Have you granted yourself the sexual freedoms you deserve? How about these aspects of sexual independence:
Do you know how to give yourself a satisfying orgasm (at least most of the time) when you feel like it?
Are you confident stating what you like and don’t like sexually?
Are you informed about how your body works so that you can make educated decisions and advocate on its behalf?
Have you freed yourself from other people’s opinions about who you should be or how you should have sex?
Are you done chasing other people’s reactions to you and your sexuality, whether their reactions are lustful or shocked or anything else?
Can you look at your body clearly as a natural human body without expecting an airbrushed perfection?
Have you let go of that mean thing that your ex or the school mean girl or your brother said to you years ago?
Can you define your own sexuality based on how you feel rather than on who you are partnered with or not partnered with at the moment?
Can you honor and accept that your body is not meant to function like a machine but is affected by many variables and this is ok?
Are you familiar enough with your own values, beliefs and hopes that you can let them guide you, not require them to be reflected in the world around you?
Do you let yourself enjoy fantasies even when you would never want to enact them in real life?
Can you celebrate difference without telling yourself that you have to be different?
Is your open-mind excited about what might come next for you in your own pursuit of happiness?
What other elements make you feel sexually independent? Do you want to get more of this for yourself? You know what I am going to say, right?...Get The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook and claim your sexuality. Start with yourself.
I had the amazing opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Rome this year which is a city of history, art, passion, and appetite. Among the many, many things Italy does well are shoes.
The best thing about shoe shopping in Italy was something that actually stunned me. They sell primarily sensible shoes. I realized that in America when I look for shoes most stores have about 70% high heels to 30% shoes the average 40 year old could comfortably walk in for a few hours (excluding trainers or athletic shoes, which are their own category). In Rome, the proportions were flipped – 70% walkable, low heel shoes, 30% high perilous heels. And the walkable shoes were stylish, meaning that all women, young to old, had cool shoes and the I-am-comfortable-moving-through-the-world attitude that went with the actually comfortable shoes.
Now sure, Rome has cobblestone streets so ladies in the high heels are taking serous risks with their ankles. But it really struck me, how far we in America have gone down this road of foot torture and high heel extremes. Searching for a “sexy shoe” will have one wading through hundreds of 4 inch heels or higher and it can seem like shoe designers consider 2 inch heels not worth the effort to make look hip in any way. Celebrities are regularly seen in 8 inch, even 11 inch heels. Well designed? Maybe. Comfortable? Doubtful. The idea that beauty or sexiness is something you have to be willing to hurt for seems to be gaining more of a hold.
I know for me that wincing while I walk or breaking into a cold sweat while trying not to think about my feet just standing still, is not sexy. I, too, am drawn in by the angle of a foot and tensed leg in a high heel. Sexy to look at. Well suited to being off your feet, which can be sexy. But limiting. It is also sexy to dance for hours, to hop on bikes and go somewhere secluded, to walk for hours and eat gelato after dark (did I mention the gelato? Oh man.) Sexy is being free to move. Sexy feels good.
Let’s say that again because I don’t think we hear it enough. Sexy feels good. Hmmm, I feel like dancing.
Now I know we need to take what the media calls “outrage” with a grain of salt, but I had to look into the outrage people are expressing over Lena Dunham’s choice to show her naked body repeatedly in her show Girls. Indeed people are outraged. They are outraged that Lena Dunham is inviting us to see her perfectly normal, not perfect or digitally perfected, woman’s body. They are outraged that she presents her character as someone whom people find beautiful, sexy and desirable seemingly irregardless of her non-Playboy model status. Not only are they not comfortable with this minor depiction of reality in our entertainment, there are some people who are intimating that Ms Dunham doesn’t have a right to show her body in this way. - This makes me outraged.
One of the major voices in this attack on Lena Dunham and her supposed gall in showing her body is the often offensive Howard Stern. OK, he refers to her as “little fat chick” repeatedly, what did we expect from Howard Stern? We have not come a long way, baby, in relation to people feeling like they can critique women’s bodies. But when he links choosing to watch a show that exposes him to Lena Dunham’s body with “rape” because “I don’t want to see that” we all have taken a turn into deeply disturbing and oppressive territory. And sadly, he is not the only voice out there suggesting that Ms Dunham has somehow overstepped her bounds by appearing naked.
