Sex Is Not Just About Filling Holes – Or Is It?

“I don’t want to do this, but I have to,” he said.  “Maybe at least you’ll get a book out of it”…

I was numb, silent and unmoving.  He held me tight for a minute, and then the taxi arrived.  I watched him roll his suitcase down the driveway, greet the driver, get in the backseat.  With the interior light on, I could see his strong profile, resolute, staring straight ahead.  The light went off and I couldn’t see him anymore.  I wondered if, in the safety of darkness, he allowed himself to turn and have one last look at me.  I wondered what he saw if he did – a woman standing in her nightgown in an open doorway at 1 a.m.  Hollow eyes, wet cheeks, arms hanging limp at her sides.  A woman he loved?  A woman he hated?  A woman he already felt no connection to anymore?  The car started to roll, I could hear the sound of the engine become more faint, and through the leafy oleander bushes I could see the white taillights begin to disappear down the street.  At any moment I thought they might turn red as he said, “Stop!  I changed my mind.”  But they continued out of view.  At any moment I thought the sound of the engine might grow louder as he said, “Turn around please!  I’ve decided not to go.”  But the night was silent except for lonely calls of birds, and the only light was the vast ceiling of tiny stars in the sky.  Stars that have seen it all.

I’m a teacher.  I teach health and human sexuality.  In my human sexuality class that week, we’d studied Erick Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development.  We discussed how the things that happen in our childhoods can impact us for the rest of our lives.  How the unmet needs for safety, attachment, industry and self-esteem can leave us so damaged that we are unable to succeed in life, or unable to form healthy bonds.  The worst of it is, we have relationships anyway.  And if we come to our partners with the voids left by those unmet needs, the relationships are likely to either continue horribly, or end terribly, compounding the wreckage.  It’s amazing any of us makes it out alive.  And the truth is, none of us does.

The message of Erickson is that at each stage there may be attributes that we didn’t get, tasks that we couldn’t master.  Because our parents weren’t perfect, because they did it the way it was done to them.  They had holes in their development that were already visited upon them and which they visited upon each other and us, however much they didn’t mean to.  Raw, sore holes with jagged edges and unhealed infections.  And then we inherit their wounds and bring them to our lovers and children.  ‘Gifts’ that keep on giving.

It sounds hopeless.  But I have to believe that there is hope.  The only solution I know involves work.  The work of healing ourselves, filling those holes.  The work of tending to those sore, ragged tags of emotional gangrene.  It hurts.  And it can be ugly.  It can mean picking off scabs, making them bleed again, sometimes letting the poison pus out.  Magic can’t do it.  Only work.

Work can mean different things.  Counseling, and sometimes medicine.  Spirituality.  Meaningful labor.  Volunteering for those less fortunate.  Choosing good people to be our friends and lovers.  Healthy care of our bodies.  Nurturing touch.  Talking.  But the healing has to fit the trauma.  If one did not attach properly with his mother, then throwing himself into work is not going to fill the hole where that very first of loving bonds should be.  If one were abandoned by her father, then ministering to others is not going to give her the sustenance she has most needed throughout her life.

My lover, who left just last week for the final time, is very smart.  But he is not smart enough to know that he needs to do the work.  He runs.  Even when he stays here.

I’m no genius.  But I will be heading back to counseling.  Because learning and then trying are what have brought me the farthest in my quest to be a better self, friend and partner.  This was the second time we tried to make our relationship work.  I’m not proud of how I handled things the first time.  But this time I studied my own injuries more carefully, tended to them a bit more mindfully, and made conscious choices.  I think I did my best.  And I have to live with the outcome.  Because calling him back again when he hasn’t done the work would only end in the same way.

It still hurts, though.  Just like in the songs, everything reminds me of him.  The restaurants we ate in, the house projects we worked on.  Nightclubs, camping trips, hikes, pets.  Earthquakes and rainy days.  His laughter, his anger.  The bed we slept in.  His voice in my ear, my soft moans.

I know it will take time, but eventually the hurt will fade, molecule by molecule, like the lights of his cab slowly driving away.

I know because the stars that have seen everything tell me it is so.

Stars and sadness

        In Licking the Spoon, my book in progress about food, sex and relationship, I discuss how the wounds of childhood sabotage our intimate connections, as well as how to find  pathways to recovery.





105 thoughts on “Sex Is Not Just About Filling Holes – Or Is It?

  1. Sadness I’m feeling. So many of us have deep rooted issues, so hard to figure out, just to live with ourselves, and all the emotions let alone to let someone else in. So hard to make a relationship work, true it is alot of work, but with the right one, so worth it.

