Friday, December 6, 2019

Sex Is An Experience

If you're like me, you tend to think of sex as a task to accomplish. As a wife, a lot of us see it as our duty, which feels more like a burden and a responsibility than the recreation I imagined it would be. Dr. Holbrook encouraged me to move away from that by thinking of it as an experience in my body.  She referenced yoga as an example, which was awesome for me because that's where I first began to reconnect with my body after years of disassociation. If you haven't practiced yoga, I'll explain the basics. 

In a yoga class, you're encouraged to feel and observe your body. Rather than fitness instructors who tell you to push through the pain, the teacher encourages you to listen to your body and work at a pace where you can still breathe. This is counter-cultural because we're generally taught it's noble to ignore our bodies. 

You're also encouraged to set worries aside. Instructors say something like, "For this next hour, you can just be here. You don't have to be a mom, employee, daughter, dad, spouse. It will all be waiting for you when you're done." This helps you focus.

And lastly, you're encouraged to let the experience play out as it will that day. This means not judging how easy it feels compared to last time (good) or how your butt compares with all the other butts in the room (bad) or what harder variation that student is doing so they are the real deal (bad because I'm not). Observing these things is natural. Going the  next step and judging them is a rejection of the situation as it is today.



This may not seem like a big deal, but a measurement of mental health is one's ability to deal with reality AS IT IS. If we judge our present situation as bad, we grab for denial to lessen the pain. And once we are denying our situation, we aren't IN IT. Which is why this matters for sex. You can't enjoy sex if you aren't present.  

I know non-judgement is a foreign concept if you have a Christian background because even though Jesus said not to judge, we've been told to be VIGILANT to pick between right and wrong and our eyes are usually bulging out of our heads with the effort. For those of us with very little reference for non-judgement, let me try to describe it. 

When you go to an ophthalmologist and have your eyes examined, you sit in a chair and they put a machine in front of your face with a million lenses. They ask which one is clearer, A or B. You say, "B." 

"Which one is clearer, B or C?" 

You answer. This continues for a long time and by process of elimination, they learn what your eyesight is and if you need corrective lenses. 

At no point do they say, "Really? Are you sure?"

At no point do they say, "I was sure you'd pick this one." 

Or, "Whatever you say..." in a way that shows they don't agree.

Non-judgement. Like either one is FINE. 

This is what I want to suggest to us in the bedroom. 

Penetrative sex or mutual masturbation? 
Quiet or noisy? 
Every day or once a month? 
Kissing or more? 
Toys or no toys? 

None of this matters and all of it matters, as long as there is connection and pleasure. That is the experience we're going for and the details are personal preference. Our choices are neutral. They really are. 

If connection is what we're after, what better way to do that than to be totally honest about what you like and don't like? Can we allow ourselves to say? Because if we can, our partners can walk softly into our holy of holies and we will know what it's like to let someone in. 

I thought having a man's penis inside my body was what made us one. Now I know letting him see the truth of me is how we become one. 

This is full disclosure and total intimacy. 

Is that scary? Yes. 

Is it downright freeing to be loved AS YOU ACTUALLY ARE? 

YES.  

If you've been wondering if sex is ever going to live up to your hopes, try laying judgement aside. Sex is a gift designed for us. Our desires weren't put inside us to torture us. God has every intention of fulfilling them. 

Open the door to your curiosity again, and allow each sexual experience to be what it is. Some yoga sessions feel amazing and some feel difficult and some are just meh. I notice and I wonder at it and I let it be a mystery. Why was it so good this time? It's a gift. I don't break it down to come up with the winning formula. When it's tough and less satisfying, I don't ask myself what I did wrong that made it that way. It just is. 

Give your sex life permission to be whatever it is. When we stop forcing a storyline on it, we find our love stories are already beautiful.





Thursday, December 5, 2019

Where Did My Beliefs about Sex Come From?

I have heard people say kind things about sex. Things like, "Penetrative sex is not the most important thing," or, "Sex is not the only thing that matters to men," and I felt like they were trying to make me feel better. Me and intersex people and paralyzed people. Everything they said, seemed too good to be true and felt like pity compliments. 

Until recently. 

