it's complicated

I Never Enjoyed Sex Until I Took It Less Seriously

When my wife and I had a baby, all my planning fell apart — and I finally learned to be spontaneous.

Photo: Caspar Benson/Getty Images/fStop
Photo: Caspar Benson/Getty Images/fStop
Photo: Caspar Benson/Getty Images/fStop

When I met Annie, we sparked intellectually, politically, we cracked each other up. I was raised just outside of Albany, New York, and she moved here for college. We connected in the heart of the city, volunteering for a mentoring program teaching kids literacy. I loved her Afro puff, loved her taste in literature, the fact that she studied Portuguese, dreaming of one day visiting Brazil. She had friends from every background and was questioning religion but exploring them all. She was determined, zipping toward her bachelor’s degree in three years. A scrappy Brooklyn girl who wanted to pave the way for others. It was bashert we bonded — destiny — but we weren’t exactly exuding and sucking in each other’s pheromones. It would be two years into our marriage, after we had a baby, before I would enjoy having sex with her.

Before we’d met, I’d only been with one woman, a long-term girlfriend, nearly eight years prior. Sex gave me tsuris; it made me anxious. I never understood guys who had flings and didn’t spiral into panic. Germs, STDs, pregnancies, unreciprocated feelings, utter cluelessness when it came to pleasuring a stranger — there was too much I couldn’t control. After my ex and I broke up, I went through long periods in which I didn’t attempt to date, much less kiss or touch anyone, sometimes for years at a time. Pleasing myself caused less stress. No one got hurt. No one left disappointed.

But when Annie mentioned she wanted to learn to drive, I found myself immediately handing her my keys. Every weekend, I’d hop from the driver’s seat so Annie could get behind the wheel. We took breaks at the mall to watch dramas — nothing too scary ’cause neither of us could handle it — and I showed her a corner of the local nature preserve visitors like her wouldn’t know, attempting to negate the Smalbany stereotype.

Four months of friendship later, I got a text: “Do you like me?” Ecstatic but choking on air, terrified I’d screw everything up, I responded, “Why do you ask?” Annie proceeded to tally clues proving her theory that I did, until, back against the wall, I finally admitted that, yes, indeed, I liked her. She then planned everything we’d do when she returned to Albany. What we’d eat and what she’d wear. What she’d do to me. I wanted to bury myself under my desk to quell the fear surging through my veins. I knew that I couldn’t live up to her expectations, though I still wanted to try.

I turned to research, studying books about how to turn sex from boring to mind-blowing, although I’d hardly had any at all. I sought advice from friends, and they cooed at me like I was an adorable puppy dog. My dude told me to kiss Annie behind her kneecaps — keep making out with the crook of her leg. I brought her back to my place and put to work everything I’d learned, step by step, knee by knee. Our first time touching was filled with starts and stops — “This isn’t working,” “Let’s try again in a few.” For months, it was a series of failed rehearsals, yet sometimes it was kinda-sorta okay.

There was clearly no magic in the sex, but we swept that to the side, focusing on the ways we clicked. I looked to Annie, trying to absorb her energy so I could become more confident, more assertive, more relaxed, and Annie seemed to gravitate toward me to fill the gaps for traits she lacked too. Annie was blunt, and I spoke empathy. She grew up viewing dogs as dirty beasts, but I introduced her to a fuzzy, bumbly Shih Tzu named Teddy. Her family was splintered; she didn’t meet her dad until she was 6. But I called mine daily and visited my parents weekly. I kept her laughing, kvetching better than Larry David.

So after we transitioned from friends to awkward lovers, we kept trying. I began scheduling sex: only on weekends, never in the morning, never late at night, everyone had to be showered. I needed to get it perfect, to have peak control over my body, the same way I thought I could control our timelines—for marriage, for the house, for kids. During intercourse, I obsessed over failing, then tried to regulate it more. I catastrophized every major life decision, my mind flooding with worst-case scenarios, questioning: Could I maintain a home? Could I be a dad? Could I truly care for others? Annie remained unfulfilled and restless in life, feeling as if I was stalling, content with everything being so blah. She became apathetic toward sex improving but pushed back hard on the timeline. Wrestling for the reins, she drew lines for when she required me to hit life milestones: She needed marriage and kids by set dates or she didn’t need me. Through it all, she believed relationships could succeed if both people shared values and were willing to put in the work, and I knew she was right. I knew losing her would leave me stagnant: same job, same friends, same schmuckery. Hands shaking, down to the wire, we met under the chuppah and jumped the broom.

We attended therapy, negotiating a timeline for the baby. Annie began scheduling the sex, charting her calendar for when she would be ovulating. She went on prenatals and moderated her diet and mine, making sure I ate plenty of pineapple. She was losing hope after only four weeks of trying. On October 31, 2017, I reached over and assured her, “I’m getting you pregnant.” We had a timetable to keep. In July 2018, our baby boy, Avishai, was born.

Immediately, all our scheduling went to crap. Avishai wouldn’t latch, so Annie took on the load of pumping while I finger-fed him through a tube. Though she planned to take months off for maternity leave, we had to improvise because the disappointment brutalized her. She rushed back to her job early while I went more and more part time at mine, quickly settling into the stay-at-home-dad life. We couldn’t control our son’s sleep, his eating, his teething, or his bodily functions. I had to learn to flow in sync with my wife and baby. I had to learn spontaneity.

All at once, everything but Avishai was insignificant: work, hobbies, showering. Eventually, I realized, I even took sex less seriously, which made it so much more fulfilling. Without set times, we began handing the baby to my mother-in-law, who’d moved in with us, so we could “do laundry,” our code word for bolting to the basement so I could bend Annie over the washing machine. She would straddle me in the stairwell. Her chin against my forehead, her crotch grinding mine. I stopped worrying about performing, and we acted out our hottest fantasies. On the anniversary of Avishai’s conception, we woke before dawn; sound machine still going, she covered my mouth as I climaxed so not to wake the baby. An hour later, I passed the kid to her mom, Annie called out from work, I skipped playgroup, and all our plans changed. Some nights, days, mornings, I’ll be all over her. Other times, she’s all over me: In the supermarket, in temple — lately, on the couch watching Sesame Street. Waiting to get between the sheets. Often, we can’t rock the kid to sleep fast enough.

It took me forever to get here, and I’m so lucky that Annie saw enough potential in me to roll through the rough patches. I always carried a crippling fear that I’d fail as a father. I told myself that in order to take teensy steps forward in life, everything needed to be in order first; if things didn’t seem planned perfectly, I wouldn’t budge, leaving me in a state of perpetual adolescence where I felt safe. It wasn’t until I could move forward, even knowing I lacked control over things, that I was able to attain any confidence. And with that, Annie was able to believe in me too. She no longer had milestones to fret over because we were hitting them all.

We both became too tired to fight over trivial schedules. It didn’t matter; we were preoccupied chuckling at Avishai fumbling over first words, chasing after the pup, and crafting instruments from kitchen utensils. Each day, there’s a trust that even though we don’t have power over everything, especially the future, we will support each other. This flowing together with each other’s movements, falling into one another, it’s a peace I’ve never had before. It’s juicy, it’s hot, it’s carnal. It’s completely unprotected, but I know I’m ready for it all.

I Never Enjoyed Sex Until I Took It Less Seriously