Heartsick & Miserable? Ask Yourself This One Question…

I read something recently that blew my mind, and if I may, I’d like to blow yours too.

In Lisa A. Phillips’ book Unrequited, she writes – having studied unreturned romantic obsessions, including her own, for ages in order to write the book – that it is important to ponder what an unrequited love is trying to tell you about your life.

When you are painfully obsessed with someone who doesn’t love you back, Phillips writes, you’re not really obsessed with that person – you’re obsessed with what is missing from your life, which this person has somehow come to represent in your mind.

I read this simple insight while flying back from D.C. to Toronto and actually gasped aloud on the plane, drawing stares from nearby seatmates. I couldn’t help it. It felt like Lisa A. Phillips had just shined a spotlight directly into my soul. I felt simultaneously called out and cleansed. Halle-fuckin’-lujah.

I thought back to the worst unrequited love of my life so far – an innocent-crush-turned-crushing-heartbreak centering on a person I met in 2015 and tortured myself over throughout 2016. While he’s indisputably charming, smart, funny, and lovely, so are a lot of people I meet. The question had haunted me for a while: why did I fall in love with him? What enabled him to get inside my head and absolutely break me? What made him feel so vital to my happiness on a basal, gut level?

I think it has a lot to do with when I met him, and what kind of person I was then. At that time, I had been single for nearly a year, having broken up with my long-term partner in 2014 – and I hadn’t dated anyone or had sex with anyone during that entire year. I was cripplingly insecure, uncertain, and shy. I worried constantly that no one would ever love me or want me again. That anxiety kept me from going out and socializing, which, in turn, kept me from meeting people who might want me or eventually love me. It was a self-perpetuating cycle of self-loathing.

And then along came this boy, dazzling and bright. He swept into my life with all the loud self-assuredness I’d later come to love about him. We went on two not-explicitly-romantic dates and I was immediately smitten: it had been a long time since I’d met someone this funny, confident, and effervescently charismatic. He made me laugh harder than I had in ages, with seemingly no effort. I felt glued to his words. He activated a lightness in me I didn’t know I could still feel.

On top of all that, he made me feel entirely focused upon. His attention was a laser, and when he focused it on me, I suddenly felt important and desirable – two feelings I’d lost sight of in my year of loneliness and celibacy.

As we became friends-with-benefits and then actual friends over the following year, I noticed myself falling into an unhealthy emotional cycle. It mirrored – and often triggered – the ups and downs I experience as part of my bipolar disorder. When I was around him, I felt starry-eyed, ecstatic, elated, like nothing in the world could possibly be wrong and I’d be happy forever. Nothing could touch me. But when we said goodbye – whether it was for a few days or a few months – I crashed, hard. The light he brought into my life had been extinguished, and I didn’t know how to reignite it myself. It felt like he contained all the humor and happiness I’d ever experienced, and I wouldn’t be able to get any of it back unless he was there with me.

And the trouble was, he didn’t always want to be there with me. He didn’t love me. He valued our friendship, but that’s all it was to him. I wasn’t angry at him for not loving me back, because I understood that he couldn’t help it – but I was profoundly sad, because it felt like he owned the key to my happiness and he would only lend it to me on a limited, conditional basis.

What I wish I had pondered more deeply is this: what was missing from my life? And how could I give that to myself instead of relying on him?

I think this concept was what eventually enabled my healing process to begin, though I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time. My crush made me laugh more than anyone else I knew, so I started spending more time with funny friends, upping my comedy podcast intake, and cultivating my own sense of humor even further. My crush made me feel focused on and valued, so I sought more friends who made me feel that way, and also chose to focus on and value myself by amping up my self-care regimen. My crush made me feel sexy and desirable, so I started flirting with people more and going on more Tinder dates to generate more of those feelings (and got comfortable cutting ties with people who didn’t meet my standards in this way). The sex with my crush had been devastatingly good, so I tried to get better at asking for what I wanted with other partners so my sex life would improve overall – and I mixed up my masturbation routine to make it more fulfilling. Basically, I looked for holes my crush could no longer fill for me, and I filled them my damn self (vagina joke only partly intended).

It wasn’t until I started seeing my last boyfriend that I felt entirely divested of that old unrequited love, but I think the work I’d done on myself had laid the groundwork for me to meet such a wonderful person and accept him into my life. If I’d still been stuck on my old crush, I don’t think I would’ve been able to open myself up to someone new. It would’ve felt pointless, because how could someone new possibly be better than the person I’d been stuck on for over a year? But by divorcing that person from the joys he brought me, I became able to see that other people could make me happy, too, if I let them.

