Every Hooha Hangup in the DSM


“Maybe you’re just not a very sexual person,” says Dr. Fay in a slow Southern drawl. I’ve come to this office to save my new marriage. After thirty years of searching, I’ve found a man I love who loves me back–at 48. I never had reciprocity before, meaning a real relationship. But now I do. With Kurt, my miracle husband.

Kurt doesn’t know the extent of my damage.

“What if I’m just broken?” I ask, my voice a shaky vibrato because I’m talking about secret problems plaguing me since I was seventeen: low libido, orgasm challenges, and pelvic pain. I always assumed my obstacles were permanent. Is that true? “If my sexuality is broken,” I venture, sitting taller on the maroon leather couch I’m sticking to, “I can fix it. Can’t I?”

“Not if you you’re not a sexual person,” says Dr. Fay, an attractive marriage and family therapist, specializing in hypnosis. “Look, it’s fine to have no libido. You know that, right?”

I nod, thinking of grandmas, and nuns, and those that make asexual a lifestyle. But Fay’s outfit—strange for a mental health professional, especially one who’s middle-aged—puts notions in my head. A question pulls like thread from her gold metallic mini-skirt. It sheds from her short-sleeved mohair sweater. She looks like an unwashed lover might come by right after I leave here. So I ask: “Can Eros be taught?”

The hypnotist chuckles, tucking brown hair behind her ears, widening her pale green eyes. We have the same coloring except I’m obviously nothing like her. Inexplicably, she stands and begins pacing. “Let me tell you about others in your situation. OK? Now one client, she’d rather be waterboarded than sleep with her husband.”

I know I should interrupt, revealing what I haven’t shared yet—the experiment. Two weeks ago I implemented a strategy to finally heal, after thirty years. It started with no longer believing that pleasure is out of reach, or dangerous. To hell with fragility. More feeling than fact, it seems like if I pressed on a thigh or clavicle, I could dislodge something, puncturing a vital organ.

Loneliness has done this to me.

I think of Kurt, and one night in particular. It was a summer evening, weeks after we met, and he was pushing me on a swing. Within seconds, I was up in the trees, all because of his force. Not bad for fifty-one. I let this overall impression of him—capable arms, uplifted cheeks when we’d stumbled upon the playground—replace my imagined breakability. He’s incredible, I thought, up in the sky and coming back down. A million neurons fired while I squealed, “Harder. Push harder.”

As Dr. Fay regales me with tales of lacking lust, I force myself to think about why my bedroom is nothing like the swing. I know the reason, and she does too. I need to get this visit back on track. “I understand what you’re telling me,” I say. “But do you think we can talk about my trauma?”

I watch her hands find their way to her hips. Her pose makes me think she’s forgotten what I disclosed in our telephone intake.

“That happened a loooong time ago,” she says finally with a wave of pink manicure.

“I think it’s related,” I say, explaining that every therapist I’ve seen—six of them, spread out over geography and time—agreed there’s a connection.

Silently, Dr. Fay strolls back to her purple velvet chair. She crosses her toned bare legs and peers at me.

What if she’s right about my past? These events did happen a long time ago. As for my therapists of yore, childhood was all they dwelled upon. Never what I should do with grown-up maladies I was left with. Even my gynecologist was stumped. Since I started my experiment, I’ve learned official names, in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM: hypoactive sexual desire disorder, female sexual arousal disorder, female orgasmic disorder, sexual aversion disorder, dyspareunia, vaginismus.

I have every hooha hang-up in the DSM.

Crucially, the DSM said hypnosis could help many of challenges. I cross my legs in my own mini-skirt, black and longer than Dr. Fay’s. “OK, say the past isn’t relevant? What about hypnosis? You said on the phone we could try hypnosis.”

“I know,” But honestly? I don’t think it’ll help.”

“So I should just accept—this?”

“Yes!” says Dr. Fay. “Accept that you’re not a sexual person. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.”

To argue with her assessment, I’d have to come up with a time before my dysfunctions began. All my wits can register is how my flaccid interest in lovemaking has ruined every relationship I’ve ever had. The last time Kurt and I argued about intimacy, he lay in our bed with tears rolling down his temples: “Why do you keep rejecting me?”

“So what do I do with my husband?” I ask, fishing for a pen I can’t find in my backpack.

“Just have sex,” Fay answers with a shrug.

“What do you mean?”

“Just. Have. Sex.”


“Whenever. Say your husband wants to get physical twice a week and you don’t want to, you could just have sex. You don’t have to like working out to go to the gym, do you? I mean, you like being married, don’t you?”

I blink. A lot. Not because what she’s saying is shocking, but because I don’t know why I’m pretending I’m shocked. It’s how I always bedroom-existed until I got it into my skull I might mend myself. So what if her suggestion spits in the face of trauma recovery and consent and feminism? On the wall behind Dr. Fay’s chair, I can see her license as someone whose expertise is wedlock.

“I love being married,” I utter, with trembling again in my voice, in my bones.

“Good,” Dr. Fay’s big light eyes make their way to a digital clock on her desk. “Well, we’re just about out of time. Is there anything else?”

I gather my bag, my cardigan. No, That’s it…Thank you for seeing me.”

“It was my pleasure,” she says with glossy lips spread ear to ear. She believes she has solved my problem. I suppose she has.

My curative project has been killed. The way I conceived of it, hypnosis–or at least faith–would plow a path for adventurous, multi-dimensional repair. I named this endeavor “The Pleasure Plan.”

Finally on my feet, my mouth involuntarily mirrors hers, but my smile is fake. Then I remember something wonderful—Burger King. I noticed it in a shopping plaza down the road. Suddenly, I can’t wait to get out of there so I can order a chicken sandwich with an order of fries—large, even though I’m a yoga teacher. I’ll lick the grease off every finger until I’m sated and sleepy. I’ll drive to my house half-asleep.

Taking a last glance around the office and at the hypnotist, I say to myself: She has got to be the worst therapist on the entire planet. Consequently, I open the door to the hallway. It looks like a long tan tunnel, a portal taking me back to my delicate life. I swing around.

“I want to try hypnosis,” I announce. “I know you don’t think it will help, but I want to do it anyway.”

I have to start somewhere.

If I leave here without some implementation of my plan, I don’t trust myself to seek out another hypnotist, or to advance. Perhaps my experiment has already stirred up desire—not for greasy things, but for its own freedom. And what I desire now is autosuggestion on a red leather couch with a therapist who may or may not be incompetent. I want her to change her mind about me.

“I’d like to schedule another appointment,” I say, taking out my planner.

Reluctantly, she agrees.

Driving home to my husband, forgoing fast food, I try to imagine what lies beyond this day.
I can’t see it, not yet, what it will take to ultimately, fully heal—fifteen kinds of practitioners, thirty pleasure-enhancing techniques. I never could have predicted the struggles Kurt and I would encounter. Or the aliveness that would permeate our lives.

I have no idea what’s in store for me. All I know is that whatever happens, this visit has already altered my future—it has strengthened my body, my being, for hope.