I Had Put Myself in a Box
To feel confident and sexy. To feel desired and desirous. This is the gift Betty Dodson has given me. And I am not only forever grateful.
I am impassioned about sharing this beauty and this work with all the other women who think they see blue, but still see gray. All the other women who think they’re whole, but who are too busy to reclaim their own sensuality. The women who are too anxious to embrace pleasure for themselves, because they’re too busy providing it to their husbands, partners, children and friends. The women who feel too fat, too fluffy, too anything and everything to feel deserving of self-love and the freedom that makes me walk through life differently than I did before.
Removing the veil didn’t happen in a single day.
But it was a singular moment that put me on the path to its disintegration. It began with a flirt. A flirtatious pass a man made at me. Me! A middle-aged married mother who felt like a girl but play-acted, like an actress in a show, confident. Me, who achieved success by many measures, but is still sometimes socially awkward, at least on the inside. Me, who can ski and run and fly on water, “sporty” you might say, but average looking. Me, too fluffy to feel sexual or sensual or desirous, let alone desired!
Bold enough that I could not mistake his meaning.
I couldn’t pass it off as simple friendliness. And this flirt, this pass, this man, at this particular moment in my life, with my children growing up and out and my husband sleeping unawares as I had been sleeping for oh-so-long, changed me.
It was as if I had been in a box whose lid was suddenly and slightly lifted, so that a little crack of sunlight came shining in.
Only I had put myself in the box. Or rather, allowed myself to be put in the box by the cultural norms we all live with today. Norms that devalue the feminine. Our ancient, female wisdom. That which used to be revered but is now held hostage and falsely decried as untrustworthy. Norms that tell women to shut up, close our legs, submit. Submit to actual and metaphorical rape. Submit to laboring in jobs that serve others but are valued culturally and monetarily as less. Norms that vilify our sexuality while objectifying it. All this I had unwittingly absorbed, even as I thought myself liberated, a feminist, free to make my own choices and my own money.
Ever the researcher, I took to reading and to studying, trying to understand what had happened.
Trying to comprehend why I felt more alive! Awake for the first time in a long time. Not only had I never been outwardly shy, I had always been, and am, outspoken. Sometimes pushy. I definitely stand up for myself and for what I believe in. Still, when it came to just me, myself, and not some role I was acting in, I was voiceless. I didn’t like to talk about sex. Over the years my husband had tried. He had asked, pleaded even, for me to tell him what I liked. What I fantasized about.
The truth was, I didn’t know what I liked and I didn’t fantasize. I’m not very visual or creative. Don’t get me wrong. We had a good sex life. It’s just that he had to figure things out for himself. Because I couldn’t say. Wouldn’t think. Didn’t know. And, until that defining moment of the flirt, didn’t care. I thought I was whole.
Even now, I want to blame myself.
I had repressed my sexual self. Had allowed myself to believe that I didn’t deserve more. But then I wonder, if an educated woman with an advanced college degree and a privileged life felt this way – robbed of connection to self and sexuality, how many others are there?
I am not alone.
Not the only one who didn’t understand my own desire. Not the only one who allowed her sexual self to be stolen. Not the only one who didn’t understand, or even care about the link between body image and self-confidence. Not the only one craving not just sexual intimacy, but sexual spirituality. Wanting more than “married” sex and hard-to-ignite and maintain every-day passion. Seeking cosmic ecstasy combined with the intimacy that had been so hard earned in my long-term marriage.
Ever the willing partner, my husband allowed me to drag him to a couples’ tantric workshop.
He was excited. I was terrified. Game playing and meditating and energy work and wandering about making small talk with strangers in saris, well, it scared the shit out of me. But in amongst the enormous evergreens and hot spring pools and like-minded seekers, were exercises that helped me feel my own energy, and tune in to someone else’s. Information and practice moving energy inside my body, along the chakras. Breath work to enhance my own sexual energy. Little cracks in me widened. Bits of blue starting to peek through the ragged veil now not all gray.
Like most kids, I had masturbated, had played doctor and spin the bottle and kissing games in the closet.
Then, at some point, I just stopped. I don’t recall anything happening. There was no defining moment of shame or blame from my parents or from anyone else. No scene. I think I just never learned to fully pleasure myself and … gave up. I absorbed our culture’s lessons about sex and gender. The lessons taught overtly and covertly were, are, all around. In movies, magazines, books. In my mother’s telephone conversations with her girlfriends. In the dinner party conversations my brother and I eavesdropped on from the 2nd floor when our parents had friends over. In the jocular talk at the back of the bus on the way to school. These lessons taught me that desire is shameful. Don’t eat those cookies, you’ll get fat(ter). Save yourself for your one true love – the knight in shining armor upon his white horse who will tenderly save you, complete you and make you happy. Women don’t eat cake. They eat carrot sticks and salads. Girls who fool around, who let boys touch them, are tramps and whores and less than the pure women in white who are above it all and worthy of love and marriage.
I learned the language of men.
