Converting to Sex Positivity

January 31, 2012 § 4 Comments

It takes a lot of time and intense work to actually become sex positive, not just in theory as a political stance but practically in our own minds and bodies.  Healing from even the everyday sort of sex trauma our society dishes out is a process. Souls are slow growth crops.  But miraculously resilient.

I want to encourage folks to keep the faith.  At thirteen I believed even thinking about sex was wrong.  At nineteen, I could not feel any sexual energy or sensations without becoming almost unbearably sad.  At twenty-six, I experience a ton of joy in sex and feel that sexual energy is an healing and sacred force in my life.  I still have a very long way to grow, but I’m far enough along now that I only rarely crash into total despair.  And I see a lot of people I’m close with progressing in their own journey, each of their lives adding to my hope for broader societal and global change.

I thought I would list a few things that have helped heal and grow for readers to consider trying.  If anyone has something that has helped them they’d be willing to post, please do!

1) Re-parent and re-educate.  Most of us learn about sex in vague, patchy, loaded awkward ways by people trying to control our choices.  As adults, we are our own guardians and teachers, and we can choose to re-teach ourselves, to unlearn sex-negativity and shame by seeking out sex-positive environments.  Put in some new messages from books, conversations, websites to defy the sex-negative messages of the past.  I feel more is better, just tipping the scales of what’s in my brain on the topic of sex.

2) Talk about sex with safe people.  Most of us only talk about sex, often in limited and uncomfortable ways, with partners whose feelings we’re preoccupied with. Most of us haven’t learned to talk about sex before we attempt to do so in high stakes situations that make it difficult.  Talking about desire and consent, experiences and thoughts with close people we aren’t in sexual relationships can help in pushing past the taboo and shame and awkwardness of the learning process and give us the skill when we need it.  It can also teach us about letting down boundaries, what is safe for us and what is not.  And it can be a good context for working on consent skills as we navigate our own comfort levels and those of our friends.

3) Learn from solo sex.  Most of us learn first to have sex with ourselves.  And what we often learn is how to make as little noise as possible as we rush to relieve the stress of pent-up sexual tension before shame – external or internal – catches us.  Naturally, when we get with a partner, we have sex the way we have learned how.  We can begin to move away from shame and towards remaining embodied and to externalize our response in the safety of solitude in order to be better prepared to be with partners.

4) Learn to manage triggers.  A lot of the same feelings come up in solo sex that come up in partner sex, and sometimes it can help to learn to manage them alone.  Just identifying when we are triggered – when our response has to do with experiences in the past that are interfering with us responding in line with the present – is important.  And there are lots of skills to manage our response.  I always point to Staci Haines book Healing Sex as a masterpiece of creative and radical values put to work, and I wish there was an equivalent written those of us who do not identify as survivors of child sex abuse.

5) Write about it.  Obviously, at some point I even decided to write this blog, but long before that, I started writing about sex in my journals.  I wrote about past experiences many of which were still loaded with extreme and difficult feelings, wrote out questions of what I believe and what I wanted and wrote towards answers, wrote about numerous books and articles and new sexual experiences as I processed them.  I got to know myself a lot better.  Putting something into words can get it out of your head, away from haunting you, and out where you can really see it objectively and start to work with it.  Even if you have to burn it immediately after, I suggest writing about sex in every form that occurs to you.

Lastly, what I did not list was to learn about rape culture and learn about consent.  This blog is written for people post feminist awakening to the reality of sexism and rape culture and in the midst of a personal process of change.  If you’re on here, you’re probably doing this work and know how great it is, but I thought I’d write it out.

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§ 4 Responses to Converting to Sex Positivity

  • Rairun says:

    (3) is a weird one for me. I’ve never been one to feel guilty. True, I was terribly secretive about masturbating when I was a teenager, but there was no self-punishment involved. I’d only feel embarrassed when other people talked about it. It wasn’t too different from the way I liked being a nerd, but was terrified when people called me one and bullied me. What I’m trying to say is that self-hatred has always been a little alien to me. I’ve always felt very safe with myself.