First, I learned how the medieval church narrowed sexual expression to pro-creative acts, condemning other acts as perversions, a.k.a. sodomy. This category included sexual positions they considered weren't conducive to conception, anal sex, oral sex, masturbation and beastiality. Sexual desire was a sign of weakness to the devil's influence and one was not supposed to feel a desire for their spouse. This was also when married couples were told not to have sex on church holidays, Sundays or during pregnancy, nursing or menstruation. 

Did you ever wonder where those rules came from? I did and they flew in the face of what I'd read in Song of Solomon about God-given love. Maybe the sexual ethics I'd been handed needed a critical eye. Church tradition doesn't count for anything if it contradicts Biblical guidance, so I dismissed this source.


Then I went to a retreat where Dr. Celeste Holbrook, a sexologist, discussed pornography's influence on sexual culture and ideas. She said the silence around sex has left a vacuum into which porn is speaking about how sex should be, how it should look, how it should feel and who's allowed to participate. And you don't have to use porn to know it's teachings.

I understood from TV shows, advertisements, rom coms and people's attitudes toward women. I heard it in jokes. So many of our biases (ageism, fat phobia, racism) are connected to not seeing a variety of people portrayed as worthy of sex (which symbolizes connection). How often do we see old people or disabled people represented as having sex? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see you need to be skinny, fit, light-skinned, have long hair and curves to be desirable. Porn has convinced us the man's pleasure is all that matters. The woman can be enjoying herself or in pain, as long as the man's happy. Women become glorified sex toys when their humanity and feelings aren't acknowledged.

Need I go on? Big penises are best. Perky breasts a must. Women should be up for anything at any time. Sex begins spontaneously with intense arousal and clothes are flung in all directions. Partners climax simultaneously and women, multiple times. No one has to reach for lubricant or condoms. No one has to instruct the other person. Everything is done with this silent, magical mind-reading none of us experience.  

Porn and sex scenes are choreographed. It's a fake performance. Body parts are subbed in. Why the hell are we trying to emulate this farce? 

This was the lightbulb moment I had when Celeste was speaking. I rejected porn as a source of credible information and for the first time, when she said the following things, I was able to accept them as accurate observations of reality and truth: 


  • Every body can have good sex.
  • Sex is much broader than penetration. It can be naked cuddling. 
  • The purpose of sex is connection and pleasure. 
  • People's libidos in partnerships rarely match, so we renegotiate our needs in each new season of life. 
  • Both partners matter. Consent must be mutual.
  • Arousal happens spontaneously AND responsively.*
  • Consent isn't just at the beginning of a sexual experience. It's okay to stop partway through if it's not right in your body. (Rape culture affected this for me. I felt it was not okay to abort mid-experience and when I dug deeper, the image I had was a man saying I would pay for toying with him. This is nothing like my husband, but it affected how I related to him.)
  • Sex is not natural in the way we are born knowing how to do it. It's a learned behavior  and it's okay to be on a learning curve.
  • Sex doesn't have to be easy, natural or "smooth" to be good. 
  • It's okay to say what you like/don't like, even during the act.
If rejecting the medieval theologians was a crack in the dam, this was the moment the whole dam exploded into a thousand pieces. 

So the next time I had sex, we were getting started and my anxiety began about how to make sure we finished, and I told my scared self, This IS sex. It's connecting and pleasurable. This is already success. 

Next I started worrying I wouldn't get turned on. If not, we'll stop. No big. It happens.

I saw a body part I take issue with and reassured myself, All body's can have good sex. 

When something didn't seem picture perfect and I thought, This isn't a performance. 

And do you know what I felt? 

Freedom and joy. 

No emotional crashing and burning.

That's what happens when the dam of judgement crashes down and truth bursts through to set us free.













*Spontaneous arousal is when you feel turned on so you seek out a sexual experience. Responsive arousal is when you want to become aroused, so you begin a sexual experience. With the later, arousal will not always happen and it's okay to end the experience if it doesn't. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

My Thoughts During Sex


Ok, folks. I'm going to open a door to my brain and let you see what's gone on during sex. The only reason I have courage to face how bad it's been is because it's gotten better. So here goes...

