Every Moment of Sex

We live in culture that bombards us daily with images and messages that promote negative and unhealthy sexuality. We receive unsolicited emails that contain explicit attempts to lure us into making contact with random strangers. We see images splashed across magazine covers that wouldn’t have been legal forty years ago. We see sexualized youth prancing across stages and boardwalks. Sexuality is quickly devolving from its position as a private part of life to one that is increasingly public, uncontained, and objectified.

The images and messages speak to the belief that underlies most sex anxiety: that we’re inadequate in some way. They also play into what is becoming a highly sex-addicted culture where young people, raised on pornography, are being wired to expect the instant arousal that occurs from watching these images. We’re being inundated with a belief that sexuality can and should be separated from love and relationships, which is the polar opposite mindset that defines sacred and meaningful sexuality.

These messages are not exclusive to those who watch pornography. The messages are everywhere, and they transmit the idea that every moment of sex – every kiss, every touch, every sexual encounter – should be filled with arousal and ecstasy. As with so many areas, the disparity between the culturally-induced expectation and the reality is vast. The fantasy says that we should always want sex, that we should feel aroused from moment one until completion (which, the fantasy says, means simultaneous orgasms), and that we should be fully present, meaning that our minds should never drift. The fantasy says that our partners should always know how to touch us and that we should always want to touch our partners. The fantasy says, in a nutshell, that sex should always be effortless and joyful.

For most women, the reality is very, very different. When we drop into the work and world of sacred sexuality, we peer into another story.

This new story recognizes that every moment of sexual contact contains a world of memories, past experiences, possibilities, expectations, and discoveries. The new story reveals that every moment is a new moment that can unleash a universe of pain or desire, stillness or aliveness, boredom or excitement. The new story recognizes that we can start out with zero arousal and become aroused, or we can start out with arousal and then start to think about the shopping list. The new story teaches that sex is complicated, multi-layered, and, because it touches on every realm of Self (physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual), is our most vulnerable place.

One of the most common and most vulnerable moments for women is the feeling of sadness that often follows sex. It’s common for a woman to cry deeply and have no idea why. When we approach this moment with judgement and shame (“what’s wrong with me?” “what’s wrong with my partner?” “this isn’t normal”), the feelings become entrenched and the moment of healing is lost. But when we learn and then remind ourselves that loving sexual contact can tap into unprocessed pain and that when the sadness arrives it’s a beautiful opportunity to let it move through us, we hold that moment with completely different hands. There is a place of wordless sadness – a sadness beyond conscious or verbal story – that lives inside our bodies, and sometimes intimate, loving contact is the only thing that reaches it. There are worlds of memories, past experiences, possibilities, and expectations that live in one moment of sex, and we can only discover them when we shift from shame to curiosity. 

In order to leap from the culturally-entrained story of shame to the new story of celebration, we first need to name the messages, then work toward shifting our mindset. When we shift our mindset from “this has to be ecstatic” to one of curiosity, everything changes; curiosity is the bridge. Now sex, instead of being a landmine of expectation, can become a place of exploration. Instead of constantly comparing ourselves to what we imagine other people’s sex lives to be like (fantastic, effortless, simultaneous orgasms), we realize that there is only one sexual story that matters: yours. Just as a spoke of breaking free from relationship anxiety involves recognizing that there is no single template for a healthy relationship as you learn to become intimate with the patterns that define your unique relationship, so stepping into the story of sacred sexuality includes the recognition that there is only your body, there is only your history, and, if you’re in a relationship, there is only the singular configuration that happens when your body-psyche comes into contact with your partner’s worlds.

If you’re ready to cross the bridge of curiosity and that will lead from sexual shame and resistance to discovery and joy, please join me for my first round of Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day course to heal body shame and ignite desire. The course will begin this Saturday, June 24th, 2017, and it’s almost full.

46 comments to Every Moment of Sex

  • Kimberly

    You’re the only one who’s ever understood wordless sadness. Thank you for writing this article, I’ve googled crying and intimacy/sex many times over my adult life and nothing has felt as right as what you’ve shared here. I truly cherish you.

