Butt plug. Butt plug. I’ve been walking around muttering these two words to myself for days now, like a six-year-old experimenting with a new curse. (It even sounds like an insult: “You’re nothing but a dirty butt plug!”) I savor the way the words pop crisply from my lips: the hard t of butt and the guttural g of plug. Until a few days ago, I didn’t even know what one is.

To me, a nurse who occasionally has to deal with incontinent patients, “butt plug” sounds like something to be removed every so often to allow for drainage: unpleasant and tedious and not at all sexy. Most patients do not like nurses inserting things into their anuses (ani?). But maybe some of them do. Maybe their grunts and wiggling are expressions of sexual arousal, not discomfort. What do I know? I don’t even know the plural of anus.

This has come up because of Donna Mae, who happens to be a nurse, like me, but whose real vocation is sex goddess. When we are idle at work (a frequent condition on a psych unit), she will begin to talk about sex. It was from her that I learned there was such a thing as a butt plug and that I have been neglecting my sexual partners’ ani my entire life.

Lest you peg me as a repressed woman: I learned about orgasm at the tender age of six, when I was sitting on a half-deflated soccer ball and rocking back and forth. I came of age in the sixties and was never squeamish about oral sex or Kama Sutra positions. I have had relationships in which sex was important — at least, at the beginning. It always seems to fade in importance, and my long-term bonds have been based more on feelings of security and affection. I’ve never been drawn to those Cosmopolitan articles that promise “Ten Sex Tricks Men Love” and “How to Keep Hot Sex Alive.” I’m more interested in how to keep bugs off my potatoes.


If you saw Donna Mae sitting at the nurses’ desk, you might not realize she was a sex goddess. For one thing, she is heavy. Though she’s also tall — I’ll give her that — she packs a lot of weight onto her six-foot frame. She is what I think Southern men used to call a “big-legged woman.” That may have been a compliment down South, but here in New England big legs are not considered an asset. Further up on her frame, Donna Mae has massive breasts. I think a new bra size had to be invented for her. She is not young but is moving tentatively into her fifties, like me.

The clues to her goddesshood are subtle: Her hair is a unique shade of blond highlighted with auburn streaks and always carefully coiffed and sprayed into place. Her fingernails used to be incredibly long, like the nails of a Mandarin dandy, until our head nurse told her she had to cut them in the interest of hygiene. She still drums them on the desk when scanning the area for male prey. She wears a lot of makeup and sometimes applies it at the nurses’ desk without a mirror. And she has green eyes, an asset of many a romance-novel heroine.

Donna Mae was hired a couple of months ago, and I met her during a change of shift. I had not talked to her for more than a few minutes when she said, quote, “If a man manipulates my nipples just right, I can have an orgasm from that alone.” She paused and then added, “I have a voracious sexual appetite.”

I can’t recall exactly how the subject of orgasms came up. I think we began by talking about back pain, and then breast size as it relates to back pain, and then breast-reduction surgery as a cure for back pain, and then the fact that during breast reduction the nipple is excised and moved to a new location, which would, naturally, involve the disruption of nerve pathways. From there we went merrily on to erogenous zones and orgasm. There is apparently something about me that invites such confidences, as if people can look at me and tell I have loose boundaries.

Some women might not have risen to Donna Mae’s bait. Some women would have replied, “Oh, that’s nice. The roads were a bit slick when I drove in. Be careful driving home.” But not me. Good fences make good neighbors, but bad boundaries make for more-interesting conversations.

Which isn’t to say I wasn’t somewhat taken aback by her declaration about her nipples. I was silent for a moment. Then I said, “Really? My breasts are as numb as an old boot.”


Donna Mae’s presence did not go unnoticed by the males who work at the hospital. She fell like a rock into the placid waters of our ward, and the ripples eddied out as far as the police force and maintenance staff. The building workers began to linger in our vicinity, and their presence had an electrifying effect on Donna Mae: Her back straightened. Her lips actually plumped, as if she had erectile tissue in them. Her lids lowered, and she looked at said male, if he was even slightly eligible, with the stare of a cougar sizing up a young deer. It was not long before she and one of the police officers were exchanging sexy e-mails that zipped, as if lubricated, across the dingy halls between them.

I may have encouraged this: In the first few weeks we worked together, Donna Mae had filled our empty hours with tales of her estranged lover, the recently divorced owner of a large horse farm. Donna Mae had met him because she has a horse. She also owns a souped-up Mustang convertible. Donna Mae likes to possess the accoutrements of the sex goddess and will go into debt to buy them. She does not even use her Mustang for day-to-day transportation, but breaks it out on sunny summer days for the impact she makes when ensconced in its black leather seat. And she does not ride her horse anymore but keeps it as a sort of prop.

At any rate, Donna Mae told me that on her first date with the horse farmer, she’d pushed him up against his truck in the parking lot of the restaurant, torn his pants down, and given him the blow job of his life. She described the act to me in unnerving detail, depicting him as a hapless hayseed, undone by the suddenness of her attack. She told me of her momentary surprise at encountering his foreskin: she was used to circumcised men and worried he might not be up to her fastidious standards of cleanliness. But she had gone too far to stop. With a flick of her wrist she pulled the foreskin back and wrapped her lips around his —

I might be able to finish writing this scene if I read pornography, but I don’t. I read mostly historical nonfiction. Right now I am reading about Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer who lost almost all of his men as he walked the length of the New World, from Florida to Mexico, in the sixteenth century. Cabeza de Vaca probably fell into bed, or perhaps into the rushes, with several Indian maidens, but I am fairly sure that their sex did not involve butt plugs, cock rings, and the like. This is not something I would have contemplated before I met Donna Mae. She has opened my eyes to a panting, lubricious world out there.

