When I was numb in my marriage, the numbness extended to physical sensation as well as emotional feeling. I didn’t fully understand this at the time. I sought out someone other than my husband because I wanted a man to feel the opposite of numb about me, the opposite of apathetic. I wanted a man to desire me; I wanted his desire to be so over the top as to be unmistakable. I found that someone, and he introduced me to pain and bondage in sex. Ropes, spankings, ball gags, nipple clamps. And one time, a box cutter. And it hurt, but I took it, and I loved it. I felt alive and desired and beautiful and sexy. I felt like someone other than someone’s mother. I went back for more, and more again.
Years later, after my divorce, I found another man who liked to play those same kinds of games. I told him that I did too, and we made plans. But this time, it hurt. It really hurt. And I made him stop. He was confused, and so was I. Something about this pain felt different. I didn’t enjoy it at all.
I believe now that I was so numb during my affair–during my marriage–that I literally did not feel the pain as intensely. I also believe that the transgressive nature of what I was doing, the affair itself, acted as a kind of analgesic to the pain. The espionage of orchestrating our trysts, the creativity in our sex play and costumes, the mind games before, during, and after our times together. Entire days spent in hotel rooms, stopping only once, to eat. It’s such a cliché, but the rush of it all really was exhilarating. Yummy, my therapist at the time said, after I described it to her. And it was, in fact, delicious, like something sweet and wonderful I could hold in my mouth, to savor, remember.
But it was, still, an affair. I could also endure the pain because my mind welcomed it, as punishment for breaking my marriage vows, for daring to pursue more and different than what so many women would have gladly accepted as more than enough. Surely satisfaction came at a price.
Once I was no longer married, once guilt had no currency with me and I had experienced both the depths and heights of desire, my pain threshold plummeted. Or so it seemed. With the new man, I thought I wanted the pain again, but it felt all wrong. I cried sad, humiliated tears, not sensual ones. In the absence of any transgression warranting punishment, the slaps and the restraints felt disrespectful, not satisfying. In divorcing, I had lost so much, including, apparently, the need for sexual extremes. I had assumed S&M as an identity, my true sexual identity that I’d been forced to sublimate during my marriage. But now I craved something else, something tender but still strong enough to never be mistaken for apathy.
Is one’s pain threshold a changeable thing? Even if it is, I can’t fathom how something like a divorce could change it. Perhaps a better explanation for what happened is that I wasn’t completely numb at the end of my marriage and during the affair. Though I was numb to pain, I was alive to pleasure. But after my divorce, something shifted. Not my pain threshold, but perhaps my sensitivity to pain came to outweigh the pleasure I derived from it.
Am I less alive to pleasure than I was back then, or was S&M just a passing phase? The latter is more likely. I had been plain vanilla sexually active for over 15 years before becoming curious about and then desirous of S&M in my thirties, my sexual peak years. True, it had not been welcome in my marriage, but there was only a very small window of time, about 2 years, between my experiencing these desires and the end of my marriage.
At present, plain vanilla sex is still a turn-off, and I’m more desirous of what would be described as rough sex (hair pulling, pounding, pressure) than I am of S&M. S&M wasn’t my true sexual identity, but it did rouse me from the sexual and emotional coma that my marriage had become. Like pain itself, it served as a messenger to my brain, and the message was, “Wake up and live.”