  • UnforcedRhythmsOfGrace

    Thank you Sheryl for (yet again) helping us find the amen-echo in our hearts. This is an area that holds enough baggage for me that I can remember in elementary school believing that I’m not meant to be in a relationship/married because of the void of understanding what healthy sexuality/femininity looks like. That “not meant to be” belief still plagues me deeply today.
    When I look back at my life (particularly my young & teen years), I am keenly aware of how the healthy ins & outs of femininity and sexuality was not only never addressed or modeled in our home, but awkwardly side-stepped, blocked entirely, or mocked/shamed. Now I’m in a relationship with a beautiful man who loves ME and wants ME… and I awkwardly side-step and block as well (he’s a hero for loving me as fiercely as he does 🙂 I’ve struggled to reconcile my upbringing with what culture says with what’s in my heart and quite frankly, it’s been easiest to just shut that switch off and avoid the fear of the unknown.
    Taking the course will have to wait, but THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for opening the windows of conversation wide on this topic. It’s a deep relief to hear what “normal” looks like. The last two posts have even led to some good talks for my man and me. That in itself has been a gift to our relationship.
    PS. Would love to someday read your thoughts around the mother influence on sexuality and how to move beyond a negative blueprint.

    • I’m so glad the latest articles have been helpful. I address the mother influence in depth in this course, and I’ll look forward to seeing you there when you’re ready. 😉

  • UnforcedRhythmsOfGrace

    After nearly 40 years of turning the switch off and disconnecting that circuit board, do you think the ingrained beliefs & relational patterns can be reversed?

    • I believe healing is always possible at any age or stage of life. In this case, it would require approaching your shut-down sexuality with patience and tremendous gentleness, and looking for the smallest illumination of one switch at a time on the circuit board.

  • Julia

    This is the first time I read about crying after sex. So many times I’ve attached to the belief that there was something wrong with me or the relationship and pushed down the feeling of sadness. Thank you Sheryl again for sharing your liberating wisdom.

  • Yvonne

    Little bit off topic.. sometimes I find myself looking at other men and finding them attractive, I know this is okay and normal as we are humans but I sometimes feel like I’m trying to look good in front of them or impress them. I don’t know why I would do this as I’m happy in my relationship. Is this a part of relationship anxiety? Can I have some insight on this please? And I was just wondering if you could break down this comment “it’s okay to find other men attractive, just don’t act on it” what do you categorise as acting on it? I feel like I’m doing something wrong for laughing with a guy, if a guy is a speaking to me at work just general chit chat and he makes me laugh, I feel guilty, if I see an attractive guy and i look over in their direction my heads all like “you keep looking at him, you’re trying to get his attention” blah blah, id never kiss or touch another man. I’d never cheat. I just feel like my heads trying to make me feel like I’m being partially unfaithful to my relationship just by being friendly, makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong and that it’s not okay to look at another guy, or wanting another guy to think you’re atttactive or laughing/smiling with them.. really struggling with this at this moment. And this morning my head was like “what if I don’t really love him but I’m just convincing myself that I do, how do you know you actually do love him”

    • Please read through my site from the beginning, Yvonne. Many of your questions will be answered.

    • Sarah

      Yvonne,
      I feel this way too, often. I even went so far to have a meaningful “magical” encounter with another man and find myself desiring it. As if suddenly, my man wasn’t enough. The important message that Sheryl brings is that your anxiety is talking to you and making you feel like your thoughts are true, when they are really just thoughts. We all find other men attractive, and wish our partner was like them sometimes. It doesn’t mean our relationship is empty, it just means our minds are fighting us. Breathe into these thoughts. 🙂

      • Yvonne

        What do you mean you went as far to have a meaningful magical encounter with another man? I’ve not been tempted with other guys or whatever, id never cheat or anything physical, I think it’s all just in my head. I know but the thoughts just make me feel so bad and guilty. I’ve read through what love is and that but I just dont understand how you know you actually love somebody. I want to spend the rest of my life with my man though.

  • Sarah

    Beautiful article! Thank you!

  • Jess

    Thank you Sheryl for a wonderful article. Sex is a big anxiety spike for me. Sometimes I get worried if my partner doesn’t want to have sex with me meaning he doesn’t love me or find me attractive anymore. I also get anxious about how often we’re “supposed” to make love. It makes me worry “am I with the wrong person, would the right person be someone who matches my sexual desire”.

