I’m learning a lot this semester.

This week a student introduced me to the term, “spoons,” used in the disability community, she told me, as a measure of energy and, like, emotional wherewithal.

I investigated further and found the original theory, as written by Christine Miserandino. She’s at a diner with her friend, who asks her to explain what it’s like to live with Lupus. In an inspired moment, she gathers up a bunch of spoons and hands them to her friend:

I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting. She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn’t even started yet. I’ve wanted more “spoons” for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she?

I *love* this. I love the language of spoons. People living with chronic illness or pain, mood or anxiety disorders, or with a partner who is living with any of those, can handily use it as shorthand for describing where they’re at. It’s something I’ve been looking for for years to talk about how my own mood stuff affects my life.

Anyway, she goes on to explain to her friend that every choice in a day is affected by this limited resource, these spoons. She walks her friend through a hypothetical day:

When we got to the end of her pretend day, she said she was hungry. I summarized that she had to eat dinner but she only had one spoon left. If she cooked, she wouldn’t have enough energy to clean the pots. If she went out for dinner, she might be too tired to drive home safely….I then said it is only 7pm, you have the rest of the night but maybe end up with one spoon, so you can do something fun, or clean your apartment, or do chores, but you can’t do it all.

Being me, of course I’m thinking about how spoons and sex interrelate.

Does sex use spoons, or does it give spoons?

In the case of chronic illnesses like Lupus and MS that are associated with pain can kill desire simply through pain and exhaustion; that’s a spoon. Anxiety and (especially) depression tend to kill sexual desire; that’s a spoon. I bet worry about performance (erection, orgasm) or body image uses spoons. I bet feeling bad about feeling bad about sex uses spoons. Managing the paraphernalia associated with chronic illness? Spoon user.

And at the same time, we know that physical affection from someone you like who likes you too is among the MOST energizing, renewing, spoon-giving things we can experience.

Maybe there’s a relationship between spoons and responsive desire. Like, maybe ya got no spoons so ya got no desire, but then your lovenugget comes and starts kissin’ on ya and snugglin’ all over ya, and that GIVES you spoons, so you get some desire!

And maybe, under the right circumstances, generating and witnessing arousal in your partner gives you spoons too!

Conclusion based on rough review of science: attempting “performance” of sex, feeling obliged to behave in a particular way, or trying to connect sexually in the absence of trust = loss of spoons. Relaxing into affection and pleasure with someone you trust = increase in spoons.

Hell, that’s true for everybody.

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Ten years ago I was on the phone with my friend Bill, talking about what it was like...

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