  2. I didn’t mean to make you sad, Diana. But you’re right, the issues go deep. It’s hard enough to make it oneself; the chance of any two making it together can seem awfully slim. But I must believe…

  3. Excellent piece! When relationships are full of those wounds, it is hard, and you’ve captured both the personal pain and the reasons why, as well as the how to move forward. Congratulations on being able to see and write and help us understand in our own lives. That’s a beautiful gift.

  4. I have just read all of your blog entries from first to last and I am so excited for your book. You’re an exceptional writer as well as professor. I consider myself quite fortunate to have been in your class and consequently exposed to your blog and hopefully your book in the future. I feel all your pieces are fun, relatable, and inspiring. As I read this last one, I was saddened, but i felt optimistic to remember the fact that you are doing so much in sharing this information with everyone. I personally have taken so much knowledge and I hope others are doing so as well so in the future we have more complete individuals… ‘less holes to fill’

    • Thank you for the inspiring words! Teaching is the meaningful way I have been passing along whatever wisdom I’ve learned over the last many years, and I now find that writing is becoming meaningful to me in the same way. Thanks for reading all of the posts! 🙂

  5. Wow—Your words brought the whole event to life as if I were standing there watching it all happen with you, but couldn’t put my arm around you to tell you it would be alright.. And it will.
    The rest of your page and knowing you tells me that.
    I love your writing.

  6. I hope you’re feeling much better now after a fresh Fall semester :D. I feel I can understand some of the holes you’re talking about from my own experience. I had some issues with my parents when I was younger and those same issues arose in my relationship from my first girlfriend. And just like you stated, there were many problems and the relationship ended terribly, but I learned from the relationship and have fixed those holes.

  7. this is so beautifully written . I must applaud you on being able to write about something like this . many of us wouldn’t be able to !

    • No, I’m afraid we can’t Jackie – although many of us try. Our issues become what I call the monster in the closet: You walk by, hoping you’re wrong, yet you know he’s in there – just waiting to jump you when you least expect it. Better to throw open the closet door (preferably with a little help!) and bring everything out into the light of day so you can deal with it.

  8. Very touching literary piece. I wish I was able to express my emotions and write them out so appealing just like you do. From your significant others perspective, I too can relate to “running away” from a relationship because it is the easiest/smartest thing to do. However, for the sake of my ongoing relationship even though I feel it is obvious that I can be better off single, deep down inside I feel like it does require lots of work to make two people coexist happily in a relationship. I also feel that the memories we share together greatly outweigh those that will end in tears. Therefore, I must pursue the relationship by putting in the required work before I decide to call it in quits.

    • Thank you for the compliment! And I hear what you’re saying. Although as far as whether running is the “smartest” answer, it depends. It’s smart if the relationship has more bad than good. But if it has more good than bad, then I agree it’s worth the time and work. If we run away from everyone, we have no one.

  9. This article is very interesting because it’s true that our wounds from our past effect us and our relationships with others today, it’s sucks when things don’t turn out the way we would like because of that.

  10. I do agree that the things that occur in our childhood can follow and come to haunt us as we get older, “A gift that keeps on giving” I just love that line, i think it sums up the pattern many live in.Our “way of doing things” can sometimes end up hurting our relationships, I also believe it takes a person to want to change this pattern that they’re stuck in, for things to be different. I am glad that you have decided to want to change the way you did things, because if things aren’t going so good one way, then its nice to try to do things another way and see how that goes.

  11. This is really touchy article :(. Sometimes i do wish sex is not just about filling holes. I really wish everyone believes that love should came first before sex and skip is not a good idea to do, but reality was too much young people chose to do that only for fulfill their own pleasure. Anyways, the world has changed.

  12. This article hit right in the feels for me because it reminded me of my first relationship. I realized a lot of the “daddy issues” I had created a larger problem when it came to relationships. I can vividly remember the heartbreak, the pain, but also the rebuilding afterwards. Luckily, I have been able to grow from this. I truly understood the value of healing and time which overall has made me love life a lot more enjoyable.

  13. This post broke my heart. But in a good way. The reality of it is so painfully true, there is no way you can overlook this and not feel something. I admire your strength, because you acknowledge these feelings, not only that, but it seems to be you have found peace with them. You do not hide in how you feel, but accept and confront them- something I am learning to do. This was incredibly inspiring post, and a definite life lesson I will take with me. Thank you for sharing professor!

  14. This article truly holds a powerful message and it made me realize that everybody could relate to this in some way. I love that you mention that you still have hope after all that occurs because despite all that happens in life, I believe we can get stronger and learn from experiences. You mention that we might inherit our parents wounds and carry them into future relationships, perhaps this does not always have to be negative. Overall, I enjoyed this article, definitely one to remember.

  15. I am an avid believer of opening those wounds and releasing the poison that wells up inside. Moments in life can hurt, but overall, life doesn’t hurt.