    • It’s VERY rare for two people to have the same drive, meaning there’s usually a higher-drive partner and a lower-drive. The work of sacred sexuality is to make room for both people’s needs and learn to meet those needs sensitively, and also to be mindful of the beliefs that you’re associating with your partner’s drive. So for the lower-drive partner that means not equating your worth and desirability with your partner’s drive.

  • agnes

    Sheryl, I’m sorry this is off-topic, but I’ve been wondering lately if you’ve ever had clients who struggle throughout the Summer season? For me, the expectations to have fun and be happy are akin to those around Christmas. I have struggled all my life to be content and at ease. Even when there’s nothing particularly wrong there’s always been a disturbance inside – so subtle I’ve constantly doubted that it’s there, but there is something that feels like it could be loneliness, disconnect or overwhelm. It’s really, really quiet. Just enough to get my attention and sense that something is off. It’s uncomfortable. I often find that my mind floats off to other times when I felt like this growing up, too. It’s boredom, discontent, frustration with myself for not being able to pinpoint a cause. It often occurs when I attempt to do anything that breaks the ordinary routine – ANY kind of day out or meeting up with people, e.g. we went to the beach yesterday and I was battling discontent all day. I really feel like I can’t enjoy myself. I always felt like the kid who was hard to please and like the onlooker of everyone else’s fun. This is so sad to me, that 25 years of my life have been like this. It’s particularly strong around my family and hometown. Not only am I having the present experience, but there’s a barrage of memories here too. Every time I come home, I try my best to make the most of my family, but I just feel so deeply unsatisfied with the experience. I so want to make the most of our short, precious time together, but I can’t. It’s like when I hug my boyfriend, I say to him: “God, I could NEVER hug you enough”. That’s how I feel about my parents. I’ll never be able to hug them, kiss them, help them or laugh with them enough for it to feel okay when they ultimately pass away.

    I’m so tired of either feeling crap, overcome with intrusive thoughts or empty, Sheryl. 🙁

    Is this what life is like? Is the best I get to feel – ‘fine’ or ‘okay’? Is this the reward for the inner work? I sometimes feel like I’d rather not be here at all.

    • You’re describing the challenge and, ultimately, the gift of being a highly sensitive person: you’re highly attuned to the nuances and subtleties of life, and especially aware of how short our time is with our loved ones. The burden occurs when you don’t know how to validate and make room for your experience and so you end up judging yourself by thinking there’s something wrong with you. The gift comes when you welcome in the difficult feelings – the sadness, the boredom, the deep love – and transmute them in some way through writing, poetry, art, crying, talking. The intrusive thoughts are your ego’s attempt to protect you from directly feeling the enormity and intensity of your feelings. The reward comes when you drop out of that head space and let yourself feel your life.

      • agnes

        Thank you. In all the years I’ve been in and out of counselling, nobody has ever remotely understood the subtleties of my inner world. “The intrusive thoughts are your ego’s attempt to protect you from directly feeling the enormity and intensity of your feelings.” – I understand that, cognitively, but as you know I’m still struggling to believe they are intrusive thoughts are not my truth breaking through. I believe in your work and I believe that is the function of the thoughts, but I just don’t believe it’s true of *me* yet. I’m not even sure that those thoughts are actually thoughts, as I’m struggling to hear my inner voice. I worry that they are not thoughts and just a deeper knowing. I re-read the opening chapter of The Untethered Soul yesterday in an attempt to tune into the inner voice again.

        I also need to understand that ‘sensitive’ doesn’t just mean crying all the time, it also means a heightened awareness of the inner and outer world.

        • That’s exactly right: sensitive doesn’t mean crying all the time. And from what I’ve learned about you through the last 30-day course I know that you have access to a very wise, very grounded inner voice. The more you practice accessing that place inside of you, the more habitual it will become.

