Sexy is an Inside Job

Dinner Confidential on the topic of Sexuality. Held in NYC, Bogota, Toronto, Miami, and Portland in February 2019.

To begin, an anonymous story from one of our attendees:

“I used to be one of those women who are so uncomfortable talking about sex, that I wouldn’t even discuss it with my sisters or closest friends. But then, I hit rock bottom and was forced to talk about it. And from there, my life changed.
I got married very young and felt I needed to fulfill my “duty” as a wife — but our sex life wasn’t what I had expected. Perhaps it was subconscious taboos or not really knowing my body, but having sex just didn’t feel good. I began to see sex as an OBLIGATION. This went on for years, fragmenting my relationship with myself and with my husband. I felt shame and guilt, and we both shared a whole lot of frustration. We considered divorce (even though we loved each other). I knew something needed to change, so we started therapy. It took a lot of time, patience and tears to finally bring together two words I now know should never have be separated: “SEX and PLEASURE”.
Throughout this process, I learned to reconnect with my body and my desire. I learned to masturbate (a lot!) and give myself pleasure without shame. I discovered what makes me feel good. I found the confidence to say NO when I do not want sex and ask for it when I do. I reconnected with my husband’s body and soul. It’s been a difficult path, but 100% worth it. Having the courage to talk about sex saved my marriage AND opened a whole new world for myself.”

This month, women at Dinner Confidential’s all over the world jumped at the opportunity to talk about sex precisely because it is a topic we never talk about. Whether in Bogota or New York, Toronto or Portland, women around the world are hungry for dialogue and safe spaces to connect over what is often most taboo yet so fundamental to our lives — our desire, pleasure, and sexuality.

Cultural taboos around sex run deep — and keep us quiet

So much of what we learned about sex we learned from a non-sex positive world. Many women around our tables felt they “inherited” religious and cultural shame around sex (hello, Catholic guilt!). We’ve been told since a very young age, in different languages and countries around the world, that “Sex is dirty,” “Masturbation is a sin, “Homosexuality is wrong” and “Your pleasure belongs to others,” to name a few. In short — your desire is wrong.

Our response to this influx of messages? We learn to keep quiet. We silence our sexual needs and feelings both with ourselves (What touch makes me feel good? Am I attracted to women?) and others (“I want to try something else” “I don’t like that”). And that silence is deafening.

We are having sex in our heads

For so many of us, although we’re technically using our bodies to have sex, the majority of our energy is spent in our heads. We’re constantly setting expectations, ruminating over what we should or should not do, and analyzing what others think. For some, sex is “just something I have to do” — feeling as though sex is an obligation or a chore, we check an imaginary box created by someone else. For others, “sex will get me what I want” — a tool to make us feel worthy of love, with some women jumping from partner to partner to fill an internal void (yet always feeling more empty in the end) or faking orgasms to “please” their partners at the expense of their own needs. Still others believed “my sex is not enough” — a powerful narrative around scarcity (“I can’t orgasm) or quantifiable lack (“We only have sex X times a month”). Whatever the narrative, when we’re having sex in our heads, it’s virtually impossible for us to know what we truly want or need.

…Yet desire lives in the body

It’s only when we get out of our heads and into our bodies that we can access our authentic desires. This is about asking our body the questions — “What feels good to me, and what doesn’t?” “What kind of touch do I like?” “What are my fantasies?” — and tuning into its innate, raw and animalistic response. Our body has this incredible wisdom about what turns us on and what gets us off — we simply don’t take the time to listen. Deep listening to our body’s needs, without judgement or expectation, can produce the most orgasmic of results! For many of us, this deep body connection starts with masturbation, the golden door to discovering true pleasure. Masturbation allows a safe and personalized portal for sexual discovery and exploration, as we dive deeper and deeper into our fantasies and desires.

The 3 Stages of Sexual Evolution

We observed three stages of sexual evolution amongst our incredible attendees: healing, stagnation and growth. This path is certainly not linear — we can move from growing right “back” to healing — but we ordered it by number for easy reading.

1. Healing
Many women were working through deep trauma and pain (sexual abuse, assault) as well as the burden of intergenerational stigma and taboo. Healing is a journey — a long and powerful process of nurturing, loving and reconnecting with our bodies.

2. Stagnation
This is the point in our sexual evolution where we accept the status quo, whether that is a lackluster, uninspiring sex life or the continuation of unhealthy sexual patterns and routines. It’s about knowing you are not satisfied, yet feeling innately stuck in that place. Many women in this phase have tasted their desire (eg. through fantasy, masturbation), but challenges of exiting the routine block access to deeper exploration.

3. Growth
For these women, discovering deep awareness of their desires act as a catalyst for radical change. They have made the decision to cross a sexual threshold, all in the name of finding a way to make their sexuality work for them.

Growth can manifest in a myriad ways. For some, it’s the painful choice to leave a long-term partnership in search of more authentic pleasure. For others, it’s finally explaining to your partner how you want to be touched! Still for others, it’s a radical change in relationship context (eg. monogamous partners who decide to explore polyamory) or exploring the worlds of non-“traditional” sexuality (eg. exiting the hetero-normative paradigm, playing with kink, etc). Whatever the path, these women are re-claiming ownership over their sexuality!

Experiment

What does my body want? — Make a date with yourself for some deep, 1:1 personal exploration. How can you tune in and listen? Maybe it’s seducing yourself with candles and rubbing some oil all over, or maybe it’s taking a luxurious evening for self-pleasure without expectations. Whatever you choose, consider it an opportunity to surrender to the desire that lives inside.

Sexy = communicating about what I need — Try saying what you need out loud, either to yourself or to your partner(s). This can be about a fantasy you’ve been having, a part of your body that could use some love, or your expectations for aftercare with a new partner (eg. it’s important for me that we check in tomorrow). It seems scary at first but once you start talking, you may surprise yourself!

Written by Dinner Confidential in collaboration with our hosts Dee de Lara in Toronto, Elle Pound in Portland, and Maria Sylvia Sahmkow in Bogota.

All illustrations, lovingly made by zanda.

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