One of the spokes of any anxiety wheel is cognitive distortions: the assumptions, misunderstandings, and expectations we form about love, relationships, romance, parenting, sexuality, and nearly every realm of being human. Because we’re not explicitly taught how our minds and bodies operate – how to understand and attend to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations – we’re left to form our own conclusions based largely on what we see in mainstream media. Since the mainstream seems to know virtually nothing accurate about these aspects of being human, the vast majority of these conclusions are incorrect, which invariably leads to anxiety since reality will rarely align with what we’re told we “should” be thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
In the realm of relationships, as I’ve written about repeatedly on this site, this often sounds like, “I should be wildly attracted to my partner” or “I should just know when I meet The One.” There are innumerable offshoots of these assumptions, and they all stem from the image of love and romance that Hollywood disseminates. Likewise, we form our ideas about sexuality, including how we feel about our bodies, from what we see portrayed on billboards, in magazines, in movies, and, now more than ever, through pornography. None of these channels teach us about healthy sexuality and instead lead many people to compare their sex life, sexuality, and bodies to unattainable and unrealistic images, which then leads to the shame-laced question, “What’s wrong with me?”
Without even knowing the specifics of your sexual story, I can tell you right off the bat that there’s nothing wrong with you. I know this because I’ve heard every variation of sexual concern, both for those in relationships and those who are single, and the conclusion I’ve drawn is never that there’s something wrong. What’s wrong are the expectations. What’s wrong are the images. What’s wrong is what’s being taught and, more importantly, what’s not being taught about this most vulnerable and confusing realm of who we are.
For example, just like we’re never taught that just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true and just because you have a feeling that doesn’t mean you need to act on it, we’re also never taught that just because you feel aroused by a certain idea or situation that doesn’t mean you want to engage in or enact that situation. In other words, there’s a difference between response and desire: you can respond sexually but that doesn’t mean you desire or want the thing that aroused you. Using examples that arise frequently in my work, you can be turned on by certain fantasies but that doesn’t mean you want to live out those fantasies. Or you can feel arousal around certain situations – even disturbing scenarios or situations that don’t align with your sexual orientation – but that doesn’t mean you want to enact those scenarios. This is what Dr. Emily Nagoski calls arousal nonconcordance in her fascinating book, “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life.”* As she explains:
“Genital response, which happens between your legs, is expecting. Arousal, which happens between your ears, includes enjoying.” p. 207
In other words, your body is wired to respond automatically to certain sexual stimuli, but that doesn’t mean you desire that stimulus. As always when working with thoughts, feelings, and sensations, the conclusions we draw based on the initial stimulus are often inaccurate. “Do, absolutely, trust your body. And interpret its signals accurately,” advises Nagoski. A woman after my own heart! How often I’ve written on this site and in my courses on relationship anxiety about the critical space between the thought or feeling and our interpretation of it. Now we bring this same mindset to our sexuality as we explode the common myth that says: if you feel turned on that must mean you want it. Nagoski continues:
“Even in the face of such absurdities [that genital response if about expecting without necessarily any connection to enjoying or eagerness], it’s an incredibly persistent myth. Alain de Botton, in How to Think More about Sex, goes so far as to describe lubricating vaginas and tumescent penises as ‘unambiguous agents of sincerity,’ because they are automatic rather than intentional, which means they can’t be ‘faked.’
“If that’s true, then when your doctor taps your knee’s patellar tendon and your leg kicks out, that must mean you actually want to kick your doctor.
“Or when you have an allergic reaction to pollen, you must hate flowers.
“Or when your mouth waters around a mouthful of moldy, bruised peach, you must find it delicious.
“Don’t get me wrong–you might want to kick your doctor and you might hate flowers and you might enjoy moldy, bruised peaches. But your automatic physiological processes are not how we would know that. No. Automatic physiological processes are, ya know, automatic, not sincere.” p. 209
So let’s add to the list that I often refer to on my site and earlier in this post:
Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true.
Just because you have a feeling doesn’t mean you have to act on it.
Just because you feel aroused doesn’t mean you want the object or situation that stimulated the arousal.
Who experiences sexual nonconcordance? Everyone. Literally every human being on the planet. Hollywood knows this. Advertisers know this. And the porn industry especially knows this and exploits it as much as possible. It’s our job to take back our power, which we do through accurate information.
This is just one of the myths we’ll be debunking in Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day course to heal body shame and ignite desire. Alongside bathing you in accurate information that stems from a mindset that sexuality is sacred, healthy, natural and beautiful, we’ll also be excavating your early blueprints around sexuality so that you can pull the shame stories out by the root so that you can begin to reverse the mindset of shame that you’ve absorbed from the culture and from your personal history. For the singlemost important element in feeling more alive and free in your body, whether single or coupled, is to approach yourself with kindness. As Dr. Nagoski writes on her site:
“I can also tell you that worrying about your sexual functioning is among the most efficient ways to disrupt your sexual functioning. I know it can be difficult to allow yourself to turn toward your sexuality with kindness, curiosity, and patience if it’s not behaving as you would like it to, but it turns out that’s the perhaps the most efficient way to maximize your sexual wellbeing. Trust your body. Listen to it with kindness, curiosity, and patience.”
I really like this woman.
This is exactly what you’ll learn in the course. Together, you’ll learn how to turn toward your body with kindness. In a safe group format, you’ll learn to explore these secret pathways with curiosity and rewire the cultural conditioning that equates desire with the unavailable partner. With gentle guidance, you’ll discover the poetry that lies hidden in the folds and plains of your body, your source of wisdom, joy, and aliveness. Miracles happen when we correct the cognitive distortions that cause anxiety to fester and heal the shame that obstructs open-heartedness. Without anxiety and shame in the way, our bodies become free and open channels from which to experience and express healthy and joyful sexuality.
This third round of Sacred Sexuality begins on Saturday, June 23, 2018. This is the last week to sign up and I look forward to seeing you there.
* I haven’t read Dr. Nagoski’s book cover to cover so I can’t recommend it quite yet, especially for anyone suffering from relationship anxiety as I don’t know if it contains potential spikes. But from what I’ve read so far it seems excellent. Thank you to the course member who recommended it.