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. 

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