Early afternoon: 

My partner makes a suggestive comment. I feel nervous and calculate how long it's been since our last sexual encounter. No matter when it was, I don't feel off-the-hook because it's a man's top need...

Fear begins to pull me in two directions:
  1. He'll have no choice but to leave me if I don't satisfy him sexually
  2. Sex could leave me in physical pain and be an emotional nosedive into despair
Rather than let the fear tear me in two, I shove the thoughts aside. I don't have to face that til later.

Later:

He asks me if I want to and it all starts again. My mind suddenly has only one volume: screamy. How should I know what I want? All I can think is that YOU want it and I SHOULD want it. What does it say about me if I don't? That I don't love you enough? (too painful) I'll just do it. And outloud, I try to sound upbeat when I say, "Yeah."

So we're making out and I'm hyper-aware of my body. Is this working? Am I getting into it? Why doesn't any of this feel good? A good woman would be gasping in surprise and pleasure right now, but I feel nothing. When did my body go numb? Is this or is this not an errogenous zone? I'm frigid. It's because I'm distracted. Why can't I focus? I hate that he's trying so hard and I can't respond. Something's wrong with me. I'm bad. He's a saint. Or maybe he's bad at this. Maybe it's not all my fault. I probably haven't communicated enough...

Now as I observe the body part he's currently loving on: It's fat. How can he be attracted when I look like this? This is not hot. It's all wrong. Why do I even try? It's not supposed to be like this. 

I'm not getting anywhere. How will we finish so I can check this off and stop feeling like the wife nobody dreamed of? Ow! He's on my hair. I shouldn't even care. If I were really into it, stuff like that wouldn't even register. Why don't I have an appetite for this?

This isn't what I thought sex would be like. I had such grand dreams and I've fallen so far from any of them. I thought sex would get better and better but it's been getting worse and worse. Everything hurts. I hate this. If I were just single I wouldn't feel like I was letting someone down all the time. 

But he loves me and he says he's satisfied and he says he'll let me know if something's wrong. He's promised. But how could he actually do that? 

And how can he be satisfied with this? 

Will I ever be able to be honest and not fake anything, including interest? When I try, I feel like a bitch.

This is why I didn't want to have sex. I feel wiped out. Why does this have to be so hard?

--

Wow, right? It's painful to write this even as it's no longer my experience. Are you wondering where my positivity went? It absconded when sex became difficult for a variety of reasons. Initially, it was vaginismus. When that was resolved, I was diagnosed with lichen sclerosis (thinning of vulva tissue and filling with fluid = Husband, don't even look at me because it hurts. Oh, and there's no cure.) When that calmed down, I began having chronic yeast infections. For two years. My body was saying no to sex and for good reason. I needed to process being molested out of my body, not just my brain. 

I did EMDR and emotional work with a kinesthesiologist. That took care of my physical manifestations (which had caused my sex life to become very limited and my thoughts so painful). BUT, it didn't fix the mind games I was losing during sex.

After my body got healthy, Brian and I felt like we were starting over, but not in an exciting way. I had all the memories of times gone poorly to cause anxiety and my confidence was nil. Sex felt like a minefield that left me emotionally maimed. I didn't know why and now I do. 

I hate to leave this here, but my following posts will be about what has made everything about sex better. I hope some part of it will help you as you make your way toward the sexual freedom and joy you deserve. 

So much love!




Friday, July 26, 2019

A Pitch for Therapy

There are two things I know. The first is, the truth will set you free. The second is, everyone could use some therapy. 

A skilled therapist holds up the truth and compares it with the story you've believed about your life and what you believe about the world. I began benefiting from this comparison when I went to talk therapy to address sexual abuse I experienced when very young. I was shown the difference between my story (that it was my fault) and the reality: it was my dad’s fault. I learned I could stop punishing myself and after four years with my counselor, it felt like someone had cut loose a bag of bricks I’d been carrying. Life felt wonderfully light. 

Years later, my body started sending me signals we had some unfinished business. Fatigue and migraines were my constant reminder and I researched self-care. I eventually found my way to an EMDR therapist who could help process trauma out of my body, which tests had shown maintained high levels of cortisol all the time. If you aren't familiar with cortisol, it's what your body releases to help you escape if you're being chased by wolves, but having it circulate in your body on the regular makes you sick. Early trauma taught my body to keep those levels high because more trauma was always on its way. 

