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The Surprising Thing I Discovered About Sex and Stuttering

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I chased fluency for a long time, and as a young man I was always trying to figure out what tricks could reduce or completely eliminate my stuttering

Like a lot of people who stutter, I was very fluent when singing, talking to my dog, speaking in unison and using an unusual accent. I also seemed to speak pretty fluently when talking to someone I genuinely liked, like my best friend, or when doing something I really enjoyed doing, like being taken to Disneyland by my parents. None of these ever proved to be foolproof, though, so when I was younger, I was always on the lookout for the perfect trick that could improve my fluency 100% and “cure” me of stuttering

Two tricks that I discovered I never saw on any lists of “Conditions That Decrease Stuttering,” and while both seemed at first to completely eliminate any stuttering from my speech, they, too, eventually proved to be less than foolproof, just like everything else. 

First, I thought that being drunk could “cure” me of stuttering, but, while inebriation may have some positive effects on my fluency, it has proven over time to work no better than any other trick. And second, I thought my stuttering could be cured by another activity, which will be the topic of this piece: having sex. While I think there’s certainly a helluva lot to recommend about having sex, this activity, too, has had limited success in eliminating disfluencies. 

As a heterosexual male, I am attracted to women, but there were times in my life when I was deathly afraid of talking to girls my age, when I thought I would never be able to successfully ask a girl out on a date, much less reach the stage of a relationship where we would want to have sex with each other. In early elementary school, I enjoyed being with girls because they were kids my age whom I could play with. I’ve seen home movies my parents took of my fifth birthday party, which I don’t really remember very well, and there are several girls there, apparently ones who lived near me and used to play with me a lot. 

Throughout my childhood, I moved several times since my father was in the military and therefore had to relocate to several naval bases across the U.S. Thus, I was born in Connecticut and then moved to Virginia, Florida, Hawaii, California and Illinois, and the continuous moving made making friends hard for me, as I was always not just the new kid, but also the kid who was different from everyone else because he stuttered. I struggled with this and persevered so I would eventually make friends with both the boys and girls I went to school with — but in early elementary school, I slowly realized that a lot of people liked making assumptions about guys and girls who were friends.

In maybe third or fourth grade, I was talking to a girl my age in school — I don’t remember what about — when her friend came over, smirked at us and made some comment about us having feelings for each other. This greatly annoyed me, and it made me feel self-conscious about what I was doing. Being a sensitive young boy who stuttered, I was discovering more and more things to feel self-conscious about, like my height, my hair, my clothes, my lack of skills in sports, but, most of all, my inability to speak as fluently as other boys and girls I knew. This self-consciousness only got worse as I got a little older and started to have feelings for girls and notice how attractive I was starting to find some of them. It’s a little hard for me to understand this now, but at this time in my life I became terrified of talking to girls.

Yes, I have to admit that throughout most of junior high, I was afraid of girls. Many of them were very nice people, many of them were physically attractive, but I would panic any time I saw a pretty girl around my age. I was definitely intimidated by them; I was afraid that my stuttering would prevent me from not just having any sort of emotional relationship with any of them, but also just being able to talk to them like a “normal” human being. I was certain that my stuttering would prevent me from talking to boys my age, too — but it was somehow different with girls. 

My mother taught me that women and men are equal, that women can do anything that men do, like cut down trees or perform open heart surgery or run a business, but she also taught me that a man must respect women by opening doors for them or offering them his coat or saying “please” and “thank you.” I suppose these are things that nice people can do for people regardless of what gender they are, but when I was young, I was taught that a man must be nice and courteous and thus earn a woman’s love before they could enter into a romantic relationship. 

And as a young man who stuttered, I doubted if I would ever be able to live up to such expectations. I assumed this was how it worked: you call a girl on the phone, ask her out on a date and maybe she accepts; then maybe you hold hands with her, and then maybe there’s kissing, and then maybe you fall in love; and then, after enough time and commitment, you have sex. I had already been laughed at and mocked by my peers for stuttering, usually by boys whom I would end up silently hating, and I already had very low self-esteem, so how could I have even risked not only being laughed at by some boy, but being mocked by an attractive girl I wanted to impress? Falling in love required talking, didn’t it? Having a relationship involved talking, right? Well, I wasn’t very good at talking. In fact, I sucked at it. Plus, emotionally, I was kind of a mess. I hated myself for my stuttering, I could be shy and withdrawn, and I was definitely not good at meeting people and making a good first impression. I was not outgoing or popular as I entered junior high, two qualities that seemed to be found in boys who seemed much more comfortable around girls than I thought that I would ever be.

