"I hate sex. I can't have sex. Every time I think of sex, I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like crawling into a little ball and dying. It is not that I don't love my partner or even find him attractive. It's that I am afraid. I am afraid if I have sex, I will lose part of myself."
"How does your partner feel about your withholding?"
"Oh, I have ways to keep him at bay," she says, her tears subsiding.
"You mean you manipulate him to get what you want?"
"Well, if want to put it that way," she says, the smirk returning.
It is dawn as the light filters through Lisa's bedroom window. She has been lying awake for several hours, unable to fall back asleep. She has been running the logic over and over in her mind: "I love him. I feel safe with him. I want to be with him. He is a good person, but I can't have sex with him. Will I ever be able to have sex with him? Will I ever be normal? Ans what is normal?"
Lisa gently shifts her weight, careful not to disturb her partner's slumber. She looks at Ward's face: the slight upturn of his nose; the freckles spotting his cheeks; his plump, rosy lips, and long, dark eyelashes. He looks so peaceful. How can he be the monster poised to steal Lisa's sex?
Lisa feels an internal gash, as if her body and mind are divided like two enemies on a battlefield -- her head the logic, her body the terror.
Lisa takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and flashes on her father and the horror she felt as his hands wandered over her small body. Holding her breath and closing her eyes tightly, she hopes she can erase the horror of her father's touch. In her confusion she wonders: "This is my father; he is supposed to love me, to keep me safe. I am supposed to feel good about this? Is this his love? If it is, how come I feel frozen, so scarred, so confused, so betrayed?"
"It is manipulation," I say, jarring Lisa back to the present.
"Look, call it what you want. I am just protecting myself. It's my body, after all."
"That's true. It is your body. The question is: What do you want to do with your body?"
Lisa is a sexual anorexic, unable to seek or find pleasure in sexual experience. Lisa's sexual template was hammered and forged the day her father violated her through incest. That horrific violation stamped Lisa with the belief that sex equals shame, terror, and powerlessness. Her survival instinct shielded her from that awful shame through passive-aggressive anger, deluding Lisa into feeling she was in control.
"I feel guilty when I turn my partner down or make excuses for not being sexual," Lisa continues. "But, at the same time, I feel a sense of gratification; it is as if now I have the power."
It is late afternoon as Lisa takes a sip of her coffee. She loves the light of this time of day. She has always felt that, right before sunset, time stands still, as if there were a pregnant pause or a long, slow inhalation.
Taking another sip of her coffee, she breathes deeply as if to sustain the magic of the moment. As she fills her lungs, she halts abruptly. Her reverie is interrupted as two lovers cross the street, blocking the fading rays of light. The woman steals her adoring glance as her partner leans over for a tender kiss. Lisa's stomach tightens. Her breathing is shallow and she feels disdain rise in her.
"Do I need to see this? Can't they get a room?" she thinks begrudgingly. "Can't they contain themselves?" Lisa feels defiled by what she classifies as a "public display of emotional weakness."
Lisa picks up her coffee and pushes back her metal chair, making a slight squeaking noise. Embarrassed that she may be calling attention to herself, she brushes past the counter of the coffee shop. The lovers, no standing in line, are locked in a loving embrace. Lisa imagines shooting daggers out of her eyes and into their hearts.
The fallout of Lisa's abuse leaves her unable to tolerate any form of sexual energy, whether it is directed at her or not. This public display of physical affection leaves Lisa feeling threatened. To counter her vulnerability, she goes "one-up" and sees the couple as weak, inappropriate, dirty, and disgusting. She thinks, "I can control my self; why can't you?" Lisa's sexual template distorts her thinking and emotions so that sex, whether real or imagined, is intolerable and terrifying.
"So, doing your homework would mean what?" I ask.
"It would mean that I might get better."
"And what's wrong with that?"
"I like it where I am. It feels safe," Lisa days.
Shortly after this session, Lisa failed to return to therapy.
Her demons, at least for now, had won. Her feelings of terror outweighed her hope for a new freedom, a freedom from the prison her father had locked her in so many years ago.