I’m on The Steve Harvey Show today talking sex. Check your local listings for viewing information!
Riley and I had invested in a couple of years of marriage, a mortgage and a baby when I realized our marriage was drifting somewhere between platonic love and relative indifference. The baby was asleep and I was washing dishes when my wandering mind wandered to a point that shocked me. I realized that husband of mine and I hadn’t touched each other in over week. I am not talking about “touching each other, wink, wink, nudge nudge”. I am saying we hadn’t held hands, tousled hair, leaned against one another in sleep in our big old bed. The thing that shocked my baby tired mind even more was the fact that with the not touching we were also talking to each other less, laughing less, building this life of ours side by side less. I saw that man every day and I still found myself missing him.
There were so many good and bad reasons that created the circumstances that led to the need for that kitchen sink revelation. We were both working full time. Our first baby was only nine months old. Riley was finishing up a degree in economics and math. I was struggling to find writing time in the hours after my demanding retail management job. Nine months after giving birth, I still didn’t feel like myself. Adjusting to a new role and new body had taken the wind out of my proverbial sails. (And the perkiness out of my literal breasts.) We were tired. We were broke. We were just making it through the day.
But that afternoon, as I cried over the man I missed, I decided that none of those reasons mattered as much as my marriage. I decided it was time to get to work. At the time, everyone was giving up refined sugar and processed foods for predetermined amounts of time. It was trendy to go 30 days without something. Well, why not decide to have sex for thirty days? An introduction of something into our lives rather than a deduction? Heaven knows, it had to be more fun that living without sweets for a whole month. When Riley got home, I issued the 30 Day Challenge over a dinner of bacon, eggs and burnt toast. It went something like this,
“Hey. If you want…you know…we could just have sex every day for the next month.” Really smooth. His eyes got wide. “Ummmm. Hell, yes.” I’ve never seen a boy finish a meal so quickly. He was ready to, you know, get to work.
Ladies, I’m not going to lie. In those initial weeks it WAS work. Challenge was exactly the right word. This had nothing to do with Riley. I just had months, years of bad thinking and bad habits to undo. I had to get over wanting to lose “ten more pounds.” I had to work towards the understanding that I deserved great sex just as much (if not more) as the man in the relationship. I had to reunite my physical and emotional selves. I had to re-learn how to accept and rejoice in the fact that physical expression was one of the ways that Riley expressed his love for and faith in me. I realized all over again, the importance of accepting and returning that expression. I had to remember that sex is really, really fun. And perhaps most importantly, we both had to learn the art of finding time for one another. Whatever the day held we HAD to connect. Sometimes that meant early morning sex and other times it meant after midnight “let’s get it on”. Sometimes we had twenty minutes and sometimes we had two hours – the point wasn’t necessarily the time, the point was to make the time count.
It took about two weeks to get back in the, ahem, groove of things. By the time the third week rolled around, I was pretty happy to be rolling myself…if you know what I mean. I was craving our time together – both the physical and spiritual intimacy that we were learning to carve out of our crazy days. We made out on the couch, made love on the bed…and car…and kitchen table, and held hands while we watched movies. When Riley got home from work, I’d run to him and he’d kiss my forehead. While I wrote he brought me a coke on ice and brushed the hair from my face. Our thirty day sex challenge energized every aspect of intimacy of our lives. In the moments before and after sex we’d hold each other and talk about our worries and hopes and small and big moments. We talked more during the day, too. More texts, more calls to and from work. We started building and dreaming together again. I found my desire to serve him again and he found his to serve me. After months, maybe even years, of working near each other, we were now working FOR each other. And yeah, those butterflies? The ones that so many of us think we’ve left in our youth? Those came back.
A few friends who knew about our crazy 30 day idea asked what I hoped to get out of it. Over lunch one day, I finally found the right words,
“The heart of our marriage was in cardiac arrest. This is the bolt it needed to start beating again.”
When the 30 days ended, we kept having sex, although every day is sometimes more of a goal than a reality. What do we do every day now? Every single day we find time to be intimate with one another. We find a way to truly see one another and be seen. Sometimes that means making out, sometimes that means deep discussions or hand holding while watching bad TV. Sometimes it means all three. How often do we have sex? Five times a week tends to be our normal. That doesn’t mean it has to be yours. I can say that we wouldn’t be in this place – this soul filling place – without the sex.
The rules of the 30 Day Sex Challenge are pretty simple.
