Sex and brussels sprouts

My Ikea bed frame rapped lightly against my wall as the hands of a guy I’d met two hours prior at the Abbey gripped the headboard.

“Why did I buy this bed?” I asked myself. “It’s so plain. I could have done so much better.”

At age 21, my relationship to sex sucked.


When I was a teenager and every other guy my age seemed horny enough to hump a hole in drywall, I was content to keep ignoring sex. Like boiled brussels sprouts, sex seemed like a hot, soppy mess that I was better off without.

As I got a little bit older and couldn’t avoid sex anymore, I started having it obligatorily and with the same damp enthusiasm with which one approaches a bowl of brussels sprouts drowned in cream of mushroom soup. I would lead my suitors back to my place, ritually grab lube and condoms and kiss just long enough to heat things up, the sensual equivalent of 60 seconds in the microwave.

The sex was always rote, boring and miserable– typical hookup sex– clothes coming off tentatively like you’re being forced onto stage naked, not too verbal because you don’t know each other very well and tense for the same reason.

So my mind usually fluttered off to something else, like wondering whether I should dispose of my Malmo bed and try to find something a little more interesting and nuanced. Of course, even at 21, one can only maintain interest in sex for a few minutes under these conditions.

As my new friend did his best to keep the mood alive, mumbling mindless things like, “yeah, baby, that’s it,” I tried to engage.

“Who’s your daddy,” I asked, because it sounded like a porny thing to ask, but not because it seemed like a good idea.

“Uh,” he paused, “I don’t know.”

When that fell flat, I tensed my body, grunted something insincere about arriving at my destination before collapsing into the chilly demeanor of a feigned post-coitus.

That scene would play out many times before something finally clicked into place years later (meaning way too recently) after several years of the stability and security of a long-term relationship with my boyfriend, James.

One night recently, while James and I were eating balsamic roasted brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan, it hit me.

“Malcolm Gladwell says you’ve got to do something for 10,000 hours to become an expert,” I said.

“So?” asked James, one eyebrow slightly elevated.

“So that’s how much time I’ve spent choking down brussels sprouts,” I announced, “and look at these, I love them!”

“No, that’s not even close to what he meant,” James said.

“Yeah, huh!” I exclaimed like a defiant four-year old. “And that’s why sex has gotten better, too!”

James shook his head, looking down to his plate as the diners around us in the packed restaurant pretended not to hear me.

“You know, we could make these at home. We could also roast them, or probably make a salad out of them with cranberries and toasted pecans, wouldn’t that be good?”

“Yeah,” James said quickly and quietly, wanting desperately for me to be silent.

“I’m going to be this innovative with our sex life, too!”

James stopped talking to me and opted to communicate with a series of tepid mmm hmmms until we got home.

“I meant what I said, you know,” I told James. “Come on, I’ll show you,” I said as I led him to the bedroom.

Later that night, right as James was nodding off into a restful sleep after an invigorating roll in the sack, I leaned over, brushed his hair behind his ear and softly whispered, “Say my name,” as I stifled a fit of ill-timed giggles.

“Jackson,” he replied, “shut the hell up.”

As I lie awake, watching blue shadows dance across the ceiling, I wondered what kind of brussels sprouts we’d have tomorrow. And also, what we’d eat for dinner.