    • I have to agree with this sentiment. It’s never good to bottle up emotions and I think you’re strong for going to counseling when you need it.

      • I agree it’s a sign of strength, Randy. I wish so many people didn’t see it as a sign of weakness. “Take action on your own behalf!” This is my mantra.

  16. Your article description was very vivid, in that I could easily slide into your shoes at that moment and feel your heart ache and the feeling of being berefit. It is an amazing thing to love someone so deeply and also a scary thought, but it is inspirational to see that someone can be strong enough to pick up the pieces and be able to fall in love with life itself. At times like these I am thankful for loving friends.

    I agree that some of our insecurities as children stay with us through out lives, but I also feel that these insecurities are what pushes us to find out who we truly are and to love ourselves.

    • Thank you for the compliment, and I understand your point about the experience of life making us who we are. It’s just sad when a person relives the same pattern over and over and does not seem to make progress. I count myself in that group sometimes, but boy, I sure try to learn from the past.

      • Sometimes I feel that way also: stuck in an never ending cycle of ‘what could have been’ but at least we are able to learn from it and move on. It’s nice to know that others feel this way and it is not just me. 🙂

  17. Loved this post. It gives me hope for my future and struggles I am facing.

    I hope things have been better since then. You have great strength and a good spirit. I believe in you.

  18. Great article, but Sadly. In life either we’ve had our experiences, I think we should move on and fix our holes and make it better. We’ve learned our mistakes in our sex life.

  19. Wow! This article had me feeling as if I was there on the doorstep with you and feeling all the emotions that you were feeling. I do agree with you that are past can affect our relationships, but also our past is what help us learn and grow in our lives.

  20. This article couldn’t be so far from the truth, we all have voids in our lives that we need to fix in order for us to be on the right path in our lives.

  21. this by far is my favorite article.
    I found that you opened up and yeah its easier to write about the fun stuff, but always harder to be true and open about something that affects one personally

  22. Reading this blog made me feel like I was there experiencing this heart breaking moment with you. I see part of myself in this article and know the feeling holding out hope for something to change when it simply does not. I really love the way you captured the personal pain you experienced as well the decision you made to move on. You can not run away from issues, all you can do is try to fix them and improve for the future. I really appreciate your honestly with this post and your ability to see that the the relationship will not work until “the holes are filled”.

  23. I think you’re right about trying to heal ourselves. I think if we don’t let go of the past, and try and remember that we’re still on this Earth for a reason, we’ll lose ourselves. But, this is by far my favorite article that i have read of yours, Professor.

  24. THIS. This almost had me in tears. I am currently going through my own “getting over it” phase…. and I just felt everything you wrote…. I had a rough relationship and learning about The 8 Stages has definitely helped the healing process because now I realize some things weren’t totally his fault. He was just missing things that I wasn’t and vice versa. We were just two people at different stages in life….

  25. I found this article to be very emotional and deep. We all have issues and voids as you said and the first step in bettering oneself and in turn one’s life is to acknowledge that there is a void or problem. With each year that passes I become more mature and aware of my issues which I must work on to become a better person overall. However, I also realize and think its important to note that this process is a lifelong process, and that takes time and much effort.

  26. I am glad to read that you are sticking up for your self and that you are looking for the best, you deserve the best and I believe that people should put in the work if they want a successful relationship. I think you will stay strong and you will find someone who is worthy of you and the amount of work you are willing to put in.

  27. This article is so true. Also very sad which seems to be something your good at (reaching my emotions) I love this article and going to recommend to a friend. I relate to this because I was like this after my breakup but i took time to heal and work on my issues instead of dumping them on someone else. Recently started dating again and I feel a lot better confident and experienced because i took the time to learn from my mistakes and work on my issues. still have some but its way better than having a ton of unresolved problems and going on a downward spiral.. that’s not fun. Great Article

  28. The past definitely effects our future relationships.. At least it has for me. Im probably a little more bitter than I woul like to admit.

  29. wow. I like this one. Thank you for being so honest and open about this. Great read. Also very interesting article.

  30. This is heart-wrenching, but it’s so good that you’re writing about this. I’m almost certain that a majority of relationships end because of 1-holes and 2-ridiculously high expectations of that other person to fill these holes. And it’s so hard to keep going back to them and to work through them until they’re gone, or at least smaller. This is something I’ve been fighting to do, really, my whole life, but it’s so important to work through things and get better, rather than subjecting yourself and others to the same pain over and over again. ugh! confronting yourself is so important! Thank you so much for sharing this!

    • You’re welcome, and yes, it was heart-wrenching. But in the end each person has to work on him/herself, and then the couple has to work as a team. If any of that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t work.

