Pacific. Register by yourself or register with a friend and get 20 dollars off. Information and registration is at www.leahcarey.com/pjparty. That link is in the Show Notes in the app you’re listening on now. And again, it’s leahcarey.com/pjparty. Spaces are limited, so register today! And now, back to the show.
LEAH: Before we go today, I want to introduce you to a podcast I discovered recently that is so much fun! The show is called get this, Heaving Bosoms. I mean, how awesome is that.
LEAH: Each week, two long distance best friends, Erin and Melody, read a romance novel or watch a romance movie and do a deep breakdown of every romance trope and subgenre they can find. Ballrooms, crime bosses, gay, straight, aliens, big foot, doctor, lawyer, whatever.
And because they tell each story scene by scene, while of course adding their own comedic flair, you don’t even have to be a romance reader to enjoy it. Each romance novel or movie is a vehicle for Erin and Melody to talk about sex, relationships, boundaries, kinks, hard limits, and more. You know, the things we talk about here on this podcast. And they’re always centering women’s pleasure, just like we do here. And that is why I think you’ll love it. So, here’s a clip from their recent episode looking at the Netflix Christmas movie The Princess Switch: Switched Again.
ERIN: I asked Mel what Netflix movie she wanted to do for Christmas and she said, “Whichever one has three Vanessa Hudgenses.”
MELODY: That’s true.
ERIN: And I said, “Princess Switch: Switched Again” and you said, “Three Hudgenses.” And I said, “So from Patreon, do you want to do the happiest season or there any other ones you want to do?” And then you texted me, “Three Vanessa Hudgens.”
MELODY: I just wanted the three Vanessa Hudgenses that I didn’t care about the rest of the programming clearly.
ERIN: Yeah, so we’re doing Princess Switch: Switched Again and I found out in the first few minutes of this movie that I have almost zero recollection of the first movie.
ERIN: The whole recap is the first movie and my note is, “I don’t remember her getting married, whatever, I might remember when I see his mediocre face.”
MELODY: I think she just got married in the middle time.
ERIN: Oh, when she got engaged in the first movie. But I also didn’t remember the engagement so I don’t remember anything about the first movie at all.
MELODY: I remember there was [bacoms – 22:54] but that’s about it.
MELODY: I do remember the cookies.
MELODY: Oh wait, we should do a quick recap. Stacy is the Vanessa Hudgens from Chicago who is a baker.
MELODY: Then, Margaret is the Vanessa Hudgens from-
MELODY: Belgravia, thank you, who is the Duchess of Belgravia, I suppose. A duchess in, whatever, it doesn’t matter.
ERIN: Sure. One of those, yeah.
MELODY: And then we meet another Vanessa Hudgens but we haven’t gotten to her yet.
ERIN: Okay, but so, wait. Stacy, the Vanessa Hudgens that’s the Chicago baker, switched with Margaret the Duchess, and then when they switched, Stacy fell in love with Prince Edward of a different country.
MELODY: Of Montenara.
ERIN: Montenegro?No, that’s wrong.
MELODY: Montenaro. That might be right.
MELODY: No, wait I think that’s Margaret’s country. It doesn’t matter. It literally doesn’t matter.
ERIN: And she married him so she is now princess Stacy of wherever and then Sam’s back in Chicago baking cookies because him and Margaret the Duchess broke up. Princess Stacy is in Montoflerbia and she is announcing a baking competition winner, which is the baking competition that brought her to Montoflerbia in the first place.
MELODY: Oh, what a romance schmirker.
ERIN: Yeah, and then the two guys that win the baking competitions just have a white cake with some mistletoe stuck on it.
MELODY: Yeah, it’s just all down the front.
ERIN: Just like a white fondant layer cake, completely smooth, with just some mistletoe, poisonous mistletoe stuck onto it.
MELODY: Stuck on it.
LEAH: That was Heaving Bosoms with Erin and Melody. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast app.
That’s it for today. Good Girls Talk About Sex is produced by me Leah Carey and edited by Gretchen Kilby. I have additional administrative support from Lara O’Connor and Maria Franco. Transcripts are produced by Jan Acielo.
And I’m incredibly grateful for the financial support from Good Girls Talk About Sex community members at Patreon. If you’d like to support me in telling these stories and answering your questions, head over to www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex. You can find Show Notes and Show Transcripts at www.goodgirlstalk.com. To ask a question about your sex life, your desires, or anything to do with female sexuality, call and leave a message at 720-GOOD-SEX.
And before we go, I want to remind you that the things you’ve probably heard about your sexuality are not true. You are worthy. You are desirable. You are not broken. I work with women just like you to reflect their true sexual nature back to them without the judgment, shame or fear that can get in the way of us seeing it for ourselves. As a coach and PJ party hostess, I will guide you in embracing the sexuality that is innately yours no matter what it looks like. I’m here to help you sink so deeply into your true sexuality that the version of yourself that was scared to speak up for her own needs feels like a mirage from another lifetime. Until next time, here’s to your better sex life!
- 1:05 – We have transcripts! Plus: part of why that is awesome is our upcoming interview with a deaf guest!
- 4:55 – Leah opens up about her own sex life during the pandemic.
- 6:44 – Built into our society, and therefore our healthcare models, is the idea that men shouldn’t ask for help. It’s not an excuse, but it has had real consequences for Leah and her partner.
- 10:03 – Here comes the sex (or, doesn’t).
- 13:13 – As her partner’s depression and drinking worsens, Leah has the profound realization that her management via being strong and setting boundaries has the side effect of buffering (and thereby supporting) a damaging dynamic.
- 14:00 – He hears some brutal truth; hearing requires Leah saying it, of course. He gets help.
- 16:15 – While sex has been slow to re-enter the relationship, there have been benefits to the work they’ve done.
- 18:23 – PJ parties for grown-ups!
- 20:39 – Featuring the “Heaving Bosoms” podcast.
- Title – Heaving Bosoms
- Hosts – Erin and Melody
- Description – Best friends and romance lovers, Erin and Melody, recap romance novels from a comedic, open-hearted feminist, sex-positive perspective! Giggling, tangents, and sincere joy abound! We take ourselves VERY seriously.
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/heavingbosoms
As of July 2020, all Good Girls Talk About Sex audio extras are now FREE! They can be accessed at www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex.
I’ve done this because there are people who need this material but don’t have the financial means to access it behind a paywall.
But there are many costs associated with producing this show, so if you’d like to support the work I do, I am grateful for your contributions at www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex.
BE PART OF THE SHOW:
Rate the pod – Leave a rating and review at www.ratethispodcast.com/goodgirls
Have a question or comment – Leave a voicemail for Leah at 720-GOOD-SEX (720-466-3739) – this is a voicemail-only line, so I promise you won’t have to talk to someone in person!
Be a guest on the show – I’d love to talk with you! Fill out the form at www.leahcarey.com/guest
WORK WITH LEAH:
Host / Producer – Leah Carey (email)
Audio Editor – Gretchen Kilby
Administrative Support – Lara O’Connor, Maria Franco
Music – Nazar Rybak