To Cage and Free, By the Same Name

Since the days when I began thinking about sex — what it would be like, what I wanted, who I wanted — perhaps a decade or so ago, along came the newfound knowledge that as long as I had these novel desires, and as long as I was unprotected should I go through with them, I was not free in my own body. I was, as all women are, a slave to my own biology. To have sex is to be at risk of “ruining your life.” Or so say the parents. Pregnancy would end all of my hopes and dreams in a flash, with a little swathe of skin and bones and regrets. So I just … couldn’t have sex. Simple. It was easy enough of a vow to make at thirteen or fourteen or thereabouts, because I, the pudgy, prudish goody-two-shoes, wasn’t about to be having sex as it was.

But even so, all those years ago when I discovered the wonders of my own sexuality, I realized that my body was tethered to my sex. My will and whims were subject to my gender. I didn’t have the wayward freedoms a boy of my age, or a man of any age, had, because I was female. I was burdened with the possibility of pregnancy and childbirth, which denied me the basic human pleasure we seek from intimacy. I was restricted from what half of the planet can take as they will, just because of the way in which my body was built. Something for which I had no choice, had dolled me up in a glass prison and set me off to the side of life’s landscape of hedonism, to watch on, untouched. I was a slave in my own body, at odds with my sex, and always resentful for how I’d been created. Because I was — we are — at a horrid disadvantage, if something we desire is to be intimate.

I lived out my teenage years in a turbulent relationship with my own body, caged in a way that made me seclude myself from a lot of people and a lot of opportunities. As I grew into the latter years of my teens and the beginning of my college career, I thought the answer to my qualms would be simple: birth control. More specifically, I sought out the pill. If I was suitably protected, and cautious in more ways than one, then I could finally, once and for all, knock a chink in the little glass cage and set myself, and my body, free of its binds. When I grew into myself a bit, and realized that both physically and emotionally I was ready for sex, I went on the pill.

And in the sense that I’d sought, I gained a modicum of freedom. I could now have sex as I pleased (the judgement of my peers and stigma against female promiscuity notwithstanding), provided I was strict to follow the rules of the pill, and safe otherwise. I went on the pill. I freed myself. I had sex. That decade of bottled-up desires, an unsatisfied libido, a constrained sex drive and stamped-down urges, fluttered down at my feet. That barrier, was now gone. But with the destruction of one cage, and the unleashing of one freedom, came the construction of another cage, and the leashing of a different freedom. I was free to use my body as I liked, but my body was tethered to the wills of the pill.

And the pill, is a beast in itself.

I, naive still, thought the hormones I would be stuffing down my throat every night wouldn’t significantly change my body in any way other than the obvious. How wrong, I was. I was advised that there were some side effects, many of which would pop up within the first few cycles and regulate themselves, slowly moderated as my body became accustomed to the new balance of hormones. I wasn’t told the extent of the side effects. I was told that the pill worked in such a way that it tricked your body into believing it was pregnant. So any of the side effects of pregnancy, were fair game for a woman on the pill. I found myself having them.

It began with the cravings. Not a gargantuan, horrid side effect to endure, especially when I had every single food imaginable at my fingertips, in one dining hall or another. The two recurring ones happened to be honey, and flavored vinegars. Sometimes together, sometimes apart. Unfortunate, was it, that the only vinegars I could find were a balsamic and a red wine, both of which tasted like a decades-old, moldy sun-dried tomato dipped in wasabi soy sauce.

Then the mood swings came around. There were the days when I was angry, at everyone and everything, uncontrollably and without reason. Rationally, I knew my fury was unwarranted. But I couldn’t control it. I snapped at everyone I spoke to, and every word from their mouths pissed me off as you wouldn’t believe. I found a dozen ways to be furious with everyone that so much as looked in my direction. It put a strain on some of my relationships. My emotions felt foreign to me, almost as much as they did when I began having crying fits. Some days, I took everything said as an insult, everything done as another nail in the coffin, another slap in the face, another bit of validation for my life being as I thought it was — meaningless, hollow, and suffocating. Those days were perhaps worse than the others. I wasn’t depressed, per se, rather intensely miserable about anything and everything. They were just mood swings. I knew it, and still, I was powerless to stop them from overtaking my emotions, my body, my day to day life. I spent hours of my life, wasting away on my dorm room floor, curled up in a fetal position against my wardrobe, crushing myself into as small a ball as I could, crying for no reason at all. Yet again, beholden to my biology. Imprisoned in my own body. I began to feel just as I had for all of those years before. Helpless. Trapped.

But if that had been the end of it, I could have withstood it for the returns. I could satisfy the cravings with a trip to some posh vinegar gallery and another to Target. The mood swings, those I care most about would tolerate because they would understand the underlying cause. But beyond that, is the one change I wouldn’t have ever expected.

My libido completely, and inexplicably, vanished.

My sex drive, once healthy, and perhaps more vigorous than the average woman of my age, evaporated into thin air, without a trace. The old things that used to excite me, no longer did. My sexual goings-on dropped off to a null, because I no longer felt the urge. It was the greatest irony, that to go on a pill giving you the freedom to have sex, meant losing the desire to have it. For the longest time, my libido wasn’t just some exterior thing that had to be tolerated, sated, or cast aside. It was a part of me, and a defining one. My libido led me by the hand wherever it was I went. It colored my goals in life, it was one of the sole motivators for my creative pieces, it defined how I interacted with people and who I interacted with, it stripped back all of the pretenses and the work of the superego and reduced me to my id, each and every day. It was a way of life. My libido, was me.

But suddenly, it was torn out. Stripped away and flung into some far reaches where I couldn’t find it, no matter how hard I looked. I was bereft. It felt as if a part of me had died. I was half of the woman I used to be, with that which motivated me, lost. I can’t even, in any satisfying way, begin to describe the sort of loss it was, without equating it to something I shouldn’t.

The terror of it all, was that the pill never did set me free. It just found another glass cage, with a different make and model, and shut me up in it. And what recourse do I have? I’m reminded of how miserable I am, every day. But it’s a double-edged sword at this point, one I can’t hope to evade. If I were to go off of the pill, not only would I lose the sexual freedom I’ve now tasted, but I would be asking, unfairly, something of someone I care about, who’s become accustomed to me as I am now. I would risk what I have with them, for the mere chance that my libido might bounce back, or that a different pill might work better. And what good would a restored sex drive do me then, having lost them? But as I am, now, what good am I at all? I try to convince myself that I want all of the things I’ve spent a decade fantasizing of, not because I desire them any longer — I don’t — but because I know that I used to. It’s something like the feeling you get, after you’ve eaten an enormous dinner, and you’re full to the bursting. You love sweets, and when you see a bowl of salted caramel ice cream, your mind screams out for it, because it knows how deeply you love the stuff. But you, so full, feel nothing when you look at it. And the bit that’s perhaps the most terrifying of the whole ordeal, is that maybe, just maybe, I no longer like what I used to like, at all. Perhaps my mind, attempting to convince my body, is just stuck in the past, beyond the me that’s evolved and lost and evolved again. Permanent. The word that runs, as a broken record, laps in my head each and every day that the issue persists. What if it’s permanent?

And another bit of me, perhaps shaken with the inequality of it all, is beyond bitter. Why is it that I am required to sacrifice my desire, to fulfill theirs? What of my wants? Am I relegated to secondhand thoughts of companionship and romance and — what, love? — since lust and the harder stuffs have gone? Such injustice. Should I ask them to restrain their desire so that I can desire? Or should I sacrifice my desire so that they can act upon theirs? The ultimate double-edged sword, with a thousand little deaths to die in the meantime.

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