    And yet… I’m also a very quiet person in private, even when I know no one’s around. In fact, trying to externalize my response often kills whatever it is that I’m feeling. A while ago, I wrote something very similar to this, except it wasn’t about sex. It was about dancing. I don’t feel inhibited. It’s just that I don’t think I have whatever it is that drives people to move their limbs when a song moves them. I don’t feel broken or anything of the sort–I’m actually quite happy. I’m just pointing this out because I think there are interesting questions to be asked about learning how to externalize your feelings vs. adapting your own idiosyncratic responses (or non-responses) to a socially constructed way of reacting.

    I’m not saying your point isn’t valid, btw. I realize it’s a very common experience. I’m just giving my 2 cents.

  • I’m just pointing this out because I think there are interesting questions to be asked about learning how to externalize your feelings vs. adapting your own idiosyncratic responses (or non-responses) to a socially constructed way of reacting.

    This feels to me like a really important distinction. One of the hard parts of consent is taking responsibility for yourself, going the process of becoming aware of your own consent, being willing to communicate uncertainty if that is what you authentically feel, and choosing partners who are safe to be honest with. What was I pointing to was that most of us grow and learn in spaces that aren’t safe, many particularly unsafe when it comes to sexuality. Some of us learn to hold ourselves inside, with the hope of keeping ourselves safe from harm and loss, which is often a very wise tactic in life. But when we are in a safe space, choosing safe people we want to connect with, the same skill can be a block. There’s also lots of pressure in the weird tangle of our culture for women to respond a certain way to sex. False communication is a barrier to consent, but hard to shed, I think.

    I can only speak from my own experience, but the partner sex I’ve had has improved as I learned to externalize my (authentic) response. I was so spooked to do it, I had to incorporate moving my body and making noise into my solo sex first. At first, it felt fake, and I think I was having trouble matching the internal and the external, getting myself to show what was happening inside. But I am extremely glad I did the work. It has made the partner sex I’ve had feel intimate in a different way, like coming out in the open rather than hiding together. Kind of defiant, I would say.

  • Rairun says:

    Also, I find (2) really hard to do, but not for the usual reasons. If I consider you a good friend, as long as it’s been established that you want me here, I don’t feel the impulse to hide. I really don’t. My main problem is that I feel some responsibility for the people I’ve been intimate with. It ‘s like these experiences aren’t just my own to share, and this is true both of sexual and non-sexual intimacy. It’s so much easier to talk about things when they are all mine. I don’t know–it gets particularly difficult because of the way I communicate. I don’t like spouting generalities. If I make a claim, at least as far as personal politics are concerned, I feel the need to back it up. But I can’t, so I don’t say anything. No, it doesn’t work. No, it’s not exactly conductive to a happy life. Like I said, it’s complicated.

  • The implications of consent in revealing shared experiences has come up for me and a lot of my friends, and it feels especially significant regarding sexual experiences, probably because sex is so taboo in our culture and not to be spoken of. A friend once told me a story of being coerced by a boss, then said she wanted to keep it private because it involved him, too, and was not just her story. Odd twist on the ethics of the situation. I’ve heard other people resist revealing abusive experiences, because they were “private.” My policy in life now is that if it happened to you, it is your story to tell. But in regards to consideration for people I have sex with, I try to bring it up early in a relationship, around the same time as discussions of polyamory and sexual health and safer sex practices. I explicitly give anyone I’m involved with permission to talk openly with anyone they chose to about sex we have. I only have sex with people I trust and assume they will use their best judgment same as they would in sharing information just about themselves. And if they were going to use it inappropriately, lack of permission wouldn’t stop they anyways. And I ask how they feel about my talking about our sex and explain my ethics and intentions as best I can. I got permission from the people I could for this blog, and others I have spoken about only in ways I think could ever be linked to them and/or cause any harm. Adding some anonymity for other parties is always a good option in my view. I suppose it would be a different issue for someone who was working on having better boundaries about what they share about themselves, assuming they would also likely share stories involving parters unwisely. Perhaps if that were the case, tending towards privacy or at least anonymity when possible would be a good option, and certainly checking in is always helpful.

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