I wish I could go back in time and explain this revelation to my past self. Maybe it would save her a lot of heartache. But I think it’s more likely she wouldn’t even listen to me. That’s the nature of unrequited love: other people can spout lessons and truisms at you ad nauseum, and you won’t believe them; you have to learn these things for yourself, experientially. You’re always convinced your world is ending until it isn’t anymore.

What do you wish someone had told you about unrequited love when you were going through it?

Links & Hijinks: Soaking, Rimming, & Writing

• Here’s why people have more sex in summer.

• Interesting: sex researchers have less sex than everyone else.

Paying for porn is the feminist way to get off. Hear hear!

• “There are two things I love eating: steak, and ass.” This piece on rimjobs is a delight.

• This as-told-to on the Mormon sex act of “soaking” (“No thrusting, no grinding, no climax. Just pop it in, and hold the fuck still”) is hilarious and fascinating. “There was always squirming on both of our parts but never any real thrusts. I guess squirming is technically moving, but it’s not like her preacher was reffing the event.”

• Useful tips for freelancers who work at home. (I am feeling this struggle harrrd lately!)

• On that note: freelancing can take a toll on your mental health.

• I’m a little tired of reading about sex robots, because I just don’t think they’re going to be the futuristic epidemic everyone claims they will be. But here’s an interesting piece about RealDolls.

• You know, I rarely link to erotica in these round-ups, but this brief tale about orgasm denial made me all tingly, so there you go.

• Maria Yagoda wonders: is period sex okay for a first-time hook-up? “As punishment for not menstruating, people who don’t should occasionally have to deal with some of the inconveniences of blood, blood everywhere. For this reason, period sex can seem like a feminist act, as it defies the societal expectation of women to hide, or be ashamed of, this awful fucking thing.”

• Sugarcunt has some great advice on writing sex toy reviews.

• Here’s a beginner’s guide to keeping a journal.

“Unusual” sexual desires are more common than we previously thought. Hmm!

• Emmeline reviewed an inflatable swan phallus we tried at Woodhull and it’s the funniest sex toy review I’ve read in ages.

Dating while depressed is difficult but doable.

• Mired in writer’s block? Alex Franzen has some topic suggestions for you.

• Brandon Taylor is such a beautiful writer. “There is a way in which people talk about domestic writing or personal writing that does not set itself on fire—they call it quiet. They call it still. They call it muted. As if there were anything quiet about relationships that go awry.”

Date ideas for stoners. The OkCupid blog has gotten weird and I’m into it.

“Porny sex” is still valid sex. You’re not a “bad feminist” if you enjoy things like pussy-slapping, “degrading” D/s, and messy blowjobs.

• Gosh, I adore the way Girl on the Net writes about sex. Her Ambit dildo review is wonderful: “I don’t want him to fuck me with this in a playful way or a quick way. I want to catch him when he’s in this focused mode: when he’ll not just use it to warm me up for a fuck, but really settle into the act of fucking me with it. Laying it out on the bed like he’s a surgeon aligning his equipment, then ordering me to strip off my knickers and lie still.”

• We need to stop supporting and protecting abusive men.

• Taryn busted some myths about asexuality.

• We don’t talk about dental dams enough, and it’s emblematic of a bigger problem.

• [Content warning for ableism.] Some people have a fetish for becoming disabled and go to great lengths to fulfill that fantasy. Apparently it may even have a legitimate neurological cause. Uh, wow…

Sadsturbation: Hobby of the Heartbroken and Horny

One night, in the throes of a mind-numbing depression, I nuzzle my nose into my boyfriend’s chest. He tells me he’s feeling out of sorts as well, and sex is off the table tonight. “You are more than welcome to masturbate, though,” he adds.

“Nah, I don’t want to do that,” I reply instantly. I don’t mean it as the guilt trip it probably sounds like; it’s just that masturbation holds no appeal for me now, while sex still does. Partnered sex, when I’m depressed, is like visiting another world – a world where my selfish problems are distant and unimportant, where everything boils down to connectivity and sensuality, and where my pleasure is useful to someone other than myself. Sex is a mutual joy that brings me out of my self-absorbed misery and into the light of another person’s gaze. I can be someone else when I’m having sex, someone who isn’t depressed, if just for a little while.

We don’t have sex that night, and we don’t masturbate, either. We connect physically in other ways – touching, kissing, cuddling – and it feels like almost enough.

