“Femaleness and its sexuality are beautiful. Women have long secretly suspected as much. In that sexuality, women are physically beautiful already; superb; breathtaking.” Naomi Wolf
“Let today be the day…you stand strong in the truth of your beauty and journey through your day without attachment to the validation of others.” Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Twice in the last year, I have had the great honor of serving as an assistant at a revolutionary workshop, “All About Sex for Women,” in the Bay Area. In an environment that was sacred, reverential and deeply respectful, I supported the women as facilitator Sarah Sandhill led them through a series of carefully designed exercises that encouraged curiosity, self-reflection and self-acceptance. Attendees also shared in large and small group discussions and as the weekend unfolded, Sarah’s authentic, grounded and masterful facilitation fostered a closeness that enveloped the group of about seventeen.
Our group included women ranging from age 32 to 75. Most came with questions about normalcy: I like sex this way, is that normal? My vulva looks like this, is that normal? I can only orgasm if I do this, is that normal? How can I love myself when I’ve gained 30 pounds this last year? I don’t feel anything when my husband touches my g-spot, is that normal? Some came with concerns resulting from misinformation or hurtful comments made by past partners. Some have overcome horrific histories of sex abuse and have worked hard to enjoy sex once again. Some shared feelings of acute loss because older male partners had withdrawn from intimacy when their erections lost the potency of youth, failing to recognize that true intimacy comes from far more than an erect penis.
I used the word “revolutionary” to describe the workshop yet I wonder why it has to feel that way. And sadly, it is this: in most cultures, we are taught that a woman’s sexuality is secondary to male sexuality, and talking about sex is still uncomfortable for many people. We teach girls that they exist to please men and bear children certainly not to experience pleasure! Women are not supposed to enjoy sexual pleasure, despite being equipped with a clitoris that has over 8000 nerve endings and a virtually limitless capacity for multiple orgasms. As a result of our cultural conditioning (delivered through family and religious messaging, mass/social media, direct experiences), many women feel shame when they feel sexual pleasure. Even worse, some women have been told that their vulvas are ugly and misshapen, or that sex is only for women with a certain body type.
In participating in workshops like “All About Sex for Women,” women can shed the layers of cultural conditioning and uncover some important core truths: 1. Sex is highly pleasurable and women can learn to enjoy pleasure without shame and guilt; 2. Women in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are sexually alive and well, enjoying intimacy and orgasms well beyond menopause; 3. Masturbation is a primary means of sexual expression and self-awareness, allowing women to understand their own sexual response and tap into their vitality and sexiness, whether partnered or not; 4. Even women with histories of rape and sex abuse can heal and reclaim their ability to enjoy sex free from trauma and pain; 5. Every woman’s vulva is different, unique and beautiful. Contrary to the limited view promoted in pornography, vulvas come in all sizes, shapes, colors and textures. Understanding this and choosing self-acceptance goes a long, long way; 6. Taking control and owning our sexuality is radically empowering and can immunize us from the crippling effects of others’ judgments in other areas of our lives. A sexually empowered woman is strong, confident and entirely self-referential.
I hope to someday live in a world where each woman can and will own her power. Thus, my advice to my sisters: own your sexuality. Own your body exactly as it is without compromise. Own and treasure your experience of sexual pleasure. Become curious and explore. Who are you as a sexual person? What do you like? How can you step into vital sexuality on your own terms? And finally, heal your wounds. Few of us arrive into adulthood free of scars—the #MeToo Campaign has certainly highlighted that fact. To the extent your wounds inhibit your enjoyment of sex, find help. Healing is worth it.
In this culture, it takes courage for a woman to mindfully embrace her sexuality. May that courage fill your spirit and carry you forward to empowerment.
 While cleansing for many women, the #MeToo campaign has triggered painful memories in others. Wendy Maltz has written a helpful article, “When #MeToo Brings Up Painful Memories of Sexual Abuse, Here’s Help.” The article identifies a number of additional resources to assist in sexual healing.