This is Love-Play: Learning New Ways to Touch & Be Touched
(*This blog contains excerpts from Curve: A Memoir of (Self) Compassion & Touching Wood: A Memoir of Leaving and Becoming Home, both by Ahava Shira.
**Trigger warning: The following discusses incest, kink in the context of healing from sexual trauma, sexuality and disability care partnering. Ahava engages with these themes bravely and purposefully, modeling how to use memoir to uncover the connections between different memories and make meaning, healing and beauty from the whole journey of our lives. And how to continue to.**
*You were my first lover. We had a secret. Neither of us told.
My first. I say that now knowing what it meant. What I needed. The soft touch. tender listening. sensitivity. taking your time. surfing my body slowly. deliberately. Or was it? Did you know where you were going? The first time? Second time? All the other times?
My first lover, in your bedroom on the orange carpet, listening to Boston and The Rolling Stones. Later there would be other lovers. Other bedrooms.
But you were my first. A place to start. Safe? Perhaps. Anything but straightforward."
I was young. Maybe 9 or 10. He was my older cousin, by 4 ½ years. It was confusing and oh so pleasureful. We lived in a duplex, with his family’s home upstairs and ours downstairs. We would listen to music on his record player and he would tickle my back. Sometimes he would pull me onto his lap.
I didn’t like my cousin. He was weird, awkward, the only boy out of four children.
I did like how his fingers made me feel as they circled my breasts, grazed my belly, contoured my bum. The tingles and warmth. The slow and steady charge of the taboo, intensified by being alone in his room. The door closed. Unsure whether at any moment someone would knock or come in.
Somehow they never did....
I first learned Swedish massage in Vancouver in the mid 90s when I was studying to be an aromatherapist. I have since massaged hundreds of bodies. I love how it feels to touch them, to give so much while remaining in my own silence and receive their praise after.
"I had no idea you were so dissatisfied. What can we do about it?”
After giving him ten pages from a draft of my memoir, my husband Gregory said...
A few weeks later, we enrolled in an eight-week "Erotic Blueprints Course". The creator, Jaiya, identifies five styles of erotic engagement: energetic, sensual, sexual, kinky and shapeshifter.
Suggesting we each have a dominant or primary one—unless we are a shapeshifter, who moves fluidly between them all—we can learn to expand our capacity to receive and give pleasure by “feeding” the blueprints through touching, speaking, listening, and fantasizing.
Initially, I imagined myself a shapeshifter, but was hesitant to own my kinky. Gregory was firmly in the sexual camp, although receptive to exploring, with a bias against kinky due to his associating it with porn and the exploitation of women.
Navigating through the vulnerable terrain of our sexual re-education, Gregory‘s erotic vocabulary grew. So did my relationship with kinky....
*I’m not sure which came first, his touch or my own."
When I was in my own bed, in my own bedroom, which was just below my cousin's, on my family’s floor of the duplex, I would rub myself to climax with my diy sex toys.
The one I remember most is my Betsy Clark letter opener. Light green plastic with a soft, flat surface. I didn’t have the words for vulva, clitoris, labia then.
I also used my fingers, and my mind.
I had a rich fantasy life as a child, imagined being with cute boys and men like those I crushed over at school, and in the daytime TV soap operas, Another World, Days of Our Lives.
I didn’t fantasize about touching women, until I was older....
*It’s toasty in the loft when I awake. Naked from bed, I go pee then nestle in front of the wood stove on the burgundy velour cushion. Lean my back against the white chair. Inhale the heat. A desire surfaces for my own touch. My hands begin to contour my breasts and arms, belly and thighs, chest and neck. Slow and gentle with a soft palm and all five fingers. I bask in the oxytocin high.
Stretching my left hand above my head, another desire surfaces. Darker.
I lean over from my seat to feed the fire with more wood. Settle back against the chair. Imagining I am a queen, I call on a “servant” to touch me.
“Lick my nipples,” I tell an unseen being with male energy. “Now lay your head in my crotch. I want to feel your hunger,” I order. I am aroused…
We had been through two years of successive changes: the pandemic, his Parkinson’s diagnosis, relocating from the farm halfway up the mountain where we’d lived for 14 years to a new neighbourhood beside the water, moving my business as a writing mentor and teacher online.
Aside from spooning in bed most nights, and holding hands under the covers, with an occasional bedtime peck on the cheek, his tremoring arm, weakened shoulder and progressively stiffening fingers were making it difficult for him to reach out and touch me beyond a simple caress.
I tried a few times to re-enter the "Blueprint" explorations, what we had named “Love-Play”. Then a conversation with a girlfriend of mine and some questions in a book Gregory and I were both reading, gave us the courage to dig in....
In the big white chair where I’d had the “kinky queen” fantasy, now situated beside the room-wide window with the view to the water, we shared the stories we’d been telling ourselves (and not each other):
His sense of loss, disappointment from not having intercourse due to my being post-menopausal and too dry to receive him. My grief and fear that I wouldn’t be able to express the full spectrum of my sexuality with him again.
Through the conversation, he realized he hadn’t told me that when he mentions how “rattly” he is on certain days, (his term for when his tremoring body is assaulting his sense of "self"), what he was really saying was: “I want to be intimate with you, but this "new" body isn’t cooperating”. And I realized, I was feeling shame about my kinky fantasies and day/night-time dreamlovers, and instead of sharing them with him, I’d been imagining I needed to be with someone else.
We got into bed and I pulled out the vibrator. He reached over and pinched my nipples, vocalizing how he liked how hard they were. I became aroused and so did he. As he pulled out the jar of coconut oil and rubbed some onto his penis, I reached over and ran my purple Je Joue “mimi” over his scrotum, up his shaft and around his inner thighs. I came multiple times to his one, but his was a full body orgasm, which he gratefully attributed to the tremoring already going in his body. We kissed and fell asleep.
Lying beside Gregory, in bed, my hand smooths the underside of his thigh. His eyes closed, head resting on the pillow, I feel his leg, smaller now, fleshy, and remember how much I love to touch him.
My face closes in on his pillow, the tips of his toes stroke the fronts of mine. I smooth his glutes, fan my palm up his spine then over his chest. Linger. He starts to talk, reveals his overwhelm and confusion in those moments when we're in conflict. I lie there, sighing, notice my heart become tender.
Sometimes, I would rather move away.
Sometimes it seems it would be easier to leave, say no, I can’t live with you anymore, or can’t live with me anymore, or this pain, tension, disease is too big, too strong, too frightening.
But I have learned to linger and move closer, to remind myself that these moments matter, because they are between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife who can navigate the journey of marriage and illness and challenge if they work together, come closer, rely on each other to be present, to bring all the courage and strength they can muster.
Today the sun shines. I walk out into the garden with its ebullient leaves and blossoms in a dozen shades of red. My husband walks toward me, having secured the gate, guaranteeing our seclusion. His right arm tremors, right foot shuffles and I don’t care. He reaches out to me and I reach too, bare skin beneath my dress glowing as we sweep in together for a kiss. I feel the swish of pretty on my calves, his handsome touch against my thighs.