          • agnes

            Thanks, Sheryl. I must tell you…in almost comical timing in relation to that last post, my heart swelled and I began to cry a really deep cry (one that’s been waiting there for far too long). My mum pulled into the driveway and I went outside, hugged her and told her how much I love her. She asked why I was crying and I said, ‘It’s alright, I need to’. I’ve been doing this work for nearly two years now and this was one of those crystal clear ‘aha!’ moments. Thank you for helping me get there.

            Also, I’ve been asked to exhibit my work in a local gallery and I’ve decided that the work’s going to be about making work that’s intrinsically pleasing to me, learning to keep making work for its own sake and making work as an act of spiritual nourishment. I’m also toying with the title, ‘Filling The Well’.

          • Beautiful, agnes. And in this moment, when you’ve allowed the feelings to rush through, how do you feel?

          • agnes

            I felt alive and loving. A bit shaky in the hours following, a bit in shock that I feel so much better, I think. To anyone reading this, I want to say that this is one moment of breakthrough out of many frustrating days, weeks and months of feeling that I am getting nowhere. I surprised myself today. I thought I’d been pretty good at letting myself feel, but I don’t think that’s been the case concerning my family.

    • growinglove

      Your post really resonated with me… the feeling of feeling like I’m not getting anywhere and the worried thoughts about your loved ones passing away. Sometimes it gets the better of me – when my boyfriend asks if he can call me and I’m not actually wanting to be on the phone, I’ll give in out of fear that it may well be our last ever phone call. Through not being able to give myself that breathing space – I push down my boundaries and quite often prioritise his needs over mine. I don’t know how to strike a balance and it’s quite scary. I quite recently finished a fixed amount of sessions for therapy, it was helpful but it did not give me tools on how to deal with disturbing thoughts about my partner. Sometimes I don’t know when this misery will end… but then I read posts like yours and become hopeful even if it’s by 0.00001% lol. X

  • agnes

    I forgot to comment on the actual article, though my feelings about it are very much tied in with what I wrote above. I feel so glad to have this blog and your teachings in my life, yet the flip side of that coin is that others around me – my parents, my partner, my sister – may still be suffering from the culture you describe. That makes me so, so sad. I want to share and teach everything I learn here and better the lives of those around me, as well as my own. But the reality is that they’ve never received the call for change as I did, which brought me to this site. I watch my Mum and Dad repeat the same, painful patterns in their late 50s as I’ve always witnessed. I have to accept that my partner my struggle alone or one day leave me due to the ‘normal’ way of living we all grew up with. Everytime I walk through my hometown, I’m reminded of a child who took his own life, because this society isn’t equipped to guide people through life’s challenges. It’s so sad and so helpless.

    • Yes, these are EXACTLY the feelings I’m talking about: the loneliness the comes up when you visit your parents because you can’t share what you’re learning with them, your powerlessness to help them see more clearly and heal their dysfunctional patterns, the fear of loss, the frustration and possibly anger that our culture doesn’t guide young people properly and doesn’t teach them how to lead a meaningful, embodied life.

      You have received the call to wake up, which is wonderful, but it’s painful and lonely to be the one who sees clearly. Those are the feelings you need to let yourself feel and metabolize in some way. There’s no emptiness when we let ourselves feel our lives.

  • Emma

    Sheryl,

    I’ve been following your blog for years. We have talked in the comments years ago. I’m 25 and was with my ex for 4 years. I loved him deeply but it was a shaky relationship. Every year like clockwork he would break up with me because he “needed space.” I would always come to find out that he wanted freedom to talk to other girls. It broke my heart every time but I always took him back. He became far more committed in the last year of our relationship and that’s when I developed major relationship anxiety. My feelings seemed gone, I even felt more “in love” with someone else, etc.

    I stood by him through the relationship anxiety but he eventually left me for good, to see about a girl he met at work. It shattered me. When I finally began moving on, he came back. He and begged, and begged to win be back for nearly a year. I refused.

    It has been a long road to healing and I have now met an incredible man who has been after me relentlessly since my ex and I split (2 years ago). Although I found him physically attractive, the emotional/mental attraction wasn’t there. I just didn’t feel he was on my intellectual level. I always preferred super intellectual men, witty, good banter, extremely well-spoken. I have always been profoundly attracted to men like this because they reflect back to me myself and the people I surround myself with. I finally gave him a chance and he is simply the kindest man I have ever been with. He treats me with the most love and respect. I trust him with my life and feel radiantly peaceful and safe in his presence. I feel so completely at ease, I feel so completely secure. I am not afraid of being abandoned like I felt for 4 years with my ex.