1. Only start this challenge with a good man who you love. Losers, abusers and chauvinists don’t deserve this OR YOU.
2. Both partners in the challenge need to understand that the act of meeting each others needs to happen inside and outside the bedroom. This isn’t just about the sex. It’s about working to fulfill each other physically, spiritually and mentally. The sex is the physical manifestation. Talk to each other to figure out your personal goals for the rest of your intimate life. For example: Riley and I consciously worked toward a better work/family life balance while we undertook the challenge. By the end of the 30 days, that striving had become a good habit just as much as the sex had.
3. Yeah, you have to have sex every day for thirty days. BUT, in extenuating circumstances, prolonged make outs can be substituted for the real thing. That’ll probably lead to sex, anyways.
4. Practice makes perfect. Don’t worry if you guys aren’t the Don Juan of married sex-ing. Just have sex. Read a few books. Give a few pointers. Laugh at yourselves. And have fun. Sex is just as funny as it is steamy. Don’t take everything so seriously.
5. And this one I wish I could shout from the rooftops. You need to take a part of every day to decide you deserve the marriage you’ve always wanted. You get to be loved and seen and your husband gets to have that, too. Your marriage is worth the work, because you are worth the work.
6. You can eat all the sugar and un-whole foods you want.
Joining in on the challenge? Email me your stories! The good, the funny, the in-between. I’m going to be featuring them during our October 30 Days of Sex month long celebration. I can feature them with your name or anonymously, just let me know! One lucky submitter of sexiness will win a one night get-away (with hotel and romantic dinner covered by moi) with the love of her life. More details next week. Until then, post and follow along with #30daysexchallenge!
A few months ago, the internet was “treated” to a video of Solange Knowles attacking Jay Z in an elevator. She kicked and scratched and swung hands and arms.The public court of opinion wasn’t outraged by her physicality. She wasn’t boycotted or forced to apologize by worried handlers. Nobody labeled Jay Z a victim of domestic violence. Rather, many commentators wondered what Jay Z had done to deserve Solange’s reaction. The rest used it as late night fodder and a springboard for supermarket aisle allegations of discord in the Jay Z/Beyonce union. Beyonce even memorialized the incident by adding a much lauded new line to an old song in concert, “Of course sometimes shit goes down/when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator.”
By now, we all know how different both the public and private courts reacted to Ray Rice’s elevator assault of Janay Rice. In the months since the violence, Janay has been incredibly supportive of Rice. She refused to testify against him. She attended press conferences with him. She married the man. And in the hours after the video came out, she instagrammed a message defending her life, her choices and the man she loves. It was not as catchy as Bey one liner, but its intent wasn’t so different. And yet. Ray Rice has been fired from his job and banned from his industry. Hours of TV time have been devoted to the Rice marital situation, replays of that video, advocates for the abused and generalized hand wringing about the state of male/female and sports culture. I’ve watched, read and listened to much of the commentary. I am still waiting for most people to start asking the questions that are keeping me up at night.
In both cases, there was no previous record of abuse. In both cases, flagrant violence was displayed. In both cases, the moments captured after the attackers left the elevator display them as cool, collected and indifferent. And yet, we are celebrating the latest Solange/Beyonce instaphoto while also calling for Ray Rice’s head on a football shaped platter. Is our revulsion at seeing the Rice assault simply a case of reacting against the physically stronger hurt the physically weaker? I contend that it is not. While there would have been a degree of public outcry if Rice had knocked out a much smaller man in an elevator, it would not have been so widespread. He wouldn’t have lost his job, certainly. There would have been a sentence of community service, a settlement of cash for the victim and a 20 second story in the middle of SportsCenter.
What do our different reactions to similar incidents really mean? Is instinctive reaction a gauge of anything other than conditioning? Are men and women truly the same? Is gender a social construct? If it is, is our primal response to a man hitting a woman just a matter of social programming? Should we be equally as incensed when a woman hits a man or equally calm when a man hits a woman? Does society have the right or responsibility to react at all? Is that reaction an outlet of paternalistic know better? What does feminism truly mean? If it is solely providing place and validation for women’s authentic voices and experiences and desires then doesn’t that apply to abused women that want to stay abused? Are their voices less genuine, worth hearing, womanly because they are spoken through busted lips?
I asked these questions while I drove the kids around California highways. I queried my heart while we sat at the beach. I pricked the inside of my soul searching for substantive answers while I ate, showered and in the hours I should have slept. The truths I found are mine, I can’t make them yours and wouldn’t if I could. But I’ll let them breathe in this space for awhile.
Men and women are different. Gender is not, should not, be defined by patriarchal traditions or simply by what has come before we bothered to ask about its nature. That does not mean it does not exist. The question of what gender means is a complex one and I am alright admitting that I am still navigating the concept. So much more discussion and subsequent revelation would ensue if more of us were willing to say, “I am still learning. I don’t know yet. I am still seeking.” There is so much I don’t know. I think that’s a good thing.