My parents were not much help, not with my feelings for girls, but also not with my feelings for stuttering in general. My mother would blame herself for my stuttering. Sometimes, she would ask me questions like, “What can I do to make you stop stuttering? Tell me and I’ll do it.” I never knew how to answer her when she pleaded with me like that. She also used to describe a scene from the John Wayne movie “The Cowboys,” which I’ve never seen, but apparently in this film, John Wayne is in charge of a group of young boys, one of whom stutters. At one point, a boy falls into a lake and is drowning, so the stuttering boy runs to get help but can’t tell John Wayne what’s wrong because of his speech disfluencies. When he finally spits it out, Wayne goes to the lake and rescues the boy, but then he yells at the stuttering boy, something like, “Your stuttering almost killed a person! So knock it off!” The boy curses John Wayne, but he does it fluently, as he is miraculously cured. I knew stuttering didn’t really work like that, and I basically told my mother this, but I don’t know if she totally accepted this, as she would recount this scene and then say something like, “If only something like that did work! Plus, you never know…”

Like I said, my parents didn’t help much when it came to the feelings I was having about girls. Once, when my parents tried to talk to me about girls and dating, I told them I was afraid that none of them would enjoy talking to me. At first, they told me that this wasn’t true, that girls generally might be more forgiving of my disfluencies than guys, and that couples can enjoy each other in silence. I have to admit that what they said gave me some hope. But there were other times, however, when it got kinda ugly, like when they ordered me to pick up the phone and call a girl — any girl, it didn’t matter — and ask her out on a date. Like many people who stutter, I hated talking on the phone, and the idea of calling up a girl terrified me — but my parents angrily threatened to force me to call up a girl, haranguing me so much that I think I broke down crying, overwhelmed by what they were doing and saying to me. And then, some time after that, my dad offered to pretend to be me and call up a girl for me. He acted like he was doing me a favor, but I very angrily told him to leave me alone. Neither time was there any specific girl that I wanted to ask out on a date.

I suspect my parents just wanted me to be in a “normal,” healthy relationship, but I strongly disagree with their methods. They would sometimes try to desensitize me to things. When I was maybe 3 or 4, I went shopping for a Halloween costume with my mother, but I realized I was terrified of masks — there was something very unsettling about a frozen, artificial face with two very much alive moving eyes peering through the sockets. My mother thought my fear was ridiculous, so to “cure” me of my fear, she bought a mask for herself to wear when she vacuumed and did other things around the house. I only learned to hide my fear, so I don’t think she was successful.

Plus, I suspect my parents thought that I was gay, that I dreaded talking to girls not because I was afraid I might stutter and humiliate myself in front of them but because I instead liked boys, many of whom I could talk to and not fear stuttering in front of. While she would probably identify as a feminist, my mother would tell me that men were supposed to be big and tough and strong and many other stereotypical macho things. I was tall for my age, but I was none of the other things my mother admired in men like John Wayne. I wasn’t into sports; I liked reading and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Again, my parents tried talking to me, but it turned into them criticizing me for not calling up a girl and asking her out on a date. I suppose they thought that since I was a sophomore in high school and had never dated a girl, then maybe I was gay. But it’s not like I had never dated a boy, either. I didn’t think that I was gay, and I was annoyed by their unfounded assumptions that I might be. So, I guess my parents were trying to help, but their attempts to get me to talk to a girl just made me realize how impossible that task seemed for me.

After two years of being very withdrawn and depressed in high school, I auditioned for and was cast in a play, and started working with many boys and girls my age. And not long after that, a girl who was working on that play called me up and asked me to the homecoming dance. I wasn’t even sure who she was, but I accepted, partially I have to admit because I didn’t want to be a guy who never went out on a date. Plus, I was very appreciative that this girl had called me and saved me the trouble of having to do that myself. I never went out with her again, but having a date to that dance with a girl gave me a little self-confidence. Maybe I wasn’t a guy who would never have a healthy relationship with a woman. I went out with a couple of other girls; they were nice, but no one I wanted a serious relationship with. And while I stuttered when I was with them, I did so no more or less than I did when I was with any other people, so I was glad that I was beginning to overcome the fear of talking to girls that I had carried with me for many years. 