In the morning, I hold his hand while we walk dazedly down the street, and I confess I haven’t masturbated in over a week. A long time for me. “I think tonight I’m gonna get high and party down with my Hitachi,” I say, noticing immediately how much the idea does not appeal to me, while also recognizing how necessary it is to my wellbeing.

“I’ll help. I’ll sext you,” my partner replies, and I want to cry because it is the most selfless thing I have ever heard.


Many people report that when they’re depressed, their libido goes away. Mine rarely works that way. It goes deeper underground, maybe, or I get distracted from it for a while – but it’s always there.

But masturbating while depressed is a task and a half. It’s like trying to go ballroom dancing with an anvil chained to your ankle. Sure, you can do it. But it’s probably gonna be fucking miserable and you’re gonna feel exhausted the whole time.

When I’m depressed – whether due to situational factors, biochemical factors, or both – I often think of masturbation as a medicine I must force-feed myself. It won’t be pleasant or fun, in the way masturbation is “supposed” to be. But it’ll shift my neurotransmitters just enough, lift my crushing depression just enough that I can get out from under it for a little while.

The entire process may feel unappealing from start to finish – but at the very least, it’ll remind me that my body is capable of pleasure. Even if the pleasure is muted. Even if I feel undeserving of any pleasure at all.


Sexual fantasies are supposed to be fun. What happens when they aren’t anymore?

What happens when the person who fucks you most reliably in your fantasies is also the person who broke your heart? What happens when thinking about them makes you cry, but you can’t get off without thinking about them? When your precious, elusive orgasms hinge on replaying memories that make you want to weep and hurt yourself and give up on love forever?

Sometimes you find distraction tactics, workarounds. You mentally replace the object of your affections with a beloved celebrity or fictional character: Jim Halpert, John Watson, Rosa Diaz. You seek out new porn or erotica to repopulate your sexual fantasies with people and situations that don’t hurt. You cultivate a crush on a fresh new human, a crush for the sake of crushing.

Other times, though, you wade headlong into your heartbreak. You spritz on the cologne of the person who wrecked your heart, murmur to yourself all the dark hot things they said to you, and try to fuck yourself like they did – in that sweet special way you worry no one will ever fuck you again.

In discussing the ends of relationships, we rarely mention the unique pervy grief of missing the way your lost love fucked you. In losing them, you are also losing that particular flavor of sex you loved so much. Maybe no one else will do those particular things to you ever again – or maybe they will, and it’ll just be different; better, even. But sometimes, for the time being, you just have to mourn melancholically for that particular flick of their wrist, that one thing they could do with their tongue, those magnificent words they knew how to whisper at the always-perfect moment.

Two tools I return to in my saddest masturbation sessions, time and time again, are the Magic Wand Rechargeable and marijuana.

Weed can make me horny when seemingly nothing else can. It lifts the pressure of my sadness slightly, just enough to let arousal flow in. I might still be aware of the heartbreaks weighing on me, but they seem less impactful – like how weed makes physical pain feel like pleasure to me. I am aware that it hurts but, absurdly and blessedly, I do not mind.

The Magic Wand, on the other hand, gives me the distance from my genitals that I seem to need when I’m depressed. When the very idea of sticking my hand into my panties feels distasteful, when even contemplating my own heat and wetness and skin feels unsettlingly intimate, a wand vibe can save the day. I just turn it on and press it against myself through layers of fabric, and it does what it’s made to do – no nauseating touchy-feeliness required.

Sometimes my third go-to when cryin’ and jerkin’ it is reliable porn – reliable in the sense that it almost always turns me on and helps me get off. For me, this category is basically limited to Heather Harmon‘s POV blowjob videos. But even Heather, in all her dependable beauty and skill, sometimes makes me sad when I’m sad already. I contemplate the rumors that she divorced her husband, which would prove once and for all that even terrific sex full of care and love cannot always save a relationship. Or sometimes I just stare jealously at Heather and Jim’s sexual rapport, profoundly bitter I’ve never felt as connected to anything as Heather seems to feel to her husband’s dick.

Look, porn is great, but sometimes I just need to turn off my brain and focus on the vibrator thrumming against me. Orgasms don’t have to be about anything. Sometimes they can just happen, unmoored and isolated from any mental stimulus. Sometimes that’s the exact type of orgasm I need, or the only kind of which I’m capable.


Though my partner’s explicitly offered to help me get off by sexting me, I’m too anxious to ask directly – knowing he’s not in the sexy headspace that could make sexting a fun thing for us rather than just for me. I ask for it in a way that feels safe. “If you felt inclined to tell me some hott things to help me in my quest, I would be amenable to that,” I hem and haw.

