Yes, it is Thanksgiving, and yes, I want to talk about sex. I love sex! I am thankful for sex. And hormones, libido, and all of the crazy and not so crazy physical stuff that makes us beautifully and vulnerably human.
I was raised Roman Catholic; I grew up in a household that did not discuss sex. It wasn’t that sex was considered shameful in my home, it just didn’t exist. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that my mother never remarried after my father died. I didn’t grow up in a household that had two parents; a couple who could model what love and affection (verbal or physical) looked like. I had to figure all of that out on my own.
The only sex talk I can recall having with my mom was at age 16. It happened at 7 in the morning, while I was driving our Dodge Caravan to school. My mom sat shotgun, and out of nowhere, she blurted out, “So, are you having sex?” and that was it. I remember gripping that wheel until my knuckles turned white and shouting, “Jesus! NO!” (I was such a liar!!) There were also the times I would bring boyfriends home and my mom would awkwardly tell them to “wrap it”. Jesus, was that embarrassing.
When my husband and I were exploring polyamory and began online dating, I came to realize that, at age 42, I have a kickin’ libido. The unfortunate part was, I felt weird and insecure about this discovery. I felt ashamed, confused, and honestly, ‘slutty‘ (slut shaming is the act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity).
As I began my exploration of men and relationships outside of my marriage, I found that I was uncomfortable with my sexual self. It did not help that my husband was also shaming of my sexuality as we opened. Sometimes the hurtful statements were direct, sometimes indirect. He struggled from the beginning with the physical aspects of having an open marriage (I believe he felt a possessive ownership of me), whereas I struggled with the emotional aspects of his relationships. Sex felt like no big deal to me. As long as I was safe and protected and the sex was open and consensual, I felt fine about it. But there was always this nagging voice inside my head whispering that I was disgusting and should feel ashamed. And, in many ways, I did feel ashamed. Was it my own shit? Or maybe the religious shit? Or my husband’s shit? I can’t say for sure – likely a combination of all of these things. And society, our culture – of course these things were to blame as well.
Women are not allowed to be sexual creatures who (gasp!) enjoy sex.
Women and young girls are sent so many mixed signals in our sexually repressed society. Be sexy! But not too sexy (slut). Be hot! But don’t look too hot (bitch). Be flirtatious! But don’t be too flirtatious (husband/boyfriend stealer).
Be skinny, be flawless, be amazing-looking, make sure your ass and abs are toned, have perfect-sized breasts, the right hair, makeup, body, shoe size. Don’t get me started on fashion…And don’t forget that all of this needs to be accomplished and executed well into your 70’s. But let’s remember that we cannot get old! No grey hair! Wrinkles?
No fucking way.
There is enough confusing shit out in the world as it is; add to it the bullshit messages the media sends little girls (my daughter), teenagers, women, and middle-aged women (me), it’s no wonder we feel confused about who we are as human beings and especially as sexual beings.
I think the most hurtful one of these messages (and God knows that there are many) is the one that says: in order to be loved or even liked, we need to look and act the part (see ridiculous list above). No one talks about self-love. Which is so completely fucked up! Love of one’s self should come first and above all else. Without it, you are susceptible to using others to define your self-worth – a truly scary place to be (see my posts on codependency). And even if you believe that you need to do all of those things up there to be worthy, and you pull all of that shit off, there is still this underlying message that you are not allowed to be a sexual being.
Sex is taboo in this uptight American culture and that is utter bullshit. Why sensor one of the most fun and amazing things we can do? Research shows us that not only is sex paramount in connection with our partners (and with ourselves), it is good for us! It is healthy and good for your heart and your mind.
There is no shame in loving sex if you are a woman. I challenge you to talk about sex, think about sex, and, if you’re a writer, write about sex. This self shaming – culture shaming – bullshit needs to stop and it needs to stop now.