In college, I really wanted to be this liberated, sexually independent, and sexually fulfilled woman.
I threw myself into the world of gender and women's studies, from the classes I took, to the seminars I went to, to the clubs I belonged to, to the friends I made. I discovered sex positive culture, something I had never come across before - folks who wanted to erase the stigma around sex and sexuality.
Then the vulvodynia hit.
Once I left my supportive college friends, I found myself feeling a bit exiled from sex positivity. In my new home in the San Francisco Bay Area, arguably one of the most sex positive places you can live in the US, my experience with vulvodynia remained invisible. There were classes on everything from feminist lap dance and striptease to BDSM, and it was easy to find a teacher promoting the attainment of sexual ecstasy.
But where were the classes for women whose confidence and belief in their sexual value had been shattered? How could I participate in a class on stroking my pussy when my tender pussy hurt when touched? I felt like I failed to meet the entry requirements to the cool kids club. Having a desire to improve wasn't enough - I couldn't find a teacher, class, experience, or book that met me where I was, that could address my reality as a woman with a health problem that impacted her sex life.
Looking across the American landscape, I realized that we had come a long way in creating space for women to own their sexuality and talk about it. But we weren't talking about the entire breadth of sexual experience - the existing spaces allowed for awesomeness and ecstasy only. It felt to me that women who had amazing orgasms had space to celebrate it (thank goodness - I'd argue we need to continue to grow and expand these spaces.) But it was awfully hard to find a space for a woman who wanted to have better sex, who hadn't yet reached awesomeness, and was facing a boatload of challenges and feelings and messiness and vulnerability on the way.
This reality is beginning to shift, albeit in tiny ways. I have seen a lot of positive changes over the last 10+ years.
We still have a long way to go.
My message for you: if you are struggling with sex and sexuality, you are not alone. This is very much a pioneering edge within American culture.
The baggage or pain or anxiety or fear or shame you feel around your sexual experiences is in no way a reflection of your worth. It is in no way a reflection of your femininity. It is in no way a reflection of your value as a romantic partner.
These words may be very, very difficult for you to believe. They were for me too. For many years my logical mind could grasp them, but my heart and body didn't believe them or feel them.
It took me a long time to learn that my struggle wasn't due to a personal failing.
My struggle was due to a societal failing.
What if we lived in a world in which there was no stigma against sex, and no stigma against sexual struggles?
What if sexual health centers, created in a style which today we would consider radical and innovative - ones that incorporated integrative medicine, movement, classes for the full breadth of sexual experience and preference, staffed with doctors and nurses and sex therapists and couples therapists and acupuncturists and healers of all stripes - were as common and frequently used as McDonald's?
Would you still be struggling the same way you are now?
I think not.
The act of refusing to give up when feeling sexually defeated is a major accomplishment. It's a pre-requisite for healing, a pre-requisite for change, and therefore a step to be lauded and applauded.
If you are struggling to believe that you are worthy of praise and celebration within your messiness, right now, let me tell you this: many women accept sexual defeat. They accept a sexless life, or an unhappy sexless marriage, or a sex life devoid of pleasure. For them, there is no opportunity for healing or change. The door is closed.
Don't take your willingness to care for your sexuality for granted.
The fact that you are willing to be vulnerable enough to show up for a challenge in a world with very little support, even if you are "only" taking baby steps, means that you are already brave.
So, as someone who has walked a very challenging and unsexy path en route to sexiness, I reach back to say to you: I've been there. Keep truckin'. Great sex is possible. You are amazing. You are beautiful.
You are on your way.
* * *
Pause. Take a deep breath. Let your thoughts gently roll around you. If you wish, take out a journal. If any of the following questions spark your interest, write.
- How did this piece land with you?
- Could you relate to it?
- Have your experiences been similar or different? Where does your sexual challenge lie?
- How are your personal struggles a reflection of a societal failing?
- How would you like to respond to your challenge?
- If you could create a sexual healing center, what would you want it to look like?
- What resource are you hungry for? What class do you need, what book do you need, what experience do you need to help you take your next step?
- What would it feel like to find such a resource, to take advantage of it? To get to the other side of that experience with your newly gained knowledge and skills?
- How can you be your own hero - perhaps in a small, quiet way - today?