I do not think instinct is king. Of course, some of our visceral reactions are born of culture and condition. However, I believe some gut reactions are worth listening to with a refined ear. Our collective gasp and horror at the thought of a man hitting a woman is one of those moments of audible instinctual truth.
A man hitting a woman is a gross violation. That violation is centered in our gender differences, current cultural mores regarding sameness be damned. The act of male on female abuse does not violate a weaker or fairer sex. I reject both those terms as simplistic and paternal. Rather it is the brute force imposition of will that horrifies. Women are hit because they are seen as less, because they aren’t seen at all, because their abusers believe they can be pounded into a more acceptable shape.
Feminism does offer a platform for women’s authentic voices, experiences and desires. Every voice has a place. But acknowledgement of authenticity does not have to mean agreement, support or complicity. I can hear you and disagree with you.
Is action from private and public entities alike in response to circumstances like this just another bleak outcropping of paternal attitudes? It doesn’t have to be. We can have widespread cultural values that don’t originate in a misbegotten idea of feminine inability. The fact that those values can be held by men doesn’t mean they are paternal. It means they are universal.
Do we as a society have the right or responsibility to react? I so desperately want the answer to this last, important question to be a resounding, unquestioning, “Yes”. But on what foundation does society place its actions? There is a fault line through our public discourse on men and women. While its fractures spread, the body politic seems content to speak in 30 second sound bites.
We aren’t willing to ask the hard questions, let alone do the work to answer them. We act as if life moves in black and white rather than varying shades of color. We tell our girls they are empowered and powerful and then send them off to colleges that have to give seminars on how to not get date raped. We pretend deep thinking and freedom means throwing off constraint, when really true depth questions what constraints offer liberty. We are content to work in theory and pontificating poses rather than the muddy, fertile soil of reality. We yell when we should listen. We judge when we should pray. We seek rightness when we should seek knowledge.
Do we as a society have the right or responsibility to react? My answer is still “Yes”, but it comes softly and with trepidation. It is also said with hope. Because maybe, just maybe in our need to act we will regain the desire to know why the action must be taken. And perhaps in seeking to know the reason, we will also find ourselves. And maybe, maybe if we finally understand who we are, we will begin to understand what we are worth.
Wouldn’t a world where we held both value and values be an interesting place to live? I bet in that place elevators would be just another way to get to the top floor.
A girl can dream, I guess.
At a press conference right before pre-season.
I’ve been listening to sports radio all day.
I tuned in as soon as I woke up this morning and saw the video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancée, Janay, senseless. She’s small, he’s big. She’s angry, he’s angrier. He hits closed fist into her face hard, she falls to the ground harder. He drags her from the elevator, she lays unconscious across the opening of the elevator while he uses his feet to push her out of the way.
Male pundits keep describing the video as disturbing. Well, what the hell else would it be? What, exactly dear football fans and commentators alike, do you think it takes to punch a woman out? Did you think it was gentle? Did you think it could be civilized? Did you think it wouldn’t look like it would hurt? Did you think she would fall gracefully instead of hitting her head against metal and concrete? Did you think he must have handled her traumatized head and body with care? Did you think they hugged afterwards? What the hell did you think domestic violence looks like?
People keep saying they are “shocked” upon viewing the video.
They shouldn’t be.
We’ve known this happened since he was first booked for the crime the night it happened – February 15th. What we already know shouldn’t be a surprise. The man was charged by grand jury for the crime on March 27th. And the NFL handed down its first pathetic sentence concerning the incident in August. A two game suspension. At one point the Ravens organization, tweeted out that Janay had taken responsibility for her part in the incident. Like the good abused now-wife of an NFL player should, I guess. It seems that the NFL’s preoccupation with preventing concussions to its players didn’t extend to the player’s wives and partners.
A few weeks later, the NFL commissioner came out and admitted he “didn’t get it right”. New guidelines were established, players proven to be guilty of domestic violence would get a six game suspension for the first incident and an indefinite suspension for the second incident. The right to enact more severe penalties was retained for case by case consideration. This didn’t change a thing about Ray Rice’s initial punishment. If he had been third string instead of a star running back, I am sure things would have been different.
But they weren’t.
During his first preseason game, the home crowd gave him a standing ovation.
And then, today the video of him knocking out Janay was released through TMZ. People were horrified. There were widespread calls for the new NFL domestic violence rules to be used retroactively. People openly wondered how the Ravens and NFL PR teams would handle the new information. Better spin it right, ya’ll.
