Parts of me are shaking as I start this piece. Feels like the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever written, while also being seriously crooked, bumpy and weird. Much like the process of sexual awakening itself.
First, a short confession
I love sex. I want sex. I don’t like doing it.
Not an easy thing to say for someone who once held sacred sexuality workshops for swingers, right?
For what I’m about to express, I’ve had some experience. Perhaps too much for many. Threesomes-foursomes-sixsomes and lost-count-somes. Dungeons and sex clubs, tantric playrooms and moss-covered rocks next to festival grounds.
In all of that, I’m one of the lucky ones. Outside of my one mind-bendingly terrible relationship, I can’t recall any overly traumatic encounters. Nothing under the influence of substances. By our common socio-cultural norms, all my encounters have been consensual.
But what did I actually consent to?
To not feeling safe, ever
In my life, I have had three mind-glowingly beautiful sexual encounters.
Three. In my entire life.
Preceded by days of inner reflections in therapy, hours of dancing, meditation or deep healing, and having the internal capacity for unconditional trust in my partner.
Anything with less preparation ended up in some degree of disappointment and the need to let go and move on. As one of my partners pointed out, it was all my fault. My patterns, my process, my distrust of men, my inability to relax completely were inhibiting my ability to feel the pleasure I was looking for.
Perhaps he was right. During most acts of sex, I haven’t felt safe enough to take an active role in my own needs and pleasure. A layer of panic overtakes my system, numbing me, protecting me from the eventual disappointment and another lesson to simply accept what is.
Truth? It has been frustrating to a point of giving up.
Seeking for the source
The therapist seats me gently on the couch. ‘Close your eyes. Relax your body. If you are ready, press the button.’ The button is burning in my hands. Black-and-blue, an ordinary remote control. Not real, but a symbol of permission I can give to my subconscious.
Show me the stories of my sexual awakening.
Tears start down my cheeks right as I press that imaginary button to access my memories. My inner vision wavers for a second, then clears. My first feeling is relief, knowing that there will not be images of being molested or anything worse. I dodged that bullet, but then…
A small, three-year old Helen is exploring her naked body on the couch at grandmothers. It feels fascinating to have a body and this one is all mine. I touch myself between the legs and wonder at the place and how it feels a little different from touching other parts. This place makes me a girl, so it must be special. My grandmother enters the room, startling me. She’s looking tense and worried as she exclaims, ‘Don’t touch yourself there! This is a shame place. Put some clothes on!’ I scramble off the couch, scared of her fury. I want to be a good girl. A shame place. I never touch myself in front of adults again.
The image is suddenly replaced with another. Now eight, I’m sitting on the floor of my parents bedroom. There is a dark brown cabinet in front of me and on top of it are daddy’s magazines. There are naked women on the covers. Shameless women. I admire their courage and I want to be free from shame, like them. I open a magazine to more pictures of women in various shapes and poses. All look kind of the same. Naked, big breasts, small waist, arched buttocks. Not like mother. Not like me.
These are daddy’s magazines, I know. So I make a terrible conclusion. He must like these kind of women, shameless women. I have to become one.
Next to the pictures, there are also stories in the magazine. How I love reading! Even at eight, I trust the stories and the written word to teach me what is real and true. I want to learn everything. Page after page, I read through all the magazines.
In the stories, men want to have sex and women give it to them. Sometimes women want to have sex first and then men get to give it to them. The women always like it. No matter what strange things the men want to do, the women always like it. In some stories, the men hurt the women, but they still like it. If they sometimes don’t like it, then they deserve it for the story tells us how these women had been bad and shameful in the first place. Eventually they’ll like it.
‘Stop!’ I almost shout at the therapist and pull myself out. My whole body is shaking. Inwardly, I scream for what I had witnessed, but even more for the conclusions I had drawn.
The basis of my consent
For that curious lonely child, any written word was gold.
Deep inside, she knew her grandmother was wrong. There was no shame place. These women on the magazine covers knew it too and it made them look trustworthy, shiny and beautiful. That girl didn’t know that those stories and pictures didn’t glisten with gold nor truth. It was all lube and a horrible make-belief. She did not know that and instead, learned things:
- For women to have shameless bodies, they must look like the pictures in the magazines.
- In sex, women should agree with what men want.
- If men want to hurt women, they deserved it. Eventually they will like it.
- What women should want? To please men.
- What women should do? Orgasm, a lot.
Is it any wonder that a part of me runs for the hills whenever the topic of having sex with men is approached?
When the foundation is crooked…
…the house will not be safe to live in. No matter how many flowers we plant around it.
No matter how much I meditate or dance, how many sacred sexuality workshops I attend or hold. No matter how much I shake in the ecstatic energy or imagine white light coming out of my cervix… My foundational beliefs on sex had remained unchanged until that therapy session.
Yes, I learned to take better care of myself. Yes, I have felt a lot of love and healed a little. The work I have invested has helped. I’m much better now. Thank you.
But the foundation is still crooked.
Deep inside, I am still afraid of losing myself.
And afraid of bad sex
By engaging each other from the shame-and-porn conditioned world, what do we really agree with?
Bad sex. Regrettable sex. Awkward sex. Weird sex. Glad-its-over sex.
Sex, where partners are wondering about the right positions, right angles, right spots. Unsure of what to want or what the other wants and how to divide that responsibility. Thinking about taking turns on giving or receiving, worrying about performance. Hoping the other will come already.
Does it ring a bell? If not, congratulations! You are one of the lucky ones.
Any act of sexual expression where we are using another person as a means to quench our loneliness, or to release tension is bad sex. As is anything done with our hearts closed, yet yearning to feel something from the other.
It’s fine to have bad sex too… but it leaves a mark. Eventually, the body will ask for healing.
Can the cure be in the curse?
As I shared my realisations, a friend said, ‘None of us know any better. Most men don’t know any better.’
When our first encounters with ‘real’ sex come from magazines or videos full of erect boobs and glistening vulvas, or even worse, from adults with stained souls…how could we know better?
I didn’t know better until I came to witness my panic and my numbness. Until the frustration became so enormous that I had to become brave enough to finally seek for its source.
Now that I do know, can I heal it?
If I have been using the twisted fantasies of gratification from daddy’s magazines to program my consensual preferences… Can I now use the premise of fantasising, of imagination to re-write that pattern?
I can try.
Last night I laid down for pleasure and as I felt my own heart-filled hands caressing my body, I whispered. Nothing to lose. Imagine sex.
Closing my eyes, I imagined.
I imagined living in a world where a drive to have sex didn’t originate from the depths of loneliness lurking in the hearts of people, or from the feeling of missing something. Where intimacy was playful, curious exploration of the possibilities of feeling more. Where each discovery of pleasure was celebrated with childish wonder.
In that world, the act of sex was not a means to spice things up, for life was already filled with beauty and colours. Instead, sex was an act of sharing, effortless giving and receiving through open hearts.
I embarked on a journey without a destination in mind. The destination arrived during the journey itself… one much more ecstatic than anything I may have known to want.
The flow of sexual energy was constantly changing, always fresh. Never boring or unfulfilling, for there was never a goal or a hole to fill in the first place.
Can you imagine? I said to myself and to my eight-year-old-self.
Imagine sex that heals our souls. Sex that completes us and doesn’t rip us apart.
Imagine sex that we don’t need to fear or run away from.
I felt this world blossom inside.
Then, with my full body, I imagined some more.