“Owning your desire means that you take responsibility for discovering what fits you sexually. You get to be the one who names the unique sexual expression that is yours. Grant yourself permission.” Staci Haines, “Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma.”
In my blog post, "What Do YOU Want?" I asked readers the question: When it comes to sexual pleasure that can be a hard question for many women to answer for so many reasons.
Several years ago, in a workshop exercise with The Human Awareness Institute, a man approached me in an exercise and asked me intensely, “What do you want?” My mind went completely blank. The man repeated the question several times: “What do you want?” I simply did not have any answers.
I realized that for me, the question was impossible to answer: first, as a sex abuse survivor, sex wasn’t at all about what I wanted. It was about someone using my body for their gratification. Abuse obliterated my ability to know I even had wants! Second, both Catholicism and Midwestern culture taught me all sorts of confusing messages about sex, none of which had anything to do with me getting to experience pleasure, either with or without a partner.
When I returned home from the workshop, I remembered an exercise in Staci Haines fabulous book, "Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma," that helps people recovering from the effects of sex abuse to connect with their sexual wants and desires. In Chapter 2, “Desire and Pleasure,” Haines provides a list of sexual activities, ranging from the mild: massage, kissing, and flirting, to the spicier: dressing slutty, watching porn together, outdoor sex, having sex while blindfolded, to the more intense: sensation/power play, anal sex, voyeurism/exhibitionism and much more. I made a list of all the activities and by each, made columns for “yes,” “no,” and “maybe,” indicating my interest level in each.
This was a fabulous starting point for me to begin asking myself: “Jane, what do you want?” Making this inquiry has allowed me to explore, expand and normalize all that I feel. Instead of being locked into a view of sex that developed through the lens of abuse, Catholicism, family messaging and a sex-negative culture, I’ve gotten to clean the slate and reconsider the spectrum of sexual activities and what sparks my desire. Wow!
There are many things on that list that are a “no” and will always be a “no”—and some have moved to “maybe.” There are some “maybes” that have moved to “yes,” and some that have moved to “no.” The point is, by mindfully choosing to explore—I have put myself in charge of my sexual desire, rather than letting my past keep me bound in a place of unknowing or fear.
The effects of doing this exercise have been profound. If Ed asks me “What Do You Want?” I can tell him. If I want something, I can ask for it. If I want to try something new, I can explore my edges free from shame. Most important, I no longer think that anything about my sexual desire or capacity for pleasure is wrong or bad. It just is. And that’s empowerment.
So, one more time, I ask you: “What do YOU Want?”
Next week: More ways you can explore desire…