What Sex Feels Like

March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

I believe consent resides in the body alongside the mind.  To be skilled with consent, we need to learn to listen to our bodies, and to have some ability to understand, with their help, what another person’s body is telling us.

A culture of coercion has made consent hard.  Confusion about our own consent comes from society, an abuser, or some other voice of authority saying you’ve experienced one thing and your body telling you another. This kind of undermining of personal experience estranges us from embodiment and consent.  What did we experience?  What are we experiencing now?  Sex or rape?  Love or abuse?  The answers lie in our bodies when our minds have been confused.

I wish I could put into a bottle and share what it feels like to have embodied, consensual sex, free from both present coercion and interference of past trauma.  It took me a long time to experience it and now I have a baseline that makes it much, much harder be coerced or confused.

As well as I can describe it, this is some of what embodied, consensual sex feels like for me:

It feels like excitement and pleasure, an energizing and motivating force, even before we touch. 

It feels like energy, roiling up in and around me and my partner, drawing things together and pushing me to experiences larger than myself, greater than my body can hold, bigger than either of us but including us.  

It feels like trembling, like being vulnerable, and the peace of knowing that it will be okay, of being safe and healing. 

It feels like taking in a beautiful scene, like witnessing truth and knowing some new quality of  my partner’s humanity, witnessing some new facet of their soul. 

It feels like being seen, like showing myself to another person, who is opening out to take the experience in and holding it in reverence and being transformed. 

It feels like my heart breaking open and getting larger, letting the new in, rather than the feel of it breaking and shrinking, crumbling in, keeping things out. 

So much abuse gets called sex in this culture, so much pain gets undermined and painted over as something else.  People learn to believe the feeling of pain, sickness, shame, fear they have in their bodies are what sex feels like, what sex is.  They learn not to look to their bodies for an account of their experience.

A friend of mine was once in so much pain talking about a sexual experience she’d had, her whole body was tensed, her shoulders pulling in to try and hide her chest, her jaw tight, and she was crying.  She was trying to convince me that she had expressed consent and didn’t have the right to consider her experience abusive or traumatic.  When I tried to get her to check in with her body and asked her if that’s what sex usually felt like, she said, no, it was what abuse usually felt like.

Past abuse can leave us distanced from our bodies, frozen with past trauma we buried to survive.  Coming back can mean experiencing those feelings now, which is difficult to choose.  I believe we have to be embodied in order to have the transformative experience of sex we are meant and have a right to have.  We are mean to be our own rescuers, our own administers of justice, restoring what was lost to ourselves, moving past experiences of pain that hold us away from pleasure now.  And for many of us, I think that means allowing ourselves to feel the feelings of past abuse now while remaining safe and making choices in our current lives.

This is what embodied, consensual sex does not feel like for me, but what abuse or the memory of past abuse often feel like:

It doesn’t feel like seeking quiet, being small and still, waiting for things to go away, hiding away in to be safe.  That’s what being triggered feels like.  

It doesn’t feel like a pain in my stomach, like fear, like animal panic upon being cornered, like an urge to escape and weight holding me down.   That’s what being coerced feels like. 

It doesn’t feel like nothing, like not being there, like being gone.  That’s what being disembodied feels like.  

It doesn’t feel like being numb, being cold, turning everything down to become invulnerable, impenetrable, experience anything and survive.  That’s what believing I have to tolerate something I don’t want, what being caught intimate abuse feels like. 

It doesn’t feel like shame, like a rent of agony in my chest, like wanting to shut my eyes and duck my head, hide away and not be seen.  That’s what the coercion of sexual shaming feels like. 


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