Sex! (And Ankylosing Spondylitis)

There. I’ve said it. Not out loud, of course, but on the page. Sex. It’s a great word when you think about it. It’s short – which can be a good thing if you have a bus to catch – and it’s sweet. But not like a boiled sweet kind of sweet. More like an Eton Mess kind of sweet – a bit worse for wear. A bit like it’s been there and back again but feels all the better for having done so.

Sex has played a major part in most of our lives – with the exception of those who abstain for whatever reasons; nuns, nerds, men who wear only one bicycle clip.

But, of course, with time, and age, and aches and pains, (and AS), all things start to slow down. For many, memories of making "the beast with two backs" can be so distant that they are only played out inside their heads in grainy black and white. Like some old Laurel and Hardy movie – only with fewer laughs. Or maybe more laughs. Depending on how well it’s going and who you are having it off with.

My journey begins

My own journey began when I was too young to really know what sex was. What I did know was that my eyes would narrow, and my stomach would turn over, whenever Sophia Loren pitched up on our telly. Or Liz Taylor. Or Gina Lollobrigida. Or Jane Mansfield. Or Marilyn Monroe. (You might want to make yourself a cup of tea here, this list could go on for some time). Or Vivien Leigh. Or Rita Hayworth. Or Elsie Tanner. Or Jane Fonda. Or Mae West (don’t ask). Or the young woman from The Beverley Hillbillies, Not grandma. The other one.

And then, when you finally discover what you think sex is, you must come to terms with the idea that someone other than your mum will see you naked. And that’s not the worst bit. There’s the godawful build-up to it. I hated all that. I had no clue about any of it. I didn’t know if a girl was interested in sex or if she wasn’t. I was too scared to ask.

Back in the supposedly decadent sixties and seventies asking someone if they wanted a shag, wasn’t the done thing. It took me bloody ages to finally get round to it. And when I did, I decided the best course of action was to go at it like I was in the 100m sprint. Head down, legs going like pistons, keep your eye on the prize and never, ever look over your shoulder to see who is behind you.

I needed practice

With practice, you should get good at it. But, as with all things, I needed a lot of practice before I got good. Unlike learning to play the mouth organ – which is another thing I never got good at – when it comes to sex, you need someone to practice with. Well, most of the time anyway.

Eventually, if you are lucky, you meet someone nice and you fall in love and so sex gets to be good. You learn to tuck your elbows in and keep your back straight. A bit like you do when lifting a heavy object, such as a cannon ball - or a dead relative.

You also learn to avoid non-sex related topics:

"I saw Dave in Tescos on Saturday, he’s getting a puppy. Lord knows why. He hates dogs."

Oh, one final thing, don’t keep asking if you are doing it properly. That’s a right turn off too – apparently.

My own experience of sex as an AS sufferer has been interesting

I have very limited movement in my neck and what with that and my fading eyes, it means it could be anyone coming at me to begin with. I mean, it never is just anyone. It’s always the same person. Not that I’m complaining. But maybe coming at me from the other side of the bed might add a little something. It couldn’t hurt, could it? Or could it? I’m sure know one needs reminding how painful it can be shifting position once you’ve got yourself settled for the night.

Then there’s the groaning. The groaning used to mean something else back in the day. It was a good thing. Not too much groaning though. Don’t lay it on with a trowel. I remember a few years ago, Teresa and I were sat in bed drinking our cocoa and trying not to listen to the couple next door going at it. The woman sounded like she was auditioning for a role in Wagner’s "The Ride of the Valkyries" (YouTube it if you want to make this section fully immersive).

I pretended not to notice, and kept my head buried in the book I was reading. It was called "My Secret Gardener" and wasn’t what I’d expected. So far, I’d read chapters on how to increase the size of my radish and how best to breathe life into an ailing clematis.

Meanwhile, next door was still getting on with things, and Teresa and I were silently praying our ordeal would soon be over. When suddenly the woman let out such a high-pitched scream that several dogs living in the area joined in with a howling chorus and caused our portrait of Her Majesty the Queen fall off the wall.

It was then that Teresa, who never once looked up from her copy of Woman’s Own, muttered, "She’s putting that on."

And I thought; I bloody hope so, because if she isn’t I’ve been doing it wrong for the past fifteen years.

There’s no moral to this story. No words of wisdom or tips to share. Nothing ground breaking. Only this. Take it easy. Go slow. Be nice to your bones. Say, ouch, if it hurts. And finally, never forget, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

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