Of achievement and striving for success. I learned to hate my body. And to sneak candy into my room. To suck my stomach in for pictures. To feel self-conscious of my breasts. I succumbed to what so many girls succumb to – the idea that we somehow aren’t worthy of self-pleasure. Or that it’s wrong to feel sexual. We believe that good girls don’t want and certainly don’t act on their desires, so we learn to shut them down. When, exactly, does this begin? A recent Univ of Ilinois study states that children as young as 2 years old form ideas about body image. Much earlier than most people realize. And girls as young as 4th grade are dieting. The sexualization and objectification of girls and women in the U.S. continues to rob our girls of their right to pleasure, to female intuition and wisdom and power.
This sexual repression is at the heart of the tragedy, my own and so many others.
The failure is mine for taking so long to notice I wasn’t burning as brightly as I could. And the tragedy is how many of us fall into this trap, and how fully it strips us of the joy and pleasure that is rightfully ours. Without feeling radiant from the inside out, without feeling our own joy by literally worshiping in our own temple, we cannot be fully engaged in our own lives. Without stoking our own fire, we cannot lift up and support our loved ones, not to mention ourselves. Without feeling beautiful and worthy, we cannot own our own power and so empower not just ourselves, but those around us. Truly be the main character, the heroine even, in our own lives. All this I finally understood.
And so I leapt.
Years were focused on being a good mom, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. At the tantric couples’ workshop, I realized nothing would change or progress until I worked on myself. By myself. I was still holding back. Now I was diving into myself. Learning to be good to me. To be gracious, compassionate. To embrace myself.
After reading and researching, I made the decision to go to NY to take an orgasm workshop with the mother of masturbation herself, B.A.D. – that badass Betty Ann Dodson.
And she is! I had always enjoyed sex, but never by myself. I had been too busy. Too tired. And I had a partner, so I just didn’t feel the need. Only now I understood that not knowing myself was holding me back. My orgasms were never linear, sometimes they happened and sometimes they didn’t. I was ok with that. I enjoyed sex. But I needed to find my voice. To understand what I liked and didn’t like. To feel deserving of giving myself time and space and pleasure. And to take back my own power.
While terrified of the tantric couples’ workshop, I had my partner to hide behind. Now I was going it alone. Traveling across the country to see an orgasm sexpert? Crazy! And yet. I was doing it.
The workshops are held in the nude.
No designer labels or spanx or push up bras to help me feel better about myself. And to divide us from each other. No signs of economic status. A range of ages. Women of different race and religions with nothing to separate one from the other but a seat on the floor and a small tray with water, lube and a vibrator. Just eight women, strangers, sitting in a circle around the high priestess herself, an 87-year-old icon of the women’s movement who would change my life. Betty, and her workshop partner, the beautiful and amazing Carlin Ross, would make the strange circumstance in which we found ourselves, comfortable. Not normal, but extraordinary. Held in a circle by each other’s stories about our bodies, shame, events we had survived. We bonded around our insecurities. There was plenty of body shame to go around. But there was something else.
In the shared experiences, a newfound lightness. Recognition, familiarity of story and path. This resulted in a sharing of the burden and a lessening of its weight. Acceptance. Of each other. Of ourselves. This is the power, and hard-to-fathom barely concealed secret of Bodysex. That the simple act of sisterhood and shared experience has the power to generate acceptance and healing, and that this leads to gracious compassion towards ourselves, which in turn gifts us authenticity, pleasure, feminine wisdom and the power to lead fuller lives.
I am not healed, but healing.
I know more than I did about myself and my desires. And I’ve started to be able to voice them – before and after lovemaking is easier than in the heat of the moment. But I’m working on it. I’ve learned that hearing my lover, and myself – my panting, my moans, is a huge turn on, and that sound and breath both have the power to push us higher. I walk through life differently now. I allow myself to feel sensual. I am aware of, and enjoy, feeling my own energy and that of others. The unbidden connection to a perfect stranger is a wondrous event. And the deep passion of intimacy with my life-long partner has scaled new heights. Most importantly, I see beauty in myself. I see and feel the deep azure blue of a summer sky. I’m reaching for the cosmos and learning that it’s deep within.
And with the unmasking, has come more beauty that I ever knew existed!
I have discovered not only myself, but my passion and purpose on this planet. To share this gift of seeing and believing in your own beauty, with women in need of seeing blue. By becoming a certified Bodysex facilitator, by joining women educating women about female orgasm and anatomy and the importance of knowing and feeling and pleasuring ourselves, we heal each other. By sharing and educating others about pussy power, we change the world. In facilitating Bodysex workshops, and becoming a sex educator, I strive to help women feel whole, find their power and balance, and live richer lives. For me, this means feeling sexy, beautiful, confident and capable in my body – the body I have right now, not the body I may someday have or hope to have.
Regardless of fluff or fat, wrinkles and age, feeling sexy makes you sexy. Feeling confident, makes you confident. And attractive, even without the mask. I’m breathing in the blue.