  31. The first 1/3 and last 2/3 of this article was an example of good writing. I strongly believe that the best writing comes from inspiration and yours may have been dark, and I’m not trying to offend you, but damn it made for a good article.

  32. Great writing! This one makes me feel a little sad though, because it is so touching! Thank you for always being so honest and open in your entries; it makes them 100% worth reading!


  33. It says a lot about the quality of a person’s character to be able to recognize their own shortcomings. Not do you recognize them, you strive to overcome them. I wish you the best for this in the future.

  34. Wow! I am completely amazed how you engaged me in this reading. We have all suffered from heart breaks and let downs, but we can’t correct others, but we can correct our defaults. It is very hard separating from those we love, but it is best to take away what will harm us more in our lives than keep them.

  35. This article made me sad, from the moment I laid eyes on the title and after I read it, sadness still remained. Earlier this year, 2 days before my birthday my father passed away (yeah talk about happy birthday to me). When I started reading, it reminded me of how I never met my dad, granted he just found me on facebook a few years ago and we’ve been chatting since but still I never actually got the chance to meet him. throughout my life I’ve always wanted to say ‘yeah there goes my dad over there’ but it never happened. I can honestly say that sometimes I do things wrong or right, when it comes to dealing with a relationship, friendship, or even my family because I feel emptiness and I’m trying to fill it up with something that maybe nobody can ever fill. After reading this article it made me realize even though I have the most loving and awesome family(my moms, I never met my dads side of the family), and maybe I need to look on the brighter side because it could be worse and what I have had for the past 27 years, I wouldn’t change it for the world 🙂

  36. I think I can understand why you write books now…. I literally felt my heart ache while I was reading this. People say that time can heal everything, but can it really do the magic? In fact sometimes I wonder if we step into another relationship due to our hopes to forget about the pain the previous one has brought us.

    • I think you may be right Jenny, yet I think stepping into a new relationship is the worst thing you can do. There hasn’t been time either to heal or to examine what role we played in the breakup, thus little growth is possible.

  37. This is written beautifully, and feel like we have all been there, at lease I have. Thinking ” maybe he will come back and realized what he is missing.” I have been in that position a few times in my life, and I really appreciated this post. Thank you.

  38. Sad and moving story that has the elements of life itself. I loved this reading and it reminds me of some past experiences of mine. Hope you have progressed greatly and into a more healthy and developed emotionally according to Erickson’s stages.

  39. I’m sure this article touched everyone who took the time to read it. I could only imagine the hurt you went through. Standing, waiting for the lights to turn red is a feeling I know all too well. There’s an expectation and hope that lingers for who knows how long and the only way to get through it is to find someone or something new. I’m more of a fan of something new, because through a new hobby or change of mind set anything is possible. Being a better you is the best that we can do for ourselves and the people around us who truly care about us.

    • I’m glad you were touched by this, and I know many people can relate. I prefer to go to something rather than someone, because just finding someone new does not give one as much of a chance to grow. And sometimes that something is just to look deeper within ourselves.

  40. Life lesson! Its true sex in not just about feeling holes, but about us putting the work into healing our wounds with time and not by letting someone else step into our lives just to feel our emptiness just for a specific time and moment in our life.

  41. Very beautiful entry! I personally never been through this type of pain, but I do know some who have been. It is very sad to see people hurt and feel like they are nothing because of losing someone they love. The best thing I can say to people who feel hurt is that there is hope, that you will find someone who will love you unconditionally and will help fill those holes.

  42. This is probably my favorite post. It is extremely relatable and something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with at one point or another. Glad you found the strength to move forward with life. You can always be the “crazy cat lady” lol I’m joking!

  43. Although relationships and pasts experiences leave us hurt or saddened or sometimes scared, therapy and counseling can help a lot. Going through the same experience, not having anyone to talk too scared that someone will judge you. A therapist or counselor is the best person to go to. They hold your secrets and won’t judge you like your friends or family. They will help you to move on and become a better person. Just know that we build from these events. We learn from them and they help us become a better more stronger person, always look on the bright side it is just the beginning of a new journey.

  44. aww this made me a little sad! I completely understand what you are talking about. And even though we sometimes want to ignore it, we can’t. We just have to keep plugging away at those wounds to try and heal them. I have been at that door a couple times before, and if it happens again after the relationship I have been in for so long, I dread the whole it will create.

    • If you don’t want those holes to mess up the relationship you’re in, keep trying to heal with all your might. And hopefully your partner is doing the same. Incidentally, this old love and I are seeing each other again, so maybe some holes have gotten filled up! I hope!

  45. This story brings back memories of what once happened to me. It is very painful when a relationship ends but having a positive attitude and seeking counseling can really help with the healing process. Thank you for sharing this story.

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