“Has your quest already begun?” he asks, and we’re off to the races.

He guides me through a sext-a-thon that feels more meditative than sexy – like when a yoga teacher asks you to visualize a waterfall, an ocean, a bold white light spreading through your body from the inside out. “Imagine me putting my hands on you, kissing you,” he texts. He doesn’t need to describe how he would kiss me if he was here; I already know. “I’m going to slide my hand between your legs, over your panties. I can feel you getting wet already.” He’s right. I am.

In sext-land, he chokes me, fucks my face, pushes his fingers inside me. I can see it, feel it, and it’s some semblance of something I deeply need. Hot tears drift down my cheeks and dry on my lips as I pant and moan. He is so sweet and selfless to type these words of salacious encouragement into his phone for me, when I know he doesn’t feel like it. He understands that this sexual interaction is more than sexual to me; it’s life-affirming, mood-lifting, intimacy-building. It’s a “sexual favor” in the sense that it’s sexual and a favor, but it’s so much more than that.

“I know you’re going to come for me like a good girl,” he writes. “Turn that toy up higher.”

I crank the wand. I’m surprised at how close I am, in almost no time at all. For a week, arousal’s felt like a jewel in a locked treasure chest – and here he is, handing me the goddamn key.

“I’m so close, daddy,” I tell him.

“I want you to come for me, princess,” he writes back.

I do. It’s delicious and deep. I feel something shift in my brain – something small but important.

“Mm, I did it, daddy. That was really nice,” I type. “Thank you.”

Good girl,” he responds, and for the first time in days, I feel like I might actually be a good girl. A girl whose brain isn’t swimming in depression. A girl who believes in herself, and can accomplish things. A girl whose daddy wants her to be happy, and who can therefore soldier on.

I set my Hitachi down, put my phone away, wipe off the tears half-dried on my face, curl up contentedly, and go to sleep. Maybe I’ll be okay after all.

Diary of a Ghosted Girl

Sunday night. I am depressed. I have been depressed for a solid week, with no hypomanic reprieve. Shit is dire.

I have guzzled more wine than I ought to’ve, and smoked more weed than is probably reasonable. There are one or two crusted tears on my cheeks, but mostly I’m numb. Aching to feel something; aching to ache.

A new OkCupid message lands in my inbox, and I open it with the characteristic slowness of a person weighed down by depression. “Fuck. This profile was an intensely enjoyable read that had me grinning like a total idiot,” it reads. “I don’t even know where to start except HEY (for now).” Then he asks me something about toxic jelly dildos, which I mention in my profile. My ears perk up, and so do I, a little.

I flick through his profile – pictures, paragraphs, compatibility question responses – and it achieves the rare thing of making him seem more interesting rather than less. (Most men are atrocious at writing online-dating profiles.) I message him back.

Our conversation kicks into high gear almost immediately. Jokes. Stories. Questions. All-caps shouts of “ME TOO!” and sparks of recognition. He likes my puns. I care if he likes my puns. I talk about my work and he doesn’t take it as an invitation to ask invasive questions about my sex life, as so many OkSuitors before him have. I am absurdly, miraculously, hastily hooked.

He tells me his full name – “incase you’d like to move this over to Facebook/creep me for mutual friends/affirm I am in fact a real person and not an elaborate cat-fishing account” – and, to my shock, it’s almost exactly the name of a person I used to be in love with. Their first names are as close as Lee and Leo, and they have the same surname. Intellectually, I understand that this doesn’t mean anything. Emotionally, it seems to mean quite a lot. It feels like the universe is shining a spotlight on this boy and shouting in my ear: Notice this person. Pay attention. He could be important.

We move things over to text. We talk about sex in a way that is flirty but not explicit – my favorite, when I don’t know someone well yet. He’s such a good flirt that I’m screaming and cackling at my phone – indeed so good that a friend christens him “Mr. Goodflirtz” when I relay the key points of our conversation later.

I send him a picture of me. Not a nude – just a cute selfie, where I’m pleased with how I look, and I look like the kind of girl that a man like him might be interested in. “Fuck,” he writes back. “…Fuuuuck. I mean you are just so fucking good-looking.” More cackling at my phone. More blushing, sweating, and covering my eyes. My heart is thudding.

But it’s late, and I have to get some sleep – which I laughingly tell him even as he’s still blowing up my phone with compliments in little green text bubbles. “Yes yes sorry,” he writes. “Good night.”

I do a thing I have done too many times, and have promised myself not to do again: I get over-invested. I turn his name and face over in my mind. I lie awake thinking about the dress I’ll wear on our first date, and what we’ll do after he tugs it off of me. Eventually, somehow, I fall asleep – and dream about his pretty mouth all night.