So I began with much frustration towards my "slow to catch on" body. Why couldn’t it get the memo? I’m safe now. Why couldn’t I feel the truths I knew in my head, deep down in my gut? I wanted so badly to feel safe in every cell of my body and I didn’t know if I’d ever get there. 

This is me with my Grandpa, where I was always safe.

I want to share that I'm on my way! With therapy that keeps me present in my body, a reunion has begun between the body and soul I separated to survive.  

When the abuse started, I only separated from my body during the experience, but eventually, I gave up on going back. It wasn't worth it when all my body ever did was hurt. So I left it behind, even though I dragged it around, but never looked it in the eye. If my body said it needed something, my first response was always, No. 

I banked on my brain. WE would go places. And my brain was kind enough to forget the abuse, so we got along fine. But a brain without a body isn’t much at all. Yoga was where I gave the first friendly side-glances to my body. There were some bashful smiles and then a punishing diet and finally, more attention to what my body had to say. 

Observing my body led to a fledgling appreciation. One day, I was surprised by the thought, It’s not perfect, but it’s mine. By the time I was in EMDR, I wanted to embrace my body, but still felt furious about it’s ongoing struggles, especially the sexual ones. 

So I’d been scapegoating my body all along, despite acknowledging my father's responsibility years ago. If only my body had been able to absorb the abuse without being hurt by it, we could have a good life. But no. It was vulnerable and got hurt and was still not okay today. I felt my body had a terrible track record and there was no reason to think I'd ever find my breakthrough. 

My husband, Brian, asked once, “So you feel doomed around your health?” 

And I said, “No, it’s much more than a feeling. It’s an awful, aching knowing.”

From this place, therapy again held up truth for me and this time, it was getting deeper than my brain. Here are the truths that are dawning on my tired heart and feeling like brand-spankin' new life:

  • Where I felt my father had won and I could never defeat him, I saw I had triumphed the day I told my mom.
  • Where I felt doomed about my physical struggles, I learned they could change as quickly as my requirement to visit my dad every other weekend.
  • I'd always felt it was a lie to tell myself it was over. In therapy, I realized that THAT is indeed over. While I may be victimized in the future, it will not be as a little girl. I will know what’s happening is wrong. It won’t happen over and over. In my home. And it will not be my fuckin’ father. No, I can finally hold little Kendra (because in this moment we are all the ages we ever were) and promise her it’s over.
  • I felt afraid of losing Brian. It’s just now occurring to me that my father threw away everything good about our relationship for sex, but that doesn't mean Brian will. He’s staying.
  • I felt I had to work a miracle to keep Brian, achieve perfect sexuality by erasing every trace of trauma. I had to right the wrong. Well, I can’t turn back time, so this will not be possible. The truth is, I don’t have to work miracles to have happiness. I can just have it. 

These new beliefs are like seeds my counselor planted and now, their roots are sinking in deep. I'm writing this because I want you to know if you are left with deep, deep KNOWINGS from trauma, they can be changed. My therapist calls it blowing them out of the water. And we’re doing just that.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Main Bath

We inherited a bathroom with more...bead board! Now, I don't think bead board is a bad choice, but it's a little on the too country/too busy side for me. Rather than skim coating this the way we did the kitchen bead board, I decided to paint it a rich blue. All the bathrooms I've admired lately are blue with lots of neutrals and pink touches, so I decided to go for it! It's bold and I absolutely love it. Here's how it looked before:


We knew right away that vanity was too small and the medicine cabinet and light would be coming down. We took the vanity and faucet down to the basement bathroom (that was just a toilet in and an ancient sink in the middle of a huge room, but more on that later.) Here it is with blue paint, the new light fixture and the vanity.



If I can make one thing easier for you, it's painting toilets. I'm green so I rarely use Saran Wrap, but now is the time. Painting around a toilet can be tricky and this makes it way easier. Also, eat raspberries when you paint. They help you clear out the toxins specific to paint! And they are easy/delicious which is the perfect snack when projecting.


