We started toward the Red Light district while the sun was setting. My husband, Brian, and I were on one of our annual long-weekend honeymoons—to Amsterdam this time—and we were both curious about it. The ancient buildings were bluish chrome in the damp cold and I tucked my bare hand deep into my husband’s pocket. His sexy long fingers closed reassuringly around mine while I pretended to be not at all nervous. Yeah. This is me checking out empowered entrepreneurs making an honest—and legal—living. I’m adventurous, sex-positive, and cool. Technicolor bursts of light throbbed in the narrow picture windows and glittered off of the canals. We weren’t sure if we were “there” yet, but then we came upon a very narrow passageway between two buildings. It was dark, like a tunnel, and the energy around it was charged. Men scurried out of the opening alone, looking furtive, walking fast, or in groups, talking too loud. We had arrived. We turned in. The high heels of my boots clicked along the uneven cobblestones and we flattened ourselves against the bricks to make way for passersby.
The windows themselves are just the right size for a woman to stand, or sit on a chair, or preen in a strategically placed mirror. There are curtains that can be easily closed, and small white tile rooms with small tiled beds with mattresses clad in crisp, tight sheets. My overwhelming impression was of utilitarian and efficient transaction. The rosy-red light was forgiving, and the women, beautifully clad in all manner of lingerie looked us squarely in the face and vamped a little, or touched up their heavy makeup, or waved a frank invitation while I tried to play it cool. I was going for worldly and respectful. I don’t think I managed it. I hung on my handsome Brian’s arm, uncomfortable, protective, and a little lightheaded as we got deeper into the maze. The red neon and black lights glowed more livid against the darkening night. We silently wound down one alley, and then another and another and another. In spite of the bone-chilling cold, I felt Brian’s palm sweating inside of our shared pocket and smelled the musky scent of his most seductive cologne.
Between two of the alleyways we slowed and stopped and broke the charged silence between us.
“Are you aroused?” I asked—feeling like it was somehow a trick question, though it wasn’t meant to be. I mean, what tone exactly makes that not a trick question? “Yes,” he said, sincerely, his clear green eyes looking straight into mine. “Are you?” I had to admit that I was. Very. And disoriented and unsettled by that fact. We walked a little more then stopped at a windowless wall of brick in the dark. He pressed me back against it and kissed me deep and hard. I felt the cold bricks between my shoulder blades and licked my lips, which suddenly tingled hot and a little bee-stung.
“It’s weird,” I said, “when sex is the only point—the only frame of reference. It’s weird being watched and sized up by the women—and weird that we are expected to do the same. I don’t know how to do that—I want to know their stories. We must look so amateur. But for some reason, I want them to want us. I want them to hope that we are their next clients. I want them to want you, and for me to be the one who has you.”
“Yeah…” he said, searching my face, looking deep into my eyes. Checking over and over to make sure I was okay and swallowing hard. He was unbalanced too, vulnerable. And he desperately wanted it all to be okay.
The Erotic Cocktail
Sex with my husband is good. It’s really good. We are lucky to be perfectly matched with high libido and similar predilections. But even when it is really, really good, when you have sex as often as we do, for as long as we have (eight years), familiarity and routine can’t help but creep in. When that’s working, it’s comfortable and safe and hot. We know exactly how to please each other, how to please ourselves next to each other, and how to “help” the other person when we aren’t exactly in the mood. Also, familiarity begets the deep sort of trust that allows us to talk about what we want, ask for what we need, explore whims and fantasies, and push the envelope. All of which equals ongoing fireworks.
But all of that said: I am who I am, and he is who he is. We have a certain energy inherent to each of us and to our coupling—and you can put all of the whipped cream and different colors of lace on that that you want (and believe me, we do), but it’s still Manya and Brian doing our Manya and Brian thing. Some of the basic ingredients of eroticism are unfamiliarity, novelty, the nervous charge of the unexpected, and the possibility of surprise. That stuff still happens, but less often as a relationship matures. And it’s especially that way when from the beginning you have been adventurous and outspoken about what you want—you don’t have as many places to go over the long term.
Fortunately? Unfortunately? We’re not particularly “50 Shades.” I really wish that we were kinksters! I would like to get more options onto our menu (or should I say, amuse-bouches?). I think that even with whips and spiked rollers and handcuffs we would still fall back into our very delicious rut. I mean, I don’t want to create the impression we’re all vanilla all the time—that’s hardly the case. I have a freaking armoire full of toys and corsets and whatnot. And we do still discover things and find ourselves breathlessly saying: Nice! That was new! But day in and day out it’s really mostly delicious comfort food.
Seeing each other in a new light
Our honeymoons are all about putting our sensual relationship front and center in the intoxicating context of exploration and adventure. Plus, delicious food and fab hotels. With that in mind, visiting the red light district in Amsterdam seemed an obvious choice.
Walking around the red light district put us into a physical and mental place where our individual sexuality was invited into the light. There I was looking at Brian’s sexuality—as something separate from me and the safety of our lovemaking, and he was looking at mine—as something separate from him. I was seeing him not just as my object of desire, and as my husband, but as an independent and desirable sexual being with appetites and desires who chooses me. We were both vulnerable in the nakedness of that realization. (Maybe all these deep thoughts were flowing because I was a little high too.) It was edgy, raw, and taboo, and we were both super turned on. Seeing each other in the red light of the windows was hot, and I could hardly wait to get him back to the hotel and reclaim him.
The Right Answer
And then, just when we were starting to figure out how to have fun with this new energy between us, something really terrible happened.
I was feeling really pretty and sexy in my short skirt, high boots, lacy tights and leather jacket. I was holding my own there among the beautiful women in the windows and feeling great, riding the tingly waves of hormones pulsing through my system. After Brian kissed me against the wall, a group of drunk British dudes stumbled past us. One guy stopped dead, looked me up and down and loudly announced to his posse and Brian: “I hope you didn’t pay for that.” And then all of his buddies rolled around laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world and they tumbled away.
It took me a minute to realize what had just happened. “That” was me.
When I did, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut and my throat got that horrible painful shame tightness where you want to cry so badly, but instead you just sort of seep tears and try, again and again, to swallow. I felt so bad: What were they saying exactly? That I was too ugly? Too old? Not worth anything? Not worth paying to have sex with? But would I have rather they thought I was working in the windows? And why did I care at all? To this day, I grapple with those questions.
Brian was horrified. Here we are having this very intimate adventure together and these ignorant fucks who are feeling conflicted and ashamed about their own reaction to the scene lash out. Brian just wrapped his body around me (which is very tall and protective—dude is 6’6″) and created sort of a cave around my crumpled face with his arms. He kissed my tears off of my cheeks and said: “Baby—I am the luckiest guy in this place. I’m in this place with my wife—who is so beautiful and who I am so hot for. I have a marriage so strong that I can honestly tell my wife how it feels to be here, and we can experience it together. I’m the only one here truly getting lucky tonight because I get to go home with you and have you for every night, for always.” It was one of those moments in my marriage where I could feel our love for each other deepen, like a lock dropping into place, leaving the door solid and secure.
I went to the red light district expecting an intellectual anthropological outing and satisfaction of curiosity, and found so much more. The lust that place provoked was primal and powerful. Brian’s love for me was even more so. I left with a more profound understanding of our sexuality and a deeper trust in our relationship.
We walked back to our hotel, fingers tightly entwined, and proceeded to have the most amazing honeymoon weekend yet. There was a new energy around us, in us, and between us. It was surprising, electric, and neon-red.