On Monday morning I am pinged awake by my phone’s text tone. “That picture was the first thing I saw this morning as it was still open on my phone,” I blink sleep out of my eyes to read. This is followed by some gratuitous information about how his dick is reacting to said photo and what he is doing about it – information I find charming, not alarming, because at this point I feel like I know him. He is a wizard with words. His words alone have made me want to kiss his face, suck his dick, build some kind of future. It’s ridiculous.

“I’d gladly take any other pictures you’d like to share,” he adds – politely, I think. But I have a boundary around this, which I explain to him: I don’t like to sext with people before I meet them in person. It often makes me lose interest in them, or feel weird, so I tend to avoid it, especially if I suspect I might actually like the person. “Fair enough,” he writes back. “Let’s hang soon, then.”

“I am free tonight or Thursday,” I tell him, and he replies, “Thursday is probably best, but mayyybe tonight.” We talk logistics – locations, times – and lapse once again into giggly half-sexts laced with wordplay. I’m still barely awake; I tell him I’m going back to sleep, and I’ll be in touch later.

That afternoon, I send him a selfie of me looking put-upon and adorable. “This is my ‘You should have drinks with me tonight’ face,” I caption it.

No answer. I try to keep myself occupied with other diversions. Four hours pass. I complain to my best friend, stare at my phone for far too long, then decide to take a nap, hoping I’ll wake up to a text notification.

I wake up a few hours later. “I’m dying of anxiety,” I tell Bex. “Why hasn’t he texted me back?!” Bex, the greatest friend anyone could hope for, replies: “You don’t know much about him. Maybe work got out of hand, maybe he has food poisoning, maybe something came up with his family, maybe a friend just went through a breakup, maybe he was up all night last night and fell asleep, maybe he got hit by a bus, maybe he’s secretly a superhero and is fighting his arch nemesis, maybe he burned all of his fingers making tacos and can’t use a phone, maybe his phone broke and he’s at the store trying to get it fixed, maybe Pennywise lured him into the sewers with the promise of all the pussy he could eat, maybe he is volunteering at an animal shelter and got distracted by all the puppies, maybe he got lost in that weird circus store y’all have and has no phone service and is wondering if he’s going to starve and should start eating his own arm… I could keep going.” I laugh, but I’m still sick with anxiety.

“Or maybe he’s a dick who decided to ghost after 12 hours,” Bex continues, “in which case, you dodged a bullet, because you don’t want to hang out with him, because he’s a dick.”

do want to hang out with him, is the thing.

My anxiety disorder has decided this is the most important thing in the world. I barely sleep, barely eat. I feel nauseous over the idea that not only does “Mr. Goodflirtz” not want me, but no one wants me, no one has ever wanted me, no one will want me ever again. I wonder if he was only ever looking for a sexting partner. I wonder if he Googled me and got scared off. I wonder if he was using fake pictures and fake information to solicit nudes from me. I wonder if he was an undercover creep from 4Chan or the Red Pill. I can’t stop wondering. My sleepless night is a whirlpool of uncontrollable wondering.

On Tuesday morning, I resolve that I will not text him.

On Tuesday afternoon, I text him. “Hey, would Thursday still be a good night to get drinks?” I hate myself immediately after pressing “send.”

By Tuesday night, he still hasn’t answered. I log onto OkCupid to stare longingly at our messages – and I see that he’s online. After fighting the urge to anxiety-puke, I fight the not-altogether-different urge to message him some variation of “Yo, what the fuck, bro?!” I have to physically close my computer and walk away from it to keep myself from doing this. It feels like the most difficult thing I’ve done in a very long time.

On Wednesday I go to a therapy appointment. I sniffle and sob while telling my endlessly compassionate therapist about this dumb boy and all the dumb feelings I’m feeling about him. It’s a double-whammy: I’m hurting because he disappeared, and because I’m embarrassed by how much this has hurt me. He didn’t owe me anything. I know that. And yet I can’t help feeling wronged. Dropped. Ghosted.

“You just lost your job, you’re still dealing with the fallout of unrequited love, and then this happened,” my therapist points out, reasonably. “You’ve been rejected a lot lately. Rejection hurts. But it’s not a reflection on you. It doesn’t mean you’re unloveable.”

Tears stream down my face. I know she’s right. But I don’t believe she’s right. They are two different things.

My phone’s been on Do Not Disturb mode for the duration of our appointment, like it always is – and as I walk out my therapist’s office door, I press the home button, blindly hoping. But nope. Still nothing. The ghost is still dead, and so, it seems, is my heart.

