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On the Subject of S.E.X. (an extract from Getting It Off My Chest)

February 12, 2010

It was difficult to contemplate dating when I knew that sooner or later the question of how many nipples I had was going to come up.

Before I ventured forth into the world, I was fascinated to hear about the experiences of a girlfriend who had already had a reconstruction and whose marriage was stone cold in its grave. She told me she had started internet dating. I was shocked. I knew she had a stick-on nipple for one thing. What about that?

There was another issue: her cancer had spread. She was living on borrowed time against a ticking clock and one tiny step ahead of the Grim Reaper. She knew her number was up; it was all crumbling into bollockdom and she was completely buggered.

I asked her if the man she was meeting knew about her cancer. She demurred, saying there was a time for that and this wasn’t it. I thought she should have told him. Damaged goods and all that. But then, I realised, the question of disclosure isn’t so easy. At what point could she have brought it up? In the advertisement? Something along the lines of: ‘Sexy soon-to-be-dead cancer victim seeks romp with freak-lover. All prosthetic appliances welcome.’

But it was hard. How many fifty-year-old women have any confidence in their normal fifty-year-old bodies to cope with dating, let alone slightly wacky, slightly off-the-wall, slightly horribly-mutilated bodies?

The men who are ‘doing you a favour’ don’t help either, though they are obviously trying. My first foray into sex-after-marriage happened to be with a man who actively sought out unusual body types. Humps, wooden legs, bearded ladies. He just loved ‘em.

When I found this out afterwards it knocked my confidence somewhat. Just a little

But before I put my toe in the water, I pumped my friend for information. I asked her if the stick-on nipple had been a success. She said, ‘Not really. It doesn’t feel too good. Also, I’ve found, their hands can actually get stuck on it and pull it off, which is not ideal either.’
‘What do you do then?’
‘Just gently guide their hands away.’
‘Don’t they notice?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I dated one guy I’d slept with years before and I honestly don’t think he noticed that I’d had a mastectomy at all.’
‘Was he partially sighted?’
‘No!’ she said, sharply.

The don’t-mention-it-and-you-can-be-sure-they-won’t-notice way was her way, but it wouldn’t work for me, even though I remember being horribly put off once by a man who arrested my hand as it crept into his trousers to tell me that he only had one bollock. Would I have noticed, I wonder?

No, despite my own experiences of being put off by honest disclosure, I found myself compelled to stand naked in front of my suitors and give them a thorough and detailed tour around my scars.

That’s my style.

And if they still had an erection, we were on.

But it felt like a trial by drowning, like witch-trials where if the plaintiff were innocent of witchery she would not float, so she drowned; and if she turned out to be a witch and floated, she was torched.

If my suitors still had an erection by the end of the tour, I knew they were either insensitive, incorrigible sex addicts, or fully paid-up members of the freak-show club. And if they hadn’t got an erection – if they’d either left by the nearest exit, or were holding me in their arms while we both sobbed quietly into each other’s chest hair – then…well… that was a bit of a dampener too.

But the good news is that on the whole men are simpler creatures than us and – in the area of sex – also better creatures.

Let’s face it, they’re desperate, most of them, and being desperate, they really aren’t that choosy. At least, that’s what I found. So after the sobbing, the erections came back.

And I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. After the sobbing, the erections come back.

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