We’ve been together for four years now.
When we first started out, the guys at the office said it wouldn’t last. “You’re going to run out of things to say within six months,” they warned.
Over four years and more than 200 columns later, I haven’t even begun to run out of things to say.
It’s been one of the most fulfilling relationships of my life. I had no idea what was in store when I started writing My Messy Bedroom in 1994 in Hour magazine in Montreal. I had been working as an editor at the paper and was asked to come up with a weekly column. I tried to think of something I had enough basic background and interest in to write about every week. Sex seemed an obvious choice. I’d been having it since I was 14 – the longest I’d stuck with anything at that point in my life. And while all my smart, funny female friends had lots of opinions about politics and the state of the world, our favourite topic was, and still is, boys and sex.
Some consider this shallow, frivolous. But one thing I’ve learned in the four years I’ve been penning My Messy Bedroom is that people’s struggle to have healthy, happy relationships is not frivolous. People’s needs to have their sexual preferences and choices explained and validated is not shallow. People’s hunger for information about sex and relationships, while occasionally inspired by the same curiosity we have about Bill Clinton’s sex life, is basically genuine.
Interpersonal relationships and sexual attraction are mind-boggling subjects. We’ve been anxious, confused and curious about them since the beginning of time. Many of the questions bear repeating with each generation.
When I get a letter from a 16-year-old girl who says I’ve helped her feel more secure in her developing sexuality, I can’t help but feel honoured.
Even, or perhaps especially, when my column inspires hatred, it makes me sit up and take note of my responsibility. I have at least one particularly charming “fan” whose vile diatribes against me and my entire gender, while disturbing, convince me of the need for women to talk about this stuff. As a woman writing about sex, there is resentment.
And a certain amount of titillation. I often get strange looks when people meet me for the first time. They expect me to arrive bearing whips and leather, and are either disappointed or pleasantly surprised to find I’m just a regular gal who grew up in the country in small-town Ontario, the eighth child in a Dutch-Canadian, Catholic family.
There’s been a glut of female sex columnists in the years I’ve been doing this. I guess our time had come. “Death to the Patriarchy” just wasn’t doing the trick anymore, and the boys seemed to respond more eagerly when we used sex and relationships as the medium for our feminist messages. It’s also, I believe, an extension of our role in relationships. For the most part, we’re still the emotional caretakers. I’ve always said I’d love to see a thoughtful, honest sex column by a straight man. To me, that would be a real indicator that “We’ve come a long way, baby.”
Every guy I’ve gone out with while I’ve had this column has claimed they should get a chance to give their side of the story. I’d gladly give up the space, I tell them. Not one has ever come up with anything. A colleague e once handed me an article she’d pulled off the Web that addressed this whole issue rather well. In an article called “Sex Tips for Boys” for the Web magazine Media Circus, James Poniewozik writes about the abundance of women writing about sex.
“That women (and the occasional gay man, like Dan Savage) are now the dominant voice of sex is only fair, after years of priapparazzi jawboning dating back to Henry Miller and before, but that doesn’t make it an improvement. For hetero men to take themselves out of this conversation – to classify sex literature, essentially, as women’s work – is to take themselves off the hook. We’re just a bunch of well-meaning chuckleheads, men seem to be saying. Draw us into your warm bosoms and gently tutor us; give us a few decades and we’ll learn to pull our weight in the sack. Meanwhile, tell us that one again about you, the dominatrix and the male hooker.”
Granted, the men I’ve heard from over the years lend me hope that we’re moving in the right direction. They’ve openly shared their thoughts, questions and confusion. And that’s very cool. In fact, this column wouldn’t have lasted without the feedback, criticism, appreciation and support from both male and female readers. These four years have certainly been a learning experience for me. The more I write about sex and relationships, the more I question. Sometimes I feel like I know nothing.
And sometimes the column feels stale, and I have to find a way to spice things up, maybe try a new position, or take a break. Sometimes, I’m exhausted or simply not in the mood. This is when I truly appreciate your responses, reactions and ideas. It helps keep me going.
We’ve been together for four years now.