A fuckbuddy I was supposed to see on Wednesday night texts to say that he’s sick, and to ask if we can reschedule for next week. I know him well enough to know he isn’t lying, but my anxiety suspects he might be – because I distrust all men right now. If someone could be so enthusiastic about me and then disappear off the goddamn face of the earth, then everyone could be lying about everything. I ignore the anxious voices in my head and choose to accept that a request to reschedule is indeed a request to reschedule – not another rejection, perched upon my already precarious heap of recent rejections.

On Wednesday night, I spend hours in bed just numbly staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out what I did wrong, what I can do differently going forward. I grab my phone and open Tinder. I know it’s bad. I know. It’s like an alcoholic trying to nix their “one last” hangover with “one last” hair of the dog.

But it makes me feel a bit better. I flirt with a few boys, until I find one I actually connect with on some level. We talk, and joke, and learn about each other, in the formulaic dance that early online-dating interactions all tend to follow. It’s not fiery with white-hot excitement like it was with Mr. Goodflirtz, but it’s something.

We schedule a date, and I go to sleep, dreaming of someone new.

I don’t think about my ghost much on Thursday. But late that evening, my phone’s text tone beeps, and my heart leaps into my throat. I claw the thing out of my purse at lightning speed.

“How are you feeling today?” a friend has texted to ask – and I’m so goddamn angry at myself for being disappointed.

5 Bruises I Loved and Lost

Heads up, babes: this post deals with bruising and other visible signs of (consensual) injury, as well as self-harm. If that’s tough subject matter for you, please feel free to skip this post!

 

“I’ve never spanked anyone before,” Dane mentions offhandedly as we’re hanging out before our porn shoot.

“Oh,” I say, and my stomach drops. “Um, that’s fine, it’s not too hard to learn. I trust you.” I take my Tantus Pelt paddle out of my bag and show her how it works: the momentum, the swing, the snap. It’s been a few weeks since a partner’s used this mean little thing on me and I’m excited to bend over for my hot new friend in front of a rolling video camera.

What I don’t say, and later wish I had: Start slow, and work your way up. Warm up the area with gentle smacks til it’s red and glowing, before you progress to harder wallops. Spread out the impacts, instead of focusing on one spot. Rhythm and consistency are good, but give me time to breathe. I think these things but don’t communicate them. I said I trust her, and I do.

The scene goes better than I ever hoped or expected, given how nervous I was when we began. She teases and spanks and fucks me over a wooden coffee table in the airy afternoon light. But that paddle. Oh, that paddle.

There is a point, somewhere during most spankings, when I cross the threshold between safe, tolerable pain and pain so intense it scares me a little. This threshold is the reason I can’t spank myself effectively: I’ll never leap across that line myself. I need someone to push me.

Dane is bossy and authoritative and mean, and gets me crying within minutes. The silicone paddle rains down relentlessly on my reddening ass. And then she picks a spot on my right cheek and just wails on it. One hit after another, til the pain is a white-hot emergency alert in my brain. I think, I can’t take much more of this. Then I think, No, really, this has to stop. And then a deeper, stronger voice in my head says: No. You can take it. You can take just a little more.

I do. And eventually it ends. I’m left with the best bruise I’ve ever had, a crimson emblem of what I faithfully endured. A blotchy splotch that proudly announces what a very, very good girl I am.

Dane cuddles me on the couch. Caitlin brings me a cupcake. I’m grinning, glowing, good.


Depression comes in waves, arcing over the shoreline of my mind so ominously that I usually see it coming from yards away. I can arrange my schedule so the worst of it will hit when I’m alone, sobbing in bed, shoulders shaking, self-worth crumbling in polite privacy. I mask these desperate spells from my friends whenever I can. But sometimes I can’t.

One night in July, I’m at a party with Bex, Georgia, and a few other friends. But it’s the saddest party I’ve ever been to – even sadder than the surprisingly jovial secular shiva we held when my grandmother died – because I can’t stop crying.

Depression tells you lots of lies, the most pervasive one being that you are unendingly sad, have always been, and will always be. It tells you the tears you cry are justified, because everything is terrible and life is pain. It tells you the glimmers of happiness you once knew have been extinguished and were illusory anyway. It wrings the light from your spirit. It takes everything from you, most crucially, your hope.