So here we are! This little bathroom was challenging because I've never done a bathroom with this much brass and brass colors are all over the place (a.k.a. don't match each other). And some are downright ugly. Like greenish or they look silver at a glance. Since we have very few options in local stores, it was a lot of ordering and returning and frustration. 

My advice in the end:

1) They don't have to match perfectly. Find them in the non-ugly range of brass you enjoy and call it good. Unless you buy everything from a single line, this will be the case AND IT LOOKS GREAT. 

2) Don't make it all brass. The matchy-matchy old lady inside you may be screaming, "Brass everything!!" and she's sweet, but she's wrong. For example, our shower curtain rod is not brass with brass rings. They make them, but it was not a good idea. Brass is pretty loud and I don't want the focal point of our bathroom to be basic hardware. We also went with a brushed nickel faucet and it plays well with others. It saves dollars too, since brass is still new enough to be more expensive.

mirror | light

toilet paper holder

See? Lots of colors of brass and our shower rod is brushed nickel, which works well because of all the grey in the room. I'll admit that toilet paper holder isn't my fave, but it's there until the right one comes along. 

rug (similar)
Once again, I've got creams and whites and blacks and grays (even a little tan in the vanity top) in this room and it gives it a soft, casual vibe. 

white canister - Hobby Lobby

seascape print | picture frame | towel (similar)
I love the look of patterned, mismatched towels, which is also brilliant because when some wear out, you aren't stressed about finding something that matches. The towel on the left is from Target, the one on the right is an old World Market find and the hand towels are also from Target. I think this bathroom post could be sponsored by Target, now that I see how much of it is from there! One of my favorite pieces in this bathroom is the seascape above with the Opal House frame that feels vintage and interesting. I. Love. It. I love seeing it every day. So many sweet surprises packed into this tiny room, which makes me feel like a lucky ducky even if winter is lasting forever.

rope basket


Above the toilet, I have this DIY cat silhouette portrait of my previous cat, Leopold. This is super special to me and I realize now I promised a tutorial on this and never followed through. Sigh. I promise I will - it's so easy and you HAVE to know. 


Here's the cubby we added by taking away part of the guest room closet. Before this was just a wall and we needed some place to put stuff. Now my hamper is tidily tucked under there and extra toilet paper is in plain sight (I recommend this for the sake of guests' stress levels) and I don't have to have a medicine cabinet that sticks out and blocks light over my sink. Win! 

medicine cabinet (similar)

Here's the closer view. We'd hoped to do some kind of solid surface shelves, considering scraps wouldn't be very expensive, but we did this for now. It works and doesn't need extensive bracing. But wouldn't some grey marble be pretty?

curtain tie back

I'll admit, I have a couple issues with towel rings: they're ugly and they don't work. Towels are always slipping out and ending up on the floor. So I was determined to figure out something else to get my hand towel off my counter. I landed on this vintage looking brass curtain tie back from Anthropologie. I got it on sale before Christmas and that made it less painful cost-wise. I love it. I have a thing with birds and that he's perched on that little branch...so good. Now if you buy it, buy the opposite side you'd think based on the photo. I got about three that faced the wrong direction before getting them to send the right one! 

Well, there it is. In the end, I feel this bathroom is small, but posh; zen, but colorful. Basically, all my favorites! 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Hallway

Hello again! Today we're going to zip through a reveal of our hallway, which is small, but sassy. Here we go!


The first thing you notice is the rug. I got mine at Home Goods, but if you need it in your life, Wayfair has it here. It was my jumping off point and gave the hall such a colorful vibe, I was able to put some of my favorite (very colorful) kids' art in here. It's a loop, rather than a pile, so I hope it will wear well in this high traffic area. 




The light fixture in here was an accident of sorts. I bought the brass fixture for over the kitchen sink but it seemed too big and competed with the basket light over our table. I had ordered it from Menards and it had a clear glass globe, which broke in the hubbub. Unable to return it, I added this pretty globe from Home Depot and hung it in the hallway. It's SO much better than the boob light from which we'd been averting our gaze! I feel lucky since I wouldn't have prioritized a statement light fixture for the hall.


It's a small hall so I decided to keep my grouping of art small too. I didn't want to feel like the walls were full and coming in on me. Or that we'd be in danger of bumping them off whilst passing by. These are the new concerns of a small house, but we're enjoying the challenge. 




