We talk about social anxiety. We talk about relationship anxiety. We talk about transition anxiety. Now it’s time to talk about sex anxiety: not only how anxiety in general or relationship anxiety in particular kills libido but how much anxiety we carry about sex itself. The conversation, as always, begins with talking about fear itself and a discussion on the direct effect that fear has on our bodies’ ability to open or shut down.
One of the first things women learn when they’re preparing for childbirth is the effect that fear has on the birthing process. Put simply, when we’re in a fear state, our bodies contract, which is why women are encouraged to give birth in the location where they feel safest and are then taught techniques for how to open through the fear that arises during labor. In order to give birth, we have to open in every sense of the word. Fear causes contraction; safety leads to expansion.
The same applies in the rest of life, especially around our sexuality. If we’re in a contracted state, it’s going to be very difficult to open to the flow and joy of our sexual selves. Living with anxiety puts us in a nearly constant state of fear, so alongside working with our anxiety in daily life we also need to address how fear and anxiety appear in our sexual lives if we’re going to step into our birthright as empowered and free sexual beings. Yet, as with the taboo around admitting that grief and fear exist around life transitions like weddings and births that the culture says are supposed to be only happy, and like the taboo around admitting to the darker thoughts that parade through the anxious brain, so we live in a culture that places tremendous taboo around admitting that we have anxiety about sex.
Our taboo-laden put-on-a-happy-face culture thus divorces us from recognizing the reality that sex and anxiety go hand in hand. In fact, I know very few people who haven’t experienced anxiety around sex at some point in their life. So the first step, as always when we’re working with anxiety, is to normalize: Sex anxiety doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or your relationship. Rather, it seems to be a part of being human, especially in a culture that offers no healthy roadmaps for navigating this most tender and vulnerable aspect of ourselves.
Excuse me while I digress for a moment to rant at our incredibly misguided, often psychologically dangerous culture that not only offers no healthy roadmaps for what sexuality can and should look like but then splatters an expectation across mainsteam media that says that sex should be hot, sizzling, effortless, instantly arousing, orgasmic, and magical. When the disparity between expectation and reality is vast and we’re not given tools that might help us bridge the gap or information that would help us soften the expectations, the result can only be anxiety.
So we start here: working with and unpacking our anxiety around sex and our bodies. And we start with recognizing another truth that can quell the anxious spikes: Like relationship anxiety, as long as you’re in a loving, healthy relationship, sexual anxiety usually has very little to do with one’s partner. That’s not to say that it’s not essential to learn how to communicate sensitively and effectively as two people are discovering the intricacies and nuances of how their bodies and souls ignite each other or shut each other down, but if a woman is struggling with her own internal states of fear and anxiety – ones that predate her partner – she’s swimming upstream at the onset. So in order for sacred sexuality to flow, we need to explore the personal, familial, societal, and historic downloads of fear that nearly all women living on the planet today have absorbed. When the channels clear out through diligent yet gentle exploration, the rivers begin to flow again. A dam blocked with the fear-logs that accumulate over a lifetime will remain jammed until we tend to each stick, fallen tree, and bit of debris that are clogging the passageways.
Shame has the same constrictive effect. In fact, it has been said that of all the emotions, shame is the one that causes us to hide behind a wall and go silent more than any other. Shame clamps down on our voice, stealing our words. It holds our bodies in a vice, stealing our freedom to move and express. Shame is closely linked to guilt and also linked to caring about what others think, so when we’re caught in the web of shame-guilt-self-consciousness, we’re in an immobilized, silent place.
How can you feel open and free in your body if you believe that you’re dirty, broken or wrong in some way? Sacred sexuality is about learning to connect to your innate body-wisdom and celebration, first alone and then, perhaps, within the safety of a loving relationship. But if you’re carrying shame stories that then lead to anxiety, your body-wisdom remains underground and your celebration never receives the first log of the bonfire. I often hear some variation on the following: “I don’t want my partner to touch me because I feel ashamed of my body. I never want to receive oral sex because I’m too ashamed of the way I look, smell, and sound.”
When I hear these statements, my heart breaks, for they speak to the insidious and cross-cultural messages that degrade women and deprive them of the innate knowledge of their beauty and glory. Women are magnificent. Women’s bodies are powerful and beautiful and wild. Somewhere, deep inside, most women know this. Somewhere, we remember the young girl who danced unabashedly in her bedroom at night to the light of the full moon. Somewhere, we know that we are meant to be adored, honored, and celebrated. The path of Sacred Sexuality is about excavating what we already know so that we can retrieve the gold that is rightfully ours.
If you would like to begin the process of retrieving your gold, please join me for the first round of Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day program to heal body shame and ignite desire. The course is almost three-quarters full and it will begin on Saturday, June 24, 2017.