Let’s break this down. Assuming a consensual adult setting, are we willing to entertain the idea that only certain people have a right to show their bodies? In what context – in art, entertainment, porn? What about on beaches? Can someone claim to be offended by a fat person in a bathing suit? Do we need to earn the right to show our body by meeting a certain standard? How far do we take this? Does it only apply to celebrities? Are we suggesting that now artists must meet a weight requirement, that directors agree to only use actors who conform to an established standard? Will we institute a new sort of Hayes code that censors body images rather than morally objectionably content? If the majority prefers to see people of a certain body type should we mandate photo-shopping of all public photos? How many people have to decide that Christina Hendricks’ curves are disgusting rather than hot to draw a line? Would Marilyn Monroe’s pregnant body in Some Like It Hot be sell-able nowadays? Do we no longer make any room for diverse representations of the desirable?
Have we really come to place culturally where a normal body is treated as not fit for the public view? Signs point to yes, at least for one vocal group on the internet. And for the many, many women who feel that their own body flaws are cause for shame and exclude them from owning their own version of sexy. This censorship is already happening internally in every inner voice that says, “I can’t be seen in a bathing suit, We need to keep the lights off so my partner doesn’t see my thighs…” In that case, then I guess Lena Dunham is offering us much more than a chance to see her bare her body in the service of story-telling, she is offering us a much needed reality check.
Andy & Misty are 6 years old. They are playing in Misty’s backyard while her parents make dinner. The game of the moment is to climb on top of the picnic table and jump off. While jumping off you pull your pants down to flash your friend. Both kids think this is hilarious. They also know they are doing something that is not allowed if adults are around and that is part of the fun. They are each fascinated by the fact that their bodies look different under their clothes.
For awhile this is their favorite game. But after a few weeks of it, they will get bored and move on to something else. If they are really comfortable with each other, they may admit their curiosity and take closer looks at each other’s genitals while standing still. Maybe at some point they may play a game with kissing or even touching, but that’s not this game. This game is about jumping, and flashing parts you aren’t supposed to show, and getting a peek at a differently shaped body. It’s not a game about sex; that is an adult framework. It is about exploring and risking and your body being your own. And it is perfectly common and healthy.
Kids find all kinds of creative ways to explore their world and bodies are a part of that world. Many of us will have our own stories of exploration with childhood friends. And for most of us, if there is shame attached to this memory it is because of adult intervention from being caught and scolded. Healthy kids, who have not been abused or traumatized, will engage in explorative play of genitals without fear. They may be embarrassed if caught, because they know it is “naughty”. If they are following natural curiosity, no one will be bullied or pressured into anything and the play will feel mutual. There may be giggling and silly questions. None of this tells us anything about Andy or Misty’s sexual orientation, nor would it if it was Andy & Arthur playing or Misty and Monique. It certainly doesn’t mean that the kids will be overly interested in sex or that they have any trouble with impulse control. What it actually might mean is that they are not afraid of their body and so they let it be a part of their play.
Preparing Kids for Sex Requires a Different Kind of Conversation
I remember so clearly a moment from my Health class in High School – topic Sex. Our teacher, a 60 year old women with orthopedic shoes, lectured us saying, “Next time you are in the back seat of a car with someone you should pull out a flashlight and check their genitals for diseases”. Um…yeah. Not the most helpful sex advice I have gotten in my life. But I sure do remember it! Most of our sex education for kids focuses on the dangers of sex. Sure, we do want to prepare kids to be safe, to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and increasingly from criminal consequences for certain types of sexual expression. But focusing on the negative aspects of sex misses the reality of sex by a lot.
A sad side effect of the well meaning but limited way we generally talk to kids about sex is that it desensitizes kids to the anxiety-provoking aspects of sex. Does that statement surprise you? Here is what I mean by that. When we only talk to kids about the ways that sex is scary or dangerous, when they start to engage in sexual activity, if they feel scared or anxious it is no longer a red flag – that is how they have been taught sexual behavior will feel. When all we have heard about sex is related to the things that can go wrong, our mind creates a link between feeling anxious and worried and sexual behavior. I wonder how many of you out there had early sexual experiences that were uncomfortable, with high levels of nervousness and doubt, that looking back you think, “Man that could have been easier”? Personally, I want kids to learn that if sex feels scary or you are really anxious that is a sign to slow down and reassess. I want them to relate sex to pleasure, not fear and shame.