In my senior year of high school, I fell in love with a girl my age, a friend of a friend. She was attractive, funny, nice, kind, fun to be around — in fact, at first, she was just a person I enjoyed talking to, but then I decided I wanted to take things further, and so did she, and it worked really well. When I was with her, it felt good. I felt better about myself. I stuttered when I talked to her, but I started to realize that when we started to get a little physical with each other, I had fewer disfluencies than when I was talking to someone I wasn’t seriously planning to have sex with at some point — which would be pretty much every other person I knew.

After about a year of dating, we started having sex with each other. We were both virgins, but we took our time and I listened to what she wanted. Our first time was very, very good — as were the many other times after this. This was another area where we just clicked really well with each other. And it was around this time that I realized something: after sex, I felt pretty good and was pretty fluent, but while we were having sex with each other, right in the middle of the act itself, I could speak with 100% fluency. 

I guess there isn’t always a lot to be said right then at that moment, depending on your preferences, but the act of having sex worked better than any other trick I had ever encountered. I don’t want to be too graphic, but when we would start kissing and undressing each other, I believe that my fluency increased when I affirmatively responded to her questions like, “Do you like that? Did you still want to do that one thing?” I know I said above that it doesn’t work like that — John Wayne screaming at a boy not to stutter is not going to make him stop stuttering. But I was very fluent when my girlfriend whispered in my ear about the nice things she was going to do to me, and with me. And once we were engaged in the very act itself, I could speak with perfect fluency. I pointed this out to my girlfriend and even tested it a few times, speaking at length, trying every letter, especially the ones that usually gave me trouble, like the letter W. I know it’s probably not romantic to be making love to a person who keeps saying, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. When will we weigh white whiskey?” but I was fascinated by this new-found fluency. It kinda reminded me of Billy Bibbit, the stutterer in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” who stops stuttering after he has sex and loses his virginity with a prostitute. Of course, he starts stuttering again when Nurse Ratched threatens to tell his mother on him, and my stuttering only stopped while I was actually engaged in the act itself, but I suppose there were some similarities.

I have some theories on why it worked. Having sex with her made me feel very good about myself, as did the realization that this beautiful young woman wanted me sexually, so it had a positive effect on my self-esteem. It wasn’t singing, but you know what? Sex kinda felt like singing sometimes, in that they were both fun and emotional things I enjoyed doing, usually with one other person. It wasn’t speaking in unison, but it was doing something else in unison with another person. And when my girlfriend and I had sex, there was no past or future for me to worry about — I was 100% in the present. In Caryl Churchill’s play “Cloud Nine,” a male character tells a woman that the only time he hasn’t been thinking of having sex with her was when they were actually having sex, and I could totally relate to this. Sex with this wonderful girl made up for all the times I had been afraid of talking on a phone or when I was being harassed by parents who thought I should be more aggressively pursuing a love life. For a long time, when I was younger and intimidated by girls and self-conscious about myself, some things seemed unattainable, like perfect fluency, or having a healthy, intimate, life-affirming relationship with a wonderful young woman. As a young man who had sex with his girlfriend and could speak with 100% fluency, I felt very good about myself.

However, I eventually discovered that it wasn’t 100% foolproof. While sex does still tend to help my fluency for the most part, it turns out that it doesn’t always completely eliminate it. It took a while to find out, but a year or two after I started having sex with my girlfriend, I discovered that I could still stutter while in the middle of having sex, albeit fairly rarely. I suppose I was somewhat disappointed when I realized this, but it’s not like this was a huge loss. First, it’s not foolproof, but, like I said, it does help. And second, it’s not like I wanted to have sex with my girlfriend for the sole purpose of eliminating any disfluencies; I think if it made me stutter more, I probably still would have wanted to have sex with her just as much. And third, it’s not like I could use sex to speak fluently in situations outside of the intimate relationship I had with my girlfriend, like, say, during a job interview or impromptu speech, right? I suppose if I had had a phone interview for a job, I might have been able to quietly have sex while I talked on the phone, but this seems a little ridiculous. What if I got too excited? “Sir, are you alright?” “Um, yeah. I just really like job interviews.” 

Still, it’s something that has a fairly positive effect on my fluency, despite its limited applications.

Getty image fizkes

Originally published: February 1, 2020
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