It's not all blood and guts and sweat and tears, being a doctor. In fact, as a family GP, there's very little blood, and never any guts whatsoever. (Sweat and tears there are plenty of - and that's just from me after a long day). One thing that my job does entail is an almost unparalled access to peoples' inner lives. I hear about drug experimentation, I know about past criminal convictions. I am told of abortions and illicit affairs. I hear all kinds of secrets, because people know their secrets are safe with me. Unless someone plans to harm themselves, or others, I cannot break confidentiality. My lips are sealed.
So when I find out all sorts of details about peoples' sex lives, I cannot help but be intrigued. I mean, there are not many jobs with such a direct line to these nitty gritty facts. People tell me things I wouldn't hear from my closest friends. I get to find out what's happening behind all those bedroom doors. Honestly, it's been an eye-opener.
About ten years ago, I was sitting talking to a suburban, married, 30-something woman about something unrelated, when she suddenly asked me how to use a device made for 'safe' female-to-female oral sex. I'm sure the whites of my eyes were showing as I tried to coolly describe the correct usage of this piece of protective plastic. Firstly, I really had no idea beyond the vaguest concept of how this gear should be used (but surely there are instructions on the packet?!). Secondly, my mind was racing as I thought in confusion, Hang on! Your husband comes to this practice, too. Does he know about this? Are you two going to be okay? As it happened, they weren't okay - they eventually divorced. And thinking back, I wonder if this lady made her query as a way of letting me know she was bisexual (or gay), to make me to realise that all was not as it seemed. (Either that, or she thought it would be hilarious to watch a nerdy young doctor stammer her way through an sex-related explanation!) I'm not sure what happened to this lady, as I moved from that practice a few years ago. However, her husband has continued to consult me at my new practice, and he has since happily remarried.
The most captivating sex tales I've heard involve societal preconceptions about youth, age and intimacy being turned on their heads. The general community seems to expect anyone over the age of sixty to retire from all sexual thoughts, desires and activity (heaven forbid that we not all look like smooth-faced, flat-bellied movie stars whilst having sex!!), while we assume the youth of the world are going at it like rabbits. So it was a lesson for me to be allowed a window into the lives of 'May' and 'Kylie'.
May was a feisty 78-year-old widow with beautiful shoes and sparkling eyes. She was smart and vivacious, and maintained an active social life. Inevitably, she would tell me about various men who asked her out. May didn't seem too interested in any particular man, until 'Ralph' came along. Then suddenly she talked of Ralph doing this, Ralph saying that. May and Ralph went out for meals. May and Ralph went walking. They went to dances. Things got even more serious, and then everything began to unravel. May was miffed. Ralph only seemed interested in being 'intimate' with her once every few weeks, whereas May was ready to get busy every few days. Being the outspoken woman that she was, May complained to me bitterly in her heavy Eastern European accent, "A vo-man has needs, you know!". And in her hurt, she huffed, "And he needs to take pills to purrrrrr-form! My husband never needed any-sink!". It was difficult to keep a straight face around May, but somehow I'm sure May wouldn't have minded if I'd smiled. She was grinning herself half the time.
Kylie was just a teen when I first met her. She wanted to begin taking a contraceptive pill, and I was asking her routine questions, including whether she could possibly already be pregnant. Kylie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She admitted shyly, "Well, it's been awhile since we last....you know." Familiar with the usual stories from teens with raging hormones, I assumed we were talking about a whole three days here.
"Did you use any protection?", I queried.
"Um," Kylie stalled. "Well, I'm not sure. I can't really remember. But I know I'm not pregnant. There's no way I could be."
"How can you be sure?", I asked, beginning to feel frustrated with this verbal tennis match.
Kylie paused. "Well ...... we're not really that into sex. Neither of us."
"Okay..." I prompted.
"And so.... (I'm thinking that this is like pulling teeth. Large, impacted wisdom teeth)... "so it's been awhile."
"Awhile?" I echo.
"Yes," Kylie replies, "About three or four months." I quickly retrieved my jaw from the floor so I could continue to speak.
Turns out Kylie and her boyfriend liked to do a spot of horizontal dancing at Christmas, New Year, and on each of their birthdays. That's it. And for those of you who are thinking that a relationship like that would never last - that the boyfriend must have been secretly seething with sexual frustration (you cynics! you sex-obsessed people!) - I have an update. It's been more than ten years, but Kylie showed up at my current place of work the other day. She has since married the boyfriend. They are very content together. And now, they have sex at Christmas, New Year, on their birthdays.......
and on their wedding anniversary.