I Like Sex
It’s taken me 6 months to get up the guts to say that.
Earlier this year I started interviewing women about the details of their sex lives, from the first stirrings of childhood through navigating their sexuality as adults. I had enough material to launch the project on social media 6 months ago. But I avoided, I procrastinated, I made excuses, I judged myself lazy and undisciplined.
Ironically, the women I interviewed pointed me to the the real reason.
Every woman I spoke to talked about her sexual history with an overlay of shame. From an early age she was taught that feeling good “down there” is bad. As she got older, she learned that she was supposed to use her sexuality only in service of men — attract them, then give them just enough to keep them around. Her own need for pleasure was never acknowledged or spoken of — not by her parents, not in sex ed class, not with her friends, and not by the boys and men she slept with. This silence spoke volumes, telling her to keep her desire hidden if she wanted to be accepted.
When I started this project, I assumed that I could explore other women’s sexuality, put their words out into the world, then watch what happened from a safe distance. Like starting a fire then backing away to watch it burn.
But I don’t get to walk away unscathed. Her shame is my shame is our shame. I have to tell the world I’m writing about sex. Which means I’m interested in sex, which means I like sex, which means I’m a slut.
Our shame isn’t just our problem. When women suffer, those who love us suffer too. I interviewed a 22-year old guy recently — we’ll call him Alex — because when we met he started asking me questions about women and sex. His experiences with women had left him confused and wondering what was wrong, either with them or with him. He described many dates that ended with women in his bed who seemed to want to have sex, then retreated because they “shouldn’t.” One woman told him explicitly after their encounter that she had wanted to have sex, decided she shouldn’t, then felt guilty that she wasn’t fulfilling his sexual needs, so she gave him a blowjob. She told him this because she wanted to apologize for giving him a half-hearted blowjob. Yikes.
There’s a battle going on within us, between desire and shame. We deny our own right to pleasure but feel like we are required to take care of others’. This cycle — shame, repression, capitulation, resentment — starts early and gets repeated often in our lives as women. We are silent and unfulfilled, and those who love us are confused and hurt.
I’ve been on a journey of recovery and discovery in the last couple of years — from shame, fear, and hiding, to what I could accomplish if I let myself be fully known. For me, the most impactful source of learning and support in shifting how I feel about my sexuality has been meaningful conversation with other women about their own experiences.
So I present to you — This is Real Sex — Women tell us what they do, feel, want, need, fear, and love in sex.
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Shame needs three things to survive: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Empathy is the antidote to shame. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle — “me too.” — Brene Brown