So as I cry in front of my friends and they attempt to comfort me, none of it really works. “We love you,” they say, and my depression-brain says, Yeah, but the people you WISH loved you still don’t love you. “You’re a good person,” they say, and depression whispers, Bullshit, you’re garbage, they’re just humoring you. “You’ll feel better in the morning,” they predict, and depression insists, You will never feel good again.

What I need, when I’m like this, is to cry very hard for a while and then to be jolted out of my sad, salty rut. I need a distraction, a shake-up, a gear-change. So when Georgia says, “Do you want me to hit you?” some part of me perks up because I know that has worked in the past and it might work again.

I bend over the end of the sofa like a good girl, and Georgia – armed with my KinkMachineWorks Lexan paddle – begins to knock the sadness out of me via my ass.

When I’m sad and I don’t want to be sad anymore, sometimes I think of the saddest thoughts I can possibly imagine, in an effort to push the sadness through my veins faster so I’ll be rid of it sooner. If I’m crying over a boy, for example, I might force myself to think, “He doesn’t love me, he’ll never love me, he doesn’t want me the way I want him and he never will, I’m not good enough for him, I’ll be alone forever, and it’s only going to get worse from here.” Crying harder speeds up the process so I can get on with my life sooner – and spanking can serve a similar function for me. The pain gives me a tangible reason to cry, so I cry harder, feel my feelings deeper, and move through them quicker.

“I love you, babe,” Bex says to me while Georgia spanks me. “You’re being such a good girl,” Georgia says between hits. One friend holds my hand; another strokes my hair. I keep my face planted in the sofa’s upholstery and I cry and cry and cry.

And when it’s all done, I feel a bit better. And I have some epic bruises to remind me that I helped myself by letting my friends help me.


One night by myself in my room, depression sneaks up on me. I didn’t see you come in, I tell it, and it hisses back, That’s because you’re a stupid, silly girl who doesn’t know anything. I can’t argue with that.

Sometimes my depression comes alongside a restlessness: I know I need to do something to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings in my body and brain, but it’s not immediately clear what. When I’m coping well, I get out my journal, cry in a hot bath, go see a friend, or curl up with snacks and an episode of Sherlock. When I’m coping less well, I think about hurting myself.

The jury is out – by which I mean, my therapist is unsure – whether my self-spanking counts as self-harm. I don’t really do it to punish myself, to feel more alive, or to enact suicidal ideations, all common reasons people self-harm. I think I do it because it distracts me from the “bad” thoughts and feelings in my head, and because I know spanking has historically alleviated my mental health symptoms. It’s a last-ditch effort to snap myself back to stability.

On this particular night, crying numbly in my desk chair, I just start smacking my thigh with the back of my hand because it feels like the right thing to do. I do it so hard, and for so long, that I worry I might break my hand. I switch hands, and do it some more. I keep going until I’m sufficiently bruised, and the dark whispers in my head have calmed.

The bruise I’m left with is a chaotic mass of speckles, and I instantly hate it. It’s ugly, but I know I wouldn’t think that if a partner had given it to me. Each time I catch sight of it, I’m reminded of how I failed myself, how I let myself down by coping poorly with the feelings that rain down on me. I try to forgive myself, but in the meantime, I wear boxers around the house instead of my usual bikini briefs, so I never have to see the evidence of what depression wrought on my body.


When I was younger, I thought I’d hate one-night stands because sex felt too intimate to share with a near-stranger. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned so much: sex doesn’t have to be intimate, and there are other valid reasons to hate one-night stands (which I kinda do). But it turns out that for me, kink feels too intimate to share with a near-stranger. It feels like an infringement, a mild violation, an incongruent aberration.

One cold night in December, I go out for drinks with a passably smart-‘n’-sweet Tinder boy. Our hours-long conversation brings out the details of my life that usually emerge on dates like these: I’m a sex writer, I review sex toys, I write about my kinks, and those kinks include spanking.

When I invite him over to my place after drinks, he makes a logical leap that any reasonable person could make: I like spanking, therefore, I want him to spank me. During our lukewarm hookup, he lands a few hard smacks on my ass, and I make noises of delight – because, physically, this feels like something I’ve enjoyed before. Emotionally, less so. He is nobody to me. I don’t care if he wants to punish me, or thinks I’ve been bad, or wants to make me feel good, or wants to give me what I want. I give zero shits what he thinks of me, and therefore, with him, kink feels irrelevant.

In the morning, we chat a bit via text, and he asks, “Is your butt even in the least bit sore?” It’s a vanilla-dude question, designed to determine whether his untrained hand even made a dent in my seasoned-kinkster ass. I look in the mirror and there is, faintly, the outline of a handprint. Red finger shapes against my creamy white skin. I text him a picture, though I doubt he even cares.