Do you know what is shocking? That seven months after finding out this woman was knocked out in public by one closed fist punch we are all finally getting around to being shocked.
By this afternoon, the Ravens had fired Ray Rice and the NFL had permanently suspended him. A lot of people are congratulating the organizations for “getting it right” this time. Their hands were forced seems like a more accurate description. People are calling this a learning opportunity. I guess it is if we are supposed to be learning about misplaced priorities. It is interesting to note that the NFL is claiming to have never seen the video as if that is some sort of excuse. I guess it’s the old “Does a 206 pound man hitting a woman really make a sound if there is no audio to catch it” defense.
I heard one caller say that she hoped abused women understand their voices matter because of the events of today. Their voices do matter. And I hope they each find that truth. I hope we all find that truth. But that’s not the lesson that was taught.
Over the past few weeks, the celebrities that were hacked and an ongoing instagram #selfie culture have led to a spate of articles about American women’s widespread desire to document themselves. Why so many nude self portraits even in the privacy of our own home? Why so many smiling faces in filtered iPhone snaps? Why the compulsive need to be seen?
Has anyone considered that every duck faced selfie is an effort to declare – “I am here. I have a voice. I have a presence. I have value. Please, for the love of God, see me.” Do you realize the majority of our girls aren’t seen or heard until they are naked or news? We live in a society where it took the visual confirmation of a woman being beaten to make people think the beating actually mattered. The horror of a man crushing a woman’s face with his closed fist wasn’t understood until it could be viewed in a 30 second window on our iPhones.
The radio is still on and I just heard another on air personality say he is “shocked by the video”. Again with the S word. I’ve been confused by that phrase today. But suddenly, hearing it one more time has made everything clear. They are not shocked that a man would hit a woman.
They are shocked that they can see her.
After everything was said and done. After the criminals were processed. After the children were collected and sent on to a better place. After we were escorted to our waiting cars. After the drive to the safe house past an ocean and streets lined with concrete buildings and rusted bikes. After I took a breath and then another and tried to eat my dinner. After sitting under a tree and watching it’s fade to match the darkness of the night sky. I started asking the question that all of us have after encountering the fraying edges of mortality.
“How can this possibly be happening?”
Funny how an answer can be expected and shocking at the same time.
It’s all about supply and demand.
The traffickers sell the children because there is a demand. Remove the the customer base and you end human trafficking. Unfortunately, the demand for trafficked children is expanding exponentially. It’s a growth industry with no signs of slowing down. The purchasers of children tend to be western men, Americans and Canadians are up at the top of the list of offenders. The internet and the ease of worldwide travel has made it easy to find anything men and women want – including trafficked children. According to the men who work with OUR, the tie that binds nearly all the pedophiles they’ve caught is an early and excessive dependence on pornography. Of course, some men and women are just predators even without the help of addiction and disease. They’ve caught those, too.
Curbing supply is nearly as complicated as ending demand. Many of these babies are kidnapped from already vulnerable situations. Some are taken from loving homes. Some are sold by family members, fathers, mothers, cousins, uncles, grandparents – some of whom were sold by their family, too. Some children don’t have home or family, some are forced to choose between starving and the dark work offered by a man on the street – which we can all agree is really no choice at all. All are victims of a breakdown of family and/or community. And all are no different in heart or worth than the babies you and I put to bed every night.
These kids are our kids.
So what can we do? Quite a lot, actually. OUR is running a campaign called, Become An Abolitionist – Give a Lincoln, Save a Slave. This is just a monthly $5 donation. Less than you spent on diet coke this week. Where does your money go? Directly to their missions. Sisters, I was there. I saw the work this money does. It purchases plane tickets, equipment and supplies. I watched it get counted out on the table as OUR pretended to purchase the kids. I saw children literally saved because people like you and me decided we could part with a few bucks. Money is a resource. It can be used for good. For the greater good. For the greatest good.
Let’s do some good, shall we?
OUR is made up of men and women that are JUST like you and me. They have kids and soccer games and mortgages and little fights and big dreams. We can work alongside them from our kitchen tables. We can raise awareness. I’m not talking about some do nothing hashtag campaign. I’m talking about real conversations – the kind of talk that leads to good compassion, greater understanding and better works. The kind that brings in funding and helping hands. We should be proclaiming the plight of these babies from the rooftops and then we need to start seeking solutions and love. We need to get our family, neighbors and that woman in line at the grocery store involved.
