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.