I love seeing these cheery little pieces every day. Here's another view going the other direction so you can get a sneaky peaky of the room I painted a pretty color!! 


Can you see it?! It is different and exactly what I wanted for my office so when I'm in there it FEELS different from the rest of the house. 

One thing we plan to do in the future that will transform this hallway is to add trim to the doors until they look like this:

door
Then if we switch out the current knobs for some simple black ones, we'll have some handsome doors. Why? Well, the current ones are not only showing their age, but they're brass on the outside of the door and chrome on the inside. Was that a thing? Anyway, it will be a grand upgrade. 

So there you have it! I've got two more rooms photographed, so hopefully I'll be back with the main bath and the master bedroom soon. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Year: Celebration Over Goal-Setting

Happy New Year, friends!

My first thoughts on the new year were, "Peace out, 2018," because it's been a doozy, but when I looked at my best nine collage on Instagram, I realized the hard years have THE MOST to celebrate. Survival for one.  

As usual, I'm not into setting goals for 2019 (let's be real, I always have plans and things in the works), but I would like to take a few moments to acknowledge the parts of 2018 I feel proud of. 

1. I started a prayer meeting aimed at nourishing God-followers on their journey. 
I've got big dreams for church and how I'd like to see it grow and reshape in my lifetime for the benefit of my kids and the folks it's actively hurting. I feel a glass ceiling effect with what my church offers, needing more of this or that and not finding it offered. So this has been my way of making change in my corner. It's been empowering and satisfying and shown me I'm not alone.

2. I began a daily meditation practice in September. 
I've wanted to get still and know God is God for a long time, but not known how. My mind races. I don't know how to sit at Jesus' feet and just be with him. To learn how to do this, I've used the app Headspace and it's been a game-changer. Meditation has made me a better human, but I'll go into that more later. 

I would say my desperate need for things to get better fueled this attempt. I've lived with fatigue for a long time now and the addition of selling our house and moving last winter was more than my body could take in stride. A couple more stressors and I was the most fatigued I've ever been. I couldn't get out of bed in the morning and was late to work regularly. I would sit up in bed (so I couldn't fall asleep) and fall asleep sitting up. But this is when I started meditating. Desperation isn't all bad.

3. I survived Brian's illness.
As soon as we were beginning to get settled in our new home, Brian became severely anemic. He was bleeding internally and did a lot of testing to find out why. It was a frightening process, especially before they ruled out blood cancers. We got through even though neither of us had any energy, largely because friends swooped in to help with yard work and meals. 

4. I got help.
Desperation made me reach out and try (again) to find someone who could help me make a comeback health-wise. I've spent so much money and energy in this direction, often without a return, so this is like pulling teeth. Teeth that aren't loose. But you guys, I found a kinesthesiologist who's been able to help me! She tells me which supplements to take (specific to my body) so I can heal. I still can't believe she knows what's going on with me. 

5. I faithed.
Faith is taking the damn supplements when nothing seems to be changing and it's never helped before, but you believe God wants you to be well. It's telling yourself it will be okay that you can't get to work on time or yoga at all and believing the sun will come out again. Faith is also when you have a blessed day in the middle.  When you FEEL the belief taking hold of you and putting wind in your sails. You gasp your lungs full because the next day is sure to be hard, but with that glimpse of what's possible you can hang on by your faith fingernails. 

6. I got healthier.
In October, I realized I had the energy to dream of the prayer meeting AND try doing it. I've been able to get to yoga three times a week for MONTHS. I'm back to how I felt before we had to move and I'm excited to keep healing.

7. We took a vacation.
With Brian's surgery looming, we took the vacation we'd planned on even though the money we'd saved for it had to go toward other things. I learned somewhere that spending more than you make is the cardinal sin, so this was not easy. But we drove to the ocean and played in the sea and saw friends and it healed us. 


Those are the things I'm most proud of and looking back gives me great hope for the future. If you need a little gumption to take into 2019, maybe spend some time celebrating. And take the time to tell a friend. The best thing about any new year is we don't have to do it alone.

You triumphed over 2018. 

And here is 2019, just waiting for us to create it. 

I love you. 

All the years.