Real Erotica: On Letting Go During Sex When You Have Hearing Loss

Illustration by Caroline Casey

Our Real Erotica series is a collaboration with Aurore, to tease, educate, inspire, and celebrate sex, because sex can and should be good. These narratives are not written by erotica writers—instead, they are stories from real people, exploring their past encounters and giving tribute to the sex they loved. In our second installment, Theda Bara, a woman with a disability, navigates the challenges of a typical hook-up.

Customarily, before leaving the bar, I’ll slip into the bathroom and braid my hair. Many of my dates don’t notice; one lover did reach his hand, grazing my right neck, to lightly tug my pleat. He was a dom who I didn’t mind.

My braids are thick around the base, the edifice I need to let loose in sex. My hair must be tautly woven and close to my ear. Sometimes, I’ll coquettishly lay it over my collarbone and in between my breasts when I lean backward.

Braids let me submit.

When I forget to style my hair like so, or my hair becomes precariously loose in the bustle of sweaty action, I limit my movements. I stiffen my neck. I’ll abruptly intercept my lovers’ hands when they reach for the right side of my head. I’ll struggle for control as long as I can manage.

Otherwise, I feel it fall from my head, and I’ll be without sound. And as I move with my partner, I’ll search the bed.

How does disability affect my sex life? I don’t fully know. I notice that I’ll gravitate to strangers in favor of anonymity. They save me from explaining when communication drops. Talking openly about my hearing device feels like a guaranteed buzzkill, and I’d rather disguise it until it disappears. I accept in advance that I’ll likely not see the person again.

I’m leaning poolside at Goldie’s, nodding along to a conversation with The Centaur. It’s been a year since we’ve seen each other, and we soon go outside for a smoke. Rather than go back to the bar, we start walking to his house. We always have a book to discuss. His room is barren except for an animated lightbox of Niagara Falls. It reminds me of a widescreen version at a dentist office I pass on my way to work.

We lay on his bed sharing beers and observations. I’m catching up to news on the neighborhood and reliving my travel stories. Our clasped hands sneakily and slowly remove our shirts. A wave of stiffness courses through my body when he takes hold of my hips and drags my pelvis upward to his. My hair is loose and my ears have fallen off.

After three seconds of gritting my teeth to calm a rising panic, I protectively clutch my hearing device.

With my ass on his thighs, we’re feeling deep. I extend my left leg and hook my right around his hips, and in a timed thrust, flip him onto his back so I can sit on his belly. While keeping the mood going, I scan the bed for a sign of my ears. I don’t see them anywhere. I push against his hands on my hips to lean in for a kiss, diving my hands into the sheets and feel around. Finally, after three seconds of gritting my teeth to calm a rising panic, I feel the familiar plastic shape and protectively clutch my hearing device. I often worry that it will end up crushed or damaged.

Relieved, I sit up, running both of my clenched fists down his sides, I slowly turn around to all fours. While he rises to kneel, I turn my head to the left to meet his gaze, and I swiftly hook my device over my right ear. Room tone rushes into my head. His computer is playing Gill Scott Heron. I’m calm, no longer aroused, and faking it.

He goes to shower, and I lay back, flushed, with leftover wine in hand and a folded magazine.  It’s 3 a.m. and I’m buzzing. It fucking sucks to try and sleep unfulfilled. Fidgety, I braid my hair, reading the latest poetry listings.

He comes back into the bright room and I read a passage to him. He lays across the bed, fully awake as well. As I’m reading, I notice his examining stare. “What?” I think defensively in my head. I feel the expectation for a discussion I don’t want to have. I push through his challenging gaze and find new segues in conversation, alternating between topics until one distracts his attention. I see him smile. I relax when he turns off the light and we turn onto our backs to watch the waterfall, drifting in our murmurs.

We’re still restless at 4 a.m. and we bundle up to go downstairs for another cigarette. We quip about our mutual friends and whom they are dating. In my bones, I’m feeling sheepish because we often have multiple gos at it, and there’s a platonic feeling in the air. It’s nice, I guess. My hair is now futilely braided. I exhale smoke as I mentally rehearse a smooth excuse to go home. I’ll go inside to collect my things.

Back in his room, the day is beginning to break. I figure I can walk a bit until I find an opening café. Sipping a hot brew before heading to my apartment for some day sleeping seems like a desirable intermediate plan to stave off disappointment. I sit at the edge of his bed, reaching under and looking for my purse. I feel The Centaur stand close. He hooks his fingers under my collar, tangling my bra straps in between his fingers. My anxiety dissolves when I lean back to pull in his kiss. He scoops my back for a light lift to pull us both further up on the bed. Faint shadows slant along the darkened wall.

With both of his arms under my back, he glides his hands up, running his fingers over exposed crevices. He simultaneously cups both hands under my head. We’re still kissing when he gently tugs my right ear lobe and indiscernibly pulls my ears off. I hear our hot breaths swoosh to silence. I’m thunderstruck as I watch him lean to his side and carefully put them on the neighboring chair. Fluidly, his hand returns to the base of my neck.

I unbraid.