And finally, we need to protect the children in our homes and the ones that live down the street. Our communities are not free from these horrors. The child sex trade is happening here. In abundance. Our children are being exploited, too and as families and communities we are failing them. Become involved. Keep an eye out. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions. The children in our lives, even the ones that live five doors down, are our responsibility. Their safe keeping is our obligation. We must reach down and lift up. Again and again and again.
Let’s get to work.
My tv appearance about OUR and the work they do.
I think sometimes we keep our eyes shut and our hearts occupied when we are moving towards a destination. I know I have been guilty of this in both the literal and metaphorical journeys of my life. Sometimes I find myself where I hoped to be and feel a bit empty. How did I get here? What were the moments that led to this?
I am working on it.
It took four planes to get me from America to the Dominican Republic last week. Four airports full of people leaving and arriving and hoping and sleeping. I kept my eyes open. I had one layover in the Vegas airport that stretched from its expected “barely tolerable” three hours to a “my goodness this beyond the pale, I don’t care how first world that sounds” five hours. I had plenty of time to write little thoughts, eat big sandwiches and watch the people around me.
I settled into my gate with a book and even more food, when a woman with two dogs approached the counter.
She was what polite characters in fiction would call “big boned”. Her clothes were wrinkled from travel and her spaghetti straps pressed into her shoulders. She wore white scuffed sneakers and a bit of lace sock peaked above their tops. She held her lips in a tight purse and her eyes were as creased and tired as her clothes. The dogs looked more well rested than their owner. One was large and white. His ears sharps and eyes curious. He rested his nose against her stomach. She held the other under one arm. A little bit of a thing with more fur than flesh. The man at the counter looked at her with confusion and expectation.
She stood defensively before she spoke, each white shoe planted firmly on the stained carpet.
“Hello, sir. These are emotional support dogs. I’m taking them out to Virginia and need to check them to come on the flight with me. I’ve got all the documentation and before you say anything, know that everyone has been giving me problems all day and in the end, they have all decided I can keep traveling.”
He smiled and murmured something before typing into his computer. After a few moments he looked up,
“This airline must have different rules than the other ones you have been traveling with so far. I’m only allowed to let you take one dog with you. Let me call my boss. Until then please take a seat.”
Her shoulders slumped and she led the dogs away, sitting them and herself on the floor next to the counter.
Over the next hour and a half, I watched documentation be disputed, phone calls made and superiors called over. The woman was on guard and terse. She was universally frustrated and dismissive with all the agents, even the ones that showed concern. The initial agent that helped her was always kind. The others were not. One employee would walk over every few minutes to ask her supercilious questions and then smirk at the people around him when she answered. Her flight came and went. She called her sister to cry.
“I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m trying to get these out to you, but everyone is being so mean.”
I started crying, too.
The dogs were a bit restless. Wandering around her and whimpering when she wouldn’t let them walk away. The agent with the smug grin walked over when the white one yelped,
“You are going to have to control those dogs. This isn’t a kennel. Ma’am.”
“You think I don’t know that? I’m doing my best. They are just tired. I am tired, too. You ever been tired?”
A woman sitting behind me had been witness to the dog dilemma as long as I had. She was well dressed and her lipstick was fresh. The gold hoops in her ears swayed as she shook her head and leaned over to her husband,
“Enough with the dog sob story, already. Who is this woman. She is crazy.”
He chuckled and circled his hand around hers.
The words to tell her off were tumbling out of my mouth when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.
A woman and her two teenage daughters sat down next to the woman and her dogs. The fifteen year old started petting the big white dog, while the older one let the little dog crawl onto her lap. Their mom put her hand on the woman’s shoulder.
“Tell me the names of your dogs.”
The four of them talked about the dogs while the agents at the desk continued to call and type and look official. The polished woman with the chuckling husband chuckled about something else. And I sat in the middle of everything and let the lesson I’d just learned seep into my bones.
The passions and plights of our fellow sisters may not always make sense to us. Heaven knows, a lone woman demanding to get on a plane with a dog the size of a miniature horse and one the size of a mouse has the air of the ridiculous about it. But, she was trying to do something that was important to her. And my approval of her situation doesn’t really matter one little bit. All that matters is my understanding of her heart. We’ve all got pursuits, hopes, problems that make no sense to outsiders. All of us will be the “tired woman with the dogs” to the women around us at one point or another. We’ve got no choice in the matter.
What we can choose is our reaction to our fellow sisters when they find themselves in that place of isolation. Will we shake our heads and laugh knowingly? Or will we get down on the floor next to them and ask them to give us the names of the things they care about?
I plan on spending much of my time on the floor. Want to join me? I’ll scooch over a bit. There’s plenty of room.