    We both work in film production and pursue our passions together and have so many shared interests. The friendship is so strong. He is so genuine and beloved by so many. We are not officially together but I know he is smitten and committed. Problem is, he doesn’t give me the intense sparks I had with my ex, the animal attraction, sometimes I don’t even want him to kiss me. All because I just can’t “connect” on that intellectual level with him and feel he doesn’t “get” me at that level. It’s just like the relationship anxiety I had at the end of my 4-year relationship, except it’s at the very beginning of this one.

    I want to know whether or not you have covered meeting someone new. I have been having much anxiety about why my feelings for him aren’t as strong as his for me. I want so badly to feel what he feels but I ruminate on “he’s just not on my level.” He sometimes isn’t very articulate or academic. It’s hard for me, I’m surrounded by ultra-intellectuals. I get a little frustrated at times with him and begin to feel intensely guilty. He’s a beautiful person and I feel he deserves someone who loves him the same way, even though I want to love him that way… All these thoughts cause me such grief.

    Emma x

  • Emma

    And I just want to add, that prior to him, I was seeing a different guy, not committed at all, very dodgy, selfish, but he was surgery resident with a brilliant medical mind, extremely cultured, funny, charming, witty and I was head over heels for this guy. I always think to myself, “if he had a little more of what the last guy had, I would be completely in love.” … x

    • growinglove

      Wow I feel so similar to you… my boyfriend is also *sad to say it* not “on my level”, I’m a university graduate and he did not go to university. At college he did lower level (init he UK it is called BTec) exams… during the time he was taking his exams at the age of 16 in school- his Aunt passed away so he failed maths. Now he is struggling to find a job, but I have been helping him – and also endlessly criticising him for being overly dependent on me (as he has a huge fear of applying to jobs, he cannot even open his laptop). He isn’t depending on me really but he did ask me for help, as I am good at writing (usually haha). Anyways all this aside, he is probably the most kindest loving man I’ve ever come across, he has good morals and is helpful and warming. I too, haven’t felt the same sparks as I did with past romantic interests- but it’s pretty obvious why, those guys were somewhat emotionally unavailable, having to chase them equates to me longing for them, and thus builds a fantasy mindset in which the attraction builds.. but since our minds aren’t used to presence and availability – it can seem off putting to be with the loving-kind partner who is doing the things a partner should do in a healthy relationship. I wish I could stop criticising my partner for his “lack” of qualities… it seems so unfair sometimes to compare my intellect to his. I often put him down for it. *sigh*, best wishes to your emma x

  • Lindi

    Hi Sheryl!

    Can intrusive thoughts also be statements or is it just constant questions? Like today I have really started doing well and focusing on becoming positive which I have never done before. And all of a sudden the thought he isnt the one for you popped into my head. Today I felt good en excited and just like I love this person so much and then tonight that thought happened.

    I also steered myself soon afterwards to be more positive and it worked…like positive thoughts. I am just wondering if this could also be a form of anxiety?

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    Aint that the truth, We have also been taught in this culture that we shouldnt say the word Sex out loudly in front of family or teachers and the elderly. Sex is a dirty word, its only aloud to be talked about in a bedroom. This is why I still feel a little uncomfortable talking slang sex with my husband. Dirty is what I mean. For alot of women i have seen on porn sites they talk dirty so confidently and its all fake. Where as I dont have to use my words, I show my husband I deeply love him through foreplay and intimacy. Do you think its possible to change our old ingrained cultural expectations that are fantasy based into what is real about sex? and how long will it take?

    • Absolutely, that’s what this course is about. The first step is to stay away from mainstream media’s representation of sex, including pornography and most popular television shows (which border on pornography). In order to plant new seeds we need to clear our the old weeds, which, in this case, means the unhealthy messages, images, and mindsets about sexuality that we’ve all received.

