You’re probably surprised I’m writing about this publicly. So am I. But the fact that no one talks about it is part of the problem — it’s part of why I’m feeling so alienated and alone right now, as are so many others. So let’s talk about it, for god’s sake. I’ve been on something of a sexual healing journey lately, and I know I’m not the only one with issues to heal.
My sexual repression started young, as most repression does. Growing up in a Catholic family, I never got a sex talk — not even a scientific one, or a cautionary “Don’t have sex!!!!” one. I had lots of questions, many of which were answered through a curiosity-induced exploration of pornography. I remember the day I discovered masturbation, when I was 14. Coincidentally, I got my first-ever menstrual period the next day, and I spent years convinced it had been a punishment from God. I kept masturbation to a minimum after that, as I dreaded having to bring it up with an old male priest as a “sin” at Confession. Awkward.
After a completely asexual high school experience, my experimentation involving men began in college. Despite engaging in hookups, I remained a virgin all the way through graduation — at least, technically speaking. I would fool around with people, but as a Christian I still felt I had to “save myself for marriage,” so I’d never go “all the way.” I refused to ever take off all my clothes (I always had to keep at least one article on, as it made me feel “less slutty”), and I’d never allow penetration to happen. We’d make out, touch each other, and I’d usually end it by performing oral sex, before going home.
This avoidance of “actual sex” often left me with a haunting sense of guilt, as if I were “teasing” or shortchanging the men I was intimate with, some of whom joked about being “blueballed.” It would take me years to realize that this was merely the ever-present patriarchal model — prioritizing male pleasure and basing the sexual experience around male climax—deeply ingrained in my mind.
While I eventually stopped identifying as a Christian and gave up the idea of “saving myself for marriage,” the sexual repression ran much deeper than that. I still felt afraid to have sex outside of a committed partnership, for emotional reasons, and I ideally only wanted to ever have sex with one person. Furthermore, no matter how many feminists I met on campus, I couldn’t fully give up the idea that sexual expression was shameful and morally wrong, and that I should keep mine heavily under wraps and pretend to others in my life that I was not a sexual being.
Soon after graduating college, I found myself in a relationship, and I finally gave myself up. The first time I had sex, I was terrified and overwhelmed. He was patient and made me feel safe, but I still made him pull out halfway through because I couldn’t handle the onslaught of emotions — of guilt, of fear, of love. I cried afterwards. It was as good an experience as it could have been. I was so grateful for feeling safe, however, that I became incredibly attached to my partner, and for that reason among others, the relationship soon became very toxic.
Rather than liberating me, that relationship left me with even more sexual baggage — frustration over my inability to come and his resulting disappointment; being shamed about the varying states of my pubic hair (seriously, I feel like I can’t win with this one); constant comments about my and other women’s weight. While I now felt open to the world of sex and excited to start exploring, I was left feeling even more self-conscious about my body and my sexual expression — feeling like I needed to fit a mold to be “good enough” to be accepted in the bedroom.
I also quickly found that the “actual sex” part of sex wasn’t even really that fun. My vagina was almost completely numb, perhaps from repression and the fact that I’ve never been particularly in touch with my own sexual energy. I’ve recently been doing a lot of body scan meditations, and every time I try to direct attention towards my genital area, I feel visceral pangs of fear in my abdomen — it’s enough to make me wonder if I was sexually assaulted before my memory kicked in, or in a past life. It feels as if my vagina is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, afraid of assault, or ridicule, or rejection.
In the past several months, however, I’ve entered into a new relationship with my sexuality. I’ve come to believe and accept that I, like 99 percent of the population, am a sexual being, and there is latent potential inside of me for more connective, holistic, fun — even mind-blowing — sexual experiences.Unlocking those experiences is going to require not only befriending my physical anatomy, but also learning to own the idea of being sexual, and recognizing that feeling and expressing sexual energy is okay.
It’s interesting — the first time I ever took a psychedelic drug (psilocybin), my experience consisted primarily of an intense feeling of energy coursing through my whole body, with my genitals and sacral chakra as its source and centerpoint. While I didn’t understand it, I felt intuitively in that moment that perhaps sexual energy could be connected to life energy. Thinking about it more, it actually makes so much sense — sex is what creates life. Of course its energy is related to life force, to radiance, to the energy of all living things. It is a primary component of who we are.
And so, with this inspiration, I’ve taken a deep dive into the world of sexual healing. In the past few months, I’ve begun my re-education with books (Pussy: A Reclamation, Women Who Run With the Wolves), a jade egg, some experimentation, a bit of orgasmic meditation, and lots of self-love, both physical and otherwise. I’m working hard to send love to that part of my body, start feeling those muscles again, and get back in touch with myself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Why am I doing this? Because I want increased self-awareness and self-confidence, greater pleasure during sex, the ability to connect deeply with a partner without getting stuck in my own hangups. I want different kinds of crazy orgasms, lots of lubrication, a trust in men and my own safety, the ability to feel and even control my energy systems. Most of all, I want a sense of boundless love for the universe and all its inhabitants including myself, and I can’t feel that if I’m constantly rejecting a critical part of me and everyone around me. I truly believe that becoming freer sexually will lead me to become freer in my ability to give and accept love.
Of course, un-learning all of one’s cultural conditioning is a slow process, so I’m trying to be patient with myself. For now, I’m going to keep rubbing coconut oil all over my body after my showers, and listening to “I Sing The Body Electric, Especially When My Power’s Out” over and over again until every word resonates. I’m going to keep staring at my vagina in the mirror until I love the way it looks. I’m going to stop shaving meticulously before every sexual encounter out of fear that I’m not good enough as I am. I’m going to own and accept every part of myself, even the bits that I’ve spent so much of my life afraid to even name out loud.
Shoutout to Emma Harper and Yiling Chen, bloggers I found as I was starting this journey, for not only inspiring parts of my own journey, but giving me the courage to write and share this. Thanks also to The Vagina Monologues, Kim Anami, my feminist friends, and everyone else in the world working to break down shame barriers around women’s sexuality. Here’s to more talking about sex, and the wounds we all carry. It is only then that we can begin to truly heal.