And that it what we need to be talking to kids about when we talk to them about sex – pleasure. But that scares people. There is a misguided belief that if we suggest to kids that sex is actually fun they will want to have it. I am sure as you see this in print you can also see how ridiculous this is. Kids will want to have sex. What they need to hear from us adults is how to know if they are ready, if the person they are with is a good choice as a sexual partner, if the sex they are considering is within their own values and integrity. And they need to hear from us that if sex hurts, you can stop. If you are too overwhelmed to be able to communicate with your partner, you can stop. If you are scared, you can stop. So what I really wish parents were saying to their kids : “ When it is time for you to start being sexual with someone, I wish for you to feel…”.
The next part is up to each family or adult and their own perspective. But I might suggest some things like, “…like you are good friends with the person you are with, that they respect you, that you have talked about sex and know what to expect from each other, that you are comfortable and confidant, that you have a safe and private place to be, that you focus on pleasure and expressing affection to each other, that you are excited and curious, that you know how to be safe and get the resources and answers you need, that you are ready”. Imagine what a sexual conversation like that might change.
What would the media like us to believe about women’s sexual confidence? I see a lot of messaging out there designed to convince us that American women are getting more and more sexually bold, empowered, and creative. Call it the Sex & the City affect or the Miley Cyrus affect, if you like. What we see are stories about how we are increasingly more sexually liberated and daring. We see feminist empowerment portrayed as the right to be unabashedly sexy (you can twerk if you want to!). But, in reality, for many people these public displays of sex seem to be making them feel more inhibited rather than less.
Take for example a recent comparison of sex questionnaires, from 2 very mainstream media publications, Glamour and Mademoiselle, looking at people’s answers from 1993 and 2013. Sure, there was some great news about women receiving more oral sex than before and more women have used a sex toy. But it also showed that 48% of the women questioned felt that men enjoy sex more than women, a sharp rise from the 33% who said that in 1993. So, all the talk about women’s increasing sexual ownership and desire are not translating to people’s actual bedrooms. And here is one potential reason, the surveys also showed that 73% of women now said that they would enjoy sex more if they lost weight! This number is staggeringly sad on its own, but even more dismaying in relation to the survey results from 1993 in which only 39% of women said this. Suggesting, in relation to body image empowerment is declining.
It is a good thing to like the way you look and to feel comfortable in your own body. But let’s be clear, there is not a lot that 20 extra pounds of fat can do to decrease your sexual pleasure – except for what your mind does with it. Sure being obese may limit some positions. Being out of shape may limit your endurance. But sex can still be fun. Orgasms will still feel good. And, the part that is clearly the hardest for people to accept – your partner can still desire you, think you are hot, and enjoy the privilege of interacting with your body. The fact that so many women are linking weight loss to their ability to enjoy sex speaks to the cruelty and arbitrariness of our minds. You can decide that you only have the right to enjoy sultry, uninhibited sex if you look like an airbrushed advertisement. You can turn off desire by allowing critical voices free rein in your head. You can doubt your partner’s touch or belittle their passion while with you. You can hold out for impossible standards while your body does its natural thing and ages. But it is such a waste.
I share with the mass media a desire to tell a story of sexual liberation. I just acknowledge that there is still a battle people need to fight in their own minds to really liberate themselves, and so many of us are losing it. And the cost is denying something that is natural, that we don’t have to purchase or earn, that always belongs to us – the pleasure our body can take in sexual stimulation.
Does this topic hit a nerve? Consider joining Melissa’s upcoming women’s group, Aligning With Your Body
Think for a bit about times in recent memory when you felt attractive or sexy. What were you doing? What was your body doing or feeling? Sometimes we imagine we will feel more attractive when we are dressed up, going out, being seen. But think for yourself, maybe you remember feeling vibrant and attractice when you are home alone dancing to music, sitting on your porch eating lunch in the sun, or at work giving a presentation. What are you wearing when you feel attractive? Who are you with? What people invite you to feel sexy and appealing? Why do you open up this part of yourself when you are with them? How do you see yourself through their eyes? Write about some of these times, recall the details, remind yourself what was going on for you in those moments. And then answer thsi question - what is it in those times that allows you to open to your own beauty or sex appeal or confidance?
As a New Year's resolution, you may decide to consciously create more times like that in your days and weeks. How can you build more space for yourself to feel attractive. It is not about waiting until you have lost weight or developed your pecs or erased your wrinkles. It is about knowing how to bring sexiness and attraction out in yourself and being your best, most confidant self now.