  • Anna

    Only today did I realise that a frequent intrusive thought (“I don’t miss him(enough) so I don’t love him”) is actually connected to sex. Sex can be so triggering for me that I am constantly relieved when I’m not able to be intimate with my partner, so I don’t have to reach the point where I get triggered and anxious. I want to avoid the confrontation of another intrusive thought (“I am “not enough” for him, in sex and everything else”). Now I’ve realised this, I already feel a bit better. I’m not unloving; I just unconsciously evade situations in which I can experience anxiety. And now that I know this, I know I will have break through it by addressing it with patience and kindness. And time, of course.

  • growinglove

    Sheryl, I’m looking to purchase Break Free soon once I have the money however I have a question. I know it is not good to label one with a disorder as it can impede our recovery but I was reading this website: http://www.borderlinecentral.com/articles/bpdintimacyissue.php, and it sounds identical to how.i am. I have a very fractured sense of self, absolutely unsure of who I am in every kind of way. I am definitely someone who fears abandonment from my partner & engage in push and pull behaviours. But most of all, I am an emotional abuser because of these feelings… I feel like I have a hard time becoming emotionally and physically intimate with my partner because of the anxiety and low mood feelings. I have had therapy but it didn’t quite cut it with why I feel a certain way. And now I feel like I am never going to get better, because I don’t “know” what is wrong with me. Or I do. I feel so lost at the moment. It’s making me feel like I’m out of my body. I know a lot of my anxiety is to do with my childhood and past relationships with men but processing all of this seems like a whole another story. I cannot feel anything and am in a habit of shutting down my emotions… please help. I don’t want to have borderline personality disorder.. and that in itself is making me feel anxious.

    • growinglove

      Sorry my question is: how can this be anxiety when I am so critical of my partner that I do not even allow for breathing space for him to be himself? To me it feels like I am just someone with a very messed up mind who is using anxiety as an excuse for a much larger issue. Maybe I do have a personality disorder..

    • I’m sorry but this extends far beyond the scope of this blog. I encourage you to seek the support and counsel of another local therapist.

      • growinglove

        Sorry Sheryl, I did not understand. Did you mean that my post is not relevant to this particular post of yours? Or that the website blog in general is not fitting to my particular issues? (Again I apologise, I did not mean to bombard you with this.) xx

        • It’s not relevant to this post but it’s also a question that extends beyond the scope of this website as it’s something that you would need to discuss in person with a therapist.

          • growinglove

            Thank you for the response Sheryl, I certainly wasn’t expecting it but I’m glad you were honest. I have stuck by this website in aid of my journey as I have relationship anxiety, and I would be lying if I said your response was not slightly hurtful and abrupt.. I understand you’re busy and have commitment to an array of things concerning your career and of course, in helping others… however when I am voicing that I feel like an outcast (something you mention in your posts a dozen of times, to reassure the reader they are not alone), and then to say it is something “beyond the scope” of this blog and website, really does reaffirm that perjaps my issues are beyond help and maybe what I am suffering from is not relationship anxiety after all. I have an amazing loving boyfriend, and after the onset of anxiety it is fairly true that I have lost myself in my pain and have become increasingly fearful of intimacy. I hope this response is not more of a burden to you, but rather can be seen as a feedback from one of your loyal readers. The only sad thing is, I feel like a lot of your posts have worked for me personally – but in hearing from the author of the posts herself that my issues are “beyond” the scope of this website, just makes me feel quite outcasted. Thank you for your help and assistance that you’ve given to all of your readers – I have no doubt that your words resonate with many and are a massive help to others. And once again I do apologise for writing on your blog, I guess my desperation got the better of me. I hope I am able to patiently work through the places inside of me that hurt so deeply. Best wishes x

          • I appreciate your response and I’m very sorry that I’ve hurt you; I should have been more gentle with my response instead of curt and abrupt. When I said your question extends beyonds the scope of this site all I meant is that I can’t diagnose a possible BPD through the comments section of a blog. Feeling like an outcast or like you’re the exception is one thing, but when we’re entering the territory of diagnoses it’s out of scope, especially as I’ve never spoken with you personally or even connected with you on any of my forums. I hope you’ll continue to glean support from my work and you’re always welcome here, and again, I’m sorry if my response felt abrupt and hurtful. I will also be reaching out to you personally.

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