When sex makes headlines, it’s usually for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. Do a Google News search (see images below) for sex and you will see endless examples of sex gone bad; shame making articles, heinous violations, articles espousing bigger-better-faster-stronger, or a celebrity sex tape that begins to circulate and the accompanying moral outcry is proof of society’s demise. Rarely if ever is the subjective nuance of sexuality discussed, nor is it encouraged in the face of (often justified) rage, the holding of the status quo or as a part of overall health and wellbeing. While such a delicate area of the human condition is so heavily legislated and socially policed, it’s no wonder so many of us feel powerless and afraid to stand our ground to make meaningful sexuality a part of daily conversations. But by learning to engage with sex from a place within that extends beyond knee-jerk responses to social conditioning, we have the opportunity to create something genuinely meaningful and empowering – on our own terms.
Atrocious sexual violations need to be discussed in public and at length. These are cultural issues that intersect deeply with the core of my work. Much of the work that I do is repairing the damage caused not only by sexual violations, but also the way sex is dealt with culturally. The aforementioned Google search highlights how mainstream media focuses almost exclusively on negative depictions of sex that perpetuate fear, shame and stigma. What I would like to see in addition to these narratives (not instead of), are more examples that celebrate and empower people whose relationships with sexuality inform their identity, their wellbeing and their relationships. It’s rare for us to read stories of genuine sexual freedom and empowerment. It’s even rarer to read about sex that leads to greater understanding of the nature of sexuality. In the same way we celebrate fitness and cooking on TV – why don’t we also celebrate sex? What is it about sex that means it remains a vital component of wellbeing that must be silenced, shamed or less valuable than any of our other ‘achievements’?
Too often the moral and politically correct panic about sex derails important conversations about what sex can actually mean for us. The ways that sex can fulfil us as part of overall self-acceptance and give us the confidence to be more present in the world, to overcome our fears and to affect change in more areas than just the bedroom. The truth is, sex is fundamental to our wellbeing. Sure, we can ignore it and many of us do (just like fitness and cooking), but from my own experience and my work as a sexuality coach and therapist, I see day-in and day-out the overwhelmingly positive impact that engaging with sexuality thoughtfully and respectfully has on our self esteem, relationships and productivity in life.
Prior to my discovery of the wonders of body-based sex education and erotic expression, I struggled with sex too. I felt disconnected from my body, deeply flawed, unattractive, frumpy, awkward and undesirable. I lived almost exclusively in my head and was at the mercy of my out-of-control emotions. I had every reason to be like this. Women of my shape and colouring were not celebrated as ‘sexy’ (read: valuable) nor even ‘sexual’ in the community at large nor in the media. Everything around me was telling me I was NOT worthy of the attention of a lover or even of myself, based on the idea that embodying more of who I was, was fundamentally at odds with what was expected of me. I even had friends tell me if I just ‘settled’ and learnt to compromise, I would eventually be as ‘happy’ as them!
The thing was, I knew what I wanted, and I knew what I needed. Yes I wanted to be happy, but I also knew I didn’t want to be like them. I didn’t want to water myself down to fit a cultural stereotype that said I could embrace certain aspects of my power, but not all of it. The trouble was, I lived in a culture that kept telling me that expressing my sexuality was not OK. That it was essentially dangerous. That pleasure was not a good enough reason. And that my desire to be more meant I was either selfish or a victim of patriarchy. The possibility that I sat outside of this either / or perspective on sex meant my personal freedom was classified as trivial.
Now, in hindsight, they were pretty powerful reasons to stay in my box. Such limited narratives and alarmist responses can be enough to destroy even the strongest spirit, but the call I felt within me to leap from fear and restriction became too great. I sensed I had no choice but to push on through. It was almost as if sexuality chose me. On some level I think it did. And what I chose was to learn how to engage with sex differently. I learned to engage with sexuality in ways that were totally outside the square and contrasted with limiting assumptions about what women did, said and wanted from life. Sex for me was no longer about toeing the line. It was about being real and raw and being seen, even if at times it made me unpopular with those who thought they knew better . It was bold and scary but has yielded the richest rewards of my lifetime. And I wouldn’t change a thing!
The struggle for acceptance is not only felt by women. Anyone who has experienced some kind of internal conflict around their sexual desires or lack of, versus the collective moral compass, has had a taste of what I am describing. While the manifestations of sexual shame are different depending upon your gender, identity or preferred sexual sub-culture, what is consistent is the sense of unworthiness and trivialisation surrounding sex. That if you are smart, successful or important in other areas of your life, that should be enough. That wanting to experience meaningful sexuality is somehow perverted or deranged. None of us are immune to the Google News eye of scrutiny and social judgement.
Sex is such a vital part of our existence. It’s the source of so much that is good in our lives. Along with food and shelter, Maslow declared it a fundamental human need! But unlike all of Maslow’s other needs, sex for many women is way down on the list, and for a lot of men is something they would like to connect with but genuinely have no idea how. The trans and gender diverse communities are currently defining and redefining what sex even is and how it extends beyond genitals and sex acts. No one is exempt from the challenge of finding the best fit for sex in our lives.
Making time to prioritise sex does not involve having to have a partner, having the perfect body or endless Tantra classes (although a bit of the latter will most definitely help IMHO). Prioritising sex doesn’t even have to involve another person. By just acknowledging within ourselves that sex is something we would like to know more about, we are on the way to making the fundamental changes that hold us back from being the abundant and erotically confident people we fantasise about being. By acknowledging this within ourselves we are also more able to understand and accept this in other people. The thing is, the process of self discovery in sexuality needn’t be a scary one. It’s exciting, inspiring and so worthwhile, leading you back to your own potent source. It’s like you’re finally coming home!
If you are one of the millions on the planet who feel that something is missing- you’re probably right. It is missing. I urge you to look within and heed the call. Any investment you make into erotic self-inquiry can only ever lead you closer to the freedom and peace of mind you crave ( not to mention more fulfilling sex). And I‘ll meet you there, in the heart of pleasure town. (I’ll be the one with a margarita in one hand and a vibrator in the other!) First round is on me!
Images from Google News search for Sex Dec 2nd. 2014