Clients often say to me, “My partner isn’t a great lover. He or she doesn’t know how to touch me like past partners have.” To which I respond, “Maybe that’s true, but if your own anxiety, current life circumstances, and sexual/body history are weighing down on you, you will shut down. Anxiety kills desire. Past pain around sexuality eclipses sexual freedom. Body shame circumvents arousal. The work must begin with you. And from there you can have a very different conversation with your partner about what you like and what you don’t like.”
There’s usually a long pause, and then a sigh of relief that speaks to their realization that perhaps there’s hope for the relationship and their sex life after all. Paralyzed by the expectations of the culture that says that sex should be sizzling hot from the first kiss and that this initial spark should fan into fireworks when you stumble into the bedroom, it’s always a relief to hear the truth: sex, like love, is greatly effected by anxiety, desire and chemistry can grow with time, and we can’t even begin a conversation about “touch” without healing through the layers of pain first.
Unlike relationship anxiety, sex anxiety isn’t just about doubt about your partner. You can have sex anxiety if you’re single, newly dating, or with someone for twenty years. Sex anxiety manifests as resistance, reluctance, or repulsion around sexual activity, but it also shows up as disdain or shame about one’s own body. As our culture sends the seeds of body shame into our water, most people learn early on to loathe some aspect of their body and feel ashamed of their sexuality. This is when they sequester their aliveness into a tiny box in a far-off underground corner of psyche and then blame their partner for “not knowing how to touch me” or blame the elusive target of “the relationship” with the cultural explanation of “we just have bad chemistry.”
Furthermore, because we’re culturally wired to equate desire with longing-chase-drama, we often have difficulty being attracted to present, available partners. We have been literally wired by our culture to come alive in the presence of the unavailable jerk. This means that when we’re with an available partner we have to learn how to open our bodies to their touch. Again, your partner’s touch may be perfectly fine – it may even be on par with your last unavailable partner’s touch – but because you’re shut down behind your own walls of shame and mis-wiring around attraction you will experience it completely differently. And even if your partner is awkward in bed that doesn’t preclude sexual connection. As I said to a caller in the last round of Sacred Sexuality, when we make room for the awkwardness and remember that all of us are somewhat awkward when it comes to sex since nobody received the healthy owner’s manual (of which pornography most certainly is not), things get a lot lighter in the bedroom. There may even be some laughter as the two of you name the awkwardness and allow yourselves to fumble around until you find your way.
Let’s examine this even further: touch isn’t restricted to sexuality. Because we’re a sex-obsessed culture grown in the soil of a puritanical belief system, we think that touch only “counts” with a partner if it’s sexual, and when people talk about sex what what they really mean is intercourse. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that the delights of the body extend far beyond intercourse. To sit tenderly with a partner where touch is an exploratory journey, where silence is held in the cupped hands of deep trust, where there’s no agenda other than to become curious about our openings and, most especially for those prone to anxiety, our closings is a gift beyond measure. This is sex. This is intimacy. This is ultimately what we all seek.
Like all endeavors of the heart, it’s risky to open ourselves to another person. It’s a risk because we’ve been hurt, teased, shamed or abused, and nowhere are we more vulnerable than around our sexuality. But while it’s difficult to risk vulnerability with a partner in the best of circumstances, it’s often paralyzing when there’s any history that would cause you to shut down to the innate and wild aliveness that is your birthright. And I don’t think it’s possible to grow up in a woman’s body in this culture without experiencing shame in some capacity.
If you’re ready to heal this shame, experience the delights of the body, and reclaim your birthright of sexual freedom, strap on your headlight of curiosity and allow me to guide you alongside a group of compassionate women through this essential territory, teaching you how to excavate your shame stories and unpack the long lineage of buttoned-up bodied from which you descend so that you can re-wire your sexuality in the direction of health, freedom, and vitality. The third round of Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day program for women to heal body shame and ignite desire will begin on Saturday, June 23, 2018, and I look forward to meeting you there.