The horse farmer dated Donna Mae for several years but never proposed. Finally she told him he’d better give her an engagement ring or she was going to leave. It struck me as odd that marriage would be the ultimate goal of a sex goddess, but there you have it. He demurred, and she left, her heart broken. As she poured out the history of her lost love, I didn’t need to say much more than an occasional “Mmm.” I even read some historical nonfiction while she talked. But Donna Mae would get irritable if I didn’t appear to be listening to her at all, and at some point I got fed up and said, “The best way to get over someone is to find someone else.”

It was shortly after that that she began to have sex with the police officer. She told me about their encounters in detail, of course. Apparently he had a large penis, which was a plus in her book. He also shaved his pubic area, which was nice for her because she liked to take his balls in her mouth while she stuck her finger up his anus, which caused him to scream with delight. She said he also enjoyed it when she applied her vibrator to the area between his anus and his testicles while nuzzling his nipples.

When I admitted that I had never done these things to a man, Donna Mae looked at me in a pitying way. Then I told her I’d never owned a vibrator. She was aghast.

Let’s face it: I am not a sex goddess. In fact, I am probably not a particularly exciting lover, which might explain why my partner, Peter, and I have sex so infrequently. I have my excuses: I’m going through menopause; I’m on antidepressants that sap my libido. Peter is getting on in years and doesn’t seem that interested either. We’re happy to go to bed and cuddle a bit and not feel alone in the world, then yawn and turn away and go to sleep.

But all Donna Mae’s talk got me thinking, and one morning over coffee I asked Peter if he’d like me to put my finger up his butt. He looked alarmed and pointed out that he had hemorrhoids. I knew this, because he anoints them every morning with Anusol, and his droopy white BVDs are stained with the unguent. Donna Mae says real men do not wear white BVDs. Once Peter purchased some patterned boxers, which I thought looked cute. I was not, however, moved to throw him down on our bed and ravish him.

Another morning, after a long conversation with Donna Mae at work the night before, I asked Peter if he thought I should get a vibrator. He said he didn’t want to compete with a machine.

Nevertheless I did order a vibrator on the Internet. It came in a plain brown box and was called the “Rabbit.” It was purple and stuffed with fake pearls that ground against each other when it was turned on. It also had a pair of “ears” that reached up from the base of the dildo part and landed in the vicinity of the clitoris. Peter wasn’t home, and I decided to give it a test run by myself. Squatting near the TV with my cat looking on, I had an orgasm in about thirty seconds.

I’ve concluded that no man can compete with a vibrator unless he can rotate his body 360 degrees in midair and have a seizure at the same time. Technology has rendered men unnecessary for orgasms. What men are good for is what I already had from Peter: intimacy, companionship, a warm body.

Not long after that, Peter and I tried the Rabbit out together. First he had an orgasm the old-fashioned way, and then we fired up the “love machine,” as he calls it. This time I wasn’t able to have an orgasm. I felt as if I were riding some desperate little animal, which killed the mood. I think Peter was secretly pleased.

Since then the Rabbit has lived under the bed. Peter has continued to come to bed each night and fall asleep in ten seconds flat. Sometimes I cuddle up to his stout body and smell his underarm, the scent of which never fails to please me. Perhaps there is something to this idea of pheromones. His scent alone used to set me itching. I divorced my husband for Peter, and in the months leading up to this dastardly betrayal, Peter and I would spend hours at a time necking. (He would not sleep with me until I’d ended my marriage.) We had a secret spot on the bank of the river where we used to roll around on the pine needles and tantalize each other with tastes of the delights to come. He used to talk dirty in my ear, which was a revelation to me. I’d never had a man do that before.

Maybe when my meno is fully paused, or when they come up with antidepressants that don’t act as Novocain for the nether regions, or when I’ve learned to like myself more, we will return to the regular sex we used to enjoy. But I will likely never go down that road of pornographic videos and cock rings and butt plugs. I know this is probably a result of my Puritan background. People say that sex is about joy and love, but to me it feels faintly bestial, a frightening urge to which I’d rather not give in. Isn’t that why Buddhist monks eschew it? Could several million Buddhist monks be wrong?

When Donna Mae talks about sex at work now, I listen with a half smile and sometimes try to tell her how I feel, but this seems only to drive her to greater heights of hyperbole, as if it were her mission to awaken the sleeping sex goddess in my soul. Talking to her is like looking at pictures of a country I once visited and to which I have no wish to return.

I suspect there are many people like me who no longer see sex as an important part of their lives, but we’re ashamed to admit it. We’re told in books and magazines and on talk shows that people should be sexually active right up until their death. The idea makes me slightly squeamish. When I’m eighty — if I’m ever eighty — I expect my shape, despite yoga and a high-fiber diet, to be sad and droopy, the odd bumps and wrinkles progressed past the power of cosmetics to soften them. Sexual striving, with its undignified explosions and tremors, will have passed away, and I do not expect I will miss it. All I will ask of my body then is that it carry me to my garden and back, and that it allow me to hold a grandchild or two, and that it let me see and smell and taste a few seasons more.