For the past several months, the political conversation has focused on a war on women's reproductive rights. The tenor of these recent debates, in large, has been downright regressive -- we've even seen state legislation holding that conception occurs two weeks before pregnancy. From the very beginning of these debates, I've been asking myself "How is it that in 2012, men are still in charge of the most basic of women's rights?" To answer this question I don't have to look far. My own life experiences (and those of women who are dear to me) reveal the reason.
I consider myself a woman's woman. My life is filled with fun, creative and connected relationships with other women. I'm involved with political women, spiritual women, entrepreneurial women, dancing women, acting women and parenting women. And yet, until recently I had never spoken about the most intimate issues women face with any of them. Rarely, if ever, do women openly speak in an informed way about their bodies, their chemistry and their sensual and sexual natures. When they do, the discussion is invariably shrouded in self-judgment, complaint, shame and dissatisfaction. We give over to our ignorance, to our ambivalence about our sexual natures. We've abdicated control over our reproductive rights and men have simply picked up the reins. Am I simplifying this issue? Yes, and the reality is that if we aren't educating ourselves and making our own decisions, someone else is going to do it for us.
And so each of us has to make a start. What can we do to create a new experience for ourselves and within our culture? For me, it's time to get educated about being a woman, and I've started with the topic of sensuality. I'm reclaiming my sensual nature and how that connects me to my sexual self. I thought this would be a no-brainer because pleasure seems so enticing, but I'm discovering that my conditioning toward shame, suffering and dissatisfaction is deep and not easily relinquished.
As I reflect on my sexual history, there is not a moment when I can recall enjoying sex purely for pleasure. Buying into religious beliefs, self-doubt and deep shame, until recently I have engaged in sex in order to get love and acceptance from men. My sexual encounters were motivated by a belief that my performance would garner me the love and approval I'd been seeking my entire life. At age forty, I realized that I had never enjoyed the pleasure that was available during physical intimacy between two mature, consenting adults. It's painful to acknowledge, but today I can say I have started the journey to discovering what brings me pleasure and to infuse what I learn into my sex life.
I recently interviewed Arielle Loren, the editor-in-chief of Corset, a go-to magazine for all things sexual. I asked her to share some brief suggestions on how I and other women might reclaim their sensuality. Loren's first recommendation was that I surround myself with other women who are doing similar work for themselves. It's important to have community to know that we are not alone in our pursuits to heal and rediscover our sensual selves. I've joined various groups online, and I've also engaged my closest friends in conversations that previously had been taboo. We speak candidly about masturbation techniques, sexual practices, desires, dreams and beliefs. We also talk openly about things we've been ashamed of. Recently I told a group of my closest girlfriends of my love for women's breasts. Since I was a little girl, I've always been intrigued by breasts, areolas and cleavage. My passion for breasts confused me. I'm not a lesbian, so I felt ashamed. Expressing my feelings was freeing, and it was incredibly affirming to learn that I'm not the only straight woman who loves breasts. It turns out that most of the women in the room shared my appreciation.
While I was initially appalled that our white, male politicians were discussing women's reproductive rights as though it were 1965, I'm now grateful that they've done just that. It was just what I needed to get curious about these issues as they pertained to me. I want desperately to know for myself exactly how my body works, what brings me pleasure and how I might impact the larger debate. I'm starting by saying aloud things I've previously been ashamed, due to religious indoctrination and societal judgments, to even think about. I want to be as free sensually and sexually as my male counterparts. I want to know myself fully and create a society where sexual women -- rather than shamed -- are joyously celebrated.
*This post was previously posted on Blogher
Follow Monique Ruffin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moniqueruffin