Dear Dr. G,
I am a recently divorced woman. I was married when I was 18, and I haven’t had much experience with sex other than with my ex-husband. I was raised with a belief that sex was wrong unless you’re married. I don’t believe that anymore. I’m now 35 and want to see what is out there sexually. Is that okay?
Dear Over Easy,
Sex in the city. Where do we begin? With the growing number of divorces in our society, we have seen a large number of people (exponentially, because one divorce leaves two singles) roaming this county attempting to “play soccer.” And by that, I mean people struggling for 90 minutes or more to score. We aren’t different from most other cities in that regard, but we are set apart because, at the end of the day, the single population in St. George has a disproportionate amount of shame and guilt associated with sex outside of marriage. That same population has a normal, proportionate amount of desire to be wanted, and to find connection and love.
One of the biggest issues that can cause rampant random sex acts is that once we’ve eaten the fruit of that tree (the one that produces passion fruit), we can’t very well go back to apples, oranges, or bananas. Well, maybe bananas. The need for passion fruit salad, coupled with the negative feelings of rejection and low self-worth that accompany divorce, often produces a subconscious desire to self-sabotage.
This self-sabotage can ruin any success or happiness that might otherwise happen for us, if sex and relationships were approached in a rational manner. It isn’t rare for recently divorced people to go way outside of their former values and actions when it comes to relationships, and sex in particular. The pendulum swings far and wide when marital boundaries are removed (and sometimes before, but that’s for a different column).
When we experience unmet expectations to the degree we do after a failed marriage, there’s the feeling of “meh, what’s one more?” that permeates the safety wall of self-worth. Therefore, it’s important that you have a “come to Jesus” meeting with yourself about being authentic and setting personal boundaries. By authentic, I mean you need to get down and dirty, and understand where your shoulds and should-nots come from when sex is involved. Are they yours? Your mom’s? Your dad’s? Your former belief system’s? This is a crucial step for you if you are hoping to avoid the shame and guilt that hovers above wonderful St. George like a dark raincloud.
Something to remember as you embark on this fun journey (and trust me here, it can get fun) is to protect yourself, emotionally and physically. For many, the unwritten boundaries that exist in marriage have never really been tested. The opportunity for limit-testing is going to present itself fairly quickly now that the walls have come tumbling down. This isn’t a fire, so don’t stop, drop, and roll!
Practice mindfulness. I know, it’s a hot buzzword floating around in the health and yoga worlds lately, but you’d do well to adhere to the idea, which is “moment-to-moment awareness of present events.” Be present with your decisions. You are going to have to own them one way or another, so you may as well start from the beginning.
Aside from the emotional toll that random sex takes on us, there is the ever-present, though invisible, danger of STDs lurking around every nook and cranny. Costco has a family-size (pun intended) box of condoms ready and waiting. Don’t be shy. Guys have a saying that goes, “Wrap it before you tap it.” The girls need one too; something along the lines of, “No disease, if you please.” Actually, that was pretty darn terrible, but it’s the only thing that came to mind as my deadline looms closer.
Remember what Ms. Frizzle used to say on the Magic School Bus? Take chances! Make mistakes! You can do both of those in a responsible manner. In the long run (and it is a long run, so find some good, comfy running shoes), no matter who you sleep with, you still have to wake up with yourself. The goal is to be okay with your choices from the night before, so you can continue to respect yourself all day, every day.
Gretchen Lambert-Wiltbank is a licensed associate mental health counselor. She has a bachelor’s degree in special education, and a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. (“Dr. G” is her pen name. She isn’t a REAL doctor.)