The bruise is mild, and only lasts a few days. So I spend those days thinking about how gross it feels to be bruised by someone I barely know. One-night stands are okay if I can hop in the shower afterward and wash away their sweat, their spit, their cum. But a bruise stays, and remains both mine and theirs until it fades. I love bruises when they make me feel “owned” by someone I want to own me – but a random-ass stranger from Tinder does not own me and should not bruise me. I glower furiously at the handprint for days, wishing it had come from someone else’s hand.


My fave fuckbuddy is extremely vanilla, but he’s also what Dan Savage calls “GGG“: good, giving, and game. He doesn’t “get” the whole spanking thing, but he’ll still do it if I ask – often quite enthusiastically – and I love that about him.

One night in a New York hotel room, we can’t figure out how to open the bottles of apple-ginger cider we brought with us – and we’re high, which makes this quandary even harder. “Let’s go to the front desk and ask if they have a bottle opener,” I suggest, reasonably, to which my FWB replies: “Okay, but you have to do the talking, because I am way too high to talk to a stranger right now.”

We make a giggly pilgrimage to the front desk; the attendant there doesn’t have a bottle opener either. So it’s back to the drawing board (after a meandering journey through the hotel lobby, mezzanine, and basement, laughing maniacally like the stoned delinquents we are). Once we find our hotel room again, we scour it for any and all objects that might function as a bottle opener: a pair of tweezers, the edge of a countertop, a thick bedsheet crumpled in a palm.

Eventually, grasping at straws, my gentleman-friend opens the wardrobe in the corner and pops out the silver metal bar holding up the clothes-hangers. “Oh no, you broke it!” I chirp, my high-brain momentarily unable to process that he did this on purpose. He grins at me in that roguish way he has, and jokes, “Those were load-bearing hangers.” I collapse into ganja giggles on the bed.

The metal bar works. He’s able to push the gaping end of it against the ridged edge of a bottlecap until the cap pops clean off. He hands me the bottle and gets to work on opening one for himself. I sit cheerfully, sipping my cider, one leg dangling off the bed and one draped over his thigh. We clink our drinks together and sip in the comfortable silence of two people who like each other – two people who just simply, uncomplicatedly, happily like each other.

And then I pick up the hanger bar and start whacking myself on the thigh with it, because of course I do.

He laughs darkly in his throat, because he knows me and he knows what’s coming. “Oh, you kinksters and your pervertables,” he says out loud, or maybe just in my memory because that’s the sentiment I sensed from him in my periphery. I take another swig of my cider and put the silver bar in his hand. “You should hit me with this,” I say.

He does. The cool metal lands stripes of pain along my thigh, still hitched over his. His thwacks are more earnest than I’ve ever felt from him; I think he’s finally figured out that when I ask to be hit, I want to be hit. Stoned, tipsy, gettin’ beat, and sitting beside one of my favorite people, I can’t recall many moments as purely, perfectly happy as this one, right here.

a thigh bruise“I want you to give me a bruise,” I tell him, but he’s vanilla and probably needs a little more instruction, so I continue. “Pick a spot. Hit that one spot again and again, starting soft and building up til you’re wailing on it.” I wrap both my arms around the one of his that’s not holding our impromptu impact implement, and press my face into his shoulder. “I might scream, but it’s okay.”

He does exactly what I’ve asked him to do, just like he always does; it’s one of the reasons he’s my favorite FWB I’ve ever had. As the bar slices through the air and onto my thigh again and again, my man-friend mutters in my ear about the way jazz drummers hold their drumsticks. He’s playing me like an instrument. His tone of voice reminds me of a doctor who tells you a cheerful story about elephants or fairies to distract you while he sets your broken bone. I don’t want to be distracted from the pain being rhythmically administered to me, but I like the sound of his voice, the closeness of it, how completely and totally safe I feel with this man who is hurting me at my request.

There you go,” he says, and stops. “Look at that. Wow!”

I glance down at my thigh and see a thin streak of red, set in beautiful relief against the paleness of my skin. I’ve never seen my thigh look so gorgeous. In the days that follow, I keep hitching up my skirt to take a look, running my hand along the slightly raised mark, pressing the painful spot through my leggings on the subway to remind me that it’s there.

It makes me feel owned, and small, and safe, and happy. It fades, and I want it back. I want it to last forever, like a tattoo. But the nature of bruises is that they don’t last. Like the tumbling petals of a dying flower, they are perfect in their life and in their death. I am always sad to say goodbye to a bruise, and always happy to have had it at all.