The moment I realized something had to change, I was sitting at my desk in Seattle on a beautiful spring day, looking at the downtown skyline. A thought popped into my head. "You need to have sex before you wither away and die." It was like a sharp-tongued fairy godmother had visited me.
This was three years ago. At 38, I had not had sex or even been on a date in over four years. I was practically re-virginized. The last time I had had sex was in 2008, when I was still living in New York. It was a memorable experience—for all the wrong reasons. On the night of my going-away party I stopped by my favorite bar on the way home. There, a morose, handsome, young literary star was drowning his sorrows (about what, the pressure of being handsome and young?), with whiskey. At the end of the night we went to his loft next door. Ten interminable minutes later, it was over.
On the surface, my life seemed glamorous. As a nightlife columnist, I rubbed shoulders with everyone from Moby to Mario Batali. People would often say to me, "Oh, you're just like Carrie from Sex and The City!" I would think ruefully, "Yeah, except for the sex (and the shoes, the money, the nice apartment). But yeah! Just like her!" The reality was that I had sex once a year, on average. The truth was, I just wasn't horny. At all.
At first, I wasn't bothered by it. But the longer I went without sex, the less I craved it, and the effects of having no intimacy compounded. Your self-esteem takes a nose-dive, and with no sex drive, you reason, what would you even do in a relationship? It was a terrible, vicious cycle that seemed unbreakable.
It took me a while to figure out why my libido was so low. In 2000 I was diagnosed with endometriosis and started on the Pill to suppress my periods, which helps control the endometriosis. I tried several versions of the Pill before settling on the Nuvaring, another hormonal form. A few years in, noticing that I was slowly becoming dead inside, I asked my doctor if the hormones were the culprit. There are plenty of reports that support the notion. One doctor poohed-poohed this as a possibility. Another doctor prescribed testosterone cream but didn't suggest going off birth control. It seemed my missing sex drive was unfortunate collateral; controlling the endometriosis was more important.
So, resigned to my sexless, but also painless, fate, I kept on it…for 11 years, from age 27 to 38.
But these were supposed to be my peak sexual years! Instead I was becoming more matronly by the minute. So I decided a few days of painful bleeding a month would be worth it if it meant giving myself a fighting chance at companionship, or at the very least, desire. I would take out my ring and see what happened.
Three weeks later, sitting at the same desk, apropos of nothing, I felt something I hadn't felt in a while: a weird tingling in between my legs. Desire. Lust. I was horny. It was a feeling I had only experienced intermittently throughout the years, but now it was a persistent sensation, humming in the background at all times. At first I was relieved. I wasn't broken! But now I was angry—I was staring 40 in the face and looking a dwindling pool of suitors.
I had to make up for lost time, which wasn't a problem as I was so turned on that I could barely concentrate on anything else. I would try to write sentences, and would instead Google "James Deen and Stoya, audition scene," and spend about an hour getting worked up before writing another sentence, and returning to Google. Repeat. (It helped that I worked from home.)
I started going to bars, hoping to find a willing suitor. (Anyone, really.) One night, a skinny, 26-year-old stuck around long enough, and I decided, "He'll do." After ten rabbit-like minutes, my celibacy was over. Then I joined dating websites—OKCupid, Match, even the dregs of them all, Plenty of Fish—and bought four vibrators. Before long I was sexting with people I would never even meet, and had amassed such an impressive collection of dick pics that I could stage an art show.
I have since collected men (and a few women) like some women collect shoes. I flew to Vegas for a one-night stand. I had a hookup over a lunch break. One guy came over on a dare and we cleaned my house in our underwear—before undoing our work in the bedroom.
My delayed sexual awakening taught me a few things: what I like (dirty talk), don't like (porn star banging), and that my age was immaterial. Oh, and the horrible, terrible periods? Yes, they came back. After about a year of self-medicating, a doctor friend suggested a drug called Toradol, which magically controlled the pain. (I later learned that this drug is the same one given to NFL players when they get injured on the field, so they can continue playing. I am as hardcore as an NFL linebacker, I thought triumphantly.) The return of my missing libido taught me that I wasn't depressed or broken, or just—as society makes us believe, female—with a naturally lower sex drive. I now knew that no matter how painful my periods were, going without sex was like going without food. I vowed never to let years—nay, weeks— pass without it again. My fairy godmother would have been pleased.
(Pro tip: If you're worried about the side effects of birth control—or if you've had a bad experience—here are a few things you should know.)
This article is a part of a week-long series on birth control. See the rest here.
A version of this article appears in the June issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands May 19.